Andrew Decker writes: Re. Citizenship tests. I could hardly wait to see today’s Crikey – I knew I’d read self-righteous moaning and bitching about the new citizenship requirements. As a migrant myself (migrant from Hungary, so my first language certainly wasn’t English); I’d like to ask just what is wrong about asking people who choose Australia as their home to speak and understand her language? Why is it being considered bad form to ask immigrants who decided to make this country their permanent home to know something about its history? I’d think freedom also means that one can go to any shop in any city anywhere in Australia and ask for a loaf of bread in a language we all understand, instead of being permanently “locked up” in their own language-ghetto. So come off your high horse and believe that for myself, along with millions of other migrants, it was an honour to be welcomed and accepted in this country – and so it should be for all. The above – of course – doesn’t mean one can’t see the idiocy of our politicians, the stupidity of some decisions and so on; but unless a citizen is a fully cognisant member of society, there isn’t much she or he can do about it…

JJ Carmody writes: Yesterday, in his piece (item 2) about the proposed “citizenship test”, Richard Farmer has written “The only real disadvantage for the non-citizen is the risk of deportation if convicted of a criminal offence.” I’d say that the right to vote is a pretty important aspect, too.

Phil Atkinson writes: Richard Farmer has done it as well as any politician. Make us aware of our fears in a perverse sort of way, without having any real regard for practicality. So what is so bad about having a “working knowledge” of your intended country of adoption and its language? Would you rather be disadvantaged by not understanding conversations when shopping, dealing with government departments, signing or entering into contracts etc etc etc? Don’t be a bloody dill Richard. Would you go on holiday (let alone live in) France without any knowledge of the French language, or to Germany, or Korea, or China? Of course you wouldn’t (having a friend or relative who is fluent in the language and travels with you does not count!). And don’t forget that (at the moment) English is the most universal language. Why not learn it?

Dave Fawkner writes: Two questions unlikely to be on the proposed citizenship test: 1) Explain the convention of “the separation of powers”. 2) Explain the convention of “Ministerial responsibility”.

Chris Colenso-Dunne writes: Re. Michael Rogers’s comments (yesterday, comments): “A fertilised egg, a blastocyst, an embryo, a baby, a child, a teenager, an adult human, is a ball rolling down a slope. If the ball meets no obstruction, it continues rolling as long as there is a slope”. Yes, except a living organism is not a ball rolling down a slope. Rather, it’s a ball rolling up a slope. Without external propulsion – sustenance, clothing and shelter – it will come to a stop. Lives, human and non-human, have only the value that we are willing to give them. The more care we take of something the more valuable for us it becomes. All rights must be fought for, won or lost. No rights are inherent – not a woman’s right to choose nor the right to life except that we proclaim it to be so.

Andrew Lewis writes: Michael Rogers and other commentators are right: the stem cell debate is a moral issue rather than a religious one. The ridiculous part of the debate is the one that equates an ovum, with its genetic material removed, replaced by a currently living person’s donated genetic material, being propagated outside a womb for stem cells, with a human life. The idea being put forward is that it immediately acquires the status of independent human life, even independent from the person whose genetic material was donated (no coupling of gametes here, just transplantation of cell contents). It is apparently equivalent to a full term baby, a teenager, or an adult even. It is hardly a moot point. A single human cell created, housed and grown outside a womb hardly passes the threshold for “human life”. There is a clear actual and moral distinction which is ignored by the anti-stem cell research brigade. I think Monty Python said it best in Life of Brian when they asked the newly named Loretta, “Where’s it gonna gestate, in a box!”

Jardine writes: Thanks to Michael Rogers for his point of distinction. “It is not a religious issue. It is a moral issue.” When I first saw my daughter at 18 weeks gestation, courtesy of an ultrasound, she was kicking back in mum’s tum sucking her thumb. Recently at six years old she finally spat out her last dummy. It only took 18 weeks from conception to develop a habit she pursued for years. 18 weeks. This astonishing child could have been legally taken from the womb even as she sucked. I wonder how many are. And stop calling me religious. Or conservative. Perhaps it’s simply that I have overwhelming emotional ties and sense of responsibility to this child whose life started with the meeting of two cells.

Harold Thornton writes: Professor Mirko Bagaric’s latest Crikey effort suggests academic standards have slumped to a new low. According to Bagaric, “Research with real and mock jurors shows that knowledge that an accused has a criminal past does not increase the chance of a conviction. In fact the opposite, the risk of conviction is in most cases slightly reduced.” Commonsense-prompted scepticism motivated me to dig a bit further on the issue. A quick google of “prior convictions” and “jury” reveals a wealth of articles showing Bagaric’s claim to be, to put it politely, rubbish. Research with real and mock jurors in fact shows just what you’d expect it to show. The relevant questions are – does Bagaric know or care that he’s peddling a steaming pile? Are his students aware of his laxity with the truth? What does Deakin University make of a senior academic substituting for scholarship stuff he’s just made up, when publicly spouting on his speciality subject?

Peter Faris QC writes: Re. Riordan and Silk. Crikey has recently drawn attention to the question of the existence and appointments of SCs – silks. The question has arisen from a letter written by a Melbourne barrister John Riordan earlier this month (7 December, item 9) and published by Crikey. Crikey seems to suggest that Riordan applied for silk but was rejected in November – “[a]fter failing to get selected as Senior Counsel, he wrote a letter … outlining his concerns”. It seems to me that two questions arise here. First, the personal position and credibility of Riordan. Second, the weight of his arguments. Riordan attacks the institution (“system”) of silk as “seriously flawed, amounting to an anachronistic colonial legacy … anti-competitive”. Strong words which, if truly held, makes it difficult to understand why, last August, he could have applied to be a part of this flawed system. I was rejected for silk three times before I was appointed in 1986. It is an extremely bitter experience. If Riordan has been rejected, I can understand his anger but he lacks credibility when he demands reform. He was admitted in 1967 (four years after me) so he must be in his sixties. He has been at the Bar 32 years. It would be extremely unusual for a barrister to be appointed at that age. Riordan, while criticising the SC process for not being transparent, fails his own test – he does not disclose how many times he has applied for silk and been rejected. These issues are relevant to the credibility of his complaint. To put it bluntly, his letter reads like the bitter complaint of a barrister who now realises that the Chief Justice will never consider him good enough to be appointed as silk. From my perspective as a senior silk, I consider that the system works well and works in the public interest. Essentially, silks are selected by a peer group process and citizens are comfortable with that. There is no purpose served in abolishing the position of QC or SC in Victoria (anyway, it would not affect me because I am silk in all jurisdictions). The appointment process (in Victoria) depends upon the integrity of the Chief Justice. I am completely confident that she properly investigates all applications and appoints the appropriate people. This system is as fair and as good as any other proposal. It works. Riordan seems to be saying that he has been grievously wronged. He writes “the only recourse left is a complaint to the ACCC in respect of the system and a Court challenge to the process”. Well, let him do it.

Jenny Morris writes: Apropos Litvinenko and the Polonium-210 (yesterday, item 15). Am I the only person who read the Cancer Council poster from years ago, which told us that ciggies are full of nasty chemicals, including said Polonium-210? Obviously the unfortunate Russian ex-spy got a large dose, but those who still enjoy a puff of tobacco might want to think again. Oh, and it’s carcinogenic. Happy Christmas.

Con Frantzeskos writes: Re. Holden’s ambush marketing. Why would the State Government have any role in banning the blimp? An enormous dark shadow over the ‘G distracting Ricky Ponting and causing his dismissal would lead to more negative perceptions about the Holden brand than 1,000 parliamentary speeches combined. Let the MPs of Victoria sit without contributing even more hot air.

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