Jonah Jones writes: Re. “Win or lose, Bennelong will leave McKew bloodied and blooded” (yesterday, item 1). Richard Farmer states, in part: “If Howard is returned McKew will become the key adviser in opposition for the next three years.” I suggest it is more likely that she will stand against the Liberal candidate at the by-election to be held late 2008 or early 2009 when the PM leaves parliament – and win!

Tim Mackay writes: PM Howard gives the standard answer “For as long as my party wants me” to the question how long will he be PM. What assurance can he give his constituents? Can the local member for Bennelong give a core promise that, should he win, he will stand for a full term as the local member for Bennelong as his constituents want and not inconvenience his local electorate with an expensive and unnecessary by-election, regardless of whether he is PM or not?

Lisa Crago writes: Re. “Why Rudd’s financial conflicts are a legitimate story” (yesterday, item 12). After reading this piece from yesterday I had to ask myself if the internal combustion that is party politics [People Power] has damaged Stephen Mayne’s journalistic judgement. The five feedback items did not, as he states, “all defend [ed] the Rudd family’s business empire”, but rather criticised Mayne’s trashy tabloid style. To claim otherwise glosses over the fact that the original story was a shocker. The title, “How the Rudds profited from Janette Howard’s cancer scare”, was a deeply personal (anyone who has survived cancer knows that it is much more than a “scare”) and insulting inference to draw. If this is the best material out there that can be got on Rudd with a muck rake, it does little than make Rudd appear fairly clean. We like our facts straight up, without the twist, thanks.

Michael Walker writes: Going in hard is one thing, but sensationalising your headline last week using Janette Howard’s cancer illness was pathetic. You could not draw a longer bow if you tried, Stephen. There are potential conflict of interest issues however, using such preschool tactics will not win the argument for you.

Jim Hart writes: Stephen, you are undoubtedly sincere in your concern to stamp out conflicts of interest but you seem to have no sense of proportion or reasonableness. So you would have every politician sell their bank shares? How about their superannuation funds – should they get out of banks too? And what else? No mining shares, of course. Retailing is affected by government policy so better get out of Woolies but maybe hang onto Coles lest you be accused of profiteering. Don’t even think about putting a few bucks into a company that makes low-wattage light bulbs or rainwater tanks. We rightly expect disclosure of share and I’m confident that if a politician owned even 1% of a major public company it would be news, but I’m not losing sleep over any political family with $300,000 spread over three banks. However when it comes to private or family-controlled companies doing business with the government, there you have a valid point. The difference is the degree of control and influence, as you very well know, Stephen. So ferret out those private contracts, unearth those boardroom spouses and shovel the dirt where it really matters.

Tom McLoughlin writes: Re. Rudd’s conflicts. Just to clarify, as one of the first five feedbacks last Friday, I don’t mind Stephen Mayne chasing down ALP capitalists and their shareholdings. I was trying to make a realpolitik assessment of the effect. Yes, many will be annoyed (but not surprised) like me, but Big Business I suspect will not be in that category; they will have their bank shares and conflicts too. They will see this as the sophisticated natural order of things. That indeed is the essence of a corrupt political/business system – to think real conflicts OK. The only hope really is the laser of transparency, so go Crikey go.

Ed Szabo writes: In his latest attack on Kevin Rudd, Stephen Mayne states that John Curtin lost the 1949 federal election due to a desire to nationalise the Australian banking sector. Stephen may want to retract that comment. Curtin died before the Japanese surrendered in 1945. Ben Chifley lost the 1949 Fed Election to Pig Iron Bob. 

Steve Johnson writes: Re. “Turnbull’s Travel I & II” (yesterday, items 6 and 7). In reference to Stephen Bartos’s and Charles Richardson’s comments on parliamentary travel allowances, would not any politician who failed a Parliamentary Travel Allowance means test be entitled to claim all their relevant travel costs against their parliamentary incomes? And if this Means Test was introduced, I assume it would have to extend to cashed-up ministerial or departmental staffers, too?

Mike Burke writes: Charles Richardson should cite an authority for his assertion that “Payment for MPs is designed to ensure that the poor are able to stand for parliament; when the rich choose to stand, what justification is there for letting them draw on the public purse as well?” He should also show evidence (other than his own opinion) that pensions are analogous to travel or other allowances paid to parliamentarians. The more correct view is almost certainly that politicians should not be out of pocket when performing their parliamentary duties, and their own private means are utterly irrelevant considerations when arriving at how, and by how much, they should be reimbursed. Charles should grow up.

Tony Sim writes: Re. “McRae resigns, Carpenter struggles, WA descends into factional chaos” (yesterday, item 11). If I wanted to read the deranged ramblings of defenders of crooked activity linked to the Labor Party, I would log on to Andrew Landeryou. Please don’t pollute Crikey with poorly written, anonymous and factionally-motivated drivel that reduces all politics to a puerile Labor Right = Good, Labor Left = Evil “analysis”.

James Mullens writes: Re. “Recycled water: you know you’re drinking it” (yesterday, item 16). Thomas Hunter gives several current examples of “recycled” water in Australia – however they are very different from that proposed in Toowoomba. I’m getting really annoyed about the “everyone else in the world does it” meme, because it isn’t true. The Toowoomba proposal is unique in that it proposed putting treated sewerage directly back into the water supply. No-one in the world does that. In every case, treated water is put back into the natural water cycle (rivers, lakes etc). Every example Mr Hunter cites involves putting treated sewerage back into a river or a lake. This is standard practice and is relatively safe because the natural water cycle continues the recycling process. The ecology in those water systems – bacteria, weeds and fish – contribute to the recycling of the water. And this is what every other country in the world does, the natural water cycle is used as the “quartenary” recycling system. I learnt this when I worked for Thames Water in the UK about 15 years ago, and was given several tours of sewerage treatment plants. After the executive acting as our guide explained how “clean” the water coming out of the plant was, an engineer took me aside and put me right. The water coming out of the plant still has between 2-6% solid wastes (depends on the efficiency of the plant) and they rely on the river to take out the rest. He suggested I take a bottled sample back to the office and let it settle against a similar sample taken from the tap which was “recycled” water abstracted downstream of the plant we were visiting and allegedly the “same” water. I did so, and after a day there was a sediment a couple of millimetres thick at the bottom of the bottle from the plant while the other remained clear. The bottom line is that Londoners do not drink water from sewerage plants, as was proposed in Toowoomba. They drink water that has been through three stages of treatment in a plant and then a fourth stage in the natural environment followed up by further filtration and recycling in the clean water abstraction plants. Just because a PR flak takes a sip from the water running off the edge of a settling pond at a sewerage plant doesn’t make it safe. It isn’t. This simple engineering fact should have been apparent from the Toowoomba proposal which envisaged “cutting edge, 21st century technology” untried elsewhere in the world. London finds 19th century technology works fine thanks – provided you have the natural ecosystem on your side. Toowoomba – and many other places in Australia – don’t have that. Basically, we are being asked to put our own waste back in upstream of our own water supply. Everyone else drinks the much safer water that is many miles downstream of other users.

Colin Cook writes: Re. “Debnam: I’m either stupid or dishonest, you decide” (yesterday, item 10). Land tax is very unpopular with developers – it takes the shine off speculation in land. And developers are the biggest contributors to our major political parties. So maybe the Debenham/land tax ploy is more to do with political donations than with votes per se. Don’t forget that one of the first actions of Iemma as Premier was to abolish the Vendor Duty – the development lobby was delighted. Meanwhile housing affordability declines and declines, but developer contributions to political parties remain very “healthy”. In truth they are very damaging to our democratic system and social equity.

Mike Smith writes: To the people who voted against water recycling. Get real. All the water on the earth has already been recycled trillions of times already. Or did you really think rain came from heaven?

Peter Finnegan writes: Perish the thought that Pauline Hanson is standing for election again just so she can collar another couple of hundred grand. No, never. She is an idealist who has definite thoughts on how taxpayers’ monies should be spent – on her!

Anthea Parry writes: Willem Schultink wrote (yesterday, comments), “Proper corporal punishment is an effective and humane way of teaching children right from wrong”. No, Willem, it’s an effective way of teaching children that it’s OK for someone bigger than you to use physical force to make you do something.
Children learn much more by observing the behaviour of their parents than by any other method. If you want to teach them it’s ok to hit people, then smacking them yourself is a fantastic way to do that. An understanding of right and wrong is something that’s gained through reason, not through being whacked on the bottom (whether hard or gently) by someone larger than you.

Keith Binns writes: Would just like to agree with and support Willem Schultink in his comments on corporal punishment. The philosopher Os Guiness points out that it is a classic error of Humanism to fail to differentiate between force and violence. The usual arguments against corporal punishment are a clear example of this error. I have worked in schools both before and after corporal punishment was used and the amount of time wasted dealing with naughty children who would previously have behaved instantly has to be seen to be believed. The education of naughty boys particularly suffers.

Michael Cordover writes: Re. Bank fees. Nicole Rich (yesterday, comments) is absolutely right in that bank overdraft fees are too high. She is wrong in saying “calling them ‘fees’ for ‘services’ does not mean the fees are not penalties”. A penalty is a specific legal term – it relates to an amount requested by the innocent party for a breach of a contract where that amount is greater than a reasonable estimate of the cost to the innocent party. Fees for services can be anything anyone wants them to be under contract law – freedom of contract guarantees that a sale of the Concorde for $1.66 is still valid (as Richard Branson proved a few years back). I fully support action by CALC and Choice to change regulations and reducer fees, but claiming illegality doesn’t help – it’s simply not true.

Mal Hutton writes: I noted your item yesterday (item 5) about Telstra putting the 101 service onto subscribers’ phones without being asked. As it happened I had been through the process of having it disenabled earlier in the day, after discovering it had been put on without our knowing, and that it had three messages on it. This is in spite of the fact that we have a perfectly functioning answering device. How we became aware that something might have happened is that one of the three who left messages followed up. Somehow or other the message got onto the 101 service, bypassing the answering service. How do you then become aware of that? There appears to be no signal, although someone said there might be a different type of dial tone when you lift the phone to make a call. If so, we had been told nothing about this. It is very high-handed of Telstra to have done this, to say the least. It could have caused an embarrassing situation for us, not acknowledging messages. I believe Telstra should immediately disenable 101 from any service where it has not been asked for.

Geoff Walker writes: When is Jeff Wall going to cease his obsessive pursuit of footballers’ private lives in his campaign for the public reporting of recreational drug use, when such use has nothing to do with their on-field performance? His use of the term “drug cheating players” is malicious, since the taking of recreational, non-performance-enhancing drugs does not give the players an unfair advantage against their opponents and therefore by definition cannot be cheating. There are lots of things that players can do in their private lives that are dangerous, illegal and poor examples for the impressionable fans, of which the taking of illegal drugs is but one. Driving too fast, under the influence or without a seatbelt are all bad examples for fans and can claim lives. Abuse of women and children can have equally devastating effects. And we can deal with all of these undesirable activities through society’s normal legal channels without the massive Stasi-esque invasions of privacy urged on by Jeff and his fellow-travellers. You’ve had a fair go, Jeff – so now write something of interest for once and prove that you’re not a one-trick pony!

Frank Golding writes: If I want Liberal Party spam or neo-con propaganda I know where to get it – and I don’t have to pay an annual subscription for it. Crikey has deteriorated badly in the past few months with Christian Kerr thinking he still works for the Government and Stephen Mayne obviously licking the hand that feeds him. Mediocre regulars like Faris QC and Mirko Bagaric keep the Crikey pendulum moving in the “right” direction. Once, I opened my daily Crikey with anticipation. Now more often or not it’s a letdown. The political bias is so predictable. Thank God for Eureka Street.

Rob Wooding writes: I have been an avid reader of Crikey since you started up. What I have noticed over the past seven or so years (is it that long, or does it just seem that long?) is that Crikey has slowly, but perceptibly, shifted to the left. Lately there have been a growing number of articles from various greenies and various sorts of bleeding hearts that I don’t think we would have seen on Crikey in the early days. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m personally anything but a climate change sceptic, and my heart has been known to bleed. But there are lots of other places where I can hear these sorts of voices: the bleeding heart/nostalgically socialist view of the world is still pretty rampant in academic journals, the ABC, the Fairfax press, as well as in the various publications brought to us by the redoubtable Mr Morry Schwartz (and, as an avid consumer of all of these products, I would say – to quote Seinfeld – “not that there’s anything wrong with that”). But what I have always loved about Crikey is that it is one of the few places where you can find a rational, socially progressive and realistically pro-market right wing voice in the political debate. Crikey has been almost a lone media voice putting forward the view that a secular, capitalist but compassionate society – if the market can be made to operate efficiently and ethically – is the best of a bad lot of options for how to run a human society. Unfortunately, I sense that a majority of the Crikey audience is more of the bleeding heart/nostalgically socialist mentality, and that Crikey’s prevailing philosophy is shifting towards them. And I guess that, ultimately, you have to give your readers what they want. But it would be a shame for the rational right-wing voice to be totally silenced.

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Peter Fray

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