Yesterday’s “Comments, corrections, clarifications, and c*ckups”:

Due to a glitch in yesterday’s email, unfortunatley the comments section didn’t appear. It was however published on our website, so you can can get your fix of yesterday’s best feedback here.

Only half right on secret cancer research:

Alasdair Millar, Chairman of Royal Perth Hospital Ethics Committee, 1997-2007, and RPH Clinical Professor in Pharmacology and Medicine, UWA, writes: Re. “The problem with secret cancer research” (Monday, item 5). Gavin Mooney is only half right. In effect, he calls into question the entire ethics committee system underpinning medical research in Australia, using as an example a case in which he avoids claiming explicitly was ethically flawed. This is just posturing. His first comment is that medical researchers are unable or should not make a judgement on the greater good of a research project, because they have a conflict of interest. In fact, this is what Ethics Committees are for, and what they do very well. The worst that clinical or scientific members could be accused of is that they come to the committee with an attitude in favour of research; that is, they believe research is a good. Gavin is an academic so it is reasonable to suppose that he agrees with this underpinning belief; if not, he’s in the wrong job. Clinical members are often in a minority, so I also assume he would be willing to apply the same limitation of control to them that he applies in his article to the lay minority. In fact, as an ex-chairman of an ethics committee of a major teaching hospital in WA (and a clinician) I can say that scientific/medical members of ethics committees are adept at setting aside their supposed professional prejudice while sitting in committee. In making his hypothetical arguments, Gavin avoids the more immediate issue of whether it is in fact reasonable to not approach 1050 people who had already given a sample, in order to study that sample and report to the scientific community (and incidentally everyone with a gut that might develop cancer, ie. everyone) what can be found about the pathogenesis of this disease that kills hundreds of Australians annually, and doing this without divulging the identity of any patient. He does not state whether the patients’ identities were to be divulged to the researcher as part of the research. If this was the arrangement, there will in fact be no breach of privacy. Secondly, Gavin claims lay members of Ethics Committees do not represent the community. This is absurd. The purpose of the lay members is to ensure that normal community ethical standards apply in research, and they do this, at every meeting. They are generally a minority, of course, but in my experience no proposal would pass if the lay members objected to it. Naturally they may be outvoted on a formal count, but the Committees generally approve by acclamation, so that minority views are properly taken into account. Gavin ends by claiming a community right to be asked. One has to ask, how is this to be done? In our society, it is achieved generally by passing an Act of the Parliament and setting up ground rules accompanied by a process of reporting and monitoring. In this case, it’s called the Privacy Act and the monitoring is carried out by the Privacy Commissioner. As far as I know, the Commissioner hasn’t complained about this or any other research proposal. We do not require that every decision taken on behalf of the community is subject to an explicit “request” to the community and (other than the usual method njust mentioned) one wonders how this would be achieved in practice. Reference to another Committee, perhaps? Gavin also raises the old hoary about the end justifying the means, relying on the argument that it never does. This requires a separate email all to itself, but basically he misunderstands the principle, which is that the ends do not NECESSARILY justify the means. However, when both the means and the end are good (ethically speaking) then the argument about ends and means, means nothing.

The Gunns pulp mill:

Peter Lloyd writes: Re. “Say no to the pulp mill, Malcolm” (Wednesday, item 13). The conditions Malcolm Turnbull has imposed on the Gunns’ pulp mill may result in Gunns pulling the plug. As Christian Kerr pointed out, Gunns are not a company that expects or calculates doing anything other than in its own way. But without relevant monitoring and shut-down protocols, such conditions will be meaningless. Tasmania has no EPA (although Lennon recently applied that title to a tiny and ineffectual office for window-dressing purposes). It has no ICAC. Log truck safety standards are lower than on the mainland. Having the rules in place is one thing, but the crony capitalists that run the island state make sure there is no scrutiny and no umpires.

Marie Robb writes: Why it is that Australian forest companies can harvest trees that belong to the Australian people, then process the crop and sell it to a country eg. Japan, which in the 15th century ceased to cut down its own forests. Why do wheat farmers, orchardists, vegetable growers have to grow their own produce but foresters are allowed to harvest public forests, old growth forests? Why can’t they simply grow their own crops? Foresters pay a token amount to the government to cut down our forests and then complain when some of us object!

Lynda Hopgood writes: I know I’m probably being cynical, but I expected a decision like this from Turnbull. In many ways, it was the only decision he could make at this time. He’s effectively given the project the green light (keeping Gunns, Barry Chipman and the forest industry happy) but by imposing extra conditions he has also sent the message that he’s listened to the concerns of environmentalists and other opponents. He’s going to make sure Gunns do the right thing, so those in opposition should respect him for that. The other thing going for it, of course, is that it delays the ultimate decision until after the election, when there will, no doubt, be a different Environment Minister who has to deal with the fall-out.

Christopher Quilkey writes: You can’t be serious? The spokesman for Timber Communities Australia is Barry Chipman? As in wood chips?

Alan Clark writes: Re. “Say no to the pulp mill, Malcolm” (Wednesday, item 13). Harry Butler was right, and there’s nothing un-green about referring to what is now a revived Kakadu as “clapped out buffalo country” at the time he did. It was. The feral buffalo was the cause of much degradation of the landscape. Buffalo broke down barriers between fresh water and salt water and turned wetlands into mud holes. As a consequence, a major buffalo eradication program was initiated over a 20-year period from the end of the 1970s, with significant success, and resulted in the return of the area’s natural ecology. One remarkable aspect of the eradication program is the change in Top End iconography – the Top End emblem was a pair of buffalo horns, and it was used ubiquitously across the government and private sectors. As peoples’ awareness of the damage caused by this feral species grew, the symbol was dropped, despite how wide-spread it was and how far it had gone into Top End consciousness.

Name the shadow ministry:

Alan Hatfield writes: Re. “Don’t I know you from TV? Name the shadow ministry…” (Yesterday, item 1). Christian Kerr makes the very small point with his Name the Shadows competition that we are not all that familiar with the entire first potential Rudd ministry but so what? The Government makes the same very small point when it says that the first potential federal Labor government in 12 years is not “experienced”. It’s the same as the situation in 1996 with the then incoming first federal Coalition government in 13 years when the voters decided to ditch the Keating experience and take a big punt on the to-that-time unelectable and unloved John Howard (“Mr 19% – why does this man bother ?” of 1995 Bulletin cover fame). Now (as then) it’s the current experience that we want to dump and replace it with something new. Next time I buy a new car with features and equipment I have not had on a car before I think I’ll ask the salesman how “experienced” is this car or is completely “inexperienced” ? No, the point in the analogy and the reality is to rid ourselves of something tired, worn out and poorly-performing and replace it with something new and fresh and with new features. I think most people are aware of this and every time the Coalition refers to Labor’s lack of experience they are simply reminding the voters of what they have been experiencing over the last 12 years and reinforcing the case for change.

Steve Johnson writes: Christian Kerr’s humorous comments on the relative anonymity of federal Labor’s shadow ministry reminds me of … that’s right! It was 1996! And 1983! And 1972! Peter Costello? Tony Abbott? Paul Keating? Who were they when they were elected? I don’t know if it bugs anyone else, but the old chestnut of bleating about an opposition’s “inexperience” is a red herring. With the exception of Fraser, changes of government in Australia have occurred after relatively long periods of incumbency. Roughly 24 years of Coalition to Labor in 1972, 8 years to Labor again in 1983, 13 years to Coalition in 1996, and now possibly 11 years to a Labor government in 2007. The sky has never fallen due to great influxes of relatively inexperienced Ministers, and I assume this is because the senior echelons of the public service are sound departmental managers. Or at least those who are not blatant political appointments. It would be interesting to observe who among those senior Howard appointees plan to resign in the event of a Labor victory. It might make for an interesting little vignette on Four Corners or The 7.30 Report once the election is called.

Wayne Robinson writes: What difference does it make if someone is not able to recognise a photo of a politician? I doubt seriously I’d be able to recognise Kevin Rudd in a police line-up, but I am extremely happy to have him as prime minister. I recognised John Howard in an unlabelled photograph in a Turkish hotel 3 weeks ago at a distance of 2 metres, as that “mean scoundrel”.

David Hawkes writes: Christian Kerr will, I hope, run a name the coalition front bench exercise next! So many nameless faces = many holding their jobs for 11 + years.

Cathi Tucker writes: Dunno their names but I can see their s-x. My tally equates 11 chicks out of 42. Where’s the quota in that?

More election speculation:

Mungo MacCallum writes: Re. “Mackerras: 1 December is the day…” (Yesterday, item 11). A statistically minded friend assures me that Howard would be most unwise to hold off until December 1, because no government has ever won a December election. I haven’t checked all the way back to 1901, but it sounds logical, if only because voters get fed up with Prime Ministers who hang on to power until the last minute in the hope that something will turn up. They look both desperate and gutless (think Billy McMahon).

Niall Clugston writes: When will this election speculation get logical? Obviously never – why did I ask? Yesterday in Crikey, Malcolm “The Pendulum” Mackerras argues, based partly on a “Liberal Party friend”, that the election will be held on 1 December. Actually no one, not even Howard, knows when. With 30 years experience, Howard is a master tactician, and he has shown himself totally unscrupulous. Whatever plans he has, he will abandon them in an instant for opportunistic advantage. At the moment, he might as well wait to the last moment in the hope that Rudd trips up. This could merely mean a worst defeat for the Liberals, but Howard clearly doesn’t care about his party. He will retire in any case. This means an election next year – unless the wind changes.

Getting sick of the horse flu:

Mike Smith writes: Re. “The Spring Racing Carnival begins … cautiously” (yesterday, item 22). Damn, I’m getting tired of all the sniveling and complaining coming from the racing industry, oops, sorry, that should be “thoroughbred industry”. I’m sure that if quarantine was tightened to the extent necessary to prevent it occurring, there would be complaints that the government was making conditions impossible for international racing to occur. Let’s tighten quarantine, and let’s make it completely user pays. I certainly don’t feel that my taxes should go towards the costs this frivolous industry incurs.

Thumbs up for autism funding:

James Best writes: Re. “It’s not just what the leaders say, it’s where they say it” (yesterday, item 10). I’d suggest that Mark Bahnisch consider his words more carefully in future. So government funding for “autistic kids” is a ho hum issue, is it? As a father of a 6-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder, and a GP who sees firsthand the devastating effects of autism can have on families I certainly don’t share his view. A recent prevalence study found an estimated one in 160 children by ASD. If Mr Banisch doesn’t know anyone with a child affected by autism he soon will. Parents of children with autism are more likely than any other disability group to suffer from depression and marital breakdown and one of their biggest stressors is a lack of access to adequate diagnostic and intervention services for their children. Early intervention can transform the lives of children with autism, as it has done for our child, but it has cost us over $100,000 of private funds to get him where he is today. People without money have to rely on government services delivered in a piecemeal fashion and as a consequence sit by and watch their child go backwards. I am no fan of the Howard government; in fact quite the reverse, but this announcement means a great deal to many vulnerable people. I only hope that Labor agree to match the government’s financial commitment, which they have yet to do.


John Yealland writes: Re. “The Apprentice Dog Whistler” (yesterday, item 7). I wanted to bring to you attention a great success story of a small facility located in St Mary’s in Sydney’s Western Suburbs. The program they have developed is somewhat unique in how it addresses the real needs of refugees and assists them come to terms with living in a society that is so vastly different to the from which they have come. The project runs on a shoestring budget by the Sisters of Mercy and is recognised as being a very successful program. With all of the current press around difficulties with communities integrating I feel it is important that people be informed of the success stories that are around. Rather than criticise and look to put up more barriers to people in need, why doesn’t the Government look for these successful programs run by people who really care for their clientele and find ways to support and propagate their activities. Sister Mary Louise of Mamre house is a quiet achiever in this area and should be seen as an example and very much someone that people should be talking to in order to find out how refugees such as the ones receiving so much bad press lately can be assisted. The Government has a commitment to espouse Australian values in the new Citizenship test… need we remind them of one of the values contained in the second verse of our National Anthem?

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

Trevor Best writes: Vern Hughes (yesterday, comments) asks whose kids share school with students from Sudan. Well my grandchildren do. Recently when I picked them up from school, the police had a Sudanese mother on the kerb beside her car answering questions. The week before, she had mounted the footpath and crashed into the school fence where dozens of children were waiting to be picked up. No drivers licence of course. Who’s ever heard of driving licences? Now a week later in spite of the offence, she is still driving down to the school. There’s no colour factor in this slight reduction in refugee intake. Just culture. And about time too.

Geoffrey Blainey:

Glen Fergus writes: Re. “Blainey buckets the “one in a hundred year” hype” (yesterday, item 17). For a distinguished historian, Professor Blainey’s knowledge of Australian hydrological history seems surprisingly lacking. “Reliable nation-wide rainfall records only go back to 1900”. Well yes, nation-wide, though even that is arguable. But we’re not talking about a nation-wide rainfall deficit. There are many point records in the area of interest which extend well into the 1800s. I have the Melbourne record in front of me. It’s essentially gap-free right back to January 1856; nearly 152 years of daily readings. Parramatta goes back to 1832, and our oldest record, Windsor Bridge, apparently has some data from 1799. A rain gauge is no high-tech thing. Why would Victorian era Australians have failed to operate one reliably? And why should we ignore their work?


Matthew Weston writes: Re. “Matt Longworth” (yesterday, comments). “The ongoing demonisation of Ahmadinejad” that you refer to, do you think it’s all untrue? That he is somehow a person of virtue? That all of the comments by the IAEA are untrue? That Iran doesn’t have a nuclear program that it hid from the world for some years? That Iran has no gays at all? Just because he is a critic of the US doesn’t make him a beacon of goodness and niceness, and everything wholesome.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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