Heffernan, Gillard, Chifley, Heath and children…:

Toni Jordan writes: Re. “Both a wrong call and a dog whistle” (yesterday, item 1). After three years of trying for a baby, followed by exploratory surgery and drug therapy, followed by three years of expensive, heart-breaking failed IVF attempts, my husband and I have decided to accept our fate. The dream we have held for so many years is over. I will never experience the joy, the emotion. I have to face it: now, I’ll never be PM.

Christopher Ridings writes: If caveman Senator Heffernan considers “deliberate barrenness” to be a bar to leadership, does this mean he will not be Australia’s next ambassador to the Vatican? As I remember it, yes, and it was in my time, PM Ben Chifley was childless and I don’t remember anyone complaining then.

Ronald Webb writes: Shall we remind Bill Heffernan that Ted Heath, leader of the Conservatives in Britain and prime minister was neither married, nor the procreator of children.

Darren Moffatt writes: In light of his delightful recent comments about Julia Gillard, and breeding per se, I draw your attention to Mr Heffernan’s ruminations in Good Weekend last year on what it takes to be a federal politician: “… you have to be a real c-nt to do this job.” What does this tell us about his self-image? What does it say about our debauched political process? Or has Bill just spent too many years on the farm watching mammals reproduce? Does Heffernan have a heifer complex?

Florence Howarth writes: Re. “Children and politics: curly questions from Crikey” (yesterday, item 8). This issue just goes to show how out of date both politicians and the media are. I would like to say most parents today would not know what a bucket of nappies means. I would be surprised if they have ever seen one. By the way, I do not believe there is any evidence to prove that Julia is barren. The only thing we know is that she has chosen not to have children.

The Tamil and the terrorist:

Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University, writes: Re. “Some terrorists are more Muslim than others” (yesterday, item 5). Irfan Yusuf’s reaction here yesterday to the treatment of two alleged Tamil Tiger reflected a number of factual and conceptual flaws. Suggesting equivalence between the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and, for instance, al-Qaeda, is nonsense. With one exception, the LTTE has only ever targeted its enemies within Sri Lanka. The exception was the murder of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, which the LLTE has since said was a mistake, even though he was the architect of the Indian army’s attack on the LTTE. By contrast, al-Qaeda and like organisations have identified Westerners in general as the enemy. The goal of such organisations is the eventual dominance of a particular interpretation of Islam. By contrast, the LTTE wants a separate homeland. Yusuf has confused two very different forms of struggle. In terms of style, the LTTE indeed invented modern suicide-bombing. But Yusuf should know that the raw numbers of suicide attacks, and victims, over the past five years have been vastly higher in Iraq than Sri Lanka. And contrary to Yusuf’s assertion, it was not “sanitized” for The Age to report that the LTTE is not a proscribed organisation, but a fact. The question is about how one can be charged with being a member of a terrorist organisation when that organisation is not so listed. Similarly, money being raised in Australia for tsunami and internal refugee relief has indeed been used for that purpose. These efforts are in LTTE-controlled areas, and hence are seen to be lending support to the LTTE. Are the international aid agencies which also work in these areas also supporting terrorism? Prompted by the ravings of a fringe element in the Australian Sinhalese community and the connivance of the Sri Lankan Government, the AFP conducted raids on the homes of “suspected terrorists”. But their intelligence was so bad that they did not even know that one of their key “suspects” had died more than a month previously, until they fronted at his doorstep to be told by his grieving widow! One can only wonder about the rest of their evidence. As Yusuf notes, bigoted hysteria is grossly unfair to others and it demeans ourselves. But he does the cause disservice by applying similar standards to others.

Nuclear power et al:

James Eggins writes: Rod Campbell-Ross (yesterday, comments) inadvertently repeats one of the great urban myths about nuclear power in his comments about how much carbon is “embedded” at every stage of the fuel cycle. Fortunately, there are several reports dealing with this issue. The most accessible is the report “Life Cycle Energy Balance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Nuclear Energy in Australia”, prepared by the University of Sydney and released with the UMPNER Report (Switkowski Inquiry). Rod will find answers to each one of his questions in that document. However, just thinking about it should give you a clue that something is wrong with the too-much-carbon embedded theory. Total energy inputs into mining and producing uranium concentrates (or for that matter copper concentrates or nickel concentrates or gold matte) are easily measured and reported (eg. look at BHP Billiton’s environment report for Olympic Dam, or Rio Tinto’s report for Rossing Uranium) and typically comprise less than 25% of total mining and production costs. Similar energy inputs for conversion to UF6 (not much per kilogram), and enrichment (quite a lot, but probably less than production of aluminium per kilogram), then fabrication, and ultimately spent fuel storage, disassembly, waste conditioning, and disposal, are all measurable and calculated and publicly available. The energy payback from nuclear is huge, mainly because the plants are large, operate virtually continuously, and now typically have 60-year lifetimes. Nuclear is in fact one of the lowest “carbon-embedded” whole-of-life fuel cycles currently available. The UMPNER report also deals with waste issues; depleted UF6 is not a problem. In fact, nuclear wastes will start to look almost friendly once people see the costs and infinite storage obligations involved in some CO2 sequestration concepts.

Damon Lewis writes: On Rod Campbell-Ross’s query on the full-life cycle assessment of nuclear power, this site might provide some interesting reading: Chapter 1 deals specifically with the CO2 emissions in the nuclear life cycle. Information about the authors can be found here.

Jonathan Holmes writes: Harold Thornton (yesterday, comments) seems to think that peak-load generators are coal-fired. No, Harold. You can’t fire up a coal-fuelled furnace in half an hour. Peak load generation is invariably fired by gas — with half the emissions of coal. And solar panels respond to sunlight, not heat, so their output peaks between 9am and 3pm. Residential air conditioners, on the other hand, place maximum load on the system between 4 and 8pm on hot summer evenings, when most people are at home. So solar PV helps a bit — but better insulation, reflective glazing, and more efficient air conditioners would help a whole lot more to abate Greenhouse gas at lower cost — winter and summer.

Stephen Jackson writes: I support the ALP policy of making a buck out of uranium without using it for nuclear power in Australia, but perhaps not for the usual reasons. In 50 or 100 years, when the Middle East is out of oil, the world super powers — US, China, or India, perhaps even Europe — will be looking for a source of uranium. If it is still in the ground in Australia, where do you think those super powers will be looking to invade? The track record is not good. Ideally, we sell the uranium and invest it in renewable power so that, come the revolution, a self-sufficient green Australia will not be a target for super power oil invasions such as we have seen in Iraq et al, and we can export the green technology to the world. Unfortunately, that would take businesses with horizons longer than the next financial year, and politicians with horizons beyond the next election.

Can the Budget trip up the Rudd juggernaut?:

Guy Rundle writes: Re. Budget week. Though he’s usually fairly clear, I can’t really divine what Christian Kerr thinks about the importance of the Budget in the political process: “The Budget is the defining moment of the political year – particularly election years.” Of course, it’s quite possible that the Budget will offer a rallying point to the Government. But one could also essay the possibility that no amount of pork roll-out or tax cuts will change much because of the nature of the shift in voting intentions that has given Labor such a commanding lead. Given the decisive two-stage shift in which these poll changes occurred — first, with the passing of WorkChoices and then with the election of Rudd — it seems likely that this is a deeper shift-back of working- and lower-middle-class voters to Labor after a long period of estrangement. They felt that Keating’s cultural elitism and free marketeering had broken the party-class compact, and that bad leadership choices had continued that. The implicit contract they had with Howard was broken by WorkChoices. The point is that not only do votes shift from year to year — but the means by which people place their votes, and the whole way they think about themselves and their relationship to politics, also shifts quite categorically. If we are in a period where people have been forced by circumstances to think about where their vote belongs, about who represents their identity as well as their interests, then even a budget which paid off everyone’s mortgage and handed over the excess in slabs and cartons, won’t shift the numbers. Well, we’ll find out.

Combet does the Charlton:

Mike Newton writes: Re. “Combet parachutes into Charlton, but at what cost?” (yesterday, item 9). The electorate, earmarked as a possible landing for Greg Combet is described by Thomas Hunter as “sorta, kinda nowhere, politically speaking”. This is not exactly spot-on. The voters of the state seat of Lake Macquarie (essentially the same area) have just given Labor a kick up the backside, turfing out the incumbent for the first time in history and electing a local independent, having at last got fed up with being ignored by pollies for about the same length of time. While such a thing is less likely to happen federally, the demographic is changing, with seachangers buying up Lake Macquarie waterfronts and heavy industry losing its local clout (the Awaba mine restrictions were mentioned). The future industrial issues in the surrounding Hunter are going to be huge, as the nation transits to clean energy. And on top of all that, yours truly is a Charlton Crikey subscriber, so that makes it “somewhere”!

Rudd, Howard and the 21st century bug:

Martin Pool writes: Re. “Rudd, Howard and the 21st century bug” (yesterday, item 14). What on earth is McQueen blathering about? Rudd to abolish corporations? More the kind of thing I expect from the CEC than from Crikey.

Niall Clugston writes: Humphrey McQueen shows his limitations as a historian. The corporation is not, as he opines, a “legal fiction concocted as long ago as the 1880s” but actually medieval!

Scotland’s independence:

Cameron Bray writes: Re. “Another step towards Scottish independence” (yesterday, item 17). I would quibble with Charles Richardson’s statement that local government elections in Britain are “intrinsically no more important than local elections in Australia”. In Britain, there is no sensible middle tier of government between central and local. The result is that huge slabs of important service delivery that should be run at a regional level are devolved to the lowest rung of politics — schools, housing, planning, benefits (apart from the dole), social and community care even management of refugees. Depressingly, the quality of local politicians is no better than Australia despite responsibilities far more complex and important than ‘roads, rates and rubbish’. It makes for fragmented, expensive services that nationally are only as good as the worst council — and that is really quite dire. Believe me, you don’t truly appreciate the wonders of federalism till you see the alternative.

Telstra and the ACCC:

Chris Dodds writes: Re. “Telstra turns the blowtorch on Graeme Samuel” (yesterday, item 22). Margaret Simons clearly lives in a make-believe world if she believes that the ACCC role is to look after consumers first. Its role is to promote competition whether or not it benefits consumers. In the world of telecommunications this translates into artificially regulating one company, Telstra, to ensure that a number of others, all foreign-owned, can piggyback on the first company and return massive profits back to their countries of origin without investing in the essential infrastructure that Australia needs. Just having the word consumer in your title doesn’t do anything and certainly when was the last time we saw a consumer friendly intervention into a competitive market by the ACCC for example on petrol prices or bank fees or in fact on anything at all.

Darrel McGuiness writes: This is an actual and different slant on the independence of the ACCC. We, myself and approx 200 others are endeavouring to get our area enabled with ADSL; the area is classified Regional and Rural and comprises 28 vineyards/wineries, 8 restaurants, one brewery, one chocolate factory, 3 conference centres and a number of short stay accomodation. It is a major part of the biggest tourist area in WA. The only Telco/ISP that will take on the job — should they get funding — is Telstra. Yes, this funding to be supplied by the Government. But SingTel (Optus) and the group of 9, who won’t touch our area, are also endeavouring to get hundreds of millions of dollars from the Government with the support of the ACCC on the so called grounds of Competition Policy. So the ACCC sees no problem in having competition with Telstra and it being paid for with taxpayers’ money? Hard to believe this is in the public interest. I sent an email to the ACCC, on behalf of 200 people, which asks the following questions: “What do they consider is the optimum broadband speed for Australians?; and, what do they consider is the lowest speed?”. We considered this was in the public interest. I had no written response after six days, so I rang and was told, in an offhand way, that they had a policy and would say no more. Margaret, perhaps you could ask the question for us, and then see whose policy they work to. You will find it is one of expediency and begs the question about independence.

Hedging on hedge funds:

Peter Shaw writes: Re. “Forget private equity, the real money is in hedge funds” (yesterday, item 25). Adam Schwab’s comments on hedge funds are quite misleading. They are not simple rodeo rider-leveraging up and riding the latest bull run. Hedge funds use a variety of strategies and many make money (or lose money) by going short (the market, commodities, equities, any asset really). In fact, one reason they are presently so popular is many hedge funds made a killing by betting against the market at the end of the dotcom boom. As hedge funds by their nature are unregulated the biggest concern is that the positions/bets they are making are unknown (and huge). These positions may severely exacerbate (or perhaps mitigate) the next recession when it inevitably does occur … and we simply don’t know!

Marcus O’Callaghan writes: Whilst this is not a defence of hedge funds or the fees that their managers charge, I feel the need to comment on Mr Schwab’s article. He states that hedge-fund managers’ day of reckoning will come when the market falls. Whilst it is impossible to generalise, market collapses should (note, should) be when hedge funds come into their own. Whilst every fund is different, the general aim of hedge funds is to provide an absolute rate of return, regardless of the underlying market’s performance — hence the term ‘hedge’. Mr  Schwab should have made it clear that most hedge funds benchmark themselves to the cash rate and are “index unaware” — so Mr Schwab, an equity-index-hugging, hedge-fund manager in a boom market should earn a performance fee as well! His article, whilst noble in its intention, is overly simplistic in that it mixes the common “index hugging” criticisms of “long only” fund managers with an argument against exorbitant fees.


Nic Maclellan writes: Re. “How Wolfowitz’s World Bank became a neo con” (Wednesday, item 17). Paul Wolfowitz’s current problems at the World Bank create a certain schadenfreude, since the bank has been hammering on about corruption under his watch. The bank’s “Low Income Countries Under Stress” (LICUS) initiative — with a special LICUS Task Force established in July 2002 — has given the bank new opportunities for aid conditionality, which punishes the poorest sections of the community rather than developing country governments. A key problem is that there are significant contradictions between the bank’s longstanding policies on public sector reform and the new corruption focus, with tensions between the twin processes of constitutional democratisation and economic liberalisation. The current World Bank focus on corruption is full of double standards: in many countries, corruption has increased due to the cutbacks to the public service following donor reform programs in the 1990s; smaller developing states find it difficult to meet multiple and conflicting demands from donors on governance, transparency and accountability; and some countries are still paying off onerous debt created by past bank lending policies. Given Wolfowitz’s sterling performance on Iraq, is it any wonder that many countries are seeking to change the rules which allow the United States to control this key global position?

WorkChoices, AWA’s and the economy:

Luke Forsyth writes: Re. “The Economy: What’s the case against AWAs?” (yesterday, item 29). Henry Thornton is asking the wrong question. The question should be — what is the case for AWAs? AWAs are not some form of magical industrial instrument the removal of which would send the economy back into the dark ages. Not once has a logical, reasonable argument been articulated as to why the abolition of AWAs (a industrial instrument which only covers about 5% of the Australian workforce) will have a negative impact on employers, employees or the Australian economy. Simply AWAs are statutory individual contracts. The Government could pass a law tomorrow converting them into common law contracts with absolutely no effect on their operation in respect to the particular employment relationship. People on AWAs in such circumstances would be in the same position as the 30-40% of Australians whose employment is currently governed by common law contracts. It would not decrease flexibility or cause confusion. AWAs are treasured by business for two main reasons. Firstly, by way of their operation they prohibit an employee from taking industrial action during the term of the AWA. Given that at any job site using AWAs the expiration date of each AWA will vary because of the standard turnover of staff, this results in employees never being able to take any form of collective action. AWAs very effectively denude workplaces of organised collective employee activity. Secondly they allow employers to remove award conditions without significant recompense to the employee. Common law contracts are less effective at this. Outside of this they really do not have any other effect or purpose. At the end of the day demand regulates remuneration. You could remove AWAs in the mining sector and absolutely nothing would happen. It will be in the unskilled and semi-skilled sectors where AWAs that provide for less than award conditions may result in a pay rise for the lowest paid. You can hardly argue that this would be a disaster.

Margaret Dingle writes: As well as the number of people on AWAs and the seats they are in, it is important to know whether they are on AWAs voluntarily or involuntarily and whether they are satisfied with their wages and conditions. Some people may be very happy to be working under an AWA, others may have had no option and be very unhappy about their pay and conditions.

Murray Stirling writes: It appears to have escaped most people that since the introduction of holiday pay about 24 years ago, Australia is the only country in the world that people get paid more when they go on holiday than when at work. Holiday pay loading was initially introduced to compensate shift workers when they have their holidays in the absence of their shift pay. Holiday pay loading should be paid to shift workers only, this would remove considerable unjustified costs from many employers.

Democrats and the Senate:

Alister Air writes: In a brief response to ex-Democrat Nahum Ayliffe (yesterday, comments), I’d like to point out that I was not rubbishing the performance of the Democrats’ amendments to the 1996 Workplace Relations Act. I disagree with the Democrats’ actions at that time, but I recognise why they made them. My point was not to criticise, but simply to point out what’s obvious to all concerned — for better or worse, the Democrats’ time has passed. A series of key mistakes has lead to their demise. It’s possible that they could survive, but it’s looking pretty unlikely at the moment. There will very likely be no Democrats in the next Senate. As for Family First, it’s hardly carping to note who got them elected. Perhaps Nahum is unhappy I didn’t give the Democrats’ their due in also making it happen? How many Democrats voters followed the deals their party made for preferences? How many Labor voters? Would people who voted Democrats or Labor in 2004 have wanted VSU, or the watering-down of cross-media restrictions? How many Democrats or Labor voters supported their parties’ preference negotiations? How many of them even knew? And, Nahum, if getting Family First elected into the Senate shows the Greens are bad at preference negotiations, does that mean that the Democrats are proud of their negotiation skills?

CO2 and food:

Anthea Parry writes: Geoff Russell (yesterday, comments) reckons those of us who enjoy eating a “carcase” or two are contributing more CO2 to the atmosphere than he does with his vegan diet. But Geoff must be eating something. My bet is there are a lot of grains and legumes in his diet. We all know eating legumes contributes to the greenhouse effect. Growing grains and beans is usually done on massive monoculture farms. CO2 is emitted when you till the soil for crops. Synthetic fertiliser also contributes pretty big amounts. And don’t even get me started on rice farming (which let’s face it is a stupid thing to be doing in Oz). It’s been estimated that 25% of our total Greenhouse gas emissions are because we don’t grow our food where we eat it. Is Geoff only eating locally produced organic unprocessed vegan food grown on small mixed culture farms? Geoff would really be better off kicking the nasty habit of eating altogether — he should check out Breatharianism. If he stopped needing food and water, he’d not only be reducing greenhouse gases, but also helping our efforts to save water.

Crikey and tech-savvy conservatives:

Garry Muratore writes: Roy Sheppard (yesterday, comments) claims Crikey is the “print media” arm of the federal Labor Party, last time I checked Crikey was not on the shelf at my local newsagent, nor is the paper boy throwing on my verandah at 6am. Crikey for my mind is media of the future, on-line, accessible and able to react quickly to stories. Is Mr Sheppard printing e-mails to read them? Must be something about the “tory” side of politics they just “don’t get” the internet. I send e-mails to my local (Liberal) member and he replies via post; well I guess that’s one way of improving bandwidth, just don’t use it.


Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 11: “National Indigenous Times leapt to it’s feet to congratulate Hanson on her warmth …” What is this, a hunt-the-apostrophe contest?

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