Modest Expectations – Palladium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus – Another one for our Pentecostal Juggler

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

Coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report to the nation on the facts.

Just an Opinion?

Chris Brook

Polymath & serial blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral

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

Historical

From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical…”

It can be an astonishingly satirical tour de force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passed and his world changed several times.

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

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

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

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

And I am still wondering. 

Stop the Train. I want to get off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manara Hills

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

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

Darren Chester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

Disaster One:

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

Disaster Two:

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

Disaster Three:

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

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

Modest Expectations – Hiroshima

I have always been a great admirer of Winton Turnbull, who was Country Party member for first the Federal seat of Wimmera and then Mallee for over 26 years. Turnbull was among a number of parliamentary members such as John Carrick and Tom Uren, who spent time in Japanese Prisoner of War camps – he was in Changi.

Winton Turnbull

Turnbull was the member who, in his slightly stuttering voice (not bellow as elsewhere sneeringly reported), announced in Parliament that he was a “count-ry member” at which the quicksilver Gough Whitlam interjected “I remember.”

He was also the butt of an Eddie Ward interjection. Turnbull was holding up a bunch of skeleton weed, when Eddie inquired which was the weed. It is a pity that there was nobody quick enough on the Labor side to emulate Mr Ward when Morrison came into the House that day brandishing a lump of coal.

Turnbull was such an assiduous local member, that he was known as the member for “currants and raisins” such was his advocacy of the dried fruits industry. He was well respected despite being the butt of some memorable interjections.

However, what distinguished the member was that he never took a perk, never took an overseas junket. He never missed a sitting of Parliament and thought his time was better spent traversing his huge electorate looking after his constituents rather than cavorting at The Ritz or the George V. He was a person of the utmost probity; a pity that his legacy has been supplanted by the National Party pork barrel. 

Bridget McKenzie

And now by contrast is Senator the Honourable Bridget McKenzie, characterised somewhat briefly early this week in her entry in Wikipedia as Minister for Pork Barrelling.

So much has been written about her that even if she survives, as Minister without Portfolio, her parliamentary life will not be a happy one. As the current Minister for Agriculture, the pressure from the farmers will grow for the Government to develop an objective policy both for the short and medium term as climate change alters the viability of various primary industries. The whole dairy industry with the advent of climate change appears to be one such industry. Cotton and almond growing are others because of their voracious appetite for water. And these are just three of the problems that are afflicting primary industry, especially as climate change has underpinned the ongoing drought and integrity of the Murray-Darling Basin.

However, if she substitutes the pork-barrel for policy, this Annie Oakley from Alexandra will reinforce the fact that she looks at home with a double-barrelled musket – and not much else.

Yet Agriculture is the portfolio of McKenzie, the ridiculed former sports minister, where every day there is another nose discovered in this particular trough. Obviously she did not do this on her own as some vicarious quirk. The more the Minister is defended the more vocal is the disgust and the more one realises how many other Ministers have been to the trough.

However why do we, the cynical populace, single out this particular rort? It is just de rigeur for the way this country has been governed since rum was the currency.

Probably the brazenness and the particular arrogance of the central player, especially at a time when so many people are doing it hard – and the media images are of her laughing – as if she is mocking the Australian community.

The National Party is essentially a Queensland and northern New South Wales party. It hangs on in Victoria at the extremes of the State, but Victoria is centred very much around Melbourne and regional centres and eventually the National party seats seats will be distributed out, and with that the entitlement to be on the Coalition ticket.

However, even before that happens there will pressure from Queensland, and obviously if he has got the numbers to be the new Deputy Prime Minister, Littleproud will challenge the hapless McCormack. And if Littleproud wins, then McKenzie can retire to a lucrative “consultant position” in the footsteps of Pyne, Bishop et al. The pension would be greater if she retires as a Minister not as a backbencher, where her final salary will be halved if that was her final position. Watch this space! 

Julia Creek, Colonia and Me

I read where this cattle station family from Julia Creek had just relocated to running a B&B outside Colonia in Uruguay. That was quite a shift I thought, but having been to both places, I thought that this family migration could anchor a yarn about my time in both places.

I remember when I was working at Mount Isa I used to go out to Julia Creek which was a respectably sized speck on the map east of Cloncurry, but part of the territory that I was working in at the time. I went to meet the local doctor, and there they were, direct from central casting for a “Country Practice” not the tripe, which roams around TV currently under the name “Doctor Doctor.”

The then local doctor was a tall young English doctor, whose military bearing and quiet reserved manner was what the community perceives as the good doctor, which he was. The director of nursing was Scottish born and she was vivacious, unconventionally good looking and highly competent as well as being popular with staff and patient. When I met them at the hospital, my instinctive reaction was that both being from the United Kingdom, they were “an item”.

How wrong could I be, and fortunately I did not put my foot in it, but I was subsequently introduced to the doctor’s wife. Attractive, vivacious, she was running the public relations for the world women’s tennis from Julia Creek. When she needed to go somewhere, she would exchange her check shirt and jeans for a tailored suit and taking her laptop, fly from Julia Creek to Brisbane via Townsville and then onwards wherever she had to go in the World. They were meat for a TV series, but what soap opera writers would have thought the scenario credible at that time.

However, like all magical situations it eventually ended and that bugbear of lack of succession planning intervened, and Julia Creek went back in its health services to square one.

The problem is that no small country town where the economic justification from a reasonable Medicare reimbursement point of view is a population of 1,000 per doctor, and the community expecting 24/7 year in and year out service without burnout, is wishful thinking.

That was over 20 years ago and as I wrote then about Julia Creek: “flat savannah country: pubs, railway station, hospital, this is travelling the outback, along the song lines of the bush troubadours past the turnoff to McKinlay where the pub scene for the first Crocodile Dundee film was shot.” Nothing much has changed, except for those flooding rains and intervening drought.

Colonia, Uruguay

However, turning to Colonia, where the Julia Creek couple with their family have recently migrated. Colonia is a town in Uruguay. Uruguay is a place I consider in three parts in regard to population. The population is about 3 million, a third who live in Montevideo and a third of the Montevideo live in condominia alongside, if not overlooking the River Plate.

Montevideo is at the same latitude as Sydney and along the River Plate towards Punta del Este there are endless sandy beaches. The river Plate resembles Port Phillip Bay in so far that due to its width Buenos Aires in Argentina is over the other side of the estuary, but not visible. At Punta del Este you can see where the River Plate empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It is like having the Gold Coast just up the road.

However if you go the other way from Montevideo you end up in Colonia. Alongside the River Plate, it is all cobblestone alleys and low-slung adobe houses, and the church dominating the square. You can almost feel that somewhere there is a Ramona listening to the mission bells. The town was contested at one time between the Portuguese and Spanish, and the influence of each can be detected in the layout and town architecture. Again the sandy beaches are not far away.

I went there last year and had a memorable grilled steak Uruguayan style for lunch at the El Viejo Barrio, which fortunately given it was winter was very cosy inside. Nevertheless, like Sydney it has a mild winter, and now that the South Coast of NSW has been devastated by fires, Uruguay is an attractive alternative spot for a summer vacation. It is cheaper than Australia, and if you as a foreigner use a credit card, you get 15 per cent off the bill. Their currency has been buffeted by the international situation, but not as much as the Argentinian and Chilean currencies have been.

I hope the Australian couple make a go of it, and finally it is tragic that I have to say this, but I am in no way benefiting financially by this recommendation. I paid my way across South America without there being any need for a barely visible acknowledgement at the foot of this blog that I received sponsorship. I thus recommend Uruguay without any thought of financial consideration for a smoke-free holiday.

Tourism

I have always thought Tourism Australia has been stuck somewhere in the mid-secondary school years where bedrooms are coated with pinups and memorabilia relevant to the school year heroes and heroines. However, how relevant is it to project those teenage images for Australia as a whole when you are encouraging visitors to Australia.

Australia had barely recovered from that ludicrous advertisement shown at the Super Bowl in 2018 of some American dill as a supposed American love child of Crocodile Dundee and then that “PhilAusophy” essay in smug meaningless.

The latest opus whose release was aborted by the bushfires featured – predictably – Kylie Minogue, whose home for the past 20 years has been the UK and Adam Hills, who has lived in the UK for the past decade.

By contrast in a recently shown episode of Griff Rhys Jones’ Griff Off the Rails: Down Under, with a background of the Opera House, there was Ross Noble, the British-born comedian telling us viewers how much he loves Australia. His enthusiasm for being one of us should be tempered by the realisation that his home in St Andrews, north-east of Melbourne was burnt down in the bushfires of 2009; he had to regroup, and here he is, optimistic about Australia, ten years later, the best Ambassador Australia could have at this time. He has come back; he has more than survived

You know, it is extraordinary but here we have a raft of well-known Brits: Julia Bradbury, Jane McDonald, Griff Rhys Jones and now Michael Portillo all at it – selling Australia, mostly concentrating their efforts on Australian railways, but not solely. Their efforts have seemingly been ignored by the character, our Prime Minister, also known as Scotty from Marketing, which is somewhat surprising for someone who needs every straw he can find.

It is a little known fact that Morrison learned his marketing skills growing up alongside the Poseidon Adventure and the Towering Inferno – two of the best disaster movies ever made. He has this exquisite sense of timing of being able to advocate calling the military out in emergencies at a time when one of the military helicopters has just started a bushfire. The apologists say they are not trained for domestic emergencies, but that hardly excuses the defence forces setting fire to the ACT.

Another Bridget legacy

When she was Minister for Sport, Rural Health and Regional Communications in the Turnbull Government, she signed on the appointment of a Rural Health Commissioner, and an academic general practitioner, Paul Worley, got the job.

He was re-appointed in late October 2019 until 30 June 2020 by another National Party stalwart, Mark Coulton, the member for the NSW drought stricken electorate of Parkes, the Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government, hardly a ringing endorsement despite all the hype, and “rural health” has disappeared from the title.

I am not sure that just reeling out a number of rural generalist positions to be absorbed by the Queensland regionalised health system is the answer. From personal experience some rural general practitioners are first-rate teachers and they integrate teaching seamlessly into the practice. Others are not; and training is minimal. Very hit and miss.

However, the advocacy of rural generalist positions has suited the vested interests that have pursued the rural generalist model for years. Essentially, this initiative is a fancy title for training general practitioners in the country to deal with emergencies, and getting the Queensland Government to pay specialist rates for these doctors.

It is unclear whether this model has enhanced retention rates of general practitioners in rural practice. From personal experience, the program has minimal effect in Victoria, and it is unclear whether Professor Worley’s photo-opportunities that would have rivalled the travel of Bill Peach, has yielded any change in behaviour.

The other Worley report concerns allied health professionals, and while it is clear that they do not want a counterpart of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, preferring to maintain the status quo in regard to infrastructure, there is special pleading, which I have become accustomed to read. In the end it is all obtaining access to Medicare benefits, which I have argued elsewhere is on the face of their argument unconstitutional, but then who would argue against it politically. Only the central agencies have stopped entitlements under Medicare becoming a flood of pork barrels.

Having had a close association with the development of the successful rural medical school, rural clinical school and university department of rural health program – both before and after the publication of my Rural Stocktake report in 2000 – I am well aware of what does not work, but one of the problems I have encountered in public administration is a basic tenet of same.

If it does not work, don’t do it again.  

In your remaining time, Professor Worley you may wish to reflect on that dictum.

A different Turnbull

 I started with Winton and am ending with Malcolm.

You have had your time, Malcolm. Your recent bleat in the Time magazine makes uneasy reading. Complaining about your own failure is not a pleasant sight, anymore than reading about a quixotic Rudd tilting at the Murdoch windmill.

However, your grand entrance once into an airport lounge with your entourage gaining attention by singing snippets from Gilbert and Sullivan gave a clue to your future. Light, mildly entertaining, trivial.

The Grand Poo-bah

However, I suppose it’s better that “Nessun dorma” which rang out nightly when Rudd was Prime Minister.

Mouse Whisper

I shudder to think what Dutton’s advice would have been if he had been around during the poliomyelitis epidemics. Christmas Island would be very crowded I suspect. Thank God, he never read about “lock hospitals”.

My Blogmaster was a small child then. He stopped inter-school activities but still went to school – but one thing we had no ice cream. He said he was never fearful; just accepted the risk, as his parents did, heightened by living in an unsewered area, as much of outer Melbourne was at the time.

Australia’s Medical Incarceration

Modest Expectations – Overlord

This is one for the arsonist-is-the-cause crowd that sit in the Conspiracy Corner of the Coalition Party Room. On a recent day of complete fire ban with the North-East Victorian bushfire front near at hand, some idiot was out there with a slasher cutting dry grass. Not the first time he had done this on a day of complete fire ban. Inevitable spark and a grass fire erupted. Fortunately the fire was brought under control before it could threaten the herd of prime cattle up the road, not to mention the residents.

It is a bit immaterial how this joker voted but obviously by his actions he was a climate denialist in as far as denying hot weather should have been hampering his stupidity. However, not much better than mining for coal on a complete world century ban on temperature rise.

Let’s play Premier

One of the reasons nothing gets done is that everybody is always in meetings. One of the frustrating things is that the person with the current designated responsibility seems to be positively Arthurian in the number of round tables around which he is perching.

In Tasmania, a former auditor-general, Michael Blake heads the review of fire services. He replaced a real estate agent as head of the review in early 2019, the initial report having been made in 2018.

He has headed reviews before, which means that in the parlance for appointment to such positions, he either is seen as a “safe pair of hands” or else someone who “won’t rock the boat”. In reviewing the 2016 Huonville floods, he wrote presciently:

“Finally, and I raise this with no particular view about the causes, perhaps greater attention may be needed to agencies we establish or why bother to set them up? I refer to agencies like the Tasmanian Climate Change Office. Its research indicates temperatures will rise and rainfall will remain unchanged but there will be more intense rainfall events. The implications of this research need to be considered for the benefit of all Tasmanians…”

However, the current fire review does not give one a sense of anything being done – and hence does Tasmania have to have a catastrophic burn before anything is done?

Last year, a review of fire services regulations was initiated, with 35 questions asked and 39 responses (plus 4 appendices) received. Let us quote from the short response of Sustainable Timber Tasmania:

  1. Agree the Act should be amended to exempt hazard mitigation activities from LUPAA. Given the Statewide Strategic Fuel Management program is based on tenure blind treatment of fuels, and TFS, STT and PWS are partners in the program, any provisions to TFS in the Act should also apply to STT and PWS when undertaking hazard reduction activities on private land (where these provisions are relevant and appropriate).

Concentrate on tickling the regulations and one gets bureaucratic, acronymic obfuscation – and no commitment and no money.

Instead, let’s lay out a plain sheet of paper. You, the reader are now the all powerful, all knowing Premier of Tasmania.

It is not conventional bushfire season; there are probably only four months in the year when bushfires are unlikely, and thus we have to choose a time when it is furthest away from bushfire season to get a lead time to accomplish a preventative strategy.

You, the Premier for the point of this exercise, lay out the topic of bushfires. You call in the 29 local councils to show you their fire plans and you ask them to detail individual budgets and resources. You know Central Highlands, West Coast and Huon have the lowest density population but the greatest “pristine wilderness” – the signature of Tasmanian uniqueness, which you know has been continually under threat by the timber cutters and the engineers who do not care a dam. Tourism meanwhile is cast against the image of a scantily clad model frolicking with a stuffed thylacine uttering jolly Australian obscenities. These images are the dilemmas that you, dear Premier, face.

There is another more pointed dilemma. It was understood that rainforest on the west coast had not had fires for hundreds of years. However, man has been careless in allowing weeds to grow – gorse, blackberries and bracken for starters. We also do not want fire in the peat that underpins so much of the button grass, whose tannin residues wash into the creeks and river to give the tea colour. Peat bog fires can form an eternal flame in front of which Tasmania weeps. But enough of your tears, does Tasmania have the expert advice on how to isolate the weeds in any removal and then the will to do so?

A timber industry representative arrives at the table advocating tree thinning. Tasmania has already suffered from the euphemisms of timber predators. And judging by their current contribution to the fire services review they know one course of action – woodchopping. Where are the groves of huon, king billy and celery top pine? Let us show who’s boss by cutting down the tallest trees we can find; after all is that not thinning?

OK you’ve cut down the trees. I presume you are not leaving any detritus on site – it’s not about cutting down trees to leave fuel for bush fires? In good industry parlance, you’ve cut down the trees and now you want the government to give you permission to do what you have already done. Sorry, didn’t you get the message that times under my government have changed?

As I have said to those who may be tempted and then get caught for malfeasance such as looting or deliberate arson, I will allow them to cut down one tree – the one upon which he or she will be hanged.

Finally, there is also the major question raised in the report on the 2009 fires in Victoria about the danger of electricity delivered above ground since it was shown that powers are a source of fire. The question arises therefore, in vulnerable areas, of placing the powerlines underground, where they may have a life of up to 80 years before needing renewal. This again is a consideration that you, as Premier for the day, need to consider.

Once upon a time a young fellow could spend his vacation time in the bush fire-spotting. How can drones substitute? Are they the best way to detect the first signs of smoke? Drones? How many drones operating around the clock or when the probability of lightning strike is high are needed? Is the technology up to it?

Accessibility by roads: have our forest trails been graded and are they able to take increasingly large vehicles and what of bridge loads? What about access to water? How many training exercises have you done since last summer? I can ask the fire chiefs that.

What vehicles do we need? It seems that these new fire vehicles can also clear a passage into the forest to the seat of the fire and some are able to evacuate people in emergencies. What are you doing about that?

And the fixed wing aircraft including seaplanes and the helicopters, how many do we need permanently and on lease from the beginning of summer? Or is the beginning of summer already too late? Are our landing strips sufficient for these aircraft to land as close as possible to the fire and in emergencies?

What about boats? The current array of defence force boats seems unwieldy to be of much use. Can a ship the size of the S.S Adelaide be able to dock in Macquarie Harbour or any of ports around the coastline? After all, to paraphrase that Minister of the Crown who famously said: “Tasmania is an island surrounded by water.” Therefore, up front the sea should figure in any plans, not as an afterthought.

Now that most valuable of resources – fire fighters. Each of your communities provides the people to fight fires. How many do you have? What is the optimum number? How easy is it to get reinforcements from elsewhere in the State and outside the State.

And what of the community – you know those who don’t have house and contents insurance and bludge on those who do (not forgetting that the fire levy is part of the insurance premium). Sorry to use the word bludge but if you build a dwelling without having insurance, and then presumably hope the community will bale you out … It shows a degree of irresponsibility (although who will bale you out in you are burnt out is probably not a conscious thought when the house is built or bought). In this worsening climate, the luxury of being uninsured is no longer an option. And there is the other side of the two edged sword: for the majority affected by bushfires, probably since 2009, the building codes in fire prone areas have become so much more rigorous that even those with basic home and contents insurance will not be adequately covered to rebuild in the same area.

Now submit your answers, and we shall excuse errors of omission and commission, because the answers will not remain gathering dust, or is it ash.

The Progress of John Barilaro

Canberra Times 9 April 2019: The report of Mr Barilaro’s announcement on postponing any brumby cull in Kosciuszko National Park (“NSW puts ‘immediate’ brumby cull on hold”, April 8, p.7) exposes his approach to facts. Mr Barilaro: “before we can determine how many brumbies are to remain …”

Fact: an exhaustive process in 2015-16 determined how many brumbies should remain. The answer was 600 to 750.

Mr Barilaro: “a draft management plan needs to be drawn up”. Fact: a draft management plan exists and is available on the web – the Kosciuszko Draft Wild Horse Management Plan of 2016.

Mr Barilaro seems determined to keep asking until he gets the answers he wants, even if this involves spending the tax-payers’ money on yet another committee, another report, and another survey. The broad-toothed mice and other species whose existence is threatened by feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park are running out of time.

Canberra Times 26 July 2019: Acting Premier John Barilaro has launched an extraordinary on-air attack at ABC South East NSW, appearing to encourage people to stop listening to the station. He also heatedly exclaimed he would not leave politics while the independent broadcaster continued to operate.

Canberra Times 13 November 2019: Mr Barilaro had a spat with a union after his party was accused of hindering bushfire preparations across NSW with “crippling” staff cuts. A political blame game has broken out – even as bushfires continue to rage – with Mr Barilaro criticising the National Parks and Wildlife Service for not doing enough hazard reduction in the lead-up to the fire season.

The Public Service Association, which represents park rangers, hit back by saying Mr Barilaro was “tastelessly blaming” public servants after his government slashed staff numbers. The PSA says there’s been a 35 per cent cut to fire-trained positions in the state’s national parks, which are now being managed by “skeleton staff”.

But the NSW government says the number of firefighters in national parks has increased from 1050 in 2011 to 1226 in 2019. Mr Barilaro refused to back down when he was grilled in State parliament on Wednesday. “The truth of the matter is that we still live with (former premier) Bob Carr’s legacy – lock up the forest and let it burn,” he said. “I make no apology for my comments. The PSA went out and fibbed in relation to the reduction of rangers dealing with fires in national parks.”

Mr Barilaro in a separate statement said he wouldn’t be lectured by those pushing a “green-left ideology”. “There are things to learn out of every bushfire emergency and what’s clear is that more hazard reduction work needs to be done during times where it is safe to do so,” he told AAP. “We can’t be dictated to by a green-left ideology that advocates locking up bushland and leaving it.”

PSA acting general secretary Troy Wright said politicians should focus on preparedness – not political ideology. “If the origins of these catastrophic fires across the state are in national parks then it is the National Party and part of the Berejiklian government that are responsible for the lack of preparedness,” he said in a statement. “It is the complete absence of proper funding, not some mercurial green movement as the Nationals allege.” Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Daniel Walton is calling for an inquiry into firefighter staffing levels in national parks. “Every day we are hearing from members across the state about how their resourcing is poorer than it’s ever been and the knock-on effects that’s having,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The AWU has been warning for years that fire services are grossly under-resourced. We just don’t have adequate resources to deal with catastrophic events that are becoming increasingly common due to climate change.

I thought the call by Mr Barilaro to stop listening to the ABC particularly tasteless, but then he was in London on holidays while the South Coast burned. Without the ABC broadcast, there would have been nothing, no communications, broadcasters putting themselves in some risk, but then the Savoy (was it?) does not take the ABC.

Now Mr Barilaro, you can weep for your beloved feral horses, but weep also for the koala and other native animal habitat that the horses have destroyed or by land clearing which had been done to increase their vulnerability.

Hazard reduction burns, well your majority in Queanbeyan may be slashed when the few remaining days of the year are coated in smoke, year in and year out. I’ll assure that everywhere there will signs saying Barilaro Hazard Reduction Burns, if and when it happens.

As I leave you bouncing hyperactively on your bar stool, some might hear one say you are full of la cacca di toro or would you prefer merda in the first degree.

I’ve worked in a town that speaks Italian, but correct me if my Italian is wrong.

However, the Premier has seen fit to anoint you to clean up the mess, but while you were away in London determining which chianti you wanted from the rack, remember Andrew Constance, your fellow Minister was there, every day, coated in bushfire ash, a true Australian – in every sense.

Mouse whisper

Has any estimate been done of how much vermin has been killed in these fires – foxes, rabbits, feral cats and dogs, deer, wild pigs – and of course those feral horses?

But hopefully there are still alpine dingoes. Somewhere. They seem to be forgotten in the destruction.

Alpine dingo

G’Day

The late Robin Day once came to Australia to do a BBC Panorama program to get the everyperson Australian view of the prospect of the UK entering the Common Market. He wanted an Australian view and he sought advice from Zelman Cowan, the then Dean of Law at the University of Melbourne, to gather a group of students whom he could interview. We were gathered before while he talked to us, and his belittling tone reminded me of why we of Irish descent had some difficulty with the monarchy.

Later in the filmed interview, he turned to me and asked my view. The substance of my response… “I’m a republican. I couldn’t care less what the UK does.” and unexpectedly from the front row someone piped up “And I don’t like the Poms too”.

A shaken Day was led away by Zelman Cowan, who was heard to say “Totally unrepresentative opinion.”

The next year, I happened to come into the student common room at the maternity hospital, where I was doing my obstetric term as a medical student, and there he was on television – Zelman Cowan coming off the Shrine steps burbling something about the indissoluble ties between Australia and the Mother country. I did not wait for any further balm and went out to deliver another baby.

I wrote this following poem in memory of Robin Day and Zelman Cowan and all those people who have been unable to dissolve the indissoluble ties.

Australia Day

Once upon a pastured lawn 

The Pom called Robin Day did ask 

To serried ranks we stood

Respectful 

Should we seek republic

And the answer unexpected

To knees once genuflected

To Day we all said aye.

 

January 26

A day of Independence 

When India

Grew up and threw away it swaddling clothes

A cope with mace and orb and sceptred crap

Lie shattered upon brown flattened earth

For a people confused by Battenburg

But now Republic Day they all say aye

 

January 26

A good man stood on Botany shores

Sent from porphyric hungover king

Possession gained with jack of Andrew, Patrick, and of George

But no place for David, no daffodils nor leek

Yet this Southern harsh and sunburnt land earmarked for gaols

He christened green and pleasant New South Wales

In homage today we whitefellas celebrate that day

 

January 26

Summer invasion to those not tanned

To frolic in illusory freedom

The Jack still flutters

A cornered eye

The Southern Cross is overseen.

By stiffened queen

To celebrate a day of smoke and sand and foaming ale 

 

Robin Day is long since dead

That rank of 61 or was it 2 now thin and worn

Who once called aye for change

Yet Her of steely Albion eye

Or He of fumbling foreign voice survive

Shall we now spent and grey

Not live to have a true Australia day

Which we can call our own

 

A lone voice rings out

Make September First Republic Day

Is it not the first day of Spring

Is it not when wattle bloom 

A sprig for all

Is it but a symbol of youth and vigour

This day which is

The First of September.

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.