Quick Post: Note on the Abyan case

There’s nothing new in saying that the public discussion about Australia’s asylum seeker policies is broken.  People who want policy change show no capacity to change the opinions of those who disagree with them; and those who want policies similar to the status quo show no desire to listen to alternative opinions.  It is a catastrophic failure of deliberative democracy.  There are no agreed facts; both ‘sides’ equally guilty of cherry-picking, misrepresenting, and outright deceit.  And there are a shit-tonne of celebrity talking heads and people with political motivations adding more chaos to the mix.  It is broken and will continue to be broken for the foreseeable future.

It’s in this framework that we have Abyan’s case: an extreme consequence of an unresolved, decades old policy problem.

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On why the ‘Refugee Leaderboard’ fact checks are stupid and nonsensical

One group of people claim that Australia is really good at accepting refugees.  Another group of people claim that we are really bad at accepting refugees.  Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  Let’s get every single news outlet to do it’s own ‘analysis’.

This is where we need public intellectuals, people who can guide public discussion and help the public to develop the language to discuss political debates.  If we leave it up to the Professors of Everythingology in Australia’s commentariat, we are going to get the second rate garbage that results in erroneous ‘explainers’.

Let’s go through this slowly.

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Quick Post: Dumb responses to Bill Shorten’s ‘turn backs’ policy

Bill Shorten has had some kind of brain snap.  After years of accurately standing by the position that turning back asylum seeker boats is an ineffective policy, he has announced that the ALP will go to the next election with a ‘turn back policy’.

Because everything in politics has an equal and opposite reaction, the Broekns on the Left have been going apeshit.  Nothing new to see here: the asylum seeker advocates have long been trolling the public discussion with half-truths and misleading slogans.  If we’re going to be serious about asylum seeker policy, we’re going to need sharper analysis of Shorten’s error.

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We hear the playback and it seems so long ago… Outrage didn’t kill Australian humour

Every so often, public discussion leads us to some weird cul-de-sacs.  We look back over the conversations to find out how it is that we’re justifying rape threats as part of a campaign for ethics in video game journalism, that we’re forbidding women from wearing particular clothes in order to promote women’s freedoms, that we’re advocating pushing religion out of the public square in the name of religious tolerance.  The truly great conversations are those where the final point is some freakish inversion of the original problem.

And thus it is with the discussion about Prof Barry Spurr.  An academic makes racist, sexist, and otherwise atrocious comments, and then others claim that calling for his removal is ‘cultural fascism’.

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Quick Post: Average number of GP visits per Australian

Medicare in Australia's brand.

Medicare in Australia’s brand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following Tony Shepherd’s odd-sounding claim that the average Australian sees a GP 11 times per year, there have been a few different calculations floating around.  Here’s mine using the Medicare Item Reports.

I used a slightly anachronistic version of the Medicare Benefits Schedule Book, but my total population count is going to be a bit out as well.

I’m going to count only professional attendances by a GP.  So sayeth the Schedule Book:

A.2.. PROFESSIONAL ATTENDANCES

Professional attendances by medical practitioners cover consultations during which the practitioner: evaluates the patient’s
health­ related issue or issues, using certain health screening services if applicable; formulates a management plan in
relation to one or more health ­related issues for the patient; provides advice to the patient and/or relatives (if authorised by
the patient); provides appropriate preventive health care; and records the clinical detail of the service(s) provided to the
patient. (See the General Explanatory Notes for more information on health screening services.)

A.3.. SERVICES NOT ATTRACTING MEDICARE BENEFITS

Telephone consultations, letters of advice by medical practitioners, the issue of repeat prescriptions when the patient is not
in attendance, post mortem examinations, the issue of death certificates, cremation certificates, counselling of relatives
(Note ­ items 348, 350 and 352 are not counselling services), group attendances (other than group attendances covered by
items 170, 171, 172, 342, 344 and 346) such as group counselling, health education, weight reduction or fitness classes do
not qualify for benefit.

I end up with two groups of numbers.  The first group are those Medicare items which relate only to when a person goes to see a GP.  That is, they get up and drive over to the GP’s consulting rooms and see the GP in the GP’s office or wherever.  They are items: 3, 23, 36, 44, 5000, 5020, 5040, 5060.

Then there are the items which relate to when a GP sees a patient, regardless of whether the patient came to the GP or the GP went to the patient (say, at a hospital or a Residential Aged Care Facility).  That gives us the group: 20,35, 43, 51, 5010, 5028, 5049, 5067, 4, 24, 2503, 2518, 2547, 37, 2506, 2522, 2553, 47, 2509, 2526, 2559, 5003, 5023, 5043, 5063, 3, 23, 36, 44, 5000, 5020, 5040, 5060.

Population of Australia (today): 23,480,869 (it’s a bit high for an exact figure, but it’s close enough).

For the calendar year beginning January 2013 and ending December 2013, the number of times a patient went to see a GP at the GP’s office or whatever:  111,447,266.

Average number: 111,447,266/23,480,869 = 4.75.

For the calendar year beginning January 2013 and ending December 2013, the number of times a GP saw a patient wherever:  115,883,440.

Average number: 115,883,440/23,480,869 = 4.94.

This excludes things like telehealth, &c., &c., but I’m fairly sure they won’t rock the boat much.  I could be missing Medicare items (the range I’ve got is items 3 to 51, 193, 195, 197, 199, 597, 599, 2497­-2559 and 5000-­5067 — although 193, 195, 197, 199, are acupuncture) but nothing significant.  Some incentive payments will be missed; no big deal.

So there you go.  Tony Shepherd said that he worked out his number this way:

I use that as a bit of a throwaway line, but put it this way: there are 253 million visits a year. That’s 11 times 23. So, you know, there’s a lot of visits going on each year in our – to doctors and providers under the Medicare system. [Source]

The Department of Human Services’ annual report 2012-13, said there were 265 million Medicare services bulk billed.  So Tony Shepherd is actually saying that we have an average of eleven Medicare billed items per person.  If the average person is seeing the doctor a bit under 5 times per year, this statistic actually means that the very sick in our society are requiring significantly more services than the ordinary person.  Well, no duh.

The question arising from all of this: if the average number of visits to the GP is less than 5, are we really going to introduce a $15 GP fee to push it down even further?

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Sitting in the Dschungel… We do have political satire, Mark. They’re called newspaper cartoons and they suck. #auspol

I like satire.  I really do.  Last week, I wrote in defence of satirical news programmes, claiming that they form a necessary bridge between the public and the issues of the day in a format that suits the audience.

But something was wrong.  Something was niggling at the corner of my memory.  Shortly before Presentmas, a few days before I posted that entry, I went to the Behind the Lines: The Year’s Best Political Cartoons exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House).  As very few people still read newspapers, it’s a chance for the broader public to see what the very best Australian political cartoonists produce.

As I’ve written before, Australian political cartoonists are dreadful.  Since writing that, I came across Simon Doonan’s article in Slate about why the art world is so loathsome. Among other things, Doonan discusses the idea of modern society being in a ‘post-skill’ environment:

“No major figure of profound influence has emerged in painting or sculpture since the waning of Pop Art and the birth of Minimalism in the early 1970s,” writes Camille P. But what about those annoying YBAs, the young British artists, the folks that noted U.K.-based art critic Brian Sewell has wickedly and accurately dubbed “The Post-Skill Movement”? Are they profound or influential? [Source]

It’s a wonderful phrase, if used carefully.  Used inexactly, it’s the vehicle for the sneering and pompous attitude of previous generations of artists towards anything done by newer generations.  Used precisely and surgically, it helps to describe the ugliness that results from a rejection of tradition.  Art cannot exist outside the critical response to the traditions which made it possible.

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Quick Post: On @antloewenstein’s wishlist for journalism #auspol

English: Rupert Murdoch at the Vanity Fair par...

Over on The Guardian, Antony Loewenstein has written a wishlist for journalism in 2014.  Without gazumping it too much (it’s a good read), Loewenstein has four items on his list: reduced reliance on anonymous sources, a ban on politicians penning opinion pieces, greater investment in the ‘Snowden effect’, and increased lauding of public broadcasting.

Although the piece is interesting and fun, it’s also an example of the sort of thing that I don’t want to see in 2014.

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Are Bills of Rights immoral? A reply to @ashhirsch #auspol #auslaw

In response to an article I wrote arguing that rights legislation was ineffective and cumbersome, Asher Hirsch responded with a fairly common assertion:

[tweet https://twitter.com/ashhirsch/status/410537128649428992]

The best response to this assertion was from one of the drafters of the Australian Constitution, Alexander Cockburn:

Why should these words be inserted? They would be a reflection on our civilization. Have any of the colonies of Australia ever attempted to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law? I repeat that the insertion of these words would be a reflection on our civilization. People would say-“Pretty things these states of Australia; they have to be prevented by a provision in the Constitution from doing the grossest injustice.” [Source]

It’s sometimes been said that Australia has a ‘she’ll be right‘ attitude towards legislated rights.  In a sense, that’s correct.  For the most part, we expect Parliament to share our moral intuitions and not to pass laws which are repugnant to those intuitions.

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That’s me in the corner… On the question of s116 of the Constitution #auslaw

The Guardian was lovely enough to publish one of my articles arguing that Australia should avoid having a Bill or Charter of Rights.  The argument there is fairly straightforward.  Despite popularising the Bill of Rights, the United States has a shocking human rights record (the example I chose was McCarthyism); thus, Bills of Rights aren’t terribly effective.  Secondly, because the Bill of Rights is very broad, it has resulted in perverse outcomes (the example I chose was the Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing of funerals — the First Amendment protects them but not the family burying a loved one).  Further, because we lack a Bill or Charter of Rights, Australia has been able to score some impressive legal victories, such as the Plain Packaging Tobacco legislation which isn’t possible in other jurisdictions.

The point is summed up here:

When society lost interest in upholding the lofty rhetoric of rights, the First Amendment didn’t come to the aid of the heretics. A Bill of Rights has not stopped the US trying to find a new definition of pain and suffering in the belly of offshore detention centres. Conversely, when the Australian Government sought a referendum to acquire the power to pass anti-Communist legislation, Australians voted it down. The best rights protection will always be an engaged and critical electorate, not a parliament with rusted on training wheels.

This doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.  Challenging the assumptions behind human rights legislation is ipso facto a difficult task.  Our culture ideologically prepares us to accept rights as legal norms, making it difficult to even express the idea that human rights are problematic.  Thus, I’ve had quite the interesting range of feedback.  Some people thought I was attacking human rights out of a libertarian campaign to take people’s property.  Some people thought I was making an anti-Indigenous statement.  And one person pondered whether or not I was actually Andrew Bolt.

A few commentators and a few e-mail correspondents had some interesting responses, particularly in relation to this paragraph:

Our constitution also fails to defend religious freedom. In Snyder v Phelps, SCOTUS discovered this right protected the Westboro Baptist church’s right to protests at military funerals. Our deficiency has meant Australian courts might consider other priorities, such as the welfare of children. In a 1978 case called The Marriage of Paisio, the family court found that “certain practices, albeit given a veneer of religious justification, are in fact so positively harmful to the welfare of the children that they must be removed from the influence of those who advocate such practices”.

One person took umbrage with this in fairly strong terms: ‘Section 116 of our constitution explicitly protects religious freedom. It is worded almost identically to the US religion clauses – though Australian courts have read them somewhat differently. I wonder if you would correct your blatant error of fact.’

I’ve written about s116 before but, in the interest of not writing turgid legal essays, I kept away from drilling into a thorough analysis of the section. So let’s go on an adventure through the wonderful world of s116 of the Constitution and why it’s not what you think it is.

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Quick Post: Akerman shouldn’t be wrong about #PeppaPig (#auspol)

In (yet another) post bemoaning bias at the ABC, Piers Akerman has exposed himself to ridicule by claiming that children’s programme Peppa Pig pushes a ‘weird feminist line’.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the statement, up to and including the adjective ‘weird’ to describe a ‘feminist line’.  That it descends further into a claim about ‘Labor’s Handbag Hit Squad’ should reveal that this is Piers seeking attention rather than making a serious point.

But here’s the thing: both Akerman and the people who are criticising his comment are tacitly agreeing that there would be something wrong about Peppa Pig taking a feminist angle in its show.  ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Piers!’ say the nay-sayers, ‘It is a children’s show and therefore isn’t feminist.’

Why shouldn’t Peppa Pig take a feminist angle?  What would actually be so wrong with a programme that lays the groundwork for indoctrinating children in a particular political construct? Continue reading