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Thursday, 5 October 2006
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Loose Talk on Bottom Trawling?
It is a case of enjoy the flathead and dory while you can if Australia 's Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Hill, is to be believed. The UN is currently debating an Australian proposal designed to "protect high seas biodiversity" and, according to Ambassador Hill, Australia is prepared to ban bottom trawling in its own waters if its measure succeeds.
This news will confirm the worst fears of a local fishing industry already cut in half by a licence buy-back scheme made necessary by reductions in fish quotas.
When the Australian UN proposal was announced last month in a joint statement by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell and Fisheries Minister Senator Eric Abetz there was no suggestion of a total ban on trawling. The three ministers said Australia "is concerned about the potential impacts of a range of fishing practices on fragile areas of the high seas, such as seamounts." They continued:
" Australia 's new position calls on regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) to implement and enforce measures that will prevent destruction to vulnerable marine ecosystems. This would include a ban on potentially destructive
fishing practices unless it can be shown scientifically that the activity will not cause damage to fragile marine ecosystems, such as seamounts, hydrothermal vents and cold water corals."
In an interview with the World Service of the BBC Ambassador Hill, himself a former Australian Environment Minister, left no doubt what the end result of this policy would be. With no ifs, buts or maybes, he declared "there should not be deep sea bottom trawling." When pressed by the interviewer whether Australia would introduce such a ban in its own waters he said "we would be prepared to do it."
Trawling, where nets are dragged along the ocean floor, is the major source of fresh scale fish sold in Australia . Fish supplies are already falling following reductions in the allowable catch in south eastern waters.
Dining With Friends
John Howard was among friends when he went to dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the magazine Quadrant so he did not have to explain the change in direction which has come over his talking about Iraq . Back in those exciting days of expelling Saddam Hussein from his Bagdad lair the message was all about the hope and optimism of creating a new bulwark of democracy in the Middle East . The subject was even so important that a special section was created on the Prime Ministerial website to keep the populace informed of the progress in this major campaign to bring peace to the world.
In Monday night's speech to a gathering of supporters the emphasis when it came to Iraq was no longer on the prospects of success but, like George Bush in recent days, the danger of defeat. “There are, as Owen Harries reminds us, people who legitimately opposed the original action to oust Saddam Hussein,” the PM said “but it remains (to borrow a phrase) an inconvenient truth that if countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia simply abandon the people of Iraq this would be an enormous victory for the forces of terror and extremism around the world”
In the United States The New Republic magazine has drawn attention to a similar change in rhetoric by George W. Bush. They call it the Other Vietnam Syndrome: the lesson the right took from Vietnam —that the true danger to national security is not misguided wars, but overzealous opposition to misguided wars.
That Howard has taken a similar message from Vietnam is clear from his brief mention of Vietnam at the Quadrant dinner. The lesson our PM learned from that conflict was not that we should never have been there but that an example of the “philo-communism” of the Australia of the 1950s and 1960s was “all those who did not simply oppose Australia's commitment in Vietnam but who actively supported the other side and fed the delusion that Ho Chi Minh was some sort of Jeffersonian Democrat intent on spreading liberty in Asia.”
An Unpopular Deputy Sheriff
The Deputy Sheriff in charge of the South Pacific region seems to be following the example of the boss Sheriff in establishing relations with the natives. Just as the Bush administration is having troubles with recalcitrant middle and South American states which will not do as they are told, the Howard doctrine of telling neighbouring island states that Australia knows best is running in to problems as well.
This morning it is Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare lashing out at Australian arrogance. Sir Michael is displeased with the way Australia is trying to extradite Solomon Islands Attorney-General Julian Moti from Port Moresby to face alleged child sex offences. According to his version, and there is no reason to doubt it is correct, Australia has not gone through the correct channels in seeking Mr Moti's extradition. The PNG police who arrested Mr Moti at Australia 's request did so without authorisation from their Police Commissioner. "Who are they listening to?” the PM asked. “Who is commanding them to take the orders?” According to Sir Michael the “problem belongem you” and Mr Moti should be free to leave Port Moresby for Honiara , despite a court ruling he should be brought into custody.
The prime ministerial comments illustrate the considerable tension that exists in the PNG-Australia relationship now that Australia has made continuing foreign aid conditional on having its Federal police virtually take charge of law and order in its former colony. Getting the Attorney General of a Melanesian neighbour arrested without first informing the PNG government is just the latest in a string of real or imagined slights on the country's sovereignty. Perhaps the most humiliating for Sir Michael was being forced to take his shoes off for a security check last year at Brisbane airport.
With this episode of the sex charges against Mr Moti, Australian diplomacy has pulled off an amazing trifecta. The Solomons Islands Prime Minister Menessah Sogavare says Mr Moti is still the country's Attorney-General and Australia should stop bullying its south Pacific neighbours. Sir Michael Somare thinks the Deputy Sheriff is a bully as well. And for good measure, by charging Mr Moti with offences that Vanuatu , the country where they allegedly occurred, is not pursuing, we have rightly or wrongly said that Vanuatu justice is no good.
Support for Health Minister Abbott
Health Minister Tony Abbott has received some welcome support this week for the sceptical approach to putting new drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme list which is necessary to limit the escalating cost to the budget. A study funded by the British government and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry has found that new treatments for schizophrenia perform no better, and perhaps worse, than older drugs although they cost up to 10 times more.
The findings are bound to cause a problem or two for the drugs industry with Columbia University psychiatrist Jeffrey Lieberman commenting in the Archives that the claims of superiority for the newer drugs were greatly exaggerated. "This may have been encouraged by an overly expectant community of clinicians and patients eager to believe in the power of new medications,” he wrote. “At the same time, the aggressive marketing of these drugs may have contributed to this enhanced perception of their effectiveness in the absence of empirical information." Mr Liebermann conducted a U.S. government study last year that found that one of the older drugs did as well as newer ones. The Washington Post reported that, at the time, many American psychiatrists warned against concluding that all the older drugs were as good.
Now it seems there can be no doubt. The perception that more expensive second generation anti-psychotics are more effective, with fewer adverse effects, and preferable to patients than the drugs they replaced is wrong.
Mr Abbott would do well to start looking again at the question of the advertising and promotional activities of the drug industry.