Complementary and alternative medicines:

Deon Schoombie, scientific director, Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI), writes: Re. “Complementary medicine: time to put public interests first” (Tuesday, item 17). The recent contribution from Dr Ken Harvey and others in the Medical Journal of Australia has generated the expected clamour for action by government and regulators to deal with the claimed problems associated with complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs). As Dr Harvey notes, ASMI certainly disputes some of his group’s findings and recommendations, while it supports others. Much of the critique by Dr Harvey rests on the different regulatory approach between “listed” complementary products and “registered medicines”. But regulation of medicines is based on a risk-based model, which aims to ensure that the level of regulation is commensurate with the level of risk posed by the medicines. CAMs are largely low risk products. They undergo pre-market evaluation for safety and quality, but there is no pre-market assessment of efficacy. However, sponsors are required to hold the evidence to support efficacy claims and there is post-market auditing to ensure that sponsors hold the required evidence. The Listing system is a detailed, computer-based validation that controls a wide range of quality and safety parameters. A company that does not have established quality procedures and pre-clearance for manufacture in an approved pharmaceutical grade manufacturing facility cannot get their product to the market. There is a tendency on the part of some critics of CAMs to generate a level of hysteria across the entire sector simply because these products are not required to undergo the same level of regulatory scrutiny as prescription medicines which are associated with significantly greater risks. For example, Australia is one of many countries to accept traditional knowledge and well-established usage as a foundation for consumer access to traditional medicines. Canada, Singapore and even the European Union have formal regulatory schemes to allow access to traditional and complementary medicines that are of high quality and safe for consumer use when used appropriately. ASMI believes that the design of the Listing system is appropriate to the risks involved and it does not agree with the proposition that it be scrapped. However, post-market surveillance regulatory activities could be significantly enhanced through better resourcing and targeted auditing. Because of the critical importance of addressing public health issues associated with obesity, ASMI does believe that it would be appropriate to focus greater regulatory attention on weight loss products to ensure that consumers are not misled. ASMI also believes that the process for complaints handling should be adequately resourced to ensure it is responsive and timely. Instead of heavy-handed regulation there should be much greater emphasis on informing consumers so they can make decisions consistent with the Quality Use of Medicines. Given the widespread and growing use of CAMs amongst the Australian public, there is room for Government to play a role in funding research that will generate evidence-based findings that inform the decisions of consumers and healthcare professionals. This would help to transfer knowledge between the various healthcare research communities for the improvement of public health.

Heath Ledger:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Sorry, Crikey, the editorial yesterday was a pathetic boilerplate piece. A bit more analysis, please, not just a year 11 juxtaposition of two topics, one serious and global and the other celebrity and human interest. What a missed opportunity. You can do better than that — and you have, many times.

Geoff Pryor writes: Re. “Heath Ledger’s death devoured by media” (yesterday, item 5). God save us from the lobotomisation of public er, um, discourse, via the excruciatingly non-story of an actor who died of an overdose. Not like the good old days when this event (sad though we think it) was just a passing story. There is however always an upside. We now know that one Australian is roughly equivalent to anything of 150, 000 – 600,000 Iraqis. The exact equivalent of Aboriginal people is unclear as yet due to uncertain data. May Crikey reign forever.

Peter Costello:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). How could the “tip and rumour” of open discussion of Peter Costello’s eight figure offer from Mac Bank be possibly true in the current economic climate? Forget Glenn Dyer’s concern about the Future Fund’s potential losses on the stock market – everyone’s super fund goes through that and I have no qualms with a Superannuation Fund (except that that’s what it should be called – because it is the only future it is designed to address). But we get the figures of 2007 inflation running at over 3% all due to the capacity constraints and government spending profligacy of the former Treasurer. Let’s make sure that Costello doesn’t get to get away with it like Howard did – he was not much chop as Treasurer and certainly never controlled the political agenda of his Prime Minister.

The US election:

Paul Bullock writes: Re. “US08: Recession trumps identity politics” (yesterday, item 3). Guy Rundle’s otherwise excellent analysis of the US primaries contained one glaring error yesterday – he describes Fred Thompson’s departure as “depriving the campaign of the hottest first spouse by a country mile.” Rundle clearly hasn’t encountered leftist super-dwarf Dennis Kucinich’s gorgeous 30 year old, 6 foot tall, red-headed wife Elizabeth. In addition to provoking questions about whether Kucinich does, in fact, have magic powers of some description, she has also assured the press that should she become First Lady she will be keeping her silver tongue stud.

Gail Shaw writes: I’ve been waiting for your coverage of the US primaries to discover that intelligent life does still exist in this race. His name is Dennis Kucinich. Never heard of him? Not surprising as he’s been “iced out” by networks such as NBC (owned by GE who hate his anti- nuclear stance) and who’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to exclude him from the national debate. Find out why on dennis4president.com. Plenty of stuff on YouTube too that makes heart-warming viewing for those of us who are numb with disinterest by now but who still find merit in the idea of a real, uncompromising Democrat getting the top job.

Sky marshals:

Patrick Smith writes: Re. “Sky marshals scaled back, common sense returns” (yesterday, item 12). Ben Sandilands wrote: “Sky marshals are a useless, dishonest folly in the view of some people in the airline business, and their being wound down if not abolished would be another sign that common sense is coming back into the security and risk assessment equations.” I am an airline pilot here in the U.S, and I could not agree with you more. I wish there were pundits in America brave enough to speak so boldly. You might appreciate this blog I authored for the New York Times… It was adapted from a series of columns I wrote for Salon.com.

The drivel of a true believer:

Matthew Weston writes: Re. Les Heimann (yesterday, comments). It’s always good to read the drivel of a true believer. I have seen that same argument trundled out with respect to outgoing Labor governments as well — that they always leave the country in need of a rebuild and a strong Liberal government is required. You and your ilk from both sides, desperately one eyed, convincing no one but yourselves that there is truth, honesty and performance in your respective political party. I see that your current hero, Kev the first, offered a truly vacuous promise to fix grocery prices that will come to naught, not a core promise to be sure, but a mealy mouthed pile of tripe designed to sound good and nothing more. Get real, become a critical, rational thinking human being, and assess politicians and political parties on what they do, not what they say or claim.

John Bowyer writes: Les Heimann in today’s Crikey was very strange. I will pass on his silly invective but suggest he stops using metaphors. My old English Teacher over 40 years ago warned me against it! Les, mate, what do you actually mean? You said “tread softly with a big stick” which is a mix of speak softly and carry a big stick from Theodore Roosevelt and probably something Gough Whitlam said. Les say what you mean and mean what you say but remember we have to understand you! Try harder next time.

NT permits:

Stephen Martin writes: I have been corrected by Graham Ring of The National Indigenous Times (yesterday, comments), regarding the issue of permits to enter Aboriginal Land, as I said in my piece I have no problem with the permit system, but questioned Mungo McCallum’s interpretation. I have checked the Northern Land Council’s web page and this is a direct quote from them on the permit system:

If you want to visit, drive through or work on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, you are legally required to have a permit to do so. The permit system is designed to help protect the privacy of Aboriginal communities, preserve Aboriginal culture, safeguard the natural environment and promote visitor safety. Every year, many thousands of people use the permit system to visit or travel through Aboriginal land in the Top End. The Northern Land Council administers the permit system on behalf of the traditional owners of much of this land. Permits are issued only if the traditional owners grant approval.

Anyone for tennis?:

Phil Lynch writes: Re. “Glenn Dyer’s comments” (yesterday, item 20). So, Seven’s tennis ratings up 6% on 2007. Could this have anything to do with a reduction in John Alexander’s commentary role? Less and less is being heard of the ultra boring JA this Open and more and more viewers appear to be returning. There’s a message in there somewhere.

Comments stoush, round two:

John Kotsopoulos writes: Neil James’ extravagant attack on Marilyn Shepherd (yesterday, comments) — “her freedom to hold and propagate extremist, and often distasteful and simply weird, political views is ultimately owed to, and continues to be protected by, those of her fellow Australians who have defended us all” — is as appalling as it is revealing. While Shepherd has often attacked the late and unlamented Howard Government over its ever mounting foreign policy blunders, James has an equally long history of defending the indefensible on behalf of his political confreres, in Crikey and elsewhere, using the “prestige” of his position as the Executive Director of a self-appointed “think tank” that calls itself the Australian Defence Association. James’ attempted savaging of Shepherd demonstrates that he does not understand the nature of the very freedoms he purports to champion.

Marilyn Shepherd writes: Neil James of the many fantasies. There were never any organised crime gangs bringing people to Australia. Just refugees organising and translating for other refugees. Ali al Jenabi for example is just an Iraqi refugee who was sent to prison for saving his family from Saddam Hussein after he had spent years in Abu Ghraib being tortured. Now he has spent years in Darwin prison while his family that he rescued have been busy becoming Australians. He is a refugee by DIMA decree but is locked up in Villawood for a further 18 months. One of the big bad criminal gangsters. Neil James and his own rampant paranoia and belief that David Hicks is a big, bad terrorist and Iraq had WMDs should stick to commentating for the Defence Association.

Daniel Lewis writes: Marilyn Shepherd (yesterday, comments) accuses me of adding “nothing to any debate” before doing precisely this, angrily responding to a number of points I never made in my letter. Something about Palestinians, a comment about terrorists and a paranoid belief that Crikey would censor her, leading to her demand that they better publish her right of reply. Excuse me? Adrian Miller (yesterday, comments) unfairly accuses me of being “sexist and ageist”. I assure Miller that were Marilyn a strapping young 20 year old male, also with a penchant for fabricating facts and defending terrorists I would not cut him any slack either. Sorry Marilyn, it’s not “ad hominem” and inadmissible when someone simply calls you out for a prominent career of making things up. Thus far you have failed to demonstrate otherwise.

Sandra Kanck writes: If Marilyn Shepherd has a fault at the present time it is that the Rudd Government can do no wrong. However, knowing Marilyn – as I have for more than twenty years – when she starts to appreciate that they are not faultless she will attack. But as for her knowledge of refugee and asylum issues, which Daniel Lewis implies is wanting, her digging beyond facile media coverage of the issue has been deep, and I would go to her before Lewis and many others if I was seeking information on these issues. It is sad when passion for human rights is dismissed by denigrating the writer.

Correction:

Alex Mitchell regrets: Re. “Did North Korea close its Australian embassy because of Rudd?” (Tuesday, item 5). My item in Tuesday’s Crikey on the closure of the North Korean Embassy in Canberra wrongly stated Kevin Rudd was “point man” on North Korean affairs at the Australian Embassy in Beijing in 1975. As he stated in his Labor Herald article of 2006: “My first involvement with the North Koreans was in the 1980s. As first secretary at the Australian embassy in Beijing, I had the dubious honour of being ‘point man’ in our less-than-blossoming bilateral relationship.” Sorry, folks.

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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