Thursday, 13 May 2021

Border tech

Marc Daalder tallies a few of the failures in getting better tech rolled out at the border.

On Sunday, National Party Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop revealed that a voluntary rollout of saliva-based testing of border workers had seen just 339 saliva tests performed since it began in January.

"Public health experts have recommended introducing regular saliva testing across our border workforce, but the Government has been very slow to act," Bishop said.

Now, the Ministry of Health has confirmed to Newsroom that a trial of another technology to detect Covid-19, the ëlarm app, has similarly foundered. Health officials dodged questions about how many border workers had signed up to the voluntary trial, but said it wasn't enough to gain any useful data.

"There has been a low initial take-up of the trial," a ministry spokesperson said. Up to 500 border workers could sign up to test the technology, which uses an app and a fitness tracker to detect early warning signs of Covid-19.

"The trial will stay open until enough people have taken part to provide a useful set of data for analysis, which might be for a number of months."

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the issue was an operational one for the ministry to sort out, but warned against providing incentives for people to sign up.

Rako is rolling out its saliva testing through Green Cross affiliated pharmacies for private individuals needing a Covid test. But the government just can't be bothered to add that kind of saliva testing regime through the MIQ system. 

It seems completely nuts. 

The fundamental capacity constraint in the MIQ system is the number of positive cases the health system thinks it can handle.

A lot of those cases are being caught in MIQ. 

Daily saliva testing would catch cases much more quickly, reducing the chances of within-MIQ transmission. 

It's a bit grim.

There's seemingly no appetite in government for running a tighter MIQ system that might be able to withstand greater volumes of people. 

But the MIQ system has to hold until we have everyone vaccinated, which will take at least until the end of the year, and longer if new variants pop up in the meantime requiring new shots that haven't yet been developed. Australia's banking on this lasting through mid-2022. NZ's MIQ system is not fit for purpose if it needs to run another year. But nobody in government seems to want to fix it. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Vaccine patents

This week's Newsroom column covered some of the arguments around increasing vaccination rates in poor countries by voiding patents. It won't work. 

A snippet:

Fundamentally, voiding patents is an unserious way of dealing with a serious problem. The world needs substantial expansions in vaccine manufacturing capabilities as quickly as possible. Replicating the processes used by successful manufacturers is not simple, and constraints against expanding capacity need to be solved by investment.

New Zealand’s contribution to the COVAX effort is laudable. But we remain pound-foolish. Spending a lot more on vaccines by contracting for greater capacity would help New Zealand become vaccinated more quickly, protecting us and providing some hope of normal international travel.

Contracting for capacity would also mean that more vaccines could be produced more quickly for everyone else too, reducing the risk of new variants that could lead to new border closures after New Zealand completes its first round of vaccination.

And, unlike voiding patents, it would preserve incentives to develop vaccines against new threats that might yet emerge.

I also chatted about it with Bryan Crump last night on Radio New Zealand's Nights programme.  

The tech transfer problem seems nearly insurmountable under compulsory options. 

What do I mean? 

Plenty of vaccines are produced under license by other manufacturers. When that happens, the developer spends a fair bit of time in due diligence making sure that the plant is up for it. There's a lot riding on it. A bad batch is costly; a bad released batch would be very bad. Quality assurance really matters. 

Under voluntary licensing, the IP holder has strong incentive to get this right. They'll want to make sure the plant can do it, and they'll want to provide the assistance necessary to make it work. And there'll be plants whose requests to be licensees get knocked back because they just can't do it. 

Now suppose we followed the abolish patents people's suggestion. They'll sometimes acknowledge the importance of tech transfer. But how in heck would they effect it? 

There are plenty of cudgels they might threaten the vaccine's developer with. Governments are like the mafia, they have plenty of ways of making convincing threats. So they make some threats and force the company to send its experts to teach other plants how to use the stolen plans for making vaccines. Now suppose those experts report back that the plant isn't actually up to the job - it's likely to produce bad batches. 

How can the government's bullies distinguish between false claims intended as IP protection, and real claims? Remember: If the government actually knew how to build this stuff, it wouldn't need to rely on the company's experts to effect the tech transfer. It could just void the patents and send its own officials to teach other plants how to do it. 

The only workable ways of doing this seem to be ones that provide strong incentive for the company with the knowledge to have lots of quality output coming out of those licensee plants with incentives for quality control, but that's what a standard licensing agreement could already provide. 

To paraphrase an Alex Tabarrok tweet, it's as though the anti-patent people think that buying the French Laundry's cookbook would automatically get a Michelin star for your home kitchen. There's a reason that top restaurants branching out don't just send over the cookbook to the new venue. 

I think a lot of the anti-patent people are grinding old axes about patents, combined with an innate hostility to the idea that anyone should ever be able to make money in medicine.

Friday, 7 May 2021

Priority groups

If you live in New Zealand and need a vaccine for travel, the process doesn't look simple unless you're on the government's radar as a person of national significance

There are two further categories we are still looking at: one for people who may need to get a vaccine on compassionate grounds; and a national significance category, which could include groups who need a vaccine in order to represent New Zealand overseas.

There will be plenty of folks who will need to travel for business reasons and won't be able to access vaccines easily. The framing has generally been around the unfairness of queue-jumping, but where there's no community transmission in New Zealand, it perhaps matters less if an at-risk person in a remote spot is vaccinated in June or in September. 

There's now an option to crowdfund support for Covax: the facility that buys vaccines for poor countries. Give them $10, they'll get a vaccine to someone in a country that can't afford them otherwise. You can go and do it right now. Click the link. I just did. $50 plus $3.90 to cover credit card and transaction fees, and I've just bought vaccines for 5 people. But I cannot get a vaccine in my own country despite very much wanting one so that I'd be vaccinated in case I needed to travel in a hurry.

I wonder whether we could set an additional channel for priority access here. If someone makes a donation to Covax that would see 5 more people abroad vaccinated, could they get a vaccine that would enable them to travel? Is 5 too few? Is there a number that would do it?

If you need to travel for compassionate reasons, you might need to be travelling in a hurry. That requires being vaccinated long enough ahead of travel for the vaccine to be effective. That means getting vaccinated before you've got a compassionate case to plead to MBIE. 

Business travel can more typically be planned in advance, but unless you're an America's Cup sailboat or involved in films or an Olympic athlete or whatever is currently exciting one of the Ministers of MBIE, good freaking luck. You're not going to be of national significance, because you do not have pull. 

The shovels weren't shovel-ready

There's opportunity here.
Less than half of the Government’s ‘’shovel-ready’’ infrastructure projects have begun by its first self-imposed deadline, with just 44 per cent of the 150 projects under construction by the end of February.
These things were set up as stimulus when everyone was worried about double-digit unemployment. Unemployment rates instead are below 5%. The projects never received any adequate CBA; the Infrastructure Commission Infrastructure Industry Reference Group just threw together a list of things that they might be able to get out the door in a hurry.

I was kinda sceptical that these things could wind up being delivered in a hurry; here's what I'd written on them a year ago

Why not just pause to reconsider all the ones that haven't started yet? Maybe they make sense, or maybe the money is better spent elsewhere. The government's announced a public sector pay freeze. Maybe they wouldn't have to do that if they could step back and reconsider the couple of billion dollars that they're here spending. 

The urgency behind the projects is gone. The government is short of funds. Why not take a minute to figure out whether the money could be better spent?

Hard to rouse a moral panic about coffee

Swap "coffee" and "caffeine" in this piece for "vaping" and "nicotine", and imagine the outraged calls for tougher regulation.

A nationwide survey of hundreds of New Zealand tertiary students found almost every single one of them consume some level of caffeine daily, with a quarter experiencing "distressing" side effects.

But researchers found most of those students who suffered negative effects associated with caffeine such as a fast heartbeat, upset stomach or an inability to sleep had no plans to stop consuming caffeine any time soon.

The results of the Massey University study were published in the journal Nutrients this week and measured the caffeine intake of more than 300 university students.

Chocolate, coffee, tea and energy drinks contributed most to the total caffeine intake of 99 percent of students, with the median intake measured at 146.7mg a day.

But in some cases, maximum intakes of up to 1988.14mg a day were recorded - almost five times what experts consider the "safe" level of intake: 400mg a day.

One third (34.4 per cent) of caffeine consumers ingested caffeine above the adverse effect level and 14.3 percent regularly consumed more than the safe limit, according to researchers.
If it were vaping and nicotine, we'd have the Asthma Foundation saying these addicts need to be protected against Big Caffeine. But we all know that would be crazy. Vaping is newer though and can be pitched as scary, so it's easier to turn these kinds of things into scare stories.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Afternoon roundup

An overdue closing of the browser tabs brings these worthies:

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Special Purpose Authorities

This week's column with the Dom Post takes a look back to prior local government reform, given that the government's launched a new local government inquiry. 

In 1988, the Committee on Local Government released a discussion document, Reform of Local and Regional Government. It paved the way toward council amalgamations and disestablishing the special purpose authorities that once enabled infrastructure delivery.

A snippet:

The list of authorities to be reviewed was not small. At the time, New Zealand had 27 city councils, 89 borough councils, 80 county councils, a town council and 20 district councils. It also had 121 community councils, 15 district community councils, an Auckland regional authority, two regional councils and 20 united councils.

It was a lot of local councils for what was then a much smaller country.

But the review also encompassed some 453 Special Purpose Authorities. Things that now fall under general council remit were then carved out into special purpose vehicles.

Perhaps the most notable of the older Special Purpose Authorities is the one that built the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

If you today proposed "Let's set a special purpose body that can take its own debt to market and pay it off via user-fees over a long time horizon", some folks would think you were proposing some kind of 1980s neoliberalism. But it was the reforms of the 1980s that got rid of these. The Auckland Harbour Bridge was constructed under one of these setups in the 1950s. 

I love this picture of one of the bond ads from the 50s. Forty year bonds. 

Monday, 3 May 2021

Complex needs

Closed borders ended tourism and left motel rooms empty. The government's booked out a fair few of those spaces as emergency social housing. But the whole thing seems a mess. Vulnerable people fleeing bad family situations are placed near rather dangerous types who also use social housing. 

Jane Patterson at RNZ has been tallying it up.

Demand just keeps escalating, under a system where motels and other providers get paid on a weekly basis, or sometimes slightly longer, to house people in urgent need of somewhere to stay.

Hair-raising stories continue to roll in to RNZ about what life is like for some tenants and moteliers, who're recounting stories of constant crime and gang harassment being confronted with knives and in one case a room burnt to the ground.

One of the government's own ministers describes some living conditions as "inhumane" and the current system "inefficient and unacceptable".

It is costing $1 million a day for emergency and transitional housing; the vast bulk - $900,000 - is spent on the former, prompting calls for much better oversight of some places described as dangerous and crime ridden. There are no contracts between the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and those supplying the rooms, nor specific obligations tagged to the millions being paid out.

Some moteliers are also speaking out, saying they're being demonised while trying to do right by their guests; dealing with crime, intimidation and violence all too regularly - driving some out of business altogether.

Read the whole thing.  

It's experiences like these that will drive local opposition to social housing being built nearby. Having gang affiliates next door in a motel room is bad enough, but at least the motel should hopefully be a temporary situation. 

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says the "majority of MSD clients who use emergency housing are good people who are looking for a roof over their heads while we help them find somewhere permanent".

However, some people "have high and complex needs and can act out in ways which causes damage to motels", she says.

When this happens, it is paid out through an emergency grant, and is then "recovered from the person who caused the damage".

"I know this creates a debt to the people who have caused the damage, but it's important that if someone damages property they are held to account for their actions," Sepuloni says.


One Canterbury motelier - who has since left the business - made six rooms available during last year's lockdown for short term, urgent housing administered by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

That was to give shelter to the homeless, the rough sleepers, those at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

"I had to have two rooms empty, I couldn't open them to the general public because you can't put members of the general public next to these people screaming and shouting and threatening each other with knives and stuff", he told RNZ.

Furniture and rooms were trashed, he says, and in one instance burned down. The tenant had "stolen two e-scooters and he was trying to patch them together to make one good one and he got the wiring wrong and the battery exploded - that's why the fire destroyed the room", he says.

"Damages wise, I would say, I'd have to go back and look at all the invoicing but I'd say we're up to about $30,000. And that was for just for 10 months. That's not for a whole year."

Carpets and coffee tables were ruined with cigarette burns, with one man falling asleep in the bed and he "must have had a cigarette in an outstretched arm, which then set fire to the couch" which was destroyed.

Frightening confrontations, too, while doing a routine room inspection; a man "obviously high on drugs, I knocked on his door and he just opened a door and lunged at me with a carving knife, you know, he didn't know what he was doing", says the former owner.

He has given up on the motel after the constant stress and physical danger.

"I walked away from it, with the family, because basically the family's mental health was suffering as well."

I wonder whether there would be less opposition to nearby social housing if neighbours had a mechanism for voting out the current tenant if they wound up with a violent aggressive neighbour rather than a single mum hiding out with her kid. I also wonder whether the risk of being voted out would change tenant behaviour. 

I also wonder why motel rooms are considered appropriate housing for people with a habit of lunging at others with knives; we do have a few secure facilities for those kinds of complex needs as they await trial for lunging at others with knives. I know Corrections now views jail as a very last-resort option; they might wish to have non-jail secure alternatives to motels. 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Regional naming rights

Appellation d'origine contrôlée rules make some kind of sense when they prevent what might otherwise amount to false advertising because the geographic name is so intertwined with the product. 

It does seem to be getting a bit out of hand.

The European Commission recently granted exclusive use of the term 'halloumi' within Europe to cheesemakers from Cyprus, using the intellectual property rights system called "geographical indications".

The move to register halloumi follows behind the recent registrations of cheeses like havarti.


In its Free Trade Agreement negotations with New Zealand, the EU is looking protect 2200 of its food and beverage GI's, including well known cheeses such as feta, gruyere and gorgonzola.

What other name are you supposed to give those cheese styles? Will somebody wind up deciding that nobody can use the word cheddar unless the cheese comes from a small village in Somerset

I suppose Kiwi cheesemakers could start just adding NZ to all the names, so we'd have halloumiNZ, havartiNZ, fetaNZ, and gruyeNZ. 

Maybe we could claim gorgoNZola as our own unless the Italians start referring to their own product as Chinese Gooseberry rather than Kiwifruit? It seems a lot more likely that someone would mistake something labelled Kiwifruit as being from NZ than that someone would mistake a local feta as really being from wherever the Europeans think feta is from. I have no clue where any of those cheeses are meant to be from, and I bet you don't either unless you google it. 

What a ridiculous system. 

"You can't call yourselves hip-hop artists unless you were born and trained in the hip-hop region of America. You have to call yourself something else. Oh, and K-pop has to change its name too because everyone knows pop music only comes from the 3 square block pop region of Los Angeles and it could be confusing to complete fricking idiots. But whatever they change their name to, nobody else in the world can ever use that name either. Only artists from Gangnam. We're going to have infinite numbers of names for each thing in the world, and it will be great."

I hate that accepting this nonsense seems required if NZ wants to be able to export to Europe. 

Friday, 30 April 2021

Streisand effect - Newsroom and Scott Morrison edition

This morning's news roundup from Newsroom editor Jonathan Milne included a warning about a speech by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. 

Milne writes:

One traveller we'd rather didn't cross the Tasman is the dismissive and disparaging populism expressed in a speech last night by Scott Morrison. At the United Israel Appeal NSW donor dinner in Sydney, the Australian Prime Minister said identity politics and the moral corrosion caused by the misuse of social media were forces seeking to undermine society.

“You are more than the things others try to identify you by in this age of identity politics," he said. "You are more than your gender, your sexuality, your race, your ethnicity, your religion, your language group, your age.”

Morrison said people who focused on those attributes, or divided along those lines, were undermining community, and also losing sight of who they were as individuals. “When they define each other by the boxes we tick or don’t tick – rather than our qualities, skills and character – we fail to see or value other people as individuals,” he said.

Morrison uses the rhetoric of homogeneous nationalism to mask his dismissal of minorities, and their intergenerational experience of disadvantage. Trump did it in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil – and now it's filtering out to the fringes.

NZ Opposition leader Judith Collins is toying with it, describing the proposed Māori Health Authority as "segregationist" and blithely denying all the evidence that a Māori child born today (when all other factors are accounted for) is already behind the start line in the race of life.

No doubt Collins has an eye to the success of those overseas populists, and a memory for the success of Don Brash's iwi/Kiwi. But she and her front bench are better than that and (to be blunt) smarter than that. They have a broader view of the world than did Brash, and will understand that disenfranchising minorities is a disservice not just to them but also to the productive economy that she aspires to lead.

She would be wise to consider that in denying the scientific evidence on matters like Māori health, the only minorities she does empower are those cynically populist conspiracy theorists who are leading the charge against such scientific breakthroughs as 5G, Covid vaccines and climate technologies.

It sounded like a pretty awful speech, from that description. I wouldn't normally pay much attention to what the Australian PM has to say about things, but it made me want to know just how bad it really was. 

When I read the thing, well, it really didn't look like a call for homogeneous nationalism. But you read it and judge for yourself. Thanks to Mike Reddell for the pointer.  

Thank you very much. Please be seated. Shalom. It’s wonderful to be here with you all this evening.

I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather, the Gadigal and Bidjigal people of the Eora nation.

I want to acknowledge, also Steven has just mentioned, our veterans or any service personnel serving who are with us this evening and say thank you on behalf of our nation for your service.

To Steven and to Judy, your leadership of this amazing Keren Hayesod organisation, the UIA Board of Trustees, world board of trustees, is a testament to the esteem in which you are held globally by the Jewish community. Your leadership here in Australia and your family’s leadership here in Australia is in the pantheon of great contributors to our nation that have built this country and as a nation we are deeply grateful to you and for the wonderful work you are doing now.

To Lance Rosenberg, President of UIA Australia, thank you so much.

Jillian Segal, lovely to see you Jillian, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Thank you for your leadership.

To Ambassador Jonathan Peled, the Acting Ambassador of Israel, it is wonderful for you to be here tonight as you always are amongst the community, Your Excellency, and it is wonderful to be joining with you here this evening.

I’m joined by some of my colleagues here tonight. One of them I’m not joined by tonight is the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, you may know him. In fact, I suspect about seven of you are in text communication with him right now and that you didn’t initiate it. Josh is a dear friend and a great colleague and he is doing a tremendous job as he prepares for his next Budget.

But amongst all of that, there has been a passion project for Josh, which I want to acknowledge amongst the community here this evening. And that is the work that he has been doing to provide funding for Holocaust museums. Those we know of already in New South Wales, an outstanding museum and Victoria also. But the $20 million that we worked together to ensure was provided to support the museums in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT.

That is important but I’ll tell you what’s more important - that means across the whole country now, Holocaust education will now be taught across the curriculum. No better way to remember than by teaching your children and I want to commend Josh for his leadership.

To Stuart Robert, the Minister for a very long list of things, Employment, Workforce, Skills, and Small and Family Business, another great friend of Israel who is here tonight and you know Stuart very, very well.

Dave Sharma, the Member for Wentworth who is here, a former Ambassador to Israel, known to you incredibly well. Doing a wonderful job in the community.

And Julian Leeser, who is here with us, the Member for Berowra and Joanna, it is wonderful to have you here. I will talk a little bit more about Julian in just a second.

To everyone else who went to Sydney Boys High School who is here, I know there is a lot of you because I went to school with you. It is wonderful to be amongst friends.

Tonight I want to talk about a topic that I know is very dear to you. My father was a big believer in community. He was Mayor of Waverley, he was on the Waverley Council for some 16, 17 years and he taught me a lot about the importance of community. And he learnt it all from you because my father would tell me, if you want to understand community, understand the Jewish community, which he loved passionately and dearly.

And they cared for him at Wolper in some of his last months as my mother was recently cared for there. She is fine, by the way, she just had a back operation. But the care, the community of the Jewish community, has deeply impacted my family and my father taught me that.

And so I want to talk about a topic tonight that is dear to your hearts - community. Community of individuals, we heard it on the video, a nation of individuals.

Now, as some of you may know and as Steven has mentioned, I have been deeply influenced in recent years by the writings of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Julian is responsible for that, because he has thrust Jonathan Sacks works into the arms of anyone who he can get a book into the hands of, rightly so and I am very grateful that he did.

On one occasion, he said because I was consuming this, that you’d better be careful, you might become Australia’s first Jewish prime minister. And I said, don’t tell Josh.

But his books Lessons in LeadershipCovenant and Conversation, and Morality, his last work, have given me a more textured understanding of Judaism, my own Christian faith and what unites us all as human beings. I shared some of these learnings with my own church community last week at the Gold Coast with Stuart Robert at their national conference.

In his works, Rabbi Sacks wrestles, a bit like Jacob, wrestles with the practical complexities of our modern pluralistic world and finds, through the tenets of his faith, as he did, a pathway to the common good.

At the heart of our Judeo-Christian heritage are two words.

Human dignity.

Everything else flows from this.

Seeing the inherent dignity of all human beings is the foundation of morality. It makes us more capable of love and compassion, of selflessness and forgiveness.

Because if you see the dignity and worth of another person, another human being, the beating heart in front of you, you’re less likely to disrespect them, insult or show contempt or hatred for them, or seek to cancel them, as is becoming the fashion these days.

You’re less likely to be indifferent to their lives, and callous towards their feelings.

Now, those of Jewish faith understand this. As Rabbi Sacks said, “The purpose of Judaism is to honour the image of God in other people.”

Reflecting the Psalmist: people who are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Such a beautiful idea. And one shared by many other faiths, including my own. Appreciating human dignity also fosters our sense of shared humanity.

This means that because we are conscious of our own failings and vulnerabilities, we can be more accepting and understanding of the failings and vulnerabilities of others.

True faith and religion is about confronting your own frailties. It’s about understanding your own and our humanity. The result of that is a humble heart, not a pious or judgemental one.

This has certainly been my experience. It has also been my privilege to appreciate the commonality of this view in deepening my ever connections with so many other faith and religious communities across Australia.

Christians from all denominations. The Eastern Orthodox faiths, Maronites, Catholics, Anglicans, and then of course Judaism, Hinduism, Muslims.

Seeing the dignity in others means we can see others as imperfect people striving to do their best. 

And, you know, in a liberal democracy, there is no greater liberal democracy than the ones that are shared here and in Israel. Human dignity is foundational to our freedom.

It restrains government, it restrains our own actions and our own behaviour because we act for others and not ourselves, as you indeed do here this evening. That is the essence of morality.

de Tocqueville agreed. He said, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith’. Hayek the economist said the same thing, “Freedom has never worked without deeply ingrained moral beliefs.”

Acting to morally enhance the freedom of others ultimately serves to enhance our own freedom.

So it is no surprise then that Rabbi Sacks concluded in his final work, Morality, “If you lose your own morality, you are in danger of losing your freedom.”

The implication here is very important.

Liberty is not borne of the state but rests with the individual, for whom morality must be a personal responsibility.

In Lessons in Leadership, he quotes distinguished American jurist Judge Learned Hand, to argue this point:

I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, upon courts .. believe me these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women, when it dies there, no constitution, no law can save it.

Freedom therefore rests on us taking personal responsibility for how we treat each other, based on our respect for, and appreciation of, human dignity.

This is not about state power. This is not about market power. This is about morality and personal responsibility.

Now, morality is also then the foundation of true community.

The place where we are valued; where we are unique; where we respect one another and contribute to and share one another’s lives. Where we pledge faithfulness to do together what we cannot achieve alone.

Sacks describes this as the covenant of community.

The determination to step up and play a role and to contribute as you are indeed doing this evening as part of this amazing organisation. Not leaving it to someone else, to another.

That is the moral responsibility and covenant, I would argue, of citizenship. Not to think we can leave it to someone else. 

But there are warnings. Where we once understood our rights in terms of our protections from the state, now it seems these rights are increasingly defined by what we expect from the state.

As citizens, we cannot allow what we think we are entitled to, to become more important than what we are responsible for as citizens.

Teddy Roosevelt argued this more than a century ago in his famous ‘Man in the Arena’ speech. But I’m not going to quote the section that is most known. Arguing that going down this path of entitlements of citizenship, as opposed to the responsibilities, is a very dangerous one, and it indeed jeopardises national success in a liberal democracy.

He said, “The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation.”

He said, “In the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional crises [and we know a bit about that] which call for the heroic virtues.”

Now together and individually we are each responsible for building and sustaining community, and we each have something unique to bring. Because community begins with the individual, not the state, not the marketplace. It begins with an appreciation of the unique dignity of each human being. It recognises that each individual has something to offer and that failure to appreciate and realise this, as a community, means our community is poorer and it is weaker.

In short, to realise true community we must first appreciate each individual human being matters. You matter. You, individually.

And in this context I would also argue we must protect against those forces that would undermine that in community, and I don’t just mean, as I’ve recently remarked, the social and moral corrosion caused by the misuse of social media, and the abuse that occurs there. But I would say it also includes the growing tendency to commodify human beings through identity politics.

We must never surrender the truth that the experience and value of every human being is unique and personal. You are more, we are more, individually, more than the things others try to identify us by, you by, in this age of identity politics. You are more than your gender, you are more than your race, you are more than your sexuality, you are more than your ethnicity, you are more than your religion, your language group, your age.

All of these of course contribute to who we may be and the incredible diversity of our society, particularly in this country, and our place in the world. But of themselves they are not the essence of our humanity.

When we reduce ourselves to a collection of attributes, or divide ourselves, even worse, on this basis, we can lose sight of who we actually are as individual human beings - in all our complexity, in all our wholeness and in all our wonder.

We then define each other if we go down that other path by the boxes we tick or don’t tick, rather than our qualities, skills and character. And we fail to see the value that other people hold as individuals, with real agency and responsibility.

Throughout history, we’ve seen what happens when people are defined solely by the group they belong to, or an attribute they have, or an identity they possess. The Jewish community understands that better than any in the world.

So my message is simple: you matter, you make the difference, you make community. And together with family and marriage and the associations of clubs and community groups, faith networks, indeed the organisations we’re here celebrating tonight, and so much more, they are the further building blocks of community on that individual, providing the stability and the sinews of society that bind us one to another.

And upon that moral foundation of community we build our institutions of state. Within that moral context we operate our market place.

To your great credit, this event is an affirmation that morality always starts with individuals seeing the dignity and need in each other and deciding to act. You are demonstrating by your own actions that morality can never be outsourced, because when it is we rob ourselves of that precious agency and we deny the strength and goodwill that comes from building community.

You matter. Community matters. In a democracy, it matters especially. It’s a tremendous source of strength and it’s why foreign actors seek to sow discord online, in many other ways, inflaming angers and hatreds and spreading lies and disinformation.

Of course, the right to disagree peacefully is at the heart of democracy, I’m not referring to that. But democracy is a shared endeavour, and the civility, trust and generosity, they are the currency that mediates our differences.

As I said to the Australian-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne a few years ago, in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre which broke our hearts and tore our souls, what we need is not to disagree less, in a liberal democracy like Australia, we just need to disagree better.

I’ve been so incredibly heartened to see people from across the country show the best of us as a nation this past year. As Teddy Roosevelt said, those heroic virtues that were called upon at such a time.

Drought, bushfires, floods, cyclones, pandemic - Australians have found ways to support each other and stand with each other. Checking in on each other, keeping jobs there for your employees, volunteering, helping neighbours with their shopping.

Tonight I’ve spoken of Rabbi Sacks and I think his description of community could be well applied, I think, to the best of what we’ve seen in Australia over these past few years.

There’s another Jewish leader who’s also influenced me in recent times, and on this occasion it was Josh Frydenberg thrusting a book into my hand. And I know he’s had a big impact on Josh and I know, I would say everybody in this room. And that’s the Holocaust survivor 101-year-old Eddie Jaku.

Eddie’s book “The Happiest Man on Earth” is a gift to us. I think he’s taking the title of what I might have called my book sometime. But it is a great gift to Australia. He is a great gift to Australia.

The book is a love letter to this country and I thank those of you who have come up to me tonight. As Prime Minister, not me personally, but just representing the Australian nation and saying your thanks to what Australia has meant to you and your family.

Of course Eddie’s story is harrowing but it’s also hopeful. Of life in the Nazi concentration camps. Of surviving Auschwitz, Buchenwald and the Holocaust. And of course losing his family. But never losing his faith in humanity. Finding friendship even amongst the absolute ruins.

And after the end of the War, Eddie found a home here in Australia where he was welcomed with open arms, as so many of you or your family have been.

Many of you know Eddie, because he’s guided tens of thousands of people through the Sydney  Jewish Museum. Eddie says of our country, a land where opportunities abound. And it is.

Julian Leeser has made the wonderful point that Australia is one of the few places on earth where Jewish people have not suffered persecution.

We’re not perfect, no country is, but we do have much to be proud of. We are a liberal, free people, one of the oldest continuous democracies on the planet. We have an Indigenous heritage and a rich multicultural character, both adding a brilliance and joy to our national life and character. We seek to be a good neighbour in our family here in the Pacific, and a good citizen in the world, playing our part, doing our share of the heavy lifting, meeting global challenges. We stand as a sovereign and free nation in an increasingly uncertain part of the world. We value and strive to preserve a liberal world order where the strategic balance favours freedom, always.

And we stand by with like-minded friends, such as the Jewish people and the State of Israel, who is a great friend to Australia and we are a true friend of Israel. A country that is sovereign, that is independent and free. A modern state, born anew in an ancient homeland.

Australia is a proud and faithful friend. So friends, continue to stand by each other.

When President Rivlin visited Australia, he described Australia’s Jewish community as the ‘living bridge’ between our two countries and that is indeed what you are.

You have created a bridge that has enriched Australia beyond measure.

Though numbering only about one per cent of our population, Jewish Australians have made a remarkable contribution to our national life and our story.

You have sought to be a light unto the nations, performing the mitzvot or good deeds according to the Law of Moses.

Good citizens, good neighbours and good friends, who understand through their own faith and history and sufferings that life is not what you accumulate but what you give, what you contribute.

People like John Monash, Isaac Isaacs, Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen, Linda Dessau, Susan and Isaac Wakil, and Judy Cassab.

The amazing Sir Frank Lowy.

Isi Leibler, the late Isi Leibler, who we know passed away earlier this month, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family. He was a great blessing to this country.

My dear friends, my deputy leader and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, another great contributor, as is Julian Leeser, making his mark.

So many outstanding Jewish Australians. So many stories of giving back.

That’s what you are doing tonight.

I know Steven is hoping the focus of that is giving. But you will, I know, because that has been your custom. To give and to give back.

In my church, we talk about blessed to be a blessing and that is what you’re doing here tonight. So being among you tonight, I’m deeply honoured to be here, I’m deeply grateful for your contribution to our nation.

I honour you as Australians, and as people of a rich heritage, a great culture and a tremendous faith.

I take to heart the words that you live out: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.”

So I conclude with the words of Eddie Jaku and his blessing to so many:

“May you always have lots of love to share, lots of goodwill to spare, and wonderful friends that care”.

Thank you and God bless you. Shalom.

If this is the new bar for beyond-the-pale right-wing nationalism as far as mainstream NZ media are concerned, well, I'm reminded of the conditions that allowed Fox News to go from zero to something like fifty percent market share in a couple years. 

Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo came up with a brilliant measure of media outlet ideology in the early 2000s; they anchored it to the median voter's ideological preferences using think tank citations by congressmen, and by outlets, as intermediary. 

This is what they found, in the era before Fox went kinda nuts.

Sure, Fox was to the right of centre - about ten points to the right. But it was closer to centre than most other news outlets. Out of 20 outlets, it was the 5th closest to centre, and everyone else sat to the left of the median voter. A vast section of Hotelling's beach had no hot dog vendors, so the folks setting up a hot dog stand just a bit away from everyone else's took half the market. 

It's impossible to re-create the Groseclose and Milyo kind of analysis here. Leigh and Gans had a tough time of it in Australia - they had to look at partisan, rather than ideological, bias. And Oz has thicker media and think tank markets than we do. But I wonder how much of the beach here is left yearning for a hotdog. 

Thursday, 29 April 2021

24/7 Sobriety

A few stories this week reminded me of South Dakota's 24/7 Sobriety programme.

I've previously talked about South Dakota's 24/7 programme. RAND's research on it is here. Bottom line: no-alcohol conditions as part of probation or parole, monitored, with certainty of a short sentence for violation, results in reduced alcohol consumption among those with demonstrated abuse problems, and consequent reductions in offending.

I don't know how many of the more violent people in emergency housing near very vulnerable people are on parole or probation that could have come with a monitored and enforced no-alcohol condition. 

And I wonder whether running 24/7 here might improve things. A short spell in the cells for breach of no-alcohol conditions could result in net reduction in nights in cells by reducing reoffending. 

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Pandemic priorities

Prior to Covid, successive governments' approaches to public health meant that we had central government ready and able to command District Health Boards to stop the sale of soda at hospital cafeterias, but unable to tell whether hospital staff were vaccinated during a measles outbreak caused by failure to make sure everyone was getting their measles shots.

I worry that a new Public Health Agency will find itself tempted to shift back to those kinds of priorities once Covid is eventually in our rearview mirrors - and potentially even before then. 

This week's column at Newsroom argues that the proposed Public Health Agency should be split into two parts, with one party focused on contagious disease.

A snippet:

The problem was not a fragmented DHB system. Rather the problem was that public health efforts from the Ministry of Health and granting agencies focused on non-communicable disease at the expense of communicable disease.

And it is all too easy to see how that problem emerges.

Governments have a harder time dealing with things that impose longer term risk than with things imposing present costs. Hospitals must deal, all the time, with the costs associated with diabetes, with smoking, and with harmful alcohol use. While smokers pay a lot more in tobacco excise than they cost the government, the health system still bears the burden. And health professionals who deal daily with those suffering the longer-term consequences of poor diet, heavy drinking, and smoking can be powerful advocates for focusing on those problems.

So, it is always tempting, when resources are scarce, to shift focus away from workstreams dealing with longer term risks towards ones dealing with current problems. For a public health system, contagious disease is a bit like sewage network maintenance for a city council. There is always something that is a more pressing concern until suddenly there is not.

That is one reason that a dedicated agency, like Taiwan’s, can provide impressive results. Having only one job means less chance of being diverted into other tasks.

And our Ministry of Health, pre-Covid, was frequently diverted.

Monday, 26 April 2021

In praise of Big Agriculture, and global trade

Foreign Policy walks us through the merits of Big Ag:

In the popular bourgeois imagination, the idealized farm looks something like the ones that sell produce at local farmers markets. But while small farms like these account for close to half of all U.S. farms, they produce less than 10 percent of total output. The largest farms, by contrast, account for about 50 percent of output, relying on simplified production systems and economies of scale to feed a nation of 330 million people, vanishingly few of whom live anywhere near a farm or want to work in agriculture. It is this central role of large, corporate, and industrial-style farms that critics point to as evidence that the food system needs to be transformed.

But U.S. dependence on large farms is not a conspiracy by big corporations. Without question, the U.S. food system has many problems. But persistent misperceptions about it, most especially among affluent consumers, are a function of its spectacular success, not its failure. Any effort to address social and environmental problems associated with food production in the United States will need to first accommodate itself to the reality that, in a modern and affluent economy, the food system could not be anything other than large-scale, intensive, technological, and industrialized. 


Vertical integration might bring significant benefits. Big agricultural corporations would have significantly greater incentive to invest resources into the long-term improvement of the land they own and farm, implement evidence-based farming practices, and spend on capital-intensive technology.

Large companies are also, counterintuitively, more responsive to demands for social responsibility, not less so. It is large, multinational corporations, not smaller regional operators, for instance, that have been willing to make zero-deforestation commitments in places like Brazil. That’s because, even though they can leverage their size and economic power to thwart reform, they are also easier to target, pressure, and regulate than more decentralized industries.

For these reasons, a food system that is bigger, more consolidated, and more vertically integrated might actually deliver better social and environmental outcomes than the one we have today. Either way, big farms and big agriculture are here to stay. They are a fundamental feature of global modernity, not a conspiracy by capitalists and corporations to poison people or the land.

Ultimately, improving the U.S. food system will require, first, appreciating it for the social, economic, and technological marvel that it is. It feeds 330 million Americans and many millions more around the world. It has liberated almost all of us from lives of hard agricultural labor and deep agrarian poverty. It has allowed forests to return across much of the United States while also sparing forests in many other parts of the world. It does all this while being extraordinarily efficient environmentally. A better food system will build on these blessings, not abandon them.

Relatedly, Sarah Taber's worth following on Twitter. She's an ag consultant in the US, debunks a fair few myths about family farms. She's not a huge fan of corporate models, but the idealization of family farms and of myths that small artisanal organic farms could possibly sustain modern societies - she really doesn't go for that either. Here's a thread on manure