Dennis McDonald writes: While I cannot argue with the statement that we need to get better control over greenhouse gas emissions and other airborne contaminants (and indeed as a matter of good housekeeping, reduce them where feasible) I take exception to Crikey’s trumpeting of the GLOBAL WARMING crisis as if it were the very harbinger of Armageddon. To the best of my knowledge, scientists are divided on the issue of whether and how human created emissions are the major, or indeed even a significant contributor to the long term cyclical warming and cooling of our planet. Taking the alarmist Chicken Little view does little (pardon the pun) to advance our knowledge. Drawing invidious comparisons between the actions of a man who clearly has much more money than he can reasonably expect to spend in a number of lifetimes (and cynically, whose enterprises will undoubtedly benefit from the publicity attending his grand gesture) and a political leader who is trying to bring some rationality to the debate seems a bit rich. To me Crikey’s great attraction is its capacity to present a different angle, to cut through the cr-p, not to be seduced by it.

Environmental Manager editor Murray Griffin writes: One point that always gets lost in references to the federal government’s climate change spend (22 September, editorial) is that it is for spending over a period of more than 20 years. The figure refers to all climate change programs announced in and after the PM’s 1997 Safeguarding the Future speech. Grant rounds under the flagship $500 million low emissions technology demonstration fund will run through to 2012, with milestone payments to be made up until 2020. Not only is Branson’s US$3 billion spending pledge much larger, it’s to be provided in under half the time.

Gavin Robertson writes: Re. “What on earth are all those Coles staff doing?” (22 September, item 23). “[At Coles] there are 2,500 people (earning on average $120,000 per year)”. No, they’re not. Annual savings of $300 million from sacking 2,500 doesn’t mean that their individual average earnings is $300 mil divided by 2,500. There’ll be savings in office space, power, light and heat, stationery, insurance and a few hundred other overheads. I’ve always used a “double salary” rule of thumb to work out the cost of employing someone including all the overheads, which means the average earnings of the poor blighters being sent down the road is closer to $60,000. Do try harder the next time.

Mike Noske writes: Your article noting that McKinseys had found 2,500 un-needed support staff in Coles demands an explanation. The guy who was my best man back in 1978 went on to become an international partner at McKinseys. Based on his life, it’s easy to see how McKinseys could recommend boning 2500 support staff at Coles. This was a man who — in his early days at McKinseys — commuted between three offices; one in Cleveland, one in London and one in New York. He used to work such crazy hours that every couple of years his (then) wife would get a call to say he’d collapsed at the office, or on a plane, or in an airport, or somewhere in between, “and he’ll be home in a week or so when we release him from hospital.” He’s now in his third marriage. With such a balanced view on how work should fit into life driving McKinseys, it is no wonder they can find so many “un-needed” bodies around any workplace they cast their looking glass over — we all should work the way they do or we are not working hard enough! The pity is that companies like Coles actually pay McKinseys to do a review when their answer – sack X,XXX people — is so predictable. I suspect Coles needed the legitimacy of an “uber consultant’s recommendations” to justify the sackings they know they need to keep the share price rising in the short term. It beats actually managing the company so it grows on its strengths. Oh for the days when an entrepreneur’s place in the community firmament was determined by how many people his or her business employed, rather than by how far their price/earnings ratio exceeded the market average.

Alan Lander writes: Re. “The clash of what?” (22 September, item 8). What is this? A Gerard Henderson column? For God’s sake, give it up, Christian. I read Crikey to get away from zealous preachers, and what do I find? You people are all the same; you just want to shout at others, and someone has given you the soapbox to do it. Maybe you should type it all in caps. Give up on the left/right stuff; most of us are in the cabin, happy that the two wings are there (they play their part), but we’re really not interested in climbing out on one of them, like you. Okay, some of us think there’s a real weirdo in the pilot’s seat (GWB) banking the plane hard right at the moment; but are you angling for a job at the Australian or something?

Matt Hardin writes: I am young(ish) leftist. At least I think I am; I am no longer sure what that word means in the lexicon of conservative columnists (Kerr, Albrechtsen, Bolt, Faris et al.). It seems to mean anyone who disagrees with them. However, I do not cling to an ideology of “if it’s American it must be bad”. I believe in a consistent set of values that have evolved in Western society since the time of Ancient Greece. Examples include free speech, innocent until proven guilty, trial by jury, negotiation rather than invasion, opposition to torture — the list goes on. This does not mean I support radical Islam. Sharia law (or any religious law) is anathema to me. Terrorists are criminals and should be dealt with accordingly. Christian Kerr has the perfect right to say what he likes, but I do not have to pay to be accused through stupid, lazy writing. Straw men and ad hominem attacks on the left do not constitute an argument and are now beyond offensive.

David Tiley writes: Re. “That’s about the only remaining shred of ideology the tired old leftists have to cling to.” So this tired old lefty sitting in Melbourne can be written off because of Gunter Grass? I can read this crap on a gazillion putrid right-wing blogs. Surely Crikey pays its political editor to do better than that.

Ross Copeland writes: To paraphrase Christian Kerr, “If America’s involved, it must be good. That’s about the only remaining shred of ideology the rabid old right have to cling to.” This is just as valid as Christian’s aspersions on the left’s dislike of America, ie not valid at all, just a generalisation not based on evidence.

John Owen writes: Re. Christian Kerr. For Christ’ sake, does he not know any WWII history? The war against Nazi Germany was won by the Russians predominantly, with the loss of about 15 million soldiers and countless millions of civilians. To state that “United States’ Armies destroyed Hitler” is pure, unmitigated and unforgivable cr-p, and overlooks the efforts of many other nations. The US came into the European land war in June ’44, with the British and others in the D-Day invasion. And they took many needless casualties when they, as usual, underestimated the troops they were fighting. I am getting bloody sick of cretin Kerr and again suggest that he be pulled into line before you lose me, and possibly many others. 

Peter Saunders, Director of Social Policy Programmes at The Centre for Independent Studies, writes: Re. “What makes Australia’s social security system great” (22 September, item 9). Nick Gruen keeps using Peter Whiteford’s table to support his argument that we do not have a churning problem in Australia. But as I have pointed out several times before, the table is comparing tax-welfare flows at extreme points in the income distribution. Look at the pattern across the distribution overall and you get a very different story. It is true that Australia targets cash on poorer households more successfully than other countries do. This is because of our tight means testing and the fact that all benefits are paid out of general taxation rather than from a national insurance fund. Whether or not this is a good thing is of course debatable, for we certainly pay a high price in the high EMTRs which are unavoidable when you withdraw means tested payments from people as soon as they start to earn a bit more of their own money. This creates huge work disincentives from which our system inherently suffers. Nevertheless, it is true that we devote a higher proportion of our total welfare spending to the lowest 30% of earners than virtually any other OECD country (something the welfare lobby persistently fails to recognise, incidentally). It is also true that our system churns back fewer tax dollars to the richest 10-20% of the population than other countries do, but this is almost entirely due to our different age pension arrangements. Because we do not have a European-style insurance system, the highest earners in Australia do not get a state age pension when they retire, but in most other countries the pension is paid on the basis of eligibility through past contributions rather than on the basis of “need”. Because the richest Aussies do not get a government age pension, their share of total welfare spending is lower than in other countries. The key point, however, is that other welfare payments are spread thickly across the middle classes, and this has got worse as family payments have been made more generous. Nick fails to mention that, below the top 20% of income earners, churning is every bit as great in our system as elsewhere. As Peter Whiteford states in the paper which Nick keeps referring us to: “Australia has roughly the same share of middle class welfare as most other OECD countries” (p11). He estimates that the middle 60% of Australian earners get 56% of all welfare transfers. This means there is a huge problem of churning in our tax-welfare system, and Ann Harding’s modelling at NATSEM bears this out. This is not just a problem due to the inefficiency and expense. Much more important is the erosion of independence. Millions of people who could otherwise look after themselves are having money taken from them in tax so that the government can give it back (and demand their gratitude) in payments and services they would not have needed if they had not been taxed so heavily in the first place. This is why the churning debate will not go away, no matter how much Nick (or Peter Costello for that matter) wish it would. “Stellar results”? Hardly.

Leo Vance writes: Great to see Nicholas Gruen putting the boot into the “churn” rubbish in Crikey on Friday. Long past time someone pointed out that our existing system transfers income from individuals to families, and that eliminating “churn” would mean government specifically moving to cut the income of families and increase the income of individuals. Hey, if Mr Kerr wants to advocate funding tax cuts for individuals by cutting transfer payments to families — please go right ahead. There is an honest case for it. But don’t give us the BS about ‘churn’, please. It just doesn’t wash, and I refuse to believe someone as smart as Christian doesn’t know it. Oh, and the more you can publish Mr Gruen — the better. Invariably worth reading.

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. “Does Australia need more babies, or more migrants?” (22 September, item 5). Obviously Charles Richardson is another guy who enjoys thinking the worst of everyone. There must be a sinister reason for increasing the birth rate — “Keep out the Darkies!” Maybe we want children to grow up and pay taxes in order to keep the ageing generations in the standard of living they have come to expect, and if we do it ourselves, then we can educate and train them here from the youngest possible age. Jeez Louise, I just love people who hate Australia.

Paul Higgins writes: Re. Glenn Dyer’s remark about the audience being well down for Thursday night’s The 7:30 Report (September 22, item 20). Um, it didn’t go to air. Glenn, remember the strike by ABC employees? The employees that you treated with considerable disdain the day before?

Glenn Dyer responds: Yep, guilty of forgetting about the strike and the only explanation I can give is that viewers of ABC TV also felt the same way. The strike didn’t matter. A closer examination of last Thursday night’s viewing levels in prime time (6pm to midnight) shows that the ABC held its audience. Viewers didn’t tune out because of the strike (except for The 7.30 Report). The 7pm ABC News was watched by an average 968,000, which is about normal for a Thursday night.

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