Modest expectations – Carthaginian Vanilla

How appalling is Mr Albanese suggesting that the Parliament adjourn for a whole day as a part of respect and condolences admixed with confected piety.

All that does is delay what he then said is vital – that is, the passage of urgent legislation.

Otherwise such a gesture is symbolic of Parliament – hypocrisy and inaction.

By all means apologise that you did nothing about preventing the bushfires but spare us the crocodile tears – and get on with the business of government. In fact you should be meeting earlier.

And incidentally get away from this Albo and Scomo nonsense. It sounds as if they are clowns.

No caption required

Fell or Fall

I have written about clearing the trees around the house surrounded by bush. That’s fine if your land does not abut land where the owners can’t be found. The chap who cleared parts of the block and the boundaries asked Council about the absent owner. The Council were not particularly interested; so we went ahead and took down the trees on the boundary and in so doing, cleared the scrub from a large section of the block. This was last year. There were several trees that required a specialist arborist to fell them safely so that they did not fall on the house – a possibility if you do not have the specialist knowledge. In addition the insurance companies take a dim view of those who are literally “cutting corners”.

Even with gutter guard to prevent the accumulation of leaves in the gutters, these trees were a fire risk. We have a celery pine growing close to the back door. That was spared but pruned, as was the leatherwood, so essential for the bees to make honey with its distinctive flavour.

The detritus of forest clearing

However the mass of fallen trees if left present a problem. It was bought to mind by the allegation that the NSW Forestry Corporation leaves what is called “slash” after they have cut down trees. This outcome should be remembered anytime the foresters say we need “to thin the trees”. As you drive through areas which have recently been harvested, there is always a lot of residual wood left in the cleared coup. Around settlements, some trees when they are cleared by Councils are wood chipped, but these wood chipping enterprises seem to be carried out alongside roads where bringing in the appropriate machinery requires clear access.

But back to our block – left with a large pile of wood, there were several ways to go. We could have a controlled burn – a “pile fire” – with the local volunteer fire brigade using it as a training exercise. That proved not to be feasible. The pile of wood was on the absent landowner’s property. Then there was the problem that there was never suitable weather for such a burn to be organised safely, or so the local fire chief said.

In the end, we had the pile of wood removed, some of it would be used as firewood as many of the houses still have open fireplaces, but the rest moved to garden waste – still flammable but away from the property.

There is still a way to go, but bushfire prevention needs a concerted approach if the community is not to end in charred regrets.

Next to our property is a deserted miners cottage, which was illegally moved on site many years ago. It had been lived in, but now the empty land is covered in blackberries. Blackberries have also threaded their way along the foreshore and there has been no attempt to remove the bushes; the trees have been allowed to increase in number, because some eucalypts and melaleucas proliferate at a great rate. There is now a thick line of bush between the foreshore and the heritage footpath – so much so that visitors walk on the road at night because the footpath is too dark. The only clear line of sight to the harbour along this foreshore is in front of the former mayor’s property.

In the end in this over-governed country, we the ratepayers depend on the competency of local government and its finances are dependent on the ratepayers and the amount of money that trickles down from the State and Federal governments. So, can I ask what is being done about those people who buy a bush block and then do nothing to clear vegetation?

In our case on each side that is the situation. We have taken unilateral action, as we prefer prevention to “re-embering” a once pristine countryside.

Tasmania is here to burn. This is a serial problem, a new ABC soapie called “Burnt Hills”?

Postscript

I bought my wife a chainsaw for her birthday. No, we shall not destroy the habitat of the New Holland Honeyeaters or the wrens, who of course love a pile of rotting timber as a habitat. Then perched in the trees are the yellow-tailed black cockatoos. Green rosellas come calling once in a while – they are particularly fond of stripping fern fronds. There is still plenty of bush, but as the local fire captain said, keep it at least 30 metres back from your house. Enter the chain saw.

However, there are still those melaleucas, which are constantly sprouting. We cut them down. What next? The wood has few commercial usages, beyond a brush fence which was constructed years ago when the Council accidentally cleared a piece of our property and we needed a temporary fence while the undergrowth grew back.

Here on the west coast of Tasmania I thought we would be free of the bushfire smoke. However silly me – the population and wildlife of the West Coast are enshrouded in smoke. I worry that my grandchildren will show photographs of what their grandchildren will never have seen as they splutter with their chronic respiratory disease – blue skies.

A small question

One of the intriguing facts of the recent bush fires, which came to light in the fire started in Ebor, a self-styled village in the northern tablelands of NSW, is the impact of illicit crops. Here some guy tried to “back burn” to save his marijuana crop and in doing so set the bush alight with horrendous effect. I have been through Ebor some years ago, and chose not to stop. It is duelling banjoes country.

Even more dangerous are “meth labs”? A large one of those turned up as well. The bush has a way of hiding all manner of things, but the production facilities are flammable.

I have tried to find out whether growing marijuana in the bush leads to small isolated communities resistant to bushfire evacuation for obvious reasons. If marijuana growing in isolated communities can be substantiated, then such horticultural endeavour presents a hazard to human life, if nothing else. The answers don’t lie in intensifying police action, which in turn leads to hiding cultivation in more and more remote inaccessible bush.

However, it is a vexed situation as was tobacco cultivation in the Ovens Valley – the last place in Australia where it was commercially grown. I was working in Myrtleford in the years of the last tobacco crops grown there; we watched the whole farce of growers, “standover merchants” and various government agencies chasing one another around the district at harvest time which was enough for the government to enact their own variety of “chop-chop”.

Tobacco at Myrtleford

The crop is no longer grown in the Ovens Valley, and it is not a crop that is easily able to be illicitly grown there. The kilns for drying the tobacco leaf are a giveaway although many have now been re-purposed as stylish Airbnb accommodation. Anyway Australian tobacco leaf was never rated as much good, and until the early 1980s it was one of, if not the most heavily subsidised crop grown in Australia because of its inferior quality. I remember being a party before the Industry Assistance Commission Inquiry, on behalf of the medical profession, to argue the case for the subsidy to be withdrawn.

Therefore, given the changing attitudes to marijuana cultivation, would it not be better grown in controlled conditions away from the bush? After all, it would be one way to enhance tourism if they could visit a legal greenhouse and see the crop under cultivation and sample … just a thought.

I have a bone to pick with you

An interesting emergency occurred last week when we were having a meal of fish and chips. A fish bone lodged in my wife’s throat. This once happened to me when I was having a meal in Derby in the Kimberley. It was probably barramundi, and fortunately I was having the meal with the legendary outback doctor, Randy Spargo. The spectre of being evacuated to Perth, a distance of 1800 kilometres, confronted me if the bone could not be dislodged. Water and bread was Randy’s solution, and after the initial trial, we went to the local hospital to pursue his cure. Randy was extraordinary – it was as though he talked the bread down – a “bone whisperer”. Randy had worked for a long time among Aboriginal people and at one point had an Aboriginal partner. Randy had a very calming way of handling a situation that could have turned awkward. In the end, the bone cleared my throat, whether “talked down” or not.

We went back to the café and finished our meal. Next to the restaurant was a meeting of Pentecostalists, complete with glossolalia and very audible groaning, which created a fraught atmosphere when we left for the hospital. When we returned after the bone had “gone South”, all was silent.

So last week we embarked on the bread and water exercise. It was unsuccessful, as was the banana; so we called an ambulance and with the expectation of there being at least an hour’s delay then dialled a general practitioner friend for any other suggestions to try in the meantime. He suggested that the bone might be caught up in a tonsillar crypt, and reassured us that if it was not causing breathing problems we could leave it until the morning and via a referral from the general practitioner to an ear, nose and throat specialist the bone could probably be removed under local anaesthesia. This would be a two-stage procedure, potentially drawn out, dependent on the availability of the doctors.

We were about to accept our friend’s advice, and cancel the call to the ambulance when two paramedics turned up after an hour. The situation explained, Rocco, one of the paramedics asked if we had any Coca-Cola or lemonade – something both carbonated and acidic. As we had Coca-Cola he suggested my wife gargle with it. She went out to the kitchen, gargled and Eureka, it worked almost immediately. A few gulps and all’s well. So we learnt something, because as Rocco said the first response if they had taken her to the Accident & Emergency Department would be to purchase some Coca Cola from a vending machine and see if that shifted the bone.

As there were a few minutes while the fish bone was moving its way down the gullet, I asked how they had found their education. It was nearly 30 years since I undertook a review of the NSW Ambulance Service, and one of my recommendations had been to establish a formal tertiary education course for ambulance officer training, not only to introduce a reproducible training program, but also to assure reciprocity for Ambulance officer recognition between State services. At the time, training was internal and there was no reciprocity between the States. Learning was robotic and one of the teachers was reputed to carry a baseball bat to establish what passed as a learning environment.

It was a time when the NSW Ambulance had more ranks than the British Army such was the promotional system based on seniority rather than qualification. Behind this system was “the Brotherhood”, in which the power of the ambulance service rested at the time. Not a particularly enticing prospect for someone entrusted with review. However the NSW Ambulance Board at the time was progressive. Changes came. It seemed that the education recommendation has survived with these two paramedics being graduates of this system that had its genesis in the early 90s.

As Rebecca, the other paramedic there at the “Fishbone incident” said, looking at me just as they were leaving; “Thanks for the HECS debt!” I think she was joking.

Barramundi

When I have had the best seafood meal, I record it – not the exact date or time as they are immaterial except in a general sort of way. I am too impatient to be an angler and the complexity of the fly fisherman is well beyond my ken. However, I remember inter alia my very best barramundi meal.

It was Good Friday about 20 years ago and the temperature in the shade was in excess of 40oc by mid morning. We had pulled up at a nondescript store outside Wyndham. There was a sign advertising fish and chips, but given the time and place there was no expectation of there being any tucker available. No fish apparent. One of the young Aboriginal guys there looked at the other and said could we wait a half an hour or so. We agreed to wait.

Sure enough – a freshly caught barramundi appeared. One of the guys had gone down to the Gut and speared one. We didn’t mind waiting and then sitting in the shade, the sublime enjoyment of consuming this most notable meal of barramundi. When you are not expecting excellence, you appreciate it so much more. Legally caught? Of course, with a wink.

And one more thing…

I was a bit taken back by the army chief, Angus Campbell, jumping out of a helicopter onto the deck of the “Adelaide” to be surrounded by many cheering troops and saying what a good job they had done. I thought it would be better if this claque were out working in the community rather than giving the General a rousing cheer on a boat moored off Eden.

I wonder what would have happened if the head of the firefighters had called them in for a rousing reception while there were still bushfires all around. Condemnation I suspect.

Irrespective of the motive, with all due respects it was a bad look, redolent of George Bush declaiming on the Abraham Lincoln under a banner “Mission Accomplished.”

The fact is that the defence force was caught unprepared, and while they are obviously learning lessons with them increasingly visible in helping with bushfires, your self-congratulatory action, Angus Campbell, was a poor, unnecessary image which hopefully will not be repeated.

It is the problem with public relations staff trying to justify their existence.

Mouse whisper

The local vicar on the Tasmanian West Coast also owns the earth moving business. One feels very safe in the hands of someone who can move both heaven and earth.

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

Modest expectations – “JH” Taylor 326

Did you pause on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November to remember?

If you did not, perhaps a line or two from Wilfrid Owen:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 

We have not learnt have we; just forgotten?

Another Homage

The following is an unabridged reprint in part of a NYT article. I don’t normally do this but the story is so telling:

T.J. Abraham is a block of a man with a tree-trunk neck and a lantern jaw. He played football at a top Catholic high school outside Pittsburgh and then travelled downtown to Duquesne University, where he played another three years.

He was an offensive lineman back then, and he gloried in the fraternity of hit and get hit, joyfully clanking helmets. Sometimes he saw stars, sometimes he puked and so what? Get back up and get back in. “I probably got my bell rung 70 times,” he said Sunday with a crooked smile.

He always knew he would get on with life. He was a top student, and in time he became an obstetrics & gynaecology doctor, delivering so many babies, maybe 3,000, a gregarious guy who remembered birthdays and who could make a nervous expectant mother grin. He had a beautiful home and a wife and a young daughter and a teenage son. He was a son of western Pennsylvania and life was grand.

He shakes his head: Until it wasn’t.

It was about seven years ago that the now 42-year-old Abraham said he began to notice his temper flaring without reason. His memory and judgement became flickering lamps. In a panic, he began a medical trek that ended with an inconceivable diagnosis: neurodegenerative dementia.

 When I was about the same age, I had a serious car accident, which involved a wet night, my car aquaplaning on a country road, sliding up a muddy path and hitting a pole and bouncing into a dairy, as I was afterwards told. The car subsequently burst into flames, but somehow I was able to release the seat belt and scramble out of the car. I do remember standing, laughing uproariously while the sound of the oncoming ambulance was ringing in my ears. Then everything went blank until I woke up in the operating theatre.

In relation to my head, I had a severe enough head injury without internal bleeding. However, the space between the skull bone and covering galeal aponeurosis was spongy with fluid, presumably blood although to my knowledge it was never tapped. In other words, decelerating from 100 kms per hour to zero in less than a second caused a significant head injury. In my youth I had sustained head knocks playing sport, you could not avoid it if you boxed, as I did throughout school.

However, as Dr Abraham had said, having repeated head on collisions at about 50 kilometre per hour cannot be good for the brain irrespective of whether you have a helmet or not (galea as the Romans would call it). Being medical practitioners, he and I are acutely aware of changes in our mental ability; that is until we have lost the ability to be aware.

After the accident when my various injuries had healed, I made the decision without any consultation with anybody to return to work. Needless to say it was premature; I was tolerated but many later said that I was weirder then usual and obviously I had not recovered. However, unlike Dr Abraham I was on an upward spiral and at least among my peers returned to an acceptable “normal”.

I respect him greatly for admitting to his downward spiral. I hope it is arrested. I keep looking for evidence of the mental consequences of my accident; I have the evidence of the physical legacy from the accident, but my blog is my sentinel of mental decay.

However, with these equally old men vying for public office in the United States, do they get their mental abilities tested regularly? To what extent do these old men have the honesty portrayed by Dr Abraham? If Trump’s twitters are his substitute for a blog, then the content would worry me if I was an American voter – especially if one has been unfortunate enough to be able to trace the course of fronto-temporal dementia in others as I have.

If in fact we are to countenance age in itself as not being a bar to election, it does not help on the other hand when others blinded by the allure of power are not prepared to face the fact that mental deterioration may be occurring in one of its own grandees.

Thank you, Dr Abraham for being my inspiration. I wish you all the best, and that you somehow will be able to slow the process.

Justin Trudeau lives

Justin Trudeau in a season of seeming conservative supremacy retained power in Canada in the October election, albeit with a minority government. This time, he was delayed in announcing his cabinet until 20 November. He has taken a collective deep breath. After all, he lost every riding in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile back at the hand-wringing barn, as reported:

It’s true that the caucus was unified behind the idea that the party’s membership, not its elected members, should hold the leader to account. But that was where consensus ended. The meeting didn’t last seven hours because MPs were lauding the leader and his team.

Always the sign that the Conservative party leader, in this case Andrew Scheer, the member for Regina Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan, is under extreme threat. The report goes on: 

There are very real concerns among MPs from Ontario in particular, that the party will be reduced to a rump in Canada’s largest province, if major changes are not introduced…

The loss of Milton, an Ontario riding formerly held by Lisa Raitt (Deputy Opposition Leader), is seen as a harbinger by (Conservative) MPs with commuter belt constituencies who have seen their vote share dip in successive elections since 2011.

It seems that the situation is the reverse of Australia. Here the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has released a review which, despite the verbiage, seems to be an exercise of exorcising itself of Bill Shorten. The Conservatives have not yet done that in Canada.

Queensland is to Labor as Alberta and Saskatchewan are to Trudeau. At least the ALP has seats in Queensland; Trudeau does not have a riding in either of those two provinces – no seats out of 48.

Trudeau also lost out to the Bloc Québécois in Quebec. Added to his woes, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Minister who resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet in protest against what she believed to be a cover-up engineered by Trudeau, retained her seat in Vancouver. She is a formidable native Canadian woman lawyer, with a very strong public profile.

Trudeau thus did not get it all his own way, and he literally also got a few black marks during his campaign. However despite all, his party ended up with the most seats, and he knows that the New Democratic Party (24 seats) and the Greens (possibly 4) will support him on most issues – enough for a comfortable working majority. Both these Parties have strong climate change agendas.

On the other hand the far-right party, the agenda of which would certainly have been attractive to some in the current Australian Liberal party, fared appallingly, even though the leader had held a seat in the previous Parliament, which he lost in 2019.

What is interesting is the comment about the loss of the suburban commuter vote, which is the product of a more educated electorate and which presumably will not lessen. Given there is evidence of that same shift in voting patterns occurring in the Trumpian America, this is an interesting development that the ALP should examine. For instance, the only two seats that showed a swing towards the ALP in Queensland, which virtually guaranteed Morrison’s victory, were in Brisbane and Ryan, affluent Liberal Party urban strongholds, presumably the equivalent of the “commuter vote.”

The Canadian electoral system is far different from Australia; it is non-compulsory and first past the post, traditionally thought to favour the conservative vote – but I wonder whether that would still hold true. The Canadian Senate is a far different construct from the one here in Australia. In addition, the provinces do not have the powers of the Australian States. And of course, Canada is bilingual with a strong French influence, not only in Quebec but also in parts of Ontario and the Maritime provinces.

If I were Albanese I would at least being saying “hello” to Trudeau. How Trudeau is selecting his Cabinet, due to be released on 20 November, as I noted above, would be a good topic to break the ice – which will soon be forming on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. Come skating with me, dear Albo. 

The Expert Prophesises

I found a scrap of paper, which had drifted across my desk. Dated 26 October 2016 it was written for The Australian by Robert Gottliebsen.

It starts with a definite conclusion: “Barring some totally unforeseen event, Hilary Clinton will be the 45th President of the United States.”

Then it analyses some of her policies, which if successful “may lead her to be re-elected for a second time”. How far has the world drifted from this Gottliebsen opinion piece, some may then say.

Therefore why bother reading on. As for the journalist he has to write another piece. He may hope that 13-day lag period between the 26 October piece being published and Trump’s election will be enough time for his readership to forget. He has no time to contemplate whether there was a sliver of usefulness when his first sentence is such an almighty gaffe. He probably hopes his readership would forget it.

Yet three years on it is worth reading. Gottliebsen suggests that Clinton would have concentrated on making small business work, because that is where she saw job creation – not in big business, which should be taxed more. Her policies were directed to more prompt payment by government to assure cash flow and to make to easier to operate, unlike Australia’s “bizarre anti-small business public servants (who) go out of their way to prevent small enterprises starting by blocking them getting an ABN”.

In enhancing her agenda, Gottliebsen suggested that small business would have gained a share of what he describes as “an infrastructure bonanza”. This involvement of small business provided Gottliebsen with the opportunity to state that the “Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to recognise modern-day ‘cartels’ excluding efficient small enterprises are run by unions in collaboration with their big company mates who, in turn, pay unions big sums for favourable treatment.”

The stimulus to small business by Clinton was designed to lift the minimum wage and pay other ancillary benefits, particularly health benefits – and also increase the workforce by immigration given the pool of refugees in which to dip.

What rings so true are these comments made at a time when Turnbull was resisting the Banking Royal Commission and before bodgie building construction, with widespread flammable cladding, was revealed.

It is not that those – let us not say top of town – just say those who congregate in the spring racing carnival marquees are solely to blame, but Gottliebsen was harsh about Australian business conditions, describing the alliance of big business and the unions as “blatant job-destroying corruption”.

If this is so, then what are politicians doing mingling with this mob, and moreover taking plush jobs on retirement from the same mob when the hurdy-gurdy stops playing? You rarely see these ex-politicians wandering along the streets of their erstwhile electorates asking what they can do for these people who may run small businesses, now these ‘exes’ have time on their hands and a large pension in their bank accounts. After all, small business was always good for a photo-opportunity in the electoral cycle when the politician wanted their vote.

Now what do you call a collection of lobbyists? Perhaps a trough.

Just because the prophecy was wrong does not mean the points being made by Robert Gottliebsen an age ago are not worth a little contemplation.

In fact, Thomas Phillipon, in a recently published book confirms a great deal of what Gottliebsen foresaw – at least in America. Domination by Amazon, Apple and Microsoft; fewer airlines; consolidation of hospital and pharmacy chains – all big business conglomerates at the expense of small business. And without appropriate legislation, the conglomerates swiftly become cartels -and Australia has many examples of this.

The Citation

Nicholas Talley is a man of many parts. He was the first person I came across designated “laureate professor”. I had known about the “poet laureate” and the “Nobel laureate” designations, all derived from the ancient tradition of placing a laurel/bay leaf garland on the deserving skull. But a laureate professor, what a vision!

Universities are good at diving into the Latin dictionary and coming up with flash words like “emeritus” for those who have retired and are off the payrolls. However, the emergence of retiring women academics has meant an increasing number of “emerita”, and those of us sub salis are known as “alumnus” or “alumna” – a mixed collection of whom traditionally would take the male plural “alumni”. A neuter variety would be known as an “alumnum” but the neuter plural “alumna” could be confused with the female singular.

Now universities are bestowing “laureate’’ on their deserving staff.

In any event should, in terms of consistency, these people of high office be called “laureatus” and “laureata”?

Added to the complexity is that “trees” in Latin are generally of the second declension, where most of the words are masculine, but trees although with male suffixes have the feminine gender.

And of course we come to the word bacca – which is attached to laureate also. Everybody knows presumably that they are graduating as a “laurel berry”.

The problem is that “laureate” is getting a bit common – how about Trabea professors – no worry about gender here.

Thus, hail Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley for introducing me to this topic – especially given his expertise in citations, he would know what a Trabea is. 

Mouse Whisper 

Wikipedia summarised it as well as anybody – up to a point:

The 1894 Open Championship was the 34th Open Championship, held 11–12 June at Royal St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England. J.H. Taylor won the Championship by five strokes from runner-up Douglas Rolland. This was the first Open Championship held outside Scotland.

 This was the first of five championships spread over three decades that Turner won, and in line with this blog number this first was the 34th Open. His 72-round total of 326 was the highest ever recorded to win the Open – and by five strokes!

By contrast on the same course in 1993, Greg Norman won with the lowest-ever score at that time of 267, since bettered by Hendrik Stenson with a 264 at Royal Troon in 2016.

There weren’t many horseless carriages around in 1894 either, but plenty of mashies, brassies and cleeks.

Modest expectations – Westphalia

I understand le canard Trump was instrumental in securing the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. That statement is about as idiotic as his justification for welshing on the Kurds because they did not help in Operation Overlord.

It reminds me of the bon mots uttered by Marshall Green, the shadowy US Ambassador to Australia, who was implicated in the Whitlam dismissal.

“When he heard there may be Turkish troops posted to the Vietnam War, Green is reputed to have said: “I have always wanted to see Kurds in Hue.”

There is no mention of Miss Muffet or the tuffet upon which she was sitting.

Upon which Miss Muffet sat …

Diversion to Lithuania

I have been reading a book written by David Smiedt about being a Lithuanian Jew. I have always admired the Lithuanian Bund – a collective of Jewish socialists with their Polish and Russian brothers and sisters who provided a bulwark of social idealism and democratic spirit in an area that was rife with anti-semitism and authoritarian politics. They were a reservoir of Yiddish speaking Jews and were opposed to the Zionist element of Judaism, at the time when an independent Jewish state in Palestine was very much debated.

Many of the Bund came to Australia, and I remember a former Yiddish school in Carlton being rented by a group of young parents including myself as a day nursery. It was surplus to their needs, but we inherited an elderly Lithuanian, Joseph Giligich, who was very much the “hands-on landlord”, and even though his constituency had moved from Carlton south of the Yarra, he was always buzzing around.

He was not the only Lithuanian to attract my attention, for very many of the refugees from the Baltic countries after World War 11, whom I met, were Latvian. However there was one in my year of medicine, who introduced himself as “Casey”, which sounded Irish, and then uttered his surname that, like Icelandic surnames, tend to be long and trail away into the distance. The scribe politely asked how it was spelt and he started “Z…d…” The rest was lost in the mirth of the class. He was Lithuanian born.

It was some years before I had the opportunity with a friend to visit Lithuania – and yet it was not a Jewish Lithuania that I saw. It was very much a Roman Catholic Lithuania.

It is a long drive from Riga to the capital, Vilnius. So we have an intermission. We stop off at the Hill of Crosses near the town of Siauliai (pronounced “Sharlie”). As I mentioned earlier in my Jiminy blog, this Hill is an extraordinary sight to behold as we near it. “Behold” is the right word, as it is a religious experience – thousands of crosses and crucifixes of all dimensions piled together on this hill and around its base As they are mostly composed of untreated wood, they are grey and slowly rotting. Some are pasted with chips of golden amber but the sun has gone and they too merge into a cheerless greyness. It is a vision of Golgotha seen though the eyes of Mervyn Peake.

For Lithuanians this is a sacred spot, and despite it being pulled down during the Russian rule, the Lithuanians have ensured that it has sprung up again. The various notes in various languages strewn on and among the crosses indicate the Hill is not restricted to the locals. I gaze out on the adjacent lush meadow bordered by a clear stream. The forget-me-nots nestling among the crosses under the cypress trees provide a dash of nature to this oppression of crosses and crucifixes. I would have thought that this scene would provide a degree of tranquillity. But it does not. The Hill has a stench of death.

However, for most who come this is a sacred spot for pilgrimage. For them, placing a cross or crucifix among the many others may seem a fulfilment – an apologia for the journey. Lithuanians are Roman Catholics and as a country they have a natural affinity with Poles, who, like them, are Catholic. Small Polish flags are seen poking through the adornment of crosses testifying that it is a place of pilgrimage. For me, despite the gloomy appearance, the Hill is the second most arresting sight in Lithuania that I have seen until Vilnius.

The weather that has been threatening suddenly bursts open on my way back to the car park, which is about half a kilometre away. While our driver has been able to drop us near the Hill to let us out, he has to retreat to the car park. I get drenched.

It is still raining when we get to Vilnius. Our experience was somewhat different from the author of the Lithuanian odyssey, who explored the underbelly of the city.

The square outside our hotel has a number of intersecting lanes and streets lanes adding to its central importance. The square is lined by shops, amid which is the church of St Casimir. Nearby to the hotel is the National Philharmonic Hall, where we venture to hear the works of a Lithuanian composer, Osvaldas Balakauskas. The building reflects the Russian stucco socialist realism of the time. It was built in the 1940s. The music of a modern Lithuanian composer is challenging and we don’t have the energy to interpret all his nuances – we leave at the interval.

The weather has started to warm up on our second day, so we have the option of sitting out on the pavement or inside. We sit outside, quietly sipping a pre-lunch ale, when suddenly they descended. A line of cars and motor cyclists – men in red berets and army uniforms –men in dark suits with those radio earpieces dangling from their ears, seamlessly alighting in feathery concert from the cars – a fluid movement as though it had been a learnt art at bodyguard school.

Even the car doors are closed quietly. However, this is an exercise in hanging about until the centre of attention, who seems to have the rank of Lieutenant General arrives, has a brief kerbside conference with his staff and disappears inside. Amid all this activity we are not disturbed, not asked to leave, not frogmarched away.

The minders are all very relaxed but alert. They tell us who is coming, the name sounding like Gaubys. There is no self-importance in these men, apart from the number required to protect this dignitary. They chat to us. The Lithuanian army is supposed to be a reasonable fighting force. We are not very far from the Belarus border, and if we were allowed we could have had gone to Minsk and back for lunch -that is if you prefer Belorussian cuisine. However, the iron curtain still clanks at the border of these two countries.

Instead, being in the centre of town there are convenient cafés. One named California across the street takes its clue from its title and serves food with an American brio. I have the clam chowder and not the hamburgers. The café across the other lane is the Café Montmartre where the food has a very French flavour – the familiar eponymous onion soup, snails, even frogs’ legs are available. This shielded us from what is very endemic in all Baltic cookery. No matter how tricked up it is, it all comes down to meat and vegetables – with some fish. The grilled sea bream at the Café Montmartre is probably the best fish I had on this journey.

Lithuania is known for its glassblowing – stikliai – and there are many shops, which put this Lithuanian art on display. From one of these shops, I buy a simple small glass robin as a memento.

It is also known probably more widely for its amber, as is Latvia.

The Vilnius Cathedral has a neoclassical colonnaded façade and the building is topped by three statues, the central one – St Stanislaus, the patron saint of this country, carries a cross.

The cathedral has a high vaulted Gothic nave adorned by paintings and frescoes. They are again nothing remarkable. I light a candle for my close friend since it is nearing the tenth anniversary of his death. I stop for a moment before the basilicaform chancel and sanctuary. It is a strange place to remember him. I cross myself.

Close by there is the 13th century tiered tower, once part of the city defences but since the 19th century, the cathedral belltower. The bells ring out at 5pm but we are here in the morning.

Outside is a Dominican friar, who is speaking Russian animatedly to his companion. It is an example of the unexpected. I could see this as the opening scene in a John le Carré scripted film (or am I thinking of Dan Brown?) – a Russian-speaking “supposed” Dominican monk up to something. (This poor innocent man here in the portico becomes the subject of a vivid imagination).

Then an unforgettable moment occurs. My eye catches a small child being slowly rotated by his mother on a small patch of pavement. We wander over to see what the child is doing. They leave. This is the square within the Square where the last or first person stood when, as mentioned earlier, two million Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians held hands to celebrate the three countries released from Russian rule. It is just a single marker of a symbol of a solidarity, which is missing in all the other relationships between the three countries.

Stebuklas Miracle Tile, Cathedral Square, Vilnius

Standing on this marker because of its simplicity and yet its significance as a currency of communication is my trip highlight. Having duly rotated on the spot as a symbol of good fortune, I walk with my companion away across the square to the gardens where the trees shield us from the increasing warmth of the day.

I cannot forget the mother with her child standing on the marker – he looking down, she gently turning him around. I hope the child enters a world where “sekmes, veiksmi , edumay guide him on through this turbulent World – and each a word in a different language but meaning much the same – good luck.

But first don’t let Trump know of this country that has seen so much pain since its Grand Duchy days between the 13th and the end of the 18th centuries, and of the three Baltic countries has the smallest Russian population. Yet it borders the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad and its neighbour Belarus may as well be Russian.

The last part of our walk through the University of Vilnius is somewhat of an anticlimax – up a hill, curving narrow street, no shade, weather now hot, little green space to rest. I buy a Lithuanian flag at the university bookshop. Now I have the three flags of the Baltic countries and, as with everything else, they could not be more different. But remember these people did once hold hands across all their borders in 1989, 30 years ago, on August 23 – and they have not forgotten.

As David Smiedt, who works as a comedian, concluded following his far more extensive exploration of Lithuania than mine, admitting that he views the world through a Jewish lens:

“I envy their self-assuredness, which I originally mistook for aloofness or suspicion. Lithuania, like its inhabitants will hold your gaze.”

Amen. 

The Case of Gladys Liu

Lodged in the Prime Minister’s unintentionally leaked “talking points” between Northern Syria and Infrastructure are three dot points about the member for Chisholm (sic):

  •  Ms Liu has spent a considerable amount of time over the last three weeks reviewing her association with all community organisations. With nearly 1,000 Chinese organisations in Victoria alone it has been a lengthy task.
  •  Ms Liu has very clearly stated that she does not wish to be a member of any organisation that has not received her explicit consent. She has asked that she be removed from all organisations that have not received her consent.
  •  Ms Liu is confident that she is not linked to any organisations that may have inappropriate associations.

“Now go away and stop bothering me” is the subtext.

However, the first talking point implies our member for Chisholm is so disconnected with what she has been doing that she had to go through 1000 Chinese organisational names. I don’t know about you Prime Minister, but I know which organisations that I am linked to – and I do not have to go through the telephone book.

The weasel, not quite out of the burrow …

Next point, the weasel is out of the burrow – explicit consent. What does that mean? Now she has asked that she be removed from all organisations that do not have her “explicit consent”. Now, Prime Minister, given she has combed through 1000 organisations, how many would that be?

Final point – she is confident – but are you? And then the weasel attacks again “inappropriate associations”.

The fact the Intelligence Community warned Malcolm Turnbull about Gladys Liu should not be ignored; what has changed that has now prompted your Assistant Minister to use the word ‘smear’ in relation to the questioning of Ms Liu? If logic is used, then does the Intelligence Community with their advice to your predecessor form part of the smear.

For my part, what if she believes in the Chinese system of government, I do not see that as a crime. However, if anybody is a member of a proscribed organisation or has committed offences under the broad brush of ‘espionage’ then it becomes a different matter. The Prime Minister has obviously made the assumption that this is not the case.

However, she is now a Member of Parliament and what she says will be carefully watched not only by the Opposition but also by her erstwhile colleagues. However, just as we will have American apologists there is no reason for there not to be Chinese apologists in Parliament.

Ultimately, the ballot box will tell whether the case of Mrs Liu results in her being re-elected or not.

She made a very eloquent maiden speech, which implies that she has a literary grasp of the English language. However, if she becomes a Chinese apologist manquée, then she will not only have the ballot box to deal with. I suspect Beijing will be watching also.

However, if the Prime Minister does wish to show his trust in Ms Liu, he should ensure for instance that she is made a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Ms Liu is not the first Chinese-born member of parliament to to be questioned over a Chinese-based organisation connection. Only last year, Mr Pierre Yang, an upper house Western Australian Labor member of parliament apologised for not disclosing membership of two associations allegedly linked to the Chinese communist party from which he has since resigned. Given the problems the NSW branch of  Labor Party are having with their association with Chinese benefactors, this is yet another challenge which our European exclave called Australia is facing, lying as we do geographically at the end of the Dragon’s tail.

Mouse Whisper

Topolino is indebted to David Smeidt for this sample of Yiddish humour:

One day Shlomo and Moshe are talking about holidays. Shlomo says, “I think I am just about ready to book my winter holidays again, but I’m going to do it differently this time. In the past, I have always taken your advice about where to go. Three years ago you said to go to Eilat. I went to Eilat and my wife Ruth got pregnant. Then two years ago, you told me to go to Bermuda and Ruth got pregnant again. Last year you suggested the Canary Isles and, as you know, Ruth got pregnant yet again.”

Moshe asks, “So what are you are going to do different this year, Shlomo?”

“This year,” replies Shlomo, “I’m taking Ruth with me.”

Eilat

Modest expectations – Parrot

I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future, and I think it is important we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, that they will also have an economy to live in as well. I don’t want our children to have anxieties about these issues.”  

The antidote for such anxieties?

 Religion is the opium of the People.

 You get good Marx for that solution. 

The safety valve

I never thought when I was challenged to write a blog, which I’m sure among the cacophonies of ideas and opinions may be read by one or two, looking for a murine apparatus and getting the spelling wrong. However, the blog is a safety valve. It allows one to shower cyberspace with words – and since cyberspace is self cleaning then you do not pollute but leave, in one’s own mind, priceless gems hanging like lanterns lighting humanity as they get swallowed by the uroboros.

However as the twilight glimmers, one of the only facilities left to me now is writing. Assuming that this is my skill, I am writing as if there is no tomorrow so that there is a legacy for what it is worth. I always listened to Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America every week when he was alive; there was always a reason for saying what he did. The book of his travel around America when he was a young man inspired me to see as much as I could, since that axiom that one is a long time dead rings so true – despite one’s affirmation of life everlasting in the Apostolic Creed. The problem is that these Creeds were hatched when 40 years was the life expectancy; thus before one realised the horror of old age and being cast into the Life Everlasting nursing home.

Rockchoppers revisited – A Weapon of Mass Destruction

I read Rockchoppers just after it was released in 1982. It was written by a Roman Catholic priest, Edmund Campion and in the wake of what I thought was the awakening of the Roman Catholic Church following Vatican II and with it the growth of the worker-priest movement. It was a brilliant book.

Chartres Cathedral Rose Window

His description of Chartres cathedral – there is none better. To stand, kneel whatever your stance in Chartres Cathedral the cathedral is, the nearest I myself have ever felt of being in a divine presence. Edmund Campion put my inchoate thoughts in print elegantly, compellingly. He quotes those stirring words of Fulbert, one of the Bishops of Chartres.

We are as dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. We can see more and farther than they, not because we have keener eyesight or because we are taller than they, but because we are raised up and held aloft by their grandeur. 

Yet as I clear my library of books accumulated over more than half a century, I wonder how Campion feels today about his Church beset by a tidal wave of child molestation, unacknowledged children of priests and the indefensible maintenance of the seal of confession in cases of child rape, the non recognition of woman as priests, the hurt and harm to so many of the flock over which these men in frocks and silly hats have presided. Shepherds they ain’t, although they do carry a crosier – representing the shape of a crook.

Corpus Christi College in Victoria, a seminary, has been revealed as a cesspool breeding pederasts. On re-reading his book, Campion is very chatty about his early life, except for the time he spent in the Manly seminary studying for the priesthood. He dismisses it in a few lines – “for years I would have nightmares that I was back inside those walls”. That is all, and his book then pursues the doctrinal-political pathway of a man whose beliefs are in line with those of the worker priest at a time when Santamaria was in ascendency. Yet he must have known about the increasing social dysfunctionality of the Church – he is too astute and sensitive not to have known.

However, this week watching these Roman Catholic apologists wheeled out for the courteous Lisa Millar and Geraldine Doogue to interview, there are the masks of geniality that are difficult to challenge, especially if you have been conditioned since childhood with a sense of guilt. You can never be rude to the Church. The Church would never send in the current Archbishop of Melbourne for interview as the public relations front – just get a good ol’ empathetic face of a Father Brown understudy with a purple vest to pour on the paternal charm.

This is the Roman Catholic Church in delay, delay and delay mode; the creed of Catholicism, as it is with many religions, is secrecy and rearguard. The description of church architecture to over the centuries as described by Campion designed to increasingly separate the congregation for the priest to enhance the impenetrable secrecy should be standard reading as should be his antidote in Chartres.

Personally I am pessimistic and the Campion book holds the clue of why that is. Within all religion there is a reactionary group fearful of change which intelligent unscrupulous populists like Santamaria can exploit, as he did through the DLP before it was effectively destroyed in the 1974 Federal election.

However, it is not only the conservative Roman Catholics, but also in Newt Gingrich’s cleverly exploitation in harnessing the political clout of the evangelical Christian movement in 1990s. There are two forces – fear and the authoritarian personality, which oppose the forces that Campion wanted unleashed to liberalise the Catholic church. Therefore, to protect the base the traditionalists are prepared – if not to condone the despicable behaviour outlined above – then to look the other way or throw a blanket of sophistry over it.

Richmond – A Reflected Glow

I am not a Richmond supporter. However, I easily could have been if the kids on the corner of the street where I lived when I was five had not been Essendon supporters. Deeply impressionable, I became a passionate Essendon supporter, a support that was transferred to my sons and their children.

Michael Egan, Major of Richmond

However, my great grandfather, Michael Egan was Mayor of Richmond in the early 1870s and there is even a street named after him in Richmond. He distinguished himself by biffing another councillor who dared to disagree with him, but many of his other achievements as a councillor have been lost when at some time later the Council records were incinerated – some say suspiciously.

Michael Egan made a fortune with a wood yard, initially at the end of Rowena Parade and then transferred to Punt Road, where the Yarra River was convenient for transporting the wood. Anyway most of the wood ended up in the goldfield diggings, and when the great Crash of the 1890s came, I was always told that he survived because his money was in the Bank of NSW.

During the 1970s I frequented the Vaucluse Hotel in Richmond where we had monthly meetings, and this was time when the licensee, Graeme Richmond, was one of the geniuses behind that golden period when Richmond was last a powerhouse football team; and mine wasn’t. However, despite the horror of the period I did not change my colour from red sash to yellow.

Then Kevin Sheedy came along, a Richmond champion footballer as coach of Essendon in 1981. I thought Sheedy a dirty player and remembered him breaking Des Tuddenham’s leg, another ferocious footballer of that era, who had gone to Essendon as playing coach from Collingwood.

Now this Sheedy had come to Essendon as coach, and there was a perverse satisfaction in him losing five out of the first six games as coach such that he contemplated putting on the boots and coming back as a playing coach.

Then the Sheedy era blossomed. Essendon won 15 games in succession until it lost the very last game of the season to Geelong to Geelong and subsequently the 1981 elimination final. In three years though, Sheedy achieved his first premiership with my team – the first since 1965 – and during this time it turned out that Sheedy had been an Essendon supporter as a kid.

The tide was turning. Sheedy in my eyes now had been a fearless, uncompromising player, who brought the best out of his players instilling that intense fearlessness, of which the current Richmond coach, Damien Hardwick, as one of his protégés was a beneficiary.

One day Sheedy had also stopped to play cricket with my sons who were practising on one of those malthoid wickets in Yarra Park close to the Richmond Cricket Ground. How good was that for two teenage boys forever devoted to the Essendon red and black! Richmond and Essendon were thus forever closely intertwined.

However, even before Sheedy was appointed, I did make amends in relation to the yellow and black when in 1979 I moved to Balmain – Richmond on the Parramatta River as I called it – and became a very strong rugby league supporter of the then Balmain Tigers.

Balmain colours were orange and black. But what is there in a different shade of colour?

But then that is another story. 

Trudeau or Scheer. Scheer who?

It’s colder; they play ice hockey more; their bacon is really ham; and their obsession with maple syrup products borders on unhealthy. So penned a BBC reporter in an introduction to an article about the Canadian versus American political system.

The Canadians go to the polls on 21 October with 338 ridings up for grabs. Next week, the leaders of the various parties face the media in a Quebec venue – one in English –the other in French before audiences presumably who can understand “pollyspeak” in two languages.

There seem to be six parties in the electoral campaign, although two of the parties have two and one member each – the Greens, two on the Vancouver islands and a one-man party led by a LePen-like character who holds a Quebec seat. This leaves the left-of-centre New Democratic Party under its leader, Jagmeet Singh, struggling to repeat its 2015 successes. The Bloc Québécois Leader, Yves-François Blanchet, seems more secure and concentrates on the francophone areas, and it is the loyalty of his constituency that will probably determine whether Trudeau can wrest seats and be re-elected.

Trudeau thus will have to win seats in Quebec, an aim helped by the fact that the Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, who represents a riding in Saskatchewan, does not speak French well.

Saskatchewan

However, the end result of the election should be interesting. We Australians pay scant attention to Canadian politics, only mentioning briefly Justin Trudeau’s travails, when he had been embarrassed by his appearance in blackface on several occasions when young, well before politics beckoned. These antics have been portrayed by the right-wing media as though they were a mortal sin. However, given the rise of social media and the tendency apparently to trade intimate and potentially embarrassing images, maybe this minor transgression by Trudeau will be magnified in future elections for aspiring politicians as the “sins of the past” are paraded as “weapons of mass destruction”.

What is important about our future relations with Canada is that both countries for their size and GDP have substantial pension/superannuation funds, with the potential for investment. An example of this is the joint arrangement announced in August between Australian Super, Australia’s largest industry superannuation fund, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Canada’s largest single-profession pension plan, to invest $1 billion each in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) of India’s Master Fund.

Then this week, Webster Ltd, Australia’s monopoly grower of walnuts, signed a deal for an AUD854 million takeover, yet to be ratified, by PSP Investments, Canada’s huge public service pension fund. The same fund has funded the Hewitt Cattle Company to expand its holdings in the Northern Territory. PSP Investments also owns 25 per cent of the NorthConnex tunnel, 25 per cent of the Westlink M7 toll road, 33 per cent of the rail freight company, Pacific National and a large slice of BAI Communications – in political terms all highly strategic.

The problem with the two countries is that in addition to being far away from one another, they traditionally excel in different sports (unlike other countries in the British Commonwealth). So the two countries exist in parallel. Any communication between Morrison and Trudeau one can guess has been minimal; perhaps if Scheer becomes Prime Minister there will be more evidence of shared vision in a common adulation of Trump, given the way their political careers have slid forward.

Politicians are great followers and perhaps the investment profiles of the large superannuation/pension funds of each country may guide them to pool their common interests so there is a potential third force in this increasingly polarised world.

And one great advantage Canada has over Australia is the lack of the Murdoch shadow. It should be noted that James Murdoch has purchased a property in a remote part of British Columbia, but then does he count? After all, he has been caught providing funding for democratic aspirants for the U.S. Presidency.

Mouse whisper

Mentioning “Boof”. It may have been 2010 … with apologies to A.A. Milne.

Scott Scott Morrison Morrison whether a matter for glee,

Took great care of his bear, though he was forty-three.

Scott Scott said to the Rupert: “Rupert, ” he said, said he.

“Don’t ever go up to the top of the town if you don’t go up with me …

and look what happened – Scott2 Morrison2 has another bear called Lachlan.

Modest expectations – Duckworth

We may be in our lounge room in Sydney or in a hotel room overlooking the Iguaçu Falls in Brazil, but there is a timeless quality surrounding mass murder in the United States. The latest atrocity was in El Paso. There is Fox television glued to nothingness – just the front of a supermarket. It is like an Andy Warhol movie. However the commentary tries to make up for the lack of action by repeating the same nothingness in that urgent tone of expectancy. Later there are clips of law enforcement officers rugged up like escapees from a video program. You know the video violence which is attracting million of dollars of sponsorship so that the male youth of the world can be warriors without the pain but with the smell of vicarious power.

It does not matter how many are killed in El Paso. The more killed or maimed the better the news story. After all the Gilroy incident in California only resulted in three deaths, hardly worth recording. Now there are a score or more dead in this Texas border town. The social media graphics start to trickle in – the snaps of bodies, the picture of the supposed offending AK rifle – it is only a matter of time before the loony manifesto of the perpetrator will turn upon social media. This delusionary detritus of humanity who wants to be recognised – the profile of a young white male consumed by his own self-loathing egged on by a society where hate is increasingly the norm.

Then hours later, we have the tawdry spectacle led by the Texan governor praising the law enforcement officers’ quick response. Six minutes. In the meantime two score or more are shot dead or wounded. Then from these officials comes the outpouring of pious platitudes about prayers and “hug your family”. After the Governor, the Mayor and so on in a paean of self-congratulations where tragedy is a backdrop to self-aggrandisement, telling us nothing except the “shooter was disarmed and is now in custody”. Not a word about gun control from anyone – not a word. Just everyone wants to be re-elected.

And a macabre copycat dessert occurs not long after – Dayton Ohio.

And somewhere in the distance one hears a presidential bleat about change in the rules – and then predictably welshes on what he has promised to do.

The Real Amazon

One of the problems with any short-term visit, you only scrape the surface. It is a four-hour flight to get from Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro to Manaus. That is for starters and the South American airlines are very basic, jammed into the small Airbus. Manaus is the starting point for a five-day trip up the Amazon. Really the Iberostar does not travel far – 100 kilometres at the most, up a river, which is nearly 7,000 kilometres in length, arising in the Peruvian Andes and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, where its water is still fresh.

Pink River Dolphin in the Amazon

Living in a big country as we do, immensity of land mass for Australians is nothing new although a river which is twenty-three kilometres across in some places makes one realise that Brazil is a serious bulwark against global warming – for now. This huge river is the jungle artery – endless jungle traced with tributaries of the Rio Enorme. There is a very occasional settlement; so different from the port of Manaus which is a mixture of modernity and of a long past. With two million people it is a significant Amazonian presence. Yet this lively port still has the overtones of a pre-container ship existence.

Unlike Australia where 25 million people occupy the country, Brazil has 220 million people. The cultural heritage is a roll call of European countries, but there also is a large population of black people, the descendants of a massive importation of West Africans, as slaves, in Brazil’s early years. After all, the Portuguese were the first major European colonisers after the Romans. Today there seems to be sensitivity to these past wrongs as the word for black shuffles between “preto” and “negro”.

Then there are native Amazonian Indians, which the current government seems intent on strangling – little settlements where currently every body looks healthy, but who knows with this current President, a man with the mien of warthog.

The Portuguese language may seem to us the most insignificant of the Romantic languages, on a par with Romanian. After all it is only spoken in Portugal and in a few former Portuguese colonies, including Timor- Leste close to home. However, one of the former colonies is Brazil, potentially a major power in killing this planet if the current government deforests the Amazon Basin, a gargantuan task given that Australia could be swallowed up in it. However, do not underestimate the madness of the human race.

If you are going to travel there, while it still exists, it is useful to have a working knowledge of Portuguese. It is not an easy language as the pronunciation is confounding.

The Brazilians appreciate you attempting to speak the language, and knowing even a few words opens up many of the cultural links. However, when you are a tourist, who is not a backpacker as my son was years ago in Brazil and was robbed, we live in the comfort zone of care. Luckily thus we have been looked after well.

However, the downside is alleviated if you learn some Portuguese before you embark on such a trip on the Amazon.

And the currency “real(s) is pronounced “hay-il”or in the plural “hay-eesh”. Get it?

Uruguay – the place where the Italians colonised

Now everybody knows that Uruguay is the place where man for man, they have the most successful futebol team in the world. I say man for man as the game for women is just stirring.

Uruguay is not large. It has been described as a thumbprint between Brazil and Argentina. Consider, it has a population of just over 3 million and just over a million of them live in Montevideo and just over 300,000 live in condominiums in two of its suburbs overlooking the River Plate. For an Australian comparison, Tasmania is about 40 per cent the size of Uruguay

Not that the River Plate is a river, it is an estuary which defines the limits of the country to the south, and as you drive along coast, the meeting of the Plate and the Atlantic Ocean is not as clear today as it apparently can be – the sea is all too civilised where the waves are mere frills on the rocky coast line here.

Beaches of Uruguay

This is a country where it is increasingly the beach resort for wealthy South Americans, and where such wealth is denoted by high fences around large estates. It is interesting to note that the Uruguayans have strengthened by consolidating their money laundering laws as of last year.

The Uruguayan law establishes “that certain high-level public officials, such as the president and vice president of the Republic, national senators and representatives, ministers and under-secretaries of State, general secretariat directors at ministries, directors of autonomous entities, decentralized services, non-State public entities and holders of any political or trust position cannot be shareholders, ultimate beneficiaries or have any relationship with commercial companies domiciled in no- or low-tax jurisdictions while holding public office.” The devil is in the detail of this last proviso, and one of the ingredients of this small state is that the ruling elite is not corrupt.

Elections are underway and billboards for candidates dot the landscape. The biggest billboard high on one of the condominiums simply has Luis in huge letters, apparently the presidential candidate for the white party, the support base of which is rural and moderately conservative. This party together with the red party which is central and the ruling left wing Popular Front are striving for the run off, assuming the unlikely results of one candidate getting over 50 per cent in the first round. All very civilised.

For the size of country, Uruguay has a long coastline and a substantial border with Brazil. Argentina is just across the River Plate, two and half-hours will take one there by ferry. They have to tread carefully and although their international trade is denominated in US dollars, there is always currency instability in the area. Last week the Argentinian peso fell dramatically in response to the presidential elections and the return of Peronistas. There will be an inevitable effect on Uruguay.

Uruguay is a land of beaches and a summer that is not dissimilar to ours. Resorts line the River Plate; the expectation is to overlook the River Plate in the east and the mouth of the River Plate and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.

But this is also an agricultural country. Being next to Argentina the expectation is for beef cattle, and although, it is an important part of the economy, Uruguay is more diversified.

Driving through the countryside either east or west from Montevideo could be the western district of Victoria – just scattered population amid rolling countryside without a mountain in sight.

Uruguay farmland

Here our car passes through the potato growing area. There are dairy cows on either side of the double carriageway. All sorts of cheese are freely available to buy by the side of the road, as are apples and mandarins. On the side of one the undulating landscape is a large spread of canola. Soya beans and rice are big exports. However, the biggest export is probably wood chips, and plantations of eucalypts are also a prominent feature of the countryside.

Cannabis Medicinal

Cannabis is now a legal product in Uruguay – for registered Uruguayans. Shops openly market the weed and the associated paraphernalia. However, hemp as such is not grown here, and these cannabis outlets rely on Asian imports of hemp. The colourful backpack prominently states that it was made in Nepal, and given the loosening of restrictions in this part of South America, those with the inclination or need for this substance may start wandering across the Pacific.

The only useful quirk is that if you pay your bill by credit card you get a 15 per cent plus discount. Covers the tip anyway!

Colonia

Uruguay will never see many Australian tourists because it is so similar to Australia apart from Spanish/Portuguese heritage, particularly evident in the city of Colonia. But it is a long way to go for quaintness – unless you are thinking of having a quiet life away from scrutiny in this country.

And if you want to get away from Alan Jones… 

A Case to Answer

Mentioning this individual, even in Buenos Aires you cannot get away from the poisonous splinters that break off from this individual when anybody displeases him. Making a comment inciting the Australian Prime Minister to murder the New Zealand Prime Minister by shoving a sock down her throat is so disgusting it is amazing that it has not caused this individual to be charged. One of the characteristics of women who have socks thrust down their throat is that they die terrible deaths where the sock down the throat is accompanied by mutilation and unspeakable depravity.

By saying that it was a re-interpretation of a saying “put a sock in it” as an excuse fails on two grounds. The first is that it is an admonition for someone to use a sock to put in “it” however defined. The term is not applied to inciting attack by a third party. Here Jones defined “it” as the New Zealand Prime Minister’s throat, and he was not saying that she put the sock down her own throat. He was inciting the Australian Prime Minister to do so.

To say that the Prime minister was disappointed shows how much this popinjay inspires fear. Instead, if I had been in Morrison’s socks, I would have sought legal advice on the offence of inciting a crime. Such an action as I understand it has also been legislated in the Crimes Prevention Act 1916 (NSW) (‘the Act’) and s11.4 of the Criminal Code 1995. The Act is extremely brief, and therefore it should not be difficult to get an opinion. There are also specific offences within the Crimes Act 1900 that include ‘inciting’ as an element of the offence – murder (s26), suicide (s31C) and sexual assaults (s80G). Nobody – just nobody – even this person, has the right I would have thought to ask me to kill the New Zealand Prime Minister.

The reason is that I would have not been just “disappointed” – I would have seen if criminal charges were warranted, and that course of action remains open to the Australian Prime Minister.

Withdrawal of sponsorship for his program is tacit disgust by his money trail. Although don’t forget that they signed up to advertise on his program in the first place …

Yet this sponsor displeasure and the outraged responses in social media starkly contrast with the attitude and behaviour of Jones’ employer. A slap on his sock is his retribution.

And sending a sock to Costello? If that is true, what form of pointless “smart-arsery” is that? This man Jones should have his day in court if the legal advice confirms he has a case to answer.

Mouse Whisper

Heard from a pulpit in Petersham:

In Portuguese, the word for share is dividir. Thinking about that word, sharing is indeed dividing, but not with a sense of equity. The problem is that “divide” has come to be a synonym for the meanness of the human spirit.

Modest Expectations – Majority

When I was writing a book funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health to celebrate the bicentenary of Australia in 1988, the idea behind the book would be to take a number of people of various backgrounds in the health field and ask them why they were there at that particular time – 1988.

I had very few refusals. One I would have liked to include had terminal cancer, as I learnt later. Most of them I knew to some degree personally, but for some, like Vivian Statham nee Bullwinkel, it was a matter of cold calling. She must have liked what I wrote because she sent me a nice note. Others, like Professor “Pansy Wright”, sent back his annotated chapter with typical pithy oblique yet amusing marginalia. He never said anything was wrong, mind you.

In 2004, Who do you think you are“ appeared on BBC television. Bill Oddie was the first, but most of the subjects have been entertainers or sportspeople because they trained professionally to run the gamut of faux-emotion when the insights are “magically” opened up for them. Judging by the longevity in the series, it is great theatre and being copied in other countries, such as our own.

Business is booming in the whole ancestry business. The growth of analysing the individual DNA for racial heritage is alive – wonderful to know that one has a smudge of Lithuanian with a nuance of Savoyard barbecued on the heritage grill with a smidgen of Genghis Khan.

I do not know why we do it, apart from the fact that we live in a world of self-absorption where “I” overwhelms anything else in the alphabet.

However, who am I to talk? I have always been fascinated by my mother’s Irish heritage.

Crossard is on a hill about three kilometres north of Corofin and one km from Kilnaboy (the Catholic parish). Corofin in turn is about 16 kilometres north of Ennis in County Clare.

I have visited Crossard where John Egan, my great-great grandfather was born about 1770. All that remains of the 18th century Crossard is one stone wall of the Moravian Church, where one of the local families, the Burtons, helped 100 Moravian refugees from Central Europe establish a community at Crossard.

After the Moravians left, the building survived for a number of years, becoming a Catholic Church in the 1830s before falling into disuse. In addition to the remains of the Moravian Church and one stone ruin there are four modern stucco-rendered houses, one unfinished plus a farm called “Crossard Cottage”.

The Moravian Church at Crossard

Crossard is near the river Fergus, and here John Egan was a flour miller, and the flourmill building still exists at Clifden about two kilometres from Crossard on Lough Inchiquin. The Burton family had a large house on the Lough in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I had driven the narrow raised track towards Clifden knowing that would have been the route along which John Egan probably went to work. I have been on better roads, especially when confronted by a large piece of farm machinery travelling in the opposite direction. The road was on the edge of a substantial drop to the river plain. Having to reverse back down the muddy track was a deterrent to plunging back down that road – or off the road.

John Egan married Margaret McNamara and there are still both Egans and McNamaras in Corofin. In fact the McNamaras have a 200 year tradition of being the doctors in Corofin. And as for the Egans, there is a saying “if there are fish in Lough Inchiquin, there will be Egans in Corofin”. Lough Inchiquin is the local lake which lies below Crossard.

His son, my great-grand father Michael Egan migrated to Australia in 1848, and first went to Kapunda in South Australia, as did a number of the Blood family. That settlement was where the first commercial copper mine had been opened, antedating the gold rush. The Bloods, Burtons and Bindons were prominent Protestant landowners around Corofin and I had an idea that Michael Egan was employed by the Blood family as a young man in Ireland. Even to this day there is a Clare castle pub in the main street of Kapunda.

Eventually, Michael Egan was to become a very wealthy man in early Melbourne, benefiting from the gold rush as a wood merchant.

The Corofin Genealogy Centre was very helpful, but records in the National Library only go back as far as 1819. Searches could be undertaken in parish records to try and trace our lineage back further, as John Egan would have been born a Catholic in 1770. It could cost up to 500 euro for an extensive search of remaining baptismal and land records to find out more. These are matters that you intend to do, but I am closer to being a heritage listing and further puddling in baptismal records. My descendants may wish to do so.

I really just wanted to see what type of countryside our ancestors left to assure our existence. Although close to the Burren, it was very arable, but was particularly badly hit by the potato famine. This eventually was the reason the Egans came to Australia, but that is another story.

The Roo Revenge

Charlie McMahon concludes his time in the Western Desert 

Nicholas who had been in much strife at Kintore, was no trouble and was keen to use tools, particularly the screw drills. Charlie Tjakamarra who always wore a men’s red headband was staunch, cheerful and worked with me, always offering to lighten my load. Henry reckoned Charlie stayed close to me because he thought me to be in too much of a hurry (which was probably true), and worried I was likely to harm myself. There was no racial divide, none of the troubles of drink when you are two days drive out from the nearest boozer.  

In my four and a half years in the Western Desert there was not a drop drunk. I did keep an emergency flask of Chateau Tanunda brandy behind the passenger seat but never had to call on it. In the evenings Venus flickered between red and blue on the Western horizon and if I woke at night, the stars of the Southern sky told the time in the cloudless winter dry season, skies so clear that they looked not so much black as a faint blue. Frequent meteor streaks evoked trepidation among the fellas as they were thought to be the spirit of someone who had died far from their home.  

Everyone was pleased to see Minyina aka Anatari Number 3 and his wife, whose name I cannot recall, turn up one day with young Andrew Tjakamarra who was about 16 and the driver, a cheerful lad who immediately moved to camp with us while Minyina set up the first humpy at Kiwirrkurra about 100 meters to the north of us, an indication they must have lived out to the north BTT (before trouser time) because desert people always choose to camp in a spot adjacent to their country.  

They relished hunting fresh terrain, bringing a cooked cat (the one that I described earlier) to our campfire. Three weeks into the job the bush food was well received. With more hands than planned for, the town supplies were running low. We were down to flour, a few cans of bean and we had run out out of tea and sugar.  

The crew saved the day one afternoon returning with a fair sized roo and smaller one that were cooked immediately the Pintubi way. One had a poor little joey in pouch that the crew had some fun with, watching Danger nudge it to try to make it run, but I couldn’t stand to see it suffer and knocked it on the head. With a lot of care and special milk joeys can be nurtured but this was a work camp.  

I was tempted to do a dash to Kintore store for food but it was a day’s drive there and back and with only three days to finish the job I didn’t really want to. Henry dared me to make it through eating roo. The meat didn’t go off in the dry air stashed in a tree. We ate smoked and dried roo for the duration. I imagined how good a counter lunch at the Stuart Arms was going to taste in a few days. I got the runs, which no one else had. So I put it down to me being unaccustomed to roo meat. Still it was a good feeling to have finished the preparatory work so that the next month the windmill and tank could be erected. Henry drove and with no load it was a relatively quick trip but I was a mess when we pulled into Kintore at sunset and came across Jim Dooley at Steve and Kerry’s camp. Dooley had just dropped off freight there. Dooley was a funny bugger always joking, and my predicament was ammunition – I became the butt.’

“Welly welly Charlie Hook has gotten a crook belly playing at being a Pintubi”, he proclaimed.

“Henry, you trying to make a black fella out of Charlie?”  

“Shit you stink, Charlie and you will reek of roo for days.”

“Easy on mate, I’m rat shit!” I said.

Dooley’s kindness was my lucky break. Henry drove my vehicle to the loading ramp, onto the deck of Jim’s truck. Danger and I rode into town through the night in the sleeping bay with a few “crap stops”. Occasional farts erupted and smelt so bad that Dooley’s Jack Russell on the front seat would whimper, looking at me with ears down with forlorn, yet not reproachful face that dogs do so well. My odour did not worry Henry and Dooley. They just yarned all the way to town.

After a few days I recovered though Dooley was correct, the smell stayed with me. I could tell by reactions of the dogs. A yard guard dog had a go at me but turned tail when Danger responded in defending me. Since then I invariably get a vomit reflex when I smell wild roo meat. I am OK with the premium young doe roo meat that supermarkets sell as it has hardly any stench and in a spicy stew with onions I have no worries.

A brief note on Prohibition

Some years I was invited to a social function on a U.S naval vessel. It was a beautiful Sydney night. I had forgotten that there was no alcohol on US naval ships, with few exceptions. For instance, if a vessel has been at sea for 45 consecutive days or more, sailors are allowed to have two beers, on a one-time basis. However, it was salutary to attend an evening function without alcohol and only Kool Aid on offer. The function was pleasant and it was good to wake up the next morning and not regret the previous evening.

I was put in mind of the recent medical shock and horror at the alcohol industry’s response to the recent furore about alcohol and the recognition that alcohol is a part of our daily life.

Everybody knows that alcohol in excess is a poison, but whether lecturing the community is the best way to get the message through is probably problematical.

However, what the medical and other health professions could do is to emulate the US navy and ban alcohol at all official functions – all dinners. There would be mocktail receptions for distinguished guests. No more wine and food society functions under the auspices of medical groups – more than two glasses of booze a day contravenes the NH&MRC warning.

It is after all somewhat hypocritical to have happy snaps of health professionals at dinner with glass of wine in hand, if one is excoriating the alcohol industry at the same time for its collective irresponsibility.

Therefore, if the medical profession were really serious it would implement a total ban on alcohol being served at any sponsored dinner, and check the guests for hip flasks as they arrived.

It would also test whether anybody really wants to go to these functions, where self-aggrandisement is no longer an essential ingredient nor alcohol the essential lubricant. 

Mouse Whisper

Overheard in the Classics department of the University of Chipping Tarcoola.

“You know Scott Morrison has a Shakespearean connection. His name is Scottish-Irish, a derivation from the Latin word “Mauritius” – meaning a bloke from Mauretania – that is, a Moor. Not sure he would have liked to be known as Othello Morrison. Hate to know who he would pick to be Desdemona though.”

Modest expectations – Chlorine

I am indebted to Stephen Zifcak and the Menadue blog for this quote:

“If I were a journalist, these and other related developments cumulatively would be causing me very considerable alarm. Recently, in response, the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom has produced a report on the state of press freedom in Australia (Press Freedom in Australia, White Paper, May 2019). It describes the progressive erosion of that freedom. The report argues for the enactment of a Media Freedom Act. The purpose of the Act would be to enshrine the principle of press freedom in law.

 The Act would recognise the fundamental importance of national security and the protection of the Commonwealth’s intelligence and law enforcement activity while providing for the fundamental right of journalists to investigate and report on government corruption, surveillance and misconduct in public office. The report’s recommendations are not without legal difficulties. Nevertheless, it provides a sound starting point for a debate that goes to the heart of the Australian democracy.”

I would have thought that this is a call for the media in the jargon of today to weaponise itself. The head of this Alliance is Peter Greste, and as the face of the caring yet resolute person, there is none better.

The Alliance has a Chief Executive Officer who has been recently appointed. Olivia Pirie-Williams has a record as an activist and her poems reflect her deep affection for our planet. Her first target in January this year was the release of the two Burmese journalists employed by Reuters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They were released from prison in May.

The Alliance seems to have powerful friends and as such should consider running candidates at the next federal elections, targeting electorates in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. They are the potential spine of a centrist party, where the various freedoms of speech and association are protected; and where the enemy is defined as the trump-sucking, authoritarian, rent-seeking mercantilist.

The problem with the Independent is that they have no future. They can stay around a long time like Andrew Wilkie, but unless the seat is turned into a dynastic satrap as the Katter family has made Kennedy, he will eventually become a footnote in history, a nameplate on a wall in the Royal Hobart hospital.

The way the seat of Indi has been “transferred” indicates that succession planning for Independents is possible and what has been done in Indi may be a blue print. Catherine McGowan may be the centrist required for setting up such a party.

In the end the problem is that Independents are generally rounded up. The least line of surrender coupled with seduction of the perks of office means joining the party most likely to retain the electorate, thus goes the independent back into the authoritarian fold. South Australia like Tasmania has a history of independent thought, but who remembers Steele Hall – and his legacy? Even NSW – but who remembers Ted Mack?

From my experience of journalists and politicians, their personalities are complementary – they like to tell people what to do. Press secretaries in politicians’ offices generally come from the fourth estate in a revolving door. Some go further, as Deakin, Curtin and maybe Abbott have done federally and Carr and Rann at State level.

Therefore the Alliance has the opportunity to form a centrist party, provide an umbrella for the current Independents and target vulnerable seats in the cities – and you never know. Greste has the personality honed by mental if not physical agony, where the right wing trolls would try and destroy, but I am sure he would have studied the Trumpian playbook on John McCain’s reputation.

A perfect time to review defence capital expenditure (Capex) 

Neil Baird comments …

With the elimination of Chris Pyne, Australia is presented with an excellent opportunity to make a comprehensive review of our defence priorities. Pyne’s apparently more realistic successor, Senator Linda Reynolds, should grasp that opportunity.

In real terms, all the major Navy and the Air Force Capex projects have barely started and, in many cases, are decades away from completion. They could sensibly and relatively economically be paused, if not cancelled, while Australia takes a breather and re-thinks our requirements, priorities and most importantly, what we can afford.

Many of the ship, submarine, aircraft and weapon system purchases are scheduled so far into the future to be almost certainly obsolete long before their delivery date. They will undoubtedly cost a not inconsiderable $200 billion or more and be delivered years later than the already ridiculous 30 years that have been signed off by then Minister Pyne, his generals, admirals, senior bureaucrats and their American advisers.

Too many of the projects were ill-conceived for reasons more related to South Australian than National warfare. Minister Pyne may well have been a great representative of South Australia but he was wasteful of national taxpayer funds during his parliamentary career. Now, since he abandoned Parliament, apparently thinking that the Coalition Government was “a sinking ship”, he is seeking a new career as a defence industry lobbyist. That will only add insult to severe fiscal and defence readiness injury. Thus, the current orders for submarines and F35 aircraft, among others, could well be stayed if not totally scrubbed.

The nature of modern warfare and its weapon systems is changing dramatically and rapidly. The Americans are spending vast sums of money on unmanned systems for land, sea and air warfare. What Australia could learn from the Americans is more about unmanned technology, as Israel is doing; Australia should be rapidly developing its own. For example, the Boeing Aircraft Corp is developing an unmanned submarine that could well be appropriate for the shallow seas to our north. The Americans are also very advanced with the development of unmanned aircraft, including helicopters.

China has openly declared that America and Japan are its biggest worry and is continuing to battle with them. China has examined American weaknesses and is developing comparatively economical weaponry to exploit them. Ironically, the platforms for some of their best fast assault boats capable of launching long-range hypersonic cruise missiles were designed in Sydney. The Chinese (PLA) Navy has more than 100 of these vessels each carrying eight missiles. Their role is to “take out” American nuclear aircraft carriers.

By contrast, the Royal Australian Navy has none.

The Australian “Defence establishment” suffers from a considerable cultural cringe. For instance, it seems to believe that Australian designs and innovation are generally worthless. Some unkindly suggest the acquisition of frequent flyer points influences Defence purchasing decisions – but surely not!

Nevertheless much of the Defence Capex is invariably purchased offshore. It is then, too often, married incompatibly to being constructed locally. It is no wonder that local shipbuilders, except for the inefficient government-owned ASC, shun dealing with the Australian government, despite the local connection with the abovementioned Chinese missile boats.

This point is worth reiteration, because it is usually forgotten by Government. Australia is a world leader in the design and construction of very effective and efficient fast craft, including large and small patrol assault boats and fast logistics support ships.

While they had little choice, China has taken a practical “clean sheet” approach to the choices of weaponry and doctrine. Australia should follow their example, as it has its own unique cultural and geographic advantages and disadvantages, rather than blindly be following the USA and other ostensible allies. In the end Australia may be very much on its own. After all, who would USA side with if Japan were to go mad again and attack us? Japan has done it before. As far as trade is concerned, it could be argued that Japan is far more important to America than Australia is. We should prepare for all contingencies.

We could learn a lot from a closer study of China’s defence plans and practices. Its Maritime Militia should inspire Australia to look at this inexpensive option for our fishing and offshore service fleets as well as state government owned patrol boats. Unlike China, Australia has virtually no Merchant Navy and the few domestic cargo vessels Australia does have could be much more effectively integrated. The CFMMEU, of which the Maritime Union of Australia is a small but important component, should be eliminated or drastically reformed. That is the only way that local shipowners might be encouraged to invest in coastal cargo shipping which is imperative for defence.

Australia should also be very carefully re-considering our aversion to nuclear power and weaponry, but nevertheless should be developing a substantial cadre of nuclear engineers and other experts.

Australia constructs no diesel engines. As most warships, submarines, tanks and other land vehicles are diesel powered, Australia should be developing the capacity to build a wide range of them here. There is an existing global system for building diesel engines under licence to leading manufacturers. Australia should involve itself in that system as soon as possible.

Similarly, Australia refines almost no diesel and jet fuel in Australia. Most of our diesel is imported from Singapore. Australia has tiny reserves and should be encouraging industry to develop at least one diesel and jet fuel refinery in each state plus a couple more in the north.

China is also constructing much longer-range fighter-bombers than their American equivalents. They are also being fitted with long-range hypersonic cruise missiles to further extend their effectiveness. The cost of all these is dramatically less than for their American counterparts.

The effectiveness of the Russian Buk missiles recently used to down the Malaysian Airlines aircraft over the Ukraine should be heeded, despite the tragic connotation to many. Such truck-mounted weapons could be spread all round our northern coastline. They would be much cheaper to position than using ships or aircraft.

There is so much that we could do better, more logically and more economically. We should remove the focus on welfare from defence planning. The favouritism for South Australia has to go. If something can be built better in that state than elsewhere, fine, but otherwise, it should be built where Australia can obtain the best deal, not to provide jobs for redundant car workers. A fundamental thus should be that the review be a truly national project and not one that favours any one geographic region.

With the re-election of the Scott Morrison government, now is the perfect time to re-think our defence priorities. However let us “leaven” the defence establishment “experts”, its generals, admirals, air marshals and bureaucrats seasoned by academics with some practical business people, among them ship builders, naval architects, aircraft manufacturers, electronics experts, petroleum refiners.

Otherwise, Australia is doomed to repeat past mistakes. The Defence Department decision-making will continue to be slow and an ineffective, expensive millstone around our national neck. Our current purchases will inevitably be delivered so late that much of the equipment will be obsolete before it sees service. Senator Reynolds, as a senior Army Reserve officer, should be aware of the many defects of the current Defence Capex arrangements. It is up to her to ring the changes.

Neil Baird PhD is non-executive Chairman of Baird Maritime, a leading global maritime trade publisher. Neil has expert knowledge on fatal ferry accidents, their causes and how to prevent them. He is a former chairman of the World Ocean Council and the Australian Marine Environment Protection Association; a director of the Australian Shipbuilders Association; a member of the Domestic Ferry Safety Committee of INTERFERRY, the international association of ferry owners; and co-convenor of that organisation’s FerrySafe programme, sponsored by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

The Christie syndrome

Some may think Winston Churchill was an undischarged maverick. However, he recognised one principle of politics, for whatever else he did, he could be forgiven.

He refused to appease the tyrant.

He refused to appease Hitler. He realised that you cannot appease tyrants – especially those so self-absorbed they believe in their own infallibility. The only outcome was unconditional surrender, which Hitler helped by committing suicide. Whatever Churchill had done before in his long public and chequered career could be forgiven, given his resoluteness to stand up to Hitler. I am sure that he had all the pressure to make peace with Hitler, especially when the other appeared to have the upper hand.

Chris Christie was the hapless Republican Governor of New Jersey, who urged his way into heading the Trump transitional team. As he admits “He felt he could stay on the sidelines or support Trump, gain a seat at the table, and improve Trump’s behaviour”. Wrong – under the chuck wagon!

This situation has been repeated: appeasement – effusive praise – abusive humiliation – under the chuck wagon.

Theresa May tried to appease – dismissed.

Sir Keith Darroch trying to smooth the Trump visit to meet the Queen – a very stupid guy.

The British government has quite a record of cuddling up to dictators. For instance, Mussolini was given the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1923 from King George V and, more recently, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu got a gong.

So much for appeasement. But the saving grace, which probably burns within the Trump brain was he was not accorded a peerage on his recent trip, or at least an Order of the Garter, given his self-confessed love of women.

Fast forward to Boris Johnson. He is already a Halifax rather than the Winston Churchill he blusters to be. He will be tossed aside unless he does exactly what Trump wants him to do – apparently destruction of the European Union with his peculiar enhancement of the Putin connection. My only parenthetic comment is that I hope to see this skein of history seared in our collective memory when all is revealed.

However, Boris first has to be crowned.

But irrespective of this outcome the British Isles are now held hostage to the Trump manipulations. Appease all you like, I fear that to get anywhere with the special relationship is to make him the Duke of Queens and betroth his son, Barron (the name says it all) to one of the junior royals in good ol’ mediaeval splendour in a new Trump Tower Cathedral opposite Buck House. Now that would be a deal.

However, seriously, just as with the Nobel Prize speculation which took off with help of Trumps’ publicity machine, wait for the quest for imperial decoration.

Meanwhile, Australia dangles on a thread of aluminum.

Mouse Whisper

Be careful if you approach a door in Portugal and someone says for you to push. That sound in Portuguese means that you actually should pull open the door. However, when you see the word, most of us would have difficulty recognising it as “push” – “puxe”.

On the other hand “quando empurra vem empurrar” – when “push comes to shove” – the Portuguese use the same word for each.

After all, the Portuguese very early gave us what should be our watchword: “Abre olhos!” Open your eyes!

The West Australians know it well as the Abrolhos.

 

Modest Expectations – Union

One can hardly believe that in a country with so many challenges there is so much concern over some footballer who made a list of people he wished to be assigned to Hell.

Echoing what I wrote in an earlier blog, Peter Singer, the bioethicist, is reported as having written:

“Folau is a born-again Christian, and his post was an expression of his religious beliefs. To prevent misunderstanding, I should say that I do not share those beliefs. As an unrepentant atheist, I am among those for whom, Folau believes, hell awaits. But that does not trouble me, because there is, in my view, no god, no afterlife, and no hell. Nor do I differentiate, ethically, between homosexual and heterosexual relationships.”

Singer picks up the “hell awaits”. It is not as though Folau is advocating violence or even earthly sanctions. Nevertheless, the sheer arrogance of such a list should not have goaded the Rugby Union establishment into a response, which in turn has started a chain reaction. It has enabled the fundamentalist Christian groups to start braying about religious freedom, using Folau as a martyr strung up on a goal post.

In the course of this saga the community is being suckered into a situation where a silly statement is now being adopted by those who want to use the cloak of the Christian Church to run extreme agendas; where dominance of women is one of, if not the main objective.

Symptomatic is the resurfacing of the anti-abortion crew, who have never gone away – the matter has become a surrogate for maintaining the subservient role of women. Christian churches out of the mainstream are very good at keeping women as handmaidens, where the violence is not necessarily physical. And it is not limited to Christianity.

I have a visceral dislike for abortion, but it is not my business – not my choice. It should be a woman’s choice.

There was one occasion when I was faced with a friend who wanted an abortion, and the potential father had disappeared. It was at a time before the Menhennitt ruling changed the secrecy and enabled abortions to occur openly, and the words “criminal abortions” rendered obsolete. (In Victoria, a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1969 (‘Menhennitt ruling’) established that an abortion will be lawful if the accused held an honest belief on reasonable grounds that the abortion was both ‘necessary’ and ‘proportionate’.)

The whole episode made me so disgusted that we, in an ostensibly Christian society, were allowing women to be exposed to emotional and – on those occasions when the “backyard” procedure went wrong – physical trauma on women. Here a degrading scene was being played out, because men – predominantly men, and celibate men at that – thought it sinful.

Fortunately, my friend survived the ordeal. She recounted what had happened, I was appalled but we never talked about it again.

That is the worry if this whole Folau imbroglio, with the forthcoming legal action, is allowed to energise this group of anti-abortionist misogynists over what is, in the end, a belief lodged somewhere inside Folau’s head that should have nothing to do with anything but his contract with RU.

Nearly 20 years ago, Susan Ryan, the former senator, reminded us it had not been that long ago that the House of Representatives’ vote against abortion – four years after the Menhennitt ruling – was 98 to 23.

“The debate was conducted in an all male chamber, the women were outside rallying, organising, shouting through loud hailers, preparing for disappointment. I decided that next time we should be in there making the laws.”

It is not often that I agree with Susan Ryan, but I do on this matter – wholeheartedly. The whole of the Coalition voted against the decriminalisation of abortion although one young Liberal party member who stood up with a flourish as though he was going to break ranks and cross the floor to vote for decriminalisation, looked around and seeing he would be on his own, sat down.

As for Folau, it may have been easier to tell him to get lost. Of course he would not have, but I do hope that when some other sportsman near the end of his career and with enough notoriety to be noticed, says something as stupid as Folau has, that the situation is better handled, including not to renew the contract at some astronomical figure.

For instance, select him in an Australian team and he can then work out who is the adversary, given that he likes to compile lists.

Somewhat more important than Israel Folau

Opera is watched by an estimated a total audience of 300,000. It is a form of artistic licence that belongs to a different age. In that age women were treated dreadfully, composers had various forms of pathology. Who knows how many operas were written under the creative phase of syphilis so rife then. But now, to try and change the opera so as to satisfy a fad is as crass as the efforts of the Bowdler family in the 19th century to change Shakespeare to remove the “dirty bits”.

It is ironic that a report in the SMH of the opera “deisembowdlerising” itself, is perched alongside a report about the number of hate and violent items appearing on Twitter, Facebook/Instagram and YouTube. Here those indulging in such unspeakable behaviour are totalled in the millions.

So while token behaviour to cauterise opera plots may make those involved feel appropriately righteous, the problem is not solved by tokenism towards women’s rights.

However there is, as reported, a public health emergency in the way social media has become diseased.

Humans coming in contact with one another harbour the means of infecting one another with both the good and the bad. Globalisation is the jazzy word that we have for the removal of barriers to the spread of a vector, be it conventional trade, disease or whatever.

As the globalisation of Christianity occurred so did the spread of European disease against which the Pacific islanders and Australian aboriginals among others had no defence.

Similarly the globalisation of those who went to the New World of the Americas took a cornucopia of transmissible diseases as the contribution of Europe in this “free trade of infection”. In return Columbus is reputed to have brought back larges doses of syphilis. So it was a form of bilateral trade.

In those days when there was no idea what caused disease: perhaps the miasma, which was great for the perfume trade; or some dark unknown medium, which provided the excuse to torch women – and the ersatz cure – the miracle sustained by intercession via prayer or veneration of some osseous part of a saint.

Perhaps it is encryption that is the best analogy, especially as the means it has to deceive is akin to microbial mutation.

However, it is always the word “plague” which focuses the mind. And while we do not have the spectre of bodies loaded on carts being wheeled to mass graves, the world is entering into a time of cyberdisease, and “cyberplague” is convenient shorthand, although it has been used in generic terms before.

We now know the bacteria Yersinia pestis causes plague. Fleas and lice carry the bacteria. They can also lodge directly on humans if sanitation is bad – otherwise rats, dogs and cats inter alia are convenient intermediate hosts.

These abbreviated instructions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta on how to prevent plague provide clues:

* Reduce rodent numbers. Make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof.

* Wear gloves if you are handling or skinning potentially infected animals to prevent contact between your skin and the plague bacteria.

* Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to fleas or lice.

* Keep fleas off your pets by applying flea control products. Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.

So it should not be too difficult to assign the appropriate language to deal with Cyberplague. One thing is for sure: it is the role of Government to supervise. The private sector does not do this well.

This darkening cloud over social media is the scourge. It is a public health emergency. And Donald Trump seems able to call a National Emergency, at a drop of a red cap… if he understands.

Where did all the Money Go?

I received an email this week from John Kitzhaber, once the Governor of Oregon and the man who received international attention when he devised the Oregon Health Plan. In part he wrote:

The cost of health care in this country is utterly out of control.  Mind-boggling. Approaching $3.8 trillion a year. This amount of money has attracted a whole host of private equity funds (that are) simply milking the system to feed shareholder profits. We had big national for-profit insurance companies that are likewise using public funds to increase shareholder value instead of reinvesting in the community.

John Kitzhaber – painting by Henk Pander

That problem is now also occurring here. When the Medibank model was established here in Australia, the expectation was that the patient would receive a medical benefit when they consulted a medical practitioner to assisting in paying for that medical service.

Doctors were considered to be in solo or group practice, and in fact when the first benefits were struck for procedural items, it was assumed that the benefit reflected what the government was prepared to pay to the patient for the perceived skill of the doctor.

Therefore when the array of medical benefits was struck for a surgical procedure, it was assumed the patient benefit recognised the skill of the doctor. The cost of the attendant scrub nurses, the surgical materials, the operating theatre were all absorbed into hospital costs, covered either by the public or private hospitals. In other words, the Medibank the scheme was constructed on a guild model – a hangover from the time when doctors sent accounts in guineas to patients who could afford to pay.

However, the medical professional entrepreneurs recognised that with the advance in technology, particularly in pathology but followed by diagnostic imaging with the arrival of the CT scans, there was a “pot of gold” awaiting. Radiotherapy and general practice have followed, and now other specialties such as cardiology are the target.

Technology improvements emphasised two of the problems with an open-ended floor price scheme as Medibank and subsequently Medicare demonstrated. The first one was the entrepreneurial manipulation of throughput against capacity for a particular procedure. This was lucrative when the Medicare benefit was set at a low throughput and not scrupulously adjusted over time as throughput increased with technological improvements. The second was the tiresome ‘pass-the-parcel’ game between the state and federal governments, otherwise known as ‘cost-shifting’. Private sector entrepreneurs have been able to utilise this for their financial gain but state governments have equally become adept at the cost shift and at the same time burying the real costs of health care.

As can be seen, health financing was drifting away from the original intention of enabling the patient to get a fair and reasonable subsidy for their medical care

The problem with the business model, which may have been devised first by economic rationally doctors in the Edelstein mould, is that it has been transformed into a business model not unlike the one described by Kitzhaber.

Here the doctors may be listed as the providers but in reality it is a company which employs them in some form which is harvesting the profits and shovelling Medicare money who knows where into tax havens around the world. Medicare money has acted as seeding finance for the eventual acquisition of overseas health companies.

It is difficult to watch the Federal government being so compliant. The problem is compounded by these companies giving a fraction of their Medicare-seeded profits to political parties for them to enable to run election campaigns saying they are looking after “all Australians” and thus these private firms to have a firm foothold into the political process.

The central governmental agencies know this but at present their political masters are impervious to this flow of taxpayer’s money off shore – after all we have a taxpayer Medicare levy so some firm profiting from such taxpayer funding can buy a health service in the USA or a pathology company in Germany – in effect using Australian taxpayers’ money to fund their business and not only that, but funding where there is a guaranteed floor price for each of services. So risk is negligible once the investment model is settled.

Kitzhaber’s comments are more than timely.

And for us in Australia, it gives us gives another meaning among others for a sonic boom.

Mouse Whisper

Heard between Nobby and Cambooya driving through that magnificent black soil country of the Darling Downs.

“Mate, the soil is so good out here you can plant nails and they come up crowbars.”

Yes, appropriately it is Steele Rudd country out here. But as my young mouse cousin asked “Who is Steele Rudd?”