CRIKEY: Yesterday’s article,”The housing nightmare: how high immigration is making it worse” (item 4) – was an edited extract by Crikey from a 38 page draft discussion paper “Thinking About the Big Drop in Australian Housing Affordability” written by Macquarie Bank Interest-Rate Strategist Rory Robertson on 20 December.

Christian Kerr writes: Re. “Cabinet: in, out, shake it all about” (yesterday, item 1). The PM’s press release didn’t come out until after we published yesterday – and we got a bum steer from AAP – but Ian Campbell wasn’t demoted to the outer ministry in yesterday’s reshuffle. His new Human Services portfolio has Cabinet status.

Geoff Russell writes: Re. The water wasting debate (yesterday, item 8). Thomas Hunter needs to look a little deeper into water issues, its extremely slippery stuff and easy to be mislead by perfectly correct figures. The following Government web page has some interesting figures. The amount of extracted water varies dramatically from year to year, back in 1993 we used less water than in 2004-5 (around 18,000 gigalitres). But in 1996 we used over 22,000 gigalitres. The differences have little to do with savings from irrigation techniques which may be are locally very important but nationally tiny. The biggest water users aren’t mining and manufacturing but beef and dairy and these industries don’t use fancy stuff like drip irrigation — they just flood or spray the whole pasture. They use more water in dry years, because when it is wet, they don’t need to water the pasture. Hence in dry years less water hits the rivers and less ends up at the down at the end of the Murray for me in Adelaide to grow my tomatoes!

Karl Goiser writes: What a fatuous response by Mr Hunter to the concerns by ordinary people that, just possibly, householders are being demonised while industry is being let off lightly. For example, in the ABS table Mr Hunter quotes from, water use in four of the six non-agriculture, non- household categories increased. As for agriculture, he points out that there is a drought, so there is less water to use. These figures do not support his argument. Mr Hunter then goes on to describe programs or groups which are either now, or will some day produce water savings. This is not the same thing as householders are having to deal with. Where are the stage three or higher water restrictions on agriculture or industry (apart from the drought, of course)? Where are the water ‘police’ empowered to fine or reduce the pressure to abusers in those sectors? Large inappropriate water usage doesn’t just affect the lawns of townsfolk: it affects the ability of farmers to grow more water- efficient crops – and feed their livestock. What is a crop of cotton in comparison to turning off the mains water of your town?

Bruce Holden writes: Re. Water wasting. My uneducated guess would be that there are probably significantly more houses and fewer farms over the quoted time period, notwithstanding savings made in either sector, and more power to them. Here’s a question for Thomas, how much water is wasted by businesses such as Hotels, using automatic flushing toilets/urinals. I note Chadstone Shopping Centre has turned them off and replaced them with chemical treatment. Good work, past time the big hotels and others followed suit.

John Hunwick writes: Re. Water tanks. It is not enough to value tanks and the water they hold just on basic economics. On first calculations a tank to many people is too expensive. This shows that part of the problem is the ridiculously low price we pay for piped water. We don’t protect what we don’t value. Already many people are purchasing tanks, and it will become even more economic when the price goes up (hopefully in a step-wise increase the more water is consumed. A much better assessment of the value of tanks would at least start with the “triple bottom line” approach which takes into consideration not just the bare economics but also social benefits (eg a reduced need for costly infrastructure) and environmental benefits (a decrease in the runoff of freshwater – probably polluted – into the oceans). Anyone looking for a major contributor to solve Australia’s “water scarcity” should look again more closely at reverse osmosis treatment of sewage.

Frank Golding writes: Re. “Education, education, education” (yesterday, item 3). Christian Kerr and serious journalism – an oxymoronic joke. Swingeing slander and wild assertions now extends to teachers: “the semi-numerate, semi-literate, yet jargon-obsessed ideological deadbeats who dominate the education establishment.” Not a fact in sight, but that’s no impediment to Kerr: “After all, teachers – particularly state school teachers – and education bureaucrats still dwell on the wilder shores of Marx.” What intellectual swamp does this guy inhabit? Sounds like he takes Kevin Donnelly to bed. London to a brick, the last teacher Kerr spoke to – all those years ago – gave him the stick. Who’s exercising editorial responsibility for this bilge? Kerr tells us that “University courses in golf course management… drive up costs and waste money.” Not nearly as much as subscriptions to Crikey.

Stuart Glazebrook writes: Graeme Major (22 January, comments) represents the very worst of the global warming Kool-Aid drinkers in his recent attack on Christian Kerr. Rather than provide counter to his perceived holes in Kerr’s arguments, Major instead adopts the time-honoured ‘consensus’ view in support of his own spurious beliefs, chiding that he could provide Kerr with “all the factual evidence he could possibly want”. “Flooding rains, big droughts and mega bushfires” are cited by Major as proof positive of global warming. Nonsense. Extreme weather patterns have been a fact of geological life on Earth well before bipedal hominids first invented the steam engine. Here is a challenge to all the backyard and dining table scientists: please provide just want one irrefutable, non-emotive, scientifically incontrovertible element of proof that man has contributed to what is the “general theory” of global warming. Documented climate change has occurred on this planet for 4.3 billion years. Data supporting the belief in man’s supposed destructive impact would not even go back 150 years. Disturbingly, this largely chimerical and emotive argument and the ever-increasingly shrill demands of its supporters risks committing countries like Australia and their populace to financial larceny in its pursuit of a solution. The so-called “factual evidence” for man-made global warming is derived from little more than randomly generated data scenarios fed into overly-complex computer models that produce wildly inconsistent and often misleading and inconclusive results. Unfortunately, it seems many in the media and government have also supped at this font and accepted without question the most direst and catastrophic predictions for humankind’s future. Major would do well to consider the “statistically huge standard error involved” in such scientific investigation when next offering his layman’s views.

Marg Bozik writes: Re. “Optus customer service: possibly the worst in Australia” (yesterday, item 17), in my experience they could write the manual on “How to lose customers and infuriate people”. And it is not their product; it’s their service. For 18 months we were very happy Optus customers, using a home phone/internet bundle. Then we moved house (which I’m sure many customers do and which I am sure they have to deal with on a regular basis). Our attempts to transfer the package to the new house was like a 21st centuary version of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot” – we’d phone their call centre, speak to someone in India who would tell us everything had been put in place but the transfer would take a couple of weeks; nothing would happen and when we called back again in three weeks there was no record of our previous conversation and we’d have to start again. We’d get transferred from department to department where everything was someone else’s fault and no-one had a record of our previous dealings. Eventually, after several repeats of this nightmare, even though we were happy with the internet side of the service and really didn’t want to go through the hassle of changing email addresses, we gave up and now have our phone and internet accounts with other businesses.

Tim Falkiner writes: I read “The housing nightmare: how high immigration is making it worse” by Rory Robertson, Macquarie Bank interest rate strategist (yesterday, item 4). I was glad to see that someone is taking a holistic approach to the problem. High cost housing is a symptom of poor economic and social planning. Australia should have been pursuing decentralization and balanced economic policies for the last 50 years. This is simply the chickens coming home to roost.

Mike Crook writes: Great article by Jane Nethercote on the rental situation. I see reports this week that Australians need an average of 6.6 years median salary to pay off their mortgages, the world’s highest. The housing price boom which benefited so many and which yet which is impoverishing so many was the result of two Howard actions. One was reducing funding to the states for Public Housing, and the other was the fifty percent reduction in capital gains tax. The latter made investing in real estate even more attractive than it already was, but also with the boom made it absolutely necessary for rents to rise to obtain an adequate return on investment. The end result of this has been to enrich a lot of people who have made massive capital gains, but to deny access to the housing market for those on average incomes. This is not what I would consider to be good public policy but it certainly won Howard some friends. The taxation system accompanying this results in “non job”, or “unearned” income being taxed at a much lesser rate than income earned from employment. Eg. If I earn $100,000pa from my job, I will pay a lot more tax than if I make a capital gain of $100,000 in a year on an investment property. It is even more interesting when we look at sale of an income producing business which attracts a further 50% reduction in capital gains tax plus a range of very lucrative retirement options. I think there is something fundamentally unfair about this sort of system which benefits only those who can afford access. For me it matters not a jot whether my house is worth $50,000 or $500,000 as if I sell or buy it will be in the same market. What does matter to me is the difficulty my children have in accessing the housing market. Is Australia truly a “Common Wealth” or is it always going to be a den of “inequity”.

Brett Gallard writes: Some of the comments in yesterday’s “The housing nightmare: what the landlords say” (item 6) were absolutely heartbreaking. Stories of unfair taxes, fees, ‘meagre’ capital gains and tenant rights (imagine that!!!) just made me want to cry. All this coming from the very people who helped drive up property prices by investing in the residential market (pushing housing affordability out of reach of their tenants) was almost too much to bear. Wake up people! There are other things to invest in. Anyone ever heard of a thing called the share market? Not that I’m a bitter renter or anything.

Roger Mika writes: I went into real estate at the ripe old age of 52 after 33 years in a government position. In my learning curve (Sydney) I saw that most prospective clients (hate the term tenant, serf connotation) came dressed very causally and expect a house or unit which was worth a large sum of money to be handed over. After a while I asked some of the lookers, “would you apply for a job dressed like that”?, No was the answer. I told them seeking a house/unit, dress like you are going for a job interview. Remember, the property manager is the boss, so look the part. I began to give out a hint list to prospective clients: 1) Dress as if you are going for a job interview. 2) Have the first weeks rent ready then to deposit on the residence. 3) Have all your necessary paperwork with you (copies) and state you can do application then and now (there is a cooling off period). I was surprised how many clients thanked me for my hints, they had no idea.

Paul Harder writes: Julian McLaren claims (yesterday, comments) that if the price of water was to increase, there would need to be a concession for families with children. Is he not satisfied with baby bonuses and family tax benefits? If his family consumes more, then his family should pay more.

Gary Carroll writes: Re. ABC bias. I seem to recall that the Hawke and Keating Governments were rather critical of the ABC. Maybe it is an “in Government” thing. They just don’t like being questioned.

Kim McDonald writes: Re. Ben Aveling’s comment (yesterday, comments). What, so earning $200,000 a year automatically disqualifies you from the social conscience stakes… give me a break!?! I hope Ben is not one of those impoverished, however apparently uniquely social conscience endowed school teachers, and conveying this sort of clap-trap to young minds.

John Taylor writes: Re. David Hicks. Here’s the scenario: sometime during this election year David Hicks is put on trial, who knows on what charges, is found guilty and is sentenced to DEATH. Do you really think the Howard Government could sustain any support in this event? Under the Aussie Values “fair go” rules it would be a wipeout.The PM being a brilliant election year strategist, the more likely scenario is that he would be tried, found guilty of something, sentenced to five years (time served Your Honour) and quietly returned to Australia, about November.

Dennis Feeney writes: What sort of “suites” were you referring to in yesterday’s item “Etihad chooses Sydney, Max the Axe rules” (item 19) by Michael Pascoe where it is claimed that the “the suites still fly south”. Lounge suites? Bedroom suites? Who looks after grammar and style at Crikey?

Tristan Kane writes: In regards to Mr Fuller’s attack (yesterday, comments) on Crikey’s decision to publish a small handful of stories on the NFL this season I would like to point out that A) I am a crikey subscriber who happens to also be an NFL fan and B) I actually have quite enjoyed reading all four NFL related stories that I have seen thus far. The first, a much criticised raving about LaDainian Tomlinson actually proved to be rather auspicious as the promising signs that prompted the article later manifested themselves in one of the greatest sporting performances of the year in any sport. As an update, LT went on to set statisticians into a frenzy by emphatically breaking all the individual single-season scoring records for his position and reaching 100 career rushing touchdowns faster than anyone else in history all while leading his team to a string of otherwise unlikely wins that all together made them the highest ranked team in the NFL (although I note his presence was not enough to beat my beloved Pats and progress beyond their first game of the playoffs, but that is another story). The other three articles have all been related to what has been an extremely tense playoff series where almost all the games have been decided by less than a touchdown – often in the last minute. Mr Fuller clearly does not care for such things, but I feel that the NFL has definitely reached a level of mainstream interest that entitles it to be on these pages. I will however concede on one point, that if you want in depth analysis and reporting you need to look beyond Crikey and into the US media, for any Crikey readers whose interest may have been piqued by the articles seen here I can thoroughly recommend the NFL’s own website NFL.com as being well worth a look.

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Peter Fray

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