The Budget:

John Parkes writes: This morning I heard Mr Costello on the radio claiming that this was a “reforming” budget. I therefore ask why? He has been Treasurer for 11 years. If he now needs a reforming budget it must be his previous mistakes he is reforming and correcting. That being the case he has admitted errors and therefore should resign on grounds of incompetence over that last 11 years. If he hasn’t erred in the past then these new changes are by implication incorrect and shouldn’t take place. Which is it? All the commentators are making their comments along the lines of this is a budget aimed at getting voters to support the Coalition in the forthcoming election, which is the conventional wisdom and is probably correct. But I ask, what makes the politicians and the media commentators so sure that the voters can be so easily bought or misled? What if they (we?) accept the proffered goodies and then vote for the other mob anyway? That would make us voters almost as fickle as those for whom we are voting. As a politician cannot be sued for breach of promise for failing to deliver on his electoral promises, voters can similarly accept political largesse while all along intending to vote against the vendors of same — but are they astute enough to do it? Does this belief on the part of the Government and commentators underestimate the intelligence of the voters, or, sad it might be to admit it, are they right and the voters are as simple-minded and as easily bought off as they are suspected to be?

Brad Ruting writes: Re. “Sinclair Davidson: No clever policy, no innovation” (today’s Budget edition, item 18). Sinclair Davidson argues that: “The changed thresholds and tax offsets [in the Budget] do reduce so-called high effective marginal tax rates for low-income earners. But the Government could, for example, have cut the 40% tax rate. That would provide a massive inducement for low- and middle-income earners to increase their efforts”. What a load of rubbish. The 40% marginal tax rate cuts in an income of $180,000 and above. Exactly how much extra “effort” would a low-income earner have to put in to earn that amount of money? There’s only 24 hours in a day. Improving the equity of income distribution and making sure everyone contributes to society — one of the main reasons we have taxation— — s better achieved through reducing effective marginal tax rates for lower-income earners, raising tax bracket thresholds, and improving the opportunities everyone has to do well in life. Reducing tax rates for the very rich just isn’t the same, Professor Davidson.

Diana Simmonds writes: Re. “Shane Maloney: nice Bert, shame about the ears” (today’s Budget edition, item 26). Shane Maloney’s contribution to Budget coverage was the best thing I’ve read in 24 hours of Budget blether. Thank you and thank him so much for a great piece of work. There should be more of this fiscally responsible writing.

Tony Wheeler writes: Perhaps the Crikey Budget lock-out is because online news media didn’t exist during the era of black & white TV. Could Rudd be right?

Frank Golding writes: If Crikey is being locked out of the Budget briefing because the Treasurer doesn’t like what it publishes, the Straits Times should suffer the same fate, with its record. “It’s a horror budget” screamed their headline. More income tax; higher prices for alcohol, cigarettes and petrol; squeezes in defence, education and welfare expenses — all these and more are fleshed out over pages 1 and 4. The date? August 16, 1978. The Treasurer? John Howard, who was quoted as saying, “There was no way that this government would sacrifice economic temperance for short-term political praise.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The Qantas sale:

David Howell writes: Re. “Qantas planes still fly, the sun still rises in the east” (Monday, item 9). Michael Pascoe is clearly wrong on a number of points. He claimed that the Qantas board had “to recommend the bid to allow shareholders to decide”. Would any bid for Qantas, even at five cents a share, have to be recommended by the board? Pascoe can’t imagine anyone in “the big end of town” telling “the likes of” James Packer or Peter Cosgrove that they’re incompetent and a disgrace. Plenty of big-enders, including Kerry Packer, told James Packer that he was incompetent when One.Tel went under. Even James Packer later admitted that one. And Cosgrove has no history as a businessman, competent or otherwise. But more importantly, just because a board member is perceived by a business writer as being powerful, does that put them beyond even the very notion of criticism? Mr Pascoe claims that the board “allowed the market to work”. Has he completely forgotten the fiasco of the failed takeovers and collapses in the 1980s? Has he never heard of the likes of Alan Bond or Laurie Connell? There was much gushing at the time by business writers of the great talents of these figures. Has he forgotten the fate — after an ill-advised takeover — of another iconic Australian airline, Ansett? It is clearly inappropriate for a board to recommend an unstable leveraged buyout, especially one that relies on an illegal level of foreign share ownership. If this takeover had succeeded, Qantas would, of course, have been asset-stripped and, as even the proponents for the takeover admit, the airline could easily have gone broke. Next time, less sycophancy and more analysis is required from Mr Pascoe.

Andrew Guild writes: Great announcement on QF flight as it landed in Auckland the other day. As you probably know Qantas code-shares with American Airlines and BA … “Ladies and Gentlemen … Qantas American Airlines and British Airways welcomes you to Auckland”. No comma or breath between the word “Qantas” and the words “American Airways”. It had 300 passengers thinking the deal had been done!

Pilots, airline service and sleep deprivation:

John Spehr writes: Re. John Newton’s comment about the pilots (yesterday, comments): In the pre-AWB days when Rio Tinto iron ore producer, Hamersley Iron (now Pilbara Iron), still had union representation, there were similar occurrences of the tail wagging the dog: The train drivers of the longest trains in the world (two kilometres!), were members of the Federated Engine Drivers (now part of the CFMEU), and known to protect their award conditions relentlessly. The local nickname for their union was The Koala Bears (…protected species!). One of these conditions was the provision of an esky for the 4-to-5 hour trip to their destination at Dampier from either of the inland mining towns. These eskys were a weight-watcher’s nightmare; they contained a cooked chicken, cold cuts of ham, all manner of salad items, fruit, cheese & crackers, fruit juice cans and so on. It was said that anyone who lived in the same street as a train driver could halve their grocery bills at the supermarket, so well (over)stocked were the eskys. One night a train was delayed when the driver refused to begin his journey because the ham in his esky was cut too thick. The supervisor (or more accurately the train driver’s valet), had to journey into the town mess and get it re-cut. And he did! On another occasion, the caterer had run out of small juice cans and supplied a large one in lieu: the driver demanded that small tins be procured from the local supermarket “or this train is going nowhere”. His demand was quickly met. Times have changed, but it is interesting to hear/read the comments about AWA’s today: Those who favour the Coalition, cite mining as an example of how good they are; that is because mining companies pay good money, have maintained the previously won conditions for leave etc, and led the way to introducing them, long before the Coalition jagged control of the Senate (through a Labor preference bungle). Conversely, those who want to change them are swayed by the reports of unscrupulous employers in vulnerable, low-paid industries with little “buying power”. Bad news usually travels a lot quicker (and further) than good. Time will tell.

Ken Lambert writes: Virgin — by kids, for kids. I am uneasy about flying with floral-shirted jokers who sell me a coffee for $4.50 and attempt puerile humour mid-air. Let’s face it, the major costs of running an airline are: planes, maintenance, fuel, pilots and crew, scheduling, shopfront and landing fees. Where do you get your cost edge over the competition? Planes, fuel, maintenance, scheduling and landing fees should all be the same for all operators. Shopfront might get a slight edge if you use the internet only, but doesn’t everybody? Ah!… that leaves the pilots and crew… pay them less or work them harder might be the answer to bigger bucks… I don’t know about you, but if the choice is crashing with a teenage moron in a Hawaiian shirt, or paying extra for a properly rested and regulated pilot to get me safely home, I’m for re-regulation of the kiddies who turned Ansett’s Golden Wing clubs into mini-golf ranges and benchtops for more Branson bullsh-t.

Leon Gouletsas writes: With sleep-deprivation running rife for pilots, air traffic controllers and truck drivers, not to mention the rest of us, it is rather timely that some tech-head US scientists have recently developed a brain-wave machine to simulate deep sleep, giving a full night’s sleep in just a few hours. Be sure to see these outfitted in homes and offices everywhere, with mandatory power naps ordered by the boss “for safetys sake”, coupled with some lifestyle drugs in case it doesn’t do the trick. Just be careful of that sleep inertia waking up. Let’s thank technology for helping us stay at work longer.


Richard Hurford writes: Re. “A beginner’s guide to election speculation” (yesterday, item 8). Regarding possible election timing: Another reason for Howard to delay past September is that Justice Callinan’s term on the High Court expires on 1 September. The High Court has become more and more politicised over Howard’s term (much like the US Supreme Court). Howard would not want a new Labor government to fill Callinan’s conservative seat with a more liberal appointee. Just another reason to hold off and not go early.

The Logies:

Lauren O’Neill writes: Re. “Logies reward chequebook journalism?” (yesterday, item 4). I didn’t bother watching the Logies, and now I’m glad I didn’t with such embarrassingly self-absorbed acceptance speeches such as Ray Martin’s. Frontline’s Mike Moore couldn’t have done better himself.

Australian Story:

Michael Fisk writes: Re. “Australian Story gives a free kick to Aussie conman Peter Foster” (yesterday, item 24). Is it something they put in the Crikey water Kool-er? Various contributors have taken essentially the same pot shot at Australian Story over the years, but none has been as blatantly dishonest as Glenn Dyer, “Australian Story gives a free kick to Aussie conman Peter Foster” item 24 yesterday. The show was a rollicking look at Foster’s notorious career and anything but a “hagiography”. For one thing, it included Foster’s former solicitor, Sean Cousins, airing new allegations of theft and fraud, while every other scam he’s ever been involved in over the years was given a mention. That’s a free kick? Fortunately Crikey readers can watch the repeat of the show on Saturday and decide for themselves who they are going to believe –themselves or Glenn Dyer’s lying eyes (to mangle a phrase). His take on the Alexander Downer story, “unquestioning”, is just as unfounded. Yes, that was Mike Carlton we all saw flaying Downer over Iraq. Australian Story gave him enough rope — its standard approach — and he hung himself. Fortunately not all media outlets adopt Crikey’s “tell ’em what they should think” approach to journalism. As for Dyer trying to sool ABC management onto the show, how about Crikey publisher Eric Beecher watches the Foster show and ask Dyer why he has deliberately misrepresented it?

Nathan Campbell writes: It’s worth noting that Queensland viewers saw nothing of the controversial Australian Story Foster feature — ABC Queensland ran a repeat of an older profile and even blocked the pay-TV transmission of the NSW ABC programming.

Nuclear Power:

Kirrilee Boyd writes: James Eggins (yesterday, comments) fails to realise that the authors of the nuclear energy analysis he is so keen to promote (the University of Sydney Energy Balance Report) concur with the authors he is so keen to dismiss (Messrs Storm van Leeuwen and Smith). The figures from both reports reveal that the energy payback-time for a nuclear reactor is in the order of 10 years. The range from the Sydney report is 5.6 -14.1 years. The range from Storm van Leeuwen is 6.2 – 14.4 years. It is also curious for Eggins to present “a planned construction time” of a reactor as an accurate representation of the actual time required to establish a reactor. As there are multiple steps required besides construction, and the nuclear industry has a history of underestimating the time and the cost of nuclear reactors in order to get contract approval.

Vegetarianism and Greenhouse gas emissions:

Animal Liberation committee member Geoff Russell writes: Tristan Krautz (yesterday, comments) is right that when considering optimal diets, Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not the only consideration — but with methane at three times pre-industrial levels and livestock being the biggest human source of methane (about double that of rice), and (according to the UN and our own Greenhouse Office) the driving force behind deforestation, it is extremely important. For methane figures see here. I also consider animal pain and suffering as worthy of significant consideration and am currently under some criticism from other animal protection people because I think the risks posed by global warming warrant advice against red meat, even when it might increase consumption of chicken — which involves more animal suffering. Much of what Tim Thomas wrote about the dairy industry was also correct. Hence, the results from the University of Chicago study last year which put the GHG emissions of a person consuming a dairy products above those of a person eating a similar amount of poultry. I would urge Tristan and Tim to see here. Certainly the results of such an analysis would be a little different, but our chicken and pig industries are fairly similar to those in the US. As for Ms Parry, her particular diet probably makes her part of an even smaller minority than my own vegan diet.

Michael Brougham writes: Although it wasn’t my experience growing up just outside the Adelaide Hills, Tim Thomas (yesterday, comments) is probably right when he states that meat animals are generally kept on land unsuitable for cropping (I once visited a cattle station just out of Alice, and I pity any stalk of wheat trying to survive in the dry red dirt those cows called home). I confess that my switch to vegetarianism was a reaction to slaughterhouse practices and my rampant acid reflux rather than any logical consideration of environmental issues, and that any consideration of those issues is far too complex for one protein-starved brain to process adequately. However, just to get a petty point in return, Tim should know that there are very few cases in which “Michael” is spelt with the e before the a, and I’m not one of them. So there.

Crikey and the media:

Kerry Lewis writes: Re. Kate McDonald (Monday, comments) — so what’s so different between Crikey and what we euphemistically call “media” and news delivery now? Especially in view of the fact that so much of the rest is owned by so few, slanted so much and finally passed off as a “news/media service” to so many!


Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 2: “There are five discreet players in the voting chain …”. That’s not impossible, but I think what he means is that there are five “discrete” players. Item 6: “All Budgets sink without a stone within a week …”. Sink “like” a stone, perhaps? Or without a trace.

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