Telstra v the ACCC:

Andrew Maiden, Telstra’s director of news services, writes:  Yesterday (item 26) you reprinted a memo from Telstra executive Mick Rocca alerting the company’s staff to the ACCC’s latest sleight-of-hand. Mick’s memo exposed the regulator’s scheme to begin dismantling Australia’s century-old copper network. Called “sub-loop unbundling”, the scheme would allow the G9 consortium to start building its much-vaunted fibre broadband network. Since it was floated last year, the G9 has relaunched its scheme four times, all without turning a shovel. But the G9 shovels could start turning soon, because the ACCC’s latest decision effectively clears the engineering path for the G9 to start digging. Which means Australians could soon be locked into a G9 monopoly that gives us no choice or technology upgrades for fully 20 years. To put that in perspective, remember what technology we were using 20 years ago? Australia’s only car phones were 10kg bricks in the car-boots of people like Bob Hawke. The rest of us communicated by fax. Imagine if today we were still locked into a technology monopoly from 1987. That’s life under the G9. But the bad news doesn’t end there. It gets much worse if you own Telstra shares or if your super fund invests in Telstra. The G9 monopoly depends on pilfering Telstra’s network and paying shareholders less than one-quarter of its true worth. That’s like selling someone a watch and them mugging them to get it back. It wouldn’t be allowed to happen in Singapore, so it shouldn’t be allowed to happen here. By comparison, Telstra is ready to start lighting-up 1.2 million homes and businesses within two weeks and, within 48 months, pumping 50 Mbps into most of the homes and businesses in this country. The Government now has a choice: between Telstra’s network that will start delivering these benefits in 24 hours and a phantom scheme run by dodgy African bankers that promises inferior speeds, locks us all into a 20-year monopoly and relies on taking back from Telstra shareholders the network they just paid for. So, for the life of me I can’t understand why your source reckons the Telstra memo was embarrassing. We handed it out to anyone in the news media who wanted it. Perhaps your contact was trying to inflate their value as a source. In future I’ll be happy to give you material directly, and you can cut out the spies and spooks.

The Government, polls, electioneering et al:

Tony Michael writes: Re. “The Government’s election pitch: two duds for the price of one” (yesterday, item 2). Polls, polls and polls. Every day the media are saying the polls say “this and that” about the forthcoming federal election. Why do we accept their figures and not question how the results are derived. I’d like to know: what are the questions that are asked, how many people are questioned, at what time, what day of the week, their income levels, what’s their occupation, what time of day, what suburbs, what states, etcetera. We seem so complacent to accept these numbers flashed before us and have no idea how they are accumulated. If we are to trust these figures we need to know the source otherwise we should treat them with scant regard.

Christopher Ridings writes: Crikey is in a good position to point out that John Howard’s political decline has been mainly due to his own method of getting himself and some of his Cabinet constantly before the media. Australians get irritated with media overexposure. When Australian voted in 1996, we had had years of Paul Keating and his Cabinet in our face and the newer face of John Howard promised something new. Has anyone noticed that Hawke and Keating’s cabinet colleagues, Beazley and Crean, couldn’t quite “cut it” when they were Leaders of the Opposition, and that it has required some one looking responsible from outside the previous ALP cabinet to interest the voters? John Howard, who is also my local MHR for Bennelong, has been in my ear on almost every radio bulletin and forever in my face on the TV news, so most of my fellow Australians now can’t wait to get him out of our hair. I would also say that now Costello, Downer, Abbott and a few others need now no longer apply as future leaders of our country. We see more of them also than some of us get to see members of our family and we want a break. Now I fear John Howard will even take on Mike Bailey’s spot on the ABC weather and we will have no rest at all.

Roger Mika writes: I think it was a bold stroke that the Clever PM announced that he and the Coalition are the underdogs in the coming election. He got in before Mr. Rudd had the chance to state the same. That was just a sample of what is in the hat. Keep a look out what emerges above the brim.

Barry McMillan writes: I think that all you pundits have missed the tram on the reason for Howard’s’ decline in popularity in the poles. I personally, and many other swinging voters are objecting to living under a dictatorship. Howard takes no notice of the views of the people he represents as demonstrated in the decisions re Iraq, WorkChoices, the Telstra sale, and many others. He has now become so arrogant that he doesn’t even pretend to consult with punters before bringing in legislation and forcing it through Parliament. I voted him in and I will be voting him out.

Geoff Haw writes: In your article today, Christian Kerr stated: “Some in Camp Costello are looking enviously at Gordon Brown as he packs up at Number 11 Downing Street and prepares to move next-door”. My information is that he’s already there. Apparently Blair and Brown did a deal some time ago. Blair had a bigger family; No. 11 has more rooms. Deal done.

Ben Aveling writes: Re. “A confused commentariat confronts the real world” (Monday, item 5). Christian Kerr wrote on Monday that people have forgotten how high foreign debt used to be. Perhaps he should have said that people have forgotten that how high foreign debt is. Certainly, the Federal Government’s budget has been balanced through a combination of asset sales and higher real taxes. But as reported in this week’s Economist, the Nation’s current-account balance is now -5.3% of GDP. Among the major economies, only the US, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Pakistan and South Africa are worse.

Rod Jarman writes: Re. “Potential turbulence as weatherman eyes Hockey’s seat” (Tuesday, item 11). I’m not sure if I’ve missed the mention but aren’t Maxine McKew and Mike Bailey running to cause mischief and distraction for Howard and Hockey? You’d think they’d both have to give more attention to their electorates which is less attention elsewhere.

Peter Dowding on Tony Blair:

Holger Lubotzki writes: Re. “Allowing Bush “off the leash” is Blair’s dark legacy” (yesterday, item 16). Peter Dowding suggests it is “..odd, if you think about it, that two professed Christians could cause such immense death, destruction, and immeasurable harm to so many over such a relatively short period.” That self-professed christianity itself might be precisely why these two world leaders have acted as they have, but what a travesty these events would be if the motivation should turn out to be a misplaced blind faith that biblical prophecies need some kind of human assistance in the new millennium. Baby Boomers will remember the Boney M cover of a well worn gospel song: “By the Rivers of Babylon. There we sat down. O yea we wept. When we remembered Zion”.

Mike Martin writes: In Dowding’s broad spray he deplores “the US sponsored invasion by Ethiopia of Somalia”. Somalia has been a failed state since its last government collapsed in 1991. In recent years it has become best known for its pirates, who attack ships traversing the Red Sea. According to a news report today, the UN is appealing for assistance to stop Somali pirates from plundering aid shipments. It is thus far from clear that the incursion of Ethiopian troops was unethical, whether the US was behind it or not. Dowding would have a right to object though if he’s a shareholder in Golis Telecom. This company supplies Somalia with what may be the best and cheapest mobile phone service in Africa. The Economist reported in December 2005 that, “The trick is the lack of regulation… no state telecoms company to worry about, no corrupt ministry officials to pay off (there is no ministry) and the freedom to choose best value equipment. Taxes, payable to a tentative local authority or strongman, are seldom more than 5%, security is another 5% (more in Mogadishu), and customs duties are next to nothing. There is no need to pay for licenses or to pay to put up masts. This is a vivid illustration of the way in which governments, for all their lip service to extending communications, can often be more of a hindrance than a help.” Somalia would be even worse off than it is if Ethiopian troops had been backed instead by the Australian government promising to bring in Telstra.

John Howard’s dinner table:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “Give the PM his dinner table, ferchrissakes” (Tuesday, item 7). I really do get upset when commentators get on their high horses about the presumed excesses of politicians in maintaining the public buildings they work in. The remodeling of the PM’s “private dining room” is something anyone who has been in the room would regard as well overdue. I haven’t been in there to dine – just used as a meeting room with office staff. It has this silk and mirror look that was always too “fashionable” for any room – let alone the fact that all the mirroring is deteriorating. The room itself is too small – in fact it is totally out of proportion. I really hope it never does get used for dining – the room is a disgrace! As for the cost being “about the price of a house” anyone who has compared the cost of alterations to new structures would know the former is more expensive – same as anyone who has looked at commercial office or shop fitout costs. By all means criticise the $111m on Government “information” campaigns, but don’t score cheap points about a plan to fix one of the ugliest “spaces” in Parliament House. By the way – has Paul Keating offered his view of the room having been the immediate previous user?

Labor and Queensland:

Robert Bromwich writes: Re. “Labor worries about a Queensland backlash” (yesterday, item 8). In response to your article about possible dark Queensland clouds for Kevin Rudd for the 2007 election – it is not just the local authority “reforms” that will be of concern. The broader conduct of the Beattie government over recent years (from Health to finances to planning to infrastructure to accountability) have the potential to combine into a perfect storm of problems for federal Labor as Queensland Labor is seen as arrogant and out of touch with the community. The potential is that Federal Labor will be negatively impacted at election time as Queenslanders associate Labor as the same as the coalition and deliver additional independents or minor party candidates to either or both chambers.

Noel Courtis writes: I notice you say that rural Queenslanders have to be goaded by the National Party to protest about the council doings of Peter Beattie. So you don’t think that these country people have a brain to think for themselves. I guess none of your journalists have lived in the country and know the importance of the shire councils.

Raymond Marx writes: Most local government councillors in Queensland have their salaries tied to state government back benchers at around $80,000, your average mayor is on around $120,000 plus and there are 1200 councillors sucking their local communities dry, not to mention the CEOs on $300,000 plus. Give us a break and get on with the amalgamations, it is the loud cry from parasitic councillors that is deafening the argument.

David Hicks:

Tamas Calderwood writes: I guess I need to remind Harold Thornton (yesterday, comments) that Islamic terrorism started up long before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And tedious as it is, I’ll also point out to Marilyn Shepherd that Afghanistan had everything to do with September 11. Ruth O’Neill needs reminding that we are not in fact at war with the Iraqi people; we helped to free them from the rule of a horrible dictator and are now there at the request of their democratically elected government in order to stabilise it in the face of ruthless Islamo-fascist opposition. Now, I know all of this doesn’t have much to do with David Hicks, but then nor did many of the arguments put forward in his defence yesterday. As usual it was just lots of excuses for a guy who “accidently” found himself working for the world’s most deadly terrorist outfit combined with hysterical accusations that we now live in a dictatorship. Normally I’d say that David Hicks was his own worst enemy, but with defenders like the ones he had in Crikey yesterday…

Chris Hunter writes: The David Hicks saga has made interesting reading. It is made for history and when the hyperbole diminishes the whole episode might have some chance of being comprehended. Obviously it won’t happen tomorrow but history will be patient. In spite of justice being served on Hicks very few of the facts are available. This is why it is unwise to comment with certainty. But why the enormous effort to gag him? And then only for twelve months. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist do you?

Mike Smith writes: Re. “Did The Company fly David Hicks home?” (yesterday, item 5). Nice conspiracy theory, as far as it goes. But I ask: Why does it matter who flew him home? What motive would the CIA have for doing it?

A post-Groucho Marxist:

Dave Liberts writes: Re. “So, what’s really happening in Iraq? Take your pick” (yesterday, item 14). Loved Guy Rundle’s self-description as a “grouchy post-Marxist”. Is this the same as a “post-Groucho Marxist”?

Noel Pearson’s way:

Paula Brown writes: Re. “Come here, go away: keeping up with Noel Pearson” (Tuesday, item 19). Thanks for the comments regarding Noel Pearson. His remarks etc since his return to work in Cape York have unsettled and confused our family and friends. Your words reflected much of what we thought – in cahoots with the Government and the Pearson way is not necessarily the best for all Indigenous Australians nor for promoting positive understandings within the non-Indigenous populations.

Taking the ‘nigger’ out of Toowoomba:

Terence Kidd writes: Re. “Taking the ‘nigger’ out of Toowoomba” (Tuesday, item 4). I think Chris Graham should just get over it. Not all Australians, anglo, indigenous or otherwise think that all names are racially based. I once played sport in Lithgow with an indigenous Australian who introduced himself to us as “Blackie”. Before anyone jumps all over me for saying this, his surname was “Black”. Was that nickname racially based? Another man I played footy with called himself “Sooty”. He introduced himself that way and insisted we call him by that name “cos you’ll never get me proper name right”… I can still hear his words as I think back. When I was young I was nicknamed “Snow” or “Whitey”. Were those names racially based? Get over it Chris, Nigger Brown was known with affection by that name, let it stand.

Mich Foster writes: Several subscribers seem to think that “nigger” is an Americanism and little used in Australia. It may well have originated in America centuries ago, but I can vouch that both my parents (born early 1900’s, 1920’s) regularly used the term as a dinky-di Australianism. And while they used the term when (occasionally) complimenting Aborigines, generally it was used derogatorily. Of course, this was in WA …..

Editor of The National Indigenous Times, Chris Graham, writes: In relation to my article on the ES Nigger Brown sign, I think a few Crikey readers may have missed the point. What I was trying to say is the fact we’re even debating the merits of keeping a grandstand or a statue with the word “nigger” writ large on it says a lot about this nation. John Horsley (yesterday, comments) argues that I run the risk of establishing a link between the word nigger and Aboriginal people that doesn’t already exist. Actually John, I think I’ve been beaten to the punch – an Aboriginal leader complained about its usage to the United Nations. The simple fact is, the word nigger is used derogatively to describe anyone of dark skin. But hey, don’t just take my word for it – the next time you meet a blackfella in the street, call him a nigger and see what happens. And if we all still want to “play in the sandpit of puerility” and pretend Aboriginal people don’t find the word offensive, or that it’s an appropriate term for a public grandstand or a statue, then let’s instead debate its merits with the 750 members of Toowoomba’s Sudanese community. Or don’t they count? And as for Ted O’Brien’s comment (yesterday, comments): “Do you want us all to pretend [Nigger Brown] was somebody else? Silly boy!”, if Ted genuinely can’t understand the difference between a name and a nickname, then can I respectfully suggest the Crikey Army put its collective head together and come up with a nickname for Ted that he can try out for a few weeks. I’m thinking of one right now that might help him understand a bit better.


David Freesmith writes: Re. “Alcohol III: Drinking’s virtues oversold” (yesterday, item 4). Congratulations to Melissa Sweet and Crikey for your frank series of reports on alcohol this week. In boldly publishing such potentially unpopular material you expose alcohol for what it is: the emperor’s new clothes of our day.

Glycol and China:

Erin Vine writes: Re. “Fangs for nothing: Brushing your teeth with deadly glycol” (yesterday, item 13). Richard Farmer wrote:“The New York Times reported this week that customs officials in Panama said that they had discovered diethylene glycol in 6000 tubes of toothpaste which was being sold under the English brand names Mr Cool and Excel.” Both the New York Times and the Northern Star articles mention that the source of the tainted toothpaste is China. The NYT article connects the Panamanian toothpaste deaths story to a number of cases where seriously contaminated food products sourced from China have gotten onto US shelves due to lax inspections in the face of dealing with one of the world’s biggest food exporters. What I find intriguing is that Richard Farmer’s article doesn’t mention China at all when discussing the Australian health authorities’ failure to issue a product recall or even make a public statement about a dangerous substance being present in toothpaste on our shelves… or was that point?

McLeod’s (taxpayer funded) Daughters:

Dermot McGuire writes: Re. “McLeod’s (taxpayer funded) Daughters” (yesterday, item 11). May I suggest an alternative explanation to Christian Kerr’s one of SA Government forcing the writers of McLeod’s Daughters to put a Socialist WorkChoices scenario in their script? Like Blue Heelers, McLeod’s Daughters is written and acted by luvvies who know nothing about rural areas or rural issues. They get all their ideas from old episodes of Country Practice. They have run out of ideas and are using the newspapers to try and be relevant.

Richard Dawkins:

Brian English writes: Nathan Campbell (yesterday, comments) tries to paint Richard Dawkins position as “rabid anti-religious posturing” and compares him to Sheik Hilaly. What in Dawkins premise is rabid? Is it just because he treats the sacred cow of religion with the same scientific method as his subject of biology that such hyperbole is directed at him? It must seem a nice symmetry to put Dawkins at one extreme end of a continuum and Hilaly at the other extreme, but it is false. Dawkins to the best of my knowledge has not preached unfounded ideas, bigotry or misogyny. He follows the evidence. If he’s found no evidence of god and evidence that religious faith causes people to act unreasonably that’s hardly his fault. Present real evidence of god or benefits of religion that can’t be gained in secular ways which aren’t divisive and as an honest scientist he’ll change his mind. Don’t shoot the messenger if you don’t like the message.

Bull Riding:

Sharon Hutchings writes: I wasn’t going to bother responding to the ludicrous sexist comments from bush comedian Trevor Best (yesterday, comments), but I’m guessing that Crikey published it for entertainment value, so OK, I’ll be sensible and oblige. I imagine the bulls, and probably some horses too, often tell Trevor how they love nothing better than the tickle of that tight girth strap positioned in just the right spot, being confined to a small enclosure surrounded by cowboys who yell, push and poke at their face and body (with an occasional extra zing from a sweet little electric prod), having 85 odd kilos of spur-heeled human astride, to then be released into an arena surrounded by a noisy alcohol-lubricated crowd. Yeeehaaa! I just can’t imagine why those bulls would want to buck so violently, then attempt to trample the fallen rider. How “cruel and thoughtless” of them, but of course Trevor says they are just “doing what they enjoy most.” So how is it that the RSPCA, and every other animal welfare organisation, are opposed to this form of archaic sadistic entertainment? I guess they just don’t understand hey Trevor? Or perhaps they’re all run by women? Maybe you should have a chat to one of those poor downtrodden riders interviewed in the 60 Minutes report who actually admitted that “Well, maybe they don’t like us riding them.” What a revelation.

Michael Brougham writes: Whatever bush “born and bred bushie” Trevor Best was born and bred under, it must have been a long way from either bulls or reality more generally. Firstly, bulls do not “enjoy” bucking off humans before trampling all over them and would never do it at all if people didn’t insist on getting on their backs. The average bull is generally content to spend its days grazing and occasionally seducing a passing heifer. Only when they are placed in a confined space, mounted by macho blokes in cowboy hats and deliberately annoyed in various ways do they revert to the natural aggression they usually reserve for more evolutionary relevant occasions, such as fighting with other bulls. Secondly, and far more importantly, the breathtakingly sexist suggestion that Sharon Hutchings’ gender is responsible for her apparently faulty opinions, and that all women are similarly impaired and should therefore be barred from public debate, is grossly unfair. I mean, how would Trevor feel if, as a result of his comment, Crikey banned all chauvinist morons from contributing?

Michelle Kerrison writes: In response to Trevor Best, perhaps it’s time to close off comments to ignorant, sexists such as yourself. If it’s such a natural thing for bulls to buck, why is there plenty of undercover footage showing animals cruelly subjected to cattle prods prior to entering the arena? Bull riding and rodeos inflict terrible cruelties to animals and, if you find this enjoyable, then I believe you are a sad individual. It was most disappointing that Channel Nine chose to run this story when 60 Minutes has, in the past, chosen to highlight the plight of animal suffering in the area of live export. However, I guess Trevor Best, would argue that there’s nothing cruel with that either!

Tasmanian logging:

Barry Chipman, Tasmanian state manager, Timber Communities Australia, writes: It looks like John Hayward (yesterday, comments) who recently claimed to be representing Tasmanians Against Pulp Mills, has exposed the greens’ real agenda and that is to lock up all forest on private land in Tasmania. Clearly he is not satisfied with the 47% of native forest already in reserve. A reserve system that covers 2.9 million hectares of Tasmania’s total land mass which includes 1.4 million hectares of native forest. These figures are not TCA’s but can be downloaded from the Australian Government’s website. For those wanting to know how the company proposing the pulp mill for Bell Bay manages its forest estate on its own freehold land, this information is available in a completely open and transparent way here and shows that 19% is already managed as conservation reserves. These two publicly accessible documents show that Tasmania’s forest industry and its dependent communities have no hidden agendas and are proud of the balance achieved between conservation and timber values.

An objection to an objection:

Kate Deakin writes: Oh puhlease. Re John Wotherspoon’s demand on behalf of “many offended readers” for an apology for the use of ferchrissakes” (yesterday, comments), who knew Crikey readers were such sensitive, easily offended little petals? Oh, you haven’t been swamped with subscription cancelations? Don’t tell me John’s “many offended readers” constitute an enormous group of, say, one? Get over it John. There are bigger things to worry about.

John Walters writes: Perhaps Mr Wotherspoon has a point. Invite all offended Crikey readers to contact you and then, Crikey, you can personally write them an apology. Shouldn’t take long.


Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Sorry, couldn’t find any typos in yesterday’s edition.

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