Thursday, October 4, 2007

Committee Hearing - Aspects of Agriculture

A pubic hearing of the Standing Committee on State Development inquiry into the Aspects of Agriculture in New South Wales was held on 29 August 2007 in Sydney. I will focus my observations on the first speaker Professor Michael Archer.

Professor Archer, the Dean of Science from the University of New South Wales raised concerns about two things that he stated are under the threat of extinction; animals and plants and the communities of regional Australia. The current challenges Australia faces include the drought and climate change and as a regional Australian I have a concern and awareness of these issues which made Professor Archer’s speech very timely and interesting. Professor Archer provided the Chair with a copy of his book Going Native and spoke about the need to re-examine land management practices that will increase sustainability as the effects of climate change will only continue to threaten. Professor Archer stated the demand for none-native products such as sheep, cattle and cotton is too high in this country and that we shouldn’t be looking at replacing them with dependence on native species but rather using both.

Professor Archer began his argument with the notion that the kangaroo industry needs to be valued. In the current drought he mentioned there are dead cattle everywhere, whilst kangaroos have adapted to the harsh Australian conditions for thousand of years, so why aren’t we paying attention to them? A valid point, one that seems so bleeding obvious. He mentioned that graziers would not have the expense of fencing, as kangaroos cannot be fenced. I did not understand how graziers would control or maintain their kangaroos and Professor Archer didn’t elaborate, but continued with by stating that the health of consumers would increase, as kangaroo meat is healthy. The environmental advantages of kangaroos were provided by Professor Archer who stated they have soft feet which don’t cut up the soil like sheep and cattle. Also kangaroos require less water than sheep which will be most useful as Australia continues into record history long drought. The next point he raised that kangaroos fart less was unexpected but definitely stuck in my mind! Professor Archer said the methane production by cattle and sheep were contributing factors to greenhouse gases and kangaroos thus don’t add to this problem. You sure do learn something new everyday! Professor Archer began to talk about native plants when he was interrupted by the Hon. Melinda Pavey who told him he only had a few minutes remaining and that most of what he was saying was in his book and therefore they would move to questions. I had the impression that Professor Archer could talk for hours and I believe he mentioned at the beginning of his presentation that being brief on this topic would be difficult. That is when the often-difficult skill of concise communication is needed, one that I find challenging as well, which is why I have limited my observations to Professor Archer’s speech for this blog entry.

The Reverend Hon. Fred Nile asked some questions such as is there a need for a kangaroo industry board like the sheep and cattle board and is kangaroo meat really a healthy option choice? Professor Archer replied yes to both questions. The Hon. Michael Veitch then moved the questions away from kangaroos and wanted to know about water sustainability and Professor Archer again used the kangaroo example of using less water to back some of his ideas up. He again stated that Australia should be depending on native species that do not require as much water. If I was Professor Archer I would’ve used one of my favourite sayings “I hate to be Captain Obvious here but…” because it is so clear that Australia with over half the land mass as desert, an ongoing drought and limited water supply we should be utilizing native species that have been around for thousands of years to create sustainability. It is too obvious! I just hope Professor Archer’s information is not wasted and gets acted upon. Professor Archer’s arguments made me more passionate about the sustainability of the environment in this country and as a result my political decisions will be more heavily based on those who show commitment to environmental issues.

Lobbying for rural dental health

A Public Dental Health Forum was held on 26 September at Parliament House to mark the first anniversary of the release of a report which nominated 33 recommendations to the state government in regards to rural dental services. The forum provided lobbyists, who aim for improved rural dental action, the opportunity to speak about the report and raise concerns that the recommendations have being ignored. After reading an article on this forum in the Western Advocate I contacted Marj Bollinger from the Rural Dental Action Group who gave me insight into the life of a lobbyist, committee hearings and this public forum. Mrs Bollinger is one of the co-founders of the Rural Dental Action Group which has been lobbying for better funding allocations to rural dental services for over three years (Marj Bollinger 2007, pers. comm., 3 October). The Rural Dental Action Group were invited by the Australian Dental Association in conjunction with the Greens to make a submission into the report and to point out what has happened since the NSW Government Inquiry three years ago. Mrs Bollinger stated that this forum was important as she didn’t want the report to be just another “dusty document” and it was her role as a lobbyist to have it “acted upon” (Marj Bollinger 2007, pers. comm., 3 October). Mrs Bollinger said the matter fell into the “too-hard basket” for the State Government and mentioned that the forum was well attended with a range of representation with the exception that there were no members of state government in attendance which “doesn’t give you much confidence” (Vaz, 2007). The concern for rural dental health is NSW is amplified by the spending on dental services. In 2006/07, the Northern Territory spent $40 per person, while Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania spent $34 and NSW spending just $18 (Vaz, 2007). I asked Mrs Bollinger how she raises the profile for this issue and in the past three years she has written letters to 830 politicians to convince them “in a constructive way” about rural dental health (Marj Bollinger 2007, pers. comm.., 3 October). She said it was critical that she was “persistent” and wrote to all politicians because dental health was a state and federal issue (Marj Bollinger 2007, pers. comm., 3 October). She said it was important to “identify the problem, find a solution” and then use the media to create attention about rural dental health (Marj Bollinger 2007, pers. comm., 3 October). The “persistent” letter writing generally resulted in a committee hearing where Mrs Bollinger has put forward the Rural Dental Action Group’s case (Marj Bollinger 2007, pers. comm., 3 October). The committee hearings also include questioning the speaker, which Mrs Bollinger said, lasts for half an hour so it is crucial that the speaker knows their information (Marj Bollinger 2007, pers. comm., 3 October). I asked Mrs Bollinger what was coming up for the Rural Dental Action Group and she mentioned that there were no committee hearings in the near future but would continue the Group’s monthly meetings in Orange (Marj Bollinger 2007, pers. comm., 3 October). This article and interview will be useful for the assessment on CSUPharma. I would like to thank Marj Bollinger for her interview and Ellen Vaz from the Western Advocate for her assistance.


Vaz, E 2007 “Sensible dental plan needed in rural Australia”, The Western Advocate, Monday October 1

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Question Time House of Representatives 19 September 2007

This was a valuable Question Time to review as much media attention was drawn to this session after Kevin Rudd incorrectly identified the current tax threshold rate earlier that morning. The Government has an absolute field day with this one and much of this Question Time again illustrated again the childlike behaviour of the leaders of this nation. The Minister for Deakin Phil Barresi asked the Treasurer to inform the House of the rates and thresholds that apply in the current tax system with a smirk on his face that resembled Dr Seuss’ Grinch Who Stole Christmas. There were cheers and statements yelled across the room with an unidentifiable minister saying, “Listen to this one Kevin”. Ouch! And so began Treasurer Costello’s performance. He started by asking Rudd to “turn around and face the front please whilst I give this answer” which sounded like a teacher instructing a student. The House erupted in noise and jeers with the Speaker having to state “Order, order” and then stand up and ask the Treasurer to resume his seat. Costello continued his answer by commenting on Rudd’s refusal to face him and then proudly quoted the tax thresholds. This is his area of expertise after all. Costello criticised Rudd for demanding that the government set an election date whilst not releasing Labor’s tax policy to the Australian people. This Question Time was spiteful and reflected the past weeks of bully tactics between the two party’s including leaks about Rudd’s heart condition and the secret gay life of a Liberal MP. The Treasurer fiercely said Rudd had one of those “I wish the ground would just open up and swallow me days” and then used a slow, loud and almost stupid accented voice to describe Rudd’s answer. I earlier called Costello’s answer a “performance” because that is what it was like. Costello was in his element and rightly so but it could have been done without the C-grade acting. The Speaker had to call order again and the Chief Opposition Whip asked the Treasurer to stop shouting into the microphone. The cheers and jeers started again. Costello then mocked Rudd’s answer that the tax thresholds “cascade down the spectrum” by loudly stating with a laugh that “cascade is a form of beer, tax thresholds don’t cascade”. His tone grew serious and louder when he finished by stating that the “Leader of the Opposition doesn’t understand it and shouldn’t be in charge of people’s mortgages, their businesses or their jobs”. The Government definitely took advantage of Rudd’s mistake and it gained a lot of media attention which raised questions about Rudd’s economic policy. This brought something to my attention: Ok, so Kevin doesn’t know the exact rates when asked on the spot. He made a slip up. Granted he is the Leader of the Opposition but would Costello’s fellow party ministers know the tax threshold rates? And I got my answer from the team who use satire to make politicians accountable for their actions, the Chaser. The Chaser revealed that Alexander Downer was none the wiser when it came to his party’s tax threshold rates when asked on ABC’s Lateline. He tried to disguise his lack of knowledge by looking down at the answers and it was so embarrassingly obvious that he had no idea. I just hope that Labor has more credibility then to bring Downer’s misfortune up in Question Time. Leave the smear campaigning for Summer Heights High Ja’mai King.

Question Time for the House of Representatives 12 September 2007

This Question Time session reiterated to me how childlike politicians are and how they use key messages (thank the press secretaries and public relations officers for this!) to avoid direct answers to tough questions.

Kevin Rudd asked the first question to the Prime Minister stating the major challenges to the nation being housing affordability, climate change particularly on Australia’s water resources, the effect of workchoices and the skills crisis and how after 11 years in office if the Prime Minister cannot run his own party how can he effectively run the country and respond to these challenges. The Prime Minister made the outlandish statement that I can’t believe the media did not focus on being “the possibility that in the next 3 years Australia could be a full employment society”. That is one huge claim to make! Should we hold the Prime Minister to this if he is re-elected? Just like when he said there would “never ever be GST”? Hmm… Well I am. In three years I expect that it is possible that in Australia no one will be unemployed. Howard stated that the challenges mentioned by Rudd had been met over the past 11 years and will continue to be met if the Government is re-elected. That appears to be a very controlled to a confronting question.

The Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent asked the Prime Minister to outline the plans the Government has to keep the economy “strong and growing”. This “strong and growing” slogan was frequently used by the government in this Question Time in response to Australia’s economic position. Howard replied to stating that only his government has the capacity to reach full employment in Australia, has the capacity to deal with long-term water shortages and has the capacity to continued reductions in tax. But he didn’t mention how. For the public watching at home, these kind of responses sound good but where is the weight in these answers? Labor’s “unfair dismissal laws” would create higher unemployment which Howard said would only threaten the “strong and growing” Australian nation. Howard finally used some facts to back this statement up by saying since March 2006 when the Industrial Relations changes had come into effect 417,000 new jobs had been created. Though he lost me when he said this was “partly” due to the removal of Labor’s unfair dismissal law. Partly.

Rudd’s next question to the Prime Minister is when Question Time started to get heated and reminded me of primary school debates where members of each side began to lose control of the rules and make comments any time they felt threatened! Rudd asked if the Prime Minister would be upfront and honest with the Australian people and tell them whether he intends to serve a full 3-year term if re-elected. This was an appropriate question to ask as the media had centred on Howard’s leadership and it was a hot topic and cause of conversation around many water coolers at the workplace. This caused a loud and raucous reaction from members of the government and the opposition, and David Hawker, the Speaker of the House, had to intervene and call “order, order” and remind members that they “are holding up their own question time”. Howard said the Australian people’s future is more important than his own and they would decide in the next election whether he would be re-elected. Again this does not answer the question. It is a nice key message though, telling the public their future is more worthy than his. The Government’s press secretaries probably had their fingers crossed for that key message to appear as a headline in a newspaper the next day. Howard then moved the question away from himself to Peter Beatie and Steve Bracks’ retirement and how that showed Labor were not showing responsibility to their electorate.

The Member for Kingston Kym Richardson’s question to the Treasurer reaffirmed my belief of Question Time as a childlike environment and brought the notion of “sucking up” to a new level. Richardson started his question by addressing the Treasurer as part of the “best team ever” which got a rousing response of cheers and jeers from the opposition. Please boys, leave it at home or at the next Liberal Party dinner party. I can’t believe this is part of the political process, it seems so immature and unprofessional. He then asked the Treasurer to inform the House of the state of the economy. Costello continued the nonsense by thanking the Member of Kingston “the best Member of Kingston Australia has ever had” for his question. Umm, I thought we were here to talk policies? Costello stated that the state of the economy was strong because of more jobs, the lowest rate of unemployment in a decade and that business profitability and investment were strong. Costello mentioned the Government’s “Investing for Australia’s future” plans which were praised by the Controller General of the USA who Costello quoted as saying Australia is one of two nations in the world who is doing the best job of saving for the future. This was effective as the answer had some substance and not just a repeated “strong and growing” nation message.

Wayne Swan, the Member for Lilley, asked if the Treasurer believed the Prime Minister is the best person to lead in the next election and if so why hasn’t he said so when the Prime Minister’s leadership has being publicly questioned in the last week. Again, this was a sufficient question to ask and Labor were riding on the wave of public curiosity and concern. The Speaker stated the Treasurer did not have to answer the question, as it was not his administration responsibility. But Costello jumped at the chance by stating he had just done a press conference, which the opposition loudly mocked, because it seemed as Swan was suggesting, a rather late response. Costello then asked Swan a question by asking does he believe Kevin Rudd is the best person to lead the Labor Party, and which “rooster” (yes, he used the term rooster) voted against him? “Methinks the rooster crowed the wrong way” Costello ended. Again I think this is childish. It seems like this is an adult version of a year six debate with name calling and slandering without much progress being made. Swan kept this leadership idea running with his next question where he asked the Prime Minister if he won the next election when would Costello take over. Howard used the repeated key message “the Australian people will decide” and again swung the attention back to Peter Beatie who he said mislead the people of Queensland. Just from watching this one Question Time I saw the technique Howard uses for answering tough questions, which is to not directly answer but to give a nice “for the Australian people” kind of response and then attack the Labor Party. This caused Swan to tell the House that his question was about “relevance” and he was asking about the “Prime Minister’s intention” which got more jeers and cheers from both sides. Now the next answer from the Prime Minister is one that made my ears prick up and laugh out loud. Howard said Beattie had dishonoured his people and that unlike him “I won’t mislead the Australian people”. Did everyone hear that? It’s not as if Howard has mislead us before is it? GST, children overboard. Well I am holding it to you Prime Minister. I hope the rest of the Australian public will as well. ‘Nuff said!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Wise words from a former PM

A very interesting interview with Paul Keating was on Dateline on Wednesday night 5 September. Keating was one of the architects of the APEC movement and he had some thought provoking statements about Australia and the world. I'm always interested to hear what people think about Australia's involvement in the War in Iraq. Defence Minister Brendan Nelson recently visited Iraq and installed some spirit to the troops by reminding them that the masterminds of the Bali bombs, which killed 88 Australians, had trained in Afghanistan and that the Australians were playing an important role of iradicating terroists. Keating gave his own insight into the war, stating that it had damaged the country severly and that Howard has put too many eggs into the one basket by focusing on Iraq. Keating said that Australia should direct more interest into North Asia as China becomes a more influential economic and political powerhouse. He mentioned the massive populations of China, Japan and India were obvious indicators that these countries will play a bigger role in Australia's future. Keating made it clear that Rudd had a better understanding and appreciation of China which would serve Australian interests well.

What are your thoughts of Australia's involvement in the war in Iraq?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Army and YouTube - a deadly combination?

Donald mentioned that Howard has used YouTube to promote the ADF but recently this social media tool caused unwanted publicity and had the potential to damage the reputation of the Australian Army. Soldiers in the Northern Territory posted a video on YouTube called "My experience in the Australian Army" which showed images of soldiers drinking and wearing the KKK uniform. It was a traditional media source, The Sunday Times, who notified the ADF of this video. As soon as I heard about this I immediately went to YouTube to check it out but it had been removed. The ADF got in quick. What do you think about this? Obviously the ADF reacted appropriately. A quick response is one of the keys to successful issues management. Is this a matter of public interest? I think it is since it is the Australian public who are paying for these soldiers wages, so let me see the video! This was what I wanted - a real glimpse into the army way of life, not a recruitment advertisement! Social media - uncontrolled and unfiltered, everyone and anyone can be exposed. But then it can simply be erased. It will be interesting to see what action is taken against the soldiers involved. The ADF should be very aware and responsive to social media. They should know that many of their soldiers are on networks such as MySpace and Facebook and list the Army as their occupation. The potential to criticise the ADF to a large audience is easy.

Elect a date!

The election. It has inundated the media for the past few months and there is still no official date. John Howard mentioned last week that he was confident it would be at the end of this year. Well I hope so. The competition between Howard and Rudd has been obsessive and the election date is long overdue. The IR laws are getting overplayed like a Nickelback song on the radio. I really question the amount of money being spent on the current Workplace advertisements. If the government needs so many advertisements for this new legislation to convince the public that it is a "Fact" not a "Myth" then it is questionable as to how worthwhile it really is. Especially as the Howard Government has spent the most money on advertising more than any other government, think the GST ads!

The high attention given to Kevin Rudd's visit to a strip joint four years ago really grinded my gears. It is suggested that the leak came out of Alexander Downer's office and when the media rang up to investigate if it was true, the office didn't say yes but they didn't say no either. Is this the best they could do? Let's not attack the policies of Labor, let's make it personal. Rudd's calm response to this bully tactic was impressive. Since when is it shocking that men visit strip clubs? They are legal venues and what male hasn't or hasn't wished to do the same? Why do politicians put themselves up on a pedestal to think they are different from the rest of the public? Do they really think we are that naive? Does this mean that the rest of the MPs are innocent and pure? That they have never had one too many red wines? Please! The private life of a public figure should only made public when it has a direct interest to the public. This is not a direct interest and did not affect the public. It is hard to justify when the private life of a public figure is a matter of public interest as the only reasons stated by the MEAA code to do this is when “only substantial advancement of the public interest or risk of substantial harm to people allows any standard to be overridden” (MEAA Code of Ethics n.d.). There is the claim that public figure such as Rudd who lies to their partner will also deceive their country.This notion is quelled as most people can recognise both in moral significance and motivation, between a personal betrayal and public disloyalty. This issue is not in the public interest as it does not directly bear on his performance as a government minister. Glenn Milne the journalist responsible should take note of the Code of Ethics he is supposed to uphold.

Just like the lonely comic guy out of the Simpsons, it's about time this election got a date.