Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Carbon Tax Battle

With a week to go in the Federal election it seems mostly done and dusted. The Mad Monk has his nose in front. Swinging voters are unimpressed with their choice of PM and are picking the "lesser of two weevils".

Throughout the campaign Labor has sought to hide from the Carbon Tax. And every day in every way it's all the Coalition talk about.

It's the swampy ground in the battlefield. The Coalition stands on the high ground thrusting its spears and swords at Labor, pushing them back down the hill towards the swamp. Tony's war machine flush with the funding of the Mining Baronesses and Barons is relentless. Rupert Murdoch sits at the very top of the hill, hurling his grenades at the hapless Labor ranks below.

Labor, for its part, dare not set foot in the swamp. It tried filling the edge of the swamp, changing from a fixed to floating price just before the election. We abolished the swamp they said. But Tony knew it was still there. His language and his attack never changed.

So Labor stands its ground, pushed against the edge of the swamp. It fights on trust. Says you can't trust Tony. Tony smiles, looks directly at the camera, says "Trust me. You know you can't trust them. Just look at... Carbon Tax."

A skirmish erupts over Paid Parental Leave. Welfare for the rich, with a reverse means test. The richer you are, the more you get. Easy target says Labor, let's attack. Again Tony smiles. "Now everyone thinks I have policies" he says to his nervous lieutenants. At least they're not looking under the fig leaf where we've hidden Direct Action. To the camera he says, "it's cheaper than the the Carbon Tax".

And so on it goes. Labor surrounded on all fronts, it's back to the swamp. The grenades and spear thrusts gradually wearing them down. The end will come soon enough. Tony will be King.

Unless someone in Labor stops fighting for a second and takes a good look at the swamp. "Hey, Comrades there's some firmer ground in there. Look, emissions are down, that's looking solid. How many $ Billion is Tony giving to the rapacious, largely overseas owned energy and mining companies. Tony's plan is not only a $10 billion plus tax cut to some of the biggest polluting corporations on the planet, he then chucks another few billion at them as 'incentives". Is this not the single largest ever gift given to a group of people, most of the populous think should be paying more tax? A vague, shifting path appears amongst the reeds.

A minion rushes up to PM Rudd on the front line, he waits. He is amazed as Kevin simultaneously juggles a phone line to the UN, his dagger (a short blade to pry loose detail), his NBN Sword, his Spear of Economic Success, his beautiful bejeweled Schools Mace, all twirling in a dazzling spectacle largely unwitnessed by the population. The waiting media usually only filming when he stops to mop his brow and give his fringe a flick. At one such moment the minion steps forward, bows and hands him a note from a trusted friend.

"It is time my friend. We must enter the swamp and lure him there. We cannot win on any other battleground." Kevin doesn't like the swamp. The night of the long knives was because of the swamp.

But as he looks up the hill, sees Murdoch directly the artillery, Tony confidently cycling back and forth between his troops, he realises Tony actually doesn't like the swamp either. He shouts about it. He points his finger and complains of the smell. But he never enters.

Tony's great skill is to attack his opponents on his own weak points. If he's been caught lying, he will talk about nothing else other than the PM's lies for a week. Projection, triangulation, call it what you will, but it has been very effective.

His most effective attack on Labor over a long period has been the Carbon Tax. A campaign of extremist lies and scare. During this election campaign Labor has tried to hide from it.

This election keeps being compared to 1993. Where a large target Hewson, was worn down by Keating. This is not that election.

Look instead at Howard, having introduced the unpopular GST, he had to stand by it. So the election became a referendum on the GST. He won. How? By convincing enough people that it was a necessary reform and it was working.

The impact of climate change on this country will be devastating. Let's talk about wiping towns off the map. My town, Ballina, will cease to exist in its present form if the globe warms 2c. There'll be something left, but the main part of town will be under water. The cane fields on the flood plain will be gone. Further west, towns will die from lack of water.

The greatest risk of a leg of lamb costing $100, is when we've stuffed agriculture from a changing and much drier climate, not a tax on corporations that at its worst adds 9% to electricity bills.

It's time to attack Tony's strength, The Carbon Tax, to enter the swamp that prevents an orderly retreat for Labor and instead leads to slaughter.

Kevin gathers his most trusted lieutenants, "I know it's not popular, I know we've copped a pasting on this so far, but we're gonna have to own up. We introduced the Carbon Tax/ Price/ Pollution Charge/ Tip Fee. But we did it for a good reason. It's working. It will make a difference for our children and grand children. Now is not the time to turn our back on their future."

This election has always been about the Carbon Tax. The main political battleground for the past 6 years will not go away.

He can't pretend any longer. Kevin turns his attention away from his opponent. "Bring me some torches" he calls to the Campaign Team, "Let's shine some light on this path." And with this Kevin turns and leads his troops into the swamp

One week in the swamp is all he needs.

One week in the swamp is all he's got.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fluoride and Consenting Adults

As newly elected Councillor for Ballina Shire, my phone doesn't usually run that hot. Normally I can drop my little man at day care and get to work without too many interruptions. Not any more.

It is only a couple of days since I poked my head up and expressed an opinion on fluoridating the Ballina water supply. I knew this was a hot button issue from the number of questions on fluoridation I recieved during the election, but I have been surprised at the ferocity of the attacks on my judgement and my scientific understanding.

If I was advocating that fluoride be added, I'm sure I would have copped a bucket load of criticism from the anti-fluoride brigade. To say these people feel passionately about fluoride is about as understated as you can get. I mean, I've spoken against fluoridation and I've still had calls from fluoridation opponents at 6am. Big hint to all concerned here: don't ring at that time if you want me (or anyone else) to listen to your point of view.

But no, the attacks on my scientific knowledge, intelligence and judgement have come from health professionals and politicians. I'm eithern ignorant of the facts, playing populist politics or have been captured by a vocal minority. I believe none of these is true.

I first studied biomedical science and ethics as part of a Bachelor of Science completed in 1990, with majors in natural resource economics and science and environment policy. From 1995 to 2000, I was Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Qld and a member of the West Moreton Health District Ethics Committee.

A large part of my work was contributing to a complete re-write of Queensland legislation that dealt with consent to medical treatment, namely The Power of Attorney Act 1998, the Guardianship Act 1999 and the Mental Health Act 2000. In addition to a range of other improvements, for the first time, a person that experienced episodic mental illness gained a legal means to refuse Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), through an Advanced Health Directive developed in conjunction with their Doctor.

Now I agree it's a big jump from ECT to fluoridating the water supply, but the issues of consent and the right to withhold consent to treatment are central to both.

It's probably more than a coincidence that both also gained popularity around the same time, the 1950's & 60's, when our State Institutions swelled with unmarried mothers and homosexuals in need of 'psychiatric' treatment. I dare say that the standards of consent to treatment were substantially less than we would find acceptable today.

So the first question to answer is whether adding fluoride to the water supply constitutes medical treatment.

The Therapeutic Goods Act says this depends on whether the addition of Fluoride is for therapeutic purposes or simply one of the chemicals (eg. Chlorine) used to ensure clean water. Given that the sole reason advanced for the addition of Fluoride is the prevention of caries, this is clearly treatment. That it is a preventative action makes no difference, if you add something to the water supply to achieve a therapeutic outcome it constitutes medical treatment.

I agree with all the scientific evidence presented by NSW Health and the Australian Dental Association, fluoridation of the water supply has substantial oral health benefits. I'd also agree that there is a very low risk of side effects from such low levels of Fluoride, but I cannot accept that there is no risk.

There is a body of peer reviewed and corroborating evidence published by The Harvard School of Public Health in July 2012 that high levels of Fluoride in the water can result in impaired intellectual development in young children. There is no data that corroborates such a finding in regard to low fluoride levels, but the study was unable to establish a minimum threshold. It gives lie to the suggestion that there is no risk.

While the people who believe that fluoride is a toxic poison or that they have a personal susceptibility may be a little fervent in their beliefs and over zealous in their methods, they, for all other purposes, are sane. They cannot be ignored. They have a right to object to treatment without consent.

In my view, without that consent, local authorities cannot proceed with fluoridation. Even if two thirds of the local population want fluoridation, you cannot interfere with the water supply to achieve a therapeutic goal without the consent of the other one third.

I would also note that there has been some medical professionals linking opposition to fluoridation to an anti-vaccination stance. They are wrong. As the father of a young child, I strongly encourage following the approved vaccination program and wish there was a far higher vaccination rate in this area.

As in the case of fluoridation, I urge everyone to accept the science. I believe however that there is a substantial difference between supporting an active vaccination program and seeking to inoculate an entire population through the water supply.

It must also be understood by the community that in the case of vaccines, there is no effective alternative treatment.

If your baby gets sick from Whooping Cough, s/he may die. By not immunizing your child, you increase the risk not only for your child, but also for my child. I'm not impressed.

In the case of fluoridation, there are a range of other, less intrusive options, to achieve these same health outcomes.

If fluoridation of the water supply is a medical treatment then any consumer of that supply has the right to withhold consent to that treatment.