Praying for rain:

John Goldbaum writes: Re. “John Howard turns climate pessimist” (Friday, item 3). John Howard says “we should all pray for rain” but we did that on the national day of prayer on 26 November and it didn’t work. Perhaps we didn’t pray hard enough or maybe the gods are angry with us but I think, just like Iraq, we now need a new Government policy.

Jacinta Allan writes: You also have to wonder about the motive in the PM in par 3 of his statement: “Based on the need to provide a critical minimum supply of water to urban communities within the basin, there is unlikely to be any water available for irrigation purposes in the upcoming year (august 2007 – may 2008).” Clearly incorrect… And yet the PM went on to again make the same statement at his media conference as well. Either he and his minders were poorly briefed, or were deliberately misleading. Plenty of journalists bought it, too, sending another shiver down the spines of horticulturists whose futures are (because of market conditions) already on a knife-edge. The story, in its accurate form, as you observed in your piece on Friday, was very serious and very important — but old news. The Government’s handling of Thursday’s “announcement” raises serious questions about the safety of handing over the Murray Darling Basin to a Government that’s seemingly incapable of imparting accurately and responsibly the most basic of information on which the futures of tens of thousands of families directly depend.

Grahame Murray writes: I have been waiting with baited breath for Malcolm Turnbull to tell me what his much extolled “strategy” for the water crisis is. Finally it has been released – “pray for rain” and “no water for irrigation”. He must be congratulated on a well thought out policy.

Ken Turnbull writes: The Prime Minister doesn’t think the burning of fossil fuels affects the climate, but he does believe clasping your hands and offering a prayer will produce rain. And he calls himself a climate rationalist…

Ian Foyster writes: Your editorial comments (Friday) were about as childish as some of your other reports. There would be many of your readers who would agree we should all pray for rain, even “Crikey”.

Bill Edwards writes: I have never wanted a picture of John Howard. However I would happily pay $39.95 for a reasonable quality white T-Shirt emblazoned with the wonderful Moses image from the newsletter of 20 April. I would pay double if it was authenticated that the cotton originated at Cubbie Station.

Lorraine Leach writes: Re. “Will the river really run dry?” (Friday, item 11). I fear that Cubbie Station will be the beneficiary of this measure and have no doubt that Cubbie Station is the real reason behind the Howard/Turnbull push to take over control of the Murray-Darling Basin. Is there no one willing to stand up to these scoundrels who think nothing of pushing thousands of farmers to the wall and decimating the ecology, all for the benefit of a few? I hope people remember Cubbie Station and the role of the coalition in this debacle at the forthcoming Federal election.

WA lobbyists:

Paul Everingham writes: Re. “Rewards in lending Labor a hand” (Thursday, item 9). Some colleagues have made me aware of an article in your periodical by Mr Richard Farmer on 19 April about WA Lobbyists whereby Mr Farmer refers to me (and my business) as that of Mr Paul Everingham Snr, former Chief Minister for the Northern Territory. Purely for the sake of accuracy, I am Paul Everingham who owns and operates the business advisory and lobbying firm Paul Everingham & Associates in Perth, Western Australia. I am also the son of the Hon Paul Everingham AO former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory who runs a legal firm in South East Queensland. There are absolutely no hard feelings. It happens quite a bit. Dad and I often have a laugh about being mistaken because he is 30 years older than me with less hair but a lot more money than me. Unfortunately for us both we tend to speak with that same slow northern Australian drawl. I don’t really mind whether you correct the article or not but thought it worthwhile knowing that there are 2 of us out there for future reference.

Mass murder, mental illness and culture:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Court found Virginia killer “mentally ill”” (Friday, item 6). Could I just point out to various recent correspondents on the Virginia Tech Massacre that depression, narcissism, and psychosis are not the same thing? There is no condition called “mental illness”, any more than there is a condition called “physical illness” or “social problem”. This abysmal ignorance and the seamless way that the discussion moves between madness and badness simply demonstrates that all the glib “public awareness” campaigns and all the self-promoting institutes have merely given the pontificating public a new vocabulary with which to parade their prejudices.

Cathy Bannister writes: Cho Seung-Hui’s rampage was hugely culturally significant. On one level, his act was in the tradition of Charles Witman, the madman who shot people from the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower in 1966. Guns are essential to this image: without the gun, it falls apart, meaning that gun control measures have the potential to curtail such events before they occur. Cho, however, also borrowed imagery and language from middle eastern suicide bombers – the suicide video, a manifesto, talk of martyrdom, opening up whole new possibilities for copycats. As such, the media (including Crikey) should be more circumspect about showing these videos, especially while the emotions are fresh and young, depressed violent people are likely to be influenced. It’s disrespectful to the victims, glorifies the psycho, and the public gets nothing out of it other than a ghoulish thrill.

Philip Carman writes: Re. “Gnashing of teeth as South Korea says ‘sorry'” (Friday, item 15). I’d hazard a guess that had Cho made the US swimming team he would have been called an American of Korean descent/origin and a product of the American system, but in the circumstances everyone rushed to call him “Asian” or “Korean”. The picture of him with his two handguns drawn, reversed baseball cap, flak-jacket and bulging ammo bags looked decidedly American, to me.

Jody Bailey writes: Terror. Terrorism. Terrorists. These words, while only vaguely defined, spout freely and often from the lips of the proponents of a war which has shifted objective so frequently that the voting public no longer understands why we are killing people in a foreign country. Something to do with freedom and all that. Maybe you too have noticed the volume of fear-mongering increase from our incumbent government lately, in this an election year. It’s beyond sad, but it is still politically fruitful for leaders to tell us that conflict is the answer to international and, by implication, interpersonal problems. With guns saturating the USA, and another frustrated loner terrorising (you can’t call it anything else) a community, and by extension a country, by blowing away a multitude of their most valuable assets to prove a point, I wonder if we’ll hear government officials there or here referring to the murderer as a terrorist. I’m afraid though, that taking into account the “us-versus-them” imperative of The War on Terror, that suggestion would be “sending the wrong message”. Although, with the murderer being “Asian”, if push comes to shove we can always pretend to ourselves that he wasn’t really “one-of-us”.

Dick Stratford writes: I spend time each year in the USA. I’ve had a granny from Texas tell me that she never leaves home without her handgun. I’ve had a man from rural Kentucky tell me that he had four guns but a buddy had thirty in a specially-made cabinet. His buddy thinks nothing of wearing a handgun on his hip in the main street. I’ve had a family friend tell me he can’t wait until his boy is old enough to be taught how to hunt with a gun. Enough said. And how tasteful of Bush to assert the right to bear arms in the aftermath of a massacre.

WorkChoices:

A lawyer writes: Re. “WorkChoices strangling business with red tape” (Friday, item 2). As a solicitor who acts for both employers and employees, in the Far North Coast region, WorkChoices has created a class of employees (middle management/semi professionals ) who sue in the Local and District court for what is essentially unfair dismissal. No matter how well you draw up these contracts for a middle management employee – in the event of court action, you will find implied terms expanding any notice periods for dismissal. The average worker has no such rights – dismissed at will. I know of at least three major (noting that major around here is more than 10) local employers who have emasculated working conditions of average workers. Everyone knows and sees children and backpackers being employed for few dollars an hour with no protection at all – even so far as no workers compensation as an awful lot of cash in hand goes around in this area. Every one of these workers has family and friends and they gripe. The old unfair dismissal/award rates regime was mostly fair and had protections for employers – decent employers rarely fell foul of it – and frankly, even if they had – do you really wipe out everyone’s rights to save a few bad outcomes? All the advertising in the world will not detract from reality. The reality of “work choices” is choices for a few – and the most – no choice.

Qantas:

Bernard Shirley writes: Re. “Time for the Qantas board to revoke its takeover recommendation” (Friday, item 4). Stephen, nice story. Thank heavens you and Glen Dyer have a grasp on what’s going on with and at Qantas. Perhaps you might point out that shareholders have until one month after receipt of the 23 March letter to withdraw their acceptance of the APA offer. I do not know if the more unsophisticated lot are aware of their rights in this matter. Even some more seasoned investors I know missed focusing on the “escape” clause in their reading of that aforementioned letter. If they are unsure how to cancel, all they have to do is call the APA information line and ask for the information.

Maxine McKew and the shadow ministry:

Tony Papafilis writes: Re. “Jumping at shadows in the shadow shadow ministry” (Friday, item 12). A bit premature to include Maxine McKew in the list. While Maxine and Labor may be getting candidate’s disease, surely your experienced commentators are not really that confident that she will nudge out the local 30 years plus member and the second longest serving PM? Take a bex and have a rest because you’re getting much too excited and showing your Howard hater qualities.

News Ltd blogs:

Kate McDonald writes: Re. “Blogwatch: The blogs that ate News Limited” (Friday, item 21). I decided to have a look at some of the News Ltd blogs you listed on Friday, but unfortunately when I clicked on “Greg Sheridan blog” (in order to post a comment replacing all references to “Taj Din Al-Hilali” with “Greg Sheridan” and “Muslims” with “journalists” – try it, it’s fun) I was told that “Commenting for this article is no longer available, try one of the articles below for more from the Greg Sheridan blog”. So I tried another Greg Sheridan blog and got the same result, despite the fact that the biggest number of comments only came in at about the 130-odd mark. I tried again with Janet Albrechtsen and got the same message. Then I tried “Dennis Shanahan”. Open to all comers. Someone must truly hate Greg and Janet. Hmmmm.

Corporate Social Responsibility:

Peter Lloyd writes: Re. “Corporate Social Responsibility: Milton Friedman right again” (Friday, item 26). I have read frequently over the years the opinions of those questioning corporate social responsibility, ethical investing and so on, and Matt Marks’ piece is typical, notwithstanding the garnish of Matt’s none-too-subtle mention of his own work in Africa (a touch of the David Brents perhaps?). But those who call for a Friedmanesque approach to the issue always seem to fail to move beyond whether it’s right for companies to undertake “charity” work. Why do free market fundamentalists never seem to question the ethical issues associated with companies adhering to the fundamentals of operating in the socially-granted free market? Whether or not companies decide to provide benefits to people other than shareholders is for them, but so many companies fall well short of even the basics owed to those putting up the money. The theoretical ability of shareholders to hold company agents to account is blurred by the existence of institutions and is rendered a joke by even the most cursory glance at the reality of the process. Throw in the fact that only the clumsiest of executives will wear consequences for abuse of the law, and we can see that “social responsibility” questions arise long before they reach the level of the “highly paid CSR team”. Let’s hear a bit more from the Hayek brigade about that – especially before we hand them a nuclear power industry.

David Havyatt writes: Corporate Social Responsibility is about one heck of a lot more than just good works and donations to the poor. It is, primarily, a recognition that everybody is a stakeholder in the business – customers, its neighbours, the communities in which it trades, the environment it possibly pollutes, its employees, their families – not just the shareholders (are you listening Sol Trujillo). Individual charity largesse by the rich managers is not a substitute for the genuine concern for the sustainability of the business versus the desire to achieve this quarter’s targets to get paid the bonuses that got constructed because Milton Friedman wanted to align the supposed interests of managers with the supposed interests of shareholders. Perhaps someone has noticed the conundrum – the goal of managers is supposed to be to maximise profit which requires minimising all input costs, which must include shareholders returns, but the goal of management is to maximise shareholders returns. If the conclusion is both P and not P, then the premise is wrong.

Alan Pomering writes: Corporate social responsibility is much maligned and misunderstood. It’s also very undeveloped in Australia. But to understand how it’s considered around the globe, it’s best to think of it as falling into two schools of thought: the US view is that it’s what you do with the profits, while the European view is that it’s how the profits are made. Australia falls in line with the US view, as reported by David Birch of Deakin Uni in 2005. He reported that by far the majority of the big companies’ managers don’t see it as part of the core product or how the business is managed. But Friedman may have been right, in a roundabout way. If consumers get behind good, socially responsible, companies (small or large), then those companies willl be more profitable, and hence shareholders will gain wealth. But this certainly wasn’t what Friedman meant; he equated the concept with socialism, and theft from employees and shareholders. Many would agree that that is in fact what top executives are doing these days (eg. at the banks and Qantas, as suggested by your writer). We have a long way to go with CSR in Australia, and it seems it’s going to be a slow road, especially as our most socially responsible companies are considered to be (often) banks, which – as is highlighted by your writer – give with one hand and take with the other. That’s not real CSR!

Jim Hart writes: It’s good to see Matt Marks putting Corporate Social Responsibility on the Crikey agenda but it’s a pity he seems to be still in the 1970s with Milton Friedman in terms of what CSR means now. It’s also a pity he confuses CSR with philanthropy and with charity. Yes, there was a time when some companies thought CSR belonged with the PR department – a few dollars spent on window-dressing and some feel-good statements at the AGM. And maybe some still do. But many more recognised that their long-term relationship with the community – be it local or global – is part of managing their own long-term future and they would be failing their shareholders to do otherwise. So it’s not a question of whether “a highly paid CSR team makes financial sense” any more than whether a highly paid CFO makes sense. Then Matt slides away from CSR to talk about individual executives are doing their bit in terms of philanthropy. This too is an interesting topic but not really relevant to the corporate responsibilities. Like Matt I’d like to see many more people help African orphanages and a million other needy causes, but that’s peripheral to what CSR is ultimately about.

Inaccurate balance sheets:

Wayne Robinson writes: Re. “Let’s find Australia’s most inaccurate balance sheet” (Friday, item 27). I’m a bit bemused that Stephen Mayne thinks that the market value of a company should just reflect the value of its assets. The share price reflects the profits of the company and its ability to pay dividends or to grow.

Adam Michell writes: A key reason why Net Assets on a balance sheet are different to Market Capitalisation is that the Market Cap is derived by the “invisible hand” discounting future cash flows of the business, whereas the balance sheet is generated from historical cash movements. I think chief financial officers and auditors have enough problems with valuing intangibles at present, let alone trying to put a formal value on future cashflows out to eternity!

Big Mac’s:

James Perkins writes: Re. “Love your heart, love your Big Mac” (Friday, item 5). I have noticed McDonald’s cynical new advertising campaign for Big Macs and it has disgusted me. I am glad Simon Chapman wrote Crikey’s article because now I know I am not the only one who thinks so. Maccas also hang signs in-store promoting their tick approved meals right next to signs for their (heart) Big Mac campaign with exactly the same design and it is obvious they are trying to associate the two. It is surely sullying the Heart Foundation’s reputation having Maccas run such a campaign after gaining the tick for some of their meals. I agree it’s a total farce.

Sledging:

James Harper writes: Russell Bancroft (Friday, comments) asks where to draw the line when it comes to sledging and states that, regardless of any code of conduct, it will continue. This is an extraordinarily defeatist position. In my fairly wide experience of team sports there has never been any reason for the members of one team to communicate with the other team while on the field of play. All that is required to stamp out sledging is to introduce a rule that says that there should be no verbal communication between the teams during play. The game would be unaffected and the sport improved.

Oops:

Graham Ring fesses up: Re. “Petrol sniffing scourge: It’s not over yet” (Friday, item 7). I was unfair to the Oz’s Ashleigh Wilson in Friday’s piece about the tragic petrol sniffing death in Hermannsburg. The tone of his article in the Weekend Australian of March 17 2007 was very much that the scourge of sniffing had been defeated. However the quote from youth worker Blair McFarland that “it’s not over yet” came not from the original Oz piece, but from a subsequent interview I did with McFarland about the Wilson piece. My mistake…

James McComb writes: Re. “Things not going PBL Media’s way as WIN talks to NBN” (Friday, item 28). “NBN has to broadcast local news services in its areas of the north and west of NSW. That’s in addition to the networked Nine News from Sydney.” NBN has never broadcasted National Nine News into Newcastle ever.

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 2: “They say that while businesses support the substance of WorkChoices, it should be working hard on ways to improve implementation and transition difficulties …”. There’s no antecedent for that “it” – it can’t be “businesses”, because that wouldn’t make sense; it must be something like “federal government”, but that hasn’t been mentioned since four paragraphs back. Incidentally, I’m not sure that “transition difficulties” are something you “improve”. And later in the same story, “there are a multiple of things that could be fixed quite easily …”. Perhaps “a multitude of things”, or just “multiple things”? And item 15: “South Korean’s fear that rampaging racists could set ablaze the Korean quarters …”. Lose the apostrophe. Ditto in “horrendous action’s”.

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