Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for February 2010

Published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 23 February 2010

The 2010 Intergenerational Report says the challenges Australia faces over the next 40 years are an ageing population and the pressure this will put on the health system. Social analysts and demographers also pontificate along these lines. However, many older people on Age Pensions and without private health insurance see the emphasis ageing as a kind of verbal bullying that makes them think that some politicians believe that if they took themselves off to some secret place and died, Australia would be better off.

In any case, what is the definition of old? Is it 55, the age at which Public Servants can take their pension or the ages that currently apply to men and women? I ask because, except for employers (and Governments that want rid of the age pension) fewer and fewer people think of 55 as old. Indeed the definitions that once existed for age groups have changed because we now live in is a world that has never previously existed.

For example, once upon a time youth was defined as 0-20. Well, if the push to reduce the voting age to 16 comes about it will be necessary for a new definition not only of youth but other age brackets.

I suggest the new age definition scale should be: youth 0-15; mature youth 16 – 25; young adult 26-35; senior adult 36 – 45; middle aged 46 – 55. Old would start at 55 and last ’til 65. The tag of ancient would apply to people 65 – 75, 75 –85 would be very ancient and anyone over 85 would be extremely ancient.

And that would only be the start of the changes. In the not too distant future as science further increases life expectancy, as I expect it will, no doubt the definitions of age will need to change again. Indeed I can imagine a Methuselah age being born. (Methuselah: Noah’s grandson, reputed to have lived 969 years, whose name is now a synonym for people who live to a very great age.)

However, as life expectancy increases, unless ageing people can enjoy a healthy, active life, the number of them who will become disabled, experience dementia or alzheimer’s is likely to grow to an extent that will have enormous social ramifications unless money is made available to maintain services, even at today’s level.
To try and minimise costs a start has already been made. On 1 July 2017 the qualifying pension age for a male goes from 65 to 65.5 years and thereafter increases by 6 months every 2 years until reaching 67 on 1 July 2023. And once a woman’s qualifying age for the pension has reached 65 under existing rules, 4 years later the same changes will apply. However, if care is not taken to ensure that services for the ageing have not improved and expanded, these problems will have blown out enormously leaving many pensioners unable to enjoy their retirement.
And when I say enjoy their retirement I do not mean living a life of luxury. Indeed I have yet to meet a pensioner who wants a life of luxury. On the other hand because they feel they have contributed significantly to Australia’s economic wellbeing, neither do they want to be seen as lepers and isolated from the community.

It would be nice to think that research shows that the quality of life is increasing as length of life increases. Unfortunately it doesn’t. What it shows is that the degenerative diseases like disability, dementia and alzheimer’s are increasing rapidly and outstripping society’s capacity to cope. And because the position seems unlikely to change in the long term and because society seems to be more concerned about material values, it seems likely the push for euthanasia will become stronger.

An increased push for euthanasia will, of course, raise serious moral and ethical questions. Not only might it make many aged people think of committing suicide it might also attract relatives who care for them to consider assisting them.

If this column has a moral it is: just as it is necessary to care well for the young to grow up and enjoy life, it is also necessary to do the same for those growing old.
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First published The Chronicle Tuesday 9 February, 2009

With Tony Abbot as Opposition Leader will the banal exchanges that pass as debate in the federal parliament liven up? And will that extra liveliness be seen as Abbot leads the debate to reject the Government’s Emissions Trading Scheme Bill (for cynics the Extra Tax Slug)? And if the Bill is rejected for a third time will the PM call for a double dissolution? I doubt it. I think the PM will continue portraying Abbott’s new climate change policy as a bigger tax slug?

The ETS is based on recommendations in reports from the scientists of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that say the earth is doomed if humans continue on their current path. In a world more terrifying and dangerous than at any time in history their recommendations were accepted as true by most people principally because they lacked knowledge of climate change science. This pleased the IPCC because acceptance of its recommendations, even when inaccurate, gave it credibility.

But the IPCC is not the first group to make doomsday forecasts; religious groups have done so since time immemorial despite the fact that, time after time, their followers were the only ones to experience doom eg. Peoples Temple (the Jonestown group).

Indeed in some respects the IPCC has donned the mantle of a religious group, which, with its supporters, I will call “The Environmentalists.” Like religious groups, The Environmentalists has prophets. Two prominent examples: Al Gore, a former US Vice President and Sir Nicholas Stern, an eminent British Labour economist and Government adviser, whose 2006 Stern Review could be seen as The Environmentalists’ climate change and economic bible.

Gore and Stern also have something in common with previous doomsday prophets: they do not tolerate ideas other than their own and are blessed with absolute certainty about the rightness of their cause.

Unfortunately for the IPCC, it has since become clear that some reports lacked veracity as details had been doctored to suit preferred conclusions. This lack of veracity has led many previous IPCC supporters seriously interested in climate change, to agree with climate change sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton, eminent British mathematician who, like Sir Nicholas Stern, advised the highest level of British Government whose message is also different to that of Gore and Stern.

His message: global warming is not the cause of the doom forecast by the IPCC, it is the ill thought out policies of diversification into biofuels and other alternative energy sources. He is also adamant the ETS scheme will cost trillions of dollars that even rich economies like Australia cannot afford and, what is more his objections are based on scientific fact not doctored IPCC reports.

I have heard people dismiss Monckton by saying that because he’s a mathematician he would know little about global warming or climate change. Let me say the same could be said about Stern, an economist, and Gore a former politician now a businessman whose businesses are benefiting enormously from his Environmentalists role, a role that some people think a conflict of interest. And while Monckton might be a mathematician because he has done his homework his arguments are both eloquent and reasoned.

Like Lord Monckton and thousands of others, I have long been sceptical of the IPCC reports and written a number of columns about climate change. The following is an extract from my 14 Feb column 2007. “Long sceptical about statements of doom for Australia if the Government didn’t sign the Kyoto Protocol my scepticism increased after reading the “Summary for Policymakers” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The increase was due to the prolific use of get out words and phrases such as ‘probably, very likely, is likely’ in the report. That the word ‘will’ is noticeable by its absence suggests the IPCC is having two bob each way.”

IPCC reports continue to be written in this vein. However, when asked to be more definite about their forecasts, they unlike Monckton, glibly say the science is settled. They also say the IPCC forecasts are based on the “precautionary principle,” which to many sceptics seems another way of saying: “we don’t know.” Well, if they don’t know then why should they be taken seriously?

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First published in The Chronicle Canberra ,Tuesday 2 Feb 2010

Attending for a blood test a few weeks ago I was asked did I have my Medicare card with me. Fortunately I had, but later as I mused over a coffee I realised how often today cards are needed to live and fantasised about what might happen in the future.

In future would cards be needed for starting a family? Couples, perhaps, would need to check their maternity and paternity cards to learn if they would make suitable parents before being allowed to indulge their natural instincts.

If their cards gave them the OK, when their first baby was born they would be issued its Early Life credit card so that, from time to time, they could check how it was progressing. However, the Early Life card would expire when the child reached the age of eight at which time it would be exchanged for a Whole of Life card.

Fantasy it may be, but long ago I came to the conclusion that life without fantasy would not be worth living and that, every day, one should hope for a fantasy if only to keep sane. But be warned: never try to force a fantasy; forced fantasies can become nightmares. Which brings me to the part that God plays in this story. Let me explain what I mean. While God is real to many people for me, in today’s technological world, He/Her is a fantasy it isn’t difficult to believe in.

I am not a believer. Indeed in my opinion God is really a Super Computer whose technology is such that that man is still too technologically naïve to understand. I realise also, that because no one knows how or who built this super computer, my fantasy does nothing to help advance any existing theories about God.

No doubt people will want to know how this Super Computer controls the universe? You might think my answer even more of a fantasy. The Super Computer exercises control using a sophisticated bank it has developed, known as the Universe Super Bank (USB), through its two sub branches known as Heaven and Hell

The job of the USB is to monitor and record every moral and ethical credit and debit on every human’s Whole of Life Card so that when someone dies, the USB’s Manager can determine immediately in which sub branch, Heaven or Hell, they will be given an after life account. (People amass credits if, during life, they treat others as they wish to be treated and care more for others than they care about themselves while people amass debits because they care more about themselves than they care about others.)

People with a strong credit balance in morality and ethics will be given an account in the Heaven sub branch while people with a debit balance in these areas will be given an account in the Hell sub branch. Unsurprisingly, the latter branch has more account holders.

Some company Chairmen, company Managing Directors and CEOs, plus Presidents, Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, assorted other politicians, dictators and militarists et al, would expect that, after death, they would get an account in the Heaven sub branch because of their success on earth, as would the attendant armies of sycophants who helped them achieve that success.

Fortified with these thoughts they will face the USB Manager with confidence so that when advised that their Whole of Life account is so much in debit they have been given an account in the Hell sub branch they will be shocked.

No doubt they started with the best intentions so that, early in life, as they climbed the ladder of success the moral and ethical credit life balance was positive. However, when they became enamoured of money and power it became negative.

No doubt too, they will cry to the USB sub branch manager that they had been treated badly and been misunderstood, before going on to commiserate with fellow account holders such as Saddam and Hitler et al. I am not inclined to feel sorry for them.

Coffee finished, I then dragged myself off to Parliament House where, as I listened, I fantasised about the USB sub branch into which I thought each of our politicians would fit.

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