BHP Billiton, the PM and AWAs:

Samantha Evans, senior media relations adviser, BHP Billiton Limited, writes: Stephen, personal views of yours they may be, but your story on BHP Billiton should not have been presented as fact given the gross inaccuracies. The facts are:

1. The Prime Minister did not direct us to make any statements in relation to the ALP’s industrial relations policy. Our reaction was purely driven by our absorbtion of the ALP IR policy following its conference on the weekend, as well as being inundated with media requests for comment. (We had been working collaboratively with the ALP for some time and were disappointed that the final policy appeared to not take into account any of the concerns of the mining industry.)

2. Our chairman, Don Argus, did not formulate our comments. While he supports these views, they are the views of the operational leadership team.

3. We did not issue a media release, which is why it doesn’t appear on our website. We in fact provided some verbal and written commentary to journalists following the IR debate.

4. We did not put any specific executives’ names to our comments because they are the collective view of our leadership and represent a company position. This is in line with our normal practice.

5. While you are correct in saying that we do not normally weigh in on political debates, we strongly believe in the importance of retaining flexibility in our approach to industrial relations. This is not about saying that we want AWAs specifically — it’s about saying each operation in Australia should have the right to choose the industrial relations instrument that best suits the individual business (there is no “one size fits all” approach). We are only a “reluctant participant” in the debate in so far as we are disappointed that the policy appears to take away this flexibility.

Blunders in counting the costs of Stern:

Dr Peter Wood, research school of physical sciences and engineering, Australian National University writes: Michael Knox’s attempt to measure the cost to Australia of adopting the recommendations of the Stern Review (yesterday, item 8) makes a number of serious blunders. The article misunderstands the relationship between the Social Cost of Carbon and GDP and does not take into account the cost to Australia of global warming. The article naively equates the Social Cost of Carbon with a reduction in GDP equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted at that cost. If we were to adopt a price signal on greenhouse gas emissions through a cap and trade scheme or carbon tax, emitters will try to adopt least cost strategies to reduce their emissions or offset them through processes such as biosequestration. Knox seems to make the ridiculous assumption that the least cost strategy would be to reduce jobs or real wages. The CSIRO submission to the Task Group on Emissions Trading cites studies that suggest deep cuts by 2050 would reduce GDP growth by 0.10-0.25% per year, a figure much less than any of Knox’s. Even if greenhouse gas levels are stabilised at levels of around 550 parts per million, there are likely to be costs such as widespread destruction of the Barrier Reef (worth $5.8 billion per year or 0.9% of GDP) or increased droughts (the last two costed about $6 billion each). Knox does not consider costs such as these. When Stern discusses the Social Cost of Carbon, these are the costs that he is talking about.

Industrial relations and WorkChoices et al:

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. “Yes, but who’s really going back to the future on IR?” (yesterday, item 13). Mark Bahnisch’s commentary on the IR laws has been one of the few analytical responses to the current IR laws and Rudd’s policy response. The hysteria being created through The Tele and The Australian has been nothing short of ridiculous. As an HR and IR practitioner of long standing, there is nothing particularly special about Howard’s AWA laws, nor is there anything wrong with collective bargaining. Outlawing one or the other is not good policy, but neither position is going to see the end of the world. Without question, the significant change to Howard’s legislation was dropping the “no disadvantage” clause, so that employer’s could basically offer a job on pretty much any terms they liked. This has led to the serial dropping of penalty rates for the lowest paid, and this is where the only significant impact is in the 1000 or so pages of legislation and regulation. All the rest is froth and bubble. Claiming Australia’s current economic record is the result of the IR laws is fantasy. Business lobby groups wanting everything their way should be reported for what it is.

Eddy Jokovich writes: Re. “Howard coughs up $1.4 billion for business” (yesterday, item 1). Which other news service would publish, as its lead story, a de facto government press release? Certainly none that I can think of (OK, I’ll admit I haven’t read the Daily Telegraph recently). The article “Howard coughs up $1.4 billion for business” is the laziest example of “journalism” I’ve seen in a long time — it offers no analysis or insight and merely provides turgid outlines of the package, embellished with superlatives and desperately clumsy language (what on earth is a “hardworking” statement?). Where is the critique or counterargument? Where is a perspective from federal Labor, or an independent economist, or a political analyst? Why is it the lead story? It reads as though it was generated by the Federal Government’s media unit. Is Crikey really that desperate for the elusive invitation to the Budget lock-up next week? Please present quality editorial work, or give up (or, at least, use a decent subeditor who can edit out the tripe before it’s published).

Bruce Holden writes: Re. “The Economy: Cor Blimey, it’s war” (yesterday, item 30). How interesting to see our Henry himself in the thrall of Howard’s latest “Booga Booga” fear tactic, the union bosses! I have yet to see any substantial research attributing any real contribution of WorkChoices to the economy. For those who have access to a mirror, take it out and have a look! We have, I believe, been in an economic surge since well before Howard came to power. He and his Treasurer have surfed an economic boom for which they claim credit, but which has in fact been fuelled from offshore! It was his predecessor I believe that began the significant changes to IR laws (Keating did away with compulsory arbitration system that broke the crazy frog-leap wage claims that fed inflation). The changes described in a classic Orwellian term as WorkChoices shifted power too far to employers in what has been an ideological driven change driven by the top end of town. As a small business owner these changes have had no impact whatsoever on how we do business, or employ staff, and we pay well above award wages and conditions [including paid maternity leave] and offer family friendly part-time work to our staff (of 4). We don’t need to “sack” staff — we employ carefully and train and remunerate well. They, after all, are the backbone of our business and the basis of our profitability.

Peter Lloyd writes: Never mind Christian Kerr, is Henry Thornton actually Piers Akerman? Labor’s IR policy still represents a significant change in favour of capital relative to the pre-Melbourne Cup day 2005 situation, but this is not enough to restrain him from wheeling out the emotive terminology from the Hugh Morgan book of News(Limited)speak — witness today’s “shackles” and “union bosses” and “wage explosions” and describing standard conditions that have existed for decades (and coexisted with economic boom after economic boom) as “long tea breaks” and ‘triple time” … “union rorts” no less. I wonder when Henry’s oft-mentioned lunch pals last worked a public holiday? Yesterday’s admission that “the economic effects of WorkChoices have been masked by unreliable economic data” didn’t stop our fearless scribe putting the salmon truffles to one side on 27 April to assert that “strong employment with low inflation is the surprising consequence of WorkChoices”. Apparently the man can’t pick a trend from a mining boom. Or accept that while his mates gain their salary packages, replete with shareholder-insulting “performance hurdles”, through the means of the country club and old school tie, the rest of us are well aware that we are just a cost factor and throwing away each and every condition will only stay our industrial execution for a short time — if at all. Of course, mug punters are easily distracted from their own interests by the juggernaut of corporate, political and media interests of which Henry is but a mere part, but the hyperbole and contradictions betray a sloppiness suggesting that they’ve had it too easy for too long.

Peter Wachtel writes: Rudd and Gillard are interested in fairness? Can they answer the following? Back in 1988, I was simple farmer’s son who came to the city and began my first job. It was in a factory loading car wheels onto a paint line. I loaded approximately 900 car wheels per day. Another worker unloaded 900 wheels per day. It was easy work with only one double-hooked hanger requiring loading/unloading per minute. I got bored and before too long I was both loading 900 wheels per day and unloading 900 wheels per day on a day shift. When it came to afternoon shift two workers took over the line one loading and the other unloading the line. Even though I did twice the work, the fact was I got paid less because they were on afternoon shift. What is fair about that? What really was the strawberry topping on the ice cream was that the Union bruvvers called me in and I was left without any doubt that it was unacceptable that I continued working at that pace. What is right about that? As a simple farmer’s son I was totally confused that I was paid less for doing more and was threatened for working hard. It went against everything that seemed fair or right, or that I was taught as a boy.

Niall Clugston writes: Your editorial comments on 1 May (May Day, appropriately enough) accuse the ACTU, or “Industrial Standover Merchants Union”, of being a “special interest group”. This raises the question as to what the “interest” of the “union bosses” is. I don’t see how their interest lies in any particular workplace framework. Unions internationally deal with various systems. The only obvious self-interest is more money and power — i.e. more paying and obeying members. But union membership has been in decline for 20 years. This is unusually voiced as a critique of unions, but it is also a critique of union critics. What is actually the “interest group” threat posed? A mass recruitment of unionists? Or is it that union boss would “impose” a wage rise or better conditions on the non-unionised workforce? Or is this really not a conflict of “interest groups” at all, but of world views.

Alister Air writes: Re. “The IR reality: numbers in the Senate” (yesterday, item 11). Andrew Murray misses one point about the post 2008 Senate. He says that the Democrats have a different set of policies from Labor. That may be true, but between the election and the end of June 2008, the remaining Democrats aren’t enough to pass legislation with Labor support, no matter who else votes with them. And post June 2008, there won’t be any Democrats in the Senate. There’s only two possibilities in the next Senate. Labor negotiating with Family First (who they put there, and who are instinctively Liberal supporters) or negotiating with the Greens.

Malcolm Fraser on Howard and Hicks:

Rod Campbell-Ross writes: Re. “Fraser: Howard’s “evil purpose”” (yesterday, item 5). Malcolm Fraser’s article in Crikey today about the rule of law and David Hicks repeats much of what I said in a letter on the matter, but Crikey didn’t publish. I agree with him, the rule of law is sacrosanct and it should apply especially for David Hicks. The rule of law is there to protect us all in case we fall out of favour with the all-powerful state. Just to remind ourselves: David Hicks was arrested in Afghanistan, a country where neither the US or Australia had jurisdiction at the time of the alleged crimes. By definition he therefore broke no law, no authority had any business in detaining him and no court had any business trying him. It is shameful that our government went along with this dreadful charade. He may even have grounds for damages against the Government. Let’s hope, for all our sakes, that he does take action; and that he does succeed, because we all need that principle made absolutely clear. Just so that you can clear your head on this matter: This is not about David Hicks. It is about you and me and all of us. It is about our freedom and the absolute requirement for our government to act in our best interests at all times, but especially when we are at the mercy of other authorities who have no respect for the rule of law. The Government should act, fearlessly and consistently; and irrespective of anybody’s personal feelings or political pressure at the time.

John Pasquarelli writes: I first met Malcolm Fraser in Port Moresby in 1976 when he was there with Andrew Peacock and John Howard as part of an Australian delegation celebrating the first anniversary of PNG’s Independence. Even then I gained the impression that here was a man well and truly up himself. He was of course in full cry at the time, paving the way for Lebanese Muslims to come to Australia as well as establishing the first office of Multicultural Affairs presided over by his lickspittle Petrogeorgiou. Fraser helped purge his own perceived guilt over the Vietnam War by welcoming the Boatpeople. The Australian people were never consulted at any level about such dramatic changes to their cultural makeup – and of course they never have been by subsequent governments on the vital issues of immigration and refugees. To read Fraser prattling on about the “Rule of Law” and his equation of Australia and the US with “tyrannical regimes” is simply sickening given the history of his relationship with the monstrous Robert Mugabe. When will a journo with balls take this pompous git on and ask him what he thinks now of his murderous mate? Australians should be reminded that Malcolm Trousers is still there with his snout in the trough spending their tax dollars on his ex-Prime Ministerial perks. It’s time we were advised of the total of his spending spree for the last financial year – and by the way, who were the fools who proposed he be granted life membership of the Liberal Party?

Richard Flanagan and Tasmania:

John Hayward writes: Re. “Flanagan: the rape of an island paradise” (yesterday, item 3). It is probably wise of Richard Flanagan to publish his lament for a ravaged Tasmania on the other side of the world. At home he could face an interminable SLAPP suit from some vengeful logging concern. Insofar as they can see through the autumn pall of forestry-waste-burn smoke, Tasmanians will be anxious to discern how Mr Rudd can maintain an image as tomorrow’s man while countenancing a pillage of Tasmania’s forests which is faster and more wasteful than the logging in Kalimantan or New Guinea. A Labor break-up up with the standover boys in the CFMEU would cause more grief in logging industry boardrooms than to that union’s ill-served rank and file.

Nuclear power: Not in my backyard:

Tim Mackay writes: Re. “Nuclear NIMBYism: what could it mean for members?” (Monday, item 9). In this brave and exciting new nuclear world, why don’t you fire off to all the federal MP’s a policy question and collate/list their responses: “Would you in principle support the construction of a nuclear power station in your electorate?” (or similar). It would be interesting to see the results and any obscuration / MP polly waffle.

Chris Phillips writes: All this misinformation and emotion about nuclear power stations … I guess any power station is hardly the place where one would choose to live near, but given the choice I would plump for a nuclear one every time.

Mark Byrne writes: The nuclear option is a costly distraction from renewable solutions. Expansion of the nuclear cycle will increase Greenhouse emissions for the next two critical decades. BHP’s own figures show the daily electricity requirements of the new South Australian Roxby uranium mine will be equivalent to the electricity of every household in Adelaide combined. On top of this, the process of enriching uranium to reactor level presents a huge ongoing energy cost. The massive infrastructure of a nuclear plant is another gigantic energy cost. It would take more then ten years to establish any new nuclear plant. The pay back for this energy input would take 10 years (with the richest uranium ore grades). Compare this to 1.6 years energy payback for current solar cells and a mere months for wind turbines. Nuclear expansion locks us in for more than 20 years of increased emissions. Yet this period is the most critical for reducing emissions. Like compounding interest, early emission cuts have a far greater effect than playing catch-up. Like the old Soviet centrally planned economy, nuclear power is cumbersome and fails to adapt in a fast changing environment. By the time a new plant is established our competitors would be outstripping us with rapidly evolving low cost renewables. We’d be lumbered with an ongoing cost burden and waste legacy. This is precisely why Germany is winding back their nuclear plants and ramping up renewables.

Crikey! Where’s the fair and balanced coverage?:

Roger Colman writes: I read your newsletter of 1 May 2007, May Day, but am getting somewhat jilted by an increasingly biased stories and observer participation of the 22 stories in “Top Stories”, and “Politics, The Universe, Etc” of 1 May. 15 items (1,4,5,7,8,9,10,12,13,14,15,16,17,20,21) are either pro-Labor, anti-Howard or anti-conservative agenda. From item 14: “Yesterday, I observed Labor ‘is pleased with its performance, but terrified of messing up’. That’s precisely their problem. The party should be focussing on Howard and his failings, not on themselves”. This represents your journalists as desiring to be active participants. Now at 68% of stories anti-Howard/conservatives this is way past the two-party preferred ratio your journal should stick with (Newspoll figures) of 57% to 43%. Get some balance back.

Kevin, the Energizer Bunny:

Tom Richman writes: Re. “Kevin, the Energizer Bunny, banging away” (yesterday, item 14). If experience is the issue, should we not have voted for John Howard in 1996 because he had no experience as prime minister or running a government?

A Downunder Gettysburg:

Dan Carton writes: Re. “A Downunder Gettysburg” (yesterday, item 21). What a magical piece by Mem Fox. It shows that even in a pluralistic progressive society as wonderful and resplendent with opportunity as Australia, that some people can find so many things to bitch and whinge about. Imagine how much she would have to whinge and bitch about in a poor Third World country ravaged by Aids, famine, corruption and war — and naturally where the full participation of women in public discourse is encouraged.


Nigel Brunel writes: Re. “Howard coughs up $1.4 billion for business” (yesterday, item 1). Hah! Absolutely love it, Crikey. First story. “Small business links with pubic researchers.”

John Walters writes: “Small business links with pubic researchers.” I knew it! In depth research going down to make our brothels internationally competitive. I will recruit Deborah Jeane Palfrey as my consultant as she is now freed of her normal activities and I am hardening myself to do some intensive research. Call me Madam!

Mick Callinan writes: Re. “Fraser: Howard’s ‘evil purpose'” (yesterday, item 5). “Hicks deserved anything that was metered out to him”. Please, tell me Malcolm didn’t write that. Meted, surely.

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 20: “The ranks of the deniers are replete with the usual suspects from Windshuttle up.” Should be a “c” in “Windschuttle”. Item 5: “… quite plainly believed that Hicks deserved anything that was metered out to him …”. The expression is “meted out”.

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