The rise of progressive community independents should inspire local climate change and environmental action

Zali Steggall and Sophie Scamps climate action supporters

The barnstorming success of progressive independent candidates in the May election underlined Australians’ mass scale disillusionment with two party politics. Very importantly, it also shone 10,000 watt arc lights on the huge power of local action to make political change.  Labor and the LNP will be scrambling to tap into that power or will see their voters drop even further.

No issue energized this election as much as climate change and the environment. The huge rise in the Greens vote as well as the teal independents all giving it centre stage are obvious signs.  Many accounts of the growth of armies of volunteers blanketing suburbs with door knocking conversations, local business engagement and packed out meetings full of people hungry to help with change were inspiring.

To try and harness this sort of energy, I plan to soon set up a Sydney inner west local action for the environment page to encourage government policy and practice change at all levels and to promote local initiatives. I hope these will proliferate across the country.

All we are learning about the vital importance of increasing social interaction in people’s lives in reducing isolation, promoting mental and physical health and delaying and minimizing the onset of dementia (the more physical, social and cognitive activity, the better) make increasing local community interaction a no-brainer.

Here’s a start to an alphabetical list of the many things that local action might be aimed at when it comes to the environment. If you can suggest others, PLEASE do.

Abating food waste and building food security

  • Explore ways to have more local food businesses donate unwanted stock to food security pantries like Marrickville and Camperdown’s  Addi Road for distribution to those in need
  • Organise and promote local monthly residents’ food donation days

Coffee keep-cups and plastic lids

  • Encourage expansion of the list of banned single-use plastics to include coffee cup lids. And in the meantime …
  • Develop and promote “no plastic lid” requests to coffee outlet
  • Survey all local coffee outlets on willingness to fill customers’ keep-cups (some refuse saying they are “unhygienic” to staff)
  • Publicise those outlets which actively encourage keep-cup use
  • Request council (or coffee wholesalers) to supply “coffee keep cups welcome” signs and stickers. It’s all about normalizing their use.

Dumped rubbish

  • Encourage rapid reporting to council of dumped rubbish

Front fence book libraries

  • Help others make these proliferate by sharing construction, decoration and mounting tips and moving your unwanted books to them

Electric vehicles

  • Identify more large carpark sites for EV charging stations (eg: in the Inner West Leichhardt Market Town, Norton Street shopping centre) and lobby management to install them
  • Petition shoppers to sign appeals to shopping centre management about charger installation
  • Survey local interest in potential EV purchasing and identifying lack of local charging as a possible barrier
  • Prepare and share templates for assisting strata building residents to make the case for unit block charging points
  • Investigate challenges and potential solutions for community street charging in areas where many dwellings have no garages or other off-street parking
  • Lobby local and state government council for pilot community street charging
  • Build purchasing pools of local residents to lever EV retailers to offer discount for bulk EV purchasing

Litter patrols

  • Promote local litter abatement by having each block’s residents “own” their block’s litter
  • Promote and normalize litter removal as a routine part of local walking
  • Ask council to supply or subsidise litter pick up tools

Native bird nesting houses

  • Encourage and assist residents to install bird nesting houses (eg: help with construction and installation)

Plastic bags

  • Note any businesses still using single-use plastic bags
  • Gentle reminders to these about the new law
  • Reporting any shops continuing to supply them

Recycling bins

  • Build volunteers to conduct sample surveys of yellow bins to determine the extent of and the most common examples of unacceptable content that ruin recycling collections
  • Circulate (letterbox, local social media) survey results highlighting common problems
  • Encourage council to introduce rejection notices on yellow bins containing unacceptable (contaminating) material
  • Encourage councils to expand acceptable green bin content to include the many things shown here

Solar energy capture

Street lights left on in daylight

Stormwater drains and mulch

  • Build networks of local residents to “adopt a drain” which clogs with leaves and soil after rain. These can be notified to council or easily cleared by local adoptees, with cleared matter making great mulch
  • Identify suitable locations for locally depositing mulchable material (gutter leaves, lawn clippings)

Tool and labour sharing

  • Set up local tool and labour sharing networks on social media. There are millions of rarely used tools sitting in sheds and cupboards out there. Let’s share them around. Need a neighbour to help you with a small lifting, fixing, clearing or IT job? A pool of community reciprocity would do wonders for community building

Tree planting

  • Promote local government tree planting by assisting councils to identify houses and public spaces wanting extra trees

Those with dementia shut out of Australian voluntary assisted dying laws

With the long overdue and very welcome passage in the NSW parliament of independent MP Alex Greenwich’s bill to legalise voluntary assisted dying, all six states have now legislated to allow the option of medically assisted death to those who are eligible and wish to die at a time of their choosing.  Estimates are that the NSW law will be implemented within 18 months.

Australia’s new Labor government will be quickly lobbied to allow the A.C.T. and Northern Territory governments to do the same. These jurisdictions are still without these laws and were destined to stay there had Morrison remained in power.

With those two gaps inevitably closing, Australia will have closed the book on medically assisted dying for all those who want it, right?

No, far from it. Eligibility criteria rule out large numbers of people who might want medical help to end their lives.

All Australian state legislation is broadly similar in its provisions. The Victorian legislation, which has been in place the longest, has this to say about eligiblity:

“They must have an advanced disease that will cause their death and that is:

  • likely to cause their death within six months (or within 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases like motor neurone disease) and
  • causing the person suffering that is unacceptable to them.”

The second dot point about unacceptable suffering gives sovereignty to the applicant’s tolerance for suffering, although this needs to be assessed and ratified by medical assessors. But the six and 12 month limits mean that a suffering person who has a disease judged by the medical assessors as unlikely to kill the applicant within those times will have their request denied.

The obvious problem here is that there are many thousands of people living with chronic, incurable and progressive diseases which cause them profound suffering – including mental and existential suffering – and whose suffering is likely to go on for longer than six to 12 months. If they apply outside those time limits, regardless of the strength of their desire to die sooner, they are likely to be refused.

Parkinson’s disease, emphysema and dementia are three important and prevalent examples of many more.

Parkinson’s disease

In April 2022, Former NSW Deputy Premier John Watkins wrote a harrowing account of his life with Parkinson’s disease in the Sydney Morning Herald. He was diagnosed 12 years ago in 2010. 70,000 people live with Parkinson’s in NSW alone. He described his life this way:

“a chronic, degenerative disease [which] continues merrily down its chosen path, dragging me behind it. In recent months, I’ve found greater impacts on my psychological and mental health, my speech and cognitive ability. That leads to self-doubt, depression, uncertainty, awful loss of confidence. How long it will torment me in this way before moving on to other things, I do not know.

The challenge of PD has changed my life like nothing else. I never expected it and I know I’m not dealing with it very well.

Me, you, none of us can escape the inevitability of life-changing challenges that are rolling down the years towards us. They make and too often break us. Parkinson’s did that for me. I have hoped over the years since that it would stir a stoic resolve, a capacity to bear the strain, and to move on, despite the weight. Rather it has left me feeling bereft, and hopeless.”

Watkins wrote nothing about wanting to end his life early. But many living in such a way might want to. One of my dearest colleagues took that step several years ago, surrounded by his family after a last meal and his favourite music. He was a doctor who had access to nembutal.


Emphysema is another very prevalent disease, with 4.8% (about in in 21) of those aged 45 and over living with it, sometimes for up to 20 years. It is progressive and incurable, with medication capable of only slowing progress and partially alleviating symptoms. In the final stage, which may sometimes last for several years, quality of life can be abject. It can be an exhausting trial to walk even a few steps, with stairs being very challenging. Those living like this are often housebound and so socially isolated.

I will never forget a woman who called me at work about 15 years ago.  “I’ve smoked for thirty years. I have emphysema. I am virtually housebound. I get exhausted walking more than a few metres. I have urinary incontinence, and because I can’t move quickly to the toilet, I wet myself and smell. I can’t bear the embarrassment, so I stay isolated at home. Smoking has ruined my life. You should start telling people about the living hell smoking causes while you’re still alive, not just that it kills you.”

Some living like this may want to end their lives. But again, they would be ineligible under the current legislation’s time limits until they were as assessed as being six or less months before death.


When it comes to dementia, Andrew Denton has said “This is a much longer, and more difficult, conversation … [dementia] is the single most common question I have been asked over the last 6 years – what about people with dementia?”

The Victorian rules say this about those with dementia:

“Having dementia is not sufficient reason for a person to access voluntary assisted dying (the same as disability or mental illness), but a person diagnosed with dementia may be eligible if they meet all of the conditions, including having decision-making ability throughout the entire process.  (my emphasis)

When dementia affects a person’s ability to make a decision about voluntary assisted dying, they will not meet the conditions to receive assistance to die.”

When it comes to dementia, this catch 22 is both cruel and iniquitous.

Those of us who have completed living wills (advanced directives) and lodged them with our GPs and next-of-kin, have done so recognising that there may come a time near our death when we are unconscious and so unable to affirm to medical staff looking after us about what we want to happen. While next-of-kin can over-ride or fail to disclose a living will when a person is dying, this is far less common than them affirming a dying person’s known expressed interests.

So when a person is unconscious, medical and hospital staff cannot check with a clearly dying, terminal patient that they indeed still stand by their written, dated and witnessed preferences to not be given life preserving measures like resuscitation, assisted beathing or tube feeding. The medical staff instead check with next-of-kin what the patient’s wishes would be. Here, an advanced directive produced for corroboration would be of critical importance. Medical staff will generally then respect the past written words of the dying patient, in addition to the assurances of the next-of-kin that hastening death by withdrawal of life support is what the dying person would want.

The NSW Department of Health’s advanced care directive  that I have completed lists six “values” (see below) for the signatory to complete, as well as a number of explicit medical procedures that should not be attempted to prolong life.

If these directions are followed by medical staff, they will actively be failing to take actions in the knowledge that these omissions will cause the death of the person, as they wished in their advanced care directive.

But when it comes to a person with dementia who is legally judged as not being capable of requesting voluntary euthanasia, no such corroboration from proxies or living wills is allowed.

Front and centre of the assessment by those assessing the request that a person with dementia should be assisted to die, is the active, witnessed wishes of the person concerned. But if, while sentient, that person was to provide detailed specifications about when they would wish to be assisted with their suicide, they will have their wishes denied even if, when those conditions apply, they have ticked all the boxes at a time when they were sentient.

The glaring iniquity here is that anyone dying of any disease other than dementia, who either prepares an advanced directive or applies successfully for assisted dying, will have their wishes respected. Even if they are unconscious and cannot give final consent to actions being taken which will speed up their death, they will have their wishes respected.

But anyone seeking to ensure that their wish to not live with advanced dementia is respected (and assisted) will be side-lined and refused. They are destined, against their wishes, to live on for perhaps years in the twilight zone of total isolation, intellectual and sensory deprivation and unable to perform the most basic human functions by themselves.

My father had dementia and died in his sleep with it, not from it, at 89. He never expressed any wish to have assisted suicide and his quality of life, while a pale shadow of his younger self, was dignified and often contented (see my account of this at page 347 in this collection of writing).

But had he lived when voluntary assisted dying was legal, and when fully sentient, specified for example, that he did not wish to live when he could not recognise his own children, could not feed or toilet himself and answer the simplest of questions about his surroundings or circumstances, humane law on voluntary assisted dying should allow his wishes to be respected.

The situations I have described cannot be swept aside as too-hard-basket exceptions not requiring amendments to the various state laws. Certainly, the cardinal principle of sentient consent will be challenging here. But that principle is already considered where advanced directives are respected for terminal unconscious patients.

The challenging difference of course, is that when advanced directives are respected, life-saving medical procedures (CPR, tube feeding, renal dialysis, continuous administration of a drug) are not given. Steps are omitted that will result in death.  With voluntary assisted dying, a commission occurs: the active administration of a drug that will quickly cause death.

But when the intent in both cases is to accelerate death, acts of omission and commission both achieve the same result, albeit at different speeds. The outcomes for both here are the same, but the speed of death different. But why should the speed of accelerating death be at all relevant?

Instead, the respect for the wishes of the person who will die are different. In the case of an unconscious person without dementia with an advanced care directive, medical staff can hasten death by active decisions to not prolong life. They do not say among themselves “but we can’t check with the dying person if they earlier stated wish to die is still their wish – so we must prolong life, not end it”

Yet with the person with dementia who has actively taken steps to ensure they do not live in a state in which they desperately do not wish to live, no such respect is given.

That cannot be either just or right.

A final word to Andrew Denton “I also harbour concerns about asking a doctor to end the life of someone who can no longer competently request that act. I’m not sure an advanced care directive, no matter how meticulous or frequently updated, can fully answer a doctor’s reasonable concerns. That being said … regardless of our existing VAD laws, this conversation will continue.”

Fact Check: Has Australia’s reduction in smoking been ”an embarrassing failure”?

The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) is a vaping lobby group most Australians have probably never heard of. But on 6 April it issued a press statement trying to warn our political parties that if they did not liberalise access to vaping products, perhaps “millions” of voters would turn against them.

That’s right folks. Forget political parties plans to address climate change, the death of the barrier reef, fires, the worst floods we’ve ever seen, asylum seekers being left to rot for 10 years in offshore detention, failure to introduce a national anti-corruption commission, failure to address violence against women and many more big issues. It’s more freedom to vape that CAPHRA thinks will decide our election.

Besides having problems even spelling “cigarettes”, grammatical problems and getting more than all of 138 hits on its latest riveting video published 26 days ago, CAPHRA doesn’t seem to mind publishing easily fact checkable out-of-date nonsense on how badly Australia is allegedly doing in reducing smoking.


Its press release quoted the irrepressible Australian vaping advocate Colin Mendelsohn:

The two national government data sources on smoking prevalence are the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s triennial National Drug Household Survey (NDHS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey.

Here are the data on daily smoking prevalence

2013:(14+): 12.8% (AIHW)

2016:(14+): 12.2% (AIHW

2018 (18+): 13.8% (ABS)

2019 (14+): 11.08% (AIHW)

2021:(18+): 10.7% (ABS)

AIHW source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020c). Table 2.3: Tobacco smoking status, people aged 14 and over, by sex, 2001 to 2019 (persons). In Chapter 2: Tobacco smoking supplementary tables, National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra: AIHW.

Mendelsohn’s words quoted by CAPHRA appear in his March 15 2022 submission to the Australian Health Department’s National Tobacco Strategy 2022-2030. Strangely, nowhere in his submission does he cite or quote the ABS’s 2021 data which was published  on December 10, 2021, three months before he finalised his submission.  In his submission he compares the average annual falls in smoking prevalence in Australia, England and the USA writing “The annual rate of decline in smoking since 2013 has been 0.3% in Australia, 0.7% in England and 0.8% in the US”.

Had he looked at the average annual decline in Australia across the 4 years 2018-2021, he would have had to write that Australia’s rate declined by an average of 0.775% per year – a figure inconvenient to his “embarrassing failure” narrative. His forecast that it’s “highly unlikely that Australia will reach the ‘new’ target of <10% daily adult smoking by 2025” – in two and a half years from now – will put egg all over his visage if recent declines continue.

Mendelsohn should also have been aware that the way “smoking” is counted in England is different to how it’s counted in Australia. Australia includes cigarette and roll-your-own smokers plus all exclusive users of other combustible tobacco products like pipes, cigars, hookah and shisha, whereas England only counts cigarettes and roll-your-own as “smoking”. England’s full combustible tobacco smoking prevalence will therefore be higher.

The booming use of disposable vapes by Australian school kids which is alarming school principals, parent groups and those in public health seems certain to trigger major revisions to the regulation of vaping products in Australia later this year. If state and territory governments significantly ramp up fines for selling vapes without prescription and put far greater effort into busting and publicising raids on sellers who are currently banking on COVID19-depleted low priority for this, many small businesses will not risk it.

Lesson from New Zealand

New Zealand, following an unsuccessful 2018 challenge by the Ministry of Health over Philip Morris International’s plans to sell the NVP HEETS product, the government was forced to allow the marketing of NVPs, including no age restrictions for purchase, no advertising constraints and no accountability for retailers.

The graph below, using data from New Zealand Action on Smoking and Health, shows what has been occurring with 14-15 year olds’ regular smoking and vaping prevalence in New Zealand. Between 2012-15, overall smoking fell by 21% from 6.8% to 5.5% and by 37% from 17.7% to 11.2% in Māori children.  But after the advent of vaping, the decline changed to a growth of 9% between 2015-19, with Māori smoking rising 21%. While this was happening, regular vaping was rising dramatically: between 2015-2019, the prevalence of regular vaping rose 173% (5.4% to 12%) and by a roaring 261% in Māori children (5.4% to 19.5%). 

My first seen, best and worst bands 1964-2022

Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs 1965

Every week, Facebook and Twitter are deluged with clickbait questions “Who was the first/best/worst band or performer you saw?” Of course, big name acts predominate, but my first instincts often shoot straight to lesser known acts who blew my socks off at different times in my life. So here’s my best five in a few categories.

5 of the earliest bands I saw

1964: Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages who for some bizarre reason were booked to play in Bathurst (where I grew up) at the now demolished City Theatre on his 1964 three week tour of Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he had 18 inch long hair, screamed his songs and wiped his nose on the stage curtains. He went on to form the Monster Raving Looney Party and serially contested British elections until 1997. He died in 1999. I vaguely recall they were very loud and outrageous, which greatly impressed 13 year old Simon.

1965: Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. My dad sometimes took me to Sydney on his trips to buy supplies for his business. We’d stay at the Imperial Hotel in Kings Cross and one night we walked past Surf City where the Crest Hotel now stands. We went in and I saw Billy Thorpe’s band playing songs like this in neat suits, doing their little dance routines like Cliff Richard’s band the Shadows had perfected. It was beyond wonderful. Here’s Billy Thorpe reminiscing about Surf City

1966: The Black Diamonds A band fromthe coal-mining town of Lithgow, described by the Easybeats as the best support band they ever played with.   I heard them at the Bathurst show where their guitarist played a lot through an echo chamber. See the way was their standout song.

1969: The Original Battersea Heroes. When I moved to Sydney in 1969 I often went to French’s Tavern in Oxford Street where early blues bands like the Starving Wild Dogs and Gut Bucket played. My favourites were the Heroes, a jug, washboard, harmonica and guitar band fronted by the bouncy Terry Darmody.

1970: Jeff St John & the Copperwine. I saw them many times at university gigs. Jeff’s soaring, powerful voice was never better than with his version of the Temptation’s Cloud Nine. The Hammond B3 through the Leslie sound in it pours all over the song.

5 of the Best

1984 Sam Mangwana and the African Allstars, London This was my first experience of live African music. The Congolese superstar’s band was thick with the best session men from Kinshasa, with about 18 on the stage including the dancers. From that night on, I have been a slave to Congolese rumba. Here he is today

1976: Santana – in Sydney at the Hordern Pavilion at their peak during Carlos’ Sri Chimoy period. Played lots from Caravanserai, with Gregg Rollie  on keys. Spellbinding.

2003: The Rolling Stones – Lucked in and saw them from the moshpit in the one-off 2000 seat Enmore Theatre, with the ACDC Young brothers guesting. Read the full story here

2010: Vieux Farka Toure, Festival of Sydney. Powerful Malian guitarist. Never pass any opportunity to see him.

2014 Bruce Springsteen, Sydney. Beyond comparison in energy and virtuosity,  Played for nearly 3 hours. We sat right above the stage.

Honorable mentions

1985: Les Quatres Etoiles (London) Congolese supergroup with Nyboma, Bopol, Syran and Wuta Mayi

2008 Toumani Diabate ‘s Symmetric Orchestra Malian kora maestro (Sydney Opera House)

(Many times) Senegal’s Youssou N’dour – never fails to deliver spectacular gigs

Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, Sydney Opera House: This was the highlight – watch through till the end, sound full up.

2014: Ariel Bringuez  Quartet– Cuban jazz trio resident in Madrid. Sensationally good. Restaurant gig. Try this

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters (the Basement, Sydney 1990s Boston blues guitarist. Amazing if you’ve not heard him.

2005: Ernest Ranglin and Monty Alexander (legendary Jamaican guitarist and piano session men who played together at Sydney’s Basement)  

2006: Jan Garbarek – ethereal Norwegian saxophonist. Saw in concert in Lyon, France 2006. Pin drop perfection.

1970s: Leo Kottke, twice in Sydney. US acoustic guitarist

Early 1990s M’Bilia Bel & Rigo Star – Congolese diva living in Paris who toured Australia in the early 1990s with near-zero publicity. With some 40 others I saw them at the Birkenhead Tavern and was singing along to the standard Shauri Yako when she saw me and invited me up to duet it with her. Huge thrill.

The very worst

1979 Bo Diddley Kings Cross Rex hotel. Unchanging stone age beat, on and on …. zzzz

1985: Van Morrison, at the London Dominion  The first half featured Morrison’s band playing Irish music. Fine, but we’d payed to hear Van. After the break, the band returned and played several more Van-less songs leading to slow hand clapping, before the Great Man slipped on stage, sat on a stool to the side and mumbled his way through a few standards with all the interest of last week’s cold soup. No audience engagement. Bored beyond belief. Half the audience, including us, walked out. Apparently not that uncommon.

2004 James Brown East Coast Blues and Roots Festival, Byron Bay. A performer well past his prime. Took his time to join the band, a shell of his former self. Went through the motions and kept leaving the stage, perhaps for oxygen? Some understatement from a review “Sure, his voice wasn’t perfect. And he definitely couldn’t move the same way as we saw him do on videos from the 60s.”

2004 Al Green State Theatre, Sydney.  Played for only around an hour, cramming material into superficial mash-up medleys of his hits. Another legendary performer far better as a memory than as a performer.

2006 The Mighty Sparrow. The Trinidad soca superstar played at the Enmore Theatre. The sound mix was atrocious, the band were very aged and looked tired and bored. I kept telling the people I took how legendary and wonderful Sparrow was. They all looked at me as if I was in on some bad joke or scam to get them there. We all left after 40 minutes.

Here’s a list I made a few years ago of all the performers I can remember seeing — a good many since then

Autopsy report finds Queensland man’s  death probably caused by 10 years of vaping

The late Peter Hansen

On 21 Feb 2022, ABC-TV’s 7.30 program ran a report on the death of a 70 year old Queensland man, Peter Hansen. Mr Hansen had smoked heavily until 10 years ago when he switched to vaping after his step-daughter expressed concerns about smoking around her new baby.

The program included interviews with his partner Pam Ashdown, the intensive care doctor (Sean McManus) who treated him when he was admitted three days before he died; histopathologist Sukhwinder Sohal from the University of Tasmania who has published on vaping respiratory risks, and GP Colin Mendelsohn who frequently advocates for minimal regulation of e-cigarettes and was a founding director of ATHRA, a registered charity focussed on promoting use of nicotine vaping products.

Ms Ashdown gave me her permission to publish the autopsy report (downloadable below), requested by the family.

The report makes the following key statements:

“Regarding the lung granulomas seen at autopsy, many of those are clearly peribronchial and likely to be the foreign body type. These features are consistent with a reaction to an inhaled agent.”

“The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had recently provided a definition of E-cigarette of Vaping product use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) … Use of vaping during the 90 days before onset AND ground glass opacites on CT AND negative testing for infection AND no evidence of alternative plausible diagnoses. A case that meets all these criteria is considered a confirmed case; a case that meets most of the criteria is a probable case.  [in previous published reports] Lung biopsies have shown a spectrum of non-specific acute lung injury patterns including accumulation of foamy and/or pigmented macrophages (most cases), organising pneumonia and diffuse alveolar damage, inter alia These 3 features are present in the current case.

The case meets the first three CDC criteria for EVALI, It is harder to be definite about the final criterion for the various reasons discussed above. In conclusion, this case is a probable case of EVALI.”

In the 7.30 item, Colin Mendelsohn appears to grant the possibility that Peter Hansen could have died from EVALI  “I think even if the worst-case scenario this was a case of EVALI, I think we need to keep it in perspective and look at the huge benefits to other smokers from vaping.”

Cigarette use exploded at the beginning of the twentieth century after mechanisation in factories replaced handmade cigarettes. This made smoking very affordable to even those on the lowest incomes. But tobacco-caused diseases didn’t start showing up in large numbers until 30-40 years later.  The US surgeon Alton Ochsner, recalling attendance at his first lung cancer autopsy in 1919, was told he and his fellow interns “might never see another such case as long as we lived”. He saw no further cases until 1936 — 17 years later –   and then saw another nine cases in six months. Since the 1960s, lung cancer has been (by far) the world’s leading cause of cancer death with 18% of all cancer deaths in 2020, ahead of the next most frequent killer, liver cancer, with 8.3%.

With vaping caused disease, we may be still quite early in the latency period between widespread onset of vaping use and appearance of disease. Dr Sean McManus’ prediction in the 7.30 item was “I feel quite passionately that there was no other clear cause for his death, but I think our worry as a healthcare community is that 10 years from now we’re going to see a lot more of this as it comes through.”

Vaping theology on disease causation

Vaping theology emphasises several articles of faith about how its adherents should discuss the health risks of vaping. These are:

  1. Never say that vaping is completely safe.
  2. Instead, pick a big number that sounds like vaping is almost totally benign, compared with smoking. Anything north of “95% less dangerous” than smoking is very memorable and most journalists will just repeat it without any understanding of how this number was conjured. “Substantially less than 5%” of the risks of smoking  can also been used.
  3. Never, ever compare vaping to just breathing air: always compare it to smoking
  4. Never talk about quitting smoking. Instead always talk about switching to vaping
  5. Because many vapers also smoke, or are former long-term smokers, any reports of alleged health issues arising should always be swiftly attributed to smoking, not to vaping.
  6. Taunt those claiming health risks by saying “Millions of people have vaped around the world, many for over 10 years. If vaping is dangerous, where are the bodies?”
  7. You can also say “There has never been a single recorded death caused by vaping”.

Vaping chatroom theology coaching classes will see this advice turbo-charged over the next few years if Peter Hansen was one of the early cases of deaths caused by vaping.

Tailpiece (10 Mar 2022) US vaping enthusiast Cliff Douglas tweeted that ecigs “are not known to have caused a single death”. I sent him this blog and, as day follows night, he ticked vaping theology box 5. You see, no vaper death can ever be attributed to vaping if the vaper ever smoked, no matter low long ago, or had any other risk factors. (full thread here)

Romancing the Tesla 3 and a home battery

Like a lot of people, I spent the last few years telling myself that my Mazda CX3 would be my last fossil fueled car. The inevitability of the rise of cars powered by clean renewable energy will surely see millions of petrol and diesel powered cars around the world become stranded, unsaleable assets. Many will probably have to pay for their cars to be towed to the smelters.

About three years ago, I’d read a review of all Volkswagen’s electric vehicles that were coming down the line. I called VW in Sydney a few times about six months apart and each time was told there was still no date for their availability in Australia “thanks to the Australian government’s pathetic policies on EVs” which were making it non-viable for VW to make them profitable here.

But news this week reported:

“Australia recorded 20,665 EV sales in 2021, a significant increase from the 6,900 sold in 2020, which means electric cars now make up 1.95% of the new car market. The Tesla Model 3 was the bestselling electric car in Australia, with 12,094 vehicles sold last year – accounting for 58.5% of all EVs sold.”

I’d been in a Tesla model S on a trip to France in 2017 but had put Teslas out of my mind when I learned of their withering, well beyond $100k price tag. But then the Tesla model 3 came along. A brother-in-law had one. He’d moved from a Porsche 911 to a Tesla 3 and couldn’t stop gushing about how fantastic it was.

So in June 2021 we decided to take a serious look at a Tesla 3. One wet Saturday, I booked a test drive at Tesla’s Alexandria offices. My main question was whether it would fit in our garage. They gave us a 90 minute unaccompanied test drive. It fitted easily. That settled, it took us about two minutes to decide we’d take the plunge.

Back at their office, we looked through the extra cost options and said no to the double battery, the performance option, 18 inch wheels, white seats (“do I look like I’m a Gold Coast property developer?” I asked the saleswoman) and the fully self-drive, pre-paid upgrade. So we were buying the entry level Model 3 for $69,223 drive-away, with all registration and delivery charges paid.

Tesla offered us $15,000 for our tinny little Mazda, which had 45,000km on it and a few scratches. So we had to fork out $54,223. That made it the most expensive car I’d ever owned, with an Alpha Romeo 159 demonstrator at $42,000 a few years back being the previous benchmark. But many have since pointed out that this price is below the luxury tax class.

Home battery

We’d had 15 Sunpower solar panels (4.9kWh) on our roof since June 2018. With a Fronius Primo 5.0-1 inverter, all costing $9758. We have gas hot water and stove, run a 24/7 400w fish pond filter and are scrupulous in turning all lights and stand-by appliances off when not used.  Here are our annual electricity bills:

2015-16: $1616

2016-17: $1401 (-13%)

2017-18: $2064 (+47%)

2018-19: $668   (-68%)

2019-20: $682   (+2%)

2020-21: $1286 (+89%)

If we take the 2017-18 power bill as a benchmark, the solar has saved us $3556 in power bills in the 3 subsequent years, 36% of the cost of installing it. The spectacular 68% fall in our power bill for two years after installing the solar was trumped by the vicious 89% rise in 2020-21, caused mostly by savage reductions in our feed-in tariff paid by a greenwashing power company that we quickly showed the door.

So we’d decided that getting a home battery would make perfect sense at the same time we got an EV.  On advice, we contacted Smart Energy Answers to get options. The consultant came over and was deeply impressive in explaining the parameters of various options. He said the massive growth in rooftop solar was driving the avarice by power companies to savage all feed-in tariffs. Getting a battery was a no-brainer and would increasingly become so.  He looked at our power bills and was entirely in agreement that our relatively new existing 15 panels and Fronius inverter could and should be incorporated into the battery setup.

We settled on six extra panels (LGs adding 2.22kWh to the existing 4.9kWh Sunpowers for a 7.12kWh total) and an Alpha ESS Smile 5 10.3kWh lithium iron phosphate battery.  Fully installed over 2 days in June, this all cost $12,480. 

Alpha ESS 10.3kWh battery
Six extra LG panels

We switched to Discover Energy which currently pays three diminishing tiers of feed-in tariff.

In the seven months since  – which includes three winter months of reduced sunlight – we have paid nothing for electricity, and even have a $118 credit.  And across the same period I have paid just $20 in Tesla charging. This was just this week when we spent three days in the Hunter Valley and a neighbouring hotel charged us $10 for two charging sessions which would have been free if we had stayed there.

We charge the car via “trickle charge”  from a normal 240v socket in the garage by an automatic top-up in off peak hours (10pm-7am) when the cost of power is lowest. In a typical week of Sydney driving, we need to do this about 2-3 times a week, charging it up to 80% full. If going on a long trip, we use free “destination” chargers. There are three sites within a couple of kilometres of our house. This morning I used one at the Glebe Tramsheds shopping centre taking the battery from 43% to 80% in two hours while I took a walk and bought some groceries. Not once have I ever had to wait for a charging station to become free.

Our 2020-21 car fuel bill was $1192 plus $1142 in servicing and tyre costs. If the zero electricity bills continue throughout the year as expected, the total saving in power plus car running costs across a year, at this year’s savings will be $3619.  In just 3.4 years the battery and extra cells will have paid for themselves (5.1 years if we add the residual cost of our original 2018 15 rooftop panels and inverter).

On a typical summer’s day, the battery is fully charged by about 10am, and remains so until about 6.30pm. It’s always empty when we wake in the morning, drawing from the grid for overnight power use including car charging. But with oceans of power having been fed back, the net result has so far been a power bill growing in credit.

So what’s to like with a Tesla, apart from the fuel savings?

There are countless videos and breathless reviews about Teslas on the web. Here are some of the standout wonderful things about it for me.

Servicing:  in 7 months there’s been no servicing. There’s no motor, so tyre rotation and changing are the main things that will need attention at some stage, as with all cars. Chat rooms are full of owners boasting huge numbers of kilometres without changing brake pads and rotors. This is because taking your foot of the accelerator brakes the car. You hit the brake only occasionally as a back-up.

Destination anxiety: When you want to go on a trip out of Sydney, the spectre of being stranded with a flat battery on long stretches of roads without charging stations looms large in your mind. All you need to do is look on the inboard computer for the location of charging stations and plan from there. We have good friends on the North Coast and there are many places to charge along the way.

Our first out of town trip was from Sydney’s inner west to Bawley Point, south of Ulladulla.  As we passed Berry, the battery was 60% full and we would have made it safely. But we passed a Tesla supercharger and in 15 minutes, the battery was full. So easy.

Speed: the acceleration of the Tesla 3 is beyond dazzling. On a Hunter Valley backroad this week I decided to floor it from a cruising speed of 80km/h. Within what seemed 2-3 seconds it was over 140km/h and my foot was nowhere near the floor. The G-force you feel on a roller coaster as it plummets from a peak to the bottom is the nearest feeling of what the thrust feels like. Its power is most noticeable in situations when you need to move quickly. Coming back along the M1 freeway this week on a cruise-controlled 110km/h (the car’s cameras read the speed limit signs and automatically adjust your speed), I was tailgated in the overtaking lane by a Mustang. After 20 seconds of this bullshit, I accelerated and moved with rapier-like speed across into the middle lane. The bewildered Mustang receded to a speck in the distance. Knowing you can always do this is very assuring.

Similarly, if you are on the speed limit and overtaking a massive B-double truck hurtling along besides you at just below the limit, you always want to get past it as soon as you can. Within a blink, touching the accelerator has you past. And if you need to slip ahead of a line of traffic at traffic lights to turn soon afterwards, nothing, nothing can stop you being there first.

Here are vids of a Tesla 3 performance racing a Lamborghini Adventador, a Ferrari Portofino, an Aston Martin DBS (vs Model S) and a Porsche 911. Spoiler: the Tesla eats them all. And here are  some fruity-languaged Queensland coal miners taking a Tesla for a run.

Sound: the sound quality is just superb. It comes with digital radio allowing you to access any digital station anywhere in the world. Through 8 speakers (15 in the performance model) with fingertip volume control on a steering wheel button. My only peeve is that you must pay a $10 monthly Spotify fee through Tesla, even if you already have an account.

Software updates: You need to think of a Tesla as being a computer on wheels. Every aspect of its functioning arrives and it monitored through its software. You get very regular software updates which necessitate you having a strong WiFi in your garage. I added a google nest out there.

Safety: The Tesla 3 is said to be the safest car ever tested by US national safety testing authorities. This video demonstrates.

Security: When you go near the car with either your mobile phone or the Tesla keycard, the car unlocks. And when you walk away from it, it locks within seconds. If you are anxious about the car being vandalised or smashed open, you can set it to “sentry mode” on leaving it. This activates 8 cameras which cover 360 degrees up to 250 metres. Anyone touching the car will activate a notice to your phone, sound the horn and allow you to speak to them through the car’s horn speaker. The cameras can be activated as dash cams too.

Sunroof: It has a massive toughened glass roof which, like those sunglasses which adjust to different light, does that too for those inside.

Comfort: I have never sat in a more comfortable vehicle. Pleather seats, adjustable in every which way. Front seats are heated. You can pay extra to activate rear seat heating.

Everyone wants a ride in it. Kids often point at the car as they walk across the road. Many know about it and are excited by it. I’m not a rev-head, but it’s brought out the inner hoon in me. I saw the red wheel rim rubber strips you see in the photo at the top and bought a reel. My wife was merciless when I came home about 20 years ago with a used Nissan ZX (below). “How much did you pay for that?” So I told her. She paused and the said “Why didn’t you just go to an army disposal store and buy a megaphone, and then walk down Pitt Street saying ‘Hey, I’ve got a little dick!’ That’s what women think of men who drive cars like that”. But she loves driving it and even talks about it to others. A car that will get you from A to B. But so much more.

Nissan 300ZX

This cat’s nine lives 


When I turned 70 last month, several friends remarked over a drink that they felt it amazing we had all made it across these years in one piece. We swapped close-call stories. Here are mine. 

  1. Hepatitis A 

When I was 10 living in Bathurst, I became very ill. Our doctor came to the house and diagnosed hepatitis A. My urine was very dark, I vomited ferociously, felt more wretched  than I had ever experienced and was jaundiced. A boy at my primary school died from it. Our doctor told my distressed sister that I got it because I didn’t wash my hands after going to the toilet. He probably left out the part that the local town water supply was inadequately chlorinated. She developed compulsive handwashing for a few months. I found the taste of fat and cream repulsive for years afterwards and ever since have never enjoyed drinking too much alcohol. 

  1. Acute appendicitis 

When I was 13, my mother and sister went to England for three months on a ship. I stayed home with dad. One day he bought a huge bag of cherries home, a very rare treat. I ate lots, swallowing the pips so I didn’t need to interrupt the gorging. The next day I went to the school sick bay with bad pain in my guts. My appendix was removed the next day. I kept the morbid gray slug in a jar of formalin on my desk. It was filled with lumpy cherry seeds. Had it ruptured I may have got sepsis. But the good news is that I’m unlikely to ever get ulcerative colitis

  1. Fanging around Mount Panorama race track 

In late high school I had an older friend, Tony Mulvihill, who was three years my senior, an immense difference at that age which mesmerized me. He drove a grey Ford Anglia, a sedate vehicle mostly favoured as a second car by wives from the period to carry the shopping home. But Tony steadily souped it up. He had it lowered, fitted tramp rods, “fats” (wide wheels) with chrome go-domes, twin carbs and a sports muffler. Seat belts were not compulsory until 1971, and I don’t remember them in the Anglia. I’d often  join him for a thrash around the nearby Mount Panorama race track, something I didn’t tell my parents. One day he nearly lost control of it in the infamous “esses” at the top of the mountain. The car broadsided toward the crash barrier, but he gained control. While at school, I knew three kids who in died in road crashes. Tony went on to race Holden Commodores. I’ve never had so much as a rear-ender in 53 years of driving.

Ford Anglia
  1. Hitch-hiking 

When I came down to university in Sydney in late 1969, in the first year I several times caught the train to Penrith and then hitch-hiked to Bathurst to see mum and dad. I was picked up once by a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. The lone driver had a thick eastern European accent. When he saw I was wearing a Vietnam war moratorium protest badge, he began haranguing me angrily about the evils of communism. He was shouting and menacing. With thoughts of him dispatching the long-haired commie scum beside him, I jumped out at a traffic light in one of the Blue Mountains towns. 

In 1973, I was hitching with my first wife Annie on a highway in Germany. We wanted to go to Koblenz to get a train to Cologne. Two Turks picked us up and we conversed in bad German about our destination. But they soon turned off the highway and drove us deep into the Black Forrest where eventually we came to a deserted brick factory. About 20 more Turkish men appeared in the upper floor windows. To read the full details of what then happened, go to page 29 (A bad end at Bad Ems) of this collection of short stories. 

  1. Motorbikes 

I owned three motorbikes in my early 20s, a Honda 90 step-through, a Honda Benley 125, and then, hey why not, a Triumph Thunderbird 650. I took a spill on the Thunderbird turning onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge off Falcon Street in the rain, the bike slid in the wet toward cars in the adjacent lane with me following behind donating skin to the road. Soon after I heard a road safety researcher on the radio say that the average motorbike commuter in Sydney could expect to be hospitalised  about once every 18 months. I decided that my motorcycling days were soon to end. One of the local motorcycle gangs kindly took my welfare into account and stole the bike from my Glebe backyard soon afterwards (full story from p12 in Undergraduate Housing

Triumph Thunderbird 1966

  1. England to Australia on the smell of an oily rag 

In 1973, I set off with my partner in penury to travel overland from England to Sydney. It was pre internet, pre credit card and pre mobile phones. We had our paltry cash in money belts around our waists. That would trick ‘em. We hitched to Brindisi in Italy, ferried across to Greece, then took local public transport to Calcutta where, riddled with diarrhoea, we took a junk charter flight to Perth and then tried to hitch across the Nullarbor to Sydney. From Turkey to India, and especially in Afghanistan, there was lawlessness everywhere. We saw fellow travelers raped by soldiers, junkies selling their blood and traveled in decrepit buses and cars that were death traps. But we made it. Full story at page 34, The life you (don’t) choose 

  1. Transporting bricks 

I needed to demolish a brick retaining wall in our garden. So I borrowed my brother-in-law’s box trailer and car with towbar. I stacked the bricks in the trailer, but then took a phone call where I needed to drive the car without the trailer to something that seemed more urgent. So the professor of public health set about unhitching the full trailer from the towbar. The huge weight of the bricks of course caused the back of the trailer to thunder to the road at the split second the towbar was uncoupled. This caused the triangular metal section that connects to the towbar to fly upward. It missed my jaw by millimeters and would have literally knocked my block off. 

Undeterred, and immediately wiser, I made a cup of tea and set about unloading the bricks from the trailer to enable me to re-couple it to the towbar. That accomplished, I refilled the trailer and set off on the 17km journey to a clean fill dump at Homebush Bay. Whistling dixie at my step-by-step progress through the day’s challenging tasks,  I was tootling along the M4 when the trailer full of god knows what massive weight of bricks began to fishtail the car. With an instant vision of the car flipping with the weight and the bricks’ momentum crashing them all on top of the car, I slowed the car like a conductor would direct a full symphony orchestra from the overture to the andante. The fishtailing stopped, the bricks were dropped off and I lived to tell the tale. 

  1. Falling off a ladder 

When your gutters need cleaning, what do you do? You get stuck in and climb up a ladder and clean them out.   The sad details about older men falling off ladders in Australia are here. So I got up onto the flat skillion back roof of the house, cleaned them out and then began to climb down. The ladder lurched to the side and I crashed to the ground, wrenching a leg in the rungs as I fell. I landed on the ground between the back of the house and the raised edge of a deck. Had I landed on the edge of the deck, I may have broken my back. A torn meniscus and a few weeks hobbling while it healed. 

  1. Missed  by a bus 

When my granddaughter was about six, I was driving her from her parents’ place in Rozelle  to our place. We traveled across the bridge that crosses over the goods rail lines between Lilyfield Road to the Western Distributor approaching the ANZAC Bridge. There was a red light as we got to the Distributor, with our car being first at the lights waiting for them to change to green. When the light changed I put the gearstick into first and proceeded. I’d gone a few meters into the intersection when from right, a large empty bus flew through the red light on the left inside lane nearest to me with no effort to brake. When he saw me, he swerved and braked to the right. He must have been doing at least 60kph and missed us by less than a metre. Had I been slightly more forward, the full impact would have happened in my driver’s door, the car flipped and both of us would have been almost certainly killed. 

So at 70, my charmed scorecard reads like this. Never broken a bone. Never been in an ambulance. Never been in a car crash. Never been caught in a rip.  Never attacked by a dog, bitten by a snake or venomous spider. Never even been stung by a bluebottle. Never had an adverse reaction to a drug. Never had cancer, heart trouble. Nothing. Lived a blessed life. Here’s to the next couple of decades. 


Vaping advocates say the darndest things: 12: Nicotine is not very addictive

Search Twitter or Google for “vaping not addictive” and you’ll find many examples. Of all the mega-galactic nonsense promoted by vaping advocates that I’ve covered in this blog (see list at end of this piece), this one surely takes the biscuit.

You’ll look hard for anyone with three digits of IQ who will tell you that nicotine isn’t addictive. Here are how nicotine compares with four other addictive substances (caffeine, heroin, cocaine, alcohol and marijuana (cannabis) according to leading nicotine scientists, Neal Benowitz and Jack Henningfield. Both rated nicotine #1 for dependency in an article in the New York Times where they rated each of these six drugs on a scale of 1 (most serious) to 6 (least serious)  for five criteria.


Substance   Withdrawal Reinforcement Tolerance Dependence Intoxication

Nicotine                  3                       4                          2                  1                      5

Heroin                     2                       2                          1                  2                      2

Cocaine                   4                       1                          4                  3                      3

Alcohol                    1                       3                          3                  4                      1

Caffeine                   5                       6                          5                  5                      6

Marijuana               6                       5                          6                  6                      4


Substance   Withdrawal Reinforcement Tolerance Dependence Intoxication

Nicotine                   3*                     4                         4                   1                       6

Heroin                      2                       2                         2                   2                       2

Cocaine                    3*                     1                         1                   3                       3

Alcohol                     1                       3                         4                   4                       1

Caffeine                   4                       5                         3                   5                       5

Marijuana                5                       6                         5                    6                       4

*equal ratings

In 2019 I marched with tens of thousands in Sydney’s school climate strike.  After leaving Sydney’s Domain, I found myself in the sardine-can stream of people exiting the park area, walking right behind a woman who was vaping. She vaped the entire 30 minutes or so it took to shuffle to where the crowd began to disperse. Watching her vape was astonishing. I didn’t have a stop watch, but I’d estimate she pulled on her vape every 20-30 seconds. Not addicted, just enjoying it, right?

I’ve just finished writing a 120,000w book called Quit Smoking Weapons of Mass Distraction which will be published this year by Sydney University Press. There’s a large chapter in it on vaping where one of the issues I look at is what the research literature says about how frequently vapers like the woman in front of me fill their lungs with propylene glycol, nicotine, flavouring chemicals, and some 2,000 mostly unidentified chemicals all vaporised from the liquid that is heated by the metal coil heated by the e-cigarette battery.  Here are some excerpts.

A 2020 study monitoring vaping found those who were exclusive vapers pulled this cocktail deep into their lungs from point blank range on average 173 times a day — 63,188 times a year (173 x 365.25). Those who were dual users (i.e. who vaped but still smoked) basted their lungs 72 times a day with their e-cigarettes in addition to the smoke from their smoking. Another study found the average daily number of puffs taken was 200, with a range up to 611.   A third study, where researchers observed vapers using their normal vaping equipment ad libitum for 90 minutes, reported the median number of puffs taken over 90 mins was 71 (i.e. 0.78 puffs per minute or 47.3 per hour). (St Helen, Ross et al. 2016) If a person vaped for 12 hours a day at that rate, this would translate to 568 puffs across a 12 hour day or 207,462 times in a year.

We can contrast the counts above with the number of puffs today’s average 12 cigarettes-a- day smoker inhales. One study observing puff frequency in those smoking in social settings recorded an average of 8.7 puffs per cigarette with an average 38.6 second gap between puffs.  At 12 cigarettes a day, this would translate to 104 puffs per day or 38,106 per year.

So vapers’ puffing compared to smoking occurs at an almost frantic rate, making a mockery of the bizarre, die-in-a-ditch denialism often seen in vaping chat rooms insisting that vaped nicotine is not addictive.

Other blogs in this series 

Vaping advocates say the darndest things 1: The Cancer Council Australia takes huge donations from cigarette retailers. WordPress  30 Jul, 2020

Vaping advocates say the darndest things 2: Tobacco control advocates help Big Tobacco. WordPress 12 Aug, 2020

Vaping advocates say the darndest things 3: Australia’s prescribed vaping model “privileges” Big Tobacco Feb 15, 2020

Vaping advocates say the darndest things 4: Many in tobacco control do not support open access to vapes because they are just protecting their jobs. WordPress 27 Feb 2021

Vaping advocates say the darndest things 5: I take money from China and Bloomberg to conduct bogus studies. WordPress 6 Mar, 2021

Vaping advocates say the darndest things 6: There’s nicotine in potatoes and tomatoes so should we restrict or ban them too? WordPress 9 Mar, 2021

Vaping advocates say the darndest things 7: Vaping prohibitionists have been punished, hurt, suffered and damaged by Big Tobacco WordPress 2 Jun, 2021

Vaping advocates say the darndest things 8: I hide behind troll account. WordPress 29 Jun, 2021

Vaping advocates says the darndest things: 9: “Won’t somebody please think of the children”. WordPress 6 Sep, 2021

Vaping advocates says the darndest things: 10: Almost all young people who vape regularly are already smokers before they tried vaping. WordPress 10 Sep, 2021

Vaping advocates says the darndest things: 11: The sky is about to fall in as nicotine vaping starts to require a prescription in Australia. WordPress 28 Sep, 2021

Should COVID vaccine refusniks now be restricted and fined?

With 90.42% of Australians aged 16 and over being double vaccinated as of today and the omicron variant surging, many of us are recalibrating how we should run our lives over the next months.  In my family’s case, a fully vaxed daughter-in-law is being torn in half about whether she should use the ticket she’s bought to fly home to see her 80 year old father after 5 years. What if she picks it up in transit and gives it to him? What if Australia closes our borders with the UK and she can’t return home for many months to her young family and job?

We’re triple vaxed, but across the next month have a theatre ticket, two indoor Sydney Festival concerts, three dinner invitations and a Christmas lunch where there will be nine booster-vaxed adults and two unvaccinated primary school kids.

We’ve all agreed to do rapid antigen tests on Christmas morning, but at $15 a pop, this is unlikely to be an option taken up many on low incomes. But what about the rest of our plans while it’s surging? I’m having lots of conversations with people who have decided to personally lock down, not going out to public venues to eat or drink. If this is a widespread sentiment, many businesses will again suffer further and some may close for good.

With NSW and Victoria now seeing record new daily diagnoses, even small fractions of these needing hospital and intensive care may see health care workers in ambulances and hospitals face potential bursting point admissions, at a time when there are staff shortages. This viral tweet from yesterday sums up the ethical pointy end of it:

There is no debating that those who are unvaccinated are at much higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 and therefore of passing it to others, both unvaccinated and vaccinated (because no vaccine confers 100% immunity to all and the dynamics of the omicron variant’s infectious footprint is still far from being understood). An unvaccinated person is around 20 times more likely to infect you than someone who is vaccinated, according to University of Melbourne modellers.

Every expert, and all but the most demented of our politicians, continually implore those who are not yet vaxed to get jabbed. So it’s here that we get to questions of what should be done about all those who continually refuse, sometimes very vocally, to do so. And some of these questions throw up some seriously naïve suggestions.

I’ve heard some commentators talk about how we need “to try to better understand where vaccine refusers are coming from”, presumably so that we can “reach out” to them. There are many stories about a confused uncle who went and got vaxed after a fundamental misconception was patiently explained to them, or reclusive neighbour who just needed a nurse to come to them.  Vaccine hesitancy may well erode with careful, respectful and sensitive communication often to people who are poorly informed about what vaccination is and how it works. But vaccine refusal is a different beast altogether.

Reaching out …

93.8% of Australians have had at least one jab. This means there are 1.274m Australians aged 16 and over who have still not had a single shot. Clearly there are large number of these who are determined people, proud of refusing to be vaxed, who do not believe they pose a danger to the community and will resist any attempt at being persuaded to do so.

Civil societies make many laws and regulations to protect people, businesses and corporations from conduct that poses serious risks to others. Road rules; food and pharmaceutical safety; and vehicle, occupational health, building, and consumer product safety standards are some of the areas where many rules govern individual and business behaviours. Here’s a list I complied in 2013 of 150 ways that health laws and regulations protect a population’s health.

Examples of zero tolerance for those who endanger lives

We have zero tolerance for those who say “I know I can drive perfectly well, when I’m over the blood alcohol limit” or “I know I pose no risk at all to anyone by having banned semi-automatic firearms in my house. I don’t believe in gun laws”, “I don’t believe in the nanny state, so I won’t comply with a fence around my swimming pool” or “Allowing the sewage from my caravan park or toxic waste from my factory to drain into a nearby river is fine … it’s a very big river”. We do not decide that we should all be comfortable with those who tell us they have studied the risks and are making informed decisions here. Instead, we see them as self-absorbed dangers to the community who fully deserve the harsh penalties they often get.

So by what bizarre public ethics reasoning do we even begin to argue that we should accommodate those who want to live and freely move around unvaccinated and unmasked in communities and have the gall to argue that we should all feel fine about them putting the rest of us at risk, ruining businesses etc? And let’s say it, being vectors for spreading a disease which has so far killed 5.34 million.

Reintroduction of threats of being refused entry to cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls today will not persuade any vaccine refuser. We have all by now experienced perfunctory or totally absent verification of vaccination status at many such venues. I have shown my vaccine certificate many times and not once did anyone ever read it carefully or ask me to show photo ID to confirm that the certificate I flashed was actually mine. And that’s before we even get to questions about how anyone with rudimentary computer skills could knock up a fake certificate, screen shot it, and show it whenever asked.

Here’s what other nations are doing. Germany is shaping to make it compulsory. Greece is fining those each month who refuse. The vaccination status and address of every Australian with a Medicare card is known. The government can therefore pinpoint with great accuracy all those who are unvaccinated. Persuasion under threat of significant fines can be precisely targeted. Those with verifiable health exemptions and who were only hesitant out of confusion and willing to get vaccinated, would be OK. But ideological refusers can wear their convictions with movement restrictions and fines, just like others who decide to endanger us all do.

Scott Morrison says that he wants COVID restrictions banished to “give us back our freedoms”. Zero tolerance for refusing vaccination would do just that.

Former NSW Premier and Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr has urged the government to follow Singapore’s lead by charging unvaccinated people for any COVID19 related health care. Scott Morrison, in words that would be cheered at any QAnon anti-vax rally, commented that anti-vaxers should not be demonised for making “their own choices”.

The next time a drunk driver slams into pedestrians, let’s see how that defence goes down in court.

A Sydney Film Festival MUST SEE: The Rumba Kings

Directed by Alan Brain (2021) 94m

Screening at The Sydney Film Festival and on demand. Dates here


Facebook and website

Interview with director by Banning Eyer

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with world music knows about the unstoppable global impact of American blues, Jamaican reggae, and Cuban rumba, son and danzon.  Muddy Waters and other Chicago blues legends, Bob Marley and the multiple tentacles that spread from the 1996 Buena Vista Social Club documentary and albums all have found their way into millions of homes.

But far fewer are familiar with African music beyond Paul Simon’s huge global leg-up to South African township jive with the 1986 Graceland album, Senegal’s Youssou Ndour’s world hit 7 Seconds Away with Nenah Cherry (1994) and perhaps Guinea’s Mory Kante 1986 monster dancefloor hit Yé ké yé ké.

Most people I know, including those with  eclectic musical tastes, could not name a single musician or band from the Congo. But across much of African, Congolese rumba and its faster variant soukous are peerless as a kind of pan-African musica franca. No form of African music other than Congolese rumba has permeated the night clubs and bars of francophone west Africa and beyond. I’ve seen Congolese bands in Harare, Kampala and Nairobi. But in the west it remains marginalised in world music festivals and rarely if ever played on mainstream radio.

I’ve been obsessed with west African jazz since seeing Sam Mangwana and the African Allstars in London in 1984. It was simply a life changing experience that over the next four decades saw me seek out and buy many 100s of albums and spend hours in the African quarters of every city I visited in Europe and north America searching for hard to find albums.

Alan Brain’s documentary is a glorious experience, a testimony to his vast access to extraordinary archival photography and footage of Congolese musicians from a four year period living in the Congo. Much of it is told directly by surviving and recently deceased musicians from the golden era of rumba (1950s-1980s) around which the film is concentrated.

Belgium’s King Leopold II achieved recognition for the Congo Free State in 1885, turning it into the Belgian Congo in 1908. Congolese were treated like slaves by the colonialists and the film has wrenching material showing this oppression. Music emerged as a salve for many Congolese. The Belgians broadcast news through loudspeakers in the streets, but also played music. This drew crowds and foreign music infected an appetite for the new sounds in many Congolese. Cuban rumba records were first brought to the country by merchant sailors from the 1930sand became very popular in Kinshasa. Greek and Jewish entrepreneurs tapped the vast interest in the music and film shows several examples of Congolese singers and musicians from the 1940s who developed followings.

Three pioneering giants, singer and bandleader of African Jazz Joseph Kabasele (le Grand Kallé), the guitarists “Dr Nico” Kasanda and the incomparable Franco Makiadi Luambo are profiled, with superb guided explanations of their innovations. Franco led TPOK Jazz from 1956 to his death in 1989 and released 84 original albums and many more compilations, with one estimate being that across his 40 year career he averaged  releasing “two songs a week … which ultimately comprised a catalogue of some 1000 songs”

Western guitar-based music centres around two guitars, lead and rhythm. There’s a spell-blinding scene where three guitarists demonstrate the unique third or mi-solo guitar role in Congolese rumba. There are also several street performances from veteran musicians including a sublime song filmed on a river boat.

Over and again, those interviewed explain the way in which the Congolese infatuation with music lifted spirits and national pride particularly after independence in 1960. My first taste of  Congolese music has never left me. This potent film seems likely to drive a lot of interest in this often mesmerising music.

Recommended reading & my Spotify Best African playlist (573 tracks)

Graeme Ewens. Luambo Franco and 30 years of OK Jazz 1956-1986. A history and discography. (1986) Off the Record Press: London 64pp

Ronnie Graham. Stern’s guide to contemporary African music. (1988) Zwan: London. 315pp

Ronnie Graham. The world of African music. Vol 2 (1992) Pluto Press: London 235pp

Graeme Ewens. Congo colossus. The life and legacy of Franco & OK Jazz. (1994) Buku Press: North Walsham 320pp

Gary Stewart. Rumba on the river. A history of the popular music of the two Congos.(2000) Verso: London 435pp