HECTOR’S DAIRY Bali Advertiser, Sep. 30, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Rabid Response

An eight-year-old boy from Batur Tengah in Bangli died of rabies in mid-September, and a woman has died in Buleleng from the disease, the latest victims of the seven-year outbreak of the disease in Bali. Their deaths are yet another tragic reminder that the authorities here long ago dropped the ball over rabies, an entirely preventable disease, after making a good start on combating it in 2009-2010.

Sadder still is that the methodology of their anti-rabies campaign is now focused on killing dogs, including vaccinated ones and family pets, instead of on vaccination, humane reduction of numbers through sterilisation, and firm, well resourced community education. Most sadly of all, rabies has become a bureaucratic battleground, a venue for fractious argument, and the latest environment in which the local bureaucratic view that foreigners should just shut up about problems since these problems (which are sometimes presented as not being problems at all) are nothing to do with them.

The sensitive nature of advocacy is well understood among the foreign cohort here that does that sort of thing. They’re not doing it for money, except in the sense of spending it, since there’s very little money to be made in lending a hand. That applies in animal welfare just as much as it does in education, rural and remote health and village infrastructure, and a lot else.

The particular problems of animal welfare groups are well known. They have national licences that govern their establishment and permit them to work in the field. But the provincial and district administrations are responsible for a range of subsidiary permits and permissions, and these of course can be held up at will or withdrawn at a moment’s notice. As was the case with a sterilization and vaccination day held recently in Gianyar regency and funded by the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA). Public order police shut down the event even though the village concerned had sought that assistance and advised the authorities of this. The nose of the relevant regency factotum was out of joint, apparently.

There’s a rare outbreak of rabies in Penang, an island off the western coast of Malaysia. It is an isolated event involving only a few dogs, and is exactly analogous with Bali’s situation in 2008 since the disease was imported. The authorities there are mass-killing dogs as a result, in the face of protest and advice that this is not the way to go, and yet again in clear breach of effective disease control measures that everyone else knows work very well. Sadly, unless they see sense and work with organisations – including NGOs with runs on the board in terms of animal welfare and health – the result in Penang will be same as in Bali. The disease will spread and people will die.

The bottom line in public health (we’ll keep saying this until someone wakes up) is that rabies is a controllable disease with proper countermeasures and is not a threat in Bali to people who are fully vaccinated against it and who if they are bitten by a suspect animal have the money to obtain the necessary post-exposure booster shots. That excludes the bulk of the Balinese population, for whom such protection is a sick joke. Government clinics often do not have rabies vaccine in stock. Immunoglobulin, the expensive additional necessity in preventing rabies in people who do not have pre-exposure protection, is unobtainable.

It would be wrong to keep silent while the national government looks the other way and the local authorities kill people’s pets and destroy whatever vestiges still exist of the vaccinated dog screen so painstakingly and expensively put in place in 2009-2010. We must again conclude and publicly note that the inmates have escaped and are running the asylum.

A Fond Farewell

Family business has taken The Diary yet again to Western Australia, Bali’s southern suburb. This time it was to farewell the feisty lady whom we long ago dubbed World’s Best Mother-in-Law. It was a sad occasion, of course, as such things always are, but there were lots of laughs as well. The MiL was more dear friend than in-law; moreover, one with a wicked wit which she sometimes allowed herself to let loose on the unsuspecting crowd.

We managed to have a little conversation, she and The Diary, before nature took its inevitable final step. And it was instructive of times past and lovely memories. The MiL, aside from being a gentle jokester when the feeling was upon her, was an inveterate traveller and shopper including in Bali, where she has Balinese friends. She was also responsible for the marriage that has sustained The Diary through three decades. She arrived in Port Moresby in 1982 – The Diary and the would-be Distaff were living there at the time – with a wedding cake and a bridesmaid and it would have been such a shame to waste the cake.

There was one outstanding question to which The Diary had always sought an answer. Not about the wedding (the cake was fabulous) but about an incident in Vanuatu a decade later. We were holidaying there, The Diary, the Distaff and the MiL, and one day hired a little sailboat, a catamaran, for a breezy self-sail tour of the Erakor lagoon. The breeze faded to nothing shortly afterwards, leaving us becalmed mid-lagoon. The Diary knew that sooner or later a boat would motor out and retrieve us, but as time passed the feeling grew strongly that the MiL would really like The Diary to get out of the boat into the chest-deep water and push the boat back to base. The Diary did not do this, for Erakor lagoon is where barracuda breed and toes seemed more important than timeliness.

In our last little chat, the day she died, The Diary made a final attempt to secure an answer as to the MiL’s wishes on that long-gone day, helped along by a warmly firm squeeze of the hand. The hint of a wicked smile appeared. So now we know. Farewell, feisty lady. You’re a trouper.

No Sax Please, We’re Closed

We’ve been going to The Jazz Café Ubud since, well, forever, so it was very sad to hear that it closed its doors for the last time on Sep. 19. The last night was quite a party, it seems, and that’s fitting indeed for an Ubud institution and a place where fine musical fare was available in a great jazz atmosphere.

It won’t have been making money, since it was a place where regulars were apt to drop in and sit on a single drink all evening – they were there for the music of course, but such is the focused self interest of many that the commercial viability of the establishments they frequent is at most secondary matter to them. There are other places in Ubud to listen to jazz, but none we know of that comes even close to The Jazz Café.

Musical Chairs

It used to be said, not least by Australians themselves, that Australian politics were both parochial and boring. It has lost the boring part of things – for those who enjoy such shenanigans anyway – in recent years with the development of mid-term party room coups that unseat prime ministers and install in their place a rival contender.

The Labor Party started this curious art form, when it saw off Kevin Rudd and installed Julia Gillard before then uninstalling Gillard and screwing Rudd back into the socket as its preferred light on the hill. It has now spread to the Liberal Party, the larger part of the conservative coalition that has run Australia since the national elections in 2013. Tony Abbott, who was a good opposition leader but for most observers a poor and uncommunicative prime minister, had his Julius Caesar moment on Sep. 14. He was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, a lawyer and merchant banker, whose social views are less restrictive and far less prescriptive and whose economic advocacy may turn out to be both more palatable and of better effect than that of his predecessor. Time will tell.

It was good to see that Julie Bishop remained foreign minister and Andrew Robb trade minister in the cabinet changes. Political diplomacy requires a mannered and quiet approach.

Feeling Bookish

The 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival kicks off today (Sep. 30). It is a firm fixture in Bali’s festival calendar, puts our island firmly in the international spotlight, and promotes Indonesian writing to a very wide audience indeed. It is an annual event that is not to be missed.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliiadvertiser.biz

The Problem of the Australian Labor Party


This analysis by HENRY ERGAS, in The Australian, July 23, 2012, is crucial reading. Here is his text:

AT the heart of Labor’s problems is its reaction to the 2010 election. In that election, voters swung to the Right, but thanks to Julia Gillard’s deal with the Greens, the government shifted sharply to the Left. Those opposing movements transformed a gap between Labor and the electorate into a chasm. And with voters sceptical of the Prime Minister’s trustworthiness from the outset, that chasm now threatens to swallow Labor whole.
To grasp the severity of Labor’s predicament, it is important to understand just how extraordinary Gillard’s move to the Left in 2010 was. Consider a scale going from zero to 10, where zero is furthest to the Left and 10 to the Right. For the advanced democracies, statistical analysis shows a one-point movement in the electorate’s positioning along that scale is generally associated with a two-point movement by the government in the same direction.
There is, in other words, an amplification effect, matching movements in the electorate’s positioning with even greater movements in the stance of government. This occurs as incumbent governments, if re-elected, respond to shifting public views. The amplification is even greater when governments change, as the leading parties tend to be considerably further from each other on the Left-Right scale than are voters.
But Labor broke that pattern in 2010. The Australian Election Study, which asks voters not only who they voted for but also the reasons for their choice, shows public opinion in that election veered Right on crucial issues.
In 2007, for example, 47 per cent of the electorate preferred more social spending to a decrease in taxes; by 2010, the share of the electorate preferring more spending had declined to 34 per cent.
At the same time, the proportion of the electorate believing unions have too much power increased from 37 per cent to 49 per cent, its highest level since 1996. And the proportion viewing climate change as a serious threat collapsed from 53 per cent to 19 per cent.
As for asylum-seekers, the proportion supporting a policy of turning back the boats remained above 50 per cent, with barely one in four voters disagreeing with it.
That shift to the Right drove a wedge in the coalition Labor had successfully forged in 2007 between its traditional base and the Left-leaning inner city constituencies. Faced with that wedge, Gillard struck an unprecedented agreement with the Greens. She did so knowing voters view the Greens as being significantly to the Left: taking the scale from zero on the Left to 10 on the Right, on average, voters place the Greens at about three, while they place Labor slightly above four and themselves smack on five.
To make matters worse, Labor voters in 2010 considered themselves as being to the Right of Labor itself, so that the distance between their preferred position and that of the Greens was all the greater. That this would end in tears should have been obvious.
There were other danger signs. Gillard had a lower approval rating in 2010 than any federal election winner since Paul Keating beat John Hewson in 1993. Moreover, the proportion regarding her as honest was well below John Howard’s and less than half Kevin Rudd’s. The subsequent broken promises therefore merely confirmed widely held fears, pushing hostility to Labor through the trapdoor that makes trends in public opinion so difficult to reverse.
Little wonder Labor’s tactical ploys have proven ineffective in stemming the government’s loss of support. Echoing Karl Rove’s advice that George W. Bush “dance with the ones that brung him”, the attack on the rich was intended to galvanise Labor’s core constituency. But it is one thing to adopt a “back to base” strategy when your heartland is close to a majority, as was Bush’s; it is entirely another in the circumstances Gillard faces, with barely 16 per cent of voters regarding themselves as “strongly committed” to Labor, down from 26 per cent in 2007 and nearly 40 per cent in 1979. Under those conditions, the rhetoric of “class against class” could only confirm Labor’s move to the Left, alienating the strongly centrist voters who make up fully 60 per cent of the Australian electorate.
As for turning on the Greens, it misses the point. It is not Bob Brown, who they have never voted for, the enraged sans-culottes of western Sydney despise; it is Gillard. Already perceived as the untrustworthy leader of a dysfunctional government, the main effect of the Labor Right’s assault on Gillard’s chosen coalition partner is to further undermine her authority.
Finally, the notion that Rudd could save Labor is scarcely credible. Labor’s man of destiny in 2007, his greatest skill lay in creating crises worthy of a talent as extraordinary as his own. But the fundamental difficulty is not Rudd’s record or character; it is that even were he the messiah, the bloodletting accompanying such a change would be fatal so close to an election.
The objective conditions for a change in Labor leader are consequently not ripe: they are rotten. But that need not condemn Gillard to inactivity. Instead of aimlessly wandering the country, a ghost who will not recognise it is a ghost, she could still shift Labor back towards the Right. That is what she promised voters in 2010; that is what she failed to deliver.
Adopting the Coalition’s asylum policy would be a good place to start. Whatever its symbolic costs, it would take the issue off the table. As for the carbon tax, she could seek an immediate move to an emissions trading scheme with permits available at the world price. She could show a genuine willingness to address the Fair Work Act’s most obvious defects.
But whether Gillard is capable of changing course is hardly certain. Kicking away the ladder takes more than the streak of granite she readily displays; it takes intellectual stringency and political judgment she shows no sign of possessing.
Rather, trapped in a world view dominated by unresolved anger over the injustices of the Welsh valleys of her birth, Gillard has lost the aspirational voters who should have been her mainstay. Ominously for the future, ALP support among the young is now weaker and less stable than in any previous postwar generation, while the party has failed to find a common language with the upwardly mobile Asian communities that are the most rapidly growing group in the population.
Labor therefore seems set to wait for the end flapping and flailing, like dying fish on a deck. For ultimately, what is special to democracy is its insistence that it be the people who decide the direction in which the nation moves. Gillard ignored that in 2010; the consequences could haunt Labor for years to come.
(Copyright material posted on this blog for further reading and assessment.)