Brendan Murphy
Chief health officer Brendan Murphy (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Unity ticket Nine’s Peter Hartcher is worried about the rise of autocracy around the world. On Tuesday, he quoted at length a report examining the decline of democracy abroad, focusing on the United States and China. Fortunately, he says, Australia is “a beacon of liberty in a darkening world”.

It’s strange Hartcher is so inconsistent in spotting signs of encroaching autocracy, though. He was a cheerleader for the government’s village idiot-level assault on encryption in 2018, possibly because it was supported by his friends in the intelligence services who’ve proven such useful sources for his slew of recent pieces attacking Chinese influence in Australia. And you’ll struggle to find any mention by Hartcher of the Witness K/Bernard Collaery case, despite it being the biggest scandal of recent Australian history and right slap in the middle of his bailiwick as “international editor”.

Hartcher eagerly backed Scott Morrison’s hilarious and bizarre cyber-hysteria episode in June, in which he endorsed the government’s plan to give spy agencies the power to take control of IT and communications systems (and complained — echoing a government talking point — that Australian business was “wide open” and remarkably complacent” about cyber attacks). No mention, of course, that the biggest cybersecurity complacency is within the Morrison government itself.

Uhlmann watch Speaking of Ninefax columnists, Chris Uhlmann used his weekly missive in two of the nation’s biggest newspapers to complain that pro-transgender “zealots” were silencing people like him.

Uhlmann recounted the tale of Tasmanian Senator Claire Chandler, subject to an anti-discrimination complaint over her comments about mixed-gender bathrooms and trans athletes.

Amid numerous references to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (because they’re victims of a witch hunt, geddit!), Uhlmann argues human rights commissions who hear discrimination complains act as “advocate, prosecutor, judge and jury,” denying people a “keystone democratic right of a fair hearing”.

Uhlmann is wrong: human rights commissions don’t prosecute, or make judicial determinations. Generally, they act as an impartial party, investigating and conciliating the mediation of complaints. A complaint might go before a court or tribunal, only if that process fails.

The trans debate, Uhlmann argues involves “questions of truth and identity”. That debate would be far better if it was based on facts.

Aged care funding falls Chief federal health minion Brendan Murphy has admitted Australian seniors died unnecessarily in nursing homes because of the government’s too-late-too-little intervention in a sector that, despite Morrison’s insistence otherwise, is funded and regulated by the federal government.

That demands a continued spotlight on funding of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which has quickly gone from shiny new regulator to discredited watch-poodle in the pandemic.

The commission is intended, eventually, to be “budget-neutral” — funded by the fees it charges the aged care industry to accredit facilities, including through the apparently all-too-rare unannounced inspections.

In 2019-20, its first full year, it received $69 million from government. That is supposed to be cut back to just $52 million in 2022-23, with the commission’s “own source income” — fees from accreditation — increased to $30 million. Except, the government has budgeted for the commission not to increase its level of accreditation, so fee income will remain static while government-sourced funding declines, meaning the commission’s overall budget will fall, from a peak of $90 million this year to $84 million in 2022-23.

That funding profile over the forward estimates might change in Tuesday’s budget. Right now, it’s not a good look that the government’s funding for, and overall funding of, the body allegedly regulating aged care will fall substantially over the next couple of years.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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