Opinion pieces

Celebrities lack credibility to commentate on our fish farms

(First published in The Examiner 13 July 2021)

Would you take any notice of a fish farmer critiquing a novel? Hopefully not.

We would rightly question the skill set, experience, qualifications, and capacity of the fish farmer to offer such a critique. We might even be sufficiently uncharitable to question the ego and conceit at embarking on such an enterprise with the expectation of being taken seriously.

A fiction writer seeking to critique fish farming should be treated with similar disdain.

Yet our media entertains a fascination for the cult of celebrity, which sees actors who earn a living repeating other people’s lines and pretending to be someone else as having credibility on matters as diverse as forestry, climate, water, agriculture, and lately fish farming. The same goes for sportspeople, authors of fiction, film directors – insert the celebrity type of your choice.

Like all of us, they’re entitled to their opinion and express it. What is lacking is a close examination of the credibility to commentate on a particular topic.

One particular star sportsman came to Tasmania to tell us how to run our forest practices. When asked in a private conversation what he knew about the topic, who had briefed him, and how long had he been studying the topic, the responses were excruciatingly embarrassing. The media failed in asking any of those fundamental questions.

The same tactics which were employed against our truly sustainable and renewable hydro energy generation were transported to our world-leading forest operations. Today, the target is fish farming with a fiction writer leading the charge. Really? On what basis is he even reported? Sensationalism and clever use of words and phrases are his stock in trade, which makes for compelling fiction to draw us in which in turn sells his books. Taking the same approach to denigrate a Tasmanian icon – our salmon – does a huge disservice to Tasmania.

Let’s get a few things into perspective. If all our fish cages were to be put together, we would be using one square kilometre of Tasmanian waters. In comparison, Tasmania is 68,401 km² in size.

As Emeritus Professor Colin Buxton of the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) has found after a lifetime of study and research, our salmon farming is recognised as being the best in the world.

Health experts encourage us to eat fish on a regular basis. Our wild fisheries cannot produce our requirements. So farming fish is the answer, as we do for eggs, meat, vegetables, fruits, and cereals.

Indeed, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon are extensively promoted by health experts to reduce the risk of cancer.

Yet our fiction writer seeks to scare with the exact opposite assertion, with selective quotations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which does studies to establish the link between certain food types and cancer.

And yes, all sorts of foods are mentioned in various category ratings – bacon, alcohol, processed meats (Cat1 meaning cancer-causing), while red meats are in Category 2A suggesting they may be carcinogenic.

And guess what? Tellingly, salmon is not listed as a carcinogen by the WHO.

The good thing about writing fiction is you don’t have to tell the truth.

Given salmon is positively good for you, recourse is disingenuously had to how they are grown with reference to additives to their diet to keep the fish healthy.

Tested regularly, the fish abide by our high-quality standards.

For consistency, would our fiction writer denounce fluoridated toothpaste? Eat a teaspoon of fluoride and see what happens! Yet in small doses, it does help suppress decay.

Which reminds us all of the sensible approach to life – everything in moderation.

Sensible, moderated, informed, and balanced public discourse has never been the extremists’ way. It’s “no dams” – good luck getting water to drink. It’s “no forestry” – good luck reading the paper or building a house. And now it’s “no fish farms” – good luck preserving our wild fisheries and having an affordable balanced diet.

These extreme campaigns have never been in Tasmania’s best interests. They’ve destroyed Tasmanians’ jobs and our regional communities. Fish farming allows them to return.

What could be more Toxic than fiction writers turning their craft to destroying the jobs, hopes and aspirations of our fellow Tasmanians in our regions, which provides us with an affordable recommended health food and relieves pressure on our wild fisheries?

The over 2000 direct sustainable jobs provided by fish farming has breathed new life into our regional towns, their schools and community assets. Their payroll taxes pump literally millions of dollars into State coffers each year, which in turn is used for education, health, etc.

Being an integral part of regional communities, our fish farms sponsor and support local sports and charities as well.

We need to reject celebrity fiction in favour of facts. 

Equity needs to trump emotion on refugees

(First published in The Examiner 29 June 2021)

Refugees.  Instinctively we seek to help them.  It’s a good instinct. They add to our social fabric.

Yet there are millions of refugees and Australia cannot take them all.  And then there are those who seek to game the system by falsely claiming refugee status.  Those that are taken in cost the Australian taxpayer with resettlement assistance support and add to the country’s infrastructure needs.

Even with good intentions, glib and superficial policy responses are insufficient to provide a principled, considered and fair framework for Australia’s intake.

So what needs to be considered?

As a relatively wealthy country, we should provide help via foreign aid and resettlement to those most in need.

There is, of course, a limit to the aid we can provide and the numbers we can resettle.  The help government provides in these areas is funded out of our pockets as taxpayers.

Once the intake number is determined for any one year, the government needs to determine those to whom resettlement is offered.  Australia is a sought after destination for many people of the world because of our Judeo-Christian heritage and Western values.  As a result, it stands to reason there will be some who will make false claims to gain entry.

The criteria, therefore, need to be objectively clear to determine refugee status and places then allocated to those most in need.

Not easy, but a task that needs to be undertaken methodically and fearlessly.  Hollow sloganeering makes for sensational headlines and fertile ground for emotional, knee-jerk responses but it falls desperately short when it comes to rigorous and fair policy.

Having visited refugee camps where people designated by the UN as refugees have waited for years on end for resettlement, you get an insight into their genuine plight and desperation.

Given Australia’s limited capacity for taking refugees, the question arises whether it is compassionate, fair, indeed reasonable, to afford priority to those who have never set foot in a refugee camp, by-passed safe haven after safe haven in pursuit of the most desired destination and then have the financial capacity to engage criminal people smugglers.  A clear-thinking moral compass points the needle elsewhere.  Unsurprisingly, this was the exact plea of those with whom I met in refugee camps.

The heartbreaking stories of people displaced patiently waiting in refugee camps for over ten years with no internet, no air conditioning, no certainty of meals, no medical help, not even sanitation, tells you they are the real deal.

Spare a thought for their well-being – disease, dietary, mental – you name it.  The uncertainty year in year out would be extremely taxing on anyone’s well-being.  Yet, they don’t demonstrate.  They’re just thankful knowing they can sleep safely.

Refugees have added to Australia’s economic and social well-being.  They are welcome.  Australia is both generous in the numbers taken in and with the support provided.  With such a world-leading record, we are right to be robust in determining whom we let into our country and on what terms.

Under the Liberals, one of those terms has been the criteria of genuine need.

Compassionate conservatives deliver strong border protection, allowing a humane, orderly intake of those most in need besides stopping the criminal people smugglers.

A few facts on the Biloela family whose situation has recently generated a lot of heat but not much light.

Firstly, at every stage, the family has failed in their bid to be classified as refugees from Departmental assessment right through to the High Court.

Secondly, their situation has been prolonged by their own continual non-acceptance of each determination which has found against them, which they have appealed all the way to the High Court.  It is their right to appeal but not to then complain as to why their case has taken so long.

Thirdly, 1500 of their fellow Tamils have already returned to Sri Lanka. If they’ve returned, it stands to reason that it’s safe to return.  

And for clarity – whilst the children of the family were born in Australia, they aren’t Australian citizens given their parents have failed in convincing any tribunal right through to the High Court that they should be considered as refugees.

Therefore, making an exception for one person opens the door for everybody else in that position now and into the future while also denying someone else who needs a place.  

Australians have rightly and overwhelmingly supported this balanced, sensible, and fair approach at the ballot box because they believe in equity over emotion.

ABC's lack of transparency must be stamped out

(First published in The Examiner 15 June 2021)

ABC – A Bit of Consistency?  If only.

Our national broadcaster (the ABC) has an important role to play and provides a vital service to us.

Yet our ABC, for which we pay well over $1000 million each and every year from our taxes, lets down itself and the Australian people.

The bias is palpable.  The hypocrisy unbearable.

The ABC is also part of the “Right to Know Coalition”, a group of media outlets insisting they should have relatively unfettered access to information and the right to report it. Listening to their advocacy at a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, you would be convinced butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth.

Fast forward to recent Senate hearings; the ABC had the audacity to claim a public interest immunity (the details of which have not yet been submitted) to avoid answering the question of why $55,000 of our taxpayers’ money was paid to an ABC employee – not as a salary but as a bonus!

Without even asking for the name, the denial of information was blocked at the most basic level of questioning of whether this outrageously high bonus was paid for journalistic endeavour or administrative skills.

Readers will recall the breathless reporting, including by the ABC, of the $3,000 Cartier watch bonuses provided at Australia Post because it was taxpayers’ money.  The silence at the ABC bonuses, the highest of which was $55,000, was truly deafening.

It is the same taxpayers’ money.

At Australia Post, we found out who got it and for what.

The ABC, which preaches transparency and the right to know, won’t tell us to whom or what for they paid a bonus worth about 18 Cartier watches to one person.

Senate hearings also revealed our taxpayers’ money to the ABC being diverted to pay $3,000 to a US Capitol Hill rioter who faces eight criminal charges and was known as a rioter to the ABC before he sold footage of the riot.  The moral compass?  Absent it would seem.  We are entitled to expect better from our national broadcaster. What’s more, US authorities have now confiscated monies earned by this rioter for the footage he took and sold.  Our taxes at work courtesy of the ABC.

This fellow was recorded on his own footage inciting the crowd encouraging the burning of the Capitol.  The ABC reports President Trump as being responsible for the riots and fails to mention that the person they contracted for the footage was actively inciting the crowd.  Hardly fair or reasonable, let alone open and transparent.

That aside, the recent Senate hearings also revealed a number of corrections and clarifications the ABC needed to make to various reports.  Fair enough. We all make errors.

But if all the errors are on one side of the ledger, the uninitiated and naïve might be forgiven for thinking there might be an issue of systemic bias.

The corrections and clarifications in recent times were all in relation to reports initially putting the federal government and its programmes in a poor light. No such corrections and clarifications were necessary for accidentally putting the government and its programmes into too positive a light.

Previous questioning about corrections to stories relating to areas as diverse as forestry and Israel showed all the errors were on the side of portraying both in too negative a light. Not once accidentally putting forestry or Israel in too positive a light.  Surely, we the taxpayers’ bankrolling the ABC deserve better.

Conservatives tend to be supportive of our truly renewable forestry sector.  They also tend to support the only liberal democracy which also believes in the rule of law in the Middle East – Israel.

In relation to Israel, the ABC broadcast stories asserting war crimes emanating from the UN which the UN later clarified as being incorrect.  So far, so good. 

Instead of airing the correction emanating from the UN, the story was simply corrected/clarified online. So all of us who listen or view the news as we are driving or making dinner and don’t go online to check for corrections were never advised of the truth.

At the time when questioned, the ABC advised it gave an on-air correction for accidentally misattributing a particular piece of music to the wrong composer.

An error so egregious it was worthy of an on-air correction the next day.

Vital to set the record straight on such a matter of importance. 

Yet, trivial issues such as alleging war crimes against a friendly nation are seemingly not worthy of similar treatment.  In an era of growing extreme right-wing activism and anti-Semitism, this is particularly concerning.

Let’s hope our ABC becomes A Bit more Credible.

New proposed curriculum ignores the fundamentals

(First published in The Examiner 31 May 2021)

GIGO.  A neat, concise acronym often employed by computer programmers, stating the obvious – Garbage In Garbage Out.

Feed incorrect information into the programme then the computer will provide incorrect information in return.

The same applies to our children and the education system.

With slipping standards in numeracy, spelling and the basics - our education system needs to refocus to ensure our children aren’t sold short.  The basics of spelling, language and mathematics are the passports for later personal independence and specialisation irrespective of which field of endeavour our children seek to pursue.

I well recall meeting indigenous elders some years ago who fully understood this imperative, telling me they were using the royalties they earned from their lands to develop a private school to give their children the best start in life.  They recalled how the missionaries taught them the standards they had been able to attain, only to see the standards slipping with their children and grandchildren as the government took over the schooling.  They were seizing control of their children’s future.

Into this malaise enters the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA – yes, thankfully it has an acronym!) with a new proposed National Curriculum.

Parents concerned for their children’s education might have reasonably hoped there would have been a reassessment in the national curriculum to ensure the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) might be re-emphasised.  Silly you.

What can be more important to get you underway in life than to understand identity politics, how to rubbish the Judeo-Christian underpinning of your society, how to feel guilty for your skin colour or how to deny the roots and diverse sources of our highly successful Western civilisation.

Indigenous history and culture have been part of the core curriculum for some time – as it should be. As should western history and culture.  To deny our children knowledge of their society’s heritage, history and culture is just as cruel and damaging when indigenous history and culture was denied to indigenous children.

Recently, Education Minister Alan Tudge said Australian children should learn about their Western heritage because they would be less likely to defend their “free, rich, egalitarian liberal democracy” if they do not understand it. He is absolutely right. I would argue further and say an effective way to destroy a society is to deny and obliterate its own understanding of its history.

The foundation to the success of our Western civilisation is the freedoms that the Judeo-Christian values enabled – freedom of speech, conscience, association, religion, and movement, to name a few. These values are seemingly completely inconsequential when compared to the imperative of “woke” agendas like identity politics.

In the Civics component of the proposed National Curriculum, teaching about our foundational values is discarded in favour of “direct action” and “use of lobby groups”. 

Where is the celebration of our heroes?  How we achieved such an egalitarian society, equality before the law, one vote per person and our democracy.  Are strong nation forming figures like Barton, Menzies and Hawke mentioned?

Instead of examining facts, figures and statistics, substitute is had to a negative self-image of their race and country. It fuels grievance politics rather than inspiring them with stories of our heroes.

The agenda is about engaging ill-informed activism, not about understanding a system that has evolved and withstood the test of time, making Australia one of the oldest enduring democracies in the world.  A record worthy of celebrating and protecting and learning about its rich history.

The disturbing aspect in all this is that the National Curriculum is compulsory – for both State and private schools.  So, parent-controlled schools would be powerless to fight back and reclaim the curriculum for common sense from political correctness.

Parents and community members who believe the next generation deserve so much better than they are currently receiving need to become active and let their representatives know that enough is enough.

Just in case it needs saying – our teachers do a magnificent job.  We should salute them.  Just remember they teach what they are told to teach.

The proposed national curriculum currently resembling a woke activist workshop agenda -it needs radical amending to transform it into a genuine curriculum.

The difficulty we face is that the rot set in at our Universities when the Humanities were subverted from teaching the heritage of our culture to promoting cultural Marxism and its toxic mix of identity politics, critical race theory and gender politics.  All attributes that are fixed, as opposed to all the attributes which celebrate our common humanity irrespective of race, colour or sex.

Our Education Ministers (State and Federal) have an opportunity to turn the acronym GIGO into Good In – Good Out.  A good, strong educational background produces good, independent and self-reliant citizens.

Hare-Clark or Hare-Brain?

(First published in The Examiner 18 May 2021)

Having just come through another State election (with congratulations to the Premier and his strong team), many Tasmanians are again questioning, praising or criticising our unique electoral system.

The Clark part of the system is now immortalised not only in the name of the system but also in the Tasmanian seat of Clark (formerly Denison), which played the crucial role of finally delivering majority government.

The gentleman concerned was Andrew Inglis Clark, who also played a key role in the Federation and our Constitution.

In round figures, the Liberal Team scored 48% of the primary vote, i.e. No.1 votes.

In any other system (given preferences), this would translate into an eye-watering landslide result of which Prime Ministers Fraser, Howard and Abbott could’ve only dreamt.

In Tasmania, it translates into the slimmest of majorities of one seat.

In the election before, where the Liberal team did slightly better (with over 50% of the primary vote), Premier Hodgman had only a one-seat majority as well.

Requiring such huge margins to form stable majority government tests the system to its limits.

This is especially the case when it only takes one individual in the majority team to use this “power of one” to link up with the Opposition to push legislation and ideas which they could never achieve in their own Party room. 

It also allows them to connive with the Opposition to get the plum job of Speaker – as a random example.

 If everyone in the team played that game, our Tasmanian governments would be an absolute rabble.  Thankfully the moral compass of most team members allows them to recognise that not all wisdom resides between their ears and the coach determines what position on the field they will take.  They also recognise that wearing the team colours got them elected, which, in turn, suggests collegiality is the decent approach.

If everyone selfishly chose their own position on the field, the whole match tactic would be thrown asunder and a stable, decisive government denied to the people.

Hare-Clark also makes it easier for independents to succeed.  Some independents receive a blaze of undeserved publicity. Their stifling impact on decision making largely ignored.

Tasmanians, one suspects, recall the recession-inducing Green/Labor governments in Canberra and Hobart from 2010 – 2013.  Today, eight years later, Tasmania is the economically stand out State.

The cheering on of destabilising independents is unhelpful to sound stable government besides being unfair to other candidates.

The breathless reporting (not by this paper) of a “non-politician” who desperately seeks public office for the fourth time was just one example that springs to mind.

In Clark, the media’s championing of independents has helped see the election of an independent at the expense of Labor.

This will weaken Labor and its role as an effective opposition.

Independents are never asked about balanced budgets, unemployment rates, or the importance of making savings.  They just cheer for every horse on the track without ever having to put their own money on one.  They then seek to stand in the reflected glory of whomever the winner might be.

Commentators who act as unsubtle cheerleaders need to be held to account, especially when they get it so wrong.

During the campaign, names were mooted for success as “stand-out” candidates.

Names of people were thrown up as potentially threatening sitting members who then come last in their electorate despite the attempted leg up.  It is comforting to see that this favouritism did not translate into support at the State election.  This was most obvious with one expert commentator suggesting replacing a sitting member who actually went on to top the poll for all parties in Franklin.

But back to the one-seat majority.  Should we get rid of the Hare Clark System and move to single-member electorates like the Legislative Council?  Or should we increase the size of the House of Assembly back to 35?  Unlikely to be popular with the electors who should nevertheless reflect that the fewer number of politicians there are, the less the scrutiny of the ministry and bureaucracy.

As an aside, Lyons MP John Tucker will need to start thinking about his election advertisements for 2025.  His “Beauty and the Beast” in 2018 and “Don’t be a Sucker” in 2021 injected imagination and spunk into otherwise dull campaigns.

Which, by the way, suits the government of the day.  It usually translates into a mood supportive of the status quo.

Congratulations to all the candidates who put their name before their fellow Tasmanians offering themselves to serve.  To the successful ones – it’s an awesome privilege to which is attached awesome responsibilities.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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