Ingrid Matthews, Project Co-ordinator, Caring for Country with UWS, writes: Re. Aboriginal PR. Maybe Crikey would be interested in leading by example and publishing the following story. The University of Western Sydney runs a small program called “Caring for Country with UWS”. For the past two years, we have invited schools from the Mt Druitt and Windsor districts to participate in one-day field trips for their Aboriginal students. The aim of the project is to support Aboriginal students to enrol in applied science degrees. We advocate environmental management and tourism degrees because they are Koori-friendly: graduates can work in the public or private sector, travel or stay in their home communities, manage and educate people about Aboriginal sites, and work outdoors. The rationale is this: increased numbers of Aboriginal professionals will bring greater integrity and sustainability to government agencies and private sector tourism involved in natural resource use/management (in diverse areas like whale watching, museums, National Parks). Many of these organisations have policies and directives to consult with traditional owners, perform Welcome to Country and so on, without considering the impact on the Aboriginal community these (usually unpaid) consultations and obligations. On each excursion, students visit the Hawkesbury campus science laboratories and learn to test water quality; participate in two cultural workshops with local Darug man Chris Tobin, one at campus showing the Aboriginal “tool kit” and one at a rock art site; then ride up Nepean Gorge by boat, with urban development, land use, catchment management, biodiversity, and career opportunities all on the agenda. Needless to say, we have full bookings and a waiting list, but have been unsuccessful in securing external funds either to expand or continue the program. Every story on MP petrol allowances, or some wacky idea to bring a scuttled warship here for a diving site, is at the cost of failing public school students and associated tertiary enrolment rates. It doesn’t take much imagination to encourage 13-year-olds to think about real salaries in jobs that are meaningful and fun.

Cameron Bray writes: Angela Griffen (yesterday, comments) claims that the root cause of Australian racism is that most Whites don’t know a single Indigenous Australian, contrasting unfavourably with the happy rainbow coalition of New Zealand. I have doubts about the conclusions she draws based on one dinner party. This aside, she is ignoring the demographic differences between the two countries in her heartwarming plea to cure our racial ills by creating “an environment for your kids that means they grow up with Aborigines… they grow up actually knowing Aborigines… as warm blooded interesting human beings with hearts” just like they’ve got back home. Indigenous people make up around 2.5% of Australia’s population, while Maoris are about 15% in NZ – a sixfold difference. If Australia had the same proportion of indigenous people as New Zealand, there would be three million Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders instead of 460,000. And the chances of growing up together (hearts and all) would be considerably enhanced. This isn’t to downplay isolation, ghettoisation and racism as factors in the lack of contact across the racial divide. However your average Skip will have substantially fewer opportunities for normalising day-to-day interactions with Indigenous people than a White New Zealander. A far better comparison would be between Australia and the USA, where Native Americans make up about 2% of the population. Does Angela have the same expectation that White Americans should have “grown up together, gone to school together, done business together, played sport together, married each other, laughed and cried together” with their Native American compatriots? That she needs to observe that “the only person that had ever met an Aborigine was me” at her dinner party is unbelievably grating. Turning it into a homily about solving Australia’s racial faults is horribly patronising.

Penny Blake writes: Re. Harry M Miller on Aboriginal PR (yesterday, item 16). Can someone please tell Harry M that Western Australia does not share a border with NSW! The Docker River is actually on the WA/NT/SA border… when we talk about understanding Aboriginal people perhaps the first thing we can do is get our geography right.

Stephen Feneley writes: Re. “James Strong, OzCo and p-ssweak accountability” (5 September, item 16).  I was in such high dudgeon on Tuesday over yet more evidence of lack of transparency at the Australia Council that I committed an unforgivable and egregious error. Somehow I managed to give completely the wrong surname to the postgraduate art history student at the centre of my story about the arts funding body and its reluctance to open its archive to legitimate academic research. The student’s name is Anne Sanders and not Summers. I don’t know where Summers came from. Sanders was told by the OzCo she would face an FoI bill of at least $1750 if she pursued her request for access to information about funding for the Australian Sculpture Triennial in the ’80s and early ’90s.

Kent Williams writes: Hasn’t your art critic Stephen Feneley got anything else to write about? Robert Gould hasn’t made his millions by selling high priced paintings to window shoppers on Toorak Rd. I imagine he networks via artists, the gay community, the Jewish community, NGV, the auction houses, interior decorators, etc. Geoffrey Smith would argue nobody can come into the industry without baggage. NGV purchases and decisions on exhibitions should be subject to scrutiny but how far to tip the bucket requires serious and mature consideration.

Howard Dawson, Chairman of Uranium King, writes: Re. “It must be a boom – the wild and woolly floats keep coming” (5 September, item 22). Having spent 16 years as a stockbroker before leaving the industry to rejoin geology I can understand Michael Pascoe’s cynicism and indeed support the inference that the majority of IPOs are merely vehicles for promoters and vendors to cash in on a boom. However, Uranium King is not one of these as even a cursory read of our prospectus will show that we already have 6.1 million lbs of JORC uranium resources and the blokes behind the company in the US have been very successful in the past and have a collective 70 years of industry expertise.  A reading of the prospectus will also show that all of the cash raised ($6.5 million) has stayed in the company and will be spent increasing the asset base. Perhaps another article pointing out that the current boom has also generated some sincere explorers would not go astray.

Richard Phillipps writes: For goodness sake, can someone get a grip on this FOI business? In the very issue in which Crikey is running a story based on FOI (the Jonestown/ABC piece – item 7) you are all running around like headless chooks claiming FOI is over. One of your commentators opines (item 2) that there was a “narrow and technical consideration” of section 58 of the FOI Act.  The commentator then says that a conclusive certificate had to be supported by reasons that were reasonable and rational. Is that really narrow and technical? What’s wrong with being rational? One of your commentators says, quite wrongly, that expert witnesses were treated to “scathing and dismissive” treatment by Hayne and Callinan JJ.  The fact is that although the judges rejected most of the evidence provided by those witnesses, they did so in almost excessively polite terms (“Deference should be accorded to Mr Rose’s informed opinion…Mr Stutchbury, as experienced as he was…”). The “expert witness” material was disregarded for the most basic of reasons: much of it was argument, not statements of fact or expert opinion, and most of the balance was irrelevant or just missed the point – for example by failing to make the fairly simple distinction between a topic of public interest and documents about that topic. Finally, why did Crikey miss the potentially much more important story – the judge’s complaint in the c7 extravaganza?  That is an event that goes to a quiet revolution that is slowly sweeping UK and Australian law – the idea of “proportionality” and the idea that judges should exercise more control over barristers, solicitors and witnesses.  But that might have led to a bit of good news, or accurate news and we can’t have that. Why is it that journalism so often makes such a mess of dealing with law?

Jack Robertson writes: I suspect there’ll be few Crikey correspondents who applaud the FOI decision as a win for journalism, but I do, not entirely ungleefully. Since two of their greatest heroes notched Nixon, journalists have grown intoxicated to the point of vocational inanity by the “Hollywood” version of investigative reporting: smoking guns, revealed conspiracies, shredded paper trails, taped phone calls, murky connections, cover-ups, off-the-record chats, Deep Throats, leaked incriminating documents… you know, all that Watergate w-nkery. Not only has this (quite cruelly!) lured many of my generation’s wannabe celebrities to entirely the wrong job, it’s also contributed greatly to the withering away, through lack of daily exercise, of what should be a reporter’s bedrock skills – unglamorous stuff like the ability (and brass) to ask crisp, clear questions, especially of powerful people; not to give up until useful answers are extracted; to collect, order and report – in crisp, clear language – information more generally; to recognise bullsh-t; to call it as such, preferably on the spot, and so on. Cloak-and-daggery leading to front-page Gotchas! and Walkleys is doubtless good fun, but most big stories, especially of the Scandalgate ilk, get broken by reporters combining the slow slog and repetitive legwork with clear thinking, plain speaking, face-to-face chutzpah and a confident sense of intellectual independence. Any legal decision that forces young reporters back to those basics, and makes them confront, at last, the truth of how to be become good at their job – or, to put it backwards, their own personal culpability in any current decline of their trade – is a very good thing. With luck this decision, along with an overdue bootswipe to the cross and foreign ownership crutches (backed largely by wusses and careerists who reckon that “ensuring news and views diversity” is somehow the job of politicians and moguls rather than editors and reporters), will inspire our self-pitying Fourth Estaters to stop making excuses and start having a damned go. Journalists, and only journalists, produce and publish the news. If the news is sh-thouse, it’s not the fault of Rupert Murdoch, John Howard or the High Court. Unless you’re a cry-baby, of course.

Mike Noske writes: Your article on global warming (4 September, item 1) summed up the dilemma beautifully… Everyone agrees that the planet is warming, but the Australian Government doesn’t want Oz doing anything special about the problem just in case it is actually a natural phenomenon and all our greenhouse gas abatement work is peed up against the wall created by Mother Nature. Could be summed up as “if we are going to our doom on an irreversible ride, it’s better to go there fat and happy than thin and fraught”. I’d almost accepted the natural cycles of warming cooling argument until Professor Suzuki was unkind enough last week to come out and state unequivocally that analysis of the “captured atmosphere” in the Antarctic ice clearly shows a significant (and most un-Mother Nature-like) spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. He says that’s enough proof to say that extreme climate change in the immediate future will be all our own work – whatever Mother Nature had in mind for the planet. It’s time we stopped looking for reasons why we shouldn’t tackle climate change and started getting on with the fix.

Phil Atkinson writes: Re the global warming discussion – does anyone else remember newspaper feature articles – written by knowledgeable persons (so we were told) around 1970, telling us that the earth is headed for a new Ice Age? I can clearly recall at least one such article in the Adelaide Advertiser.

Michael Frost writes: Richard Wise (yesterday, comments) perpetuates the myth that the US is the only nation other than Australia not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.  Croatia and Kazakhstan haven’t ratified it either (though I don’t know whether Croatia and Kazakhstan have indicated, as have Australia and the US, that they won’t ratify the Protocol). He’s right on the rest, though.

Dave Fawkner (a doomsayer with 12-volt solar, water tanks, a composting toilet, vegetable garden and broad-brimmed hat) writes: Irregardless of whether it’s a man-made or natural scenario, the majority of scientists agree that something is happening to the planet’s climate. Instead of Christian Kerr pontificating on how many boffins can dance on a carbon molecule, please have Michael Pascoe write a brief piece on the economic flow-on effect of the Australian insurance industry having to deal with a Cyclone Larry event hitting a city like Brisbane every couple of years. Doing so may force me to take out a subscription.

Jim Hart writes: Re. RIP cigarettes. Of course tobacco companies don’t want to make a cigarette that goes out. Forget customer preference, forget litigation. If it dies in the ashtray the smoker can re-light instead of starting another so a self-destructing product is good for sales. I’m surprised they don’t argue that fast burning is healthier since less smoke ends up in your lungs.

Doug Pollard writes: Since Medibank Private belongs to its members at least as much as to the government, why not sweeten the deal the way the building societies did in the UK when they wanted to turn into banks? Give those who’ve been members for at least twelve months free shares in proportion to the size of their subscription and length of continuous membership. They can then choose whether to sell on the open market or retain their holding. Betcha most of the objections would melt away.

Lachlan McLean writes: Kaye Mehta’s rant in Tuesday’s article on “Why Tony Abbott is the wrong person to talk about obesity” (item 9) is fundamentally flawed. Parents have the most direct control on what kids watch and consume.  Changes in consumer habits must be a more serious threat to the fast food industries’ bottom line than regulation. Lobbying is cheap as pollies are easy to predict. Market research is incredibly expensive. Parents can send a much stronger message to the industry by seizing control of what and how much their children watch and consume. This approach is faster because you can begin today. They’re your kids: who do you trust to keep them healthy?

Phil Minett writes: Re. Kaye Mehta’s article on childhood obesity. My six-year-old daughter has been pestering me for over a week to go to McDonalds so that she can get a My Little Pony just like her friends at school. My daughter doesn’t even like the food. If Tony Abbott can’t be convinced to ban junk food advertising perhaps he can be convinced to ban the advertising of such giveaways and I suspect the food will magically become a lot less appealing to children immediately.

Fraser Crozier writes: Re: “Steve Irwin’s marketing genius” (yesterday, item 4). Adam Schwab wrote: “Despite most Australians never actually watching an episode of The Crocodile Hunter (it only briefly screened here on Channel Ten)”. Schwab obviously doesn’t have pay TV, otherwise he wouldn’t say the show hasn’t aired here much. I wonder if he even knows about Animal Planet.

Barry Everingham writes: The hoopla and hyperbole surrounding the birth of Japan’s little prince and his role as future emperor of his country will no doubt cause a frenzy among local monarchists and members of the Flat Earth Society. Before the old dears get too excited they should be reminded that the Japanese royal family is Japanese, they haven’t like us had a hybrid German collection of miscreants and misfits foisted upon them. It should never be forgotten that the new baby’s great-grandfather was the egregious Hirohito who should have been tried as a war criminal following the end of Word War II. The Australian head of state’s great great uncle, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm, should have been as well  and her grandfather George V, the Kaiser’s nephew, was bitterly disappointed when his uncle escaped the executioner’s rope. Royals…who really wants them?

Ewart Shaw writes: I’ve contacted you before on the issue of the ethnicity of our Queen and someone else decides to denounce her and her husband as ethnic Germans (yesterday, comments). She’s not… for a start her mother was a Scot and the Greek royal family was originally Scandinavian, as you might guess from the Greek flag. However as a Ukrainian friend of mine, married to an Australian woman with sons-in-law with Irish, Czech and German backgrounds, pointed out, ethnicity is not the issue. And on behalf of my brother-in-law, born in Koln, all I can say is what’s wrong with German ethnicity (whatever that might actually be)? As another of your correspondents pointed out, the real issue is that our Head of State is not Australian.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words. Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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