UNSW’s failed Singapore campus:

Bob Beale, public affairs manager, Faculty of Science, UNSW, writes: Re. Hilmer’s Singapore campus closure a disaster (Friday, item 19). Your anonymous Singapore correspondent is entitled to his or her intemperate view on UNSW’s decision to cease operations of UNSW Asia, but the claim that it had 180-plus enrolments and 800 applications is wrong. Only 148 students were enrolled and applications, actual and projected, were so far below expectations as to make the campus clearly unviable economically. While the disruption to existing students in particular is greatly regretted, it is already clear that there has been a generally positive response to our decision to offer places to all of them – if they wish – at our main Sydney campus, along with assistance for travel and accommodation for the duration of their studies. Far from being a “short-sighted” and “stupid”, UNSW took this difficult decision because it was the responsible course of action to take. Its reputation and those of other Australian tertiary education providers would have suffered far more if UNSW, faced with this unpalatable reality, had gone ahead and committed to even more enrolments and to a major construction project. It would appear that one of the positive lessons learned from this experience is that a major attraction of an Australian degree is the chance it offers to live and study in Australia, with all the lifestyle benefits that entails. That remains unchanged, as does UNSW’s standing as a world-class teaching and research institution.

Richard Farmer’s racetrack friends:

Michael Hutak writes: Re: Richard Farmer and Friday’s “Mr and Mrs Rudd should stand firmly apart together” (item 9). Would it be possible for Richard Farmer to excise gratuitous plugs for racetrack “friends” and the rewriting of turf history from future coverage of federal politics? Surely there’s enough intrigue in Canberra to go round without bringing in such controversial red herrings as the Waterhouses for moral counterpoint? For the record, when Richard states that “The Australian Jockey Club continually refused to grant Gai a trainer’s licence for no other reason than her marriage to Robbie,” he neglects to mention that the statutory role of the AJC back then, as the licensing authority, was to safeguard the integrity of racing and from those deemed not to be “fit and proper” persons.  When Gai Waterhouse began her campaign to become a trainer, hubby Robbie had already been deemed unfit and not proper by the AJC for several years, having been warned off in 1985 for his role in the country’s most notorious racetrack scandal, the Fine Cotton affair — a role that eventually led to a conviction for false swearing and a stint in periodic detention. Gai’s subsequent challenge and victory in the courts paving the way for her to train has been painted, perhaps fairly, as a proxy victory for every talented, ambitious woman who has ever been slapped down by an imperious patriarchal establishment, and it would be idiotic not to acknowledge that Waterhouse has since proved herself a trainer with few peers. But the ruling failed completely to resolve the central concern of how public confidence in racing’s administration could be maintained with a straight face when a famous trainer could be allowed to go home every night to a warned-off bookie. For Richard to hold up the Waterhouse/AJC saga as some benchmark in the progress of human rights germane to Kevin Rudd’s contemporary dilemma with his wife Therese Rein — a successful, self-made businesswoman of impeccable reputation with, as far as we know, no rap sheet or restriction on her movements — takes your typical racing tragic’s predilection for hyperbolic metaphor just a bridge too far.

Small businesses and IR:

Stephen Parker writes: Re. “Easy on the self-righteousness, Julia, there’s votes in them small businesses” (Friday, 12).   Whilst Christian Kerr makes some useful remarks about Labor not intentionally antagonising small business people, the figure of 3 million for small business/self employed with regards to industrial relations is a bit misleading. How many of these folk actually run small businesses that hire staff in a meaningful way (as opposed to the son that helps his dad’s lawn mowing business or the wife that does the books in her husbands IT “consultancy” — if only for the income splitting effect)? I think you would find a fair chunk are individuals operating as a business for taxation/lilability reasons. The number of small business owners genuinely impacted by Labor’s IR policy would be a far smaller number than 3 million, and I would guess, a significantly smaller number than the 1.8 million unionists.

Reining in the conflicts:

David Coles writes: Re. “It’ll take more than a chat to sway Ms Rein” (Friday, item 10). Tell me again, slowly please, why it should be a given that a successful man and a successful woman hitherto of acknowledged high principle, will start to collude for the advantage of the woman immediately the man becomes prime minister? I understand that current conflict of interest rules seek to deal with both the fact and possibility of the existence of a conflict of interest but doesn’t the case of Therese Rein and Kevin Rudd indicate that it is time to have another look at the outcome we seek?

John Parkes writes: I am an undecided voter who prefers to wait until the last moment, but the fuss being made about Ms Rein/Mrs Rudd is pushing me firmly to vote for her husband’s party come election time. The lady is obviously clever and talented and has built a thriving business. It is patently obvious she has done this using her own talent and absolutely legal methods, including whatever financial arrangements she has — anything else and the Liberals would be braying and suggesting dishonesty. They haven’t so obviously they haven’t been able to find even a shadow on which they could hang wild claims — as would the other mob were the roles reversed it must be admitted! That being said, she should be left alone. Apart from the obligatory family photographs we see from all candidates there has never been an attempt to present her as part of the electoral offering. The fact that the Liberals are attacking this lady so strongly signals that they can’t find anything legitimate with which to attack her husband and to criticise his policy offerings. They didn’t even attack Anita Keating like this, and if anything they hated and feared her husband personally and electorally more than this Labor leader. Maybe that should be taken as a statement by the Liberals that Mr Rudd’s policy proposals are sound and that he should be elected.

Terry Mills writes: Don’t overlook the fact that the employees in question were under common law employment contracts which means that they were still subject to award conditions so, the conditions traded away had to be compensated &/or reinstated in accordance with the relevant award provisions. Had the employees been under Work Choices (whoops — what’s it called now?) they would have been under a statutory AWA and the forty-five cents per hour would have been considered the mutually agreed trade-off for the loss of penalty rates, overtime etc and, importantly, the employees would have no rights to have their contracts reviewed; even under the recently announced “no disadvantage” rules there is no retrospectivity so the employees would be stuck with the work choices they were deemed to have made.

Costello’s distorted economic management:  

Alan Cameron writes: The reported comment by Howard that “Peter Costello has really been the architect of our economic achievement over the past 11 years” would be hilarious except that Howard probably believes it. If it is true, I would like to know how Costello took control of the “state-controlled” economy of China about 20 years ago without the Chinese being aware of it. Or the Indian economy about 10 years ago when he was busy trying to learn some economic jargon to enable him to pretend he knew something about economic management. Howard claims that Australians are a lot wealthier as a result of his and Costello’s governance, but if you bought a brick 10 years ago for a $1 and can sell it today for $10, are you ten times as wealthy? It is still just a brick. With the indirect taxes and charges it will cost you at least $11 to get a new one of equal quality. Most of what he is calling “wealth increase” is actually “asset inflation”. I guess Costello has not got to that economic definition yet. If Australians have become so wealthy, how come housing affordability is the worst on record? If we are now so unbelievably wealthy, why has household debt increased by a factor of about 7 in the past 20 years? Why is our national foreign debt now over $20,000 for every man woman and child? “Unemployment rates are the lowest in 32 years”! The fact that you are considered employed if you worked one hour in a week so totally distorts the figures that any comparison with data from 30 years ago suggests that they have no idea how the figures are derived or what they mean. Does good economic management just mean very skilled distortion of the real world? I guess so, if you are a politician. 

Farewell Jackie Kelly:

Jody Bailey writes: It seems to me that Jackie Kelly is a really nice, hard-working lady, as her fair dinkum go at Dancing With The Stars attests (and I loved it when she wore the cardi and sun frock in Parliament), but she knows she’s been used as the velvet glove to disguise the iron fist of dog-whistle race-politics in western Sydney. So now, preferring to be a proper mum to her littl’uns, she doesn’t need the nightmare of an election campaign that she might or might not win. Farewell Jackie and good luck, John.

Gardasil vaccinations:

Medical writer Rada Rouse writes: Thanks Crikey for discovering medical news! (Ray Moynihan, Melissa Sweet on alcohol). Re. CSL’s share price (Friday, item 3), some media reporting on the fainting schoolgirls has been poor. Many of the journalists have quoted the US National Vaccine Information Centre, which is usually described as a “non-profit” or “consumer” group. In fact it is an anti-vaccination lobby. Several reports and commentary (Adelaide Advertiser , 24/5 ;   The Age , 25/5) quoted NVIC president Barbara Loe Fisher who opposes Gardasil. But Fisher opposes all vaccination and believes the growing number of jabs that babies are receiving is the cause of the rise in autism and asthma. For some facts on fainting and Gardasil see the February minutes of the US advisory committee on immunisation. That said, there are plenty of credible scientists and medicos querying the fast-tracking of HPV vaccination for young girls, which in many US states is mandatory, including Diane Harper who has been involved in clinical trials of the vaccine. One of the reasons is that the longevity of protection beyond five years is unknown, so if a nine year old is immunised the vaccine’s ability to protect against cancer-causing types of HPV might be wearing off just when she starts having sex and really needs it. Will booster doses be next?

Michael Cooper writes: I recall being vaccinated for polio at school in the ’50s. We all had to line up at the dreaded caravan, in the door at one end, out the door at the other end. When you got to the top of the stairs you were greeted by the sight of a woman dressed in white sitting at a small table. In her hand was this evil looking metallic syringe fitted with the biggest needle a nine-year-old could imagine. For further effect, she was sterilising the needle by heating it in the flame of a Bunsen burner. I’m sure you can imagine how this scene was spun into a tale of terror by those exiting the caravan — “they stick this red-hot needle into your arm”. Talk about fear and trepidation for those in the queue. There was fainting and vomiting galore, and that was just the boys in the “in” queue. Thus, I tend to go with the theory of mass hysteria during the Gardasil vaccinations. Sure, it might cause a problem in a very small number of cases, but I think we should all wait a bit longer before getting too concerned.

Aunty stimulates debate:

Chris Fay writes: I would have thought that the ABC’s decision to show The Great Global Warming Swindle should be welcomed as a wonderful opportunity for the global warming lobby to demolish once and for all the sceptical point of view. Instead we get attempts at censorship and ad hominem attacks. Why are they so insecure about their own convictions? As a scientist, my view is that the science is very much in its infancy and there is still much to learn, observe and measure. Hard information, especially reliable measurements, are very inconclusive at this stage (eg. despite strongly increasing atmospheric CO2, the measured global average temperatures have not risen since 1998). The theory is also confronted by major mathematical difficulties, which, at the current stage of development, requires resort to unverifiable computer models – very interesting in themselves, but not as predictors. From your editorial line, your journalists have been completely gulled by the alarmist lobby for global warming. I believed that at least a degree of scepticism was the natural state for a journo. If they are that easily taken in on that subject, then what value can you place on other commentary?

Lucas James writes: Re. “Rat in a hat: Dalton sacks ABC Children’s chief” (Friday, item 23). Do I understand that they are abolishing the head factual position, having instead producers reporting to head, content creation? Does this mean that the ABC will be a fact-free – zone, or will they “create” facts?

Northern Ireland:

Derek Barry writes: Re. “Credit where credit’s due for the turning of Northern Ireland” (Friday, item 20). Mr Rundle is half right with offering praise to Adams and McGuinness for getting Sinn Fein to participate in the political dialogue. The praise is deserved; but Ian Paisley and his DUP deserve accolades, too, for turning their back on almost 40 years of suspicion and hatred to share power with them. It was a brave move that could have had serious repercussions in their supporter base. Some minor corrections on the article: the 1998 bomb was in Omagh not Armagh. The official death toll was 29, though it also killed two unborn twins. Another man was killed when his car collided with an ambulance speeding away from the scene.

David Hicks:

Chris Hunter writes: If the David Hicks case was as open and shut as Neil James would have us believe (Friday, comments) then why does the legal inferno continue to rage? Who knows — with additional evidence a future Australian government might retrospectively outlaw our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. What combatants would remain legal then? Who would become our war criminals? Don’t laugh — there’s plenty of back-dating going on — it’s the current fashion. Being a Vietnam veteran, I’m a tad cynical about justice. Neil, have you spoken to Hicks personally — heard his side of the story? I dare say the Howard Government is paranoid Hicks will talk and possibly compromise their election strategy — hence the gag order and his incredibly expensive flight home. Anything to shut him up until after voting day. I wish the Liberals would act liberally and allow him to freely express his version of events — statements not made under extreme duress. This is no longer an issue of guilt or otherwise. Even the murderer Ned Kelly was allowed to talk — right up to the rope! Eventually history will judge David Hicks along with the probity of the Coalition. Such is life.

Marilyn Shepherd writes: It is Neil James who fails the commonsense test and always has — Hicks was in Afghanistan months before any bloody “war” against that poor country was “declared” by the stupid US. He did not fight anyone, hurt anyone, damage anyone, damage anything or even scream in anyone’s face as James has been doing for years on mind-numbing years. The point James continually seems to miss is that the US Supreme Court found the Gitmo process to be illegal. End of story. Except for the unprecedented sight of an SA and Federal Government daring to lock up a man in a penal institution in Australia without ever charging him with anything, ever having a habeas corpus hearing or a trial and that this could happen to 20 million Australians and James would seem to be happy with this sort of arrangement. Stalinist Russia anyone?

Neil James, executive director, Australia Defence Association, writes: One for Charles Richardson’s daily pedantry check. The acronym “PoW” is an Americanism beloved of Hollywood and 1960s TV series but never used in military professional or international law circles. The correct acronym for the term Prisoner-of-War is PW (as used in Geneva Conventions summaries, Commonwealth Style Guide, ADF Staff Duties Manual, NATO Staff Duties Manual, UN publications, widespread international practice, etc). Whoever turned the PW in my comment (Friday, comments) into PoW must have had a childhood spent watching too much McHale’s Navy .

Aboriginal funding:

Kevin McCready writes: Re. Alan Hatfield (Friday, comments) — “I wonder if there are a million Australians who would be prepared to give $60 each to allow the Alice Springs town camps to receive their $60 million they need but without any strings attached?” Count me in.

Dogs and rabies:

Kenneth Cooke writes: Daily Tele damns an entire religion with a (bracketed) word” (Friday, item 24). There is good reasons for avoiding close encounters with dogs in Asia, South America and many southern European countries. It is common for dogs to be infected with rabies in these countries. A bite from an infected dog or just being licked in the mouth can easily transmit infection from dog to human. Treatment with immune globulin must be given before symptoms develop. Rabies is 100% fatal once symptoms have developed. The WHO estimates 35,000 deaths per year from rabies worldwide although most of these are from contact with animals other than dogs. Is it possible that some taxi drivers may wish to avoid contact with dogs because of genuine fear for their health not realising that Australia is completely free from rabies thanks to our quarantine regulations?

Tasmanian forests:

Barry Chipman, Tasmanian State Manager, Timber Communities Australia, writes: It is sad to see a few critics (Friday, Comments) continually failing to accept the facts about Tasmania forests,  Perhaps the following link may help these few critics see the “wood for the trees” as last Friday was the release of the Sustainability Indicators for Tasmanian Forests 2001-2006 available here. This is part of the 10 year RFA review that show estimated extent of forest in Tasmania in 1750 (pre white settlement) as 4,822,000 hectares and that in
2005 Tasmania still has 3,116,000 ha or 65% of its pre 1750 forest reaming. Of the existing 3 million hectares of forest cover there is 1,465,000 ha reserved  (47%)  for conservation values, Which equates to 30% of the 1750 estimate. A figure all can be very proud of when compared against the 10% forest reservation target set by the Convention of Biological Diversity, supported by the WWF and the IUCN. What ever way you look at it Tasmanian has more than achieved conservation goals set by  international environmental body’s, The 10 year RFA review demonstrates that Tasmania is applying innovative solutions to meet the principles of ecologically sustainable forest management. 


Margaret Bozik writes: Re. Friday’s tips and rumours (item 7). “Bizarre Howard Government advertising drive number 10,001…” While not defending in any way Howard’s excessive advertising campaign, I’m pretty sure the ad isn’t popping up on computers in the UK. Rather, thanks to technology, internet advertising can now identify the country your computer is visiting from and provide “personalised” advertisements. I’ve been getting advertisements for Labor’s broadband policy whenever I visit the American technology site, CNET, and advertisements for SEEK employment on a variety of overseas websites. It’s quite disconcerting to realise that our internet browsing is not as anonymous as most of us would like to think!

Ken Turnbull writes: Re. the note from Anthea Parry (Friday, comments) regarding the PM’s invitation to people of Chinese background: “Whoever wrote ‘I look forward to hopefully seeing you and your family at this event’ should be taken out the back and shot. Not only did they split an infinitive (‘to hopefully seeing’)… ” It certainly is mangled English, but it is not an infinitive. The infinitive is “to see”. “Seeing” is a participle or gerund. Hardly anyone in Australia understands the useful gerund these days, but in the US practically everyone does, regardless of their education level.

Friday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): The rogue apostrophe has been breeding. Item 26: “The Australian, via the News.com.au website, offers a more positive view of the report. It’s language is softer”. Item 28: “Whilst the Nigerian oil industry has been marred by political and economic strife since it’s inception in the 1950s …”.

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Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey