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Feverish response to a sudden outbreak of common sense


Surprisingly sensible political decisions have prompted anguished hand-wringing from vested interests told to stomach a strong dose of common sense, writes Matthew Abraham.

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When you quit a job, the small rituals that take place, or don’t for that matter, tend to stick.

I haven’t left many full-time jobs.

Once from The Advertiser, after 17 years. Twice from the ABC, the second and final time far happier than the first, but that’s another story.

Once from The Australian.

And once from the Catholic Church after two years serving as spin doctor to two archbishops, the late Leonard Faulkner and the late Philip Wilson.

They concelebrated the Requiem Mass for my mum, which makes up for a lot of things.

The office presented me with a Fowlers Vacola preserving kit on my exit from Church HQ, a perfect gift for a little Aussie bottler, one that could have many meanings, in a spiritual sense. What if, for instance, a soul was to wind up preserved for an extended stay in Limbo?

When I left the ABC the first time, the gang presented me with a Bosch jigsaw, the handle inscribed with the words: “From your puzzled colleagues”. It’s been a super handy power tool, still cutting cleanly through all sorts of crap.

Colleagues in The Australian’s Adelaide bureau were seriously puzzled when I resigned to take up the job with the One True Faith.

Journalist Roy Eccleston, a first-class writer, possibly worried about this journalistic sinner’s soul being in mortal danger, gave me a copy of John Raulston Saul’s “The Doubter’s Companion, a Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense”.

“Dear Matt, Good luck at your new employer, where I’m sure this book will still come in handy, Roy,” he wrote inside the cover.

It’s a terrific book that still comes in handy. But this week I flicked through it looking for a definition of common sense. It doesn’t have one.

This is strange for a dictionary of aggressive common sense, but it’s definitely missing in the slot between Saul’s definition of Comedy (the least controllable use of language and therefore the most threatening to people in power”) and Competition (“an event in which there are more losers than winners”).

It’s understandable. Common sense is often missing in action, particularly in politics. It’s much easier to take the nonsensical path of least resistance.

Which is why four glimpses of aggressive common sense from both the Albanese and Malinauskas governments in the one week came as such a surprise.

First, federal Health Minister and MP for Hindmarsh Mark Butler, who must do something about his glasses, announced the government would allow people to collect sixty-day prescriptions from one GP visit – a fantastic cost saving for around six million Australians.

The changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, part of next month’s federal budget, will effectively halve the cost of around 320 common PBS medicines and will kick in from September 1. Bring it on.

The common sense decision, shelved after being recommended by an independent review back in 2018, has triggered a dopey, over-the-top reaction from the too-big-for-its-boots chemist’s lobby, the Pharmacist Guild of Australia.

It went off its tree. The group’s president, Trent Twomey, blinking back tears, unleashed a colourful spray at MPs, warned it was a recipe for disaster, would result in a shortage of medicines and send chemists to the wall.

He told MPs to “get off their arses” and talk to chemists about the impact of the proposed changes.

Settle down, cobber. Your guild is one of the most powerful lobby groups strolling the corridors of Parliament House in Canberra. You’re just not used to losing.

Chemists – many now operated by big conglomerates – must have made a killing on hand sanitiser sales alone during the COVID pandemic.

If they can’t simply plan for a one-off hit to stock levels as the two-for-one scheme cranks up, they should get out of the game.

Common sense is often missing in action, particularly in politics. It’s much easier to take the nonsensical path of least resistance

On a roll, Butler then took aim at the scandalous marketing of vapes to children. This time it was the vape “industry” who was blubbering. Suck it up.

They’re part of a booming market selling vapes with cute designs like unicorns or Pokémon-like characters, and flavours like mango or strawberry, clearly designed to lure young kiddies.

A review by the Australian National University, commissioned by Butler’s department, found vapes have almost no value in cutting tobacco addiction but have led to an alarming increase in e-cigarette use by 18 to 24-year-olds.

More worrying, the official data shows the second largest group of e-cigarette users who also identify as smokers are 14 to 17-year-olds.

Chemists aren’t weeping over this one.

Butler will ban the sale of vapes except by prescription and dispensed at a pharmacy, not at servos or convenience stores. You can bet chemists will make sure they have warehouses bulging with plain-packaged vapes, ready to go.

The common sense was contagious.

On Tuesday, Premier Peter Malinauskas, on the heels of his ice-water dousing for the Motor Neurone Disease cause, tipped an unexpected bucket of ice water over former Premier Steven Marshall’s dream – the $200 million First Nations Culture Centre on the dreaded Lot Fourteen.

Replying to Liberal questioning, Premier Malinauskas told Parliament a review of the proposed centre would be “under active consideration” by his Cabinet ahead of next month’s State Budget.

“Naturally, the government will be turning its mind to any opportunities to attract other revenue in the event that the project goes ahead at all,” he said.

Let’s hope the “active consideration” finds a better way to blow $200 million – a wildly optimistic figure – such as on improving Aboriginal health, first-home-buyer relief, or a much-needed upgrade to the SA Museum, already home to a world-class collection of indigenous culture.

Or maybe some pillows for sick children in hospital.

Lot Fourteen, the old RAH site, is a black hole on North Terrace and like all black holes, not even light escapes its gravitational pull. The precinct wins no votes because most people haven’t a clue what it does. Use the space for a CBD adventure playground, instead.

With the Liberals again baying for more health blank cheques, this time on free flu shots for all South Australians, the government wheeled out a common sense compromise.

Flu shots will be free for at-risk South Australians, including under-fives, over 65s, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people with pre-existing health conditions.

That covers around 600,000 people, with a special target this winter of vaccinating under-fives.

For the rest, flu shots are just $20 with no GP’s script needed at chemists and they’re already free in many workplaces.

It’s a sensible decision, particularly given the ballooning health budget and SA’s state debt marching toward $30 billion, the last time we looked.

The increasing scarcity of common sense in politics is driven more by fear than stupidity, particularly in the Terrified 2020s.

The baying mobs, the sort of numpties who glue themselves to busy roads or conduct group muggings on social media, exert a disproportionate power over the political and corporate world.

How else can you explain the embarrassing, stumbling reply by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to a predictable question about gender in his interview with the UK’s Piers Morgan this week?

Or our Health Minister Chris Picton’s winter health strategy media release revealing the flu vaccine would be free for “people who are pregnant”?

Pregnant women alone bear the honour and pain of pushing babies kicking and screaming into this world. It makes common sense to say so.

Matthew Abraham’s political column is published on Fridays. Matthew can be found on Twitter as @kevcorduroy. It’s a long story.

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