The Budget:

John Poppins writes: Re. “Is the Budget carbon-neutral? Um, not exactly” (yesterday, item 3). Crikey’s article was very informative. Thanks for the bar chart especially. As the happy owner of enough solar panels to push 2.5 Kilowatts of power back into the grid on a summer day I have already spent on a system bigger than the upper limit catered for by the old rebate. Our panels produce most power on hot days when our retailers are paying extremely high spot prices for peak power. The power the panels generate is absorbed with minimal loss by our immediate neighbours. It doesn’t load up or get lost on long- distance transmission lines. The power I generate is therefore more valuable than the same amount generated in the Latrobe Valley. Countries such as Germany and Spain recognise this higher value by paying several times the base price for solar power. It would be preferable to see this higher rate paid for the product here, rather than the simple increase in the rebate subsidy. At the same time a levy on “dirty” power in the form of a carbon tax would encourage more efficient use. The revenue should be applied to already proven simple measures to reduce climate change quickly. It is an indictment of successive Australian governments that, while we have the ideal situation to lead the world in solar energy usage (and did so a good many years ago) we now have only 60 megawatts installed. Germany and Japan together boast 1400 Megawatts, in spite of their climatic and space limitations.

Neil James, executive director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Re. “The Government’s buying, but is anyone selling?” (yesterday’s Budget edition, item 6). Charles Richardson again flashes his prejudices when discussing the possible vote-buying intentions of the federal Budget. Given the very small size of our defence force (even counting the families of members), and its dispersion across the country in many electorates, his accusation “… and of course the military” when discussing groups to be bought makes no sense in electoral terms. Any psephologist (or indeed historian) will tell him that the military do not vote in a block anyway and that no electorate in Australia would swing even if they did. Furthermore, borne of numerous disappointments and an entrenched apolitical culture (a real one, not like with the ABC), defence force personnel tend to have an instinctive distrust of political promises far in excess of that exhibited by the electorate generally.

Michael Fisk writes: Re. “Chasing a boost from the Budget” (yesterday, item 7). Could Christian Kerr please make up his mind! And yes, I do know he’d have to find it first. Yesterday he was recounting what little impact last year’s budget had on the polls and yet three times last week, twice in one item, he told us that the Budget was the “defining political event of the year”. I for one find it hard to understand why no one takes this Kerr chap seriously enough to let him into a budget lock-up.

David Hardie writes: Re. “How inaccurate will these forecasts be?” (yesterday’s Budget edition, item 9). What will the Labour Party do if they win the next Federal election? The standard post election “we cant follow through with all of our election promises because the budgetary situation is worse than we were led to believe” announcement will fall painfully flat if Stephen Mayne’s form guide on budget forecasting is accurate.

Jon Case writes: Re. “Between net and no, a debt-free furphy” (yesterday’s Budget edition, item 4). If, per Stephen Mayne, the Federal Government is not “net debt-free” as the Treasurer and others in the Coalition keep stating publicly, why is the TV and print media not following up and questioning this? Are there no economic commentators who agree with Mr Mayne on this?

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Look at the numbers — this is not an education Budget” (yesterday, item 14). Michael Knox’s analysis of the Budget highlights media misreporting but still misrepresents the essential issue. While defence may have received a relative increase, the bulk of federal spending remains in social security (including Medicare-related health funding). Moreover, this spending –unlike education — is managed directly from Canberra and is not percolated through state administrations. Essentially, we have an avowedly conservative Government indulging in a spree of ‘middle-class welfare’ — taxation promptly followed by its negation. Costello’s defence is that it is not a stimulus, i.e. it has no point whatsoever. A more sensible expenditure of the fiscal windfall would direct it towards dealing with infrastructure bottlenecks (particularly the ports, where the Commonwealth has constitutional power) and with the education of skilled tradespeople, rather than the much-vaunted sandstone university maintenance fund.

Bob Smith writes: Re. “Unpacking the education budget” (yesterday, item 11). Simon Marginson’s analysis of federal Budget initiatives on higher education shows just how limited is the ambit of the Government’s new-found interest in tertiary education. In addition to the gaps he identifies I suggest taking a hard look at two more. The first is the capacity of universities to identify and engage with the communities they work with. Layers of corporate management spend too much time talking to each other and not enough reaching out to current and intending students, actual and potential research partners and the wider communities of which mass universities are now part. The second is the capacity of tertiary institutions to manage resources. Rafts of management systems suck up data but yield insufficient information to promote good decision-making. Companies that managed themselves like universities would go broke; government agencies that took the same approach would be abolished. These questions suggest two more: have two decades of financial stringency and corporate management building had the perverse effect of cutting capacity to use new resources wisely; and, if so, who is going to do something about it?

Greg Poropat writes: The Federal Government is trumpeting its higher education endowment fund and the annual $330 million it will contribute to universities’ bricks and mortar. But how much funding would there be if Australia’s interest rates were like, say, those in most of Europe? About $190 million per annum with interest rates in the Euro area of 3.8%. Sweden’s rate of 3.3% would only produce $165 million. And what about Japan? With its interest rate of 0.5% there’d be a whopping $25 million a year, about enough for a good quality toilet block on each university campus. While Howard’s battlers struggle with one of the highest interest rate regimes in the developed world, his Government preys on their misfortune for its political benefit.

John Kotsopoulos writes: Costello’s so-called education revolution is a fraud as it fails to keep pace with spending achieved under Labor. It has also already broken a promise in that the money he is using from the Budget surplus is meant to go into the Future Fund. The education endowment fund is just a sneaky way of getting his hands on money which belongs to the Future Fund.

Bruce Smith writes: Brad Ruting (yesterday, comments) says that the 40% marginal tax rate cuts in above $180,000. In fact, it currently applies from $75,000 and last night’s Budget will increase the threshold to $80,000 in 2008-2009. With average salaries about $50,000, the jump to $75,000 is appreciable but not unattainable as Ruting suggests.

Rod Campbell-Ross writes: The Treasurer blew it on Tuesday night. It wasn’t a bad budget in conventional terms: a bit here, a bit there, but on the big issue of the day he (or rather, the Government) blew it. Energy is the defining issue of these times, both in its procurement (oil); and in its use (coal) and on this the few meagre crumbs were not just inadequate, they were insulting. Bob Brown is right — they don’t get it. Energy is not just some discrete issue like dental care. It is the fundamental defining issue of our times. It is the most important issue confronting us and there was virtually nothing in the Budget to mitigate the impact of imminent crisis. This is the first time I will vote in Australia. I always voted Conservative in the UK and the idea of voting Labor goes deeply against the grain. The big problem for me is that I am not sure that Labor get “it” (energy) either. They have at least said they will sign up to Kyoto. Good. But they have given no indication that they understand what is happening with global oil production. They really do need to get on board quickly, because oil may be more urgent than climate. So, the Government, having had my vote in the bag, so to speak, have lost it. I will now vote Green, with a secondary preference for Labor. That way, I do not vote Labor directly and I can at the same time punish the Government with the only tool they fear: a small x.

Craig Cadby writes: Why do journalists amplify the propaganda that the Howard Government is stronger on economic issues than Labor? Just because Howard says they are does not mean it is true. Labor created the wave that Howard has been surfing by floating the dollar and setting up compulsory superannuation which is responsible for setting our stockmarket alight. Add to that a minerals export boom that is due to external influences and would have occurred whether Libs were in government or not. They have created surpluses at the expense of Indigenous Australians, university applicants who can’t get placements, the environment, and all sorts of infrastructure investment that would provide for the future once the minerals have boom is over. In over 10 years, there has been no major economic initiatives implemented besides the GST. Where is the necessary large-scale tax reform? They take all of our money but only marginal constituents benefit when they give it back. Superior economic managers?

Joanna Mendelssohn writes: It’s pretty clear Howard wants to keep generation Y off the electoral roll. There’s nothing in this Budget for students who are dealing with overcrowded classes (class numbers have doubled in size over the last decade), nor are there any tax breaks for those working part-time while they study. For students whose parents can’t/won’t support them Austudy keeps up its punitive regime of paying a miserly allowance while requiring students to tell Centrelink about every dollar they earn — and giving them whopping penalties if they have the temerity to live together or earn a little bit extra.

Robert Anderson writes: Budget? With the imminent loss of the next election and no real vision for the future of Australia, the Howard Government has its back to the wall. It seems that they have no option but to try and adopt Labor’s policy directions, especially the social and education policies. To augment this, they are again using the good old Howard “banana republic” device of massive election bribery. This situation has occurred because after they won the 1996 election, the Howard Government either abolished or drastically cut back the previous Labor government’s programs, causing insecurity and hardship for many people, especially families. I believe the Australian electorate will see through the Howard Government’s manipulations and will no longer accept this situation. Budget? Bribery!

Graeme Major writes: It is easy to work out why Peter Costello excludes Crikey from his budget lock-up every year. He takes exception to being called Dollar Sweetie. It took me ages to work out who you meant when I first came across the nick name. I am still irritated. And I don’t even like the guy. If you were aware of just how annoying your habit of trying to be funny in this way with names is, you would drop the practice. Crikey is good in so many ways but has no talent at all in this brand of humour.

Terrorism spending:

Michael Wunderlich writes: Re. “$20.5 million hints at boom times for terror” (yesterday, item 12). In response to Greg Barns item on terror, I have to stand up for the facility of the National Security Hotline as I was the original catalyst for it’s inception. I’ve come across other security concerns that I have duly reported including open access to the old Reserve Bank building in Victoria Square, Adelaide (it contained part of the Attorney-General’s office), which had a diesel-fuel (I believe 2000Lt) storage facility in it for the back-up generator … it happened to be next-door to the State Administration Building. Then there was the laminated sheet showing the car-bomb blast data, from the US ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms) which was found (by a friend) on Port Road, Woodville and handed to South Australia Police in mid 2001. It sat in the evidence room at that police station gathering dust until an asst. police commissioner was appointed to a new state-based anti-terrorism committee and I rang his office to enquire what had happened to it. These were some of my experiences, and I appreciate the existence of the hotline, as it cuts away the jurisdictional problems that I found prior to its inception.

Pilots and airline staff:

Mike Bysouth writes: Re. “Pilots tell: Fatigue an insidious threat to aviation safety” (yesterday, item 17). My 25-year-old son is an IT engineer and is currently doing his commercial pilot’s licence part-time and comments: “Pilot 2 is spot on! I’ve spent around $20,000 so far — all borrowed from the bank, and I’m not even half-way there. That’s why it’s so hard to walk away from the IT industry. How many people would become doctors if they had to pay up-front?”

Jim Hart writes: I share Ken Lambert’s disquiet (yesterday, comments) about flying with Branson’s band of wacky, zany, madcap facepainters. And one trip with Jetstar’s team of work-experience school kids was quite enough. At least the Qantas cabin crews still act like they work for an airline not a commercial radio station. But why can’t airlines let me be a passenger? Somehow, I’m a passenger when I book my ticket online, then, as soon as I get to the airport, Qantas calls me a customer and Virgin say I’m their guest. (Can’t remember what Jetstar called me — probably “hey you”.) And here’s another mystery — why do I have to show photo ID if I front up to the counter staff but not if I do the auto check-in? It’s OK — I don’t expect an answer as I’m sure the explanation is shrouded in security.

Taking IT and communications industries seriously:

Tony Simpson MLA, Opposition spokesman for IT and communications (WA), writes: Re. “In search of media policy beyond the norm” (Tuesday, item 19). In response to Margaret Simons’s article in Tuesday’s Crikey, I would like to add that part of the blame for IT and communications companies like Project Goth moving overseas must lie with the Western Australian State Government. Project Goth, which runs the Mig33 website, is an innovative and entrepreneurial small company that is managing to succeed in the competitive world of internet and mobile communications. These are industries that Australia will have to succeed in if we are to continue our unprecedented period of economic growth, once the commodities boom ends. So far, the Western Australian Labor State Government has completely failed to support businesses in these industries. It has also failed to foster a business environment where these businesses can thrive. The result is plain for all to see. Companies like Project Goth will continue to move offshore until the state governments begin to take the IT and communications industries seriously.

Perks and rorts:

Peter Colley, national research director, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, writes: John Spehr (yesterday, comments) repeats one of the many stories about alleged perks and rorts by workers at Rio Tinto iron ore mines back in the “bad old days” before AWAs were made compulsory for all new employees. Would this be the same Rio Tinto that currently pays its directors an allowance of A$5000 for any plane flight between 5 and 10 hours long, and A$10,000 for any flight over 10 hours? (Rio Tinto Annual Report 2006, page 75). And no doubt the seats taken are first-class. The perks and rorts may be long gone down at the minesite (whether they are unionised or not), but are alive and well at executive level.

Bioethics:

Catherine James writes: Re. “Victoria’s cloning legislation: what happened to the review process?” (Friday, item 11). I know it’s already history for Crikey, but congratulations for publishing the Friday piece from the consultant ethicist (Dr Tonti-Filippini) on the cloning legislation in Victoria. I sent a copy of that article to another 20-odd people — something I rarely bother to do. No one seems to be talking about the speed, the force and the money that went into getting that legislation through. I read yesterday of an international big-shot scientist appointed to a Melbourne university to head up the research arm that involves cloning. There is a jigsaw here that merits more attention. Sure, the pollies said their respective electorates are not interested in the issue, hence the lack of consultation, but perhaps it’s because they make it sound so complicated. I’m just wondering how long it will take until the legislation needs to be taken back to Parliament because of the human-rights abuses that are sure to hit. Maybe then the mainstream media will take the time to examine this legislation more closely. Don’t let the issue drop Crikey. Keep those pollies off their lazy behinds.

Australian Story:

Darryl Calderwood writes: Have to agree with Michael Fisk (yesterday, comments) regarding Peter Foster and Australian Story, rather than a free kick, I thought they portrayed Foster for what he is — a total swerve. Sometimes I worry about Glenn, and rather than carpeting him, I reckon Eric should check out what he’s smoking.

John Hamer writes: Re. Michael Fisk’s comments, my wife and I watched the show and were gobsmacked by the amazingly pro-Foster story. Talk about getting conned by the conman. Foster’s former solicitor, Sean Cousins may have alluded to another theft and fraud, but overall he presented a very partisan view of Foster. Australian Story even had Foster’s mother saying what a sweet innocent son he is. No mention of the thousands of people he has conned over the years. I just couldn’t believe the ABC would put such a story to air. Michael Fisk must have watched a different show to the one I viewed. I want to let Glenn know how spot on I thought his comments were.

Blogwatch:

Robyn Webb writes: Re. “Blogwatch” (yesterday, item 25). The blog entry “Hamas joins the Mickey Mouse Club” is alarming for a number of reasons. The reported content and audience is one. The next is the origin of the report: from Palestinian Media Watch. This is an Israeli website that purports to gain an understanding of Palestinian society through the monitoring of Palestinian media and schoolbooks. Their “in-depth” reports appear to be all (or mostly) written by the director, Itamar Marcus. The articles are targeted to hatred and violence, and do not mention the occupation, the deteriorating living conditions in Gaza and the West Bank, the home demolitions or the attempts by Arab people (including Hamas) to engage and negotiate with Israel. I note that Gaza border crossing closures and recent offers for mediation by the Emir of Qatar (declined by Israel), are not mentioned on the website of the PMW. Nor is the recent Arab Peace Initiative. These all impact Palestinian society and are mentioned in their media. In addition, the “Articles & Lectures” are from 2001-2004 and only from selected sources that do not provide an equitable view of the lives and conditions of Palestinian people. It includes reports from the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli newspaper, but not reports from Palestinian news sources, Poverty Watch, the United Nations, or other international newspapers. I don’t read or speak Arabic, so I don’t know if the subtitles match the program’s content. However, given the views and content of the PMW, I would be getting an independent Arab translation before accepting this.

Nuclear Power:

James Eggins writes: Re. Nuclear power. I promise this is my last contribution. I must have read the wrong report (Kirrilee Boyd — yesterday, comments). In my version, the University of Sydney report says, unadorned and unadulterated: the energy intensity of nuclear power “is lower than that of any fossil-fuelled technology”, and the Greenhouse gas intensity of nuclear power “is lower than that of any fossil-fuelled technology” (page 171, with instructive comparative table on page 172) and on page 66 tabulates the discrepancies in Messrs Storm van Leeuwen and Smith’s various studies. There is little to quibble about regarding energy payback (6 1/2 years is good); and we shouldn’t confuse the construction delays in the US nuclear program in the ’70s and ’80s with any inherent technical problem. Look instead at construction times in France, Finland (yes, running behind schedule but still under six years), Japan, Korea, China. My point is that nuclear energy is not a bad package when judged fairly with the alternatives, and I can’t understand why its critics need to make up stories to support their own antagonism towards the technology.

Methane and red meat:

Andrew Dempster writes: Just on the methane and red-meat thing (yesterday, comments), and sorry this is a question rather than an answer, but given that kangaroo is a reasonable substitute for beef in a culinary sense, is it also a winner on the amount of methane produced? It would certainly win on other counts (such as your earlier “water diet” criteria).

Oops:

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 2: “What about more first homeowner help — or abolishment of stamp duty”. Abolishment? What happened to “abolition”?

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