Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for March 2010

Published The Chronicle Tuesday March 23

As a boy in Scotland the words “Good Health” were how people toasted each other on New Year’s Eve because good health was of concern for many families. Much of this concern was eliminated in 1948 when the wartime Coalition government’s initiative of a free National Health Service (NHS) was implemented.

The NHS ensured that returned servicemen, unable to work because of the war, would get the special medical attention they needed. Perhaps more importantly it meant that families would no longer have to sell family treasures or do without food so that they could pay for specialist medical attention.

Strictly speaking the NHS was, and is not “free.” And though it was, and still is, partly paid for by the UK’s National Insurance Scheme and taxation, when introduced it was hailed by all as social revolution of the best kind.

Private sector health practitioners allege the NHS has deteriorated. And though I am a great believer in the private sector, I think this is wishful thinking because a recent UK survey showed more than 80% of UK residents gave it the thumbs up. So do I.

Unfortunately, and despite much political rhetoric Australia’s health system seem to have lost its importance as a priority. With few exceptions, politicians will tell you without realising the irony in their words, that without a strong healthy economy the country will quickly go to the dogs. The words “healthy economy” are ironic because without a healthy workforce the economy has little chance of being healthy.

The following spells out what I mean. Just as it is essential to ensure a house is built on strong foundations, good health is the essential bulding block of a productive life. Indeed, if the foundations of a house are weak, sooner or later cracks that need repairing will develop. Unfortunately In some cases the cracks might not be repairable.

As to health’s loss of priority, one need only note the words of politicians to see what I mean. While theoretically discussing the environment, many politicians manage to infer that without a healthy economy both the environment and the country will go to the dogs. Let me reply and say, that without a healthy (and educated) population, the environment and the economy will go to the dogs even more quickly.

I think also that the time has come for Australia to undertake major health reform and create a National Health Service using the best ideas from around the world for example from Sweden, Canada and the UK. I find it odd that as an allegedly egalitarian country, Australia does not have such a scheme.

However, perhaps the current talk of creating a National Disability Insurance Scheme and a National Paid Paternity Leave Scheme shows things are on the move for the many Australians hoping the political miracle of an NHS will take place.

Today, health services only seem to become important before an election. At this time the major parties compete with promises that if elected they will reform the health service. No doubt they will carry out some reform although tinkering might be a better way to describe it.

Generally, real reform only takes place after something has gone seriously wrong, which brings me to the state of health services nationally and to put forward the radical view that a coalition of all federal parties should be convened with sole purpose of devising a NHS.

In the meantime, Australia’s best political tinkerers, the ACT Government, will carry on tinkering with Territory’s health services to try and ensure a sufficiency of voters will be so impressed with its efforts that they will re-elect it in 2012. And with its obsession to be first, perhaps it should show Federal Government the way and invite all parties to join in producing the best health service in the country.

But as I doubt there’s any chance of a health coalition in the ACT what do I think should be priorities of the ACT Government? Health and education should be its priorities because without good health and good education, no community can sustain a strong economy a healthy environment or be culturally and artistically progressive.
The Chronicle, Canberra’s best community news service. Published every Tuesday


Published The Chronicle Tuesday16 March

My mind is often filled by political dreams the colours of which put rainbows to shame. Unfortunately, the effect when some of the colours get mixed is often less than pleasing particularly when black, the colour of a space devoid of illumination is produced. When this happens my mind switches immediately to some MLAs and Members of the National Capital Authority whose minds seem to fit the latter condition.

Not that that is how it appears to them. Indeed for them the only spaces devoid of illumination are voter’s mind, which proves that the inside of their heads are spaces devoid of illumination.

Little wonder that these people are surprised when the public says that many of their ideas lack common sense. One idea that illustrates this to perfection is the current proposal centred on the City Hill Precinct, a combination of natural and built infrastructure, which, according to the ACT Land Development Agency, is one of the city’s most significant locations. As I wrote in my column of Tuesday 22 Jan 2008, City Hill is both the heart of Canberra and the city’s most significant sacred site.

Unfortunately, this sacred site is about to be desecrated and developed simply to make money. Sadly, ACTPLA and the NCA seem not to realise, and if they do, don’t care, that cities without a heart cannot be great cities. For example: in the way Central Park helps make New York a great city and Hyde Park does the same for London – and other great parks do the same for other great cities – just as it took time for these parks to help create their respective city’s greatness, it will take time for City Hill to do the same for Canberra.

I suggest also that if the NCA and every Government MLA and Minister read The Chronicle and The Canberra Times letters and opinion pages, they would find many ideas that could be used use to make money without destroying City Hill. These ideas come from citizens who spend time and money trying to make sense of the Government’s policies and also try to give it ideas from which the community at large can benefit. Unfortunately for the community, both the NCA and ACT Government seem to have a list of preferred suppliers of ideas.

NCA aside, had the ACT Government listened to the community, the GDE initially would have been four lanes, not two, and the community would have been better served. But if it’s a hard job educating children to listen, it’s an even harder job educating Government Ministers to listen and accept that many in the community have better ideas.

And talking about listening, it should be even more important that Government listens to ideas from non Government MLAs. In fact why have party government and opposition? Why not extend the current Greens/Labor arrangement and have a full coalition government? It seems silly to me but why have 10 MLAs out of 17 doing nothing except trying to find flaws in the policies of Government?

Taking up this idea could well scotch what is becoming a political perennial: MLAs calling for an increase in their numbers from 17 to 21 or 25. It seems to me also that if all 17 MLAs were involved in the process of Government, there would be no need to increase their number. And because MLAs are supposed to serve the whole community not just people who share the same political philosophy, all 17 could share the current workload.

Not only could this idea could put a stop to the rhetoric of overworked Ministers, it might also show voters that the MLAs who oppose it are more interested in status and satisfying their party and less interested in satisfying them.

I feel such an arrangement would also make the Assembly more attractive to a wider range of candidates, something that would redound to the benefit of Canberra. Rather than having Ministers responsible for portfolios of which they have no knowledge, each of the 17 would have portfolios in which they have experience.

It might mean also that, come election time, potential MLAs would need to demonstrate their experience to voters and, if elected, also deliver better governance.

The Chronicle for the best of Canberra Community News. Published every Tuesday

Due to shortage of space only a shortened version of this article was published in “The Chronicle,” Tuesday March, 2010.

The proverb “Who is so deafe, or so blynde, as is hee,/ that wilfully will nother here nor see” (John Heywood Dialogue of Proverbs II, ix. K4 1546 and grandfather of John Donne, the famous English poet and preacher.) Sadly Canberra and Australia has many people to whom the proverb applies.

With this proverb in mind you might wonder if I’ve become a convert to the IPCC’s global warming/climate change theory. You need wonder no more: I am still a sceptic. If anything my sceptic’s view has become stronger. Indeed in a number of articles, some published nationally, I have suggested that many of the alarmists about global warming and climate change have tunnel vision and will never accept or consider arguments that solutions other than theirs, exist. And there are other solutions, one of which is nuclear power.

While most of the alarmists know that nuclear power will reduce CO2, and thus pollution, they put forward another alarmist argument that nuclear power is so dangerous that using it is an invitation to disaster. In my opinion this argument is without credibility.

Nevertheless I think most alarmists are sincere in their belief that the best way to save the world from global warming and climate change disaster is to accept the IPCC view which is why they often react strongly to the pejorative Greens title given to them by coal, oil, renewable energy companies and certain unions.

Unfortunately not all Greens are what they seem. Indeed I suspect the Green movement harbours employees of the latter companies. These Greens of convenience have infiltrated the movement to try and persuade it to support their employers’ agendas. And although they may not be known to each other, they have a common agenda, to urge the Green movement, politicians and Unions, that the best way forward is to support programs for clean coal, hybridised oil and renewable energy industries. Every little success makes each of their employers and unions happy. The former because they keep on doing what they’re doing, the latter because jobs are retained.

It is equally unfortunate that when any suggestion of the use of nuclear power is made nuclear horror stories of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island appear in the media. However, because of my part in providing accommodation in Canberra to Ukrainian children from the Chernobyl blast site area as part of their rehabilitation program I am aware of Chernobyl and would not encourage the use of nuclear energy unless I felt it was safe.

Well there is a safe nuclear energy: Fusion energy. Sadly in Australia, vested interests and politicians with big ambitions but limited vision and ability are doing little to help this program develop more quickly, a program that will provide the world with a limitless supply of clean energy. That said it seems strange that trillions of dollars are not being spent in hastening the development of clean fusion energy to help replace fossil fuels, thus curbing CO2 emissions. Even stranger however, is the fact trillions of dollars were spent developing fission to build bombs that would save the world from being destroyed by its warring excesses. Have they? They haven’t! This, for me, puts the IPCC’s alarmist warnings in the same category

This is not to say that money is not being spent. It is: but too little. Currently a US $20 billion program, ITER, at Cadarache in France, is being funded by the European Union (represented by EURATOM), Japan, The People’s Republic of China, India, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and USA. US $20 billion sounds a lot but it pales into insignificance when compared with what has been spent on nuclear weapons.

Australia could be a partner in ITER for an investment of around $2 billion. Apparently Australia cannot afford it. You might wonder why when in 1932 Sir Mark Oliphant, one of Australia’s most distinguished scientists discovered the process that underpins fusion energy and in the 1950s founded the fusion plasma research facility at the Australian National University, which I visited last week, and which is still the hub of Australia’s fusion research and funded by a paltry $6 million a year for ten years.

As the proverb says: “there’s none so blind….”

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday

Published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday March 2, 2010

The swarms of spin doctors gathering in Canberra indicate a Federal election is due. But be advised also that to avoid their spin affecting your mental health, you might be wise to go on retreat to a Trappist monastery, a place where idle talk is not encouraged.

Believe it or not but in the early nineties before Alastair Campbell became chief spin doctor for British PM Tony Blair, a New York Rock group, the Spin Doctors, were deafening or delighting people – depending on their taste in music – with a couple of records “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong”. And no, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan are not dopplegangers of the two princes nor is the second title spelled wrongly: it is Wrong not Wong.

So what is a spin-doctor? Campbell styled himself Director of Communications and Strategy, which ties up with the definition in the pocket size modern English Oxford Dictionary that says a spin-doctor is a person who publicizes favourable interpretations of the words and actions of public figures [especially, but not exclusively, politicians].

In other words, spin doctors make statements for politicians whose relationship to the truth is, by any measure, tenuous. Increasingly it is also becoming the practice for politicians to do their own spin doctoring a practice that many of them often come to regret when later it becomes obvious the statement they made is a millstone round their neck.

While I have no argument with the OED’s short definition of spin doctor I think the words of Quintus Tullius Cicero (102 BC – 43 BC), younger brother of the celebrated orator, philosopher and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, define more accurately and elegantly, who and what is a spin doctor.

Although not comparing Quintus Tullius’s words describing a spin doctor to those of the OED, were QT around today I think he might stand in awe at how his advice of centuries ago has been adopted by public relations advisers to Prime Ministers, Ministers, Opposition Leaders, Shadow Ministers and very ambitious back bench politicians. Could it be that all of them have read Quintus’s advice? “Lastly, take care that your whole candidature is full of éclat, brilliant, splendid, suited to the popular taste, presenting a spectacle of the utmost dignity and magnificence. See also, if possible, that some new scandal is started against your competitors for crime or looseness of life or corruption, such as is in harmony with their characters.”

Spin doctoring, of course, is not the exclusive to federal politics; even if they have never heard of Quintus Tullius, advisers to both State and Territory politicians are also practitioners. Indeed I am inclined to think spin doctoring is a genetic condition that gets passed on from generation to generation. At the same time, and based on the amount of spin doctoring that goes on today, it would seem to be a highly contagious condition.

Worse, it is now difficult to distinguish between spin doctoring and genuine policy something I’ve noticed in the ACT Government. In fact so difficult is it to make the distinction I’ve come to the conclusion that the Government’s media minders have read the Quintus Tullius quote, which is why when being interviewed by the press, radio or TV, MLAs always make positive statements about how well the Government’s heath, housing, education and planning programmes et al, are working, even when obvious to voters they are not.

Take the more “affordable” homes programme. Government says it is a success. Unfortunately the beneficiaries of this success are not Canberra’s homeless or building tradesmen but unemployed interstate building tradesmen who move to Canberra because of shortages in this area. And even some “poor” developers will benefit.

The spin doctoring then continues as Government claims its Live in Canberra Campaign is a success, citing population increase as evidence. The truth is that much of the population increase is due to the temporary influx of the skilled building workers who on arrival, are rewarded by the Chief Minister with free cinema tickets, free restaurant meals and free activities for their children.

As for being free, I can only say that in the context of the foregoing, free is nothing less than spin doctoring.
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Published The Chronicle Canberra, Tuesday 23 Feb 2009

Occasionally I’ll get an e-mail telling me I should write only about local rather than federal politics. But all politics are local: ACT Senators Humphries and Lundy and Federal MPs Annette Elllis and Bob McMullan are local politicians. Indeed some people say they are more important than the Members of the ACT Legislative Assembly. Perhaps they are; but that’s an argument for another day. But that they are important is true because as members of the party of government they have the capacity to influence policy that affects us all.

ACT voters, of course, won’t need to decide until October 2012 about who to elect to the Assembly but later this year they will need to decide who they want to represent them in the next Federal Parliament.

Both Senator Humphries and Senator Lundy will contest the next election and both seem likely to be re-elected although I expect Greens Senate candidate Lin Hatfield Dodds and her running mate Hannah Parrish will put up a strong fight. I wish them well. At the same time I expect a number of minor parties and Independents will take on the challenge of trying to take the House of Representatives seats of Canberra and Fraser from Labor.

Non Labor candidates, even high profile ones, will find taking these seats a daunting challenge because retiring MPs Annette Ellis and Bob McMullan have done a good job. And while I would like to see a wider representation of political thought in parliament, history suggests Labor will retain both seats. Indeed, that twice in the past forty years a Liberal was elected not only shows the saying “the exception proves the rule” is true, it also suggests that ACT voters are voters of habit and pay little attention to the qualities of alternative candidates or the policies of parties other than Labor.

One might think important qualifications for prospective MPs or Senators would be that they could demonstrate to voters their history of being interested in the activities and problems of the constituency in which they are standing and also say how they would expand the former and tackle the latter.

While most minor party and Independent candidates are likely to have these qualifications, unfortunately, and increasingly in the major parties, such qualifications today now play a subservient role to the aims and ambitions of party faction leaders, who wield considerable influence in party hierarchies. More and more, the wishes of local party members are being disregarded, with candidates chosen for their celebrity status even if they have no particular knowledge of a constituency.

Examples can be found in both major parties. However, one of the most egregious occurred in 2004 when Labor forced Peter Garret, failed Nuclear Disarmament Party candidate in 1990 and former leader of rock group “Midnight Oil” on Kingsford Smith Labor as its candidate. ((Now Minister for the Environment, Heritage is also the man who said when asked after his failure with the NDP would he stand again, was reported as saying: “I would but I would only want to do it if a whole lot of people wanted me to do it, because it’s a dog’s life surrounded by hypocrites and drunks.” ) Have the hypocrites and drunks gone?

Will a similar thing happen in the ACT before the coming Federal election? As Senator Humphries and Lundy have participated successfully and actively in their constituencies, only foolish faction leaders would want to remove them. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about House of Representative candidates.

In scenes would shame the secretiveness of the conclave of cardinals that elects the Pope, the secular cardinals (faction leaders) of the political parties are already in conclave deciding who they want as candidates.

This secretiveness gives rise to rumours about possible candidates. With all parties having right, left or centre factions, rumour also runs rife as to the base of the candidates support.

So who will be candidates for Fraser and Canberra? I don’t know. But I do know that, at the last ACT election, I interviewed Labor and Liberal candidates and candidates from minor parties and Independents who, I think, would make good federal representatives. I hope we see some of their names on the ballot paper.

The Chronicle for Canberra Community News. Published every Tuesday


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