Thoughts, Ramblings and Observations.
In his speech at the IPA’s closed door 70th birthday celebration on Thursday night, Tony Abbott gave a resounding yes to ‘many’ of the IPA’s 75 policy suggestions to reshape Australia’s political culture. This is one of few broad policy signals so far given by Abbott, who has released very little in the way of any form of detailed policy. While he does not mention the specific measures, the endorsement of any unknown number of the IPA suggestions (included below) indicates an approach by a coalition government all Australians should be concerned about, and The Coalition should be called upon to release policy details sooner rather than in the final days leading up to the election so that Australians can make a properly informed decision at the ballot box.
The list of IPA policies referenced to by Tony Abbott are as follows:
1 Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it. It will be one thing to remove the burden of the carbon tax from the Australian economy. But if it is just replaced by another costly scheme, most of the benefits will be undone.
2 Abolish the Department of Climate Change
3 Abolish the Clean Energy Fund
4 Repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act
5 Abandon Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council
6 Repeal the renewable energy target
7 Return income taxing powers to the states
8 Abolish the Commonwealth Grants Commission
9 Abolish the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
10 Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol
11 Introduce fee competition to Australian universities
12 Repeal the National Curriculum
13 Introduce competing private secondary school curriculums
14 Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
15 Eliminate laws that require radio and television broadcasters to be ‘balanced’
16 Abolish television spectrum licensing and devolve spectrum management to the common law
17 End local content requirements for Australian television stations
18 Eliminate family tax benefits
19 Abandon the paid parental leave scheme
20 Means-test Medicare
21 End all corporate welfare and subsidies by closing the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
22 Introduce voluntary voting
23 End mandatory disclosures on political donations
24 End media blackout in final days of election campaigns
25 End public funding to political parties
26 Remove anti-dumping laws
27 Eliminate media ownership restrictions
28 Abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board
29 Eliminate the National Preventative Health Agency
30 Cease subsidising the car industry
31 Formalise a one-in, one-out approach to regulatory reduction
32 Rule out federal funding for 2018 Commonwealth Games
33 Deregulate the parallel importation of books
34 End preferences for Industry Super Funds in workplace relations laws
35 Legislate a cap on government spending and tax as a percentage of GDP
36 Legislate a balanced budget amendment which strictly limits the size of budget deficits and the period the federal government can be in deficit
37 Force government agencies to put all of their spending online in a searchable database
38 Repeal plain packaging for cigarettes and rule it out for all other products, including alcohol and fast food
39 Reintroduce voluntary student unionism at universities
40 Introduce a voucher scheme for secondary schools
41 Repeal the alcopops tax
42 Introduce a special economic zone in the north of Australia including:
a) Lower personal income tax for residents
b) Significantly expanded 457 Visa programs for workers
c) Encourage the construction of dams
43 Repeal the mining tax
44 Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states
45 Introduce a single rate of income tax with a generous tax-free threshold
46 Cut company tax to an internationally competitive rate of 25 per cent
47 Cease funding the Australia Network
48 Privatise Australia Post
49 Privatise Medibank
50 Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function
51 Privatise SBS
52 Reduce the size of the public service from current levels of more than 260,000 to at least the 2001 low of 212,784
53 Repeal the Fair Work Act
54 Allow individuals and employers to negotiate directly terms of employment that suit them
55 Encourage independent contracting by overturning new regulations designed to punish contractors
56 Abolish the Baby Bonus
57 Abolish the First Home Owners’ Grant
58 Allow the Northern Territory to become a state
59 Halve the size of the Coalition front bench from 32 to 16
60 Remove all remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers to international trade
61 Slash top public servant salaries to much lower international standards, like in the United States
62 End all public subsidies to sport and the arts
63 Privatise the Australian Institute of Sport
64 End all hidden protectionist measures, such as preferences for local manufacturers in government tendering
65 Abolish the Office for Film and Literature Classification
66 Rule out any government-supported or mandated internet censorship
67 Means test tertiary student loans
68 Allow people to opt out of superannuation in exchange for promising to forgo any government income support in retirement
69 Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and privatise any sections that have already been built
70 End all government funded Nanny State advertising
71 Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling
72 Privatise the CSIRO
73 Defund Harmony Day
74 Close the Office for Youth
75 Privatise the Snowy-Hydro Scheme
What does it mean to be Australian? Australia Day gives us a chance to reflect as a nation not only about what makes us great, but also to look back and learn from some darker moments in our history. As a nation, we have been a spectacular success in many areas, while there are still ways we can improve.
Our nation is a land built on immigration - 97.5% of us descend from ancestors that immigrated here at some point within the past 225 years. We have built on this and are defined by our multiculturalism. Each wave of immigration has enriched our culture, whether it be Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Chinese or one of many others. There have been some hiccups along the way, but we get along pretty well when compared to most other nations, few of which can claim the diversity we can. We have built incredible wealth over 200 years through successive mining booms and world-class education. We have become a world leader in medicine and science and continuously overachieve in the sporting arena. We have a lot to be proud of.
This does not mean we should stand still. There are many things we can improve on. Our indigenous people still often don’t get the recognition they deserve as the original owners of the land which was taken from them after European settlement, and the most vulnerable in our society - refugees, children, the disabled and our homeless are often forgotten. We are still unequal in many ways - many loving couples cannot marry, and women are still paid less than their male counterparts. In recent times, our environmental record has been unsatisfactory for a nation with such wealth and opportunity to move beyond old, outdated practices. But united we can move forward, and we are lucky enough to be in a position to address these issues so long as the willpower is there.
It upsets me to see the way our national day has been hijacked by some in recent years. Australia Day should not be White Australia Day. Nor will it be Citizens Day or Invasion day. While some may argue it should be set on a different day, Australia Day gives us a chance to reflect on the good and the bad, and how we can each contribute to keep us on the right track moving forward.
It gives us a chance to congratulate and be inspired by those who have done an exceptional job to make Australia a better place, like Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose, Senior Australian of the Year Ian Maddocks and Young Australian of the year Akram Azimi. We can all do our bit.
However you choose to spend today - whether it be at the beach, with family, listening to the year’s finest music on our national radio station, or working to keep the country moving, Happy Australia Day.
The rise in online media in recent years has been a boon for those seeking an independent and alternative source of information outside mainstream news outlets. With such a wealth of information at our fingertips, we are able to become at least moderately informed about any topic within minutes. While this independence brings with it more freedom and flexibility in the issues reported, it also can allow incorrect and downright dangerous anti-science beliefs to take hold, particularly among individuals and groups with limited knowledge or skills required to critically analyse information presented.
Two examples of an anti-science movements that have gained prominence in recent years are the extremely vocal anti-vaccination lobby and climate change denial. Dangerously, both have taken a strong hold in recent years despite an overwhelming body of scientific evidence to the contrary. Two possible reasons for this are a lack of scientific education and knowledge, or simply complete ignorance in support of an agenda or prejudiced viewpoint. In a world that science has greatly improved, we can’t afford to succumb to such viewpoints or we risk going backwards as a society.
The anti-vaccination lobby has been around for a number of years but has grown in strength and voice in recent years with the rise of various online ‘information’ sites, which has seen in a dangerous decline in children’s vaccination rates in Australia to 83% of four year olds - well below the 90% level that ensures community wide protection. This has coincided with an increase in whooping cough cases in recent years from 332 in 1991, to 38601 cases in 2011 (many due to a new, vaccine resistant strain of the disease). The importance of being vaccinated is highlighted by a comparative study published in the American Journal of Pediatrics which found vaccine refusers are 23 times more likely than vaccine accepters to contract Whooping Cough (Glanz et al. 2009) - a strong indication of the effectiveness of immunisation.
There are a number of other ‘facts’ put forward by the anti vaccination lobby which are not substantiated by evidence or worse, are contrary to scientific evidence. The Australian Academy of Science recently released a publication debunking many of the myths pushed by the anti-vaccination lobby, including the downright incorrect link between vaccination and autism.
This is not to say that vaccinations do not come without side effects, but when weighed against the risks of not being immunised these side effects pale into insignificance. An un-immunised child contracting measles is 2000 times more likely to develop encephalitis as a complication in comparison to the risk associated with being immunised.
In scientific circles, vaccination is one of the triumphs of modern medicine. In spite of the evidence, incorrect ideas still take hold to the detriment of children like New Zealand’s Alijah Williams, who recently contracted tetanus and now faces months in hospital after being refused vaccination by his parents. As a society, we owe it to our children to ensure that these diseases are not given a chance and remain a thing of the past.
Climate Change is front and centre of public discussion again after the tragic effects of Hurricane Sandy in North America. One of the unfortunate traits of humanity as a whole is that we are still a very reactive species, and sometimes it takes a major disaster to spur action on any given issue. I am still doubtful whether Sandy is enough of a wake up call.
While it is hard to pinpoint climate change as the cause for a single event, there is one thing most scientists agree on - that climate change systematically caused or worsened Hurricane Sandy, in much the same way that smoking systematically causes lung cancer, or poor diet systematically causes diabetes.
Some effects are relatively obvious in exacerbating the effects of Sandy - the abnormally high sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic fueling the superstorm. Other effects are more subtle - a high pressure ridge in the absence of the semi-permanent low pressure system over the Arctic this year most likely as a result of the sea ice melt resulted in Sandy making landfall where it usually would have been pushed out sea, causing minimal damage. In Australia, we are seeing the effects also - more severe storms, heat waves and bush fires have been a more common theme in recent years.
These kinds of event are no longer the work of climate models - they are happening now. An interesting study from NASA recently highlighted this - changes in atmospheric humidity are in line with the worst-case scenario climate models - that is, we are looking at a five degree rise in temperature by the end of the century (we have so far seen around 0.8 degrees). The consequences of this are extensive and catastrophic, what we have seen recently across the globe is just the beginning.
We can no longer sit on our hands and take a wait and see approach. The future is now, and the more we delay, the more the costs will increase. It makes both environmental and economic sense to act now, so why not do something about it?
Some days you just don’t know what to make of life. All it seems is that it is one endless inescapable cycle - eat, sleep, and a few more trivial things in between. Meaning is lost, and we forever live in hope that something is going to save us and break the mould, presenting us with some fresh air to breathe into what is otherwise a stale existence. In doing so, we miss the true magic that our lives can offer, and we forget that every day there are hundreds of these trivial things in between eating and sleeping that would paint each day with brighter colours and fill our hearts with happiness. Life goes on however, and we dare not forget to dream what it may be like to grace the pages of tabloid magazines and live the life of kings and queens basking under constant sunshine in a land of infinite prosperity, where everybody can claim to be somebody. As a result we gradually become more insecure and introverted, afraid and losing our sense of self because of the constant bombardment from all angles telling us who we should be, taking the dream further from our reach but making it more attractive as the message is reinforced that our lives aren’t as good as they really are. One can only live in hope that our collective consciousness can be raised enough so that as a whole we can all live our very own dreams that we have right now in the palm of our hand, that we pass by every day in search of what does not exist.