Submarine Security Considerations

Germany’s U-boat submarines posed a potent naval threat to the Allies in the Second World War, whilst the United States gained a naval superiority over Japan with their submarine fleet.

Defence advisors fear the vulnerability of surface naval vessels, particularly unwieldy aircraft carriers, from air attack. Hence the attraction of a submarine fleet potentially able to hide undetected in the depths of the ocean for up to 10 months and an operating range of 12,000 nautical miles. Australia is to manufacture 12 of the nuclear attack French Barracuda-class submarines in Adelaide. It will be designed by ship-builder Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) and employ 2800, and cost us $50 billion. It will strengthen Australia’s submarine capability from 2030 when delivery of the first is expected.

Six Collins-class submarines were built in Adelaide by the Australian Submarine Corporation between 1990 and 2003 to replace the old Oberon submarines, under the guidance of Swedish submarine manufacturer Kockums. They incorporated innovative new features such as an integrated combat data system (CDS) to activate the submarine’s weapons in response to sensor detected data.

Few Defence acquisitions have been more criticized than these submarines, on the basis of operational deficiencies including inadequate sound minimization, and features that were out-dated by the time the vessels were commissioned.

Manufacturers of submarines and anti-submarines must engage in an intense technology battle for advantage in the deadly serious game of Hide and Seek. The costs are horrendous for both acquisition and operation but to this barrier must be added the recruitment and training of skilled personnel able and willing to operate such complex equipment.

Deeply concerning for the Australian government is the news released  just a month ago (August 24) of a massive leak of many of the design features of the Scorpene submarines DCNS is building for India. This must significantly diminish their potential strike effectiveness not only for India but also for Malaysia and Chile, countries that are already using them, and for Brazil which takes delivery in 2018.


History proves that there was never a war that ended wars. Unfortunately, scientific advances in warfare just increase the human misery and devastation we all abhor. Will indeed we be able to defend our country with what we hope are superior weapons, against stronger foes?

Then too, can we afford to spend $50 billion for what may be just a temporary military ascendancy? Especially when we have a $400 billion foreign debt, and must otherwise reduce welfare benefits to the hardship of some.

It is not too late to reconsider our priorities.



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How Long Will Turnbull last as PM?

Malcolm Turnbull has been Prime Minister for only a year, and already political commentators are speculating on how long it will be before he too is deposed like his three predecessors.

How durable will he prove to be with the Coalition divided over the current issue of Same-Sex Marriage, and having to wear the blame for a barely successful double dissolution election. The most stinging criticism is that he is a weak leader, in contrast to the more conservative and authoritarian Tony Abbott whom he replaced. However his preparedness to prudently listen, to negotiate, and to govern, as much as he can by consensus, could be attributes for long-term survival.

Labor’s Kevin Rudd had stints of two and a half years, and then in 2013 of only three months, the latter ending with a disastrous loss of an election from party disunity.

Improbably the longest serving leader of the past decade was Labor’s Julia Gillard who was able to form a minority government with the assistance of three independents after the mid 2010 election. Far from collapsing as the Coalition hoped, she was able to provide stable government until after three years, with the approach of the 2013 election, Labor’s power brokers questioned her ability to win, and unwisely recycled Kevin Rudd.

Tony Abbott, feared in Opposition, faltered in office, losing electoral support quite early in the parliamentary term after what was seen by the public to be a deeply unfair initial budget. Despite enjoying such a large majority in the Lower House, his ability to lead the Coalition to another election came under serious scrutiny and resulted in him losing office after two years.

With three year parliamentary terms it is inevitable the elected leaders will be severely criticised, perhaps unfairly and prematurely, denying them the chance to improve their status, and that of their party.

The cost of unduly frequent leadership change is such that both parties should now consider increasing parliamentary terms from three to four years.



Posted in Community Issues, Political debate

How effective is Stem Cell Therapy?

Stem-cell research is one of the more promising lines of study for medical researchers; and it has attracted more interest than most project fields, as a remedy for many serious and life threatening conditions. It is estimated that there are more than 200 clinical trials being conducted currently for diseases stem-cell treatment could help. Although it has to be considered experimental at this stage, clinics around the world have commercialized many techniques, before trial verification of their effectiveness.

The tissue cells of adults are specialised in form and function after differentiating from a basic unit, the stem cell of the developing embryo. Transplanted into an adult individual, embryonic cells have a limited life-expectancy, and unlikely to re-populate the deficient specialised tissue, and have sometimes caused teratoma cancers. There are also ethical objections for some to their use, and at one time President George Bush banned their use in the United States.

However, some non-embryonic cells retain a more limited capacity to modify their function and fulfill other roles. One such cell has been named a mesenchymal stem-cell. A pioneer in this field, Dr Neil Riordan, harvests these cells from umbilical cords for use in his Stem-Cell clinic in Panama City. It attracts patients from around the world, for the treatment of diseases including life threatening neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis.

Dr Riordan claims that such stem-cell treatments work by regulating the immune system, boosting T cells, and countering inflammatory changes, rather than by clonal multiplication. Treatment at his facility I understand  costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Each clinic establishes its own methodology. Some of the research and therapeutic units in Australia of which I am aware are:

  • Melbourne based ASX listed Biotech company, Mesoblast, recently also listed on the US NASDAQ exchange, managed by Silvio Itescu. It is producing products for Chronic heart failure, chronic low back pain, acute graft versus host disease, and biologically refractory Rheumatoid Arthritis,  and Diabetic nephropathy from mesenchymal adult stem-cells.
  • The Clem Jones Centre for Neurology and Stem-Cell Research has been established at the Griffith University, Nathan Campus, in Brisbane, under researcher Dr James St John. He is researching  the use of olfactory ensheathing cells from the lining of the nose, to stimulate repair of damaged spinal cords. Such a technique has already been successfully used in one patient with transaction of the spinal cord. This disproved the old dictum that the central nervous system lacked the ability to regenerate.
  • The University of NSW is exploring the ability of two compounds to transform fat cells into stem-cells. The researcher is Acting Professor John Pimanda. He believes the treatment impairs cellular memory, creating multi-potent stem-cells which then take their cue from the surrounding tissue.
  • Stem Cells Australia is a reliable source of detailed information and is backed by a number of University Departments.

The effectiveness of stem-cell therapy has not yet been established. It is being used widely on empirical grounds but those contemplating having such surgery should first gather as much objective evidence as they can about the procedure, particularly if it involves considerable expense to them.




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Malcolm Turnbull – a leader who can keep his cool.

Donald Trump giving the finger, sort of.

Malcolm Bligh Turnbull was sworn in as the 29th Prime Minister of Australia by the Governor General Peter Cosgrove after a ten vote leadership ballot victory on the 14th September 2015.

Despite winning the 2016 double dissolution election on July 2 albeit with a majority of only one seat, it has been the losing Labor leader Bill Shorten who has been feted for his performance whilst the impeccably credentialed Turnbull has  received nothing but criticism and gratuitous advice.

The latest attack on his performance came this week when Australia’s innovative move to conduct the 2016 Census on line became a debacle. When you are the PM, must you be responsible for every government cock-up?

The journalistic outcry has been incessant, particularly the respected “The Australian”. Should Malcolm Turnbull be expected to deliver the Nirvana Donald Trump is promising to the voters of the United States when not even God is able to side with every disparate interest?


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Anzac inspired thoughts about the cost of war.

On Anzac Day Australians and New Zealanders grieve for those they knew, and the millions they did not know, most still in their youth, killed in combat, not just at Anzac Cove in Turkey on the 25th April 1915, but in conflicts since then.

Encyclopaedia Britannica has estimated that there were 8,529,000 fatalities in the 1st World War from 1914 to 1919. Although far fewer than the estimated 36,793,000 military and civilian casualties of the 2nd World War, what a tragic loss of life it was, devastating families around the world.!

How ironic that the wanton sacrifice of young life in the first world war a century ago has remained so memorable, while most now, and even back then, did not know what they were fighting for.

Surely the provocation, the assassination in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, did not warrant such massive retaliation!! And it escalated! National enmities and loyalties caused distant countries to take sides in battles for national pride and supremacy, rather than for survival.

It is appropriate that on Anzac Day, we should not just remember those who fell, but why they died, and whether anything can be done to limit future mayhem.

Prevention may not be always possible, but we should at least try to understand if we can, why our leaders abandoned negotiation and compromise, to engage in military force. Let us try to learn from past mistakes in history.

For a full account of events:

It may be the leaders who make the decisions, and should take the blame but the population must be accepting to empower them and complicit to embrace their vision.

Professor Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, in 1976 wrote the book “The Selfish Gene” in which he postulated the concept that ideas are spread through a community by replicating coded information he called memes, similar to the transmission from person to person of DNA coded genetic information. It is a useful concept which helps explain how cultural views and concepts can gain credence and be adopted by the majority, even when previously they may have been quite alien and unacceptable

How do ideas that lead to aggression, spread through society and gain credence?  Richard Dawkins’ concept of memes, may well prove a fruitful avenue for study.





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Can Port Adelaide export Australian football to China?

Australia’s innovative football code is probably the world’s most watched on a population basis.

The AFL has staged many exhibition matches in other countries over the 150 years that Australians have been enamoured with the sport. Yet no other country has adopted our game. Why?

The AFL (Australian Football League) football world will be watching this new initiative of the South Australian Team Port Power (Port Adelaide) with great interest. Will it be just another one-off event to further showcase Aussie Rules as a spectator sport, or can enthusiastic and talented indigenous Australians create enough interest to spawn a viable competition there?

The problem is, as I see it, that our 18 team competition administration, is monopolized by the powerful Victorian teams. They are motivated by a desire to maximize profit rather than to grow the sport at grass-roots level.

Cricket is played in the back-yard, on quiet streets, and on the beach with bat and ball, and any convenient object as stumps.  Soccer is played by boys and girls around the world wherever there is a park or dusty field, using makeshift goals.

It would seem that to play AFL football you need carefully cultivated turf, complex goal posts, and a large stadium.

To its shame, the AFL  competition does not field teams from two small Australian States, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, where there is much loyal and enthusiastic support for the game. Instead many of Australia’s best footballers have been recruited from the Northern Territory in particular, to bolster southern teams in more populous locations.


PORT Adelaide faces a greater challenge establishing suitable turf than signing up an opponent for its great Chinese adventure next year.

Power president David Koch on Thursday inspected the 40,000-capacity Shanghai Stadium, knowing the refit of the venue — removing the athletics track and laying out a field safe for AFL players — is the last piece to solve his Chinese puzzle.

Port Adelaide is expected to convince an AFL rival to give up a home game — Gold Coast is the most-likely contender — to play the first AFL game for premiership points in China in May or June next season, around a mid-season bye. Melbourne is another contender.

None of the Power’s 11 annual home games at Adelaide Oval will be sacrificed for the club’s rich “China Strategy”, which has been boosted by a major Chinese benefactor signing a three-year sponsorship deal worth at least $1 million a season.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said “the commercial reality of China” would ensure AFL clubs ignored the usual backlash for selling home games.

“We have willing teams, we have an agreement with a (second) club, which I won’t talk to, and we have agreed to do it,” he told media in China, according to the AFL website.

Posted in Community Issues, Uncategorized

Thank God for elections. But do we need so many?

2016 – Year of Australia’s 45th Federal general election

Australia’s last federal election, the 44th since federation, was held on 7 September 2013. Under Australia’s constitution, three year parliamentary terms for the House of Representatives, are dated from the opening of the parliament, which was on the 12 November 2013, with the 45th election becoming due on the 11th November 2016.

Section 28 of the Australian Constitution states that House of Representatives elections (currently 150 seats) must be held at least every three years. The Prime Minister decides the date for an election, at any time during the three-year term, and is thus able to take into account timings with perceived political advantages.

The framers of the Constitution imposed a curious election dichotomy between the two parliamentary houses. Unlike the variable term House of Representatives elections, the 76 Senators (twelve from each of the six states, and 2 from each of the two territories) are elected for fixed six years terms. Ordinarily the Senate terms are staggered between House of Representative elections, in synchronous half senate elections.Senate terms commence on the next 1st July, regardless of the timing of the election.

This year The Prime Minister, The Right Honourble Malcolm Turnbull had intended to allow the House of Representatives to run close to the full term, but kept his options open on calling a double dissolution of both houses of parliament if the present cross-bench of 18 members again reject the passage of key legislation before the budget related cut-off date. If a double dissolution is triggered, the election date would then be July 2.


2016 – 115th anniversary of Australia’s First Federal General Election.

Australia’s historic first federal parliamentary general election was held on March 29 in some states, and on March 30 1901, in others. Elections are not usually events to be celebrated, but this one, 115 years ago as Australia’s first, certainly is.

It created for 3.773, 801 Australians, a parliament of 75 House of Representative seats (six seats were uncontested), and 36 Senate seats, which could resolve issues of national significance without reference to British law. It was the culmination of more than a decade of constitutional  study starting with a draft constitution presented by Tasmanian Andrew Clark at a convention in 1891, revised and promoted by former NSW Attorney General Edmund Barton, and  five times Premier of NSW  Sir Henry Parkes, at subsequent conventions.

Finally,  the proposed legislation was approved by popular vote at referendums in each of the six uniting states.

The legal framework for Australia’s constitutional monarchy was passed as the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution  Act (UK) on 5 July 1900. An ailing Queen Victoria assented to the legislation four days later on 9 July 1900.

Australia’s monarch passed away January 22, 1901, but not before appointing  a Scottish aristocrat, John Adrian Louis Hope, the 7th Earle of Hopetoun, and a former Governor of Victoria, as her representative to the Commonwealth of Australia. He became our first Governor-General and appointed a caretaker government that took ceremonial office at the Federation celebrations 1 January 1901 at Sydney’s Centennial Park. The genial and popular Edmund Barton became Australia’s first Prime Minister, a role he retained after the elections.

The Formal Opening of Australia’s first Parliament at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building, 7 May 1901, was performed by H.R.H Duke of Cornwall and York, who later became King George V.


 2016 – Is it time for review of Australia’s constitutional provisions?

In the 115 years since Federation, Australia has matured, and transitioned into a significant nation of the world with a population now in excess of 24 million. We no longer think of ourselves as parochial colonists, or as white Australians of British origin, surrounded by hordes of would-be Asian invaders.

We have become a harmonious multicultural second home for displaced refugees, and for many of our Asian neighbours, welcoming them, and contributing to their welfare. We have embraced diversity, becoming a stronger, more tolerant people as a result, in spite of risks to our own security.

Our British ties may have weakened over the years, but we have fought with Commonwealth Allies in two World Wards, and in other conflicts. We value our British heritage, and there is not yet a groundswell for us to become a republic.

In the past century our vast dry continent has seemed to shrink. We are just a cheap phone call away from interstate friends, relatives, and business contacts. With video links, we no longer need to negotiate face to face. We can also work, and transact business from the convenience of our homes, exchanging documents within seconds. Surely such changes could be more employed  to reduce the costs of our political system and prevent duplication!

As Dean Jaensch has pointed out, do we really now need houses of review in the State parliaments?  Then too, might not some state functions now be conveniently centralized to avoid over-lap?  We now have 9 parliaments, 9 governments, and 15 houses of Parliament with 842 State and Federal politicians. If budget cuts are to be made, should our now dated political system not be reviewed.

Our venerable Constitution however stands in the way of any reforms. Political consensus for change may never be possible. But there is one economy which would be in the interest of both politicians of whatever persuasion, and good government. That is a lengthening in the parliamentary terms of office, preferrably with fixed terms for both houses.


2016 – A year of electioneering we don’t really need.

If you enjoy political argy-bargy, 2016 should continue to titillate. Australia’s forthcoming election promises to be exceptionally engrossing as the electorate digests the prospect of a possible double dissolution election triggered by legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

But for me, electioneering, half truths and promises, dirty tricks and denigration of opponents, is distasteful. Elections should be as brief and infrequent as possible. Just long enough to acquaint voters with the issues at stake, and provide a forum for genuine debate.

In fact the Constitution does impose limits on the duration of campaigns from Dissolution to Election. It must be within 33 and 68 days. Alternatively from Dissolution to Opening of the next Parliament must be within 140 days. The tendency in the smart Prime Minister-ship of John Howard however, was for politicking in subtle and not so discreet ways, throughout each election year.

Over the 115 years of federal elections, the average term of office for the House of Representatives has been a mere 2 years 7 months.

In the first year of office governments are pre-occupied by their need to implement election promises, and to take the hard funding decisions likely to hurt some sections of the electorate. The last year of office the focus shifts to what must be done to secure re-election, including the formulation of fresh and appealing policies and promises. There is little time to govern for the country’s best good, without fear or favour?

Short parliamentary terms foster leadership speculation and uncertainty.  Under the Australian Constitution, party leadership is determined internally by the party, without a public vote. Party members become nervous at the prospect of falling polls as election time approaches. The essential qualification to be elected and remain party leader is their perceived ability to win at the polls. Nothing else matters.

Once in government, parties are likely to retain office over more than one parliamentary term. Indeed since 1930 there have only been 9 changes in government. It is quite likely therefore that longer terms of office would not reduce the frequency of administration change.


 Federation gave six independent colonies a united say in National Affairs. We are grateful for this, but must we have so many elections?  Why not 4 or 5 year fixed terms of office?


Internet links,_1901


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Donald Trump’s Sexist, Racist Appeal

Bigots should not be welcome in politics



Donald Trump Donald Trump

More than 40% of Republicans have favored Donald Trump for President at some point.

Some despite his sexism and racism. They’re just fed up with establishment politicians who are so busy serving wealthy interests (thanks $ in politics!) that they often ignore their middle-class and working-class voters. I get it!

But others appear to be drawn to his bigotry.

Why is that?

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Posted in Political debate

Is Australia Over-Governed?

This is a thought-provoking article, in The Advertiser, written by South Australian Political Commentator Dean Jaensch.

LAST week New Zealand Prime Minister John Keys visited Australia, and presumably held long conversations with Malcolm Turnbull. He may have had some suggestions to make to our Prime Minister. The New Zealand economy is doing extremely well; ours is in a mess.

In a press conference, Mr Keys boasted about how well New Zealand is going and, when asked to explain why, he put the fact that Australia is a federation near the top of the list. Comparing the two political systems suggests he is spot on.

New Zealand has one parliament, one house of parliament, and one government. Australia has nine parliaments, 15 houses of parliament, and nine governments. New Zealand has 121 elected members of parliament; Australia has 842. Do we need all of them?

Formulating a policy and legislating it is a simple and straightforward process in New Zealand. Decide on the policy, have it debated in the singe house of parliament, and it becomes law. An Australian Prime Minister has to pass a Bill through the House of Representatives, and then face a hung upper house in the Senate, where a disparate collection of Greens, independents and micro parties will decide its fate. New Zealand does not have an upper house.

The NZ Prime Minister can formulate and legislate national policies. The Australian Prime Minister has to take into account the existence and authority of the states. Under the Constitution, which was drawn up in 1897, the Commonwealth government has restricted authority, and cannot legislate outside the list of topics in Section 51. If it attempts to do so, the High Court has the authority to veto the legislation.

Currently in Australia, four of the eight states and territories have Liberal or Coalition government, and four have Labor governments. Trying to find a national consensus out of this is all but impossible.

Posted in Community Issues, Political debate

Why did Paul Keating bring back negative gearing?

Paul Keating was a peerless Treasurer, a master of inventive invective, and not at all modest when it came to reminding us of his many achievements. Indeed at a Christmas Dinner Press Gallery in 1990 he described himself as the Placido Domingo of Australian politicians, because he was “sometimes great, and sometimes not great, but always good”.

His strength and success as Treasurer stemmed from an uncompromising pragmatism, a willingness to innovate, and to manipulate the many economic levers available to him to achieve his desired results. In mid-1985 he terminated the negative gearing of investment property, only to re-instate it two years later in August 1987.

Labor has now revisited the issue of negative gearing  both to increase revenue, and coincidentally to eliminate what they see as a tax rort for the affluent.  Before accepting this argument, voters should ask themselves, “Why should Australia return to a policy which Labor’s ablest Treasurer discarded nearly 30 years ago after trialing it for two years”

The high profile economists who now advocate again stopping negative gearing, neatly sidestep this question by posing another. Did abolishing negative gearing between 1985-7 push up rents?

From the above article in the Sydney Morning Herald Dec 28, 2013 by Damien Murphy based on the recently released Cabinet Papers for 1986-7:

  • the objective of the negative gearing restrictions when introduced was to reduce tax sheltering on rental properties, rather than to raise revenue..
  • the changes to rents, vacancies, and property values at the time were heavily influenced by the economic stringencies of the day with high current account debt, high interest rates, low Aussie Dollar, and a booming overheated stock-market, soon to crash (Oct 1987)
  • in 1986 Keating acknowledged that tax reforms and other measures had massively increased business costs
  • it was the tight Sydney rental market with declining investment in rental property, rising rentals, and an imminent election in NSW, that motivated Keating to restore negative gearing in August 1987.

One cannot argue that the overall increase  in rentals of 25%  between 1985-87, before allowing for inflation, was due to the removal of negative gearing per-se. It was only in Sydney and in Perth that nominal rental prices rose, while in other states they were static.

Rental prices reflect increases in property costs and are particularly sensitive to interest rate movements. Rental rates are also dependent on vacancy levels, on the underlying supply and demand. Negative gearing is a factor only in as much as it affects the supply and demand equation. The effects of abolishing negative gearing  and diminishing the capital gain concession, will not be immediately apparent. It will be in the years to come, when new investors will be less inclined to take on the risks and burdens of property investment.

No economist can predict how the property market will respond to Labor’s proposed changes. The outcomes will be influenced by the interaction of other taxation initiatives, and the prevailing economic climate. It seems to me that a taxation policy that favours new house construction over existing properties is particularly unwise when the present market is already softening, and sellers are already finding it difficult to attract buyers when they need to sell.

Another dormant anxiety for homeowners is their ability to service their mortgage in the face of unexpected interest rate rises.

It is not too late for Labor to re-think its policy direction before a federal election. Many will not agree that Mums and Dads have nothing to fear in the proposed changes.




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