Victoria needs a serious look at Mixed Martial Arts

Clinton-Gale Legalising MMA is a good thing, writes Clinton Gale.

On Sunday February 21st this year Sydney hosted Australia’s first ever visit from American based institution Ultimate Fighting Championship, commonly known as the UFC. Drawing an attendance of 17,831, tickets for the Acer Arena’s show sold out within an hour, making it the second fastest sell out time for a UFC event. The sport known as mixed martial arts (or MMA) is sweeping the world in popularity. UFC President Dana White stated he wishes to bring the event to Australia annually after the highly successful Sydney event, but due to current state regulations Melbourne is unable to host the UFC. 

While the sport of mixed martial arts is permitted within the state, the Victorian Minister for sports James Merlino outlawed the use of cage type apparatus in 2007 for such sporting events. His reason for banning the cage was simply that he felt it didn’t meet community standards. So what is the rationale behind having fights in a cage as opposed to a boxing ring one might ask? Granted, aesthetics play a big part in why organisers would want to use the cage but it’s also for the safety of the fighters. Given the rugby style tackles they perform on each other the boxing ring presents the possibility of falling out or getting tangled in the ropes. In relation to safety it’s also worth noting that MMA fighters suffer less head trauma than boxers.  

To a first time viewer of the sport it may look like a no holds barred, anything goes style of street fight but it actually involves many fighting styles such as boxing, muay thai (kickboxing style from Thailand), wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu, just to name a few. And there are over 30 ways for an opponent to commit fouls, for example: strikes to the groin, head kicks to a grounded opponent and heel kicks to the kidney. The referee will also stop the fight if one of the contestants is bleeding excessively. 

Once a more comprehensive analysis is done on the sport rather than reactionary assumptions, it is not unreasonable to ask that the ban on cages be lifted so that Melbourne, Australia’s sporting capital, can host a UFC event in the future. Apart from the obvious economical benefits it would bring to the state it may also (like an invisible hand) guide young males into the gym to learn a martial art which provides them with the physical and mental discipline, which in turn boosts their self esteem and could possibly address the knife carrying epidemic the city is currently facing.  Do a web search and you’ll find many gyms in your area already providing MMA training but in your neighbourhood you’re not seeing people getting choked out or tied up in wrestling holds. I’d say the naysayers are running out of ammunition.

Admittedly this is a violent and often bloody sport which is not to everyone’s taste. But no one is forcing you to watch it just as no one is forcing me to watch Better Homes and Gardens. This is yet another prime example of the Victorian state government’s failure to grasp an issue to its fundamental premise and just spin off some feel good policy for face value instead.

Clinton Gale is a former Liberal Democratic Party candidate and is involved in the Victorian branch of the LDP.

A very cruddy fable – Vale, Premiers (part 4)

David-Russell Observers of the Steel Cage were agog recently when they spotted what they thought was the Prime Minister scrabbling about in the Cage’s courtyard with an empty 10 litre paint can strapped to each foot. On further inspection they noticed his head was shaved. A flood of inquiries to his office met with stony silence despite insistent questioning about this peculiar mirage. It was only when Prod and Poke Time resumed that it dawned on media curs that Our Kevvie was trying to channel Death’s Head in preparation for his “to err is human, to forgive is divine” speech in which he exonerated the halt, the lame and the unclean and took all sins upon his own shoulders. “Ah, the mantle of divinity: it fits so snugly,” Kevvie smirked.

Still the rhapsody was fleeting as the antics of idiots all around him brought home the sheer magnitude of the disparity between Kevvie’s greatness and the imbecility of everyone else. And, just like members of your own family, some of the worst fools were those bloody state premiers. Accusing them of performing worse than Brendan Fevola at a Brownlow function, Kevvie confided to Mother Theresa that he was imposing his own blackout on the State Ponces. “Not one of them could tell a policy from a pineapple and I’ll guarantee none of them could use programmatic specificity in a media conference even if they were given speech notes.” Just as his indignation was forcing some bright red colour into his otherwise albinistic cheeks, Mother Theresa muttered an imprecation which Kevvie sincerely hoped was aimed at his enemies but decided it was probably time to go to work anyway.

The plan for dealing with the Ponces came to light as Mother Theresa was chatting idly about those two nice girls: Couldn’t Lie Straight in Bed from The Shady State and Krispy Kornflakes from the Failed State. Mother T was prattling on about how they had done wonders for womanhood by their pacesetting political success but Our Kevvie was having none of it. “The bitches are costing me votes,” he snarled. “They keep asking to have their photo taken with me but I’m not getting my gear off for anybody. That little Monsignor winds up the media about me being all posturing and no titillation but everyone can tell he’s got more hang-ups about virgins than a suicidal jihadist.”

As he ranted in front of the bathroom mirror, Our Kevvie had to apply ointment to a niggling itch that had become a rash that threatened to ruin his whole morning ablutions. He had a sneaking suspicion it was an allergic reaction to the pancake makeup applied for his segment on Cockie’s Afternoon Delight. Happened again on that bloody Q&D (Question & Dither) on ABC the previous week. Kevvie had complained to Mother Theresa that every time he fronted those bloody young people and their fatuous, asinine, lugubrious interrogatories he felt suffused by a flush of embarrassment. And that howling pack of curs from the media pilloried him for daring to seek some additional detail to provide an intelligent and insightful response to each probe. The ungrateful scum! One day he’d show them how fortunate they truly were to be covering national politics during the First Rudd Imperium.

But before that he simply had to escape the torture of those hideous young neo-Liberals they hired each week to harass him. What to do? Perhaps he could kill two geese with a golden egg? He called Steve the Conduit and asked him to pop over to Aspen and chew the fat with Stoke the Fires. “Ask him if he knows anything about broadband rollouts to see if you can kick-start that NBN thing – I notice Kaiser Wilhelm hasn’t done much to earn his money yet – and then see what the networks would like for an early Christmas present.” Steve was thrilled but wanted to show he was not just at Kevvie’s beck and call and so demanded: “Only if I can take my skis”. The Emperor’s only response was thought to be: “Are you still f—king here?” When Steve got back he breathlessly shared his big, hairy audacious idea to Kevvie: “You know that Re-election Fund – sorry, the stimulus package – that Robin Hood’s got? What if we give the networks $250 million out of that and pretend it’s for production of local content. That way it’ll look like we’re cultured; we stick it to those press bastards who get nothing; AND it should persuade Afternoon Delight to give you a new format.” The Emperor was mightily pleased and told Senator Conduit to quickly get a cheque from Robin while there was still some slush in the bucket. Soon it would all be spent on fire-proofing ceilings. “That bastard, Death’s Head”, he muttered.

The very thought of the living skeleton sent Kevvie all atwitch. He knew that if he didn’t oil that bugger up pretty good and slip him into another world, he’d be the death of all of them. Bloody Prince of Pop, Kevvie muttered. I know, he thought, I’ll send him out to do all those ceiling inspections. That’ll keep him away from the Steel Cage until those bloody neo-Libs and Naughty Nats find something else to talk about. Even as he drew consolation from his concept, Kevvie realised with sinking despair that trying to squeeze all 14’ 7” of Death’s Head into ceilings would cause an outbreak of houses being unroofed all over the country. Aaaaagh! Was there no end to the torment this man could produce?

But there were bigger fish to fry. And speaking of fish and chips, thank god that bitch Pauline Pantsdown was upping stumps and going to flee to the Mother Country. Kevvie figured he’d better ring Hang Dog at Number 10 and make sure his Customs people didn’t return her as an illegal alien. Surely they owe us one in return for all that bloody convict trash they sent us years ago? Kevvie made a note to get the call in quick before Hang Dog himself got hounded out of office for brutalising staff. Secretly, Kevvie admired Hang Dog for his bitchy streak. Kevvie loved cutting staff down to size but could only do so by trying to work them to death: Hang Dog actually got physical with them. Ooh, the very thought sent a twitch along his left thigh.

But it wasn’t enough as he contemplated his inability to get a policy platform up. God knew it was a vigorous enough organ of intellectual grunt but nobody wanted to get their hands dirty with it. None of them are worthy of me, Kevvie confided to the forlorn image in the mirror. 

So, sick and tired of being a performing seal trying to impress everyone else, Our Kevvie decided to forego an early election this year. In the face of flagging interest in seeking a quick comeuppance over Her Majesty’s Loyal Curmudgeons, he felt he should just rest, relax and go full term. Indeed, in a worrying sign that Aussies may not be allowed to cast a ballot in a federal election until around 2040, Kevvie has insisted that he will have implemented structural reform of the health system before he sends us to the polls. Best to keep up your health insurance premiums, folks. Oh, but you can’t afford them anymore? Well, increase your mortgage. Oh, but that keeps going up, too? Well, take on some more debt. Oh, but Barndoor says we’re up to our hilt. Well, what do you bloody expect from a bunch of post-socialist wealth redistributionists! I didn’t vote for them!

Nukes for Defence

Ralph-Buttigieg Nuclear submarines may solve our ongoing submarine woes, writes Ralph Buttigieg.


The Rudd Labor government has a complete ban on nuclear energy for Australia. However concerns over global warming have increased support for the nuclear option. After all, nuclear energy is the only emission free method of producing base load power. Tony Abbott believes it’s an option we need to seriously consider. Peter Cosgrove has come out in support and so has Labor Party stalwart Bob Carr. Yet there is another reason to support nuclear power – defence.

Now I'm not considering nuclear weapons here. The only time that would be an option would be if there was a nuclear arms race in the region and we should all pray that never happens. My concern is nuclear propulsion for the navy, especially for our submarines.
 
Our six Collins class subs are classified as guided-missile submarines (SSG) while most other conventional submarines are hunter-killer (SSK). Most SSKs patrol close to their bases or at most 1000 nautical miles away. Our boats are required to operate at greater distances. To reach the Persian Gulf or the Sea of Japan the Collins boats need to travel over 4500 nautical miles.
 
Therefore they are considerably bigger then other conventional submarines and uniquely designed for our usage. That brings its own problems. It makes them more expensive and less reliable than a more common design would be. Importantly they never did meet their original design specifications. They were originally specified with a submerged transit speed of 16 knots over 10,000 nautical miles. That was reduced to 10 knots over 9000 nautical miles as the technology just wasn't available. The lower transit speed reduces the time they can spend on patrol by nearly half.
 
The government is now considering a replacement for the Collins subs. One option is an improved version of the current Collins boats but they would still have the speed limitations issues. That's why an increase to twelve subs has been proposed. Considering we have enough difficulty finding crews for six subs how we would crew twelve remains an unanswered question. Another option is to improve their performance by adopting new technology such as high temperature superconductor motors and Li-ion batteries. Again that raises concerns over their ultimate cost and reliability.
 
None of these problems would arise if we had nuclear subs based on proven designs. They would have all the range and speed we would require. A local nuclear power industry would make maintaining nuclear subs easier but it’s not really required. For one thing there is no direct link between civilian reactors and submarine reactors. Their design is very different with subs using highly enriched fuel. Also refuelling is not a requirement as modern submarines need to be only fuelled once for their 20 year plus service life. The maintenance and operation issues could be addressed by requesting US help until we train our own people. That's what the UK did that when they constructed their nuclear fleet. However the government ban on things nuclear means nuclear subs can not be considered.
 
Labor's ban on nuclear reactors not only reduces our options to reduce CO2 emissions but it also reduces our options to properly defend our nation.
 
Readers are referred to Vital Sign by Abraham Gubler in Defense Technology International April 2008 for more information regarding the current non nuclear options.

Ralph Buttigieg's professional career has included a couple of decades in government and management, proprietor of a Science Fiction & Fantasy bookshop, a stint in direct marketing and now finds himself in the finance industry. He joined the Liberal Party in 2008 and considers himself one of those right  wing bogans who voted in John Howard in 1996.

Question time or a waste of time?

Alan-Ferguson Question time still needs further reform, argues Senator the Hon Alan Ferguson.

During my term as President of the Senate, I set out to try to reform the procedures for the conduct of Question Time in the Senate.  Some naïve souls may assume that ministers will answer the questions without notice given to them at 2pm on any given sitting day.  I am not one of those.  In my experience, direct answers to questions are few and far between.

For many decades, question time was an opportunity to seek information from the government and ministers answered questions knowing that they faced the threat of severe political sanctions if they gave misleading or evasive answers.  The rot did not start with the televising of question time in 1990.  It was already evident in such well-established practices as the provision of “possible parliamentary questions” to ministers by their departments, with additional gloss from their personal offices.  These increasingly voluminous question time briefs fuelled the plague of what we now call “Dorothy Dixers”.  Before long, question time became a choreographed affair which appeared to be conducted largely for the benefit of the press gallery who reduced their commentary to an assessment of which side landed the best blows. 

All sides of politics, and the media, have contributed to the general degradation of what should be a very important instrument of accountability.  In its current degraded form, question time is a major contributor to declining perceptions of parliament and parliamentarians by a community which sees us as scuttlebutt-peddling politicians.  It is, in my view, in its current form, largely a waste of time.

In August 2008 I issued a discussion paper on the revitalisation of question time.  The paper looked at how to make question time more effective and to focus the discussion even further, specific proposals were circulated.  The main features were:

  • all primary questions to be placed on a Question Time Notice Paper by 11 am on the day of answering;
  • up to six supplementary questions following each primary question (including from questioners other than the primary questioner);
  • up to two minutes for an answer to each primary or supplementary question;
  • answers to be directly relevant to each question.

There was wide ranging debate on the proposals and, I have to say, a degree of disagreement with their objectives. I was keen, however, for the new ideas to be at least tried and when the Procedure Committee reported again in November 2008, a majority of the committee recommended the trial of a modified proposal for a more limited change to question time, while acknowledging the intent of the original proposals to enhance the accountability of ministers to Parliament. The modified proposal’s key uptake was that answers were to be required to be directly relevant to the question.

The Senate has trialled the modified proposals since the last two weeks of sitting in 2008.  Most recently, the procedures were reviewed by the Procedure committee in its fourth report at the end of 2009 whereby it recommended the continuation of the new rules with one further modification be trialled: Supplementary questions would be restricted to thirty seconds to encourage conciseness and to provide time for a further one or two more questions.

Although a work in progress, changing the way Question Time operates in the Senate is something I still feel strongly about; it is the most publicly visible activity in parliament – the bit we're likely to see on the television news or hear on the radio and so it helps to shape our view of politicians. It's hardly surprising then that some members of the public hold our elected representatives in fairly low regard, since Question Time remains a farce. It is my hope that in trialling these new rules, we can move towards a Question Time where Members and Senators can hold the government of the day to account for their actions or inactions.

Senator the Hon Alan Ferguson is the Deputy President of the Senate and a Liberal Senator for South Australia.

How Plain Tobacco Packets Violate our Rights, & Lead To A Plain Society

Tim-Andrews

Tim Andrews takes objection to plain packaging legislation proposed for tobacco products.

In one of the more odious pieces of legislation presented to the Australian Parliament in 2009, late last year Senator Fielding introduced a Private Members Bill entitled the Plain Tobacco Packaging (Removing Branding from Cigarette Packs) Bill 2009, a bill that seeks to amend product information standards regulations to strip brands trademarks, and logos from tobacco packaging (essentially you would only be allowed to have blank packs, with the name of the brand in small font at the bottom). It is a Bill that will do nothing to achieve its stated purpose, whilst simultaneously fundamentally attacking the very notion of property rights at the core of our economy, and violating numerous international treaties to which Australia is a party. As such, it is a Bill that should concern all on the Australian right. 

Make no mistake: this Bill, the latest attempt by the anti-tobacco lobby to strip away at the small pleasures enjoyed by smokers in a quest to ultimately make the pastime illegal, is not about providing people with information about tobacco. This is not about allowing people to make an informed decision. Rather, this is about the fact that there is a powerful lobby group in Australia who have a pathological hatred of tobacco products, and want to impose their opinion to stop everyone from smoking. It is the latest salvo by the High Priests of the Cult of Health, the brigade of paternalism, the parents of the nanny state, to ensure that every drop of individualism is gradually squeezed from our lives. That any behavior that is even mildly outside what they deem ‘acceptable’ is outlawed. There is, after all, no evidence this Bill will achieve its stated objections of reducing smoking. Rather, by stripping away trademarks – a distinctly personal way of self-identification by smokers – it is simply an attack on those they deem ‘different’.

However, my personal opinions about the motives behind this crusade aside, this Bill is problematic for a number of more serious reasons, primarily to do with the very damaging precedent it sets when it comes to intellectual property rights, and the fact that it flagrantly violates numerous international treaties that Australia has is party to.

There can be no doubt that, if enacted, the Bill would clearly violate the intellectual property rights of companies, through forbidding them from displaying their trademarks and thereby differentiating their products on the basis of said trademark.

Private property rights ought to be sacrosanct in any democratic country. The right to own and enjoy property is a fundamental part of rights of people, and indeed we consider it an extension of human rights. The protection of property, both physical and intellectual, is critical to economic development, and is the most important guarantee of freedom we have. 

Obviously, the importance of protecting property rights is not limited to merely physical property, but intellectual property rights also, and there can be no doubt that the protection of trademarks is a vital part of protecting intellectual property rights. With Australia’s present restrictions on free specch in terms of prohibiting tobacco advertising, packaging is the critical way brand information can currently be provided to consumer. Aside from pricing, therefore, it is the essential mechanism through which tobacco manufacturers can compete with each other for consumers. Tobacco companies have created significant intellectual property rights through their trademarks, as demonstrated in the significant degree of ‘brand loyalty’ in the market, and that plain packaging legislation would significantly erode the value of these property rights.

By denying tobacco companies their right to use their trademark to identify their product, this Bill strikes at the very core principles of corporate identity and consumer information that the Australian economy is based upon. As such, it not only violates the legal rights of the companies affected, but furthermore sets a very dangerous principle for the future of a government unwilling to honour or respect intellectual property rights. And this doesn’t even begin to note how important trademarks are to prevent counterfeiting! 

But this is not all. The Bill flagrantly is in breach of the Paris Convention, the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, the agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, and the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. For such a bill to be even considered by the Senate is simply mind-boggling. 

I have written a submission on behalf of the Property Rights Alliance, an affiliate of Americans for Tax Reform, and publishers of the International Property Rights Index (Australia’s in 8th place by the way), going through the issues this bill presents in depth. I would strongly urge everyone interested in protecting international property rights, and opposing the nanny state, to have a read (click here to download)

While  tobacco remains a legal product, the assault on the centuries-old protection of trademarks represents a very grave threat to the future of property rights, individual freedom, and freedom of speech, and as such, all of us on the right should be very scared indeed.

Because a future of bland cigarette packs is the perfect symbol for the future that big government advocates want: bland and plain. A future devoid of all danger, devoid of individuality, devoid of anything that makes life actually worth living. It is a future where we are all mindless automatons, marching in lockstep. With long, “healthy” lives, protected by the state from cradle to grave. Nurtured and subsidized, allowed to do no wrong. Existing, but not really living.

And it is a future that we on the right must fight with every fiber of our being, with every breath we have, until we can fight no more. 

You can make a submission on this bill to the Senate Committee on Community Affairs until COB Friday.

Tim Andrews is an Editor of Menzies House.

The Culture Gap

Nigel-Freitas

Mainstream media dislikes Abbott, but mainstream Australia approves, writes Nigel Freitas.

It took only moments after the election of Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader for the tirade of abuse to begin.

Labor’s Greg Combet was first off the rank, thundering “extremists have gained control of the Liberal party.” The Fairfax papers were next, frantically dog whistling to their readers that Abbott was a “conservative Catholic” and liberally sprinkling their commentary with the “Mad Monk” moniker. Political failure John Hewson sniped that Abbott was “divisive” and “ideological” with intellectual Robert Manne heralding the rise of the “troglodyte-in-chief” for Abbott’s anti-ETS stance.

Meanwhile, just about everyone agreed he had a ‘serious problem’ with women. Outspoken feminist Eva Cox fretted about returning "back to the 1950s". The ABC’s Virginia Haussegger screeched "women are angry" while former Democrats leader Lyn Allison moaned that Abbott’s leadership was “an alarming prospect for women.”
 
The message from the political and media establishment was clear: This man is not one of us.
 
Tony Abbott’s cardinal sin was to be the one thing the self appointed bastions of inclusivity and diversity cannot tolerate – a social conservative.
 
Social conservatives are those appallingly backward people who cling to outdated notions like the importance of the traditional family, the value of faith and the love of one’s country. This old fashioned nonsense is completely anathema to the secular transnational urban elites who comprise much of the media, arts, politics and academia – our self-proclaimed 'intelligentsia'.
 
The demonization of Tony Abbott is no surprise and reflects a larger trend to marginalise and exclude social conservatives from the public sphere. In modern political discourse, they come in only one of two flavours – evil, or stupid.
 
John Howard, for example, was “mean and tricky”. Ronald Reagan an ignorant hick. Margaret Thatcher was the malevolent "Iron Lady" while George W Bush had the distinction of being both immensely evil and breathtakingly stupid at the same time.
 
The playbook is always the same. Labelled as “dangerous”, “backward”, “extreme”, “radical” and cast as one-dimensional characters with no redeeming features, they are first dehumanized so they can be demonized.  The so-called intelligentsia for all their talk of diversity, march in mind-numbing conformity to a leftist drumbeat.
 
Nothing in recent history better illustrates the sneering contempt of the urban elites for mainstream values than the media assassination of Sarah Palin.
 
Palin personified the modern day unholy trinity – white, middle class and worst of all, a Christian.  While veteran interviewers were lobbing softballs at Obama over the “unshakeable confidence”, Palin was being journalistically raped for her inexperience, her grammar, her wardrobe, her looks, her church, her Down Syndrome child – nothing was off limits.
 
Most damning of all however, was the calculated portrayal of Palin as stupid. From Tina Fey's mocking skits to the snide condescension of Katie Couric, the underlying message of Palin's stupidity was abundantly clear.
 
This is how news is 'shaped', not just by individual stories, but by the construction of a narrative – a dominant theme used in story after story so it becomes indelibly associated with that person. After weeks of watching election coverage on the BBC and CNN, the majority of people had successfully absorbed the message that Palin was nothing more than a dangerous, illiterate extremist. Mission accomplished.
 
Some on the Left were appalled at the media malpractice. "One of the most idiotic allegations among urban media insiders is that Palin is dumb,” lamented Camille LaPaglia. "People who can't see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism – the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary."

Contrast this with the fawning and complimentary coverage of left-of-centre politicians and what you have is a glaring double standard, which ultimately boils down to one thing – worldviews.
 
While much has been made recently of the financial divide between "Wall Street" and "Main Street", the cultural gulf between the "Hollywood values" of the establishment and traditional values of community is larger.
 
For a local example of this “culture gap”, look no further than the Bill Henson affair. To the vast majority of Australians, nude photographs of underage children were crossing the line. To the exceedingly enlightened arts community however, censuring Henson was nothing more than an exercise in philistine repression.
 
To defend Henson to the great unwashed, the Herald wheeled out ageing culture warrior David Marr, who inadvertently disclosed that Henson visited primary schools to scout for children. Tellingly, Marr did not anticipate nor comprehend the outrage that followed this revelation. This is simply because Marr, like so many others in the establishment, is fundamentally disconnected from the values of mainstream Australia.
 
There is no longer any doubt the viewpoints of the Left are inordinately overrepresented in the media.  According to former BBC journalist Robin Aitken "the BBC is staffed by like-minded individuals who are overwhelmingly university graduates, usually in the liberal arts … [who] subscribe to the same opinions." Opinions like almost universal support for gay marriage, which has to date, been rejected 31 times in the 31 occasions it’s been put to the vote.
 
Former BBC political editor Andrew Marr goes further "The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias."
 
This "cultural bias", sympathetic towards “progressive” causes and hostile to traditionalism, is reflected in the culture of most mainstream news outlets.  It is the reason politicians from the Right are subjected to greater scrutiny and cynicism than their counterparts on the Left. Far too often such criticism crosses the line from the simply political to viciously personal.
 
It also means is that the voices of the minority drown out the mainstream, as in the case of Tony Abbott.
 
The most recent Galaxy poll shows that in actual fact, 42 per cent of women felt they didn't know much about Abbott and just 13 per cent thought he was an ‘extremist’. So much for the “serious problem’ with women.”
 
Meanwhile, the positive by-election results in Higgins and Bradfield demonstrate that far from the dire predictions of apocalyptic doom over Abbott’s rejection of an ETS, the Liberal party base is rallying behind him.  Yet again, the insular concerns of the inner city sophisticates have failed to resonate with the broader community.
 
Abbott should take comfort from this, and from the fact that his mentor John Howard managed to win election after election supported by the mainstream, despite being thoroughly reviled by the cultural establishment. At the same time he should realize he has two battles on his hands – one against Labor and one against a hostile establishment willing him to fail.
 
Nigel Freitas is a Sydney writer and former Director of the Young Liberal’s Make Education Fair Campaign.

Roads to nowhere

Government interference could be responsible for massive urban sprawl, writes Michael G.

One of the strangest things I often see the political right criticise is the trend towards densification, public transport, and a lesser reliance on cars. It is assumed that the automobile is the natural form of transport, and a large lot in the suburbs is the natural form of housing.

When the announcement was made to duplicate the one-way Southern Expressway in Adelaide, South Australia, the President of the Real Estate Institute of SA welcomed it, saying that “just [like] the Heysen Tunnels, I think you’ll see the flow-on effect from easy access, [an] increase [in] prices … people will be happier to live further away because the access distance will be reduced.”

He’s right. Land to be bought was there and available, but at the previous price and without the expressway duplicated, it did not gain much interest. People would buy elsewhere, closer to the city, because this would be the better option for them. But with the completion of the Southern Expressway, their choices are distorted, and their decisions are different from what they otherwise would be.

The expressway is in effect a subsidy, a form of welfare, a handout, propping up development where there otherwise wouldn’t have been any. The problems of urban sprawl, traffic jams, higher pollution, and the wasting of people’s lives in their daily commute will result directly from the expressway’s completion.

But a natural course of development continues, however: throughout central Adelaide, within the outer ring route, older houses are knocked down and subdivisions see more and newer houses built. In the city centre, more and more apartment buildings rise towards the sky.

More people are living closer to the best schools, closer to their places of work and worship, and closer to where oppourtunities are and will be.  This is done despite government infrastructure spending encouraging the opposite.

The degree of Adelaide’s urban sprawl is not due to private development, but to government interference. Whether it is the former City of Elizabeth in the north, the masses of housing trust homes in the south, or the Heysen Tunnels in the hills, these were all government projects that distorted people’s erstwhile choices.

Where would people develop without all this interference? With a cessation on the construction of new government-built roads and the removal of heritage and other restrictions on development, where would people then choose to build? I am willing to bet they would not have their first choice more than 30 kilometers from the city centre.

Michael G is completing degrees in finance and history at Flinders University and works at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

Our 6.3 GP visits per year are more likely to be the result of a sick health system, rather than Australians becoming sicker

Monique-Beguely We aren't necessarily getting sicker, despite the statistics, writes Monique Beguely.


News that Australians are becoming sicker than ever with an average of 6.3 GP consultations per annum, the highest in the Commonwealth, is more likely to be a result of systemic problems within Australia’s health system – not because Australians are becoming sicker than ever, as the new reports are claiming. 

 
Consider some of the following facts that could contribute to this allegedly higher number of GP visits:

  1. The Medicare system itself.  My lawyer charges $440 per hour, my accountant is not far behind him!  I can visit my GP for $60 and the government/Medicare will refund me $32.80.  My out of pocket expense for this visit is $27.20.  If I should become eligible for the Safety Net at any stage during the year, I will receive an additional refund of $21.75.  The cost of my GP visit will be reduced to $5.45 per consult for the rest of the year, regardless of my level of income.  I am going to seriously debate with myself whether I really do need to visit my lawyer or my accountant, I am not going to think twice about whether or not I need to see my GP.  I think that the Medicare system leads Australian’s to devalue the services that GP’s provide, and in some cases leads to abuse of this system (by both patients, and in some cases by the GP’s themselves – I will come back to this point later).
  2. Due to the laws governing issues of privacy and confidentiality GP’s no longer provide test results over the telephone, as they previously did.  The patient is required to make an additional appointment to find out their test results. 
  3. Most GP’s no longer write out a repeat script for their patients to pick up at reception, as they routinely did in the past.  They now require you to make an appointment for something as simple as a script, and then bill a Medicare consult accordingly.  In some cases (e.g cholesterol drugs and contraceptives),it is possible to get up to five repeats . However, some medications allow only one, (as in some instances no repeats), requiring the patient to visit their GP every two to three months for the same basic complaint – which could be something as simple as eczema!
  4. Most employers these days require their employees to provide a Medical Certificate if they are off sick for more than one day.  You know you only have a cold, you know you just need a few days of rest in bed, you know you won’t be prescribed antibiotics (as they are now the big bad “no no” of the medical world), you know your GP will just tell you to get some rest and go next door to the pharmacy to buy cold and flu tablets and throat lozenges  – yet you still need to visit your GP unnecessarily to get a Medical Certificate so that your boss will pay you!
  5. The alleged “swine flu” epidemic.  Due the pandemonium about the “pandemic that never was”, the public were urged to see their GP even for the most mild of flu systems, and  even if they did not feel especially unwell, just in case their symptoms developed into swine flu.  This is fair enough, as if it was a genuine case of swine flu, these people needed to be taken out of circulation due to the high level of contagion it presented.  However this alone would have caused a spike in GP visits.

If you take all of these facts into consideration, it is no wonder Australian’s are visiting their GP’s over six times per year on average – but it may have nothing to do with our health worsening.

Some simple solutions could be:

Link the Medicare rebate amount to the CPI.  The rebate reduces each year by an amount equivalent to the prevailing CPI.  The cost of a visit to the GP will increase slowly over time, making Australian’s attach more value to the services GP’s provide and consider whether their symptoms really do require a face to face visit.  The safety net is still there to protect the chronically ill and concession card rates are still available to the poorer members of society.

GP clinics could employ a person specifically to deliver test results that are negative that require no further action – either face to face, or perhaps they could contact you via telephone.   This person could also be utilised to write out repeat scripts for patients. It is possible that a nurse or a medical student could serve in this capacity.

As is currently being considered, allow pharmacists to issue medical certificates where they see fit, so that only patients requiring actual medical attention go into the GP system.
 
Remove systemic abuses from the medical system:

As I alluded to in an earlier paragraph, as a visit to the GP is relatively cheap (compared to my lawyer!), once you have reached the safety net threshold, this can lead to abuses in the system by both patients and doctors.  In my previously Iife I was employed as a Medical Representative for a large International pharmaceutical company.  Yes, one of those nasty people who force GP’s into prescribing the most expensive drugs available so that large MNC’s can make ridiculous profits, and in doing so contribute to the imminent collapse of the health system as we know it!  (Just kidding, if only you knew what the job was really like!) 
 
As a result of this I sat in the waiting rooms of doctor’s surgeries over the entire state of QLD for approximately 3 to 4 hours per over a period of three years.  I would spend my time observing and talking to patients and support staff, as well as the GP’s.  Here, I witnessed some absolute atrocities.  A doctor who required a patient to attend their surgery every day to have their blood pressure tested – imagine the strain this behaviour puts on the Medicare system.  I am not a Doctor , but if you really required this level of monitoring, shouldn’t you be in a hospital?  It is yours and my tax dollars that are paying for this!  I know of other patients who have purchased their own blood pressure monitors to use at home, and only present to a surgery once their blood pressure goes over a level pre-determined by the patient’s GP. 
 
I once met a patient who advised me that he came into the surgery every day!  He was extremely proud of this fact! I don’t know if he was actually seen by a GP every day or not, but this is scary behaviour!
 
I also noticed in a large number of small country towns, that the Doctor’s Surgery seemed to be the hub of social activity.  Older people (in general) would drop in around morning tea time to say hello to the staff and their friends in the waiting room.  (Whatever happened to bingo!).  On many occasions the visit was followed by the following words directed at the reception staff, “I only popped in because I saw “X” through the window, but now that I’m here I might as well see the Dr”.  You would not believe how many times this request was granted.
 
Part of my role also included visiting pharmacies, where I witnessed even more abuses of the Medicare/PBS system.  Patients would proudly say to me (whilst I was waiting at the counter to see the pharmacist) that “I have no idea what this medication is for, but I guess I should get it filled anyway”,  or  “the Dr says I should take these, but I’m not going to, but I’ll get the script filled anyway in case he finds out !”  Any pharmacist will tell you a story about visiting the house of a patient who has passed away recently and finding up to $5000 worth of prescription medications in the ex-patients cupboard, many of which have expired and can no longer be used, that they have to remove and destroy.  This is exacerbated by the safety net in the PBS system.  Once some patients reach the PBS threshold, the can received scripts for around $5 for the rest of the year, regardless of the cost of the drug.  This leads to some patients filling as many scripts as possible before the end of the year so that come January 1, they do not have to pay the higher PBS price.  Many of these drugs will pass their use by date and end up being flushed down the toilet!
 
Once again, this could be put down to patients not valuing the service they are receiving.  Some drugs that we pay between $5 and $35 dollars for, can cost anything up to $1500 a go!  This is an extreme example, but there are many that cost in the hundreds.  The TGA looked at addressing this issue in the early 2000’s.  They suggested that the full price of the medicine be placed on the bottle/ packet , next to the actual price paid by the patient – so that the patient could see how much the Government was subsidising their medication and thus treat it with a bit more respect, i.e. to encourage patients not to stockpile expensive drugs as above.  If I memory serves me correctly, it was decided not to proceed down this path. The reason given was that some people would see this information, consider themselves a burden to society, and then either not take medication that they definitely required, or in extreme cases, might kill themselves!  I think that the Australian public needs to be given a bit more credit!
 
These are just a few examples of some of the abuses of our Medicare and PBS system that I witnessed over a 3 year period.  I can see why the system in its current form is unsustainable, and this is only the GP system, imagine what the hospitals are like!  I am sure that if some of these issues were adequately addressed million, if not billions of dollars, could be wiped off this budget breaker – without even needing to go down the unpalatable, “never happen in an election year” , path of means testing for Medicare.   I believe that the safety net systems in Medicare and the PBS are essential for the poorer people in society, those with large families, and for the chronically ill, but something definitely needs to be done to address the waste and the abuse inherent in these systems so that Australian’s do not end up losing the healthcare systems that they are so proud of and reliant upon.
 
Monique holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Auckland University, and a Diploma of Financial Services from FINSIA (formerly the Securities Institute of Australia). Monique has also completed a Graduate Certificate in Applied Finance and Investment with FINSIA, majoring in Derivatives/Options. Monique was awarded the Bank of Queensland Prize in 2007 for achieving first place in Queensland in her Diploma of Financial Services.

Terrorists in the ceilings

David-Russell An attempt at diverting public attention from the roof insulation blunder by using national security was a cheap shot, argues David Russell.

Wouldn’t you know it, grave danger has been lurking in our ceilings and we didn’t even realise it! How could the Australian public have been so gullible as to not suspect what was going on over our heads? Oh, we knew something was wrong but were mistaken in believing the danger was coming from an army of subversive and incompetent insulation installers unleashed by the Minister for Electrocution and Fire Traps. Not so, the Prime Minister now tells us. There is a far greater danger abroad in the land: home-grown terrorists.

Without even having the temerity to blush, Kevin Rudd is attempting to pull-off one of the great political con tricks of the decade. Indeed, it may well come to be known as The Great Diversion of 2010.

Finding himself immersed in the biggest pot of boiling water he could ever not wish to imagine (thanks to his former mate, Peter Garrett), Kevin Rudd finally realised he simply had no excuse for the biggest government cock-up since Gough Whitlam and Co. jumped headlong into the Loans Affairs fiasco. So, he needed a pressure relief valve. Ferreting around in his top drawer full of unimplemented and/or potential policy initiatives, Rudd seized on a sheaf of dog-eared pages, blew off the cobwebs, called for a new cover sheet and proudly announced it as The Counter-Terrorism White Paper. The fanfare in Parliament was muted it must be said but at least the government members professed interest. After all, their careers are hanging by a thread and they’re even more keen than the rest of us for just a glimmer of good news.

This remarkable 74-page analysis of Everything That Could Go Wrong in Australia And Just Might concluded that a ‘radioactive dirty bomb attack’ is possible on our own soil. Not one of those much-preferred ‘clean’ bombs, mind you, but a dirty one. They’re so much worse. And, wouldn’t you know it, ‘lone-wolf extremists’ could emerge at any time. Well, that put me right off my breakfast. Naturally, my immediate response was: ‘Oh, I must vote Labor next time and keep the country safe’. But I came to my senses and realised that this is the same government that has potentially turned a quarter of a million homes across the nation into live electrodes and/or rampant fire traps.

Cynically, I also couldn’t help but wonder how many of those ‘home-grown terrorists’ might have emerged from those boatloads of refugees that the Rudd administration has so futilely attempted to keep away from our shores. You have to admit that when they can actually land in the harbour of our offshore detention prison without having been spotted by our security surveillance, something is rather amiss.

Anyway, getting into the swing of things, Rudd solemnly announced – with just a minor quaver in his voice for suitable effect – that ‘an attack could occur at any time’. And to think that all this time I have spent worrying about illegal immigrants, electrocution, fiery death, heat asphyxiation from global warming, the deadly dangers of visiting a public hospital or getting hit by a flying bobcat constructing yet another Gillard memorial school hall, I should have been pooing my pants for fear of terrorism!

Oh, please, Mr Rudd, don’t make things even worse than they already are. You know, we Aussies are quite remarkably forgiving. We don’t expect perfection from our politicians. Dear god, we lost that innocence decades ago. But we do hate being played for fools and we are remarkably astute as to when that is happening. Like right now with this nonsense. We deserve better.

David M. Russell is a professional communicator with a passion for good governance. His personal blog can be found at davidmrussell.wordpress.com.

The Natural Party of Small Business

Ben-Scott Small business is ‘naturally’ forgotten by the Labor Party, writes Benjamin Scott.

“The natural party of opposition” and “The natural party of government”. Both are such bold statements, and whilst I sincerely hope the Australian Labor Party represents the former and The Liberal-National parties the latter, I must admit to not yet finding extensive or credible evidence for either.  Academics and commentators have written widely on the concept with numerous attempts to achieve validation using all sorts of electoral statistics in the history of Australian Federation. However, the idea of a ‘natural party of government’ remains elusive. Less so, is the concept of “natural constituencies” which raise many questions about political representation.

The Labor Party looks to highly unionised workforces as their natural constituency. Although, this has actually become increasingly debatable due to the effects of recent employment and environmental proposals that affect both the job prospects and quality of life of this constituency. In a paradoxical twist which commentators have long debated, it is apparent that activist and union movements contribute largely to the concept of the Labor Party being ‘the natural party of opposition’. It is largely a party of radical activism built to oppose. Some Labor operatives will admit in quiet moments that the party’s ignorant unwillingness to shift on its rigid IR legislation means it may one day finally claim the mantle as ‘the natural party of opposition’. 

Conversely, the Liberal-National parties have looked to the small business sector as a natural constituency. There are those who will argue that it is a fundamental philosophical basis that makes an individual ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ and it is these individuals who collectively form this natural constituency. I remind readers that there is an important section of Australian voters who actually do not vote along a hard philosophical line. I would also remind readers of that profound speech from Sir Robert Menzies citing the “forgotten people”, which continues to perfectly encapsulate Australia’s small business sector today. A case in point is the fact that Liberal-National politicians will readily acknowledge aspects of its past IR policies as ‘going too far’. Unlike Labor’s ignorance, inflexibility and stupidity on the serious issue of IR reform, this highlights the Liberal-National parties’ natural capacity to appeal to small business. Make no mistake, I feel it important as ever to reinvigorate politics through ideology and philosophy as that is truly the road to credible policy and better government. Politicians should never disregard this vital foundation. However, when we discuss representation we have moved a step beyond the realm of ideology and philosophy to a more mechanistic democratic concept.

If we look at the purely statistical snapshot of small business in Australia, leaving out its considerable extenuating social benefits, we see a compelling constituency:

• Approximately 1.93 million active small businesses in Australia.

• Small businesses make up 96 per cent of all businesses.

• Small businesses employing 3.8 million people, accounting for around 46 per cent of total private sector employment.

• More than 17,000 small businesses are exporting and just last year shipped goods estimated to be around $1.2 billion.

A compelling picture, even if we accept the view that small business contributes approximately 35 per cent of Australia’s total GDP, without considering what that percentage would be if we reduced an overspending and bloated government sector from the equation.  Even if we accept all these statistics, what we continue to see from the ALP’s philosophical and policy base is a systematic attack on an Australian’s right to go into business. Is it any wonder that small business detests the Labor Party’s obsession with centralisation and increased taxation as much as an Australian Liberal or Conservative should.

My colleague Mitch Redford, recently elucidated in his considered article, “A man in a suit with a grin, an army of bureaucrats and a wad of your cash” that the concept of taxation has morphed dramatically since inception. Ironically, whilst watching a news report on the resurgence of the ‘Tea Party’ libertarians and conservatives in the Unites States, I was reminded of one of the more interesting quotes I’ve discovered regarding the issue: “no taxation without representation”. Irrespective of your view regarding the movement or the statement, the presence of gigantic and complicated taxation systems have combined with bloated bureaucracies to muffle political representation. The actual quality in the political representation side of this equation is also, in itself, highly debatable. As are the numerous other effects of large and stifling bureaucratic entities that are killing small business in Australia. I am certain there is a potential PhD thesis in this. Possibly even a Rudd-like “polly-waffle” quarterly essay that investigates the historic parallels with the Boston Tea Party, the Thirteen Colonies and their fight for Independence pontificating on why the Labor Party are inherently against independence and simply ‘evil’. I will resist the temptation to do so.

Take an obvious example in the ETS, a monolith of a tax system not ever before seen; with previous estimates showing the small business community staring down the barrel of a minimum $1000 slug per household. Erased from the real economy and lost to Government coffers forever. An all-out assault on small business in Australia. Loaded in the second barrel and ready to fire on the small business constituency of Australia is rigid IR legislation. This will see vulnerable employees and casual workers, such as students, shown the door. Not for the fault of the struggling cafe or fruit shop owner, but for a Labor Party that perceive such people as ‘evil capitalists’ and a fundamentally flawed IR system that will cripple small businesses across the country. This constituency does not take lightly to attacks. Indeed, this natural constituency of the Liberal-National parties is once again looking for flexibility in the debate. 

As similar cries to “no taxation without representation” become increasingly muffled and distant even more convoluted taxation schemes, such as the ETS, rear their ugly head with the associated bureaucratic bloating. Or as Senator Barnaby Joyce refers to, the “battalions of bureaucratic tin gods on the quest for Australia to cool the planet”. It would serve the Liberal-National parties well to listen intently to the distant calls of an infamous ‘silent majority’ that primarily consists of small business, as they did with the ETS. The liberal and conservative side of Australian politics must never forget there will always be natural constituencies for political parties. More importantly it must recognise, in every possible way, that it has the most formidable natural constituency for a political party and that is the small business sector. Who knows, this may be the beginning in establishing evidence for “the natural party of government”. But that might be going too far.

Benjamin Scott is the Inaugural Vice President of the Young LNP in Queensland, was an LNP campaign strategist in the last election and a former staffer to politicians at all levels of government. He now works as a Government Relations and Communications Manager in the private sector.