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.

We need to talk about how we talk about ‘China’

Sue Windybank

08 December 2017 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

Last week my 10-year old niece overheard me making some critical remarks about China, and looked at me in horror. “But one of my best friends is Chinese!” she cried. “Likewise,” I replied, before explaining that I was criticising the Chinese government, not Chinese people per se.

I’m not sure that she really grasped the distinction, but I made a mental note to use words like ‘China’ and ‘Chinese’ with more care.

As China Matters founding director Linda Jakobson noted recently, when we talk about ‘China’ are we talking about 5000 years of continuous civilisation and the cultural heritage of which the 1.3 billion citizens of China and the 50 million strong overseas Chinese diaspora are justly proud? Or are we referring to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), founded in 1949, and single-party rule under the Chinese Community Party?

With the Australian parliament now considering new laws on foreign interference in light of recent revelations about Chinese Communist Party (CCP) efforts to exert undue influence on the political system and local Chinese communities, the above questions go beyond semantics.

There is a potential risk of an anti-China backlash if some Australians conflate criticism of the CCP with the one million or so people of Chinese descent living in this country, some of whom may also be critical of the Party but still proud of what China has achieved under its rule.

At the same time, critical voices should not immediately be denounced as ‘xenophobic’ or even ‘Sinophobic’.

Clive Hamilton — whose book exposing Party influence in Australia has been dropped for fear of possible retaliation from Beijing — says that he isn’t fazed by accusations of xenophobia. He dubs this fear ‘xenophobiaphobia’ and warns that it ‘blinds some progressives to the threat posed by the CCP to our sovereignty’.

Perversely, such ‘phobiaphobia’ is only likely to lead to the dead end of Section 18C.

Wedding cake still half-baked

Robert Forsyth

08 December 2017 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

The passing of the marriage equality bill sets the scene for something unprecedented in the history of the Australian Commonwealth; serious action on legal protections of religious freedom. Despite its broad title “Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017” that legislation deals only with religious freedom for religious celebrants and organisations involved in the actual solemnising of a marriage. More has been promised in the new year when the review led by Philip Ruddock gives its report on the legal protections for religious freedom in Australia.

The need for further action is highlighted in a report that was released this week from — of all places — the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Late last year, this cross-party committee was given a broad brief to “examine the status of the freedom of religion or belief (as recognised in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) around the world, including in Australia.” Their interim report left consideration of the rest of the world for a later time and focused only on the legal foundations of religious freedom in Australia.

Although no recommendations are given, the report makes a powerful case for action. As the Chair notes in his foreword, two broad points stand out most prominently. One is that legal protection of religious freedom in Australia is limited. There is almost no explicit protection for religious freedom at the Commonwealth level. The states and territories have little to prevent them from restricting religious freedom. The other is that the threats to religious freedom today are quite different from the past and often arise in the context of protecting other, conflicting rights, particularly that of anti-discrimination law. Without giving an answer the report concludes “Striking the balance between these competing rights is a challenging and delicate task” (p 90).

Indeed. Let’s hope that there is serious discussion and action next year. It will be a first for Australia.

The doctor will ask you now

Jessica Borbasi

08 December 2017 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

Apparently ignorance really can be blissful when it comes to your own medical treatment. Doctors are now being encouraged to ask patients “Do you really want to know?”

The new concept driving doctors to heed caution about cautioning is ‘iatrogenic harm’ — usually a term for the adverse effects of drugs or procedures (otherwise considered medical mistakes or complications) but now also being applied to the adverse effects of information.

However, research has demonstrated an interesting spectacle whereby the more patients are warned about the potential side effects — for example of a new drug — the more likely they are to experience those side effects.

In a study of 76 patients who received beta-blocker treatment for hypertension, erectile dysfunction occurred in 32% of the patients explicitly warned about this side effect compared to only 13% of the patients not specifically informed.

This is alleged to be due to viscerosomatic amplification whereby information influences the experience of symptoms. Not surprisingly, some patients are at greater risk of this than others — and  determining who is tricky.

The ‘nocebo’ phenomenon — the experience of side effects by patients who receive the placebo drug in a clinical trial — is a non-judgemental way to explain how information can exacerbate the experience of nonspecific medication effects.

In light of nocebo and the potential harm from information, doctors are being advised to choose their words carefully.

One option is to ask — do you really want to know all of the possible side effects when knowing them increases your chance of having them?

This is unlikely to bode well in the age of Dr Google — when bliss and ignorance become mutually exclusive.