Sandi Logan, National Communications Manager, DIMA, Canberra writes: We were disappointed at Crikey’s failure to let the facts we supplied get in the way of a good story (yesterday, item 1). Where we would normally criticise your colleagues in the mainstream media for such transgressions, we are now taking you to task for yesterday’s beat-up regarding unaccompanied illegal foreign fisher minors. The title, “Illegal fishing kids falling through the cracks under DIMA’s watch” is misleading and unwarranted. No “kid” has fallen through, under, inbetween, beside or anywhere else during, as you put it “DIMA’s watch”. The article charges DIMA of repatriating such children: “…without the involvement of the usual body responsible for such migrants – the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)”. Illegal foreign fishers are not migrants and hence the IOM – which is involved with migration and humanitarian issues – does not facilitate their return. Illegal foreign fishers are a special caseload of arrivals not interested in migration options; once detained, almost exclusively they wish to return home as soon as possible. This is what we speedily do. As we told Crikey, but you chose to ignore, minors who are unaccompanied are accommodated with an appointed minder who is an adult from the crew with which they arrived. That person is quite often a family member like an uncle or a cousin. They are of course, as you reported, accommodated in motels and apartments, not in detention facilities. Many accompanied minors illegally fish with a direct relative like a father or older brother so they too have minders who are culturally and family-close to them. All fishers are repatriated between an average of 1-3 weeks, but again Crikey chose to focus on the “three” and not the “one”. Crikey quoted a number of “experts” making claims that we had specifically and conclusively rebutted, including that of former Supreme Court Justice John Dowd that “the present practice is unacceptable; children should not be retained for as long as they are and they should be returned within seven days to their country of origin to the nearest port”. Again, we told you that all priority is given to fisher children who are in fact repatriated as soon as possible to their home port, and quite often that is within seven days. All have legal and consular access if requested, and minors can visit (adult) crew in the facility if they wish during the day. We would hope, and expect in future, that Crikey’s wish to be an alternative news source is still based on the basic tenets of good journalism where selective quoting is considered not only unethical, but downright dishonest.

Tim Baker writes: I found your opinion piece on Mr Abbott pretty weak. While the Health Minister might not have any medical qualifications, he hasn’t just made this stuff up. He has got his comments from medical professionals, such as Do No Harm. Is Crikey seriously disputing the Minister’s comments? I can’t for the life of me see any hyperbole in them. In contrast, they seem quite measured and reasonable. After all, where exactly are the advances in embryonic stem cell research? The world was very excited when Korean scientists were actually successful in cloning an embryo, but then it turned out be a fabrication. There appears to be very little progress in the last four years, but now parliamentarians are lining up to change their vote on therapeutic cloning. What’s changed? Mr Abbott is not “pushing an ideological barrow”, but merely pointing out that any benefits of embryonic stem cell research are speculative, and may not justify the creation of an embryo simply to destroy it for others’ gain. Is Crikey suggesting that ethical beliefs have no place in the national debate? No, you wouldn’t be that silly, it’s just that certain ethical beliefs are more acceptable to you than others. Perhaps Crikey would be happy with a sign at the entry to the national debate proclaiming “Ethical beliefs welcome – except those informed by religious views”. Yes, that’s all this opinion piece is – more anti-religious bigotry, the type regular readers became accustomed to in your commentary during the RU486 debate. As a big fan (generally speaking) of Crikey, I hope you lift your game in this area by toning down your obvious bias.

Bruce Graham writes: Crikey has editorialised that John Howard’s defeats — by showing that he is not all powerful — bring electoral strength. Some readers objected to the cold pragmatism of the logic. There is a symmetrical observation, that Tony Abbott is the best news for social liberals in ten years. Abbott is divisive. He mobilises people. Supporters feel good just knowing he is there, fighting the good fight. Opponents, he mobilises. The success of the push to change the status of RU486 owes most to people who were mobilised by objection to his stance on abortion. For Abbott as politician, abortion may or may not have been a wise fight to pick, but for Abbott as social activist, it was a looser. Now we have arguments about stem cell research. Complex arguments about science, intermixed with deep seated emotions and fears. Without Tony Abbott, scientific liberalism would be lost.

Paul Harder writes: Robin Brent contends that Tony Abbott has no conflict of interest in his role as Health Minister. I would disagree… Mr Abbott’s beliefs, it would appear to me, are in conflict with his duty as Health Minister to advocate the best health outcomes for all Australians. If he feels morally obliged to limit, on personal ethical grounds, the scope of research into serious diseases, then he is failing his duty as Health Minister. A conflict of interest does not need to include financial incentives. In its simplest definition, a conflict of interest is “A conflict between a person’s private interests and public obligations.”

Holger Lubotski writes: While Jack Robertson’s comments yesterday (item 6) are all good points, well reasoned and supported, Tony Abbott’s Catholic beliefs are only a problem because he is the nation’s Health Minister and advocating a point of view which aligns too closely with his religious beliefs. The ethical questions arising from the pros and cons of stem cell research are difficult questions indeed, but having Tony Abbott as Health Minister speaking against it smacks of leaving the fox in charge of the hen house. The debate would be better served for all concerned, including those who object on the grounds of religious faith, if Mr Abbott were to remove himself from the position of Health Minister if he want’s to continue speaking against stem cell research.

Cameron Bray writes: I really, truly despair at how people compartmentalise their thinking. Is it any wonder we get the leaders we deserve when people seem to have the most warped view of what constitutes “politics”. Jack Robertson says that Tony Abbott’s intervention into the the stem cell debate “is not a political issue”. Let me get this straight — the Federal Minister for Health, making policy comment on an issue touching on science, morality, mortality, health, religious belief and funding is somehow “not politics”. To take the Lord’s name in vain — if this isn’t politics, what in God’s name is?

James Matthews writes: David Flint speaks of a “pendulum swung too far” and I have to agree. It was surely optimistic at best and negligent at worst to bring a case against Thomas based on evidence concocted by “unidentified American agents” and Pakistani interrogators under highly questionable circumstances in some Pakistani hellhole. The pendulum in the supposed “war against terror” has indeed swung way too far, ploughing its ugly furrow through our civil rights. I just thank god our jurists don’t have to sit through preselection ballots every 3 years.

James Ward, B. Eng. (Civil) (Hons), B. App. Sc. (Env. Mgt), writes: I refer to the article by Carlo Kopp entitled “Alternative energy – the obvious solution” (yesterday, item 14). Our politicians are well aware of synthetic fuel (I have engaged Alexander Downer in a lengthy written discussion about peak oil, during which he referred to coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids as the main solutions). I have several major reservations about synthetic fuels being hailed as the answer to peak oil — Reserve size. Everyone is fixated on the idea that Australia’s coal and gas reserves are absolutely vast, without considering the fact that our energy consumption rate is absolutely frightening. When you crunch the numbers, you find that converting coal & gas into transport energy will mean these resources are depleted surprisingly quickly. This is especially true if the synthetic fuels come on the market cheaply — what incentive will people have to use fuel more efficiently? In other words, we would solve peak oil only by dumping “peak coal” & “peak gas” on our children and grandchildren. And where will they turn? Carbon emissions? Synthetic fuels may be lower in sulphur, but the NET CO2 emissions for, say, Fischer-Tropf diesel are significantly higher than the emissions for petroleum diesel. Given the amount of government support for the coal industry, I am sure coal-to-liquids is a major part of their plan for future transport fuel. I expect, therefore, that the government is simply timing the public announcement of their support for this technology until such a time when they are confident that the voting public is overwhelmingly in favour of cheap petrol, so that the voices of the few fighting for CO2 reductions are sufficiently drowned out.

Zachary King writes: The problem with your “obvious solution” is to me, well, blindingly obvious. It’s the climate change, stupid. Your statement that synfuels are cleaner is more than a little deceptive. Head to head they may be, but when you factor in the massive amount of primary energy required in the production process and the enormous amount of greenhouse gases produced it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a viable solution (underground carbon sequestration is a pipedream). Burning coal to produce synfuel to burn does not seem like a long term solution, more of a stop gap. So while your absurdly short sighted solution might mitigate the rise in the cost of petrol, should we really be looking at a technology that increases greenhouse gas emissions?

Richard Belmore writes: Mark Bahnisch blessed us all yesterday with a very unoriginal theory (item 5) that the Nats were doomed in Qld because of demographic changes. Please spare us. What people like Mark fail to understand is that the massive numbers of new southern voters in coastal Qld seats is not a new phenomenon. Since Qld started to boom in the early 80’s, wave after wave of southerners have flocked to the Sunshine State and commentator after commentator has predicted the ensuing demise of the Qld Nats as a political force. But the voters have proved them wrong time and time again. Mr Bahnisch claims that Brisbane voters won’t warm to Nats leader Lawrence Springborg, yet the Sunday Mail‘s polls in Chatsworth, Broadwater and Noosa, all urban seats in the south east, show that Springborg was the preferred premier of the conservative options. Crikey readers would be better off waiting for the results on election night before falling for predictable supposition from commentators.

Denis Sullivan writes: While you are generally on the ball, I find I am at least two paces ahead of you. Not the least of your taboos is the refusal to criticise Israel on moral and ethical grounds.

Sasha Marker writes: Re: “The prostitute, the lawyer, the judge and the…” (yesterday, item 3). I wonder who paid “Maria” to go fishing through her clients’ garbage and if it was the same interested parties who have been funding the ongoing smear campaign appearing in the papers every second day against Justice Einfeld. Someone out there seems to have a serious grudge against Justice Einfeld and is using a willing media to do their dirty work. Why no-one in the media is asking “why” is an indication of the pathetic state of the profession in this country.

Thyla Cinian writes: How on earth could you say that the Tasmanian Bar is tiny when it has towering intellectual giants like Greg Barns?

Geoff Tapp writes: SA Libs party president Chris Moriarty recently took a giant swipe at SA No Pokies Nick Xenophon as being populist and that he had been allowed by the Libs to control the last election agenda. Excuse me, but for a major political party to be scared of one person (who almost gained the same amount — 20% — of electoral support as the whole State Liberal Party — 25%) seems a pretty soft option. I would have thought that the Labor Party would have given the Libs a far larger target. Had the Libs’ attack on Mr X happened within 12 months from an election I’m fairly sure they would see another chunk of their upper house vote go to Nick. Hmmm, wonder when was the last time a major party amassed fewer votes than an independent?

Aaron Hill writes: In yesterday’s Crikey, Margaret Simons asked (item 18) whether the Australian was falling in with all the cheap newspapers hype. At Adelaide and Flinders Uni, we get $15 subs for the whole year and its home delivered on weekends!

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