Ray Edmondson, comic book collector and historian, writes: Re. Brutopia. The Treasurer’s claim in Parliament last week that the ALP got its economics from Donald Duck comics was slightly off the mark. The country of Brutopia – an obvious stand-in for the Soviet Union – actually figures in a different Disney series. It’s a much-reprinted Uncle Scrooge classic from 1957, “A Cold Bargain”. It is to Mr Rudd’s credit that he is happy to declare his acquaintance with it. Like millions of other Australians he probably grew up reading Uncle Scrooge comics. Presumably Mr Costello did not. His jibe may have got him a cheap laugh, but it may also say something more important about both his ignorance and his aloofness from ordinary Australians. The comic strip medium is taken much more seriously today than it was in his youth, and strips like “Doonesbury” carry a political payload to a vast readership. “A Cold Bargain” is the work of the man who created Scrooge McDuck, the late and revered Carl Barks, whose canon of Scrooge adventures is constantly reprinted around the world. Based on extensive historical and other research, Barks’s Scrooge stories are genuine works of art. They were never intended only for children, and many have a depth belied by their apparently discardable format. Among other things, they are painless lessons in capitalist economics – and ethics. The crotchety miser is fond of saying that he made his immense fortune by being “tougher than the toughies, and smarter than the smarties, and he made it square”. Barks and Scrooge have been entertaining and educating millions for 60 years, so it is surely no accident that Scrooge McDuck is celebrated and analysed in an extensive, scholarly set of articles in Wikipedia, (begin here). He has also been written up in both Time and Forbes. Mr Costello figures in Wikipedia too but to a considerably lesser extent. Perhaps he should start reading Uncle Scrooge. He might learn something.

Bernie Masters, former WA shadow environment minister, writes: Stupid, puerile, idiotic, destructive, shortsighted! Bob Brown’s call for an end to Australia’s coal exports is designed to achieve just one outcome: media headlines. And Crikey’s fallen for his baited hook. Silly boys (and girls)! OK, let’s ban our coal exports. Where will China and India get their energy from? Do they buy coal from Indonesia which is clearing pristine rain forests and mangroves to sell inferior quality (meaning higher CO2 producing) coal to ours? Do these countries build nuclear power stations even faster than at present, creating larger volumes of radioactive waste they can’t handle and potentially creating more fissile material of interest to terrorists? Or do these countries reduce their $1 a day standard of living even lower, creating political unrest, widening the economic gap between the rich and poor, and generally treating the four billion people in developing countries as peasants? A ban on Australian coal exports would do more harm to short and medium term global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than maintaining the status quo. Brown and his ilk know and understand this but they’re about changing the world, starting with Australia. They reject any potential for technological solutions to GHG emissions, such as geosequestration, not because these “clean coal” or other technologies won’t work but because it doesn’t suit their “back to the caves” anti-development mentalities. Let me give just one small local (West Australian) example. In the lead-up to the 2001 state election, the Greens convinced Geoff Gallop to ban logging of old growth forests, even though logging has been shown by all competent authorities to be a minor threat compared to pests, diseases and lack of fire management, to name just three. Today, with the timber industry greatly reduced in size, the government agency responsible for managing our forests is under-resourced and understaffed and, in its time of need, it has virtually no private sector resources (timber workers, large earth-moving machinery) to call upon to help fight forest fires. A poorly thought out but politically saleable goal is now causing significant environmental damage on the ground as reality comes back to bite the Dwellingup community where 16 homes were destroyed by fire last weekend and large areas of forest burnt. It’s about time that the media thought about what Brown and company were saying before rushing out and uncritically passing on his propaganda.

Doug Williamson writes: Perhaps federal Labor frontbenchers’ nervousness over Bob Brown’s demand that the coal industry be shutdown is actually due to the huge amounts that it puts into the ALP’s election funding. Besides, the CFMEU reported on Thursday – and something like 88% of its members are the ones who actually dig the stuff out of the ground – that it believed its own industry needs to clean up its act.

Geoff Russell writes: Re. Forestry and carbon sequestration. John Bowyer (9 February, comments) writes that big machines are the most efficient way of harvesting timber “which most certainly will sequester carbon”. Both claims are true, but if you burn more than you sequester then it doesn’t help mitigate global warming. The CSIRO 2005 Balancing Act says that some 34 mega tonnes of emissions annually are generated in harvesting that timber. Forest products in Australia sequester about seven megatonnes according to the Australian Greenhouse Office. Let me know if I’ve missed something. Greenfleet (used by Toyota to offset vehicle emissions) works precisely because it doesn’t harvest the trees. Am I against forestry and forestry jobs? Not at all. If they give farmers an alternative to sheep and cattle (which are a greenhouse, health and water use disaster), then this is very useful.

Duncan McNab writes: OK, call me shallow (as many will), but could Mr Garrett’s minders take him to David Jones and get him a decent suit/shirt/tie? If he’s had media training he must have been distracted during the “look” component. The set piece debate on the 7.30 Report was mildly interesting but I was entranced by Garrett’s ill fitting shiny brown suit, blue shirt and badly knotted blue tie… St Vinnies chic, perhaps. Surely after his time at Barker College he could manage a decent double windsor or at least a half decent half windsor.

Beattie Hatfield writes: I really enjoy reading Crikey and keeping informed and up to date with the range of contributions offered. However, in Friday’s editorial, the last six words are like a red rag to a bull for many Canberrans including myself. It may seem like a small and petty matter but I am increasingly annoyed at my fabulous home town being linked to the “hot air” generated by the House on the Hill. I appreciate Canberra is the shorthand for all that comes from the pollies but it would be great to see the media use “Parliament House”, or “politicians”, or “the Government” rather than “Canberra”. Remember that most of the pollies come from outside Canberra and we are happy to own the few who represent us. Having generated enough hot air of my own, I thank you all again.

Darce Cassidy writes: Keith Stuart Bales (9 February, comments) says that the Friends of the ABC have never complained about advertisements on the SBS. He should learn to use Google. The Friends of the ABC national website has examples from February 2006 and from 2003, when we wrote to Robert Manne in response to his support for advertising on the SBS. We have two concerns. The first is for the SBS itself. The second is that the SBS will be used as a stalking horse for the ABC.

Mick Fanning writes: Keith Stuart Bales, just what planet are you on? It’s not planet ABC. “Anyone who has worked in the organisation knows there is terrible and abounding waste and overmanning.” says Mr Bales. Well I’ve worked there for nearly 30 years and while there used to be quite obvious overpersonning at the ABC, that hasn’t been the case for years now. OK, there are still a few pockets of it in Sydney but their days are probably numbered anyway. But in the BAPH states, we are under-resourced, if anything. However, we manage and we are proud that we do it very well. As for all those “left wing commentators” – please, Mr Bales, could you introduce me to them? Apart from Philip Adams, I haven’t found any yet. Perhaps your claim says more about you and your own seemingly extreme perspective. I know plenty of people there who have vaguely left-of-centre views. Doh! It is a media organisation, after all. But they are all professionals and they behave professionally. And the “long list of credits on the 7.30 Report? Good grief! They don’t even credit the camera crews and editors who do so much of the hard work.

Edward Primrose writes: “Will the ABC now carry advertising online?” (8 February, item 6). Margaret Simons has uncharacteristically lost the plot and has fallen for a well placed trap that the conservative government would be only too happy to profit from. And I do mean profit. In this era of user pays rapacious capitalism where all one can think of is bottom lines, product exploitation and the power of minority interests who now own the overwhelming majority of our communications, the SBS battle has been lost with tragic results. Those who haven’t noticed this are probably addled from an overdose of sport (with deference to Paul Keating). And now it seems that the ABC is the next threatened species to be caught in the cross-hairs. Any plans to shift the ABC’s funding source from taxpayers to a targeted minority of commercial interests is as ill-conceived as a plan to exacerbate traffic bottlenecks in order to make a tunnel tollway profitable. What the ABC does and does extremely well, when allowed to, is provide a world class service in information and cultural content that would be irreplaceable. Its very worth is due to its accessibility and lack of commercial constraints. This is the very nature of public broadcasting. Any attempt to trade this content, whether for cash or advertising time, is simply the thin edge to an eventual privatisation wedge that would be irreversible. Simons offers only three options. She omits the more important fourth option: change the government.

David Horkan writes: Re. “The Queen, Alexander, Johnny and me” (9 February, item 5). I must be missing something as I have read the piece by Barry Everingham several times and I can’t see the point of it. Perhaps it is the last flicker from the short-lived and mercifully forgotten ARM’s “Mate for Head of State” campaign that failed to inspire a nation. Mr Everingham manages to deliver his unsubstantiated opinion that the office is held by the Queen no less than three times in a rather short article. If we are to continue to visit this almost surrealistic subject, can we please have a well-constructed rebuttal of the arguments used by Sir David Smith in his submission to the 2004 Senate Committee on a republic, and in later publications? They convinced me that it is the Governor-General who is our Head of State. If Mr Everingham, or anybody else, has produced such a document I would love to see it.

Martin Gordon writes: I am pleased that the long running Hardie’s compensation issue appears to be at an end. I personally would never deal with Hardie’s, as unlike CSR and BHP, it has sought to avoid its asbestos responsibilities. Hardie’s restructured itself into the Netherlands and sought special deductions to which it is not entitled, and then the real sting – no tax on the earnings of the fund for decades into the future. The original “deal” was to shift the burden of compensation from Hardie’s to the Australian taxpayers who would forgo tax revenue on the fund for decades. The initial tax deduction is worth nearly $700m and the taxed waived on the investment earnings might be another billion plus over the coming decades. Nearly as bad is the NSW Labor Government for being stupid enough to be lobbied into this and then claim it is a good deal. The losers are the asbestos victims and Australian taxpayers. The winners are Hardie’s and the former ALP staffers and MPs who profited from their lobbying in NSW (A former ALP national President and former NSW ALP staffers from the firm Hawker Britten have being the well paid lobbyists for James Hardie), smoothing away legal obstacles for them to move offshore and hope to make some partisan kudos at asbestos victims’ expense.

Luke Draper writes: Philip Carman writes (9 February, comments), “the fact remains that to expedite the final settlements we have virtually allowed Hardies to shift some more of what should be their cost (about 30% – the company tax rate) to the rest of us. Every single Australian taxpayer should protest this shabby grab for their cash.” I can live with coughing up some extra tax dollars to make sure that Hardies paid something now. Having said that, I urge you and all people who feel the same to make a conscious decision to not buy Hardies products, and encourage your friends, your clients, your local councils, the builder of your next house or extension, state governments etc to do the same. This includes cladding, fencing, eaves, underlays, flooring products… all of which can be found at James Hardie’s own website!! It is a little bit of people power for all of us.

Brad Ruting writes: Re. “Want to test your real estate agent’s predictions? Here’s how” (9 February, item 23) by Nick Gruen. Putting aside the fact that he’s named his new tendering system after himself (!), this looks like it could be a reasonably robust, fair and efficient method of government tendering, especially for things that are needed repeatedly – and is no doubt more efficient than the rather opaque way some things are tendered for at present. The scheme might even work, over time, for real estate agents if it could be implemented. However, I can see three flaws in the proposal. First, uncertainty. No matter how honest and well-calculated a prediction might be, it is formed only using the information available to who’s forming it at the time. Past success at accurately predicting outcomes doesn’t mean someone will necessarily be better at it in the future. When outcomes are uncertain or when information changes (eg, between the tender result and the final outcome), predictions gain an element of randomness – so the “optimism” or “pessimism” factors may be incorporating true optimism, and/or informational factors, and/or a random factor (ie, one that doesn’t neatly fit a known statistical distribution). Second, collusion. When there’s not a large number of agents, health-care providers, etc, bidding to provide a service, there’s potential for a number of them to gang together and inflate the prices tendered. Although this risk arises under almost all tender or auction designs, if it did arise it could be possible for the “raw prognosis” and “optimism factor” figures to be so skewed as to be meaningless, with the “moderated prognosis” outcome being highly beneficial to individual service providers, probably in rotation as they each take their turn to gouge profits. My third objection relates specifically to healthcare. Hospitals can try and put numbers on it, but there’s no way to verify predictions of “chances of performing a procedure without an adverse event.” Medical procedures are complex and many different things can go wrong. Their success also varies a lot by patient-specific factors. Yet either the procedure is a success, or it’s not. It’s an all-or-nothing outcome. How can optimism factors be measured at all in this state of affairs? As procedures are only performed once under each set of circumstances, it’s impossible to know what the true probability was. Nevertheless, those points aside, Nick Gruen is to be congratulated for suggesting an innovative improvement to how things are currently done. Hopefully discussion will continue and it will be improved.

Roger Moll writes: Despite Channel Seven’s assurances that its new motor sports coverage will be top of the class and “better than Channel Ten”, it has now committed to showing a game of AFL footy at 3pm every Sunday. I’m sorry, but the two commitments just don’t gel! Motor sport, and V8 coverage in particular, is destined to be the much abused poorer cousin throughout the 2007 footy season. Vale Channel Ten’s excellent commitment to all of Australia’s petrolheads over preceding seasons.

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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Peter Fray
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