Popular Crikey columnist Christian Kerr features prominently in this week’s general Yoursay following his inflammatory comment son his former boss Amanda Vanstone. Read on:

Christian Kerr on the Bakhtiaris

There must be millions of families like the Bakhtiaris in this world. If we going to allow the Bakhtiaris to settle here, by fair means or foul, as Christian Kerr suggests, why not do if for all the others?

Where is his compassion for them? Or does he just want to bash the Howard Government for only doing its job? If the law of the land is bent for “special situations” soon enough there is no law.

If Kerr wants to see what that is like, take a trip to Somalia.

Anon

Kerr’s anti-Vanstone rant

I was disappointed to read Christian Kerr’s anti-Vanstone rant in Crikey. It misses the point that the Bakhtiaris are frauds and are simply not refugees.

Their claims for refugee status were rejected by DIMIA because they are not refugees. Their claims for refugee status were rejected by the full Australian legal system (various refugee tribunals, federal courts, etc.). They simply are not refugees.

It is offensive to those people who are genuine refugees that people like this are given such attention by self-serving political opportunists.

Michael Josem

Is the story of the Bakhtiaris over?

It will be interesting to watch which of our media will bother to follow up what is going to happen with the Bakhtiaris now that they are in Pakistan. We suspect that nobody will give a shit now that they are out of the country.

Is there something you can do to ensure that the government’s “out of sight out of mind” tactic will fail? Amanda Vanstone needs to be hounded for her callous approach to these people! It didn’t take her long to become a Ruddock clone.

Jopie & Jake Peetoom

Why some migrants don’t support refugees

It is quite common for migrants to side against refugees. I think there are two reasons for this:

1. ‘I’m all right, Jack.’ They get in to Australia and slam the door behind them. After all, they have no vested interest in further immigration apart from family members.

2. They feel their entry was justified and legitimate, unlike the refugees. In fact the refugee issue threatens to de-legitimise their own status. To the extent they sense that anti-refugee sentiment is fuelled by racism, they feel paradoxically that the best strategy is to join the pack, rather than have it turn against them. Amazingly I have heard sentiments like this from people who got into Australia via false passports.

Of course the migrants in the so-called chattering classes tend to side with the refugees, both out of altruism and through a recognition that racism will never be in their interests. However, it is easier for someone who is affluent and in a well-established ethnic group (like Robert Manne, for example) to take a stand. It is nonetheless welcome.

Niall

Questions for Amanda Vanstone

Love Christian Kerr’s work, but in relation to his comments on Vanstone:

“Does any journo want to ask the Minister to comment on this – and make the position absolutely unequivocally clear?”

Does Christian not see himself as a “journo”? Is there something stopping him from asking the Minister the relevant questions and posting her responses for the benefit of Crikey subscribers? As far as I can tell the Canberra press gallery is a comfortable “insiders” club unwilling or unable to ask difficult questions of our ministers, even during the busier times of the year, let alone during the Christmas / New Year season.

If material like this were available for subscribers, I would happily double my annual subscription payment. Even I can pose interesting questions for others to ask, and I am certainly not a journalist.

Stephen Lambert

University consultancies – costing publicly funded infrastructure

A contributor to the Sunday 9th edition asked (among other things):

“How do universities rationalise the growing trend of consulting for external work? Do university consultants cost in the publicly funded infrastructure they use in undertaking private sector work? Has the ACCC investigated this very un-level playing field? “

Well as an academic who has to abide by the system – let me introduce the concept of “Competitive neutrality”. It’s covered. Click here for the Univ of Melbourne policy.

An excerpt of the overarching statement of principles is as follows:

“The principle of ‘Competitive Neutrality’ holds that that in the interests of fair competition, public sector agencies must charge full direct project costs plus any added costs which would be faced by a private sector provider of similar services, but from which government providers are exempt or face lower costs due to government ownership. This is of particular significance in bidding for contract research or consultancies, where the competitors may include private sector businesses.

Under Victorian Government Policy, the following pricing principles apply to all University activities: (a) Pricing should reflect full attribution of all costs; (b) Pricing should include the net effect of any competitive advantages/disadvantages due solely to Government ownership; and (c) The decision process should be transparent and defensible.”

You should see the paperwork!

A. Nother Academic

What sort of education should universities provide?

The shrill cry of “Mickey Mouse” by a fellow Crickey reader is the most appalling example of knee jerk Aussie anti-intellectualism I have seen for some time.

Universities are quite rightly castigated for their lack of public scrutiny, but your correspondent’s rather ideological attack on “ideological fields like cultural studies” is one of the reasons there needs to be courses exactly like that.

Perhaps your writer thinks a student’s exposure to Nietzsche et al should only occur in the moribund departments of philosophy and all other student learning experience focus on the technical-financial problems faced by the business community exclusively. After we are finished with cultural studies we can start asking the hard questions of the Schools of English and History to sweat it out in front of such an obviously well-meaning Inquisition.

Universities exist for the greater public good and to extend human knowledge. They do not exist solely as a pure apparatus of narrowly defined business purposes or any other narrowly defined purpose. Just because two schools or departments are not alike does not necessarily mean one if better than the other (the ‘necessarily’ being an important qualification here, because such a thing might not necessarily be untrue, either).

However, such pre-judgments as displayed by the anonymous author seem rather antithetical to the notion of free enquiry and dedication to human knowledge. That’s what a university does and that’s what the measure of a university’s output has to measured against.

Many private universities the world over have like departments, so there must be a demand, if all this fuss is just about enslaving all human knowledge to the brute force power of the markets (as it inevitably must, in our time it seems).

The teaching of undergraduate courses seems to me to be nowadays concentrated far too much to purely practicable skills, which are quickly redundant because in most spheres the technical skills and required practice evolve or have evolved very rapidly. A science degree will give you an excellent grounding for the rest of your career, a humanities degree will last your lifetime as well.

The problem with the humanities degree in gaining future employment is that employers rarely value generalist skills and want every spiralling specialist skills that for many graduates of most degrees can be daunting to overcome and break into the appropriate profession.

Graduate computer programmers for example can find it an uphill climb into most computer programming jobs. Many other fields are the same. In fact, I would suspect that the syndrome reflected on by another of your correspondents is rather common these days. Most schools seem to run courses both under- and post- graduate levels that appear to be simple revenue generation devices. I don’t want to propose that revenue generation is always ill-advised or to be rigorously opposed at any cost, but in many instances the need to operate a ‘knowledge worker factory’ is apparently eating away at the core of the tertiary education system.

I cannot sense anything but rancour in your reader’s comments, but perhaps I am wrong and one of the greatest inventions of our ancestors, the centre of learning, the intellect, inquiry, arts and science and knowledge, and is worthless and should be gutted and turned into an simple function of the chamber of commerce and the government

Scot Mcphee
Sydney NSW

Kerr on Latham’s health

Christian’s Kerr’s article today 7 January 2005 “Latham’s Leadership takes a turn for the worse” needs some qualifications. Pancreatitis is a distressing and painful disease. While there is a wide spectrum of severity, it is associated with an increased mortality rate. People with pancreatitis are generally very sick and require hospital admission. “Latham’s silence” might simply be due to the fact that he is too sick to respond at the moment. My opinion of Mr Latham’s political skills is irrelevant in this context, however, as a surgeon, I found Mr Kerr’s sentiments to be a little insensitive.

Susan Carden

Kerr on Panopoulos’s plan

Just a comment on Christian Kerr’s article lobbying for the Libs to put through tax reforms before the July 1 senate changeover. I think the reforms Christian is pushing for are too good for the Libs to put to the senate before July 1. Howard has been moaning about senate obstruction for a long time. If he can put up a lot of legislation that Labor blocks before July 1 and then introduces tax reforms and other legislation with obvious benefits for the electorate after July 1, it will be easy to brand Labor as obstructionist and claim that Labor would not have let the good legislation through if they still had control of the senate.

Maybe Labor could counter this by allowing legislation through before July 1. But then this could easily cause a split in Labor, especially if the Libs introduce a lot of legislation that Labor Left is ideologically opposed to, but Latham and Labor Right are willing to let through.

So my bet is that Howard will introduce anything that might be able to split the Labor party before July 1. Anything which Labor is still blocking by July 1 (which is likely to be the electorally unpopular stuff) can then be balanced by tax reforms and other legislation that is likely to be popular.

Anyway, keep up the good work Crikey!

Matt

The Independent on Kelvin MacKenzie

Nice piece by The Independent on Kelvin MacKenzie. Those of us who have seen him in action will look back with a touch of nostalgia. Not so much for the rollickings but simply because he was one of the very best Fleet Street tabloid editors of all time. Right up there with Hugh Cudlipp and Arthur Christiansen, although very different from them. These days, there isn’t a single tabloid editor in Fleet Street (or New York, for that matter) in his league.

Yes, Kelvin could be brutal and cruel (I kept my head down during the occasional casual shift as a sub on the paper during his era). But he also had the rare talent of knowing exactly who his readers were, what they wanted – and giving it to them in the most professional way possible. He took The Sun to a record circulation. It hasn’t been the same paper since he stood down. In his day, everyone in Britain knew his name. Now, I reckon you’d be pushing it if one in 10,000 knew who the present editor (a lady) was.

Had Kelvin not done the business for Rupert, he’d never have lasted. That he did last so long is a tribute to his flair. Pure hell to work for but, kicking and screaming if necessary, he dragged the best out of those who did. Not a bad epitaph when you think about it. Frankly, Fleet Street just hasn’t been the same without him.

Sinclair Robieson
Bexhill, East Sussex UK