John Richardson writes: Re. Dr Peter Phelps comments on politicians’ remuneration (yesterday, comments). Dr Phelps suggests that those who are unhappy about the level of politicians’ remuneration (among other things) might care to take on the odious task of public life themselves. Of course, if life is really as bad for the current crop of hair-shirted political martyrs, as Dr Phelps would have us believe, they could always forsake the hardship of the leather benches in favour of an easier and more rewarding existence in the real world, along with the rest of us?

Christopher G Colenso-Dunne writes: In his defence of Aussie pollies, Peter Phelps demands in the usual civil manner that we have come to expect from the “Chief of Staff to the Special Minister of State” that “the pig-ignorant whingers who write absolute blather in the letters section of Crikey” explain “if it is such a good life, if the incumbents are so feckless, if it’s all so damn easy, then why don’t they run for office themselves?” Phelps’s rhetorical retort no more follows from his premise than if he had demanded that protestant critics of the Roman Catholic Church explain why they don’t all try to become cardinals. It’s maudlin of Phelps insisting MPs should be paid “what they’re worth”. Let the market decide. Phelps has the onus, which he’s failed to shoulder, of proving that upping MPs’ pay over the years has given their employers, taxpayers, a more productive workforce.

Ian Newman writes: Being called a “Pig-ignorant whinger” by a “life member of the Young Liberals”: It is extremely doubtful there could be a more amusing way to start the working week?

Robynne Burchell writes: Yet another tirade from Dr Phelps. Perhaps he would be good enough to confirm that the comments, vitriol and abuse he flings at anyone who has the temerity to question his views are also held by Mr Nairn, the minister for opening fetes? Those of us who live in the electorate of Eden-Monaro would very much like Dr Phelps to confirm that he is indeed confirming the attitude of the member for Eden-Monaro toward his electorate.

Peter Phelps responds: I am not a mere cipher of my Minister, so whether he approves or disapproves of my views is irrelevant. And for the record, these are my personal views, but I feel compelled to state my position after a little run in with Media Watch.

Peter Faris QC writes: (To Duncan Kerr, SC – yesterday, item 12). I have a contrary view to yours of the responsibilities of a Judge. I think that it is the duty of a Judge to make disclosure, particularly here as to Maxwell P’s vehement objection to the law under consideration, his membership of AIA and his close association with HRLRC and the witness Philip Lynch.  After disclosure, the question can then be dealt with in open court. (To Alan Kennedy – yesterday, comments) This point is covered in my argument.  Kennedy is only partly right – the rest of the case (the ABC evidence) will depend upon an analysis of the anti-terrorist laws.  As to Kennedy’s abuse, I adopt the marvellous phrase of Dr Peter Phelps (yesterday, comments):  “those pig-ignorant whingers who write absolute blather in the letters section of Crikey.”  Well said. (To Chris Davis) This a genuine legal issue: I have no problems if an independent court throws out the Thomas convictions (as did the jury for two charges).  (To Katherine Wilson) One biased Judge is enough to invalidate a decision.  As for the Pinochet jibe, refer to Phelps. (To John Walters) The suggestion is that (as an individual) I am biased.  Of course I am – we all are. The point here is that in particular cases, where the Judge is closely associated with the parties or the outcome, perceived bias must be disclosed and dealt with. I frequently have to make disclosure to clients before accepting a brief. (Trevor Kruger) While I agree that we need a better system for judicial selection, that is not the problem here. Maxwell P was too close to the case. (To Lindy Golding) The point is that there was no “declared membership” of Amnesty. As far as Ruddock goes, if he were in a similar position of potential conflict of interest, I would expect him to step aside and criticise him if he didn’t. Let me make two other quick points. Lawyers are highly conscious of potential conflict of interest. We have all handed back or refused work because of this problem. It happens all the time. Maxwell P was in error in not recognising the conflict. Finally, it is interesting that not one Crikey reader supports my analysis and is prepared to say so. No wonder the Left controls the agenda.

Sky Mykyta writes: Peter Faris has no grounds for his arguments that Maxwell P may have been biased or may be perceived as biased (15 September, item 1). All lawyers swear to uphold the law and there is no evidence that Maxwell P has not done so. One of our most important laws is the one ensuring that a person is only convicted on the basis of proper evidence. There is a distinct difference between campaigning for law reform as a lawyer and upholding the law (though a person may still in their private capacity criticise it). Is Faris proposing that all judges or potential judges be gagged to avoid any possible perception that they are human beings? This comes very close to suggesting misconduct, for which a judge can be removed from the bench. Interesting that it is only “activist” (read non-conservative, non-right wing) judges who are criticised in this way, generally by conservative commentators. Before being appointed to the High Court, Hayden J wrote a piece that has been widely considered his “job application” criticising judicial activism. It could be easily assumed that he thereby telegraphed his approach to legal issues – narrow, rigid, legalistic and in no way progressive. However, the whole thing is spurious. People are appointed to the bench based on their legal experience and qualifications. Their personal opinions of various laws are not an accurate indicator of their future performance on the bench nor their ability to perform their duties without bias.

SMH reporter Kate McClymont writes: “Abraham Gilbert Saffron was like Chicago’s Al Capone; in a life of organised crime, the only thing they got him on was tax fraud…” — Kate McClymont in The Sydney Morning Herald (yesterday, editorial). Just to let you know that while I did write a piece in Saturday’s Herald, the quote above was actually Evan Whitton’s who also wrote an article in the same edition.

Dr Mark Duffett, geophysicist, writes: Carl Brauhart, geologist, is skating onto thin ice (ha!) in forecasting the number of eminent geologists convinced of anthropogenic climate change to be small (yesterday, comments). I work with quite a few of them, and my take would be that a clear majority accept the reality of a significant humanity-induced component in the climate change signal. He is right to say that the geoscientific perspective has been unduly neglected, but only up to a point. Without wanting to diminish my own profession, there is a fundamental limit on how much it can contribute to the climate debate, simply because the current circumstances are unprecedented, with no natural equivalent represented in the geological record. It is for this reason that the scepticism of many geoscientists, and anyone else not cognisant of climate modelling results based on the laws of physics, may not be well founded.

Mike Burke writes: Re. Definitions of war. Poor old Christian Kerr cops it again (yesterday, comments). I can’t see how there can be any doubt on this issue. What makes this conflict, or series of conflicts, a “war” by any sane definition are the simple facts that: a) war is politics by other means; b) the opposing forces are using deadly force, and military weaponry, to achieve political ends, and c) unlike, say, the murderous activities of the IRA, the combatants are directly and indirectly funded and supported by nation states seeking to achieve the same ends that the combatants are fighting for. None of the participants, no matter which side they are fighting on, has any doubt that they are engaged in a war. Why should Mr Rollo and other like-minded people doubt something that is not only clear to the combatants, but also something that is in any case a self-evident fact to most observers?

Craig Felton writes: Christian Kerr articulates a salient point in comparing Hitler with Socialists (15 September, item 15). Both National Socialists and Marxists are totalitarians. Sure, they strive for separate specific goals, but both have implemented the same totalitarian methodology against any who dare to question. Both have had no quarrels in quashing the rights of the individual: The former in favour of the state, and the latter on behalf of the collective. They have both murdered tens of millions of innocent souls in their parallel desires.

Linda Carruthers writes: Re. Robb and cultural criticism. Irfan Yusuf makes a fundamental mistake, (if I may put it that way) in his analysis of the inanities flowing from the mouth of Robb and the rest (yesterday, item 7). The actually existing situation in the ‘burbs – where actually existing Australians who are Muslims live, is not the issue here at all. Your patient detailing of the facts and realities “on the ground” as they say, is immaterial. Robb is not concerned that he is wrong, wrong, wrong about the whole thing, and neither is the PM. This is an exercise in politics, the raw politics of dog whistling. The point is that there will be no serious government activity at all in this area, like so much else this government does. The point here is words, not actions. For a mob who cluck cluck endlessly about postmodernism, their mastery of the discursive deployment of power, is, well, masterful.

Sean Malloy writes: I’d like Crikey to accept this challenge: Compile a list of quotes for any person who is on the public record, and find common words in quotes and publish them as you have done with Alexander Downer (yesterday, item 14). I’m sure there are plenty of people looking just as bad as Mr Downer does. Hey, I laughed, but I don’t think it’s any sort of aberration. Damn you Crikey, you’ve made me defend Alexander Downer. I need to go wash myself and burn my clothes.

Warren Fahey, who recorded Christine Knight in 2005 for the National Library Oral History Collection, writes: Christian Kerr is correct about the “two ladies and their dogs” (yesterday, item 13) – and Abe Saffron coming to the rescue – except they were mother and daughter and from Darling Point. They would be delighted to read they were “well heeled”.  It was indeed “Frank Sinatra” who was buried and, by sheer coincidence, the “other dog”, named “Lauren” (Bacall), is to join “Frank” in her final resting place this week. Their owner, the wonderfully eccentric Christine Knight, attended Abe’s funeral on Monday dressed, as usual, in Chanel. Christine, now in her mid-seventies, worked as a Cigarette Girl at Saffron’s Roosevelt Club and was the pioneer showbiz king, Lee Gordon’s, “significant private other half” for many years. Christine can still be sighted in Potts Point and is now a Macleay Street resident.

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Peter Fray

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