Wine Australia scoring own goals

At an instore wine tasting Saturday, I tasted through some of the wines of Skillogalee, a winery in the Clare Valley in SA. I thought their 2010 Gewurztraminer was a good wine and grabbed a bottle of it to purchase, whereupon a fellow taster clued me in to this article, published in The Weekend Australian that same day.

To summarise: A federal body called Wine Australia has to approve all Australian wines for export, rejecting any that they feel will bring the Australian wine “brand” into disrepute. A UK importer who had tasted this wine was very keen to import it, but Wine Australia decided to reject it as having too much volatile acidity, an excess of which is considered a wine fault, even though it tested well under the legal limit. So it was just their subjective opinion that the wine was faulty, an opinion not shared by the importer, myself, or the sommelier at some two-bit restaurant called Tetsuya’s, where the wine has been on the by-the-glass list. The wine has also been on the list at high-end Melbourne restaurants Flower Drum and Rockpool.

At a time when sales of Australian wine have declined worldwide (in no small part because of a perception that it is bland, industrial and undifferentiated) I think there’s an argument to be made that we don’t need a bureaucracy telling paying overseas customers that they aren’t allowed to buy our wine. But then again, if we didn’t have Wine Australia, terrible things might happen. You know, like overseas consumers being exposed to wines not fitting into a range of government-approved flavours.

Birth Control

My girlfriend is a midwife. On July 1, 2010, new legislation (called the “National Registration and Accreditation Scheme”) comes into force, affecting all health professionals, including midwives. One of the provisions of this legislation is that to register as a midwife, you need to show that you have insurance that indemnifies your practice. Without registering as a midwife, you cannot practice as one.

OK, so what? It’s a little illiberal to force people to have liability insurance, but it’s hardly an unusual step. The problem is that insurance to indemnify midwives who practice individually is simply not available. One of the reasons is that the statute of limitations on legal action is extremely long, since the baby’s right to sue doesn’t even begin until 18 years after birth. It may also simply be too risky to indemnify individual midwives of uncertain ability, given the massive payouts that are likely to result from negligence. In any case, liability insurance for individual midwives cannot be bought for love nor money.

If midwives can’t practice individually, that has a number of consequences. Obviously it restricts the ability of midwives to practice as they please. It also reduces a woman’s chance of having the same midwife throughout pregnancy and thereby developing a personal relationship before the birth. But most importantly, it makes it essentially impossible for women to choose home birth in practice. Obviously hospitals don’t send out midwives to carry out home birth – women have to come to the hospital for that. And since midwives can only be indemnified when attached to hospitals or other large health practices, that means there are no midwives available to assist in a home birth. Anyone a woman recruits to help with a home birth will be acting as a midwife while unregistered, which attracts a $30,000 fine. (Bizarrely, the woman giving birth also gets fined for “enticing” the midwife to practice).

It’s a regressive step towards a monopoly health services system – where people don’t get to choose how medical care is provided, even for something as personal as birth.

Internet filter developments

iiNet today pulled out of the filter trial:

AUSTRALIA’S third largest internet service provider (ISP) has pulled out of the Government’s web filtering trials, saying the plan is “no longer just about stopping child porn”.

iiNet says the ambiguity of “unwanted material” is what caused it to pull out of the trials.

“We are not able to reconcile participation in the trial with our corporate social responsibility, our customer service objectives and our public position on censorship,” iiNet managing director Michael Malone said in a statement.

“It became increasingly clear that the trial was not simply about restricting child pornography or other such illegal material, but a much wider range of issues including what the Government simply describes as ‘unwanted material’ without an explanation of what that includes.”

Of course the history here is that iiNet are fierce opponents of the filter – they openly stated at the beginning of the trial that they were only participating to prove it wouldn’t work. Still, this sounds ominous. Between this and the “inaccurate” leaked ACMA blacklist, it’s pretty clear to me that child porn is a Trojan horse and that the government would like to use the filter for a variety of purposes. Given the presence on the list of several gambling websites (including the completely legal betfair.com) this probably includes enforcing the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, which criminalises the provision of online gambling services to customers physically present in Australia.

I accept that there are always aspects of a party’s policies that I won’t like, so there are not many unforgivable policy sins for me. But attempting to gain divine control over the internet is one of them. I preferenced Labor over Liberal in 2007, but they’ll be going dead last next time. I’m going to need a lot of convincing to vote Labor again as long as Conroy has his greasy hands anywhere near the levers of government.

Thankfully, at the moment it’s looking like the Senate can be counted on to kill this ghastly idea. Credit where it’s due to the Greens, who whatever their other shortcomings can usually be counted on to support civil liberties (firearms aside). Also a lot of credit is due to Nick Xenophon, who I cordially dislike, but who has taken a sensible stance on this issue. While I’m sure he’d like to impose internet controls on his pet issue of gambling, he’s had the sense to recognise that the filter is a bad idea which won’t work.

Happy little nannystatists

Good news, everyone! Your benevolent leaders have decided that you shall be allowed to continue to eat Vegemite:

A shadow has been cast over the future of the spread as a Federal Government taskforce considers special taxes and other deterrents on the sale of fatty, sugary and salty foods…. but today Ms Gillard said Vegemite’s future on Australian grocery shelves was assured.

“I am a very happy Vegemite eater and there is no way in the world that Vegemite would be banned in this country,” Ms Gillard said.

Vegemite’s safety is assured, since it’s an iconic and popular foodstuff and is enjoyed by no less a luminary then the deputy Great Leader. However, if your tastes for unhealthy food run to something a little more obscure, you are instead invited to eat… well, this is a family website, so fill in the blank.

The taskforce’s final report, due in June, is one of the most eagerly anticipated of all the health reviews under way, the newspaper says. They propose extra taxes on “energy-dense” foods;

So far, so meh. Probably unlike most of the people reading this, I don’t really care if the government wants to incentivise eating certain foods. Even if strongly opposed to this, you have to concede that it’s philosophically miles away from banning foods, or regulating their ingredients, let’s say…

regulating fat, salt and sugar content in food and drink

Which of course, the government also proposes to do. I can’t wait for the protest against this. We can all show up to Parliament House and eat huge lumps of Roquefort cheese, followed by mudcake and double-thick cream.

Filtering plan goes from bad to worse

The Federal Government’s unspeakable internet filtering plan just got a whole lot scarier:

THE Federal Government’s controversial internet censorship scheme may extend to filter more online traffic than was first thought, Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy revealed today.

In a post on his department’s blog, Senator Conroy today said technology that could filter data sent directly between computers would be tested as part of the upcoming live filtering trial.

“Technology that filters peer-to-peer and BitTorrent traffic does exist and it is anticipated that the effectiveness of this will be tested in the live pilot trial,” Senator Conroy said.

Oh good. Because stateful inspection of every peer to peer connection in Australia is sure to go off without a hitch.

When the government first came out with the filtering plan, I remember mentioning to less tech-savvy friends that it would be useless at stopping child porn because it couldn’t filter P2P networks. I didn’t mean that as a suggestion.

Interesting that Conroy’s statement includes the phrase “peer-to-peer and BitTorrent traffic”, which is sort of like saying “Australian state capitals and Sydney”, or possibly “idiots and Stephen Conroy”. It makes me wonder whether he has any idea what the hell he’s talking about, but of course he must, being Communications Minister and all.