Monthly Archives:May 2019

Comedian Ruby Wax and Education Minister Christopher Pyne have joked on television about having a baby together on a far-flung planet.

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“We’re going to have a child together,” Ms Wax quipped on ABC television’s Q&A program, where she appeared alongside Mr Pyne on Monday night.

Panellists on the popular show were discussing the possibility of an Earth-like planet being discovered and needing to be populated when Ms Wax made the comment, which was greeted by laughter from the live audience.

“On the other planet do you think there’s people like him?” Ms Wax added, referring to Mr Pyne, who was seated next to her.

The subject of Mr Pyne and Ms Wax’s hypothetical progeny wouldn’t go away, with Mr Pyne later asking Labor senator Penny Wong: “What about Ruby and I having a child, didn’t you hear that bit?”

In another moment, Mr Pyne turned sheepish about the plan.

“Don’t tell my wife, she would be very embarrassed,” Mr Pyne said.

“It doesn’t matter, when we’re up there who’s going to know,” Ms Wax retorted.

The show’s host, Tony Jones, was keen for more detail about the pair’s future offspring.

“Can I just ask the two of you what you would call him or her?” he asked the politician and comedian.

Usually full of answers, this question seemed to stump Mr Pyne.

“You’re the comedian, you have to come up with the name,” he told Ms Wax.

“Mr Chatterbox,” Ms Wax quickly replied.

The light-hearted banter comes as Mr Pyne vows to push ahead with the federal government’s higher education reforms, despite leading universities warning they could withdraw support for them.

The universities say they’re concerned the Senate won’t accept deregulation of university fees, and that the original intention of reforms has been lost.

Juan Francisco Salazar, University of Western Sydney and Stephen Healy, University of Western Sydney

Last night, the final episode of the fifth season of The Walking Dead screened on Australian television.

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The hit US series has for the last five years constantly reached larger and larger audiences around the world. In the US, each new season continues to break cable ratings records.

Swarms of downloaders accessing the show after each episode airs are evidence of its global following. But the stunning renaissance of the zombie in popular culture is reflected not only in the popularity of films and TV series such as The Walking Dead.

Zombies have become an urban phenomenon, with cities from Sydney to Santiago, Chile, organising annual zombie walks. Not long ago the University of Sydney was plagued by a mass of the undead during a Zedtown event, a humans-versus-zombies game involving hundreds of players.

It’s not just about the zombies

Many cultural theorists have explored the significance of the zombie and its continued prevalence in contemporary culture. With roots in Haitian folklore and precursors in West-African religions, the zombie of Afro-American creole beliefs was animated by magic, unlike the zombie of the late 20th century, which is re-animated by viral contagion.

British sociologist Tim May sees zombie films – from White Zombie (1932) to Night of the Living Dead (1969) and Dawn of the Dead (1972) – as expressions of racial anxiety.

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Others examining the same films see the zombie as embodying the mindlessness of consumer society. In his recent piece on The Conversation, Joseph Gillings saw in the remorselessness and lack of self-regard an apt metaphor for the terrorism spawned by globalisation’s discontents.

More recently, film scholar Deborah Christie framed the zombie as means for thinking through anxieties about the post-human condition emerging at the turn of the 21st century.

“It’s their world now, we are just living in it.” That’s how one of the young characters in The Walking Dead puts it while hiding from “walkers” (the name the group gives to zombies) in the forest.

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But what attracts our attention in The Walking Dead is not the zombies but the survivors. For them such arcane meanings are less important than finding a way to continue to live. Or to put it another way: the importance is less on containing the zombie apocalypse but understanding the new complexities emerging from a zombie aftermath in which bare life and community economies must be redefined.

In our view The Walking Dead reflects on the meaning of group solidarity in a brave new world. Rick Grimes, the leader of the survivors, played by British actor Andrew Lincoln, sees his group as a family bound by relations of mutual support.

Throughout the series we see characters transformed by this practice of solidarity. Daryl, the group’s consummate survivalist, is transformed from a stereotypical redneck into someone deeply concerned with the group’s welfare.

 

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Rick’s communitarian family contrasts with other failed collectivities the group has crossed paths with during this and previous seasons. We’ve seen a dystopia under the control of a threatening “governor”; cops holed up in an Atlanta hospital with patients who amount to slaves. We’ve watched a biker-gang collective being decimated by a few zombies because of a lack of group cohesion; we’ve see a non-zombie cannibal collective dispatch other hapless survivors with bureaucratic efficiency to save themselves.

Rick’s family is also quite different from the utopian walled eco-village it finds itself in during the fifth series. Even though there is enough room for them to live separately, initially Rick’s group refuses this return to the nuclear family. Rejecting the trappings of civilisation, they prefer to remain in collective life.

In different ways, the characters express their desire to “not forget” what has allowed them to survive thus far.

At this moment in The Walking Dead, the real challenge facing the characters in Rick’s family is not whether or not they can survive but rather whether or not they can survive as a “collective” in a setting that promises a return to individual existence.

The dilemma facing Rick’s family may seem to have little to do with our present circumstances – but learning how to value collectivity and act collectively in the face of profound crisis is something we must all embrace.

 

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Zombies have been incorporated into innovative educational tools aimed at disaster preparedness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US recently put together a sort of toolkit for emergency-preparedness for disasters and catastrophes: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. The use of a zombie apocalypse allows us to think of possible disaster responses and the relation between collectivity and resilience.

This might be seen in the containment strategies of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The xenophobic responses that followed the outbreak led nowhere whereas the collective response has been far more effective in containing the spread of the virus. Climate change is yet another example of the need to think seriously about solidarity as a key instance of disaster-preparedness and response.

The Walking Dead is a useful metaphor to think with. As we wait for the sixth season, we can contemplate its role in debating how we anticipate events that may threaten the economic order of things. So, does a zombie apocalypse signify the end of capitalist civilisation, or its perverse consummation?

We take it for granted but acting – or failing to act – in advance of possible futures is in fact an essential aspect of contemporary neoliberal democracies, whether we are talking about terrorism, climate change or a zombie pandemic, as the CDC toolkit implies.

A show like The Walking Dead helps us think through the challenges we face as a species; it helps us reflect on the critical importance of how to make new economies possible, and not just in the aftermath of major disaster.

The final episode of season 5 of The Walking Dead screened on FXTV last night.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

Anne-marie Boxall, University of Sydney

If your workplace is anything like mine, this week’s private health insurance premium increases might prompt conversations that go something like this: “Can you believe our private health insurance costs $421 a month – and we are all really healthy!”

Some people baulk at the cost of private insurance – especially the relatively young and healthy – because they don’t see the value of it when they are already covered under Medicare.

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Others see a struggling public hospital system and wonder whether private health insurance is alleviating much of the burden.

The challenge of sustaining a viable private insurance sector alongside Medicare is not a new one. Successive governments have largely ignored the issue, vainly hoping that strengthening either Medicare, or private health insurance, will be enough to solve the problem. It won’t be.

Howard’s ‘carrot and stick’ reforms

The last major attempt to address the role of private health insurance in the context of Medicare occurred during the Howard years.

When John Howard was elected prime minister in 1996, private health insurance membership rates had fallen to a low of 34%, down from 48% in 1985, the year after Medicare was introduced. The government quickly embarked upon a series of reforms designed to boost flailing membership rates.

It began in 1997 by introducing the Private Health Insurance Incentive Scheme and the Medicare Levy Surcharge. The incentive scheme encouraged people earning below a threshold amount to purchase private health insurance. The surcharge penalised people earning above a threshold amount if they chose not to purchase a plan.

Because these initiatives did not have the desired impact on membership, in 1999 the government introduced a 30% subsidy for which all Australians were eligible, regardless of income.

Admitting doctors often prefer to use public hospitals for more complex procedures. U.S. Pacific Fleet/Flickr

 

This too failed to boost membership to the desired level, so in 2000, the government introduced its Lifetime Health Cover scheme. Under it, funds were required to set different premium levels according to the age at which enrolees first took out cover. Higher premiums were charged for each year insurance cover was not held beyond the age of 30 years.

Its intention was to discourage “hit and run” behaviour, and improve the stability of the industry by restraining pressures for premium increases.

Assessing Howard’s reforms

If private health insurance membership rates are used as the measure of success, the Howard government’s reforms achieved what they set out to. Membership rates rose to 46% by September 2000 after the Lifetime Health Cover scheme came into operation, and stabilised around this level.

However the Coalition’s reforms also aimed to restore the “balance” between Medicare and private health insurance. In 1997, for example, the health minister at the time, Michael Wooldridge, said:

A strong public and private health sector standing side by side is vital to the future of the health system for all Australians. I want to keep Medicare in place as it is today… this can only be done if the drop-out rate from health insurance is stopped, and the balance between the public and private systems is restored.

The rhetoric is strikingly similar to that used by the current government.

Assessing the balance between the public and private sectors in Australia is a more complex task.

Activity in the private hospital sector has definitely increased alongside increases in private health insurance rates. Between 2000-01 and 2004-05, for example, the growth in separations from private hospitals outpaced that in public hospitals (4.8% versus 2.4%). This trend continued to 2012-13, the latest available data.

 

Howard’s reforms eventually increased private health insurance membership to 46%. Dean Lewins/AAP

 

But has the extra activity in the private sector reduced pressure on the public system?

A report from researchers at the Melbourne Institute in 2004 found that the increase in private health insurance membership during the Howard years was matched by an increase in hospital use overall, rather than a substitution of private for public care.

The authors noted one of the reasons was that admitting doctors often prefer to use public hospitals for more complex procedures and private hospitals for non-urgent elective surgery and other low-intensity interventions. As a result, waiting times for urgent cases in the public sector increased rather than decreased in response to the Coalition’s reforms.

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In 2005, health economist and former secretary of the federal Department of Health, Stephen Duckett, published a study that confirmed these results. He found that increasing activity in the private sector led to increases in waiting times in public hospitals in some medical areas.

Waiting times in the public sector, however, cannot simply be correlated with private health insurance membership rates and private hospital activity. Investment in public hospitals also helps reduce waiting times, regardless of what is happening in the private sector.

And to complicate the analysis even further, in states such as Queensland, there has been a growing trend towards “outsourcing” or contracting public hospital care to the private sector, in the elective surgery area in particular.

Although the Howard government succeeded in reviving the private health insurance sector by boosting membership, it failed to find a sustainable way of balancing the private health insurance system and Medicare. The cost of private health insurance rebates ballooned to A$5.5 billion by 2012-13, prompting Labor, under Gillard, to means-test the rebate.

Time to reconceptualise the debate

The uneasy relationship between private health insurance and Medicare has been an ongoing stimulus for reform ever since the Whitlam government introduced Medibank (the precursor to Medibank) in 1975, while also leaving the existing private health insurance scheme in place.

The Hawke-Keating government progressively withdrew subsidies to the private insurance industry during the late 1980s, which contributed to a 30% increase in the costs of premiums during that period.

 

Successive governments have largely ignored the issue, vainly hoping that strengthening either Medicare, or private health insurance, will be enough to solve the problem. Peter Boyle/AAP

 

So, what are the possible solutions?

Various options for reform of Australia’s health insurance arrangements have been proposed over the years, including:

setting private and public insurance up in competition with one anotherrestricting the role of private health insurance to providing top-up or supplementary coveragemoving away from the insurance model to one where individuals self-manage funds set aside for purchasing health care.

Each of these options require fairly large-scale reform of the health system which might be achievable over time through incremental reform, or alternatively, through a concerted “big-bang” reform effort.

Filling the policy gap

Because both sides of politics have been studiously avoiding the big issue in health insurance for so long – the challenging of operating a mixed insurance system where private health insurance sometimes functions as a top-up to Medicare, and sometimes as a substitute – the private health insurance sector has begun to take the policy lead.

Private health insurance funds, such as Medibank Private and BUPA, have been experimenting with reforms in primary care that, if implemented on a large scale, will have a major bearing on the equity and efficiency of our health system.

While private sector innovation is a good thing, it is the responsibility of governments, and oppositions, to shape the direction of reform and ensure that they lead to better health outcomes for all Australians.

At the moment, neither major party seems to have a clear vision for a sustainable and equitable health system that includes both Medicare and private health insurance.

Anne-marie Boxall is an employee of the National Rural Health Alliance

Jamie Oliver says he regrets saying Gordon Ramsay is jealous of his success – because he doesn’t want to upset Ramsay’s kids.

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While Oliver was busy ticking “performing at the Sydney Opera House” off his bucket list on Sunday, he made the comment about Ramsay being jealous.

The chef had been provoked by Ramsay’s recent jibe about how Oliver didn’t turn up to the launch of the Hong Kong branch of his restaurant chain, Jamie’s Italian.

“To be honest, I’m annoyed that I said anything because I did bite for a few years and it felt quite good but I don’t think it’s very responsible of me to take the piss again because I don’t want his kids to get upset because I’m slagging off their dad,” Oliver told AAP on Monday at the launch of his Ministry of Food cookery school in Stockland at Wetherill Park, Sydney.

And while he said that a reconciliation between the pair of celebrity chefs was a possibility, he still had a few choice observations to make about Ramsay.

“He’s just a ranter, he’s paid to rant. He’s paid to shower negativity and all his proteges don’t talk to him because he’s like that and it’s a shame,” he said.

“I got on with him once but he decided to slag me off at every opportunity. It’s kind of friendly banter, it’s no big deal but you never know: we might be friends again some time.”

While Oliver was happy to wax lyrical about his food feud, he was most loquacious while talking about his Good Food revolution.

The chef is trying to get at least two million signatures on a petition to make practical food education compulsory in every school. He plans to present the petition at the G20 summit at the end of the year.

“If we can’t get 10 per cent of the population to agree that every child deserves to have practical food education at school … then maybe it doesn’t deserve to happen, maybe I am wrong,” he said.

While some parents might quake at the thought of their little darlings picking up a knife or working with a gas stove, Oliver said the biggest killer is diet-related disease.

“It ain’t going to be a few nicks here and there,” he said.

But at least at school, the children would be supervised and trained, and there would be first aid kits at hand, he said.

“You’ve got to remember that about 70 per cent of 11- to 13-year-olds are latch door kids, they go home to an empty house at those ages,” he said.

“There’s no more risk than using a compass or a pair of scissors or art or physical education, none at all.”

Trevor Noah, a 31-year-old comedian who has been a contributor to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” will be the program’s new host when current host Jon Stewart leaves later this year, the network announced Monday.

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“Trevor Noah is an enormous talent. He has an insightful and unique point of view, and most importantly, is wickedly funny,” said Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless in a statement, noting that he would bring “a fresh voice” to the satirical news show.

No-one can replace Jon Stewart. But together with the amazing team at The Daily Show, we will continue to make this the best damn news show!

— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) March 30, 2015

Noah, a biracial South African who grew up in Johannesburg’s Soweto township, was a surprise pick. Though he has hosted his own program, “Tonight with Trevor Noah,” in his native country, the comedian joined “The Daily Show” as a contributor only in December and his name had not been among those floated in the press as a possible successor to Stewart until recently. One of the show’s behind-the-scene podcasts features an interview with Noah.

“It’s an honor to follow Jon Stewart. He and the team at ‘The Daily Show’ have created an incredible show whose impact is felt all over the world,” said Noah in a statement from Comedy Central. “In my brief time with the show they’ve made me feel so welcome. I’m excited to get started and work with such a fantastic group of people.”

Noah will also bring further diversity to late-night TV — and to Comedy Central. “The Nightly Show,” hosted by African American comedian Larry Wilmore, premiered in January in the 11:30 slot vacated by “The Colbert Report.”

In a tweet Monday, comedian Chris Rock — who some had hoped might step in as Stewart’s replacement — thanked President Obama for Noah’s hiring, presumably because both men are biracial and share powerful personal biographies.

As reported by the New York Times, which first broke the news of Stewart’s replacement on Monday, Noah was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, a relationship that was illegal under apartheid.

Noah is the subject of a documentary, “You Laugh But It’s True,” currently available on Netflix, and rose to international attention in 2012 following a sold-out show, “The Racist,” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a famed launching pad for comedy talent.

Noah also joins a growing list of internationally born late-night hosts that includes “The Daily Show” alum John Oliver, who now hosts “Last Week Tonight” for HBO, and James Corden, who made his debut as host of “The Late Late Show” on CBS last week. Both are British.

Stewart, 52, announced in February that he would be leaving the show after 16 years at its host. The show premiered in 1996 under then-host Craig Kilborn.

 

© 2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC