Opinion piece published in The Examiner, 4 May 2020 (available here).
Captain James Cook's world-class navigational skills changed the world when he landed at Botany Bay in April 1770.
This historic and heroic achievement is worth celebrating even after 250 years. The fact it was not celebrated as it should've been is to be regretted. Not only was it a class act of navigational expertise for the era. It was also a world-changing event.
As our national treasure and pre-eminent historian, Prof Geoffrey Blainey AC said: Captain Cook
"...indirectly made possible present-day Australia which, despite its many failures, is surely one of the success stories of the world."
Australia as a modern nation 250 years after Cook's magnificent discovery stands amongst the best, if not the best, in the world. Blessed with a civil society, a democratic constitutional monarchy, rule of law, personal freedoms, peace, and comparative wealth untold, we are home to a nation full of people from the four corners of the world living in harmony. It's no secret we are the envy of the world. And for good reason. Their judgement and assessment of us as a people and a country of opportunity is not wrong.
Cook and his crew would never have been able to imagine what their discovery would usher in. For his time Captain Cook's advancement through the ranks was an exception as he came from humble beginnings working on the ships delivering coal from Yorkshire to London. His sheer capacity and personal skills allowed him to advance and be the quite rightly celebrated hero navigator of his era. His achievements based on the opportunities afforded him based on merit is worthy of celebration and passing down to the next and following generations.
Failing to pass on the history of this giant and his integral involvement in the establishment of modern Australia is to do not only Captain Cook and his crew a disservice but an especially huge disservice to our children who are entitled to know the history of their nation.
And let's remember, Captain Cook set out on a voyage of scientific and geographic exploration - not invasion. He was a man of his time, not ours. As such his legacy must be viewed in that context.
We should never reduce our nation's great history to a narrow grievance fault-finding focus. Our history, like that of every country (and indeed every individual), has its unattractive elements. But these elements should never be allowed to define our national narrative given we and our forebears have achieved so much.
As predictable as night follows day so there are the few who seek to shroud the Cook achievements in darkness with a smattering of alleged negative missteps. In doing so they very capably look past the log in their own eye to identify a speck (real or more likely imaginary) in Cook's. The one imponderable question the naysayers will never dare to ask, let alone answer is: But for the Cook discovery and English settlement what would've been the destiny of this great south land?
The meeting and indeed clash of cultures 250 years ago can't be undone. While a few busy themselves feverishly finding fault with our past, true leaders busy themselves building for the future.
As a migrant from a non-English speaking background, I for one am thankful for Cook and his legacy. It should be celebrated. So from me at least, a big thank you to Captain James Cook and his crew. Your legacy lives on in the foundations of the best country in the world.
Likening COVID-19 to the heroic and historic arrival of Captain Cook in 1770 by Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer has been dismissed as ill-informed, ill-timed and terribly ill-advised by Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz.
“The Deputy Chief Health Officer might do well to learn from the relevant experts in the field like Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC before she foolishly wallows into disciplines of which she clearly has no understanding,” Senator Abetz said.
“I’m sure her medical expertise is exceptional. Her attempt in the discipline of history would be hysterical if she didn’t expect to be treated seriously. This tortured, non-relevant attempted analogy may enhance her “wokeness” credentials amongst the few but will leave the vast majority of Australians demanding a focus by her on the urgent task at hand,” he continued.
“She should delete the tweet and stick to the task at hand,” Senator Abetz concluded.
SENATOR THE HON. ERIC ABETZ
LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA
27th April 2020
Abetz downloads Coronavirus Contact App
Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz has downloaded the Coronavirus Contact App after careful consideration and being satisfied with the extensive privacy safeguards.
“Whilst expressing my instinctive reluctance to accept government monitoring devices I’ve been persuaded on balance that the protections are so strong and the monitoring so minimal that the app’s design is a well-constructed, balanced response to the pandemic.
“What is more, this tool will enable us to resume normal activities more quickly than otherwise.
“Having a strong commitment to small government with limited interference in our daily lives I was initially concerned about the prospects of a monitoring app. But given the voluntary nature of the app, the capacity to delete the app at any time, its automatic deletion of data after 21 days and the exceptionally restricted access to its information I am convinced it will be a worthwhile tool to assist our monitoring of the virus and our return to a normal lifestyle.
“The conclusion I’ve come to is an ‘on balance’ decision and I believe it to be in all our individual and national interests. I encourage all Tasmanians to download the app – it is highly protected from a privacy point of view and has the capacity to save lives, jobs and our economy by potentially ushering in an earlier lifting of the current restrictions.”
Opinion piece published in The Examiner, 21 April 2020 (available here).
Life is certainly different. Jarringly different.
So too, will Anzac Day 2020 be different. Very different.
No marches, no parades, no dawn services, no mingling for a coffee or community breakfast afterwards, or a few beers at the RSL or pub.
Nevertheless, we can and should commemorate our veteran community, especially the over 102,000 of our fellow Australians that made the ultimate selfless sacrifice for our benefit.
We can all do the right thing by tuning in at 5.30 am on Anzac Day to The Australian War Memorial's nationally broadcast service which will be available on ABC TV, ABC Radio, Facebook and iView. Let's all make the effort to set our alarms to honour our defence personnel and watch the service.
After which we can participate in one minute's silence at either 6 am or 11.30 am if not both. There will also be a special Tasmanian commemorative service broadcast at 11.30 am on ABC Northern Tasmania.
While the social side of Anzac Day is denied us this year it affords us the opportunity to engage in some deeper introspection reminding ourselves of the selfless bravery and commitment to our future to which our defence personnel dedicated their service.
They believed it was worthwhile to commit in as serious manner as is possible to the protection and defence of the virtues that underpin our society and which we all too often take as a given. Virtues such as our freedoms to speak and worship and to own property.
The virtues of democracy, the rule of law, and a civilised society. Regrettably, a very few still suggest that commemorating Anzac Day is a glorification of war. This is simply untrue. It would be like suggesting Easter is a glorification of crucifixions. If that is your view you've completely lost the plot.
At Easter, we celebrate the selfless sacrifice of our Lord that we might have the blessing of eternal life. Similarly, with Anzac Day we commemorate the selfless sacrifice by our defence personnel that enables us to live in freedom and in a civilised society.
Thankfully the Anzac Day detractors are diminishing in number as the numbers at dawn services swell to record levels with the attendance of younger people.
In Tasmania, we have 10,500 war veterans and ex-service personnel. Our gratitude can be expressed by participating in commemorations and also in our day to day activities with each other in our families, workplaces and society at large asking how we can be of service.
We have many people already living such a life of service. The Headstone Project which provides headstones to the unmarked graves of our WW1 veterans, Legacy, the RSL'S, and those pursuing a VC for our very own Teddy Sheean.
Not everyone is suited to our military but everyone is suited to making a contribution to our fellow Australians through community organisations. This would be a great way for us to show we have not forgotten the service of our veterans.
Lest we forget.
The latest announcement from the Chinese Communist Party regarding the restrictions on academics publishing information on the origins of the coronavirus is a dangerous move that not only threatens the world’s ability to fight the coronavirus but requires a deep re-examination of our academic collaboration with China.
Opinion piece published in The Examiner, 6 April 2020 (available here).
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
This wise old saying has been lived out by our forefathers in our community for centuries during droughts, floods, wars, and depression. And it’s being lived out again by most of us in 2020 as we face the coronavirus and its impact.
Lives cut short, liberties curtailed, jobs destroyed, retirements shattered, livelihoods and plans marooned, and economies demolished are just some of the stark realities we face.
The far-reaching and exceptional consequences for the lives of our fellow Australians have been brought home by the legion of inquiries I’ve received this past fortnight.
Issues ranging in no particular order:
- How to bring home loved ones from the four corners of the world;
- How to apply for the support provisioned through the taxpayer;
- How to iron out anomalies;
- How the working holiday visa holder left without a job is to fare;
- How to conduct church services;
- What is an essential job/business;
- Can counselling still take place?
- And spare a thought for the couple who were contractually bound to vacate (through sale) their house in Victoria but had not yet settled their purchase in Legana and so were denied entry to Tasmania because they weren’t residents (all now thankfully resolved).
In these tough times, we need to draw on our own reserves of resilience and goodwill to ensure we remain individually and socially civil. We need to encourage each other in these behaviours as well.
The overwhelming feedback received by my office is the acceptance, indeed a willing and deliberate rising to the occasion, that we are all in this together. So patience, courtesies and compliance with requests from authorities are all being exercised along with the requisite physical distancing.
My odd morning jog sees fellow joggers/walkers taking wide berths from each other with a compensating big smile and greeting. Community at its best – staying distant yet friendly.
While it seems we are in this for the long haul, it is vital we continue to exercise civilities and do our bit. And remember we are going through this to help protect the lives of the physically vulnerable. Every life matters. Each one of us counts.
And then, when we emerge on the other side with our full liberties restored we will all nevertheless need to retain this Team Australia approach as we pay down the huge debt burden, restore jobs and the economy, whilst also ensuring we rebuild sufficient resilience in the event of (God forbid) another pandemic or worse. To achieve this for ourselves, our families and our Nation we will need to re-embrace some old, yet tried and tested virtues – such as self-reliance, putting aside for a rainy day, shunning the entitlement mentality be it in payment of taxes owed or claiming welfare, and not putting all our eggs in the one basket to mention a few.
Talking of eggs and baskets… happy Easter and let's revive ourselves spiritually in this season of hope and renewal and bring those qualities to bear now (hope) and when we emerge on the other side (renewal).
Opinion piece published in The Examiner, 24 March 2020 (available here).
Difficult times give us the opportunity to display our best selves. The coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for us to shine. Let’s grasp it.
We have a choice. We either put our selfishness into overdrive or we consider the needs of others. The Biblical injunction of “Do unto others as you would have them to do to unto you” is not only a worthy saying, but a practical guide for social and individual life, especially in the current circumstances.
Difficult as the coronavirus situation is, and the uncertainty of its consequences for all of us medically, socially and economically we can make things worse for everyone by foolishly panicking, abusing shop staff and ignoring the expert advice on hygiene and social distancing.
A few facts may help:
- We produce more than enough food (for 75 million people in fact and more than enough toilet paper for that matter) to ensure we won’t go without – so no need for stockpiling;
- Limits on purchases are only necessary because of the selfish few foolishly stockpiling – let’s only buy what we genuinely need;
- The limits are not the fault of the workers in the shops – don’t let them bear the brunt of any frustration;
- We enjoy excellent aged and health care systems – let’s assist them;
- Let’s remember that whilst the coronavirus may have originated in a particular country it’s not the fault of the people within our community who may have originally come from that country – we’re all in this together irrespective of our ethnic origins;
- Our democratic parliaments have risen to the occasion to deal with the arising issues in a considered, calibrated and caring manner with the best interests of the potentially most vulnerable in mind.
We all need to pull together, work together and support each other in these times so that after it’s all over (as it will be) our minds will be full of the acts of civic mindedness rather than punch-ups in shops and the trampling of a 13 year old girl (in Perth, WA) in the toilet roll aisle. How would we want our children and grandchildren to remember us? – The one lending a helping hand, or one filmed fighting for toilet paper – neither dignified today nor a worthy legacy.
We can all do our bit. We can remain patient with staff in shops and service sectors who need to tell us bad news. We can extend a helping hand and support to do the shopping or assist in other ways.
- Our banks giving interest rate/loan relief;
- Councils giving rates and other fee relief;
- Landlords giving give rent relief;
- The State Government giving payroll tax relief;
- The Federal government giving tax relief with business activity statements;
- Employers striving to hold onto jobs and workers reciprocating to help keep their employer afloat;
- Unemployed or displaced workers filling the void in agricultural sectors that are too reliant on overseas seasonal workers.
The potential list is endless. Whilst our governments are doing everything they reasonably can, we all have a role to play.
The current times also remind us that it is always wise and prudent to save for a “rainy” day. Not to put all our eggs in the one basket – especially economically. Over reliance on one cohort of customers may provide great short term yields but also risks over exposure with potentially dire consequences. Thirty years recession free may have given us too great a feeling of security. Yes, lessons need to, and will be, learned but in the meantime we need to work together co-operatively for our common good.
In the words of our longest serving Prime Minister, Robert Menzies:
“We believe that under the blessing of divine providence and given the good-will, mutual tolerance and understanding, energy and individual sense of purpose, there is no task which Australian cannot perform and no difficulty which she cannot overcome.”
We face a difficulty and we will overcome it.
For coronavirus updates, please see https://www.health.gov.au.
Opinion piece published in The Mercury, 24 January 2020.
A BIG contributor to this summer’s bushfire crisis has been the fact that as a nation we have not dedicated enough effort to fuel reduction burns.
Fires need fuel to burn, and the amount of fuel that has built up in a fire-prone area is of enormous importance to the scale and severity of a bushfire. Managing fuel loads is therefore critical to combating the threat of bushfires. In the words of Victoria’s Chief Fire Officer, “By reducing fuel loads, we won’t stop fires from starting, but we can reduce their spread and intensity when they do, making it easier for our forest firefighters to bring them under control quickly”.
Figures on the Green Left have taken faux exception to the valid identification of the role played by environmental activists, often with ties to the Greens Party, in obstructing fuel-reduction burns. They say that because the Greens do not control majorities at any level of government, they cannot bear any responsibility for preventing fire mitigation.
The Greens, who politicised this summer’s fires by blaming the Coalition for what they claim is a lack of seriousness to the so-called “climate emergency”, now complain their party is being criticised.
Let us examine the facts, which prove the truth about fuel loads prejudicing our capacity to minimise bushfires.
To take one example, the Environment East Gippsland group became the centre of attention this month when some members were caught celebrating the destruction of the Eden Woodchip Mill on the NSW South Coast, a business that had provided hundreds of jobs. The group is headed by former Victorian Greens candidates and staffers and organised protests in 2018 and 2019 against burn-offs in Gippsland under the guise of protecting biodiversity. As readers will be aware, Gippsland has been savaged by fires. Had it been possible for local authorities to perform proper controlled burns to manage fuel loads, the fires need not have been so large and uncontrollable.
Consider the dissenting report presented to a House of Representatives Select Committee into Recent Bushfires by Greens MP Michael Organ. Mr Organ quoted approvingly an academic who claimed “broadscale hazard reduction is threatening biodiversity conservation and must therefore be avoided by land managers and resisted at a political level”.
He concluded that “broadscale hazard reduction must be replaced”. Mr Organ’s report opposed prudent measures such as large-scale fuel reduction burns and expanding fire trails.
In Tasmania, the Greens have a similar track record of obstruction, notwithstanding former state minister and now senator Nick McKim saying in 2013 that “the Greens, in all the history of our political party, have never opposed a fuel-reduction burn, ever”. Yet in April 2013, the Tasmanian Greens voted against a motion by the then-opposition Liberals for the state government “to adopt in principle an annual fuel reduction burn target of 5 per cent of suitable public land”, a target that matched the expert recommendations of the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission established after Black Saturday.
The previous year a Greens media release said the residents of Maydena “deserved better” than the “burn-offs that they were subjected to this week”, adding that “this practice has simply got to stop” and “we’re all better off when this Neanderthal practice stops and disposing of forest by-products is done far more responsibly”.
How responsible is it to let forest by-products accumulate on the ground to provide fuel for a conflagration.
Paul O’Halloran, when a Greens MP, had declared burn-offs were a threat to health and wellbeing, moaning that “once again Tasmania’s beautiful autumn days are blighted by the dense smoke plumes blocking out the sun and choking our air” and blaming the forestry industry.
In 2016 former Greens federal leader Bob Brown attacked autumn burn-offs, stating “the picturesque autumn scene is filled with manufactured smoke. It’s outrageous. These forest-destroying burns should be banned”.
The Greens claim in their official policy they support burn-offs for the purpose of saving lives and reducing the intensity of fires. In practice, they always find a reason to oppose each proposal. Not once have the Greens publicly endorsed or promoted a fuel reduction burn. Given recent protestations I look forward to their first public support for a fuel reduction burn. Because of the scale of the fires this summer, it is more important than ever the Greens’ track record of contributing to the problem is exposed.
Ill-informed calls to introduce “pill testing” at Australian music festivals, such as the impending the Falls Festival in Tasmania, need to be resisted. Drugs kill and harm. No “ifs”. No “buts”.
Pill testing is in no way a proven way of preventing drug-related deaths. The evidence we have about how pill testing works in practice, both overseas and in Australia, should give policymakers strong reservations.
The UK first began pill testing in 2013 and, with government sanction, it operates at many major music festivals. If the argument that pill testing prevents deaths was correct, we would expect to see a reduction in the number of fatalities since 2013. Instead, the opposite occurred, with ecstasy-related deaths in the UK more than doubling from 43 in 2013 to 92 in 2018.
A study from the Australian National University into a pill-testing trial at a festival in the ACT gives further genuine cause for concern. It unsurprisingly found that testing resulted in a “significant overall rise in patrons” intention to use the tested drug”.
In other words, testing made people more, not less, likely to consume drugs. Pill testing gives a false sense of security and legitimises the use of a highly destructive substance.
Pill testing promotes drug use by changing individuals’ perception of the very real risk involved. By giving the illusion that testing means drugs can somehow be safe, individuals are actually encouraged to take them. But there is no such thing as safe ecstasy use, and to give young Australians any illusion to the contrary is irresponsible.
These concerns have been raised by toxicologists Andrew Leibie and Dr John Lewis, who note that any claim that pill testing increases the safety of illicit drugs is dangerously misleading.
This is because the methods used in pill testing are imprecise. They are poor at detecting mixtures of different substances in a pill, are not able to detect newer varieties of drug, and, crucially, cannot measure the dosage.
Leibie and Lewis make another vital observation that is willfully ignored in the debate — the six individuals who died after taking ecstasy last summer died from its side effects, not because they took contaminated pills. Testing the pills would have only confirmed them as ecstasy.
These shortcomings expose both the danger and uselessness of pill testing.
Policymakers should not do anything to encourage young people to take drugs in the false confidence that they are doing so safely. And this is not to mention the serious long-term health impacts of ecstasy use, or the incidences of injury or death caused indirectly by its consumption (such as car accidents).
When the wellbeing of the next generation is at stake, good intentions in public policy are never good enough.
We should not be seduced by trendy policy ideas that implicitly endorse the use of drugs, by suggesting it can be done safely.
The only proven and guaranteed way to prevent harm from drugs is to not use drugs. We need the strength, courage and conviction of policy-makers to protect our young from the devastating impact of drugs.
Opinion piece published in The Australian, 4 December 2019
It’s time for the federal government to seize control of fire mitigation and management in our nation. The human, financial and environmental costs of bushfires are immense. The states have largely failed in this area because of the insidious green influence in our state bureaucracies, locking up vast tracts of land, destroying access tracks and refusing permission to reduce fuel loads. A new federal approach would prise the management of fire mitigation from the states and, if done properly, offer a counter-intuitive way to restore effective local control.
Now the most recent fires have abated, it is time to reflect on why we continue to allow them to devastate us and our landscape without proper mitigation strategies.
For the 2007 federal election I prepared on behalf of the Howard government a $10m bushfire mitigation fund, announcing it in the ruins of the Wielangta Forest in Tasmania after a massive burn. This was an area the Greens wanted “preserved” from forestry. With sustainable forest practices and a ready workforce, the devastating fire could have been extinguished before it took hold, with wildlife and habitat preserved. Instead, habitat and wood production were both lost.
The important role of local mitigation strategies has been neglected in relation to the recent fires due to an exaggerated focus on climate change. Yet this interpretation fails to provide any explanation for the recorded history of fires in Australia from the first days of European exploration. Captain James Cook described Australia as “this continent of smoke” during his maiden 1770 voyage. My home state of Tasmania has the Bay of Fires, given its name by Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773 for the obvious reason.
Since European settlement destructive bushfires have been a regular occurrence. The biggest remains Black Thursday, in 1851, which affected a quarter of Victoria and burnt five million hectares. This compares to 1.5 million hectares burnt in NSW in the most recent fires. Bushfire has been a constant menace in our history, as even the most casual examination of the record will reveal.
Even if we accept the mantra that the recent fires are principally due to climate change, however, then this surely suggests that more stringent mitigation activities need to be undertaken to reduce the risk. But that would require something the inner-city Greens don’t want to acknowledge — an uncompromising reduction of the fuel loads in our forests. Yes, the cold burns would put CO2 into the atmosphere, but the forest litter ultimately will be burnt in a hot fire or slowly decompose releasing the trapped carbon dioxide in any event.
There is no doubt that cold burns will reduce CO2 emissions over time and also preserve trees for sustainable harvesting, providing a much-needed, genuinely renewable resource and habitat for wildlife. I’ve seen “reserved forests” preserved for koala habitat, denying forest workers and their communities a livelihood, being turned into an eerily silent scorched landscape without a single ant or bird left, let alone a koala. Yet koalas had cohabited with forestry in the region for more than 100 years.
Recent experience proves that locking up our forests neither preserves biosecurity nor our native wildlife. In fact the opposite is true. Policies formed on a lack of basic understanding in our cities stifle locals from clearing their land, reducing fuel loads, removing trees from nearby houses, and so on. As a result, there is considerably more fuel for fires that break out, increasing their scale and severity.
The counter-productive impact of green and red tape imposed by state governments in the name of environmentalism needs to be acknowledged. Realistic and practical approaches should be the order of the day and the warm, fuzzy, feel-good policies leading to disaster after disaster, and which have led to so much destruction, need to be rejected.
When it comes to our approach to bushfires, we can no longer afford the status quo. The cost to taxpayers, not to mention the human cost, is profound. We need to pursue a coherent national approach that will combine the weight of the federal government with local knowledge and expertise. The guiding role played by the federal government under such an approach would enable a comparison of performance and practices in different areas, with the aim of compiling a national repository of knowledge local practitioners could draw on to learn from experience elsewhere. This will ultimately save the taxpayer, life, limb, property, wildlife and habitat.
It would be a far more impressive bottom line than the charred devastation with which we are left under today’s approach.