Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Trump’s foreign policy proving to be dangerously unpredictable

Though the attack on the Syrian airbase ordered by Donald Trump appears to be an impulsive response to President Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons it also marks an abrupt departure from Trump’s ‘America First’ mantra that so dominated his Presidential campaign and inauguration.

So too does his belated support for NATO, his sudden demonising of Russia, and the sending a flotilla of US warships to the Korean peninsula.

Or the Cruise missile attack on the Syrian airbase could have been a smokescreen designed to draw our attention away from the fact (real. Not ‘alternative’) his meeting with the Chinese Premier last week achieve absolutely nothing – zero, zilch. No resolution to the South China Sea island building dispute, no Chinese currency reform, no end to the ‘One China’ policy, no reversal of the trade balance to make it more equitable, and no end to American industry (and jobs) being ‘exported’ to China.

Last week President Trump even did a total about face, declaring now, after all the bombastic rhetoric to the contrary, that  China is ’’Not a currency manipulator”! (BBC World News 13 April). Really?

And at the same time Mr Trump suddenly announced that NATO is worthwhile and should be supported, rather than abandoned.

Which may be due to another U turn, i.e. the rapidly deteriorating relationship with Russia. During the election campaign and in the first weeks of the Trump presidency there was much speculation and justifiable concern that Trump & Co were much too close to Putin & Co, and even that Russia had intervened in the American election. Best friends are now apparently worst enemies.

The Syria and North Korea interventions may be nothing more than Trump suddenly deciding to act ’Presidential’, or perhaps it is the same old tendency to ‘beat the drums of war’ when domestic policy goes belly up, but the impulsiveness in itself is also a cause for concern as it indicates a worrying level of instability. Just to prove that point came news on Good Friday of all days that he had dropped ‘the mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan! Go

With regard to Syria specifically, Trump’s reactive response to the disputed use of chemical weapons could lead to that country’s civil war becoming at best a proxy war between the USA and Russia, and at worst a wider regional or even world-wide conflict.

“Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally bomb Syrian airbases with more than fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles is deeply fraught. The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless President,” Acting Australian Greens Leader Senator Scott Ludlam said.

Perhaps former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was right when he told the National Press Club last week that Trump is “the most ill-informed, ill prepared ethically challenged and psychologically ill- equipped president in US history”.

Yes indeed. This type of dangerous and impetuous action is exactly what the Greens have been concerned about since the election of Donald Trump. Here in Australia we are shackled to an ally which has no foresight, no strategy, and a deeply insecure and erratic President.

Which leads to the obvious point that it’s also time to ramp up the campaign that Parliament rather than the PM and Cabinet should decide whether or not Australia goes to war.

e response to the disputed use of chemical weapons could lead to that country’s civil war becoming at best a proxy war between the USA and Russia, and at worst a wider regional or even world-wide conflict.

“Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally bomb Syrian airbases with more than fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles is deeply fraught. The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless President,” Acting Australian Greens Leader Senator Scott Ludlam said.

Perhaps former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was right when he told the National Press Club last week that Trump is “the most ill-informed, ill prepared ethically challenged and psychologically ill- equipped president in US history”.

Yes indeed. This type of dangerous and impetuous action is exactly what the Greens have been concerned about since the election of Donald Trump. Here in Australia we are shackled to an ally which has no foresight, no strategy, and a deeply insecure and erratic President.

Which leads to the obvious point that it’s also time to ramp up the campaign that Parliament rather than the PM and Cabinet should decide whether or not Australia goes to war.

 

 

 

My weekly Op Ed column in today’s Daily Advertiser: Housing affordability crisis can and must be solved

It seems as though we are bombarded every day with stories about rising house prices in the east coast capital cities, with Sydney taking the prize. Though such stories may seem irrelevant to Riverina residents they do have implications for us.

To a much smaller degree the capital city price rises do trickle down to regional cities and towns, but that’s not their broader significance. Rather what we all need to be concerned about is its ramifications for social services such as the old age pension.

More of that later, but before examining it the reasons for the price rises and governmental lack of action to curb them need looking at.

Whether house prices have been inflated by the government’s extremely weak argument of limited supply or because of policies such as negative gearing and the current shape of the capital gains tax have created incentives to investors rather than family based homeowners, government policy is now trapped in a vicious cycle. The wealth accumulated in our houses has become a central part of the retirement system, and the government itself can’t afford for prices to fall.

Generous tax subsidies and asset test concessions on the family home have incentivised the accumulation of wealth in property and fuelled demand pressures in the housing market for decades.

As a result the family home has become a cornerstone of the Australian retirement system. Sustained house price increases have allowed government income support to be set at historically low levels, based on the assumption that the low-income elderly will be housing asset-rich, and can therefore get by on smaller pensions. That’s why our pensions are, compared with many other countries, so low.

Clearly we need to fix this very broken system. As Peter Wish-Wilson, Greens Treasury spokesperson said last week, the Government needs to end its reckless support for negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts that are fuelling a housing crisis.

Senator Whish-Wilson said, “It doesn’t seem to matter which expert comes out against negative gearing or what happens to house prices, the Government remains in denial about its role in the housing crisis.

“Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are culpable in locking an entire generation of young people out of home ownership simply to line the pockets of property speculators” he said.

In addition, Senator Lee Rhiannon, who has the Greens Housing portfolio, noted that we get a lot of rubbish from the government designed to blame the victims, “The rubbish that young people should save their money, the rubbish that young people should raid their superannuation accounts, and the rubbish that young people should get a higher paying job”. As the government cuts penalty rates, mind you.

Senator Rhiannon also added “Today the Turnbull government went over the top in terms of their own actions. They came up with the ugliest, most insulting idea on the housing crisis—an idea that not only distracts from the real problems of tax breaks and underinvestment in public housing but also scapegoats communities already under attack from the far right and, increasingly, all sections of the Liberal-National party. The headline in the Murdoch papers said it all: ‘Send migrants bush to ease house prices’.

“The Greens are not against stimulating regional cities”. Indeed they are not. As Wagga Wagga, Griffith and Albury demonstrate our regional cities welcome refugee and migrants. I am sure all of regional Australia would be equally welcoming if it was provided with the proper investment, more jobs, better transport links and improved infrastructure.

Cyclone Debbie the tip of the climate change iceberg

We are all concerned for the welfare of those who have suffered from the fury of Cyclone Debbie and its aftermath, and wish them all a speedy recovery, but our concern should not blind us to the link between extreme weather events, climate change, and the human activity largely responsible for global warming.

Mind you, last week US President Donald Trump exhibited such a trait when he signed yet another executive order, this time scrapping Obama-era climate change regulations that his administration says are costing jobs in the oil and coal industries. This is despite the fact that these industries say that even if deregulated they will produce very few jobs due to increased automation, which of course means larger profits.

If that’s not enough, President Trump’s executive order goes from bad to worse as it will also remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

Meanwhile, back in Australia it was pleasing to see Greens MP Adam Bandt, who has the party’s Climate Change portfolio, making the link when he connected Cyclone Debbie to a proposed new coal-fired power plant and climate change, saying more people will suffer with the burning of more coal.

The proposed new coal fired power station to which Mr Bandt is referring is a government backed scheme to use taxpayer funds allocated to a $5 billion fund to develop industries in Northern Australia to back a so-called new “clean coal” plant for Rockhampton in Queensland.

Predictably enough, and with the storm already having claimed one life, champions of fossil fuels such as Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg were quick to condemn the Greens’ comments, labelling them as “unconscionable and hysterical”, which itself sounded pretty hysterical when I heard him. He went on to say that any new coal-fired power station would produce “far lower emissions” than an existing plant because it would involve improved technology, which is far too close to the ‘clean coal’ myth championed by President Trump & Co for comfort.

Mr Bandt quite correctly pointed out that “The more coal we burn, the more intense extreme weather events like Cyclone Debbie will be. People will suffer”.

Progressive parties such as the Greens are of course not a lone voice. The Australia Climate Council warned in January that more intense and destructive cyclones were likely in Queensland as a result of climate change and rising global temperatures.

In January even China’s energy regulator told 11 provinces to stop more than 100 coal-fired projects, even though construction had already begun on some.  It follows similar initiatives last year and comes after the government said in November it would eliminate or delay at least 150 GW of coal-fired power projects between 2016 and 2020 and cap coal power generation at 1,100 GW.

A report prepared by the Sierra Club and Greenpeace published last week found there was a 48 per cent decline in the number of planned coal units in India and China and a further 62 per cent decline in construction starts with the drop mainly attributed to changed policies in China and India.

The government’s renewed embrace of coal also appears to be at odds with Australian voters. A Fairfax-IPSOS poll published on Tuesday found just 33 per cent of those surveyed believe Australia should continue backing coal. Clearly it is time for Mr Turnbull et al to listen to the people

My Op Ed column for the Daily Advertiser this week: Watering Down 18c a Retrograde Step

Malcolm Turnbull has announced a watering down of the Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, in a major victory for the conservatives in the Liberal Party.

The change was introduced on Harmony Day, 21 March.  That might strike readers as an exercise in extreme bad taste, and they’d be right, but the timing is of even greater significance given the origins of Harmony Day, and the political chicanery behind its adoption. It is not a pretty story, for it is a watering down of its original title, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

True, since its inception 15 years ago the main message of this day is “Everyone Belongs,” a very pro-multiculturalism motto, a praiseworthy sentiment that only the most racist would argue against, even though the original intention of the day has been lost. 

Harmony Day was born from analyses carried out by Eureka Research for the Howard-led Coalition Government that was dealing with the rise of multiculturalism and the resultant racial disharmony. There was internal strife and our international reputation was often being bogged down by the reputation it created.

The Government needed a way out, and it needed to be done without airing any negativity or implying that anyone was racist, despite widespread racism being clearly recognised by 85% of individuals surveyed in Eureka’s report.

The hook came in a recommendation in the Eureka report that the Government build on the belief that harmony in the community already existed, despite the vast majority recognising that racism was widespread. And so in a canny and very Orwellian political masterstroke Harmony Day was born.

However, despite 15 years of celebrating harmony, racism and racial discrimination still exist in Australia, so there is no room for complacency. Work still needs to be done to ensure intercultural harmony and an end to racial discrimination.

Which brings me back to the government’s proposal, under which the words “offend, insult, humiliate” will be replaced by “harass”. The word “intimidate” will remain. So the change will mean that it’s in order to insult and humiliate people because of their skin colour or race. Go figure, and of course, be appalled at this change for the worse that will worsen, not improve the situation.

The Coalition party room overwhelmingly backed the measures, but several MPs, opposed the change in wording. There is concern among some Liberals that the issue will lose them votes in seats with large ethnic communities. Let’s hope so.

Even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the party room if MPs kept talking about 18C, votes would be lost because it would distract from the government’s agenda, but not, note, because it was a retrograde step that would legislate for even more bigotry than exists already.

Thankfully Labor, the Nick Xenophon team (if they hold firm) and the Australian Greens say they will keep standing with the community to protect Section 18C.

“In his rush to become Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull sold out those who would face discrimination to secure power for himself. It’s disgraceful,” said Greens Leader Richard Di Natale.

Greens legal affairs spokesperson Senator Nick McKim said “The Greens will fight to retain strong protections against racial discrimination.” Good on them. And while they are on about it, why not fight to bring back Harmony Day’s original and intended name, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

My op ed column for 21 March 2017: Privatisation has failed to deliver cheaper electricity

By the time this column appears much water may have passed under the bridge of our energy security, electricity supply and prices debate, but at the time of writing I am struck by one particular aspect of it, namely the collapse of the political consensus that held sway over the last twenty years or so that privatisation of the electricity retail market would lead to lower prices.

And a very good thing too, for evidence shows that privatisation leads to price gouging and deterioration of service levels, as so clearly demonstrated by what has happened to vocational education, child care, job centres, Sydney airport, and many other services.

With regards to electricity pricing, this aspect of neo-liberal deregulated laissez-faire capitalism has elements of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ about it, and though thankfully some are now seeing through this myth Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg & Co fail to see it, unfortunately. They have focussed solely on supply augmentation, with part-solutions such as Snowy Hydro 2.0, which will be beset with problematic issues, all they can do is call for gas companies, and the state governments that regulate drilling, to produce more gas, which can only mean coal seam gas, produced by fracking, just when we thought that one had been firmly put in its box.

Only South Australia is prepared to go look at a public service approach, though as Greens Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young said: “All kudos to the South Australian state government for standing up to fill the gap left by the missing-in-action “Innovation Prime Minister” Malcolm Turnbull, but they’ve backed the wrong horse in funding a gas-fired power plant and letting rip on fracking.”

Back to electricity pricing. In the latest Grattan Institute report, Price Shock: Is the retail electricity market failing consumers?, Tom Woods, its Energy Program Director, provides evidence that in the electricity retail sector the anticipated price reductions have not happened, and innovation has been very slow in coming.

The privatisation of Australia’s electricity retail markets dates back to 1993. The ensuing decade saw a raft of reforms that initially delivered increases in productivity, lower prices and business innovation. But in the decade after that, this progress became much harder to sustain.

The idea was for states to create regulated monopolies in electricity transmission and distribution (poles and wires), while deregulating the retail side (the supply of gas and electricity to customers).

The competition in electricity generation largely delivered lower wholesale prices through the National Electricity Market (NEM), but not at the retail level.

Yet so far there have been few genuine innovations in electricity pricing. The most common tactic has been a discount for paying on time or by direct debit, although consumers are often frustrated when they discover that at the end of their contract they lose the discount even if they continue to pay the same way.

Products that offer different prices for electricity use at different times of the day have been slow to appear. These products have the potential to deliver major savings, yet the industry has failed to deliver them in a way that makes them easy for customers to understand and adopt.

My Op Ed column in the Daily Advertiser for 14 March 2017Australia set to ramp up the lethal power of its drones?

 Hot on the news that President Trump plans to make America’s nuclear arsenal even larger than it already is, and that he is to spend an extra $70 (Aust) billion on America’s conventional defence forces comes news that Australia is moving towards acquiring armed drones, a military tool of questionable ethics.

In detail, it was revealed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report on 7 March that Australia is considering the purchase of possibly armed drones. The two salient points are whether or not the drones will be armed, and if so whether the use of armed drones in warfare is ethical.

Firstly, the ethical issues. Though Australia already uses drones for intelligence and surveillance, adding weaponised ones would represent a significant escalation for the Defence Forces, one which we should oppose.

As part of the war on terror president Barack Obama approved drone strikes mainly in the Middle East, which are estimated to have killed around 7,000 people, some found to be innocent bystanders, otherwise euphemistically known as ‘collateral damage’.

The killings sparked political controversy and ethical concerns, voiced in newspapers and spilling over in to  social media, television documentaries, and film such as ‘Eye in the Sky’, amongst others. Over and over again we have seen these drones piloted and given the order to fire their missiles from bunkers in the Nevada desert, close to Las Vegas, which is no doubt useful for the R&R of these drone jockeys.

Here planning is already well advanced within Defence for future combat missions using remotely piloted aircraft capable of killing. I wonder from where they will be controlled? Pine Gap, perhaps?

Despite such concerns, Defence Minister Marise Payne, in typical double-speak weasel words, said Australia would always consider its legal and ethical obligations “It’s really about extending the impact of what we can do in the Air Force, minus issues like fatigue or those sorts of things and ensuring that we have an Air Force that is as capable as it can possibly be” she told 7.30.

Rather more open and honest was last year’s Defence White Paper, which confirmed that the Government would “introduce enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, including armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft in the early 2020s, with regular capability upgrades to follow”.

Apart from the inclusion of the word ‘armed’, the strategic document offered very little detail, except to say the “unmanned aircraft will provide enhanced firepower and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to a range of missions including counter-terrorism missions overseas”.

The issue of the two types of armed drones the Defence Force are considering is also of concern, for though one of the  frontrunners in the race for the contract is the MQ-9 Reaper, manufactured by US Company General Atomics, the other is the Heron TP, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

IAI, a state-owned company, does not publicly acknowledge its product as an armed drone but stresses the plane can carry “anything” up to 1,000 kilograms, which presumably refers to bombs and/or missiles. It is public knowledge that the Heron TP has most certainly been used in this way against Palestinian targets in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, again often involving the euphemistically termed ‘collateral damage’.

So taking everything into account we have to ask ourselves if the acquisition of these armed drones by the ADF is a step forward or a descent into an unethical quagmire.

Nuclear arsenal: be afraid, be very afraid

Ray’s Reasoning: my column from today’s Daily Advertiser

On top of President Trump’s announcement last week that he is going to raise America’s defence spending by a massive $70 Aus. billion (10% no less), paid for largely by short-sighted cuts to foreign aid, also  came two very disappointing news items about nuclear weapons that added together warrant the much more serious adjective of ‘disturbing’. Downright frightening in fact for anyone who cares about the future of the planet and everything living on it.

Firstly, I read from Washington the President Donald Trump has said he wants to build up the US nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the “top of the pack,” saying the United States has fallen behind in its atomic weapons capacity. So the scariest Commander in Chief wants to have his finger on the button of even more weapons of mass destruction. We should all not just be alarmed, but very, very afraid.

Secondly, and much closer to home, came the news from Australia’s Paul Barratt’s former secretary of the Department of Defence and Sue Wareham, vice-president of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons that Australia is about to boycott forthcoming major UN multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

In more detail, on March 27 in New York, negotiations will commence on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, following a strongly supported resolution passed in the General Assembly last December – with 123 nations in favour, 38 against and 16 abstentions – for “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

The UN resolution and the forthcoming negotiations are the result of intense government and civil society action in recent years that has highlighted the catastrophic humanitarian impacts of these most terrifying and destructive of all weapons, and the imperative to prevent any further use.

Australia’s boycott of these disarmament talks, will have grave implications, quite apart from the unconscionable act of snubbing the most promising disarmament initiative in decades. It calls into question our commitment not only to the UN but also to the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, article 6 of which obliges all member states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to … nuclear disarmament”.

The key to a ban treaty’s effectiveness lies in its power to delegitimise and stigmatise weapons that kill and maim whole populations indiscriminately. Which nation would boast of a “smallpox deterrent” or a “nerve gas deterrent”? Yet despite the existence of treaties to ban these other weapons of mass destruction, there is still no equivalent treaty to ban the only weapons that can destroy a city in an instant and leave human suffering and environmental devastation on a scale we can’t imagine.

It also beats me how will Australia be able to condemn nuclear missile tests by, say, North Korea, or other possible future proliferators, when we support a nuclear apartheid and oppose efforts to place all nuclear-armed nations on the same legal footing?

So Australia will yet again stick out as merely an appendage to the US rather than an independently minded nation that considers global interests and its own interests above those of its ally. Have we learnt nothing from the recent exposure of John Howard’s sycophantic motives for taking us into the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003? (Secret Iraq Dossier: Australia’s Flawed War, SMH, 25 February 2017)?

Australia’s decision is irresponsible and unworthy of a nation that – notwithstanding our support for extended nuclear deterrence – has had a long history of engaging with UN disarmament initiatives.  his decision should be reversed.

Shame on Australia’ government for welcoming an accused war criminal

It was pleasing to see that not everyone in Australia welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and accused war criminal as enthusiastically as PM Malcom Turnbull and his yes-men colleagues did last week.

Indeed, the collective oppositional voice was very strong, with large demonstrations against Netanyahu and Israel’s anti-Palestinian expansionist policy in most capital cities. I was pleased to attend the Sydney demo and heard an impressive array of speakers passionately tell of Israel’s aggression, including Greens MP David Shoebridge.

Opposition to Netanyahu’s unwelcome presence wasn’t limited to demonstrations. The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network organised a statement signed by over 60 prominent Australians, Facebook and the Twittersphere were replete with condemnations of Israel’s policies, and the Australian Jewish Democratic Society also added its voice to the protests.

So what is wrong with Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians? Words such as ‘plenty’ and ‘heaps’ come to mind. For example, Israel continues to defy all United Nations calls for it to comply with international law in respect of its illegal settlement building, and its treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population.

For over the last 50 years, Israel has held the people of Palestine under military occupation and continues to illegally build settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It continues to confiscate Palestinian land and continues to demolish Palestinian homes. Its policy of continuing the imprisonment of Palestinians without trial even of children as young as 12 continues, as does its blockade of the 1.8 million civilian inhabitants of Gaza.

Those actions are not symbolic of a nation desirous of building peace with its neighbours. They build understandable resentment, anger and desperation amongst Palestinians.

The Australian Government needs to rethink its one-sided support for the Israeli Government. Like thousands of others, I was appalled that our Government opposed the recent UN Security Council resolution supporting the application of international law to Israel and Palestine, when most nations, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and New Zealand, support it. Even the USA did not oppose it.

As Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlum said, “The Australian Government should stand condemned for its warm welcome to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Mr Netanyahu seems determined to wreck any chances of a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” he pointed out.

Many people might not realise that Mr Netanyahu’s Government is under preliminary investigation for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. On his orders, the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank has accelerated, as has the demolition of Palestinian homes and seizure of their land and water. Hence the appellation ‘accused war criminal’.

In 2008 and again in 2014, Mr Netanyahu authorised ground invasions and heavy bombardments of the densely populated Gaza strip, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties.

Readers will remember that only a matter of days ago Mr Netanyahu stood smirking by the side of President Trump while the US Commander in chief casually trashed Palestinian’s aspirations for statehood.

So amidst this brazen contempt for international law and all attempts to promote a peaceful settlement, I utterly reject Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s glib assurances that the Australian people would ‘warmly embrace’ Mr Netanyahu on his arrival.

 

 

Complimentary supplements provide us with nothing more than expensive urine

My Op Ed column in today’s Daily Advertiser reads:

Last week’s 4 Corners (ABC TV) report on complementary supplements showed unequivocally that multivitamins are a waste of money and just create ‘very expensive urine’. The Australian Medical Association president also says there is a lack of evidence showing multivitamins work.

This demonstrates quite clearly that in a world of unregulated capitalism where companies are free to manufacture and market just about anything we are in urgent need of stringent, genuinely evidence based testing rather than the shonky ‘scientifically proven’ claims used by these companies.

These claims are in fact fraudulent because they are based on samples so small they prove nothing. We haven’t really moved on from the ‘snake oil’ salesmen of the nineteenth century, have we?

In commenting on these fraudulent claims and misleading advertising I am not asserting that all complimentary medicines are unnecessary. Though with a proper diet and exercise most of us don’t need such supplements, but some of us do, due to certain genetic deficiencies, or, indeed, a poor diet. My point is that we need proper scientific testing, and regulations to back up that testing, to avoid false and misleading claims.

Let’s look in more detail at what both examinations discovered. First of all, the basic statistic: seven out of 10 Australians take some form of vitamin or supplement.

Adjunct Associate Professor Ken Harvey from the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University told the ABC’s Four Corners program there’s little evidence to suggest multivitamins actually work.

Furthermore, a consumer group Choice survey finds therapies with little to no evidence of their benefits, including Bach flower remedies and homeopathic products, being suggested to shoppers

Buying multivitamins benefits the companies that manufacture them by boosting profits, but for the average Australian multivitamins provide “no benefit”.

Naturally enough, the Australian Self Medication Industry says complementary medicines are useful because many Australians have poor diets. However, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

“Vitamin and mineral supplements can play an important role for the 52% of Australian adults who do not eat the recommended intake of fruit or the 92% who do not eat the recommended intake of vegetables each day,” the ASMI said in a statement.

However, there is good news on the horizon, in that the vitamins and supplements you buy could soon have a government tick of approval if they are found to be genuinely effective.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is looking to reform regulation on complementary medicines so consumers have a better understanding of whether the billions we spend on them is giving us any health benefit.

At present, a listing on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods only means the product is safe, not that it delivers its stated claims.

But a review into regulation of the industry has recommended companies apply for approval if research finds its product effective.

Monash University Associate Professor Dr Ken Harvey said the change would make Australia a world leader by building trust in the industry.

“This would greatly advance the future of complementary medicine if it gets implemented,” he said.

The TGA also released a consultation paper last week seeking feedback into the review, which means we can all have our say. The consultation closes on March 28, which gives us all plenty of time to make a submission.

Childcare reform package hides stringent welfare cuts: My Daily Advertiser column for February 2017

Almost lost last week amidst the fuss over Senator Bernardi’s resignation from the Liberal Party, whilst at the same time keeping his Senate seat, salary and entitlement, was an important piece of government legislation that rolled welfare cuts into childcare reforms.

In a secret deal between the Government and crossbenchers on the family tax benefit (FTB) sneaked through stringent cuts to the social safety net that hurts families, young people and aged pensioners.

The Turnbull government has been accused of holding parents “hostage” by combining its childcare reforms with $8 billion in cuts to unemployed young people, welfare recipients and families whose employers provide paid parental leave.

The government had previously flagged it would combine its childcare changes with cuts to family tax benefits, but went further last Wednesday by rolling several previously rejected welfare cuts into the same bill. This is of course the oldest trick in the books, burying cuts that are likely to be unpopular within a reform that is otherwise likely to be supported.

 The bill now includes measures such as: increasing the age of eligibility for unemployment benefits from 22 to 25, a move that would cut payments to young jobseekers by $45 a week. People aged under 25 without a job will be receive Youth Allowance worth $438 a fortnight rather than the $528 Newstart Allowance; jobseekers under 25 will have to wait four weeks before accessing income support; abolishing the Energy Supplement, worth up to $14 a fortnight, for new welfare recipients; capping government-funded and employer-paid parental leave at 20 weeks a year and stopping pension payments to Australians who travel for more than six weeks overseas.

Jo Briskey, executive director of parent advocacy group The Parenthood, said the plan was akin to “holding families to ransom”.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said: “The so-called concessions the government has made will be wiped out by other changes in the bill, leaving many low-income people worse off.

“Of course we all want greater support for families to get better-quality childcare but it cannot be funded on the backs of some of the most disadvantaged people in our country.”

Labor families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the opposition was opposed to the package, but One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said welfare payments need to be “reined in”.

Also  key crossbench senator Nick Xenophon said the government was “moving in the right direction” by softening its family payment cuts.

“I think the government has improved the package, improved the childcare package and in terms of Indigenous and remote communities there are some real improvements there as well, so that’s welcomed,” he said. 

However, and quite rightly, “Nick Xenaphon and other crossbenchers should think long and hard before getting behind the legislation”, Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said today.”

The Government has painted this legislation as a compromise to get the childcare package through the Senate but it is just a shopping list of the nasty social safety net measures that they have not been able to get through the senate in the past. It is an attack on families, young people and the aged.

Also tucked away in this hodgepodge legislation is the reduction of people receiving their aged pension once out of the country from 26 weeks to six weeks.

The Government is unrelentingly going after young families, and those relying on our social security safety net.