Jennifer Bott, Chief Executive Officer of the Australia Council, writes: Stephen Feneley accuses the Australia Council for the Arts of “bureaucratic stonewalling” for its handling of a request from PhD student Anne Sanders for 30 years of archival information about Australian Sculptural Triennials (“James Strong, OzCo and p-ssweak accountability” – 5 September, item 16). His accusations about Ms Sanders (not Ms Summers as she is called in his article) were made – by his own admission – without asking us for comment or more importantly to check the facts. There has never been any attempt on our behalf to deny Ms Sanders access to the information she is seeking – we have simply followed standard Australian Government process for access to archival material. These are not public records and the only mechanism to retrieve them is an FOI request, which is how we have been dealing with the matter. By any reckoning, the retrieval of 30 years of information (not stored on our premises) and the processing of thousands of pages of documents is a time-consuming and relatively costly exercise. No organisation – other than a public library, public archive or research centre – is resourced to provide this service free of charge. We are not “stonewalling” or denying access to these documents and the matter has nothing to do with accountability – except to the public purse. We are following an open and transparent public process. All we are asking Ms Sanders to do is bear the cost of retrieving and processing the information she requires for her research project. 

Ann Chesterman, content business development manager for Triple J, writes: Yesterday’s unsubstantiated tip (item 8) about plans to move jmag from Custom News is false. Triple J is happy with the relationship with Custom News and the form of the magazine.

Cate Morriss writes: I have recently unsubscribed from your service as a vote of protest for the totally disgraceful article on Steve Irwin. The issue of liking this man or not is quite apart from the issue of running a series of tasteless jokes about a man who has recently died. I did read Crikey as an alternate news source – not for this kind of disrespectful trash. You have revealed yourselves as no more than an online version of the gutter journalism that we are subject to on commercial television. what a shame – the potential was there for greater things.

M Rode writes: Just to let you know I have been a fan of Crikey for ages and was actually going to subscribe this month when I got paid. After reading your disgusting material on the tragedy of the passing of Steve Irwin I have changed my mind. Can’t you find anything else to make your pages funny? Do you really think it is appropriate to make jokes out of this subject? You obviously have had the luxury of no tragedy in your life so far so as to be so insensitive and defamatory to Steve Irwin’s family. As a left wing ex-Queenslander now living in Melbourne, I had appreciated your material, site, was going to buy friends your t-shirts for Xmas etc etc, but after reading your jokes pages on Steve Irwin, and your support of Germaine Greer (I was a fan and student of hers until this week also but have seriously changed my mind, I think senility and exhibitionism is setting in there) I have decided not to support Crikey in any way whatsoever from now on. I am extremely disappointed: now there is no left wing voice with decency in the media at all, just minority sub groups yet again. Such a shame.

Helen Ellis writes: Thank heaven for some sense about the Croc Hunter. Loved PP McGuinness’s slant on poor old Germ’s comments (yesterday, item 4). I sooooo agree. The jokes are a bit sick but am I the only one out there that thought Steve was a wally? A successful one no doubt, and I suppose he was a good bloke, but he made me cringe. I am so not into crocs and snakes.

Bruno Bouchet writes: PP McGuinness’s comments on his preference for Attenborough over Irwin documentaries raises an interesting comparison. It has been argued (by people far more qualified than myself) that Irwin is the more realistic and honest documentary maker. In his documentaries the human intrusion in the animal’s world is on display in front of the camera. It’s intrusive, scary and exploitative but it’s there for the viewer to see. Attenborough’s documentaries are founded on the suggestion that there is no human presence; it’s all hidden behind the camera. In reality there are film crews scaring and intruding but none of that makes it to television. Irwin, for all his silliness, probably gave a more honest picture of what happens when humans and, more importantly, TV program makers, intrude on the natural world.

Leila Ismail writes: Re. “The Bali Nine gambled and lost” (yesterday, item 7). Peter Faris is way off the mark as usual about the real issue in the Bali Nine case. No one is denying they did wrong. Drug smuggling is wrong. But so is the murder of civilians by a government – any government – and the acceptance of that murder by other countries. If a country is treating human beings reprehensibly, other countries should intervene, particularly if the people involved are citizens in one of those other countries. That’s what international law is all about. And I mean genuine intervention – not the tokenistic attempts the Australian Government has made. They had a more reasonable chance of getting Van Nguyen off in Singapore, but they kept bleating about “sovereignty” and soon a young man was hanging from a noose. It really comes down to one’s stance on capital punishment – some (like me) believe that it is a gross breach of human rights, and fails to take into account the inherent fallibility not only of human beings, particularly those who haven’t had every opportunity in life, but also of justice systems themselves, which too often can get it wrong. While sovereignty does serve a useful purpose in maintaining international order, it is not to be lauded above basic human rights, which always apply, no matter who the person is or what crime they have committed. And some believe it is a just punishment that is legitimately applied by certain countries. Still others, like Faris, believe that while capital punishment is bad and they don’t want to see it on their home soil, we “must” placate the Indonesian government. Unfortunately the latter view is often based on outrageous hypocrisy and inconsistency: Australia respects the sovereignty of Indonesia because of diplomatic and commercial ties – Australia doesn’t respect the sovereignty of Iraq because of diplomatic and commercial ties. It also seems to me that the Bali Nine have been used as pawns in a political game between Australia and Indonesia – it really seems like retaliation for the failure to pass the offshore processing laws. But that’s just speculation. What’s fact is that these young men are going to lose their lives, and calling it a tragedy while sitting by and letting it happen without protest – nay, implying that they deserve it – is not good enough, and shows a serious lack of compassion, moral judgment and understanding of International Human Rights law.

Steve Johnson writes: Peter Faris QC in yesterday’s Crikey takes a casually accepting view on the fortunes of the so-called drug mules who recently had their original custodial sentences upgraded to death by firing squad. Agreed, rank stupidity is the primary contributor to these wretched people’s current situation, but a number of factors need to be assessed to help put the situation into context. Firstly, none of these people are big players in the illicit drug industry. Secondly, all the players in this tragedy are quite young. Thirdly, we are not fully aware of their motivations, backgrounds, nor the circumstances that resulted in their current situation. Fourthly, the death penalty may well be avoided by some of the criminals involved in the Bali bombings, yet these young people are likely to front a firing squad for what is an act of stupidity. Once again, it appears that Mr Faris QC has applied a blindly learned two-dimensional process, ie, “The Law”, to a highly complex social problem, and therefore failed to contribute anything to a solution or an alternative hypothesis. On its own, who cares? But he demeans and undervalues the families and friends of those facing the ultimate penalty, and this is where his opinions rankle and offend.

Tony Slevin writes: In his outrageous piece on the prospects of Australian citizens being subject to capital punishment in Indonesia, Peter Faris ignores the clear omission of the AFP. The crime wasn’t simply committed in Indonesia, as Faris asserts. It was trafficking, a number of offences were committed under a number of jurisdictions. Yes, they were in Indonesia when they were apprehended, but they could have been apprehended here before they left. Faris says “The Australian government genuinely opposes capital punishment and will do everything it can to prevent the executions.” Apparently the AFP wasn’t so opposed when it allowed the Bali Nine to travel into Asia. In any event, I regard this as a “true colours” moment for Faris. Either he is so close to the Government that he can state its position, or he wishes he was that close and purports to do so anyhow. What a great moment for your “legal correspondent”.

AW Collins writes: If Peter Faris QC is correct that in our society, “criminals such as these are the victims”, where does that leave David Hicks? The Bali Nine had the benefit of a trial, legal representation and the Australian Government’s “genuine opposition” to the death penalty. Hicks remains imprisoned for an activity that was not an offence against Australian law at the time. He is a “victim” unlike the Bali Nine. In our system David Hicks would still be presumed innocent, because he has yet to be tried. Peter Faris QC has a point the Bali Nine have had the benefit of a trial and appeal processes. They should have known the risks. They were in it for profit, their activities would have been criminal offences in Australia had they been committed here. Any who feel sympathy for the Bali Nine should be enraged over David Hicks.

Dave Liberts writes: I strongly agree with your correspondent (yesterday, comments) who suggests that the insurance industry may well achieve what an army of scientists and environmentalists can not – namely, convince the Federal Government about the importance of reducing greenhouse emissions. Unlike easily-ignored scientists and protesters, the insurance industry can counter the “we can’t cut emissions without economic pain” argument of the Howard government, because if they’re paying out for climate-related disasters, every corner of society will feel a lot of insurance-related economic pain when it comes time to renew their insurance policies. While I’m on it, I’m increasingly irritated by the argument that because we only put out 1% of global emissions, we just shouldn’t bother doing anything. If we can’t lead by example, who will?

Terry Killick writes: Some democratic governments are so fearful of the possible loss of electoral support that they cannot bring themselves to introduce the policies needed to arrest (or at least slow down) global warming. It strikes me a ironic that the existence of democratic systems of government is in itself the cause of the most serious threat ever to effect the continuance of the human race.

Trevor Hedge writes: The final instalment of your series on PR for Aboriginal issues from Kirstie Parker, editor of The Koori Mail (yesterday, item 9) was by far the best of what was a fairly wide ranging selection of opinions on the subject. She quoted exactly the type of examples that would get the borderline racists on side, and also open the minds of a large section of the populace in regards to their views and spark new thinking on their thoughts about Aborigines. A good idea also would be to throw in a few war stories too from WWII, Vietnam or New Guinea too, as I am sure there are some fantastic stories to be told there. However, I still think the best move for the Aboriginal people would be to get rid of the bleating old “elders” who never seem to do anything apart from reinforce racist viewpoints, and replace the dead wood with some dynamic young forward-thinking Aborigines as spokesmen and women for their communities. I can just imagine how many bright young Aboriginals cringe in horror at how some of their “representatives” behave. Out with the old and in with the fresh new faces, and the sooner the better. As a young Pommy immigrant I copped many a flogging from the local Aborigines for being nothing else than an easy ten-year-old target with a British accent. This was over 20 years ago and ten of those 20 years since were spent in the Aussie Defence Force. Read into it what you will, but the only Aboriginal kid at school I got on with had been adopted and raised by white parents. I often wonder if those bastards that used to beat the sh-t out of me ever came to anything or if they are still bashing the sh-t out of people for no good reason… Or if they are now doing it to their wives or their kids… If you really want to see the dead-end plight that is life for many Aboriginal families just visit many country towns. Even towns that are popular with tourists such as Broome on Western Australia’s north coast clearly show the sad state of affairs. Walk down the main shopping mall in Broome and you will see drunken Aborigines falling about the place by 11am and by the early afternoon the footy oval is full of drunken women and children lolling about the place. Their kids really don’t stand a chance.

Tony Ryan writes: Your little exercise of reducing Aboriginal development issues to public relations is an asinine low. Having spent most of my life in association with Aborigines of Arnhem Land and Kakadu, researching issues and doing my learning in Aboriginal languages, however ineptly, if it could be said that one issue overrode all others, I would say it is the unbelievable shallowness, ignorance and patronisation of white Australians who see themselves as the friends and allies of “the Aboriginal people”; whilst failing to appreciate what cultural divide actually means. The next most serious problem is the incapacity of so many Aborigines to resist playing these mugs to the hilt, for short term benefits.

Ian Pascoe writes: Re. “Croc hunter becomes jokesters’ prey” (yesterday, item 5). My Danish isn’t great these days, but I do know that the word “ikke” means “not” – as in, “NOT ending his days as crocodile food” in the photo caption. Perhaps Politiken wasn’t so silly – maybe they understood Brainsnap’s little bit of satire, too?

John McConkey writes: Re. Yesterday’s excellent article by Chris Harries on PNG (item 18). I spent the best six years of my life in PNG: three years in the early 70s and three years in the early 80s. I often write letters to the Sydney Morning Herald asking them to lay the blame for most of PNG’s problems on that “great” man Gough Whitlam for giving them independence in 1975 when he was trying to fix the problems of the world during his first two weeks as Prime Minister. They never publish them.

Margaret Morgan writes: Ewart Shaw is spot-on about the ethnicity argument against the Monarchy (yesterday, comments). There are plenty of compelling reasons for our shrugging off the last legal remnants of British imperialism without having to resort to cheap xenophobia. Barry Everingham (6 September, comments) is becoming an embarrassment, at least to this republican.

Michael Jones writes: Ethnicity has nothing to do with it. Whether the monarch is German or merely Germanic, Japanese OR Australian, a monarchy is still a system of government in which a person inherits the rights and privileges of head of State. All the minimalists who say the only issue is whether the head of State should be an Australian citizen or not should consider this. The Windsors could easily do a deal to hive off one of their interbred dysfunctional offspring, arrange for an ex officio grant of Australian citizenship, and set up a new dynasty at Yarralumla. Would that end the republican debate?

David Horkan writes: I think it was Bob Hawke who admitted prior to the 1999 referendum that the republicans had lost the intellectual debate. Whether there ever was such a debate is a debate in itself, but it is certainly lacking now, to judge by recent contributions from your republican correspondents. Please, please, republicans, think of something new to say. It is becoming awfully boring for Constitutional Monarchists.

Chris Monnox writes: Re. “Media Watch lacks professionalism” (yesterday, item 20). It seems that criticising Media Watch is all the rage these days, and it may indeed be true that, as Anne Henderson suggested in yesterday’s Crikey, it is well in need of “a new look”. However it must be remembered that Media Watch’s function of holding commentators to account is extremely important. Nothing demonstrates this quite as clearly as the Piers Akerman column criticised on last Monday’s show. Piers made three factual errors (one of which was picked up by Media Watch) and more importantly concluded that the ABC is the “ALP’s media arm.” Elsewhere in the article he claimed that the ABC was soft on Middle Eastern terrorist groups, to which the ALP is staunchly opposed, thus contradicting his own claim. As long as such lax standards persist more media watching will be in order.

David Tiley writes: Funny how Media Watch gets a teeny weeny polkadot fifteen minutes per week, which represents the only public analysis of the way the media functions anywhere. And yet, its targets get very, very toey when they are mentioned. Could it be they know their credibility is on the nose? Anne Henderson begins a rambling assault on MW with the public admission that Monica did not take her advice on hair, was trivial, was too politically correct and dealt in “opinions delivered as fact”. The show does operate by presenting some stinky piece of media muck, and describing it as such. As the audience, you either nod and agree, or you don’t. To go any further with justifying it requires a serious step into the mire of moral philosophy, which I am sure Anne would agree is not smart television. Yes it is often trivial. I get emails in my own online journalism in which people take me to task for inaccuracy or misspelling, and I wince and wonder for a moment why they are being so anally retentive. Then I remember that trust starts with the little things, and I too run a journal of record. Besides, MW is balancing items. You know, something that makes the audience want to puke, offset against a bit of irony, and maybe something that is actually a joke. I too think MW can be preachy and earnest and sanctimonious. But I am bloody glad it is there, and I am sorry only that it gets such a teeny space and such poor resources. After all, when MW attacks the ABC, I rather suspect the Sydney Institute agrees with it.

Patrick Cross writes: Re. Anne Henderson’s piece in Crikey yesterday. I wish you had put the disclosure at the start of the article. Then I wouldn’t have wasted my time with such self-serving drivel.

Iain Scott, contributing editor to BiotechnologyNews.net, writes: Re. “Biotech loses its gloss”. I was perplexed and irritated by Rudi Filapek-Vandyck’s hand-wringing over Australian biotechnology in yesterday’s edition (item 25). It smacked of yet another pundit making an entire industry fit his world view. Once you get past the article’s tiresome “I told you so” attitude, the appropriate response must surely be “so what?” Yes, we suffer from a paucity of good biotech analysts in Australia, which is perhaps to be expected in a small industry, barely ten years old, in a market that is currently massively dominated by resources. Like Rudi, I have always been a big fan of Stuart Roberts’s Biotech Buzz, and I’ll miss it. But it should come as no surprise that a group like Southern Cross, which is probably making 99% of its money from mining right now, should be less interested in biotech at the moment. Singling out this incident, and bemoaning the fact that there are no biotechs on the S&P200, belies the fact that there is plenty of life in the Australian life sciences industry, of which the ASX-listed biotech board is but a part. The day before Rudi’s spray, ASX-listed meditech company Sunshine Heart announced a $20 million capital raising, mostly through private equity. There’s no mention of that, yet, on FNArena News – maybe it doesn’t fit the picture of poor, struggling biotech. It would be much more helpful if journos like Rudi, who at least appears to have an understanding of how biotech works, would question why it is that when Australian companies like Cytopia, Phylogica, CogState and others have this year landed healthy deals with some of the world’s biggest biotechs and drug companies, there is barely a flicker of interest in Australia’s mainstream financial press. In many respects, and in spite of many odds, including low visibility and low liquidity, the Australian biotech sector is healthier today than it has ever been. Yes, there is dross in the sector, and some companies are running out of money, just as in any other sector. But there are at least a dozen companies with drugs in late-stage clinical trials, and this year alone has seen some major deals, mergers and other news that would, in other times, make investors sit up and take notice.

Mandy McEvoy, Corporate Finance Adviser with Logde Partners, writes: I have just read your article “Biotech loses its gloss” and while I too lament the loss of a doyen of biotech – Stu Roberts – I think your article is pessimistic at a time when there are a number of Aussie biotech companies on the verge of success with Phase II and III trials. Lodge Partners has underwritten three of the most successful biotech IPO’s in the past five years (Cellestis Ltd, Mesoblast Ltd and EvoGenix Ltd) and there are a number of other firms you have also failed to mention who actively promote the sector, including Paterson’s and EG Capital. I know too there are a number of other larger investment banks keen to get (back) into the space – which has been hurt by the flight of “speculative” money out of biotech and into junior mineral, oil and gas explorers – as well as the disappointment of “failed” biotechs with big egos, unrealistic wish lists ($) and limited technology. I think the biotech sector is poised for a big calendar 2007 and as we look at industrial company earnings in that timeframe (post the recent full year reporting season) – we know that’s not far away and should apply the same forward thinking.

Margaret Walker writes: Re. Junk food advertising. The point that the various commentators about this issue seem to have missed is that advertising works by spending huge sums of money creating powerful images that link directly to emotions. My children frequently sing advertising jingles (despite the fact their viewing time is restricted), and can recite entire adverts if they are appealing enough. The point about junk food advertising is that there is almost no advertising on children’s TV other than junk food advertising. No one is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars making engaging, catchy and emotionally appealing adverts for apples, broccoli and carrots. My children don’t find themselves singing little ditties about the joys of eating oranges. The adverts that do get made about “healthy food” are almost always boring and preachy and my children find them a turn-off. If as much airtime, money and talent was spent on advertising healthy, unprocessed food as for junk food then perhaps we might see a change in behaviour.

Harold Thornton writes: Re. “Election night viewing” (yesterday, item 11). Christian Kerr clearly hasn’t seen Sergio Leone’s classic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It is not a story of “an ageing, weary sheriff, drunk on power, is challenged by two gunslinging out-of-towners, determined to win back what they claim is rightfully theirs”. Perhaps he’s thinking of Unforgiven, also starring a (much older) Clint Eastwood, although that can’t be right, because there the motive was revenge. Or maybe Leone’s other classic Once Upon A Time In The West, although here again the power-drunk guy wasn’t a sheriff and it was a gunslinger and a widow that were trying to do the reclaiming. Oh, dear, it just won’t do, will it? For Christian’s benefit, the three anti-heroes in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are a thief and two bounty hunters, all in search of Confederate Army gold.

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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