Bob Lawrence writes: Re. Thursday’s editorial. While you note from the Australian Year Book that agriculture contributes around 3% to gross domestic product, the processing of agricultural products on Australia accounts for about 30% of the GDP and provides the major source of regional secondary industry employment. So it is a very significant 3% of GDP.

Niall Clugston writes: Crikey states that: “Agriculture contributes around 3% to gross domestic product, but accounts for 70% of water consumption and almost 60% of Australia’s land area.” Though often trotted out, such statistics are misleading. The GDP figure doesn’t account for secondary industries that are inextricably linked with Australian agriculture. Nor does it acknowledge the key role, agriculture continues to play in exports. Moreover, since GDP represents the sum total of prices, this methodology effectively penalises agriculture for providing Australia with cheap food (ie if farms were less efficient, they would account for more GDP). Finally, the statement implies that the land and water would be used for other economic purposes, which generally is false given the “remote” locations.

Simon Allen writes: Re. Tom Switzer’s response (25 January, comments). It was wonderful to see Tom show us that readers can be reassured that every now and again he won’t leave them in the dark as he does know how to switch the light on in the Room of Journalist Integrity. However, I am still curious as to how he justifies that it is acceptable to leave it up to Janet Albrechtsen to disclose his potential conflict of interest? If a similar incident occurred where it was left up to John Howard or Kevin Rudd to disclosure one of their ministers’ conflict of interest instead of the minister disclosing it him or herself, I am sure the good folk at The Australian would be clambering over each other to flick the switch. Is it might be a case that Tom thinks that the lights don’t work that well in glasshouses?

Ian Newman writes: Of course Tom Switzer (The Australian‘s Opinion page editor) didn’t actually slam ABC journalists as being “Labor hacks”, just like I’m not slamming News Corp journalists as “toadying right-wing hacks” when I state that the continued attacks on our national broadcaster are hardly surprising given that an internal and incestuous culture of right-wing “Rupert-friendly” values colour most of that media company’s output.

CRC Salinity researcher John Bartle writes: Ian McHugh is right about grain ethanol – the energy gain is too small. But he shouldn’t give up on cellulosic ethanol – it still has some technologies to iron out, but could be big by 2017. The driver for cellulosic or “biomass” crops will be energy gain – they have an output/input ratio several-fold better than grain. Biomass crops also have other advantages, especially in Australia. We could select and develop well adapted native species for low energy input, high yield and conservation value. In the wheatbelt this will favour coppicing eucalypts like mallee which, once established, strongly regenerate after regular harvest. As envisaged by the CRC Salinity, biomass crops can be integrated into wheatbelt agricultural systems designed to capture and use much of the surplus water that would otherwise drive salinity. Some biomass components, for example the wood chip fraction, could be converted to higher value wood products, to make larger, multi-product industries. The low value of raw biomass locks in regional processing to add value and this could stimulate economic activity in wheatbelt towns. New biomass crops and industries could also relieve the pressure of declining agricultural terms of trade and the pressure on natural resources, especially water and biodiversity.

Christopher Noel, President of the NSW Rowing Association, writes: Re. “Sport – the rough end of the ministerial pineapple again” (24 January, item 17). I found Jeff Wall’s article on Crikey (24th Jan), in which he attacked the fairness of ASC funding, quite superficial and poorly researched. In any discussion about sports funding I think it’s always relevant to look at the total government funding to a particular sport measured against the government (community priorities). In the case of many field sports massive amounts of government money (federal, state and local) are expended annually in maintaining surfaces and arenas for rugby league, rugby, AFL, cricket and football (soccer). While I have no problem with this expenditure the amounts spent are not only essential for these sports but represent quite significant community subsidies (often to fully professional sports). Let’s look at Rugby League. In the past ten years or so some very basic research reveals that funds expended on stadia that were designed to assist rugby league in particular included:

  • Northpower Stadium Gosford : $23.0 million ($12m Federal, $11m State)
  • Newcastle Stadium: $23.6 million (State)
  • Penrith Stadium: $10.0 million (Federal)

These three projects alone total $56 million. I can mention many other projects subsidised by state and federal governments which would raise the total community subsidy to professional football field sports over the past ten years to at least several hundred million dollars. The comparison of Rugby League funding to rowing and sailing in the article is therefore quite misleading and inaccurate. The facts are contrary to Mr Wall’s contention that rugby league gets “the rough end of the pineapple” in government funding. A proper analysis of sports funding that includes this support plus the large capital amounts expended by governments on other sports facilities needs to be undertaken before writers like Jeff Wall go off (to use ageing vernacular) “half-cocked”.

John Hunwick writes: Re. Housing solutions. While a reduction in the size of house blocks, as advocated by Damien Toogood (25 January, comments), has advantages, developers should not overlook the necessity of having sufficient space for an appropriate size rainwater tank to go with the house. Where rainfall is about 500mm per annum the tank capacity needed is between 6000-10,000 gallons (25,000-45,000 litres) – but it depends on the roof area of the house as well. Unless we are prepared to make much better use of the “free” rainfall that comes our way then we will be in a perpetual water crisis. It seems that thousands of people are actually being paid to tell us that rainwater is not fit to drink. Try telling that to the thousands of healthy Australians outside the cities who do not have access to piped water.

Ashley Manicaros writes: Isn’t it ironic that groups have embraced the PM’s management plan involving harnessing the water in the Top End while these same groups ridiculed similar suggestions put forward by the former Liberal Leader in Western Australia during the last election in the West. Admittedly I am yet to read any plans suggesting a pipeline for water being built but it is hard to imagine how it can’t fit at least part of the plan at some point. It just goes to show that in an election environment you never get genuine debate – just histrionics.

Sasha Marker writes: I am sick of hearing statements such as “multiculturalism has failed”, “Howard drops affair with multiculturalism” and the like. Multiculturalism is in the fabric of our society. For people who look at the world with white, Anglo-Saxon coloured glasses, the next time you are having your chinese, Thai, Italian or take away, have a think about what country your own ancestors emigrated from, unless, perhaps, you are of indigenous descent. Pretending that Australians have only ever been one colour and one culture does us all an injustice.

Holger Lubotski writes: So the Mad Monk has accused Kruddy of using religion for political purposes. We only assume the Monk thinks that’s a lot worse than using politics for religious purposes, such as stifling stem cell research and the Catholic church being used to provide abortion counselling.

Peter Haydock writes: Re. Australian of the Year. Surely it’s time to abolish this ludicrous Australian of the Year annual award or at least put it into the hands of more objective judges. To award the title to left-wing ranter Tim Flannery is an insult to the hundreds of volunteer firefighters who have risked lives, families and jobs to save Australia from one of its worst bushfire seasons. What on earth has Flannery done to deserve it other than to write self-aggrandising and highly disputable articles for The Age and go for a sail with Roy Slavin? If ever proof were needed that there is something seriously wrong with the increasingly remote leftist view of Australia this must be it.

John Rice writes: Re. “The best qualified candidate least likely to win” (yesterday, item 11). I see that Jeff Wall found it necessary to point out Barack Obama’s middle name, which is Hussein (“handsome one” in Arabic) He is really Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., the son of Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. Incidentally, he was born in 1961, 18 years before Saddam Hussein became President of Iraq. If this is a new convention for Crikey, you should spell out all names (at least in the same story – William Blaine “Bill” Richardson, Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, John Reid Edwards). If it is not to become the new convention, why just for Obama? Is there some point being made? Wouldn’t it have been just as trite to say: “Obama, whose family name rhymes with Osama”?

Kate McDonald writes: Jeff Wall’s piece on Bill Richardson on Thursday (item 11) was very interesting! I even learned something new! But Jeff is obviously having a love affair with the exclamation mark! Please ask him to stop! I’m getting excited! And that’s not a good thing at work!

Ben Aveling writes: Re. Teachers, pay, and social conscience. Kim McDonald (25 January, comments) appears to have misread what I wrote. I did not say that earning $200,000 a year completely disqualifies one from having a social conscience. Rather, that the current pay structure for a range of jobs does ensure that applicants are not motivated by the money. Logically, they must have other motivations, typically a well developed social conscience.  And I can reassure Kim, I am not a teacher. While I hope I am not without social conscience, I do not have enough of one to do a teacher’s job for a teacher’s pay.

Mike Smythe writes: Driving around rural Victoria last weekend, I was struck by the number of residences flying the national flag. This used to be a very rare sight. It was not just an “Invasion Day” phenomenon either; these places had permanent flagpoles erected for the purpose. It reminded me of driving around the US, where flags on front lawns are as common as dirt. Have other Crikey readers noticed the same? Am I right to be concerned that we are heading into an unprecedented phase of infantile jingoism, or was it just washing day for young males?

Bjorn Bednarek writes: Re: “Police forces realise crime TV does pay” (25 January, item 14). Glenn Dyer wrote: “if you Google ‘Victorian Police Corruption’ you get a flood of hits”. The argument is that because you get a flood of hits, it must be true. Quality stuff. Of course, if you Google “Victorian Police naked” you get just as many hits, which means I might just stop spending money on themed strippers and move to Victoria… A large number of results in Google for an association of terms doesn’t indicate that relative truthiness of the collection of words. It just means Google found them a lot. Nothing more. Although, if you do a search on Google for “Google as a truthiness indicator”, you get over 40,000 matches…

Terry Kidd writes: Re. Adam Schwab (23 January, item 17) and Cameron Stuart (25 January, comments). Optus Customer Service must resemble the mythical Hydra with many heads. I too, have been an Optus mobile and home phone subscriber for many years with very little to complain about. However, I have been an Optus Internet subscriber (DSL Broadband) for at least two years with very much to complain about. Recently a simple DSL relocation took six weeks, seven phone calls (on hold each time for no less than 30 minutes, and one of three hours), an involuntary DSL disconnection, subsequent reconnection, a litany of daily broken promises by Optus and a final loss of temper and threat on my behalf to resolve. Am I a happy Optus DSL customer? Am I satisfied with Indian call centre customer service? Absolutely not! Optus, please take note.

CRIKEY: Crikey’s National Affairs editor Christian Kerr is on leave until Monday the 12th of February.

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Peter Fray

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