Comment

View from the Street: Let's blow more money searching for wind turbine ghosts!

And it's always a good idea to check whether a new slogan isn't already being used as a vacuous politi-speak punchline. Your news of the day, reduced to a snarky rant.

Them good old days, from six months ago

Friends, if only we could return to the intoxicating sense of optimism we had back in September.

Wind turbines: terrifying sickness-ghosts not pictured, since they don't exist.
Wind turbines: terrifying sickness-ghosts not pictured, since they don't exist.  Photo: Fairfax

Truly, it was a mystical time when the removal of the slogan-spouting gaffe-machine Tony Abbott by the straight-talking, fact-accepting, non-foot-in-mouth-engulfing Malcolm Turnbull seemed to herald a future of sober, adult discussions of policy by competent professionals who weren't just vomiting up soundbites between making themselves look foolish.

So it's almost nostalgic to see the new PM pull off a move that is downright… well, Abbottian.

One of the things that Malc correctly criticised his predecessor for was his dependence on three-word slogans - indeed, "we need advocacy, not slogans" was one of the justifications he made for making the leadership challenge in the first place.

So it's not looking great that the PM's new three word I'm-not-Abbott-unless-you-liked-him-in-which-case-I-am slogan - "continuity and change" - is a phrase that contains exactly the sort of bold sounding meaning-vacuum that Abbott made his trademark.

But if that wasn't Abbotty enough, Malc's also managed an inadvertent goof of which Tony himself would be proud: this almost-exact phrase was recently used in a political satire to represent the epitome of meaningless political sloganeering.

Life imitating art

Specifically, "Continuity with Change" is the election campaign of Selina Meyer - the hapless former Vice President played by Julia Louis Dreyfus in the US comedy Veep. Note: that's "is", since it's a plot point of the most recent season.

And the creators of the show have been revelling in this with one of the show's writers, Simon Blackwell, tweeting "In S4 of Veep we came up with the most meaningless election slogan we could think of. Now adopted by Australian PM." That must feel so satisfying.

And this particular confluence will sting Turnbull more than most, because he's a man who knows his political satire and isn't afraid to make barely-veiled references to them.

For example, his description of Abbott back in March 2015 - "a very intelligent, courageous, brave man" - might seem oddly supportive, especially since history would demonstrate that Malc was only a few months away from shoving Tone from the top job.

That is, unless you are familiar with the venerable UK political comedy Yes Minister, in which permanent secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby explains that, in the words of the Yes Minister wiki, "a 'brave' decision was one that would lose you votes, whereas a 'courageous' one was one that would lose you the election."

Truly, friends, there's never been a more exciting time to be a political satirist, or a member of the PM's media team. They're evidently both on the same page. 

Source: Giphy

Blowin' in the wind

Speaking of cockups, remember that recent Senate inquiry into whether wind farms are secret havens of sickness-ghosts whose report was basically laughed out of parliament? Or maybe you recall the $205,000 you're paying National Wind Farm Commissioner Andrew Dyer right now?

Well, good news: now you're paying a bonus $3.3 million to check the non-issue out a bit more. Money well spent!

More specifically, the National Health and Medical Research Council has funded researchers at the University of NSW and Flinders University to study the effect of wind turbine generated infrasound on human health and sleep, respectively.

"Existing research in this area is of poor quality and targeted funding is warranted to support high quality, independent research on this issue," explained the NHMRC's chief executive Anne Kelso in a statement.

Except that's not remotely true: there have been multiple studies into this issue (including a few funded by the NHMRC, such as this one from February 2015), and they've all found the same thing: the only demonstrated health impact from wind farms is anxiety among people worried that there might be health impacts from wind farms.

And look, the idea that sound below the threshold of human hearing can have an effect on people is not implausible. The problem is that it's had the absolute hell researched out of it all over the world and science (science!) has reached a definitive consensus: no, it doesn't.

In fact, the same frequencies of infrasound are generated by plenty of other sources including ocean waves and road traffic. If people in beachside suburbs and along arterial roads were being struck down by mysterious illnesses to which people in inland suburbs were apparently immune, that would suggest that there's a problem worthy of investigation - but they ain't.

Seriously, we're gutting climate change research at the same time we're finding money to throw money at this issue instead?

Death and taxes

The government has also given Labor a lovely pre-election gift by reportedly contemplating reanimating one of their least popular ideas: charging dead people HECS.

Yes, you people that run up your higher education contribution scheme debt and then selfishly die have had it too good for too long, consarnit, and it's about time that the government finally demanded posthumous reparations.

The plan being tabled is supposedly that anyone dying with an estate worth more than $100,000 could have their HECS taken out, with the implausible sounding claim that $800 million would be thusly recovered for the education budget.

And this sounds wildly ambitious. After all, HECS is automatically recovered from people's income tax. That means that this scheme assumes that there's a vast number of people who a) have never earned enough to pay their debt back, yet also b) have somehow also accumulated estates worth $100k+. Presumably what, they all married well?

Education Minister Simon Birmingham hasn't committed to the scheme that his predecessor Christopher Pyne was advised to abandon since it would be political suicide, but has indicated that he's seeking ways to reduce the amount of university funding the government kicks in.

And sure, you might think that making university less accessible to people that aren't rich is a bit at odds with the government's rhetoric about how today's workers need to continually develop new skills and qualifications if they expect to ever make a decent living in today's agile and disruptive jobscape, but that'd be mean and accurate.

The ideas boom!

Interestingly, other possibilities on the table reportedly include "abandoning a plan to extend direct federal government subsidies to private colleges."

And such a plan would be a real disappointment to educational providers like, for example, the Whitehouse Institute of Design - who are a member of the the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, a group that specifically lobbied for federal funding to be extended to private institutions.

If that name sounds familiar, you might recall that Whitehouse awarded Tony Abbott's daughter Frances a $60,000 "chairman's scholarship" to study with them.

That was despite said scholarship being unadvertised, being awarded by an institution which specifically declared on its own website that "Whitehouse does not currently offer scholarships to gain a place into the Bachelor of Design" (although that statement now appears to have been quietly removed), this secret scholarship having no application process but being granted purely on the basis of Abbott's art portfolio and academic record, and for not being like most actual scholarships in that it was subsequently kept completely secret.

Indeed, this only came to light after having only been revealed by a whistleblower back in 2014, who was subsequently fired and charged.

This was a bit of an issue since the then-PM failed to put the scholarship on his interests register, claiming that he didn't have to since the scholarship was based on "academic performance", despite the fact that scholarships given to politician's children on merit are still required to be listed regardless, since the entire point of the register is to make clear any potential conflicts of interest.

Say, what ever happened about that?

Oh, that's right: nothing.

The cocktail hour: the puppies will help

Quick: pour something strong and soothing, and watch these puppies run around until all the disgust subsides.

Let's meet back here tomorrow and see if everything's better, friends, and cheers!

The top stories on smh.com.au on Wednesday:

1. Brussels explosions: dozens killed, scores injured after airport and Maalbeek metro station explosions rock Belgian capital
2. Malcolm Turnbull's green shift another blow to Tony Abbott
3. Jihadi threat in Europe now 'beyond control' of authorities
4. Brussels explosions: Airport, metro attacks were planned and authorities outsmarted in wake of key arrest
5. Thousands of East Timorese besiege Australian embassy in Dili

0 comments