Downs Under #4

August 21, 2006

Genetically modified hysteria
More nonsense from Health Minister Tony Abbott (among others) this week, following the publication of the Lockhart Report on fertility and medical research with embryos: therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

The review committee recommended that a ban on therapeutic cloning be lifted in order to allow Australian scientists to do the same kind of work happening elsewhere in the world. Good news, no?

Not according to Tony Abbott, who parroted the usual paranoid nonsense about “human-animal hybrids”, and accusing scientists of offering false hope. His comments were echoed by Senator Ron Boswell, who says that low-income women will be forced to sell their eggs to research.

Does this kind of inflammatory nonsense really contribute anything? Demanding more signs of progress before policy can change is so redundant it really ought not to need pointing out. Stem cell research is in its infancy, and in order for progress to be made we will need to let scientists work for years.

I have yet to see anyone claim that therapeutic cloning will be a magic cure for all ills; rather that there are exciting possibilities that merit further study.

Drastic efforts needed to curb bulging obesity problem

The International Diabetes Institute and International Obesity Taskforce have written in this week’s Medical Journal of Australia urging drastic direct action to combat the dramatic rise of obesity and its associated health problems.

“Health professionals and their peer organisations must demand that all junk foods and soft drinks be kept out of health institutions, schools and public institutions.”

This would echo the policy of many forward-thinking schools in the UK and USA by actively providing healthy alternatives to the pre-processed filth that is regularly served up. There are conflicting opinions on this issue, however.

Tony Abbott is advocating for better labelling on foods, but refuses to call for more regulation on the junk food industry. So, in effect doing nothing. It’s become quite apparent that education has only had a limited effect, given the huge number of people affected by diabetes, obesity and related health problems. The Health Minister’s spokeswoman said

“It is unrealistic to expect Government to supervise every meal time.”

Perhaps, but why not regulate the meals provided at state institutions? Much like obese kids, it seems the government can’t be bothered actually getting off its arse to do something.

Government to relinquish stake in Telstra?
The government currently has a $24 billion stake in Australias largest telco, and is said to be on the verge of deciding whether or not to initiate a public float.

John Howard has been trying for the last decade to convince us that allowing the company to privatise entirely is a good thing. Many commentators remain reserved on this issue. One thing the government doesn’t want to do is annoy the 1.6 million shareholders, so is expect to commit to continuing paying dividends despite Telstra’s recent poor performance.

I’m not sure where I stand on this issue, on one hand I think that the government will be better able to regulate the company in the public interest by retaining its share, but one the other hand if we allow Telstra to privatise entirely, perhaps we’ll see it fail and more forward-thinking companies come to the fore. In light of their intrasigence on the Fibre To The Node network, it might be a good thing for them to fail.

And finally…(coming)
Sorry folks, time’s been pressing lately so I haven’t had time to prepare a kitten in the tree segment this week, but I’ll stick one in later in the week. A story that is, not a cat in a tree.

As always, we invite readers to come and join the discussion in TheCritique forums.

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