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Letters to the Editor

From time to time, a commentary on the world will bubble up inside of me to the extent that I'm forced to write a letter to my local, metropolitan, daily newspaper, The Age. This is where I blow of some steam. Feel like venting too? Add your own comment or visit my homepage.

Friday, September 29, 2006

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Socialise The Losses ...

Frost-afflicted fruit farmers will share in a $5M government payout (The Age, 29/9/2006), rewarding them for not taking out crop insurance. Does this mean all Victorians can look forward to Bracks underwriting their busineses?


Thursday, September 28, 2006

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Bailing Out Rural Businesses

The Age opines that frost-affected stone-fruit farmers took "the sensible, and expensive, precaution of watering the ground" (The Age, 28/9/2006). What about that other sensible precaution - buying crop insurance. Too expensive? Or not taxpayer funded?


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

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Commercial Risks in Agribusiness

What a study in contrasts. Premier Bracks denies 138 tobacco farmers access to taxpayer largesse on the grounds that the decision to cancel their contract with BATA is "a commercial arrangement" (The Age, 27/9/2006). Meanwhile Federal Agriculture Minister McGauran promises that farmers hit by losses of $70M from frost-affected stone fruit crops are "likely to receive help" (The Age, 27/9/2006).

Frost is a very common event. As such, farmers' losses stem from their reluctance to insure their crops, not the frost itself. Isn't that decision to self-insure a "commercial arrangement" too? Or perhaps they just cannot buy insurance at a price they'd like? This is, after all, how Mr Howard justified the Federal Government bail-out of farmers in Queensland after Cyclone Larry hit their uninsured banana crops. Of course, farmers won't take out insurance when they know the Federal Government will step in and use taxpayer funds to underwrite their businesses.

This social agrarianism is further evinced in the state Nationals' bid for several billion dollars worth of taxbreaks and pork-barrelling under their proposed "Country First Fund". We should demand healthy, happy and prosperous rural communities. This means rural businesses should be viable without taxpayers picking up their insurance bills or letting them shirk their tax obligations. Conservative politicians have let farmers cash in on the rural gerrymander with debilitating long-term consequences.


Friday, September 22, 2006

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Having a Spray on Water Reform

Arrant nonsense and unfair representations are acceptable in scathing sarcasm, as long as the point gets made. Or, at least, it's a funny read. Professor Sharan Beder's ugly spray on water reform (The Age, 21/9/2006) achieves neither. Instead, she makes spurious and unsupported allegations about the calamity that would ensue if market-based reforms were adopted. Could politicians, regulators and consumers tolerate water being "harvested from gutters" (including "syringes and doggy poop"), industrial waste water (with heavy materials) being "poured down the drain" and partially-treated sewage being sold unknowingly to consumers "at five times" the price? These are not just mischievous rhetorical flourishes, but agitprop deliberately designed to spread fear and muddy the debate.

What's really going on? Professor Beder clearly wants to continue the present regime of subsidies to farmers (regardless of how efficiently they use water). She also wants to subsidise poorer households by keeping water artificially cheap for everyone. Market-based reforms will get in the way of those goals. It's fine to support the status quo, but Professor Beder needs to explain how the present system is both socially fairer and more environmentally sustainable. Exploiting fear of change and willfully poisoning public opinion is a disgraceful way to advance her cause.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

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Doctors' Fatigue Kills

The suicide of young doctor Chanh Thaow, following a similar case last year with Lachlan McIntyre, is tragic (The Age, 12/9/2006). We need to question the ability of the medical fraternity to deliver necessary reforms for doctor training. Many friends of mine have come through this process, and I'm sure I'm not alone in being gob-smacked at the ridiculous hours they work and the extreme pressure they're placed under. I doubt any other workers would tolerate the treatment afforded to young doctors.

To an outsider, the medical working environment, with its rigid heirarchies and absolute control, seems a throwback to the 19th century. It's like they're trapped in a bubble. Indeed, the arrogant and dismissive reaction of one small part of the system - the College of Surgeons - to outside scrutiny speaks volumes about their capacity to change (The Age, 12/9/2006).

These entrenched attitudes don't just affect doctors' welfare. Last financial year, The Age reported on 122 "sentinel events" (or serious medical errors, 34 resulting in death) in Victoria's hospitals (The Age, 31/5/2006). It's reasonable to attribute at least some of these mistakes to the stress and fatigue borne by young doctors.

For too long the medical fraternity has had carte blanche to regulate itself like no other group in society. It's time to for them to open up.


Friday, September 01, 2006

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Water-Saving Tips or Rinse and Spin?

The Age is to be commended for the handy guide to how Victorians can save water (Focus, The Age, 1/9/2006). Sadly, domestic usage comprises just a few percent of our state's water consumption, with many times more used in irrigation.

In the interests of water-saving, rather than spin, we should have seen "Lobby your MPs to remove wasteful subsidies to farmers, implement market-based measures (such as water trading) to ensure water gets to where it's best used and create incentives for businesses to invest in water-saving infrastructure."

Farmers won't cover their irrigation systems while they're getting artificially cheap water. And Victoria won't become drought-proof by shaving another couple of percent off state consumption.