ACT Shadow Treasurer Richard Mulcahy writes: Re. “Back Scratching Dept.” (yesterday, item 9). Your item about my welcoming plans to preserve employment following the QANTAS takeover implies something sinister in my support for that position. You might care to also note that I have made encouraging comments about Virgin Blue – and no, they don’t donate to my campaigns. Neither in fact does QANTAS. I simply made a declaration assigning a value to a flight upgrade and used retail values lest it might be suggested that I overlooked a benefit. Numerous politicians declare flight upgrades – I took the step of attaching a value. I have never received any financial support from QANTAS.

Lois Achimovich writes: Re. “What asylum seekers have taught us about David Hicks” (yesterday, item 4). Good letter from my fellow psychiatrist, Jon Jureidini, regarding the likely psychiatric reasons why David Hicks refused to talk to the Australian consul-general. But apart from the rigors inherent in imprisonment, we have Hicks’s own reason: that speaking to people from outside the institution leads to payback. Mr Howard may feel “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t”, but what about Mr Hicks? He is within an institution that has no protection from bastardisation, because it is beyond international law – as are all Australian prisons. When I have complained about the treatment of prisoners in WA, I have been told by the Federal Human Rights Commissioner that it is a state matter. When I approached the WA Department of Justice, I was told that the superintendent has the final say on the treatment of prisoners. We now have an Inspectorate which, though a giant step forward, inspects by appointment. The European Union has a group which can gain access to any prison, police cell or mental institution at any time of the day or not, on receipt of a complaint. No country can join the union without signing on to the Union’s human rights vehicle. David Hicks tell the Australian consul-general what’s happening to him? Yeah, right.

Sue Bradford writes: Given recent comments on the damage that can be done due to a lack of Vitamin D, has anyone considered how this might be affecting David Hicks if, as has been reported, he’s only seen sunlight a very few times in the last five years? Most people need about 1000IU of Vitamin D a day which comes quickly with sunshine but is much harder to a achieve via diet. For example a glass of milk or orange juice contains about 100IU vitamin D. Can Mr Downer assure us that David has been getting extra doses of multivitamins for all these years?

Tim Lange writes: We have seen another recent demonstration of hypocrisy in the dealings of the US with David Hicks. When pursuing the extradition of a Dutch national for some fairly serious offences, the US were looking like having their extradition request refused on the grounds that if extradited, the lad would face torture and otherwise disappear into Gitmo or be tried in farcical proceedings before a Military Commission. When faced with the awful possibility of losing their man, the US gave a guarantee that the lad would NOT be tried before a military commission – he has now been flown to the US, taken into custody and appeared before a regularly-constituted court. So, Military Commissions are not good enough for US citizens, UK citizens or those of a number of other countries. Even the US has now recognised that any internationally recognised concept of fairness and any “fundamental guarantee” requires that the Military Commissions process be rejected. Yet still, the Australian government thinks it’s perfectly legitimate to have Hicks tried before a kangaroo court by people from whom, for all the cosying up John Howard has done, they cannot extract even a health assessment or promise of “time served” to count in the inevitable sentence the US is clearly itching to impose.

Tim Mackay writes: Tamas Calderwood (yesterday, comments) raises the example of the American, John Walker Lindh, being sentenced to 20 years prison for fighting with the Taliban and this being, in his opinion, an appropriate punishment for David Hicks (surely still alleged, unless Tamas knows something I do not?) crimes. Alternatively, we could look to the case of the other American captured allegedly fighting with the Taliban. Yaser Hamdi was initially detained by the US at Guantanamo Bay until they realised he was a US citizen. Then they immediately transferred him to jails on the mainland US (as they did with Lindh). After three years of incarceration without charge, in 2004 Hamdi was released and deported to Saudi Arabia after agreeing to renounce his US citizenship and, of course, the obligatory promise not to sue the US government over his captivity.

Steve Johnson writes: Tamas Calderwood says 20 years of chokey sounds “about right” for David Hicks. Is that a rationale to say that the Allies should have locked up German combatants following WWII? I mean, it’s a War on Terror, isn’t it? You can’t have it both ways. A War means that rules have been established to treat POWs, and the vast majority of educated and qualified people in this area seem to be saying unequivocally that Hicks is being treated inhumanely and illegally by the United States. Calderwood, along with the like-minded bully boy patrol of ex-grunts and toughies at Tim Blair’s blog, are thankfully very much in the “tiny minority”.

Holger Lobotski writes: I wonder if Tamas Calderwood, who thinks a 20-year sentence would be “about right” for David Hicks before the charges have even been laid, would care to enlighten as to what he thinks of a sentence of two years detention given to a US soldier in Iraq who admitted to killing civilians?

Anne Wagstaff writes: Crikey, you just can’t help yourself. One of your top stories – “Top ten political donors to each party” (yesterday, item 2) – refers to the top ten political donors to the four major parties in 2004-05? Liberal, Labor, National and the Democrat. But not the Greens? I know it’s not because the party doesn’t accept donations, big or small, from big business, developers and the hotel industry, because you’ve mentioned the Democrats who didn’t accept any donations! Is it because you don’t like giving this party any coverage at all? Or any credit for the good things that they do?

Kevin Collins, Chairman of The Fishing Party (Qld), writes: Re. “Climate change and the Great Barrier Reef”. How is a dumb fisherman supposed to make any sense of it all? GBRMPA chair Virginia Chadwick is off to Portugal to collect an award for saving tourism on the reef into the future, and the WWF is telling us there is actually no future as rising sea and CO2 levels will see the reef functionally extinct in 30 years. Then Jennifer Marohasy, a senior fellow at the Australian Institute of Public Affairs, is published in The Australian telling us any rise in sea temperatures will be good for the reef, with research scientists Bessat and Buigues et al (2001) and Australian scientists Lough and Barnes et al (1997) confirming a rise in atmospheric CO2 and water temperatures will aid corals laying down calcification (the reefs skeletal structure). I even dug up a report published in Newsweek quoting a plethora of leading environmental scientists including Dr. James D. McQuigg of NOAA’s Centre for Climatic and Environmental Assessment, warning of an environmental “end of days” in 20 years’ time. Trouble is, this report was published in 1974. Bugger, I must have been out fishing & missed it! The climate change industry is now worth billions of dollars to the science and research communities. Is this Y2K without the timeline? It must be great to have a multi-billion-dollar industry where it takes 30 years to get found out. The Y2K industry, apparently worth $600 billion at the time, only had two years. Call me a rotten old sceptic if you like but it all smells a bit fishy to me.

John Kotsopoulos writes: Morris Iemma is a decent person and is undeserving of the repeated attempted trashings of him by the anti-Labor elements of the media. (Crikey can please itself where it places itself in this regard). The people of NSW will want something more to persuade them to change their vote if the Victorian experience is any guide.

Craig Trimble writes: Re. “What’s the deal with ‘ice’?” (yesterday, item 10). Cam Smith, “Melbourne writer and not a drug user”, obviously must be on them to come out with such a negligent statement as “The number one mental health issue with drugs is still smack – you get problems with ice too, but not like smack”? Has he not seen one expert report or current affairs program where one health professional after another states that crack leaves heroin for dead in the mental health stakes? Programs such as ABC’s Four Corners gave an insight to the social and health problems this drug is having on Australia compared to heroin. For more details he should check out the excellent ABC website here. The very reason for an emergency Ice summit was that it is an emergency and underplaying like Cam has is totally irresponsible.

Niall Clugston writes: Crikey has proudly proclaimed the victory of the media over Geoff Clark in the ongoing saga of rape allegations (1 February). But Clark’s anti-media rhetoric after the Carol Stingel case – pronounced “wrong” by Crikey – is entirely subordinate to the issue of his guilt or innocence. A verdict in such a serious case, determined on the basis of the “balance of probabilities” after three decades, when memories have faded and records are lost, is not one that inspires confidence. The media’s involvement, which Crikey praises, began with an article by Andrew Rule in the Fairfax press. Anyone who, like me, actually read it will realise that it was hopelessly riddled with contradictions and credibility gaps. The subsequent criminal case based on Joanne McGuinness’s allegations was not – as various media outlets have said – dismissed due to “lack of evidence” but because it was demonstrably false. And reportedly it was Rule’s flawed article that prompted Stingel to bring forward her own claim. Clark’s fall from grace may not be evidence of media bias or racism, but it is certainly evidence that when you’re down, a lot of people queue up for a free kick.

Brad Ruting writes: Re: “Trading on the holiday market” (yesterday, item 20). Joshua Gans makes some seemingly rational points about a potential system to allow workers to trade their leave entitlements among themselves. He links to a paper by one of his PhD students on the idea, which found that it would bring many benefits to workers and improve welfare (ie, have positive net social benefits) when the minimum wage isn’t binding (which it isn’t for most workers, other than those who don’t have the luxury of leave entitlements or “full time” status these days). However, leave isn’t like other commodities. It’s a non-monetary employment benefit. It’s also secondary to monetary reward and what’s done in return for it. Leave is offered to employees to cover holidays and uncertainties that may pop up, and in the modern economy it’s not always desirable to put a money value on it. Assuming for the moment that workaholics know what’s in their own best interest, the scheme may bring benefits to workers, but would businesses really want to implement it? In an environment such as a factory, where all workers are performing similar tasks and no single worker is indispensable, this may be a way to make everyone better off and improve worker efficiency and satisfaction. However, things just aren’t that simple in the real world. Different workers do different things, with some tasks becoming increasingly specific to individual workers. If the amount of leave taken in a year suddenly had no cap (or a very high cap), it would become quite difficult to plan around employee leave and sort out interim arrangements, especially in small businesses. Indeed, some workers are needed to be around most of the time – if they’re not, it may no longer be profitable to employ them. The scheme assumes that one worker taking (or buying) leave can be balanced against another (eg, a family member) not taking it – ie, that the price will reflect the relative value of the leave between the two workers. However, this also assumes that labour across jobs or businesses can be easily compared. In the instances where it can’t – which may also be the workers who work the most and have the highest rates of accumulated leave – I find it hard to believe that such a scheme would be adopted by employers, and whether any possible productivity or welfare gains would outweigh the additional adjustment costs. Innovative policymaking is welcome in industrial relations, when it’s fair, but people aren’t like other commodities. Besides, in a super-efficient industrial relations setup, extra leave (or the number of working days per year) would be negotiated as part of an employment contract.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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