Portrait of the average indigenous Australian:

Laurence Rowland writes: Re. “Portrait of the average indigenous Australian” (Monday, item 1). I appreciate that Mr Graham was painting with a broad brush. However, some of the statistics were too divorced from context to stand without explanation. For example: “…at a hospital, he’s 40 per cent less likely to receive diagnostic procedures than his non-indigenous counterparts.” How much of this statistic is determined by the higher burden of disease, and relatively higher Aboriginal population, near remote hospitals (with less access to diagnostic procedure equipment)? How much of this statistic is determined by the fact that remote hospitals may provide the only GP clinics in town (where fewer diagnostic procedures should be expected)? Are Aboriginal people more likely to present with conditions that may be diagnosed without “procedures”? Does “procedures” include pathology testing? (From experience, Aboriginal patients are far more likely to be offered ‘screening’ tests). And: “…if he is admitted to hospital for his coronary problems, he’s 2.3 times more likely to die than if he stays at home (where he’s 1.4 times more likely to die).” One would expect medical staff to admit those patients more likely to die! 1.4 times more than whom? Some else with or without similar co-morbidities? As someone else has observed, the appalling statistics are overwhelming but carelessness in presentation may assist those who still seek to deny or minimise them.

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. Chris Graham’s quote: “Australians have never been serious about indigenous equality — if we were, then Aboriginal Australia wouldn’t be in the parlous state it is today. Either that or white Australia is a hopeless race that can’t achieve parity for just two per cent of the population.” Chris, my heart genuinely goes out to the Aborigines. There is very little in our history in relation to indigenous relations that I am proud of. There are many like me who would like all these problems to be fixed, but I am at a complete loss as to how that would happen. The Government has been throwing money at the problem all my life, and many years before that and I will admit that it is more likely the money has been directed for political effect rather than actual remediation, but what the bloody hell can I do? If you think the problem can be fixed by me rolling up my sleeves then the problems must be far less complex than I imagine. I refuse to accept your either/or option. I live for the day that indigenous Australia achieves all the health, social and political equality that is long overdue, but Chris, you don’t need me and 5 million bleeding heart white boys to come and “fix the problem”. White man tried that, and it resulted in the stolen generation. The fact that I personally have no idea how to fix the problem does not make me hopeless, just helpless. A bit like the indigenous community, I imagine!

Tanya Moir writes: Thanks Chris for another excellent article on one of our national scandals — you have a great way of dispersing the cloud of ink squirted by politicians, and breaking down the statistics and funding figures so that no reader could fail to see the reality behind the spin. Just one oversight though — and while I understand the difficulties inherent in any attempt to give a “general snapshot”, at least a journalistic and readable one, this really seems like a major one to me … you’ve failed to mention that the average Aborigine is male. At least — I presume that this is the case, and that you just forgot to (explicitly) mention it, since the portrait you present is that of an Aboriginal male, with statistics on Aboriginal women’s lives embodied in the persons of his wife and his sister… Somewhat saddened to see that any societal group is still taken to be represented by its male members.

Chris Graham, editor of the National Indigenous Times , writes: In relation to a piece I wrote for Crikey on Monday, I feel I should offer a clarification, and possibly a correction. Your correspondent Ben Allen (yesterday, comments) quite rightly highlighted an obviously strange statistic in my story: namely that if, on average, 49 per cent of Aboriginal people smoke, it’s wrong to say that an “average Aboriginal” almost certainly smokes. Mr Allen notes that it’s in fact correct to say he probably doesn’t smoke. Indeed it is. But what I actually said in the article was that the average Aborigine was almost certainly a smoker. And he is, simply because he’s 20 years of age, and the younger you are, the more likely you are to smoke (18-to-34-year-old males are up to three times more likely to smoke than someone aged 65). 49 per cent of Aboriginal people of all ages, on average, smoke, but younger Aboriginal people make up the majority of the “average figure”. That said its information that should have been included in the article. Apologies to Mr Allen and other Crikey readers for the confusion. Now, to Adam Wootton’s comment (yesterday, comments) about my life expectancy calculations. I suspect he is correct and that I was flat out wrong namely that if my average Aboriginal was born with a life expectancy of 54, he would not necessarily be middle-aged at 27 because his life expectancy would increase as he grows older (if the average life expectancy also increased). At least, I think that’s what Mr Wootton was explaining, because midway through reading his letter, I suffered a massive aneurism, from which I fear I’m unlikely to recover any time soon. Even so, despite the injuries Mr Wootton’s explanation has caused me, he still has my genuine admiration for even attempting to explain that what it is and what it was is not what I thought it was or is, and that what I thought it was or is was in fact not what it was at all. Which ultimately explains why I chose a career that didn’t involve too many of those “number thingies”.

Steve Elliott writes: I agree with Chris Davis (yesterday, comments) that the dot density map of Sydney for indigenous population is a revealing view of indigenous population statistics. But did this arise because the subjects listed Silverwater as their residence or because they listed Sydney. As I recall it, the demographic centre of greater Sydney is just about in that area of Silverwater.

Ten dominates, seriously:

Margaret Fearn, Network Ten’s head of corporate communications, writes: Re. “Aussie soaps in the UK: Home and Away is a goldmine too” (yesterday, item 26). Channel Ten actually dominates the 16-to-39 audience at 7pm with The Biggest Loser and Big Brother (which also win the timeslot with Ten’s target 18-to- 49 audience). Even after Big Brother finishes, Home and Away doesn’t exactly dominate, taking an average 38.4% share of the 16-to-39 commercial audience last year compared to Ten’s 36.4% with Futurama. Ten’s Neighbours continues to dominate the 6.30pm timeslot in 16-to-39 against the older-skewing current affairs shows.

Qantas travellers not happy:

Holger Lubotzki writes: Re. “Flying kangaroo is a dog: travellers” (yesterday, item 3). I have the full-on Platinum Frequent Flyers card from Qantas and I wish I didn’t. The thing is that I really don’t have a choice. I am a frequent and regular flyer on the Perth-Karratha route and there are no other alternatives. The round trip costs $1115 full fare economy, and that’s IF you can get a seat. For many years I resisted the Frequent Flyers membership. I was once asked at the check-in if I was a frequent flyer to which I replied in the affirmative. I was then asked for my card and said that I would have thought spending more than $25,000 on Qantas airfares in the previous twelve months would have been good enough for them, but no, you have to spend an extra $85 to justify your “frequent-flyer” status and get a seat other than the middle seat of three every time you fly. Last month, I checked in some baggage and despite the Platinum Card and the business-class bag tags, my bags were among the last five passengers’ bags to come off the plane. That will teach me to check in early (first in, last off). Actually, I’ve learned my lesson about checking in baggage at all and I’ve now joined the throng of Qantas passengers who carry more crap into the cabin than a homeless person. SkyWest is a much better airline and they have real leg-room, but they don’t fly to Karratha. I flew Malaysian Airlines to Malaysia back in March and they were so much better than Qantas it defies belief. Geoff Dixon might be the CEO Qantas had to have but as soon as there’s a viable alternative like Virgin I’ll be first in the queue. Geoff can have my Platinum Card and all the FF points I’ve got. What a concept! Put up with all that crap and then all they can offer you is another crap flight! No thanks!

David Landa writes: It is a fair response to a satisfaction poll. I don’t respond to those polls, but if I did I would say I would rather drive than pay Qantas to fly unless I had no other option. As a lawyer/business traveller for 40 years, 10 in government, I found service in every area inferior to the competition. I let my Captains Club go, and will only take a Qantas flight as a last resort. I fly overseas regularly as a business/first class passenger with my wife and never think Qantas an option. They treat their clients with no respect, no service, and it all seemed like take it or leave it. We are QF and that should satisfy you the traveller. Thank heaven for the likes of Virgin. And as for overseas, I have enjoyed all the competition that show how overpriced and overprotected these Qantas people have become. They have lost the “Spirit of Australia” and I hope I never have to use them, ever.

Electioneering, polling and politics et al:

Vivienne Skinner writes: I think there’s no greater evidence that the PM’s lost control than by witnessing the length of his hair. While Kevin Rudd glistens and gleams, poor John Howard in Parliament yesterday looked as unkempt as a truckie three-quarters of the way across the Nullarbor. He’s always kept that hair (and those eyebrows) well snipped. Clearly, things are so serious there’s no longer time for the beauty salon.

Jonah Jones writes: The PM was correct all along. The people pollsters have been contacting are having a little joke. They don’t really intend to vote the way they respond to the questions. They know it’s OK to stretch the truth a bit: it’s called intentions overboard. Voters would never ever vote in line with their responses to pollsters. They are aware that climate change is another little joke. And why would they want to change work choices for ministers? Pulling rabbits out of a hat defines the PM’s time in office. Having no more to pull out may define his demise.

Tony Michael writes: 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, etc. 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. I’d like to see one of the Crikey team members look into this. As often discussed amongst my colleagues, the polls are commissioned to fill the newspapers and create controversy. To get the polls off the front pages of the press we need: a major earthquake, or a tsunami, or a new war, or a Pauline Hanson major gaff, or a new double-decker Airbus crash or a nuclear power plant meltdown.

Employment, the CES and Therese Rein:

Keith Watson writes: I missed something somewhere. Howard’s “sound economic management” flogs off the CES and Therese Rein creates a multi-million dollar company picking up some of the pieces? And this is the sort of terrorist we should keep out of the Lodge? Please explain?

Super ads may be the sleeper:

Russell Bancroft writes: Re. “Advice for Kevin: Super ads may be the sleeper” (yesterday, item 10). First of all, I must disclose that I do not have a spare half million to whack on to my super. Having made that confession, the thing that gets me about the Liberal Party (whoops, I mean Government) ads is that they claim that this is the biggest reform to super ever. I would have thought that the biggest reform to super was the introduction in the 1980s of the super guarantee, which saw for the first time ever super extended to all working Australians. Before that, super was reserved for public servants, teachers, executives, some other privileged (ie. heavily unionised) industries and,of course, politicians. Thanks to the Hawke and Keating governments, we ordinary sods got to share some of the spoils. And who fought long and hard against this reform? The very bloke who is now claiming credit for it.

Liz Johnston writes: If you’re trying to live on the full-age pension of $260 a week the Government’s new super ads are enough to make you choke on your stale bread and water stew. The ads might be winning some votes, but I bet they’re losing big-time with people already on age pensions who did not get the advantage of compulsory super during their working lives and, if female, couldn’t even qualify for company super in many cases, even in the unlikely event they had full-time jobs. Oh yes, and if you have savings they’re deemed to be earning you interest, even if you’ve got less than a $1000 between you and financial ruin you’ll lose a bit of pension for every dollar stored against a rainy day or the next power bill.

Ambassadorships and prime ministerial hatred:

Jason Thomson writes: Self-declared foreign affairs expert Barry Everingham (yesterday, comments) makes a strong point in noting that prime ministerial hatred does not yet descend to such a level that party hacks like La Vanstone are offered ambassadorships in Vientiane, Almaty, Nauru or Kiribati. Be that as it may, it wouldn’t happen in Lord Downer’s DFAT even if he and JH were serious haters. Nauru and Kazakhstan don’t rank as embassy status; there’s only a C-G in Nauru and, in Almaty, a mere honorary consul.

Margaret Thornton:

Alistair Mitchell writes: Re. “Free market puts major legal resource under threat” (Monday, item 16). I wouldn’t particularly expect an expert in feminist legal theory to properly understand the mechanisms of the free market, but certainly a professor at one of Australia’s most esteemed academic institutions would research the facts before writing about them? Margaret Thornton says “…nothing comes from the Commonwealth or the states.” Not True. In fact, according to AUSTLII’s own website, 70% (some $754,628) of their funding comes from federal and state government sources. Thornton says that “AUSTLII needs a modest budget of about $1 million to survive.” Well, once again, according to AUSTLII’s own website, their current annual funding is $1,083,239. What was that about governments turning away from funding public goods? The only thing that will impoverish civil society is lazy academics like Thornton drowning the masses in their lack of intelligence. Before publicly embarrassing herself once again, Thornton might like to take her Yale masters and bark in her own backyard — Thornton’s university, The Australian National University, gave $30,000 to AUSTLII this year, a fraction of the $120,000 provided by the University of Technology Sydney.

A Wales of a mistake:

Jim Ivins writes: Re. “What’s wrong with this picture? Rudd, Brown and Bonhoeffer” (yesterday, item 15). Was Guy Rundle given any of my subscription fee for writing “the tiny Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye (Welsh name: Llqweckjhbqlkjewcb’goch’jones)”? The consonants after the colon remind me more of Eastern Europe than Wales. The letters j, k and q aren’t even included in the Welsh alphabet. I’m guessing this is a lame reference to this village on the island of Anglesey in north Wales. In junior school I was taught a rugby song that included the name in its chorus. I’m game for a bit of p-ss taking, but it should have a point: at the very least it should be clever or amusing. And, according to the omniscient Google machine, the Welsh name for Hay-on-Wye is Y Gelli Gandryll or Y Gelli, which means The Grove.


Turlough O’Meachair writes: Re. “Credit where credit’s due for the turning of Northern Ireland” (25 May, item 20). Guy Rundle is simply wrong to assert it was the Marxist Official IRA (known as the Stickies because they stuck adhesive Easter lilies badges on their coat lapels) that brought peace to Northern Ireland because they focused on building “a broad civil rights movement”. What the Stickies concentrated on was narrow Marxist class struggle within the nationalist community which is the exact opposite of Rundle’s claim. His other mistakes are legion: It was the St Andrews agreement, not the Good Friday agreement that finally led to peace. The 1998 bombing outrage was at Omagh in County Tyrone, not Armagh on the other side of the province. The massacre took 31 lives if you count both the unborn twins of the pregnant mother, not 30. The bomb was placed by the Real IRA not the Continuing IRA. The Irish Prime Minister is the Taoiseach, not the Taiseach.

Gardasil injection:

Josephine Kneipp writes: Just a note on Damien Anderson’s comments (yesterday, comments) about his daughter’s reaction to the Gardasil injection. 1) The timing of her response would not seem to rebut the proposition made by Dr Stephen Downes. 2) As anybody who has ever watched a person they care about battle cancer will tell you, any prevention, even if it involves some short-term side effects, can only be better than treatment, which is likely to be a lengthy process involving surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy that cannot guarantee a cure. Please encourage your daughter to battle on through the short-term pain (which I can only add sounds not unlike the rather aggressive flu I and a large percentage of Sydney have been dealing with over the last couple of weeks) so that her children won’t have to battle through something much worse.

Hicks et al:

Marilyn Shepherd writes: One Question for Neil James (yesterday, comments). Does he want Australian soldiers treated the way David Hicks was treated or does he want the conventions to apply? Jesus, the man is like a bloody broken record that simply can’t see a truth in the front of his face. David Hicks did not fight anyone in early 2001 because there was no one to fight.

Farmers’ compensation:

Animal Liberation committee member Geoff Russell writes: Re. “Should farmers be compensated for not cutting down trees?” (Yesterday, item 5). I have no idea whether or not the beef and cattle markets collapsed as Clive Hamilton claimed yesterday. But the attached graph was made using ABS data and shows strong cattle growth right through the 1990s. It was the sheep farmers that took the hammering. The other graph is a land clearing graph from the State of Environment 2006 report. It shows a steep drop in land clearing at the start of the 1990s, then fairly steady with a drop in 2002-2003 and then a spike in 2004 as farmers tried to race the QLD legislation and knock down as much as possible before the laws changed. But the farmers have a point, deforestation and overusing rivers is part and part of the livestock industry — which is, as Jared Diamond pointed out in Collapse, actually a part of the mining industry.



Penelope Toltz writes: In this country farmers expect to be compensated for just about everything! Fancy being able to get money for not cutting down trees, for giving back the water (which is from the sky) into the rivers, for being in a drought, being in a flood, for just about anything to do with climate. Those small business people in country towns who are having just as hard a time don’t seem to get anything. If someone runs a coffee shop near to a beach and the summer is cold and wet, they don’t get compensation. I realise that working with the vagaries of climate is a problem, but many of our farmers, farm products and in places where there should never have been farms in the first place and there certainly shouldn’t be farms there now.

Tasmanian logging:

Chris Hunter writes: Barry Chipman (Monday, comments) clearly has some feeling for our Tasmanian native forests. His remarks glow with pride regarding our 30% overall retention rate (since 1750). Assuming the forests are really ours to share in then the 30% he indicates is shrinking per capita at an alarming rate. If I can speak for the trees (or part thereof) allotted to me then I say let my tree (or trees) live. I want future generations to inherit my tree (or trees). That is, the birds, insects, animals, microbes, all the life sustained by my tree. Barry, your figures are cold comfort. Chilling excuses based on graphs and comparisons — not wonderful life.

AFL, NRL etc:

David Lodge writes: Re. “Is the AFL ready to face the decline of Victorian football?” (Monday, item 24). Being a South Australian football fan, (yeah, one of the other states to have a long and rich history when it comes to Aussie Rules) I cannot wait for the day the Charles Happell describes — the end of Victorian dominance of a truly national game. For years, we fans outside of Victoria had to put up with the baseless assertions that Victoria is the heartland of football and the VFL was always the premier competition in the country, when quite obviously, judging by State of Origin results, both the SANFL & VFL were quite equal and we Crow-eaters could at least match it with anyone in the country. If the AFL ever wants to be a truly national league, it will do away with the Victorian teams that have not only gone without a premiership for decades, but will also recognise that the heritage of Aussie rules is spread across at least three states and that Victoria, due to it’s own insular view of this great game, has dug it’s own grave.

Luke McKeown writes: Re. “AFL take note: Sydney-based NRL teams in rude health” (yesterday, item 23). Not sure if Jeff Wall has looked at an AFL ladder recently or watched any games, but if anything, the Victorian teams are showing a few signs of resurgence. Similar to the NRL — 4 out of the current top 8 teams happen to be Victorian. If the finals were held tomorrow, the current standings would almost guarantee that a Victorian team made the grand final. So what exactly should the AFL be noting?

Len Keating writes: Not that we give a toss, but thanks, Jeff Wall, for pointing out how brilliantly Sydney-based NRL teams are performing in this season compared to the Victorian AFL clubs. Now, if you could only get some people to come and watch the games … The SMH quoted an attendance of less than 7000 at a recent Penrith game. I can’t work out whether this is sad, pathetic or just plain embarrassing. The Victorian AFL clubs may be going through some lean times, but you can be pretty confident that on a bitterly cold late August afternoon, when two Victorian-based clubs are playing to decide who comes 3rd last and who 2nd last, they will still draw 20,000+ spectators. How healthy is your Sydney NRL on this measure?


Narelle Douglas writes: Re. “What’s wrong with this picture? Rudd, Brown and Bonhoeffer” (yesterday, item 15). Please tell Guy Rundle (and your sub-editor) that the first “u” in de rigueur is de rigueur.

John Turner writes: In yesterday’s Crikey you published a letter from me which omitted some words, which in my original were in italics, as they referred to book and film titles. The book by Russell Braddon, which I referred to, is The Naked Island (published in 1952), and the TV series (mentioned by Mr James in his original comment) McHale’s Navy.

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 3: “This isn’t your Aussie Idol/Big Brother sort of exercise where the time honoured principles of vote early, vote often and make Telstra and Optus and everyone with a slice of the charge for lodging a text vote rich at your expense.” Doesn’t make any sense; the “where”-clause needs its own verb (maybe “apply” after “principles”?).

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.