Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Trawling the trolls

Theodore Dalrymple

08 April 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

Trawling the trollsI am no respecter of persons, particularly politicians, but even politicians are human — more or less — and are therefore deserving of some kind of elementary courtesy.
When, shortly after my arrival in Australia to spend April at CIS, I read a Guardian article reporting the Treasurer’s remarks on state taxation, I read with mild dismay, but not surprise, the readers’ on-line responses; for example the following:

… thanks Scott you f***ing two faced jumped up lying mendacious piece of crap. (asterisk insertion mine)

Since the Guardian sometimes excludes contributions as not being in accordance with its ‘community standards,’ one is forced to wonder what those standards actually are. Are contributions excluded for being too polite or too well-reasoned? The community standards do seem to include the use of the language cited above, for the following comment approved of what had been said:

Pretty well spot on with that lot.

It seems, then, that at least a proportion of the population’s minds — not necessarily the least educated proportion of the population, for the Guardian’s readership (I assume) is better educated than average — runs like a sewer, in which insult is not only an argument, but also the only argument. The medium really is the message.

However, for a moment he managed a short burst of lucidity, writing:

… now i know who to blame when i can’t… find a decent public school for the kids…

Certainly, his difficulty is not beyond the bounds of possibility. But if Australia is anything like my native England, the state spends $150,000 per head on a pupil’s education, and still 20 per cent of pupils can’t read properly when they leave school. This is a miracle that makes the parting of the Red Sea seem like an everyday event.

Theodore Dalrymple is the Centre for Independent Studies 2016 Scholar-in-Residence, and will deliver a lecture on why ‘Society is Broken’ at the Sydney Opera House on April 18, and visiting lectures in Brisbane and Melbourne during April. Find more information at our Events page. 

If an alarm goes off and no one hears it, did it make a sound?

Sara Hudson

08 April 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

If an alarm goes off and no one hears it, did it make a soundThe murder of remote area nurse, Gayle Woodford, has triggered an outcry of public concern. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging federal Health Minister Sussan Ley to make it mandatory for all remote area nurses to work in pairs.

If this petition is successful there will be at least one positive outcome from this terrible tragedy. But if the past is anything to go by, people will soon forget about it — and the disturbing deficiencies in health care delivery to remote communities will continue to be swept under the carpet.

While actual murder is thankfully rare, for decades nurses and other health professionals working in remote communities have voiced their concerns about the inadequate and unsafe nursing conditions out in the bush.

Twenty years ago, remote area nurses and Aboriginal health workers from the Northern Territory went on strike claiming they were unable to provide a safe standard of care.  After their protests fell on deaf ears, the Council of Remote Area Nurses of Australia wrote a submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission detailing numerous cases where inadequate staffing had endangered the safety and lives of patients and staff.

Nurses often have to work alone for several weeks at a time. On one occasion a nurse had to fend off drunk men armed with spears.

Several remote area nurses have been raped. One nurse sued the hospital she worked at for more than $2 million, claiming that her employer failed to evacuate her, despite being warned about the danger she faced.

A similar incident occurred in 2006 and eventually led to an inquiry by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission, which found the Queensland health department had failed to act on a report warning of safety concerns at nurses quarters on Thursday Island.

In her 2005 book, Sounding the Alarm: Remote Area Nurses and Aboriginals at Risk, Jennifer Cramer warns of the potential consequences of ignoring nurses concerns.

For the sake of both the nurses and the patients they care for, the government cannot continue to remain deaf to the sound of the alarm.

Label it protectionist

Trisha Jha

08 April 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

Label it protectionistWhen it comes to policy decisions, ‘consultation’ is probably one of the most misused words in the English language.

Usually what happens is that a government floats a controversial policy idea, and the lobbyists screech about how there was no consultation. Translation: “you’re not giving us what we wanted.”

Other times, governments will promise to consult on a policy issue when what they really mean is “kick it into the long grass.”

Then, there is the veneer of consultation, when the government has decided what policy change to implement and pretends to consult. One such example is the decision to modify food labelling so that country of origin is more obvious to customers.

The issue came to a head about a year ago, after 28 people were hospitalised with Hepatitis A thought to come from frozen berries imported from China. ‘Foreign’ was conflated with ‘unsafe’, and new country of origin labelling was born.

It’s a troubling development on several fronts. The policy was obviously a knee-jerk reaction to an incident where consumers were genuinely harmed, but there was no demonstrated link between the implementation of this particular policy and prevention of similar incidents in future.

In spite of this, the policy progressed relatively quickly (by Canberra standards). That’s probably because there was always something of a fait accompli about it. The consultation period was just about how country of origin labelling should be strengthened; not about whether it was necessary at all.

It’s difficult to conclude this has happened for a reason other than to benefit buy-Australian protectionism, such as that which afflicts politicians across the Parliament. If it can be cloaked in the language of ‘food safety’, so much the better – it helps obscure what is really going on.

It’s highly likely the only reason this policy change has received media attention is because of what begat it. What about the instances where there is no big story to drive momentum – just pollies kowtowing to lobbyists in a multipartisan fashion? I would wager this story is just a drop in the ocean.

Oh, and … there will, of course, be “a national information campaign to inform consumers”. That sound you hear is your taxpayer dollars being flushed.