David writes: Re. “Will housing pass Gen Y by?” (Friday, item 15). I fit nicely into the Gen Y category and have managed recently to purchase a unit, with very little help from the Federal government. On my first trip to the bank all the boxes were ticked, then they realised I have a $20,000+ HECS debt. The percentage of my income (around 8% I think) that goes to HECS meant that even on a reasonable income ($60,000) I still couldn’t borrow enough for a two bedroom unit in Brisbane’s inner east. Thankfully another lender did take a chance and approved me. However, the strings attached to the Federal government’s first home owner’s grant mean I will be barely scraping by for the first 12 months. The problem is I cannot sub-lease during this period, which would have the twin benefits of reducing my repayments and also providing additional rental accommodation in an area where vacancies are around 2% and rental auctions are the norm. Add to this the $7,000 from the grant barely covered set-up fees and charges, and I’m left wondering if it was all worthwhile. By the way, my HECS debt won’t disappear any time soon. In an attempt to gain a supposed advantage I have undertaken part-time postgraduate education, only to find my course fees this year rose by over 20%.

Brad Ruting writes: Housing affordability is in quite a bad state in our major cities (especially Sydney and Perth), and if remedial actions are to be recommended, they should focus on making the rules fairer and housing more affordable for everyone. Of all the explanations put forward for the reasons behind housing unaffordability, it appears that the factors that can most effectively be changed are those under direct control of the federal government. The Reserve Bank is often blamed in the debate for a long spell of low interest rates – although this is something we shouldn’t be tampering with in the name of affordable housing. The real culprit is the federal government, which permits losses on rental payments for investment properties to be tax deductible. As a result, renters and home buyers are competing for houses, with the former having an artificial advantage. A strategy to fix this could be the gradual phasing out of this tax deducibility (if this is done gradually, everyone can be given time to adjust and the rental market won’t be further pressured). Indeed, the federal government could re-examine the tax excludability of property held in superannuation portfolios. Such a policy is good for retirement savings, but bad for housing affordability. This policy should be scrapped, and residential property in super funds treated like every other form of investment property. In short, a good start could be made towards enhancing housing affordability by scrapping the tax-based distortions levied on the housing market, and making it fairer.

Erin D. Vine writes: Re. “Santo Santoro and the PM’s poor taste in friends” (Friday, item 2). Can you perhaps clarify the following sentence: “The news that Queensland Liberal Andrew Laming bought a p-rnographer and the Prime Minister together at a fundraiser is about the least lurid claim surrounding the embattled MP at the moment.” Was that like a two for one deal? Sometimes it’s hard to tell if these are typos or editorials.

Jim Hart writes: Re. “Santo Santoro and the PM’s poor taste in friends” (Friday, item 2). We learn that “… Andrew Laming bought a p-rnographer and the Prime Minister together at a fundraiser”. Sounds like they were auctioned as a job lot, either because they were a matched set, or else because there were no bids for one of the pair on its own – if so, which one?

James Pedley writes: John Roskam, Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs (Friday, comments) asks “when has being in favour of small government, lower taxes, and less government been ‘right wing’?” It’s pretty much the definition, John.

Niall Clugston writes: John Roskam of the Institute of Public Affairs complains about Stephen Mayne describing the IPA as “right wing”. He comments: “Any combination of free market, liberal, conservative (on some issues), liberal/conservative, (even) libertarian (on occasion), would be an appropriate description of the IPA – but not right wing.” Well, this is disingenuous. Check any dictionary and it will link the terms “right-wing”, “conservative” and “free market”. The left/right spectrum is best understood as denoting relative positions, and the IPA is certainly poles apart from anyone described as left-wing. By the way, a key characteristic of right-wingers is that they shun the label. Perhaps they should explain why that is.

Kevin McCready writes: Re. “If you had $335m to spend on making Australia greener …” (Thursday, item 16). Most laptop greenhouse gases are produced not from running the screen or the chip but from sickeningly inefficient transformers. A 12 volt laptop working off a solar panel (battery backup for evening) is much more economical. Most laptops run at about this voltage anyway and manufacturers should fall into line.

Ken Matthews, Chair, National Water Commission writes: Re. “Regulating the rain” (Friday, item 16). Greg Cameron’s piece on regulating the rain is knowingly and mischievously wrong. Mr Cameron knows the National Water Commission has not proposed, and is not proposing, an entitlement regime for rain water. He knows the Commission has never mentioned, let alone proposed a tax on tank water. He knows also that the Commission wants to foster all “new” sources of water such as rainwater through a positive and stable regulatory environment. He knows all that because last time he got a newspaper to run his story I put out a public statement making all those points clearly for his benefit.

Peter Firth writes: I read with some incredulity the article by Greg Cameron regarding “Regulating the rain”. For the National Water Commission to claim that the water that falls on a person’s roof is part of “the integrated water cycle” seems to neglect the fact that such water becomes part of the stormwater drainage system in all coastal areas. As such it eventually becomes “integrated” into the sea. Or does this statement imply that some time in the future this stormwater is going to be captured and fed back into the large water storage dams which most large cities rely on? Most of these dams have been built on the dry side of the ranges and generally do not receive the rainfall the coastal cities do. What a great idea the capture of this coastal runoff water would be!

Peter Lloyd writes: Re. “Whatever happened to the dinky-di Aussie hybrid?” (Friday, item 9). In asking where the Aussie hybrid is, we should first admit that there is no real Australian car industry. We do a bit of styling work here, but all our cars are heavily based on overseas models, and use major components designed overseas. Unlike, say, the Swedes, “Australian” car companies are branch offices of American and Japanese conglomerates. If Mr Rudd thinks any genuinely new hybrid will come of his incentive scheme, he is wrong. The government could establish a company to build one, using subsidised design expertise from the likes of the CSIRO, and privatise the company later, but this is obviously grossly unfashionable. So we could build a pre-existing design like the Prius. But to what advantage? The emissions reduction is the same whether we import or build here. Already we pour subsidies into the car industry, and Toyota might be attracted to the idea as long as the subsidies last. But the promise of a more sustainable Australian car industry with secure jobs is lost: Toyota will just move its production line according the build cost factors. The chance of follow-on models will be dependent on the whim of Toyota. No advantage over the present situation. The final issue is a familiar one. Most environmental panaceas have a hidden cost. Hybrids have lots of batteries that have to be replaced every few years. These have to be manufactured and disposed of. Such cars tend to need special metals, as a certain Dr Porsche found when he repeatedly tried to interest Mr Hitler in hybrid tanks during World War II. The Nazis’ lack of copper always prevented their manufacture. As power output drops, weight-saving becomes a necessity, requiring more aluminium and magnesium. So are the “exhaust pipe” savings worth the emissions associated with all these batteries and special metals? And for that matter, what is the environmental cost of throwing away the very functional vehicles that crowd wrecker’s yards these days? What about simply keeping our slightly less efficient vehicles for far longer?

Sydney Morgan writes: Instead of importing complicated drive trains from overseas to manufacture dinky-di boutique fuel misers (hybrids) why not ask Bill Shorten why, for pragmatic manufacturing starters, can’t we simply produce a low tech local station wagon with an automatic six speed transmission powered by an ordinary (turbocharged) diesel motor. This way the popular Australian car could run on renewables from biomass or other organic stuff and perhaps stimulate medium scale biomass to diesel industries. Hybrids use regenerative braking in stop start conditions to effect their fuel savings, which is fine in the city but has little fuel saving advantage on longer trips. And of course, hybrids are still at the mercy of the fossil fuel suppliers.

Phil Genjubri writes: Re. “Whatever happened to the dinky-di Aussie hybrid?” (Friday, item 9). Christian Kerr’s comments on Holden Hybrid potential – adds further to recent mutterings from automotive industry commentators on using existing industry incentive schemes to encourage the local manufacture of hybrid cars. However, a spokeswoman for Industry Minister MacFarlane (last week) has got it wrong when she says that the global market for hybrids was small so we couldn’t make them here. That’s the very zone where Australian industry is most competitive – low/niche volumes by global standards. Perhaps the Minister should update the public on Holden’s hybrid drivetrain research project that is getting part of $48m of taxpayers’ money (as announced in May 2006) and let us all know when Holden will make hybrids (preferably plug-in) here.

Steve Shinners writes: Re. “Whatever happened to the dinky-di Aussie hybrid?” Master Kerr has the breakthrough announcement that hybrid engines are more complex than conventional engines. I’m glad he wasn’t around to caution against the shift from Penny Farthings to bicycles. All those extra moving parts! All slagging aside, as the only driver of a Prius in our corporate fleet, I’d encourage the Feds to bankroll the development of the ECOmmodore. By the time that Aussie males are in a position to select a vehicle as part of their salary package, they are usually using a certain shrivelled appendage to make their choice. Any vehicle that doesn’t look like the fantasy car that they drew as a 15-year-old doesn’t get a look in.

Alexandra Penfold writes: Re. “Alice Springs town camps become political footballs” (Friday, item 14). Despite Federal Minister Mal Brough’s Housing initiatives, why is there a deafening silence about the abuse of Aboriginal children and women in this country? Where is the anger of the voters? If s-xual abuse and violence was as rampant and devastating in white Australian society, all hell would break loose. Where are the immediate solutions – like immediately providing safe houses for the kids and women and providing qualified or appropriate people to run these safe havens? In every “at risk” community in Australia. At the very least, this would be a starting point.

Mike Burke writes: Re. Adam Rope (Friday, comments). How about instead of making a generalised smear against anyone who dares express some sort of opposition to the Great 21st Century Top Scientists’ Scientific Consensus, you summarise all these things for us scientifically illiterate sceptics – with authoritative references. Surely Crikey will give you some space to do this job properly. You tell us exactly what is wrong with the “scientific” qualifications of those quoted. Tell us exactly where we can find “some background checks on the deliberate distortions and falsehoods used as ‘evidence’ in the article”, so that we can be sure that we are all on the same page, and that we are all destroying the credibility of the right wrong-thinking people and not the wrong right-thinking people. How about it, Crikey? Give Adam a chance to put up or shut up.

Tony Adams writes: “Keating: the ringtone” (Friday, item 5). Heartfelt thanks for the Paul Keating ringtone in today’s Crikey. I’ve had tears of laughter. If there’s a Technical God at Crikey, could we please have more of these?

Dianne Parsons writes: At last! A ringtone I can live with! Thanks Red.

Friday’s errors (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 10: “… yet another opinion poll, this time in the Daily Telegraph, showing Labor unlikely to lose any of its 52 seats.” Where did 52 come from? Labor holds 55; I could imagine knocking off two on unlikely grounds (Swansea is technically vacant, and Newcastle’s MP has been expelled because he’s standing as an independent), but that still doesn’t get it below 53.

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