David Hicks:

Garth Wong writes: Re. “Hicks, hysteria and a touch of hyperbole” (yesterday, item 15). I agree totally with SA Acting Premier Kevin Foley and his comments on David Hicks. Greg Barns states with absolute certainty at the worst, Hicks was a foolish young man. I beg to disagree. He joined al-Qaeda of his own free will and fought with the Taliban, abandoning his family and parents to train and participate in a terrorist organisation intent on destroying Australia and the rest of the Western countries by any means, violent or otherwise. That is treason and as far as I am concerned, as a treasonous traitor he should forfeit his rights to any protection as an Australian citizen. I have absolutely no sympathy for him and he is lucky he was not shot after being captured instead of being handed over to the Americans for interrogation and imprisonment at Guantanamo. To add insult to injury, it has cost the Australian Government and the taxpayer, over $300,000 to fly him back to serve out his light nine-month sentence here. Let alone the cost of legal aid extended to him which would also be in the hundreds of thousands.

Tamas Calderwood writes: Greg Barns and I obviously differ on what “sensible and rational” people should think about David Hicks. Far from considering him a “foolish young man”, I prefer to take Hicks and his al-Qaeda ilk at their word and for their actions. Hicks met Osama Bin Laden well after a series of terrorist incidents carried out by al-Qaeda (USS Cole, US African embassy bombings). He helped to translate terrorist training manuals into English. He fired shots across the Pakistani border at Indian troops. After September 11, he took up arms and returned to Afghanistan intending to fight Western troops. Hicks has spoken in favour of a worldwide Islamic caliphate and for the downfall of Western society. He has pleaded guilty to aiding a terrorist organisation that is responsible for the deaths of over 100 Australians. One day soon, David Hicks is going to have to explain all this to the Australian public. I look forward to hearing what he has to say for himself — although I suspect many of his cheerleaders won’t.

Jon Case writes: Is David Hicks’s return the end of the political pain for the Howard Government? The answer to this question is probably “yes”, but should be, and remains for some, a resounding “no”. David Hicks may be “the scum of the earth”, or a misguided idealist highly dangerous to Australian interests, or “just a very naughty boy” as some would like to believe; but, in truth, this was never about David Hicks the person. It was always about David Hicks as a symbol of the Federal Government’s abrogation of basic legal principles and human rights; and the subjugation of Australia’s interests to that of our bullying “Big Brother”, the United States. This issue is also a test for the Opposition in the lead-up to the election. Under Beazley, they meekly mirrored, and in some abortive cases even tried to outflank on the extreme, the Coalition. Witness the “Australian Values Test”. While under Rudd’s probing as foreign affairs spokesman and now as Opposition Leader, there seems to have been a substantial repositioning, I suspect that any change in polling on this issue may cause the Opposition to feel from the negative “weak on terrorism. weak on border protection” campaign the Government will no doubt run in the lead-up. The Opposition has the opportunity to run a strong campaign about being “strong on human rights principles” and “strong on the protection of the weak and unrepresented”. Will they have the guts to do this?

Jim Hart writes: I’m so glad that News Ltd told me how “The Gulfstream jet which transported Hicks is a luxurious, long-range corporate aircraft with Rolls Royce engines and leather seats.” I’m sure Alexander Downer would have ordered a Gulfstream with Holden engines and vinyl seats if he could.

Government advertising:

Norelle Feehan writes: Re. “Government ads reach fever pitch” (yesterday, item 8). … and you didn’t even get to mention how many there were on SBS, it was like a government-sponsored weekend!

David Lodge writes: Your quote: “The Workplace Relations System. Know where you stand. Australia’s workplace relations system has a set of rules and obligations that all employers are required, by law, to comply with” is wrong. It is based on a myth that nobody in the media, nor Government or Opposition, seems to want to expose. WorkChoices does not cover all employers. It covers only those over whom the Commonwealth has constitutional power to legislate. Depending on your method of calculations, anything up to 30% or even more of the working population are not covered. The current Government’s desire to centralise everything has resulted in a very expensive and complicated dog’s breakfast. The Opposition has not told us how they propose covering all of the working population with their proposals either. They will arguably be just as bad. Surely the most efficient way would be for the Commonwealth to keep its nose out of IR and let the states compete against each other to make the best IR laws they can; laws that apply to everyone and that are balanced enough to attract both employers and skilled workers to each state.

Russell Bancroft writes: Forget about the initial $55 million for advertising WorkChoices. If you read the original Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum, you will see that the total cost of implementing WorkChoices is $489 million. That’s close enough to half a billion dollars (see here).

Nigel Martin writes: I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned that the biggest reason for commercial media to be running pro-Coalition and anti-Rudd IR is the fact that the Government has a big fat advertising budget to hand out.

Sharan Burrow, Christian Kerr and unions:

Andrew Whiley writes: Re. “Don’t push your luck, Sharan” (yesterday, item 12). That Christian Kerr has to reach back to industrial events almost 30 years old in his efforts to upbraid Sharan Burrow is risible. A lot has happened to the nation, the manufacturing industry and to unions in that time. Maybe Christian has missed the passing of a few decades. One outcome of that period is that the manufacturing unions push for a 35-hour week led to a reduction in standard working hours for nearly everyone across the country from 40 to 38. Most of today’s workers who Christian says don’t like unions are more than happy to accept the outcome of their efforts. Even the minimum standards enshrined in the “NotWorkchoices” legislation are a stripped back version of the basics that unions won as general employment standards. Hey Christian, have you ever had a job where the basic conditions were established by “the bruvvers”? Bet you didn’t say “No I’ll start with a completely clean sheet of paper, thank you” when the contract/agreement was placed in front of you.

Mike Crook writes: I don’t think that Christian is telling the whole story about the decline in 1980s Australian manufacturing. Other contributors included the wholesale dismantling and export of manufacturing machinery into South-East Asia to pick up very attractive IMF/World bank subsidies, as well as access to really cheap labour. There was also an apparent policy in the large retailers at the time to buy out their suppliers, by fair means or foul, and also shift the manufacturing overseas. The result was the same product in store for the same retail price, but the profit was much higher. In later years of course the Asians have ramped up their own manufacturing until by this time in history our manufactured domestic consumer durables are at amazingly low prices, when compared to previous price expectations for the same product. The effects of higher interest rates and food have been moderated somewhat by these cheap prices. It does not appear to bother anyone much that many of these manufactured items are made by slave and child labour. But it certainly should bother us and here at least Sharan is doing her bit and the ACTU provides outreach into several countries in the region to help slave workers to unionise and to pressure governments to legislate for humane treatment of their workers. She is to congratulated, encouraged and supported in this.

Frank Golding writes: It was the unions that destroyed Australian manufacturing. It was the unions that undermined human rights. Virtually no Australians belong to a union. Now who wrote that? The Bolter? Piers? John Roskam? Janet Albrechtsen? Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong again. You read it first on Crikey.com (yesterday) and it was our very own Christian Kerr. Tomorrow he’ll tell us how to colour in the picture book.

Margot Saville writes: I like Christian’s commentary, but why is a dispute between Heather Ridout and Sharan Burrow twice described as a “catfight”? Could we please have a photo of Christian so we can see which animal he most resembles? 

Political experience:

Jamie Snashall writes: Re. “1973: a very good year for Philip Ruddock” (yesterday, item 6). Correction to today’s piece. Julia Gillard has been in the Parliament for as long as Kevin Rudd, which must mean she has nine years of experience also.

Holger Lubotzki writes: There might be a fundamental flaw in your assessment of a politician’s experience levels, in that being elected to Parliament and sitting on a leather bench in a hall full of jaded old farts amounts to exactly what kind of experience? I work in the oil industry where experience counts for more than it does in most other industries. It is widely recognised that there are two kinds of oil field hand with 10 years experience — there is the bloke with 10 years of experience and then there’s the bloke with one year of experience repeated 10 times over…

Matthew Weston writes: A quick one for you, maybe a reality check for your years in Parliment, how about including how many years that a person has been a union organiser or a political appointee, for instance, take into account Rudd’s service in QLD before he went into Parliament, not his time in foreign affairs? Rudd is not the political cleanskin he is so desperate to paint himself as, all the water restrictions in QLD due to a lack of water infrastructure built when he ran the show, or his fine job of creating mechanisims to control FOI requests when he was up there? Something that all politicians since have emulated with relish! Find out how many of them have held a job outside of politics at all? Now that would be interesting I think, it would make both Peter Garrett and Malcom Turnbull that little bit more interesting, as they have both made successful places in the workplace for themselves well before politics took them.

Humphrey McQueen and Richard Dawkins:

Mary Cunnane writes: Re. “Putting the a-theism back into atheism” (yesterday, item 17). Humphrey McQueen’s cranky outburst at Richard Dawkins is more than a little off the mark. As a publisher at W.W. Norton & Company in the US for 20 years (until 1996), I had the privilege of being Dawkins’s American editor for two books — The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable. (Incidentally and ironically, Norton was also Stephen Jay Gould’s publisher at the time, though I was not his editor). To dismiss Dawkins’s work out of hand is simply silly: The Blind Watchmaker (subtitled  “Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design”) in particular is a great and elegant work and won the Royal Society of Literature’s Heinemann Award for its outstanding literary distinction. It also won the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Crikey readers should read the book and judge for themselves. (I vividly recall the day in 1987 or 1988 when a letter arrived on my desk from a Jesuit professor of theology at Boston College who, having read The Blind Watchmaker, wrote that everything he’d believed about divinity and creation had more or less been washed away.) There was not a lot of love lost in those years between Gould and Dawkins, though there was mutual respect. By the way, the “rough fits” theory of evolution that McQueen attributes — correctly — to Gould is more properly known as “punctuated equilibrium”.

Brian English writes: Humphrey McQueen doesn’t seem to like Richard Dawkins expressing his mind and resorts to the old chestnut that atheists are really like the religious. Declaring him like any tele-evangelist. This is silly, no one is condemned or punished if they don’t listen to him. His thesis that believing in something that has no evidence, like religion, gives a false worldview and enables fanaticism is legitimate. He and many others like Christopher Hitchens have felt the need to write about the way faith, unfounded belief, facilitates religious hardliners and stops ordinary people from wholly condemning fellow coreligionists who perpetuate evil in the name of a being that is no more likely than pink unicorns.

Leon Gouletsas writes: Richard Dawkins is not an “ex-scientist”. Within his field of evolutionary biologist and geneticist he is highly regarded, popularising the concentred view of evolution with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene and more recently with 2006 The God Delusion. He has won numerous scientific and humanitarian prizes, prolific writer of books and journals, engaging public debate in worldwide lectures and holds the chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Much more credibility than the “tele-evangalist” you make him out to be. As for fellow evolutionary biologist Gould, you failed to mention he often feuded with Dawkins and many other academics. What a strawman argument you introduced there. I won’t even mention your offensive, irrelevant example of Hitler. Humphrey, I cannot see the point in your article since you know nothing of Dawkins’s work, credentials or prominence. I suggest you revoke your marketing tag of “journalist” since you clearly do not know how to do any research. Perhaps, replace it with something more fitting such as “ignorant religious zealot”. If you are so offended by big bad Richard simply change the channel, rather than rubbishing a great man and undermining the opportunity for others to engage their curiosity and learn.

Donald MacPhee writes  Humphrey McQueen describes Richard Dawkins as an ex-scientist, and later asks himself how long it is since Dawkins published an article in a referred (sic) journal. Having already informed us that Dawkins has given up science — something I seriously doubt — surely the subsequent and very pointed question to his present peer-reviewed publication rate is both redundant and bordering on insulting. It might matter a little (but not a lot) if Oxford expected the 66-year-old Dawkins to publish refereed papers as part of his current job, but as Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University his brief has for some years been very different from that of the highly respected and very actively publishing ethologist and evolutionary biologist that once gained him the enormous respect of his peers.

Donald Allison writes: I read this article several times but still can’t see what point the author was trying to make. It seems closer to an unedited blog than an article. I don’t mind some of the more idiosyncratic articles, but this one seemed just badly written and rambling.


Bill Gemmell writes: With regard to Roy Milne’s notion of rental assistance (yesterday, comments), I think he will find that relatively few categories of renters are in fact eligible. In Queensland at any rate, my understanding is that subsidies are restricted to public housing applicants on lower incomes or suffering from difficult circumstances, such as unemployment or a disability. Rampant profiteering in the private sector is perhaps the more insidious issue. On the back of a dire shortage of Brisbane rental accommodation, a government employee landlord of my acquaintance is now gathering a 21.5% pa return on his Brisbane property investment of five years ago. The payment of massively inflated rents, on top of the disproportionate and apparently endless inflation of city property prices, makes saving for a home purchase an increasingly difficult hurdle for a great many city dwelling Australians, I’m sure. Maybe I’m wrong, but my sense is that housing ownership attainability is an issue likely to resonate with as many voters as are concerned by IR.

Channel Nine:

Sharon Hutchings writes: Brian Mitchell (yesterday, comments) is spot on with his comments about the rubbish produced by Channel Nine and its “macho mentality”. Another perfect example was presented on 60 Minutes on Sunday in a story promoting and glorifying the cruel macho “sport” of professional bull riding in the USA. Reporter Tara Brown gave one of the most embarrassing to watch, starry-eyed, giggly pathetic performances I have ever seen from a female journalist. The automatic conclusion from this extremely biased story is that Channel Nine are involved in some way in the upcoming “World” bull riding championships to be held in Australia. As you can guess, I abhor this kind of cruelty to animals. I’d like to think that most intelligent caring Australians don’t like to get their thrills this way either.

A soapie tourism idea:

Paul Butler in Tokyo, writes: Re. “Fran Bailey: Tourism Minister/Japanese Soapie Producer” (Friday, item 13). In Japan, there aren’t many soapies like Neighbours shown every weeknight for years on end. Most soapies (or “rabbu dorama”) are just 10 episodes and follow a similar plot line — episodes 1-5 where a girl and guy meet, then episode 6 the relationship falls apart before episodes 9 and 10 where it all ends happily ever after. Most of these dramas are set in Japan, but a few are set overseas. An example recently is one where a 40-ish salaryman’s fiancee introduces him to her Japanese parents who have a winery in the south of France. Unbeknown to him, her mother is an old flame of his who still has the hots for him … a real bizarre love triangle. And a few years ago a crime thriller had its murder mystery set in Queensland (I think Cairns) — lots of Aussie extras in that one. Usually these overseas set dramas are sponsored by JAL or some other travel related company wanting to promote overseas locations to the audiences for these programs who are usually young women with lots of disposable income — the target market for overseas travel in this country. So Bailey’s idea is not that new and would probably be money well-spent in promoting the Aussie travel locations in the Japanese market.

Glenn Milne v metaphor:

Kristen Carter writes: Re. “Glenn Milne confronts metaphor. Metaphor the loser” (yesterday, item 13). It’s good to see Guy Rundle hasn’t let plain English stand in the way of a self-polish. Cheers, pal, for the insight into double leveled metaphors and splitting the definitive. And hey, by the way, thanks for the explanation of a synedoche — funny, you sound like a bit of a douche yourself.

The Tour de France:

David Mansford writes: Re. “Doping, blackmail, child abuse: it’s the Tour de France!” (yesterday, item 22). Two points regarding Thomas Hunter and Chris Tunnock’s grubby report yesterday. One, the article clouds the issue for the uninitiated by failing to mention that EPO is a protein hormone — naturally produced by the kidney and present in everyone with a kidney. Some athletes cheat by taking pharmaceutical EPO. Two, unlike Floyd Landis, Ivan Basso and the others, Lance Armstrong has never tested positive to any banned substance.


Rod Webb writes: Charles Richardson missed a common error in Friday’s edition. In his story, “Gone like Jessica Rowe” (Friday, item 3), Glenn Dyer referred to “The stories” … that …”reached a crescendo”. A crescendo is not reached. A climax is what’s reached; a crescendo is the process of getting there.

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 24: “So why were the final scores were known before the start of the third segment?” Only needs one “were”.

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