Modest Expectations – Kontiki

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

When the Virginia legislature in January were moving to enact a number of mild gun control laws, enter Trump in a post on Twitter:

“Our 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia”.

Of course, in true Trump style, the reforms were nothing of the sort.

However, his audience was his gun-toting lumpenproletariat. They had turned up in a mass display of bullying in Richmond, the Virginian capital, armed with a threatening array of guns.

These may be the group that Hilary Clinton lumped under the term “deplorables”, but she unfortunately had not done enough groundwork to separate herself as a leading member of the perceived “elite” so that the right-wing conspiracy trolls could accuse her of being head of an elite that was depriving working Americans of their birthright. “Deplorable” is not a defined movement, but an unfortunate word of disdain. Thus anybody disliking Clinton with her trappings of wealth and her continued association with a philanderer would have found it reason enough to vote against her.

What she was attempting to say has been put in a more analytical context by the American historian, Bruce Franklin. In quoting Franklin, I had always interpreted “lumpenproletariat” from a Marxist point of view, Groucho that is. However, what is written below changes that perspective. It is a chilling description of the Trump constituency.

“In Germany, the lumpenproletariat was the main source of shock troops for Naziism. Anyone who worships the spontaneity of unemployed youth should be reminded of the Brownshirts. In the United States, unemployed white youth are a fertile breeding place for the worst forms of racism, national chauvinism, and the cult of the super-male. This is particularly true in the South, in the urban areas into which the dispossessed rural whites have been driven, and in European ethnic neighborhoods. And among these people there is no clear dividing line between lumpenproletariat and white working class.” 

The American lumpenproletariat has been allowed to become heavily armed. The diffusion of military equipment into the hands of the local police forces means that a militia loyal to Trump which seeks legitimacy under the Second Amendment becomes so very feasible.

This is the ultimate Trump threat and in the event of the possibility of Trump losing the election, this force could be called to arms in every State, particularly where there is Republican control. Trump or his lieutenants more likely will be there preparing the ground for the militia to be raised as if the nation is under threat (that is, Trump’s re-election is threatened) and individual freedoms to do whatever you like (meaning owning as many firearms as you like with the minimum regulation) are OK as long as one supports Trump.

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

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

The bulwark against him is not the current crop of Democrat Presidential aspirants, fighting over the carcass of the Party bequeathed by the Clinton dynasty. Let’s face it, Bill Clinton’s overexposure has legitimised Trump. Clinton is Trump’s atavis.

The Democratic Party’s survival and that of the USA depends on it securing a majority in the Senate, and maintaining control of the House; otherwise the one party state of Trump will become very much the reality. Very simple solution for the Democrats – win both Houses in November.

The Presidency is but a sideshow with the current crop of Democrat candidates. Can any of them face down a toxic Trump with his putative militia if any of them do win? What would they do? It is a question nobody will want to ask, least of all this mob of candidates.

It was a Dark and Stormy Night

The fires in East Gippsland call to mind something that happened to me as a small child. I have recounted it many times but never in a blog.

I could start this story off by saying: “it was a dark and stormy night”, but it actually was. It was May, probably around 1948, when father decided to take my mother and me across the Alps before hydroelectric Snowy Mountains Scheme commenced so we could all see an undisturbed alpine landscape. My father knew that when the Scheme was begun, so would the pristine wilderness go.

It was also the year my mother agitated against the removal of the elms from St Kilda Road to be replaced by desert ash. Somehow the decision to retain the elms was made, and I don’t really know how much my mother’s agitation influenced anybody. But I remember a Councillor Brens was the target for much of her vitriol. Now the elms in their exotic surroundings of Melbourne are some of the finest in the world.

Anyway back to the dark and stormy night in May. There were a few flakes of snow as my father took one of his famous shortcuts in his Vauxhall Wyvern 10. As we chugged along the forested slopes, my father said that this would be quickest way, judging faith in his map to get to where we were supposed to stay for the night – Bombala.

However, it became obvious to my mother that my father was lost, and as the storm intensified and snow began to fall, it became even more evident that this small car was not equipped with the best of internal lights to read the map, and of course there was not a torch in the car. The headlights on the car were the best illumination to look at a map, and winding up the road searching for a sheltered place to stop to look at the map suddenly became unnecessary.

We had just rounded a corner and there in front of us was a hotel, a bush pub nestling in the forest with lights blazing in each of its windows. Even now I can remember the relief my parents showed in the half-light the interior of this tiny car. To find such a sanctuary like that to them was incredible, if not miraculous. We had reached a dot on the map called Bendoc. After my father had determined that there were rooms available – even from a young age I always had my own room – we all went inside.

The chilliness was soon dissipated by the fire, which had that intense burn when you put hardwood logs onto a fire. The radiated heat sears one’s face.

Now warm, and having been confined for several hours in a small back seat, I was running amok in the hotel lounge bar. I suddenly noticed an old bearded man looking intently at me. He was sitting at the fireside drinking a large glass of stout. For a while he sucked on his pipe, and the smoke floated upwards. At last, as if he had enough of this boisterous child flinging himself around the bar, he took his pipe out of his mouth and beckoned me over.

“Son, do you know who Ned Kelly was?” Being a somewhat precocious child, I said; “Yes he was a bushranger.”

He paused and said: “I knew Ned Kelly.”

That was all. It was as though I had tapped a secret. I did not have enough knowledge to ask anything more. I looked around to see if anybody else in the bar had heard. I said nothing to my parents.

The old man smiled and leant back in his seat and relit his pipe.

That was it.

Except now you know, as you read this, a boy-cum-man who knew a man who knew Ned Kelly.

Do as I say?

It proved too much for Mike Keating and Andrew Podger. This apologia that the Head of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Mr Gaetjens, a person who has never lived outside the public service but obviously has been very adroit in crawling up the bureaucratic slope, has just violated the major tenet of survival. Not that it will matter because he will end up in one of those right wing think tanks nursing his not inconsiderable pension and giving a spray to any successor who he perceives to be to the left of Nicolo Macchiavelli.

Michael Keating and Andrew Podger have stood atop or near the top of the bureaucratic slope, although both of them did not have to crawl, such is and was their ability and moreover their integrity. After all Keating used to play a high standard of tennis with Roz Kelly’s husband, but there was never any suggestion that Keating ever compromised his position. Although different in age, both Keating and Podger grew up at a time when sure, you have your political biases, but advice was given in that time-honoured phrase “fearlessly”. Maybe in the crawl up the slope, Mr Gaetjens had not noticed.

Both Keating and Podger have made significant contributions to public administration, but I know they would have refused if their political superiors had asked them to do what Gaetjens has done. They would have realised that if they had done that, ever afterwards their advice would have been compromised.

I have not always agreed with Keating, even in face-to-face conversation; and in regard to Podger, disagreement with him has never really been tested. After all, how two people handle inter-personal conflict is a measure of the strength of the relationship.

I do not know Gaetjens, but incurring the ire of such distinguished peers shows that he has violated that axiom for all those who wish to maintain their relevance, namely: autonomy of action is inversely proportional to the controversy generated. In other words you can get away with it so long as you do not create a public storm, stirred up generally but not always by the media.

Gaetjens, you did your political master’s bidding. Your retired peers, the ones who do not need to fear retribution from fearless advice, have spoken out. Well, what would you expect! You write a report, which is kept secret but which is seemingly at odds with that of the Auditor-General. Bridget Mackenzie, for weeks beatified by the Government as the Goddess of Generosity and overflowing Cornucopia, stands condemned by this unseen report and off she goes, not because of the Auditor-General’s public damnation, but something you may have handed to the Prime Minister.

Job finished.

Can I go now Prime Minister? You will find my recommendation at the foot of the page – well not actually the foot, maybe just after “My dear Prime Minister”.

Koroit – my Back Road

Every time I used to go to Port Fairy in the 1970s, I would take the Hamilton Highway to Mortlake and duck down the back road past the racecourse through Woolsthorpe before reaching Koroit, where for the first time you could see the Southern Ocean and you knew then Port Fairy was not too far. Then there was the gloomy grey closed convent and intriguingly a scattering of original milestones along this road to the Princes Highway. Eventually they disappeared, presumably incorporated into someone’s garden rockery.

In 1975, we had bought Bowyers Cottage, built in 1848, with its immensely thick rubble stone walls and high ceilings in the front two rooms and in the back rooms where mice ran around the rafters and the ceiling was much lower. It was the time of short summers and being unprotected by the Tasmanian land mass in winter one would feel the full force of the southwesterly gales. It was before Port Fairy became fashionable – before its McMansion suburban development.

Port Fairy, with its misnamed main thoroughfare of Sackville Street, was a coastal village, in the days when you could get a lobster direct from the fishermen, and when the place was alive with abalone fisherman and the favourite drink of their wives was Bailey’s Irish Cream. The whole area reminded me of the west coast of Ireland. I felt at home. After all, my ancestors were from Co Clare from the tiny village of Crossard north of the town of Corofin.

Port Fairy

But Koroit always fascinated me from the first time I went there. It was then the Borough of Koroit and despite the Borough being some 65 per cent professed Roman Catholics, I remember the Borough Secretary was a good Salvationist, amid a field of Paddy potato growers. The land was fertile; the rich volcanic soil spilled down from the extinct volcano, which had itself collapsed into a caldera. Named Tower Hill, it has become a unique nature reserve in the middle of this landscape. In the episode of Koroit Back Roads on the ABC this landmark received scant mention, perhaps because the original settlers denuded the original nature reserve to grow potatoes as though there was not enough soil elsewhere. Fortunately it was restored at some time, probably when spud growing became unprofitable, rather than by a conscious act.

In fact the potato growing industry here received a jolt when consumers in the 80s and 90s found potatoes grown in sand did not require the same amount of cleaning as those grown in the heavy volcanic soil of Koroit.

They also used to grow onions there, but as was told to me the fog rot sealed the fate of that industry. There has been sporadic agitation to grow opium poppies, because the Glaxo factory at Port Fairy manufactures opiates currently made from opium poppies grown legally in Northern Tasmania. Let me say when I travelled around the area in the 70s, there was a bit of local Celtic mythology, which suggested that were fields of poppies in the area grown from seed which had blown across from Tasmania, in defiance of the wind direction, a miracle of blarney.

The Koroit episode of Back Roads did give mention of potatoes, which otherwise suggested that it is one continuous St Patrick’s Day festivity, where if you were not digging spuds you were dancing or drinking and the leprechauns were rampaging the streets at night.

There is no doubt that Koroit has a strong Irish ancestral condition. I remember walking into Mickey Bourke’s Hotel once before I was known there, and everyone stopped talking. You know you are in Ireland when that happens – there is no stronger tradition, except perhaps horses. Not having a race track with all the associated men in cloth caps with brogue on the tongues and brogues on the feet provided was a substantial gap in this ABC exercise in the paddywhackery.

A bit of paddywhackery

Koroit moreover has not reached that level which defines pure paddywhackery as “the fakey, out-of-a-box Irishness that insists on the same damned songs and the same damned menu and the same damned Guinness advertisements on the wall of every Irish bar outside of Ireland”.

However the Back Roads episode, which sought to portray Koroit as a home of the bog Irish, dismissed or ignored an inconvenient fact; namely that it is where an Australian Nobel Laureate went to school.

I remember making a speech to the Koroit school children about Sir John Eccles on the occasion of the Centenary of his birth in 2002. So much for my legacy, but it is a pity that among all the information about Koroit, no recognition was made of this important son of Koroit. The problem is that to mention Eccles would have interfered with the ABC producer’s mind’s eye’s caricature of Irish Australia. Pity, because we don’t have that many Australian Nobel laureates to celebrate along our highways, let alone our back roads. 

Sir John Eccles, Nobel Laureate

Mouse Whisper 

As a young boy John Monash met Ned Kelly at Jerilderie. Monash never said what passed between them. So this mouse is proposing a new expression. ME’s mouse believes it much more Australian to say, “as Monash said to Ned Kelly” rather than some anonymous actress’s exchange with a bishop – and anyway “actress” is no longer a PC word.

For example, as Monash said to Ned Kelly, “hold your horses.” And perhaps his advice to go to a nearby town while the weather was good. You know, “Make Hay while the sun shines”. As young Monash said to Ned Kelly…

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 – Temperature

There has been a great amount of strategic mucking around in the Northern Atlantic and the question of whether climate change had made the north-west passage navigable for most of the year has been troubling among others the Canadian security boffins. After all, there are many competing claims for the Arctic.

The Canadians … and the Danes claiming Hans Island

However, one of the most bizarre events was when the Canadians sent a helicopter to a speck called Hans Island, which lies in the stretch of water between Ellesmere Island and Greenland separating the Arctic Ocean from Baffin Bay. Canada disputes ownership of the rock with Denmark and after the Danes had raised their flag on the rock in 2002, the Canadians came back in 2005 and planted a windproof Canadian flag which promptly fell over. However the Danish flag was removed and returned to the Danish ambassador in Ottawa. There was Danish outrage, and immediate consideration was given to the dispatch of a destroyer, complete with not only the Danish flag but also a bottle or two of Danish schnapps.

The dispute is still raging with the Canadians retaliating with Canadian rye whiskey to complement the Canadian flag. The issue of course is definition of fishing and sea floor mining rights.

It is understood that the puffins, being very clever birds, have difficulty leaving the island now that they have learnt to open the bottles.

But as the Chinese have shown, you do not want to leave your rocks unattended and then complain about any unexpected consequence.

Confucius was a very wise man

It is somewhat ironic to see the SMH headlines screaming about Chinese infiltration when snugly lying within the paper was “China Watch”. It is like finding a copy of “Watchtower” in the Book of Common Prayer.

I glanced through the contents, and there was a piece about one of the many minorities. In this case it was about the sea gypsies or Tanka people who were resettled on the Fujian coast in Southern China. I always shudder at the word “resettlement” and who was the architect of the resettlement? It was none other that Xi Jinping, then the deputy secretary of the Communist Party in Fujian where he honed his political skills with minority groups over 17 years, as instanced by moving the Tanka people onshore. Much better for their life style onshore, rather than honour the centuries of tradition living on the sea. Sound familiar?

This was probably done for a strategic reason. Fujian is a sub-tropical province lying opposite Taiwan. Cleanse the water and give a clear line of sight to the rebellious “’province”. Yet Fujian itself is underdeveloped and quaint, the birthplace of oolong tea, soya sauce and a fermented fish sauce called kê-tsiap, which over the centuries with the addition of tomatoes became an Anglo-American national delicacy called ketchup with no residual relationship to its Chinese antecedent.

However, as I flicked through this insert, what attracted me as well was the announcement that the Sea Dragon 2, China’s new ice breaker was making its maiden voyage to the Antarctic base at Zhongsan, which is close to Australia Davis Station on the continental Antarctic mass; and also to Chang-cheng (“Great Wall”) located near the Chilean station on otherwise uninhabited King George Island in the South Shetlands. The crew complement was announced as containing scientists and support staff. Built in Shanghai, the vessel is 122.5 metres long and capable of sailing 37,000 kilometres in a single voyage. Moreover, China is already building a third.

Australia is building its new icebreaker in Romania named “Nyuna” (the Tasmanian aboriginal word for “Southern Lights”) due for delayed delivery next year. This icebreaker is longer, wider, and has twice the displacement of the Chinese vessel. It is supposed to have a life of 30 years. One wonders incidentally what ice sheets will be like in that time.

However, it was clear from incidents in 2013 when both the first generation Chinese and Australian icebreakers had difficulties in accessing a Russian ship stuck in the Antarctic ice that they needed vessels with improved capabilities.

Most of icebreaker activity has been confined to the Arctic region. After years of indecision, the U.S. government has issued a contract for the U.S. Coast Guard’s three new heavy icebreaker in decades, the first be delivered in 2024. As one source commented, “These ships are absolutely critical to the United States’ continued ability to conduct operations in ice-filled waters, especially in the increasingly strategic Arctic region.”

There was no mention of the Antarctic region because in the 60th year of the Antarctic treaty, the sacrosanctity of the Antarctic remains in place where everybody makes no territorial claims while agreeing to work together in spheres of scientific influence. This situation is in place until 2048 – neither mining nor militarization, even if contemplated, being allowed until that year.

However, like Japanese whaling for ostensibly research purposes and the self-regulated tourist pollution, the fact that the Chinese are already planning a third icebreaker, which will give them a distinct tactical advantage in navigating the Antarctic, the word “research” can be used to cover any number of deceptions.

Given the Chinese activities in the South Chinese Sea, there are many uninhabited places in the Southern Ocean, some of which come under the Antarctic treaty and some not. However, it will only take one nation to throw a rock into the Southern Ocean – and whether it will be noticed in the storms that rack that part of the world, who knows.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Russians have 41 icebreakers and have just launched the first of three combination icebreaker warships complete with cruise missiles and of course a landing area for helicopters. The Arctic has no treaty to protect it and much jostling for sovereignty over the resources, especially now the waterways are more accessible because of climate change.

The Chinese I’m sure will be watching. They are always in for the long haul. The “China Watch” provides a useful insight into the thinking, even if we Australian readers may think it a bit of Sino-“puff”, remember “puff” is followed by the dragon – the magic dragon.

The new plague – the online anti-vax ‘influencer’

Guest blogger: Janine Sargeant#

A new plague is sweeping the world and we seem powerless to stop it. This is the epidemic of online anti-vaxxer ‘influencers’ whose commentary influences people to not protect their children from preventable disease; these ‘influencers’ should hang their heads in shame.

At a time when Samoa is struggling to deal with a shocking measles epidemic, this hasn’t stopped those who peddle nonsensical cures for measles from spruiking their wares. As of today, more than 60 have died, over 50 of these are children aged less than four. There have been more than 4,000 measles cases in Samoa’s population of around 200,000 since the outbreak began about seven weeks ago.

Measles is the most infectious disease and it has spread through much of the developed world this year. In developed countries there has been comparatively little loss of human life; New Zealand recently suffered its worst epidemic of measles in 20 years – 2,000 people were infected, but there were no deaths.

However, Samoa has been another story. Measles travelled from New Zealand to Samoa where the population had very low vaccination rates; WHO estimated Samoa’s total population immunity to be as low as 30-40%. Samoa’s health service was not equipped to deal with an epidemic.

In response to nursing error that resulted in two deaths in 2018, (the guilty nurses now serving five year prison terms) the immunisation program was shut down for months and was slow to recommence, and the anti-vaxxers leveraged off this medical error. Samoa’s vaccination rate plummeted.

A perfect storm – the Samoan population had no chance to resist and those who paid the price were the youngest and most vulnerable of the population who had no say in whether they should be vaccinated or not.

Anti-vaxxer advocates were proposing vitamins and alkaline water cures instead of the vaccine; but the prize goes to Samoan-Australian online influencer, Taylor Winterstein, who is reported as “liken(ing) the new mandatory vaccination regime (in Samoa to combat the outbreak) to Nazi Germany.” There’s been plenty of angry responders in the Australian media to that fatuous comment.

Winterstein’s husband is a Samoan-born rugby league player, who after stints with Manly and Penrith is now in France – not back to his native country to apologise for his wife’s behaviour. 

But back to Mrs Winterstein … let’s look a little further into this person’s medical and public health qualifications: well, she has none. However, as a self-described “Integrative Nutrition Health Coach” she is unqualified but adept in self-promotion and encouraging her “followers” to part with money to hear about the dangers of vaccinating children. 

Mrs Winterstein is quoted as saying: “The amount of NRL players and their partners who consciously choose NOT to vaccinate would seriously surprise you”. Well, she does mention the name of the pregnant wife of a Titans player – nobody else, but perhaps she should name names.

For my part I would strongly encourage all NRL players and their wives to publicly support vaccinating their and our community’s children from an entirely preventable disease that has caused so many deaths and continues to do so.

And let’s not forget those who suffer terrible long-term post-measles conditions such as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) – one for Mrs Winterstein and her ilk to look up. This causes a terrible, lingering death, brain gradually reduced to “porridge”.  

Mrs Winterstein, my anger is palpable. Perhaps if young parents see what happens to their children with this post-measles neurological complication, they may think again and defy your “influence” and head for the clinic. 

What are “influencers” in the online psyche? They are individuals with the power to affect purchase decisions because of their authority, knowledge, position or relationship with their audience. They drive traffic and sales to a product or service based on their recommendations. All very commercial; time to remind these “influencers” that this authority and power comes with very real responsibility and if you stray into public health and medicine, just remember that you should also do no harm. 

What is her solution? Black rice, which can be bought at the supermarket and which she sells at a substantial price premium.

Mrs Winterstein, you intended to go to Samoa with a pocketful of rice to give a workshop when there was one family in Samoa – their three very small children were all taken by this measles outbreak. Did they heed your advice? 

The Samoan Government has now arrested a “traditional healer” who has been telling people to not vaccinate their children.  His “traditional healing” that involved the use of somewhat non-traditional bottled vitamins, was facilitated by Mrs Winterstein’s “influencing”.  A recent post by Mrs Winterstein now says her family is coming under attack from media outlets around the world and she’s the target of a witch hunt – well that might just be the problem of being in the business of promoting eye of newt, toe of frog … and charms of powerful trouble*.

And Shannelle, the wife of the Titans player, you would have given birth by now – get your child vaccinated, please.

*with thanks to Mr Shakespeare from many ages ago.

#Among other things, Janine Sargeant is a Master of Public Health

How much are we paying these jokers?

In such circumstances, monetary policy needs to be accommodative. Low interest rates are acting to support borrowing and spending. While the recent changes to some lending rates for housing will reduce this support slightly, overall conditions are still quite accommodative. Credit growth has increased a little over recent months, with credit provided by intermediaries to businesses picking up. Growth in lending to investors in the housing market has eased. Supervisory measures are helping to contain risks that may arise from the housing market. 

There are further signs of a turnaround in established housing markets. This is especially so in Sydney and Melbourne, but prices in some other markets have also increased recently. In contrast, new dwelling activity is still declining and growth in housing credit remains low. Demand for credit by investors is subdued and credit conditions, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, remain tight. Mortgage rates are at record lows and there is strong competition for borrowers of high credit quality.

The easing of monetary policy this year is supporting employment and income growth in Australia and a return of inflation to the medium-term target range. The lower cash rate has put downward pressure on the exchange rate, which is supporting activity across a range of industries. It has also boosted asset prices, which in time should lead to increased spending, including on residential construction. Lower mortgage rates are also boosting aggregate household disposable income which, in time, will boost household spending.

The pace of growth in dwelling prices has moderated in Melbourne and Sydney over recent months and has remained mostly subdued in other cities. In other asset markets, prices for commercial property have been supported by lower long-term interest rates, while equity prices have moved in parallel with developments in global markets. The Australian dollar is adjusting to the significant declines in key commodity prices. 

Such are the public releases from the Reserve Bank Board. Two of the above paragraphs are from the latest report; and two from a report from 2015 when now Emeritus Sheriff Stevens was in the saddle. Then to give it extra emphasis I have mixed them up so each two-paragraph excerpt has one from Sheriff Lowe and the other the benefit of Emeritus Sheriff Stevens’ wisdom.

I asked someone wise in the world of finance what he thought of the following quote:

The genius of the recent administrations has been to transfer inflation to the stock market – that is to the prices of stocks and bonds instead of to the price of labour and production. Real wages are lower than they were in 1964 (written in 2005). 

He missed the bracketed attribution, and thought the quote referred to the current situation, whereas it was a prescient comment made in 2005 before the GFC. He agreed with the sentiment. Nothing has changed, he admitted.

As the excerpts from the RBA writing show, there is not much new thinking going on there, but what would one expect of a Board, with the Governor, the Deputy Governor, and Secretary of the Treasury being committed public servants that inhabit the Morrison self-described bubble; another who has lived in that curious chimera of public servant and multiple company directorships, three representatives of big business, a highly placed investment banker, and an academic with close links to the Anglican Church, which has been described as big business on its knees.

The problem with this economic and morally stagnant Australia is that the people making decisions enjoy the benefits of that stagnation. Neither political party dares to throw a stone into the fen where the water has stopped flowing and the fragrant algae of our political system, which thrives on stagnation, is hiding the poison that is killing Australia. Soon the beautiful fen with its wondrous fauna and flora will become an irreversible cesspool full of the tailings of illusionary productivity.

Which of the current Board would suggest that a wealth tax, a large increase in funding providing for education and health care systems and climate change proofing action, should get an airing rather than just allow this country to sink into an algae infested sink hole. From the sidelines one could imagine all the myriad rent seekers and mercantilists scrambling to get out of the hole while the ordinary Australian drowns in debt.

What is needed is to build the new political movement, which defines ‘the honest toiler” centre, which looks after the wellbeing of the nation rather just that of self-absorbed politicians. Development of this concept is just the shorthand for a series of future blogs, to assist in stirring the pool, clearing the algae and starting the water flowing.

After all, I do not want my grandchildren growing up in an increasingly uninhabitable planet.

Mouse Whisper

Talking of Danish schnapps or its other Scandinavian name aquavit, Finns are known for their taciturnity. So when a Swede and a Finn sat down to a glass of aquavit, the Swede said “Skol” the Finn said nothing, and they drank the philtre. This ritual was repeated five times the Swede said “Skol” on each occasion and the Finn said nothing. So they drank on, refilling their glasses on the way.

Aquavit for two

However, on the seventh occasion the Swede again said “Skol” and this time the Finn burst out, “The trouble with you Swedes you talk too much,” and drained his glass.

They say alcohol loosens the tongue.

Modest Expectations – Adelaide

I used to listen to his Letters from America – clever oral essays – the British gentleman reflecting on the mores of the day from his study in America. The author was Alistair Cooke, a remarkable figure in his adopted country, who wrote his observations in his weekly epistle until just before his death in 2004.

He had been in America since the early 1930s as a correspondent, but at the heart he was a film critic, and moreover mixing with the “stars”. One of the films he wrote about accepted the doomsday hypothesis of the last survivors of planetary nuclear war. The film was Stanley Kramer’s “On the Beach” adapted from an eponymous novel by a British expatriate who went under the non-de-plume, Neville Shute.

Melbourne was the chosen site for the film, and I remember being in the school quadrangle when Gregory Peck turned up with his son, presumably to enrol in the school while he made the film. I was struck by how much presence Gregory Peck had, without creating any fuss – just dad taking his son to school which, in 1958 was somewhat unusual, but I suppose my dad took me to school on my first day. In fact on reflection he did, found me being bullied by a future archdeacon and had me learn to box as a consequence.

Ava Gardner’s comment on Melbourne was cutting – she thought it a perfect place to make a film about the end of the world. After all, Melbourne pubs closed at six o’clock begetting the six o’clock swill where large glasses called “pots” were lined up to be consumed in the half-hour of grace before the doors were locked. Restaurants were sparse, and any place where you could drink required that alcohol to be bought in a brown paper bag and taken off the table if not drunk by nine o’clock. Men drank beer; women were segregated in the hotel lounge and God, it was not done to have a woman in the front bar. Women of refinement drank sherry; and Scotch whisky was the drink of the “top end of town”. Then, wine was consumed by the bohemian fringe of this apocalyptic maledom, as Ava Gardner viewed it.

In his review of the film, published in the Guardian 17 December 1959, about which Cooke is positive – “a story…as clean and unsentimental as a skull.” However, on the imagery reflecting on the future, Cooke is pessimistic. He quotes the collective wisdom of three think tanks to write:

They agree in approximate terms that nuclear war in the next decade is more likely than not. They warn us that the military decline of the United States in the short span of fifteen years has left it open to a devastating attack; that the disarmament at the United Nations and Geneva may blind the United States to the possibility that the Soviet union with a clear superiority in the arms’ race will use it to blackmail or attack its major opponent without warning. 

Neville Shute, the author, subscribed to the mutual annihilation theory rather than the above, (which seemed in accord with that of Cooke) since it mirrored the mindset of the late 1950s and 60s before the Vietnam War monopolised the headlines.

However, when Khrushchev engineered the Cuban missile crisis and failed, that was it – one episode of blackmail and the Russians withdrew to its reality. Competition with the United States in hindsight was illusory once the Americans got serious. However, it was not until Reagan called the Russians’ bluff and thus three decades later the Russian empire was in ruin.

Now we have Putin, the arch illusionist, at it again. Russia has divested itself of land, but they have been mindful that maintaining a number of satraps is important. Garrisoning countries is a costly exercise for a country with a GDP not much bigger than Australia’s. This time he wields his power by bullying his neighbours, which provides occupational therapy for his armed forces whether they be in the Ukraine or the Caucasus. Up to this time he has not manufactured a reason to march across Lithuania so that that exclave of Kaliningrad can be re-united with Mother Russia; but if he thought he could get away with it, who knows.

However, this illusion of the powerful strutting дуче also depends on his manipulation of Trump. Maybe I am only dazzled by the illusion of an image of a marionette with golden hair, on a wire, being paraded before a worldwide audience.

However, Prince Andrew was not the only person to be seen in the company of Mr Epstein – a figure who, in death, increasingly resembles The Tar Baby.

I wonder what Mr Cooke would have thought of this scenario which, in another context from the film “On the Beach”, could end up in mutual annihilation.

Another Alister – Another Time

There was another Alister, whom I admired greatly. His name was Alister Brass. “Alister” has a protean number of ways of being spelled.

Alister was the editor of the Medical Journal of Australia for a period in the mid 1980s – not only a doctor, a journalist, a war correspondent, but also a man of great innovation and integrity. He was lost prematurely to AIDS.

He did not have to adorn his ego with citations and references to his own achievements. He did not have the basic insecurity that often accompanies this display, and not to put a fine point on it, he viewed being editor as a full-time occupation, not a part-time bauble.

The Nobel laureate, Dr Barry Marshall wrote a telling piece about how Alister Brass helped him, reporting on self-administration of Helicobacter pylori to himself as part of fulfilling Koch’s postulates to prove that the bacillus caused peptic ulcer. Alister Brass had seen the original paper that Barry Marshall and Robin Warren had published in 1984 in The Lancet. Brass had encouraged Marshall to write an article for the MJA, which was duly submitted to “scrupulous referees” (Marshall’s words), who demanded a re-write and the final published article in 1985 became very influential in the recognition of Marshall and Warren’s work by a sceptical worldwide audience.

Marshall could not have been more clear about the value of Alister Brass’ role, as all great editors have, in ensuring the work, which eventually brought Marshall and Warren the Nobel Prize, was scrupulously refereed and then published. As Marshall himself concluded years later Re-reading that paper every few years, I am impressed by how far the MJA Editor was ‘sticking his neck out’ in allowing me to publish a hypothesis as to the cause of peptic ulcer. It was a further 5 years before journals allowed the word ‘cure’ to appear in articles about duodenal ulcer, and almost a decade before mainstream United States journals could accept it as proven.

Be that as it may, the point should be clearly made that two people who were outside the conventional medical establishment at that time (they were in Perth during the period of the research), Marshall and Warren, were nowhere near the major beneficiaries of medical research funding – Victoria or NSW.

The rush to citations as a sign of pumping out research papers has recently been criticised by the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. He mentions the “salami-slicing techniques” whereby, why have one paper when you could have three out of one piece of research? Then there is the multiple authorship where those who seem to be at the top-end of frequent flyer points appear on an article to which their input is negligible. I believe the citations record tallies over 5,000 authors. The emergence of a plethora of non peer-reviewed journals offering to publish articles in return for money, has just added to the proposition that “citations” are being discredited as a valid measurement of scientific worth.

Marshall and Warren were a temporary antidote to the accusation that so much of this form of research is trivial. The question remains: should the community reward funding submissions that emphasise process (of which parading a wealth of citations is one criterion and that insidious “proven track record” is another) rather than an outcome bestowing a tangible benefit on the community?

It is a pity that Alister Brass’s life was cut short, because we would not have to be reminded of the Journal’s worth by some obscure measurement. It would have been self-evident. He would clearly have made the above question irrelevant through the way he extracted the very best from authors and researchers in the same way Ingelfinger and Relman as Editors defined The New England Journal of Medicine.

A load of old cobblers

I sit and cobble at slippers and shoon, From the rise of sun to the set of moon; Cobble and cobble as best I may, Cobble all night and cobble all day.

In 1982 I invited David Owen, then at the height of his political powers, to give the address at the 50th anniversary of the Australian Institute of Political Science*.  Named in his honour, Sir Norman Cowper attended this inaugural Oration. Sir Norman had been among the founders of the Institute, although that is another story.  Dr Owen charged the Institute nothing. I was able to wrangle a first-class airfare London to Sydney return out of Qantas (in the days before business class and Irish parsimony).

These days politicians, after their retirements, have a habit of charging large amounts of money to perform while they garner a luscious pension for which we all pay. The current Treasurer, Minister Frydenberg, now aged 48, will in all probability be no exception. No need to retrain good ol’ Josh after the age of 60, except to identify the location of the amenities cabinet in whichever ambassadorship he has been awarded and later on retrained on how he stores his cash when there will be no banks left we can trust.

Politicians advocating this course for the elderly should not do so unless they are also serious about being role models, insisting on retiring on modest pensions and seeking retraining. Otherwise they could be subject to ridicule with a restive population calling for the re-introduction of the pillory.

Perhaps Abbot could resume his religious calling and be retrained as a Pentecostal minister; my favourite rent-seeker, Christopher Pyne because of his fixer obsession being retrained on reaching 60 as a paper hanger. However I jest – but if you think about it further, why not? Also, perhaps the word for this breed is “train” rather than “retrain”.

At my 70th birthday I was chirpy enough for people to exclaim that 70 was the new 50. It is seductive to believe that aphorism. However, when Frydenberg exhorts the elderly to retrain the answer is for what – and what time will be required for this mythical retraining and then, assuming anyone, anywhere would consider hiring this retrained person, one may only be able literally to work for a few years. Even though the average living age may have crept up to over 80, this increase in quantity cannot be necessarily equated to quality and ergo capacity to work.

Susan Ryan, Age Discrimination Commissioner from 2011-2016, used to bemoan the fact that there was age discrimination in Australia. Well, thank you for borrowing my pocket watch and telling me what I already know – if you’re over 40 and wanting a job, good luck. What did she do in her five years there? But then she was followed by another “retrained politician”, Dr Kay Paterson – and there is silence broken only by the chirping of crickets when the question is asked, what have you actually done to solve the problem of age discrimination for older Australians looking for work?

So what is the Frydenburg retraining all about? I worked until I was 75 years, and the only retraining I needed was to cope with my disease over my last 15 months, when I was deprived of independent living. However, with a carer for whom no government assistance was sought, I was enabled to ease into retirement. I had a few part-time “hangovers” from my previous jobs, which provided employment for another 18 months. Thus I was well into my 77th year when I finally finished.

Therefore it may be more about convincing employers of the worth of retaining the employees on, say, a contract for three to five years. On the other hand, I do not believe that the economy should be burdened with unproductive ageing staff. I can say that because – in the terms of the Italian calibration of age – I am about to pass from vecchio to anziano. 

Jokes aside, “working” and “ageing” provide a complex situation. I have had to deal with people who should have long since retired, and increasingly they had presented a hazard. It becomes a very difficult situation especially if they have accolades from their careers, which suddenly become more important to them when their livelihood and relevance are threatened.

I have one advantage. I have my marbles and I can look back over the past 20 years during which Treasury has put out a number of papers on this matter of ageing and the workforce – for what effect?

Just giving more benefits for a relatively small but vocal segment of the ageing population without the bother of setting up retraining scenarios, with only a marginal chance of success.

The “Golden Age” index is touted as a benchmark, but the index age range is 55-64. Fifty-five is a ludicrous age to retire, but was the basis of many public service plans with penalties imposed for working beyond that age. As a result, there has been the growth of so-called consultant work – doing what you were doing before, but at a higher rate of remuneration to top up that indexed pension, and stimulating the rise of the rent-seeker class.

Minister Frydenberg, can I hand you the last?

The Victorian TAFE sector says it takes a year to train to become a cobbler aka shoemaker. Another way of being the life and sole of the party when and if you get to 70!

*Now the Australian Institute of Policy and Science

Jesus the Leader

Now a rather sad case of a man when a post-graduate student who, when he was a student at the US Army War College, wrote a dissertation on Jesus Christ the Leader.

He described the Jesus model of leadership as love. His first criterion was that leaders traditionally sat at the top of the pile and issued orders, while Jesus “inverted the pyramid” and “he got down in the trenches and served the troops”. The rest of the “Jesus the Leader” dissertation proceeded from this statement.

Fast-forward 15 years and now Major General Gregg Martin faces his Jesus moment when as,

“The president of the National Defense University stepped down from his post last week following reports of an ongoing investigation into a poor command climate at the Defense Department-operated institution.

Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin officially relinquished the job last Monday…the move was approved by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey… Gen. Martin said he believed this was the right time for a new leader to guide the institution as NDU continued to prepare leaders for the challenges facing the U.S. Military.  

Martin was reported as having unilaterally ordered a series of sweeping structural changes at NDU without consulting its tenured faculty and other academic leaders, and that he threatened to fire anyone who challenged his plans. Martin responded that he was indeed seeking “transformational” change within the university, but that his comments were misinterpreted.”

Hardly a sign of mutual affection, but as Martin had written in his dissertation, “Jesus religiously took time away by himself, plug into his eternal power source – God’s Word – and recharge his battery. When things get extremely hectic, it may be time to consider taking an afternoon to play golf.”

Jesus thanks you for that advice. Some people may define the golf links as a wilderness but I think,

General, you are advising the wrong chap.

Jesus is the Palestinian chap on the right hand side.

In turn, Martin has languished in his own Pentagon wilderness for the past five years.

Mouse Whisper

Chevron ran an advertisement bemoaning the fact the United States reserves of natural gas were small compared to Russia, Iran and Qatar. In fact the United States and Turkmenistan vie for fourth place. This ranking has not interfered with the fact that the United States is the largest producer of natural gas ahead of Russia.

On contemplating this Chevron advertisement where ostensibly the message is that the USA has a smaller supply of one commodity than “shock horror” Russia and Iran, it struck my murine mind that how it was playing upon the fragile ego of the American people. Trump has also exploited the same fragility in his “Make America Great” mantra. Augmenting it with red dew drops of “Russia with Love” has led Trump supporters to wear T-shirts which say “I’d rather be Russian than Democrat”. You mean better be Stalin than Roosevelt?   I am really now mus confusus. People so insecure in themselves that they would compromise their country’s security. Maybe they should have a portrait of Benedict Arnold on their T-shirt as well.

Benedict Arnold

 

 

 

 

 

What Trump supporters are wearing this Fall.

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 – The Spine

In an advertisement for the MD Anderson Cancer Center in a 2009 issue of Harper’s, a healthy triathlete smiles. His name is Bill Crews and under his name is the word “lymphoma” with a red line through the word. It is five years since he had been diagnosed and now following “an individual treatment plan”, he was in remission attested to which was completion of 14 triathlons at that point.

To celebrate his achievement a Bill Crews Remission Run was organised annually to provide funding for this Houston- based Cancer Center. Then there is a brief note in 2014 to say the website advertising the run is “inactive”. There is no record of Bill Crews dying – just that one word “inactive”.

It got me thinking, since my closest male friend also succumbed to lymphoma some years ago, although his course between diagnosis and death was far shorter. Once you get cancer, except for some skin cancers, you know your life will be limited. We all will die, but there is no need to face it until the doctor across the desk signals your mortality. You can of course avoid this confrontation by suiciding, being murdered, killed in an accident or sacrificed deliberately by those who would wage war.

What if I responded to the doctor after the sentencing: “I want you to tell me the exact day I am going to die.” What would be the response?

“Unfair question. Impossible to know.”

“OK, then will it be next week, week after… and this year, next year, sometime, never?”

We can be very precise with the input when we are provided with an individual treatment plan. Therefore, if you can give me such a plan, then it is reasonable to know the outcome, or what to expect. After all, infallibility is a power that some health professionals like to assume – well doctor, how long will I live? But then nobody writes on a funeral notice – he lasted x time longer than the doctors predicted or that the doctor got it so horribly wrong, he died well before the predicted date – perhaps in the middle of some surgical procedure, where the euphemism for “surgical vanity” is “heroic”.

The problem is that what I have written above is so foreign to how society is ordered. Most of us try and live in a predictable world. We expect that if we go to the gym in the morning it will be open at a certain hour. We know that lunch follows breakfast and we have a mid-morning coffee break.

Bill Crews probably had such a regimen. Cancer came; cancer went; but it never does. It marks time. How much of that time was consumed by unpleasant morbidity; how much did life become unbearable; and in the end, how much did he wish to live – all unanswerable now.

In fact, we live in a world of uncertainty. The flow of information from so many portals means that life is like traversing an Arabian souk. We never know what will happen next, but we always have the option of wanting or not wanting to know what we have bought – without it being varnished with fakery.

What does that all mean? Government, despite the various inputs, has to make the most cost effective allocation of resources in the face of all the individual treatment plans. There is no incentive for those manufacturing, distributing and prescribing the various medications to be less than optimistic. The cost of development of a drug is always stated as being so expensive so that the end product mirrors this expenditure. However, in the World of Optimism, who is going to undertake the rationing on behalf of community affordability. The plea, the crowd funding, the picture of the cancer sufferer, the hoped for remission mistaken for cure are all part of the emotional appeal. However, what price does one pay for a small addition to life of variable quality – what is an average of six months worth?

Policy should not be predicated on the outliers. Bill Crews had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Through all the obfuscation surrounding survival rates, maybe his ten-year survival rate was about average when the last mention of Bill Crews was made.

Therefore, assessing the cost of Bill Crews’ treatment may be a useful indication of the individual cost for the condition. That statistic is just as important as knowing the relative success of the individual management plan and generalising from that one example.

But my whole case is predicated on two assumptions: the first is that the lack of mention of the poster boy by MC Anderson Cancer Center (now also with a red slash through the word “Cancer”) public relations, and the inactivity of the Remission Run from 2013 onwards means that Bill Crews is now cycling on a higher plane. In line with MD Anderson Center publications, I have not mentioned the word “death”.

The second is what Bill Crews’ individual management plan cost when everything was tallied, its figure would be useful enough to be used as a guide to cost – assuming that those costs could be found and adjusted for current prices.

Hopefully the responses, outraged or not by such reductionism, would be a welter of data trying to disprove my assumption. However, that could lead to a good controversy if the policy makers were listening, and cost could be determined with all the accompanying arguments laid out. Then tell the taxpayers!

The Senile Trail

Listening to the Health Minister, he talks about “self stigma” and that we should reach out for help. Well, may I tell you, if you bother to listen, Minister, self-stigma is a meaningless term, when you are crying spontaneously for no reason, when your body is at a point where you cannot undertake the activities you were once able to do; and you are alone. You reach out for what? The phone lines are always busy in the daytime. Trying reaching out at 3am in the morning wherever you are for help. About all that is left is the late night / early morning radio programs that provide an outlet to the old, the sick, the lonely who can’t sleep and who communicate with fellow callers from across the state or the country, through the radio: “How is Beryl from Cooma, we haven’t heard her on the show for quite a while, does anyone know?”

There is a great deal of breast-beating going on, because despite all the expense spent on input, nobody has a solution to care of the aged. I have been associated with nursing homes that work well, because there is a continuity in management and the constant positive is that those in charge worry and care for their nursing home community.

Being dependent implies that I have a carer, which fortunately I have “in spades”. I can no longer live independently unable to have shower, cook, dress and generally manage any housework efficiently – without help. It is frustrating knowing that when you are dependent, you have to wait – you have to learn patience without surrendering yourself to outright submission.

However, being in a wheelchair and then suddenly left facing a blank wall in an airport adds another dimension. The person responsible who leaves you without saying anything just adds that element of being ignored. It is no longer just waiting, you are being ignored and that adds a new reality. It is a sign that you a bit of garbage to be swept when the mood takes the handler. In the end, you lose your self-respect unless dementia beats you to that realisation.

Such are elements of growing old – such are the elements of being in care, where the rules are such that you – the resident – are governed by regulations engineered by government bureaucrats far away from your bedside. They call it compliance or accreditation – a meaningless term to indicate everything is under control. Unless you have a family, whether natural or manufactured, to act as the antidote, then every day is one day nearer to death, and increasingly you wish that day will come. Those words like “accreditation” have a meaning to those who love making paperwork look like an illuminated manuscript.

Are there any solutions beyond having a caring carer not an impersonal person – a shift worker with an inadequate handover when they come on duty, their measly remuneration ultimately dependent on some distant hedge fund?

All solutions are just a variation on that fact of individual care without the negative embellishment.

For instance, I mentioned in a previous blog the series shown on the ABC where four year olds visited an aged care facility over a seven-week period. Then the series finished, with an elaborate farewell antic. I wrote in my blog* at the time:

However, if the attempt of mixing the groups is just voyeuristic – “been there; done that”; then I believe the makers of this series have probably done a disservice to all involved if nothing further eventuates.

Old age is an increasing societal challenge. It should not be just a case of waste management. Yet I fear that is happening – and David Attenborough-like explorations of human foibles and cuteness should not replace serious consideration of what can be done.

The clue is in the series – get the elderly to tell their stories, whether they have a four year old audience or not. After all, it gives you a sense of relevance, even when you may be the only one listening. However even one child listening and responding with questions is a bonus. After all, I believe we are all storytellers.

My argument was not against the idea; my concern was it being generalised – the implication being that infant schools be co-located with nursing homes, so there is ongoing integration of experience – not just a one-off “gooey-eyed” curiosity but as part of a conscious government policy.

After all, each group’s experiences are transitory – the children grow up hopefully socialised to understand what it is to be old; and one of the aged care participants died between filming and release of the documentary. Such is life, as Mr Kelly is reported to have said.

It was ironic when the aged care report was released recently there was no mention of the documentary as one remedy – even seemingly by the ABC.

* Modest Expectations – Duckworth 30/8/19

Mount Augustus

 Uluru has been closed at last. To me, there has never been any question. The traditional owners should have the right to invite strangers to climb this extraordinary monolith. I have walked around the base which is measured at 10.6 kilometres and to me it felt ‘right”. Being a “whitefella” does not exclude you from being in touch with this extraordinary country. One of the things I have learnt from my association with the Aboriginal people is to know when the Land is accepting your presence.

The idea that climbing the Rock is akin to climbing a cathedral may satisfy some people as an excuse. However, the analogy does not hold. Tourists are like ants on the roofs and spires of famous cathedrals and churches; and prohibition to climb churches is more related to safety or privacy rather than it being a spiritual taboo.

The bogan chant of why can’t I go anywhere because this is Australia and I am Australian is OK if you are a self-absorbed narcissist who does not believe that any restrictions apply to yourself. There is a high-falutin’ word for this – “libertarian” and a more macho term – “individual”, its anthem: “I am what I am”.

Well, Mount Augustus may be just what you are looking for, to express your feeling and being what you are. Mount Augustus is technically a monocline but then for you guys, it is a “humongous Rock”. It is not red and bald like Uluru – it is covered by bush and it is still called by the “whitefella” name rather than its Wadjari name of Burringurrah.

Burringurrah / Mount Augustus

However, it is the largest rock in the world and I went there 20 years ago; so it exists and has not shifted. It is a bit inconvenient being 500 kilometres inland from Carnarvon. Uluru is tiny compared to Burringurrah. There is an eponymous Aboriginal settlement close to the monocline.

Rather than walking around the base, we were carted around the 43 kilometres in a minivan at a hair-raising speed by a male nurse then living in the outstation. The trip ended back near the settlement, when the van hit a large pothole and lost its wheel. Fortunately the sand provided a cushion and we were all uninjured and trudged back to the settlement. It just emphasised how huge this Rock is.

Currently, the local Wadjari people allow visitors to climb Burringurrah but unlike Uluru, there is scrub and a trail, which takes around five hours to climb and return.

Watch this space! I remember when Uluru was Ayers Rock and was hard to get there.

Burringurrah speedway

Sydney Ferries Fiasco – A form of naval gazing

Guest Blogger: Neil Baird#

It could be said that the only thing keeping the New South Wales Liberal/National Coalition state government in power is the even greater incompetence of the State Opposition. If the latest controversy over the renewal of the Sydney Ferries fleet is any indication, the Gladys Berejiklian led coalition is certainly not an exponent of open government. The Opposition has only now awakened to an announcement that was made nine months ago in February.

Unusually, the announcement about Sydney’s ferry renewal was made from Liberal Party headquarters and not from the Minister for Transport’s office. Sure, the party was in election mode but what were they doing issuing a press release announcing a $1.3 billion project in such an underhand way? What was the government trying to conceal? Why will just 13 comparatively simple and small ferries cost $ 1.3 billion? That figure appears grossly excessive. Or does that include running and maintenance costs for nine years as mentioned in one report? Why would the government not be more transparent?

Given their other shenanigans with the Northern Beaches and Mona Vale hospital projects, for example, taxpayers have every right to be suspicious. For the record, the three larger ferries are to be built in Indonesia, presumably by Penguin Marine; the 10 smaller ones are being built by Jianglong in Zhuhai, China. The local firms mentioned below Ross Roberts/Harwood Marine were never invited to tender. Nor was anyone else apparently.

It has since been fully revealed, in an 23 October 2019 press release from Opposition Leader, Jodi McKay, that the fleet replacement was a “done deal” by 27 February 2019 when the Liberal Party announcement was made.

The story goes that in early February this year a couple of Australia’s leading ferry builders had been approached with a vague invitation to tender for the ferries. Apparently they didn’t respond to the approach. So did at least one leading firm of naval architects. None could be bothered to respond as they had such bad previous experience in dealing with Sydney Ferries, apart from being very busy anyway.

The subject went quiet for a few months and has only now been revived by Ms McKay who seems to have confused the facts.

Simply put, after endless problems, mainly with the maritime union, the operations, but not the ownership, of Sydney Ferries has not officially been privatised. It is a public-private arrangement, which avoids the need to go out to tender. The French-owned transport conglomerate, Transdev have contracted to operate the ferries, and seem to have eliminated most of the problems when it was run by the NSW Government.

Yet the curious way the ferries were ordered remains, with virtual concealment of the nature and cost of project from the taxpayers of NSW.

While Ms McKay has revealed some of facts, other parts of the story are off-beam. While the Trade Unions have been one of the major reasons for the problems at Sydney Ferries, the relative absence of shipbuilders in NSW has not helped.

However, she is partly correct. The ferries could have been built locally, as she advocates, but the only company in the NSW with experience in building ferries of the size ordered is Harwood Marine of Yamba in Northern NSW.

Strangely, Harwood was not even approached or invited to tender. Indeed, the managing director of Harwood was unaware of the government’s intentions until very recently. Harwood has been busy with a major expansion of its company’s facilities including, ironically, a 60 metre shed in which large aluminium ferries could be built. Equally ironically, those who could have benefitted – the local youth workforce in a town where unemployment stands at 23 per cent – didn’t get a look in.

Apart from Transdev, which is expected to correct Sydney Ferries’ inadequacies, one major local firm will benefit from the association with Transdev. That is the Port Macquarie-based company, Birdon, which moreover has been contracted to build ferries in China and Indonesia for Transdev.

Birdon is a highly reputable company, as is Transdev. This fiasco is no reflection on either. The government may well get a good deal in the end. However, the problem is the opaque process that the government followed. The State Opposition has been unaware of such a major project, until the belated statement from Ms McKay. It is also a major problem that Harwood, a significant employer and highly reputable local shipbuilder was not even asked to express interest in the project.

The taxpayers of New South Wales have not been well served by its politicians.

We have not heard the end of this.

# Neil Baird is non-executive Chairman of Baird Maritime, a global maritime trade publisher. Among his other positions, Neil is a long-serving director of the Australian Shipbuilders Association.

Mouse Whisper

Once I heard the confession of a poker-faced mouse whisperer despite it being difficult to squeeze into a murine confessional box.

In January 2004, I was in grade 12 of high school and about to graduate. I operated a profitable web design business as a part time job for some spending money. Seeing as my legal name is Mike Rowe, I created the domain MikeRoweSoft.com for my portfolio. The Canadian lawyers of Microsoft didn’t like this (I really don’t know how they found my site, I had 2 visitors a day. One was me (sic), one was my mom). They sent me a couple of emails and a large legal document telling me to give up my domain name. I asked for $10k. They said no. I went to the media. Hilarity ensued.

Since then I’ve been a full time professional poker player for the last 3 years. I’ve made enough to buy a condo and live very comfortably in that time. I have finished 5th in the PokerStars Sunday Million for $97,500 as well as 31st at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure earlier this year for $40,000. So I guess you can ask about the poker stuff as well if anyone wants to.

And no, I didn’t sell out for an XBox.”

The site was still active in 2017, but not now.

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