Hey Joe, we’re sorry:

Christian Kerr writes: Re. The political slip of the year (yesterday, item 13). Sorry Joe. We were misled by an ABC transcript. Yes, you mentioned “AWUs” once on Lateline on Wednesday night, but you didn’t say “People on AWB are earning nearly twice as much as people who are on an award”. Our fault. Mind you, while what you say might be true in certain industries in areas enjoying the fruits of the resources boom but suffering skills shortages, we’d love it if you could produce a worker in a suburban sandwich shop on an AWA whose pay packet backs up your assertion.

Lots of migrants, employment and resource shortage:

Ronald Watts writes: Re. “300,000 migrants next year — but keep it to yourself” (yesterday, item 1). So… we have housing shortages, water shortages, power shortages, crammed roads and hospitals, Third World trains… and what do we do? Bring in more people to join the party. Somewhere there has to be a non-racist, moderate, clear-thinking political party that sees this, and gives the electorate a chance to shoo the purple elephant from the room. But so far, I haven’t found one. It seems politically incorrect even to raise the subject at dinner parties, yet it is corroding our future. While mainstream parties in France, Germany, Italy and the UK have immigration debates with racist undertones, our parties won’t touch it, even without. Who asked us if we wanted this? Our intake should probably be around 45-50,000 a year until we consume more responsibly. All we’re doing now is converting people with low per capita consumption into profligate Australians, on a huge scale.

Glen Daly writes: The article by Michael Pascoe on migration is a timely reminder of just how dishonest the Howard Government has been on this issue. The fact that none of the other parties have exposed this reflects poorly on them as well. Goodness me, we wouldn’t want to upset those two powerful forces in Australian politics, the Boosters Club and the ethnic lobby, would we? Might appear racist and/or anti- business. So, as Australia heads towards an environmental and consequent social disaster we will just keep crowding in more bodies to share the grief. Two words describe it — greed and stupidity.

Allan Lehepuu writes: I’m not certain if Michael Pascoe is in favour of 300,000 new migrants or not. I am impressed that Australia has an economy that is absorbing so many new people each year without blowing out the unemployment rate. And that 300,000 people can navigate the immigration hurdles, without breaking Australian laws, to be welcomed into Australian society. Bravo, Michael for raising a topic that would normally have a commentator being accused as a racist or a Hanson-lover.

Darryl Owens, managing director of Impact Personnel, writes: Re. Michael Pascoe on immigration. Can someone tell this genius that there is a major skill shortage not only in Australia but also places like the UK. We can not find top quality skill candidates to fill jobs, if we don’t go and get them from overseas, where would they come from? Historic low unemployment with a skills shortage, it does not take too much of a brain to work out that there are more jobs available than there are people prepared to work. We are a recruitment agency and because of that skills shortage have opened office in London with immigration agency, we have also had to obtain a strategic partnership with an agency in China to fulfill our clients needs. Can people stop blaming John Howard for our country’s success and stop complaining about our labour shortage and that our jobs suck; with the current climate if you don’t like your job, come and see me, we have heaps.

Niall Clugston writes: Both Michael Pascoe and Christian Kerr (“A glitch in the WorkChoices script” (yesterday, item 12) position WorkChoices as a factor in limiting wages growth and, hence, inflation. However, it is hard to believe that the legislation had such a rapid effect on the complex economic forces at play. And the use of AWAs remains at a low level. Besides the immigration intake that Pascoe mentions, the continuous decline in union membership since 1976 must surely be a reason that the average workers have not seen wage rises commensurate with their theoretical “market power”. The army of casual workers in particular does not have a strong bargaining position.

WorkChoices:

Pamela Curr writes: Re. “Howard’s $5-a-week miracle. Be grateful” (yesterday, item 9). Howard’s “Fairness” test has successfully got the Canberra Press Gallery off his case but done nothing for workers in retail and hospitality. No low-income earner is getting a cent more but who cares. A young girl I know working at the local supermarket is now earning $88 less per fortnight. Something overlooked by spin doctors and sycophants is that it is not only real battlers too low to rate as a Howard battler who are getting screwed. What Howard’s mob and the Canberra press gallery have not realised is that even some of the Coalition’s own are being stung by WorkChoices? It is the sons and daughters of Coalition voters, working part-time while studying at university etc who are being done by retail and hospitality employers. Next time you down a latte in Carlton and Fitzroy, ask how much that lovely girl serving is being paid — chances are it is $10/$12 an hour cash in hand. The boy at the supermarket will be on the books at $12 an hour if he is lucky. Notify Office of Workplace Standards, as I did and they will do nothing, even though they will say that they are launching a campaign for 19-25-year-old workers. No wonder business is screaming about losing WorkChoices. They have never had it better.

Mary Jenkins, secretary, Australia National Organisation of the Underemployed, writes: PM John Howard’s spin on low unemployment offers little hope to many employed youth today. Why is there so many healthy young males stuck in, often casual, checkout chick jobs? What future does this work offer them? Why aren’t these young people involved in skills training that will offer them a lucrative future? Government and employers have been moaning about skills shortage for years but have done nothing to address the problem. Instead, many youth have been shafted into retail trade jobs that used to be done by mature women. Older women were sacked and replaced by young people. The result has been a complete retail trade failure from the customer perspective. Cheerful friendly service was replaced by hung over sullen unsmiling youths who work at half the pace. They don’t look you in the eye and are only civil to those in their age group. Jobs in supermarkets offer little challenge once the initial glow of a first job has worn off. This may be why so many young people working in retail trade look so miserable. It may look good for the Government’s employment statistics but has grave implications for a future generation of prospective home buyers. A whole generation has been ignored and wasted by policymakers who have taken no responsibility for training a future skilled workforce. Employers want the easy option — to import workers as they have done in every boom time. Government red tape made it extremely difficult for employers to take on apprentices. Unions are blamed but who else will see fair play and safety for young workers forced into AWA? The real problem has been created by 10 years of government policy that failed to train young people in skills that the country needs. Shame Shame!

Broadband and business:

Simon Hoyle writes: Re. “Are broadband speeds really affecting business users?” (yesterday, item 4). I sometimes wonder about economics. Take the argument over who should pay for building real high-speed broadband infrastructure in Australia. “Consumers might want it, but that doesn’t mean the taxpayer should fund it,” Joshua Gans, professor of economics at Melbourne Business School, says. Aren’t taxpayers and consumers, very largely, one and the same people? And, there’s simply no way the diagram you published yesterday could possibly be the diagram that Malcolm Turnbull will not release — it contains way too much detail for the $10 billion so-called “policy” to have been based on.

Adam Paull writes: Professor Gans dismissing Australian business’s need for “real” broadband misses a vital point… The economic benefits of high-speed broadband to rural centres would be enormous. Australia has become a city-centric country — if you don’t live in the big smoke, you basically don’t have access to decent jobs, higher education, medical facilities, transport, etc. As a country boy myself, I was living in the city before the ink was dry on my final HSC exam, as was the vast majority of my fellow classmates. The exodus of the rural youth over the past few decades have created an enormous city-country chasm — to the point where some country towns are dying while cities are struggling with overcrowded trains, clogged roads, choking fumes, ridiculously high living costs, water supply problems, etc, etc. Broadband availability to struggling rural areas is the first piece of the puzzle to addressing that imbalance. People will have the option of moving to more tranquil, less expensive areas while still being able to do work over the internet. Businesses will be able to move some or all of their operations to cheaper regions and bring employment opportunities to the bush. There’ll be fewer cars on the road, more space on our trains and buses, less demand for city housing … all enormous social and economic benefits (unless you own a block of flats in Sydney of course). Broadband should be seen as an essential public utility, just like water, sewage, electricity and phones (remember it was the taxpayer who funded the original copper network, not Telstra) and the Federal Government should start digging the trenches tomorrow. If we build it, we’ll control it, and we won’t be at the mercy of a narrow-minded, profit-hungry phone company. Oh, and just for the record: George Lucas was sitting comfortably in Moore Park, Sydney, during the shooting of the last two Star Wars movies — it only looked liked he phoned it in…

Kevin Cox writes: Joshua Gans suggests that we do not need high-speed broadband because the economic case has not been made. Here are a few back-of-the-envelope calculations that suggest that there is an economic case on productivity of existing tasks alone. I spend 50% of my time working from home and 50% from a CBD site. Both sites have ADSL broadband. All my correspondence is done by email, I use online service providers for most office tasks, I use search engines several times a day, I communicate with Skype and do all financials online. None of these are advanced applications requiring massive amounts of Internet speed, yet each day I waste at least 30 minutes waiting on slow or broken down broadband. My calculations are based on detailed timing and my estimates are probably low because I do not take into account the lost time on unnecessary task switching. The delays and outages are getting worse not better as the software and systems I use are increasingly dependent on high speed broadband and not slow speed ADSL and with every day the delays get worse. If I am typical of 1,000,000 workers in Australia (and I suspect there are more than that) and if my productivity is 5% lower than it could be and if each office worker costs a company about $100,000 a year then the loss caused by slow broadband of communication delays and outages in this area alone is $5 billion each year. Slow broadband is costing Australia immense amounts of money already and we do not have to wait for the economic case of future applications to justify high speed broadband today.

Carbon trading:

Mark Byrne writes: Re. “Carbon trading just like so much moon cheese” (yesterday, item 14). Humphrey McQueen makes excellent points on carbon trading. It should be noted that there are different carbon trading schemes, offering several options. Some schemes are more effective than others, some are simpler than others. But given Prime Minister’s selection of the emissions trading taskforce, it is likely that we will be lumped with a scheme that gives away all our “carbon-credits” as a windfall to the biggest polluters. The question is; have “the greenies” been so worn down by the inaction of this Government that they would surrender to a carbon trading scheme that is relatively less effective? Sharon Beder compares the different ways that Germany and the USA tackled sulphur emissions (the cause of acid rain). Germany enforced mandatory emissions limits on all producers leading to a 90% cut by 1998. The USA established an emissions trading scheme, which has is still trying to give a 50% emissions cut by 2010.

Simon Rumble writes: Humphrey McQueen, quoting Burroughs’ saying “they don’t want your money; they want all your money” should point out that Burroughs was talking about wh-res, not bond traders … Oh, now I see.

The people aren’t listening:

Steven Cavanagh writes: Re. “Government yaps, public tunes out” (yesterday, item 10). After reading yet another round of political commentary from Crikey and elsewhere I am still amazed by the fact that many out there in “political commentary land” seem to have missed the obvious as to why Kevin Rudd is ahead in the polls. Yes, the economy is going strong and people are still spending like drunken sailors with what appears to be little regard to the future. Or are they? If the political commentators were to either walk outside or put their heads out a window, and take off they overly dark sunglasses, they might just see the reason for John Howard’s predicament. If they did, they might just realise that the skies are blue, yes that’s right — clear blue, and the trees, shrubs and grass are a nasty shade of brown. In case this is still not obvious enough for the political chattering class the answer is WATER! We are running out of it fast and it looks like the hopeful signs of rain in the future are dissipating quickly. Here, in south-eastern Australia, one regularly sees rain predicted but, alas, none ever falls. We see people praying for rain, but none arrives. People also know that unless it rains soon, and a lot, cities are going to run out of drinking water all the while watching their beloved gardens die and what remnant of wildlife that visited their gardens disappear. Not to mention the quite considerable and inevitable changes this will cause to their lifestyles. So here is a prediction, John W. Howard has sown the seed of his own destruction through his eleven years of climate change denial, lack of funding for infrastructure and for water in particular, constant buck passing of responsibility for — and meddling in state water resource issues and now the “chuck it together” $10 billion quick political fix for the Murray-Darling basin. The political commentators may not like the Greens, but they do have a point when they say that without water we have no economy to speak of, something the average Australian punter seems to get. Now add to this AWAs, AWB, Iraq, etc. Any wonder people have stopped listening?

A napkin analysis:

Woff Hill writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Besides the commentary on the analysis of the cause of the drought, and the complex solution, as displayed on the Turnbull napkin, where’s the hard-hitting analysis by Crikey? What was the make-up of the food stain on the lower corner. That’s the sort of thing we are after here!

Coke wars and law:

Bruce Graham writes: Re. “Coke Wars fire up at the Bar” (yesterday, item 15). Peter Faris is right about a drug problem among lawyers. As a medical doctor married to a lawyer I have been concerned about this for almost 20 years, and have myself been witness to many instances where drug abuse caused major harm, both to health, and to careers. He is confused about the drug though. It is alcohol. Ethanol causes more deaths than all illicit drugs combined. Tobacco causes more deaths than all other drugs combined including alcohol, but that is a different problem. Tobacco, like coffee, probably does enhance mental performance. I have treated many lawyers who have died or whose careers have been derailed by alcohol. I cannot remember more than one or two who presented with major complications of an illicit drug — although amyl nitrate has been known to cause the odd ugly accident. Alcohol can be safely used. It seems broadly agreed that the American experiment with alcohol prohibition was a failure. The logic supporting safe controlled alcohol use is amenable to extension to other recreational drugs, some of which — such as cocaine, heroin, tetrahydrocannabinol and various benzodiazepines — are legal pharmaceuticals in at least some parts of the Western world. It is unfortunately symptomatic of the miasma of misinformation about harmful drugs, that so many people would argue about whether or not cocaine is a problem among successful lawyers and ignore endemic alcohol addiction.

Jim Carden writes: Greg Barnes accusing Peter Faris of promoting himself with controversial commentary? I must have had my irony filter switched on.

Jody Bailey writes: What a great idea, Andrew Collins (yesterday, comments). The old ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key unless they dob on their friends’ solution. Build bigger jails. Build more jails. Then fill ‘em up. What sort of a country is it that you want to live in, exactly, Andrew? I’m sure working, middle- and upper-class parents would love it that a generation of their progeny (because that is the social group that is most easily, therefore most certainly policed) be criminalised to salve your authoritarian bent. Is your no-tolerance stance based on social harmony and safety, or is it crude wowserism? If it were the former, surely you’d have a wide-ranging look at the effects of alcohol, tobacco and the driving habits of under-25-year-olds, as well as the detrimental effects of illicit drugs. Take it as fact: The war on drugs is an effective conservative-propaganda electoral lever, and an ineffective social engineering tool. Nothing more, nothing less.

Michael Brougham writes: Andrew Collins suggests that the simplest solution to the drug problem is mandatory jail time for both suppliers and users. I don’t know if it holds true for cocaine, but the handful of studies I’ve read on marijuana laws have all concluded that impact of threatening users with harsh penalties is practically negligible (one that springs to mind is the report of SA’s Drug and Alcohol Services Council on the impact of decriminalising cannabis in SA, available here). The overwhelming majority of those who give up the green stuff do so for health reasons, with the economic benefits of quitting and the social stigma of drug use also playing a role. Even in the unlikely event that a small-time user is caught and punished, they generally indicate that it will not deter them from using the drug in future. I imagine a similar logic operates for other illicit drugs. This suggests that if the intention is to minimise the number of people taking drugs, a campaign of health education is likely to be of far more benefit than clogging up the prison system with small-time drug users.

Oops:

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 1: “…but nothing on what’s keep average wage rises modest when market forces should be pushing them higher.” Should be “keeping”, not “keep”. Item 15: “And, then there is a colleague of says of Faris …”. Not sure what went wrong there — maybe the first “of” is supposed to be a “who”?. Item 24: “But the response of Sheik Hilaly to a good-humoured 1.5 minute skit entitled “Sheik Gaffe Tape” hardly warranted the response he gave.” His response hardly warranted itself? And the rogue apostrophe? It’s in item 13: “Nigel wins for his fun with the Ferguson’s.”

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Peter Fray

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