Wesfarmers’ Coles bid still on track:

A member of the Wesfarmers consortium writes: Re. Tips and Rumours (yesterday, item 6). Contrary to yesterday’s report, Permira remain fully committed to participating with Wesfarmers in its pursuit of Coles and are encouraged by what they have discovered through the due diligence process.

The drought, the environment and viable farming:

Ross McGillivray writes: Re. “Water, water everywhere: a Murray farmer tells” (yesterday, item 4). By his own admission Phill O’Neill is farming in a desert. Surely it is time this was brought to a stop. I don’t blame Phill or any other farmer for the mistakes that were made, often a century or more ago. And I don’t expect him or anybody else to be forced to shut up shop overnight. But tens of thousands of Australians have seen their jobs disappear of the last 30 or so years as the industries they worked in, for a wide variety of reasons, became unviable. Farmers are no different to people who worked in the footwear, clothing. Textile or steel industries. If it isn’t viable, for environmental or other reasons, find a way to close it down over time.

Geoff Russell, Animal Liberation committee member, writes: Phill O’Neil runs 700 dairy cattle in an area with 13 inches of annual rainfall. I feel sorry for Phil’s predicament. The people who should get the blame for such a brainless planning decision are the shire council or the Murray-Darling Basin commission. Oh … what’s that … Phill is on the shire council? Fancy that. Can anybody think of a more inappropriate business for an area with 13 inches of rainfall annually?

Oh brother … reality TV:

Damien Donnelly writes: Re. “Going Dutch for a kidney: Reality TV reaches a new low” (Wednesday, item 6). I love your political jabbing and general commentary, and most of the time it gives me something to agree with, or something to think about. While I love this reality TV kidney controversy, it really is a case of the Netherlands being more progressive than us… again. Not that I will be watching it. If you take a close look at this, while it might conflict with many people’s sense of morality, is it really, as Guy suggests, “abhorrent”? I see this being quite similar to having homosexuals in the Big Brother house. Does that offend people’s sense of morality? Yes. Is it hurting anybody? No. Should they be allowed to do it? Emphatically, yes. Now, looking at this case, what are the outcomes? Raises awareness for organ donors and their plight; saves one life; gives a TV station huge ratings; monetises organ donation; increases donor list by at least 1; harms nobody; lets people become aware of the reality of life, and death as a part of that; tests the limits of free speech; offends many. I still can’t find a negative outcome – if you can help me, please reply.

Leo Le Jambre writes: Jesus, you people really offend me. Yet again giving space to Guy Rundle, a person notorious for false assumptions, to let him rabbit on about the supposed connection between euthanasia laws and the continuing downward trajectory of the Big Brother clones as they plumb the depths of tastelessness. If the Dutch were bringing back capital punishment, slacking off on gun control or in some way making it easier to do away with people – then I could see the connection. But no, the Big Brother show in its own benighted way is trying to save someone. Who knows, maybe it will result in more organ donors as its producers claim. No connection with euthanasia. More likely the Big Brother people are following the maxim that no one ever went broke under estimating the public’s taste. No further analysis needed.

Guy Rundle writes: Re. “Playing Big Brothers and nurses” (yesterday, item 20). Catherine Lumby takes umbrage at being tagged “nurse” in my piece on reality TV, and the Dutch organ donor game show. Clearly she missed the prior insulting reference to her in Wednesday’s Big Brother story, — as the “orthodontist’s nurse”, who would take a retainer from anyone (odious pun, but what the hell) — but why miss the chance to misuse feminism in the pursuit of your own feuds? And does she think that anyone will regard her as anything other than a paid network flack, hired to give the PR process a bit of academic whoosh?

Nigel Brunel writes:  Catharine Lumby — I would be embarrassed to be associated with Big Brother but I suppose some people will do anything for money. Her last line makes me laugh — “the most important thing is to let families make their own decisions”. Perhaps this also applies to the family member most affected. At the end of the day — who are you to make this decision for her? God? Perhaps it should be Lord Lumby?

Zachary King writes: Catherine you simply cannot be serious in your defence of Big Brother when you compare it a university college? Surely I must be missing something here? Can someone please explain the inside joke to me?

Labor and the unions:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Labor and the unions – lanced boil or Lance Boyle?” (Yesterday, item 12). Christian Kerr wonders why Labor still has so much connection with the union movement when so few Australians in the private sector are union members. The reason is quite simple. “Unionism” or “the combined struggle of the common wo/man” are powerful forces representing inclusivity and a “fair go”. That which this present Government has torn down through WorkChoices or whatever it’s called now was the result of generations of absolutely genuine struggle — through unionism — to abolish child labour, equal pay for equal work, provide for sick leave, annual leave, 40 hour week, long-service leave etc. The Labor Party wouldn’t exist if unions hadn’t existed first and the real pity is that the Labor Party has not dragged many unions into the 21st century — as it has itself. Much has been said about John Howard “just doesn’t get it”. Those who don’t understand the benefits of unions (genuine unions) themselves “don’t get it”. Or is it all about self?

The holy war against the Greens:

George Harris writes: Re. “Holy war against the Greens” (Wednesday, item 9). In response to Christian Kerr’s article, I can say that probably the reason the state Greens leader Peg Putt is replacing Bob Brown on the organised and highly significant (to the Greens) speaking tour of Japan is that Bob Brown would not want to miss the Dalai Lama’s  trip to Australia. I would add that if Peg Putt is going to Japan to continue bad-mouthing Tasmania overseas, then she needn’t bother coming back. The fact is that the Greens, while they have their own support base, have managed to upset just about everyone else in Tasmania. It seems that politically they are on a death wish. It has to be said though, that the four Greens in the Tasmanian Parliament have had much more of a presence that all the (seven) Liberals put together. The Liberal Opposition Leader is almost completely invisible, and his deputy completely so. Federally, the Greens are only likely to retain Bob Brown’s Senate seat. Andrew Wilkie is extremely unlikely to get up, and Green preferences are more likely to favour Labor than Liberal. Conversely, Labor supporters are a mixed bag. Many do not want to support Family First, most hate the Greens, and probably even more lament the passing of the Democrats. Of your other respondents, Russell Bancroft is much closer to the mark. But, the reality is that Tasmania is not going to make a huge difference to the make-up of the House of Representatives. The result may be that, of the Tasmanian seats, the balance of Liberal and Labor may remain as it is, or it will not move more than one seat in either direction for the two major parties. I speak as a long-suffering member of Tasmania’s community of woodworkers who makes furniture and small portable products in Tasmania’s unique timbers, largely for the tourist trade. I speak as someone who, many years ago, supported the Greens with a second preference vote, but who now votes below the line to put the Greens last. We all want to see our forests managed carefully and properly, but we still need timber, and not just any timber. Tasmania contains one-fortieth of the country’s population, but the timber industry accounts for a full 10% of the state’s gross domestic product. Together with mining, agriculture and tourism, it is the engine room of the state’s economy. Political issues that impact on these aspects of the state’s economy need to be understood by people in other states, and the credibility of certain groups needs to be understood in this context.

Christian Kerr writes: Russell Bancroft (yesterday, comments) may be a loyal Labor member, but he is wrong about their preference deals. The architect of Labor’s 2004 preference strategy in Tasmania was former premier Michael Field, who worked on a complicated plan to try and keep Christine Milne out. That deal included assisted the Family First Party with preference and lead to their candidate almost winning a Senate place.

New World Bank chief:

Michael Fisk writes: Surely there must be some mistake? For the past two days, I’ve scrolled up and down the email, and re-read Crikey’s menu list … but nothing on the World Bank appointment! How can this be? Twice in the past couple of weeks your National Affairs Editor Christian Kerr has assured us that his sources were abuzz with talk that either Howard or Costello could be in the running for the suddenly vacant position of bank president. Now, inhale deeply …
and again (make sure it’s good stuff) … and imagine for a moment that this fantasy scenario had come to pass – readers would definitely have been reminded that we “read it in Crikey first”, and have been invited to believe that Kerr was well connected, ahead of the pack and showed good judgment.
With Robert Zoellick’s appointment, are we to conclude that Kerr not only peddles rubbish, but doesn’t have the spunk to note his mistake and perhaps let us know where he went wrong. And a question for Crikey’s editor: why do you waste our time and give some semblance of validity to this tripe by publishing it?

Folly in Iraq:

Rod Metcalfe writes: Re: “America’s folly in Iraq. And we’re not talking the war” (yesterday, item 5). Why does this remind me of the North Vietnamese tanks crashing through the gates of the US Embassy compound in Saigon?

Justice for Balibo:

Humphrey Hollins writes: Re. “Justice for Balibo a long time coming” (yesterday, item 15). Poor Roger East never rates a mention, yet this WA journo was murdered on the wharf in Dili along with the Chinese residents of the town. They were lined up and shot in the back of the head so that they would fall into the harbour. What amazes me is the lack of accountability after all these years for these lost journos by their brothers in the game. I was in Cambodia recently and I went on the trail of Sean Flynn, seized along with Dana Stone near the Vietnamese border in 1970. Twelve journos disappeared over a 10-day period during the US invasion of the parrot’s beak. We found the village where Flynn and Stone were held for months deep in the Michelin rubber plantation in Kompong Cham province. We met an old lady who used to supply Flynn with ganga and she described his deep laugh when stoned. One day she was sent away by the Khmer Rouge and when she returned the boys had disappeared. They had been on a hunger strike and became a nuisance so they were dispatched with the hoe to the back of the head and buried nearby. The other journos were held further north near Kratie on the Mekong and of course they were murdered as well, but they all survived captivity for over a year it seems.

Peter Adams writes: Re. “the most egregious breaches of international law in the last half-century”. Charles Richardson neglected to mention the following: China’s invasion of Tibet; Indonesia’s invasion of Irian Jaya (West Papua); US invasions of Grenada & Panama and Israeli invasion and ongoing occupation of Golan Heights, West Bank etc post 1967.

Indigenous Australia:

Chris Hunter writes: Re. “Portrait of the average indigenous Australian” (Monday, item 1). I have read the recent articles by Chris Graham with great interest. Like many members of the non-indigenous community my heart goes out to indigenous Australians. Their welfare is this country’s most important issue. How can any of us feel proud while the current state of affairs continues to exist? It just ain’t Aussie is it? But what happens when the roles are reversed? In 1996 I traveled north with my wife and two children. We were in search of the real Australia, away from our comfortable but mindless existence in SA. Our ultimate destination turned out to be Pine Creek, NT. With permission we made camp on Wagaman land a couple of kilometers off the road to Umbrawarra Gorge. It was very basic. Our new home was an ancient caravan that had seen many a wet season before we turned up, legacy of an abandoned copper show. We soon learned to cope with the wild dogs, stray bulls, snakes, vultures, march flies etc but one thing defeated us. It was still the dry season and our dog started the attraction — fleas. By the trillion. My wife’s legs became badly ulcerated from the bites and our son developed a bizarre allergy to the long grass. They both became very ill and the Pine Creek clinic sent us down to Katherine for help. Steroids eventually baled them both out but we needed new digs. The kids were enrolled at Pine Creek school but there was no available housing due to the mining boom going on in the district. Our sole income was my war disablement service pension and we had bugger all else. Then word came that a local Aboriginal woman had heard about our plight. She lived in Pine Creek and her daughter’s house next door was becoming vacant due to her shifting up to Bachelor. I tell you it was a bloody miracle. Call us stupid if you will but that old lady’s kindness was something we will never forget. We paid a third of the usual town rental and the freezer was soon filled with barramundi, jack fruit and other exotic tucker. Some years later (after we had returned south) we got word that our wonderful friend was in Flinders Hospital (SA) for a triple bypass. We traveled 200 kms to visit her. Her carer expressed surprise that we had traveled so far. “You must be very good friends.” she said.

The civil rights/liberties agenda:

Gerard McEwen writes: Re. “Student Becky’s plight produces a landmark ruling” (Wednesday, item 15). Greg Barns brings to light an important aspect of the civil rights/liberties agenda. Whilst much noise is made about the rights of individuals the real point to be made is the obligation of government to individuals. In the case of Becky Turner the issue is not so much her right to an education but rather the obligation of the Government (duty of care if you will) to ensure that Ms Turner has access to educational opportunities commensurate to her abilities/requirements. It is issues such as this, applied across the board to education, health and the law that are the foundation of a truly just society. Until we look at statutory/constitutional recognition of this relationship between government and the governed we are only paying lip service to the concept of justice.


Liz Johnston writes: Re. “Stand back! ASIC grabs the pin on a $34 billion investment grenade” (yesterday, item 1). Instead of spending millions selling itself, why doesn’t the Government give ASIC some money to promote the FIDO website and help educate Australians to become wiser rather than sadder investors?

Accounting standards:

Glen Parkes writes: Re. “Jim Chanos and MacBank argue two sides of the same coin” (yesterday, item 24). Sorry Adam, but you had better read your accounting standards. After doing this it becomes very clear as to the framework Acquire and its many spin-offs are required to operate under. A listed entity is simply not allowed to revalue its assets at will. As a listed (disclosing) entity, the directors of Macquarie must apply AASB 116 – Property, Plant and Equipment. This states that assets must be valued each year at fair value. The directors and the auditors would both need to sign off on it. Allan Bond might have gotten away with random valuations but you simply cannot do that any more. Now a drop in asset values over time may change the success of their model, but don’t whip Macquarie for simply following the rules put down for them by the regulators.


Harry Buskens writes: Re. “Qantas gets the blues over customers and propellers” (yesterday, item 26). You’re so right. Qantas is a very poor-service airline. I was hoping that with a change of ownership, we would finally get an airline that cared about its customers, departed on time and (maybe just occasionally) warranted a smile from the crew. Now that there’s no takeover, I guess we’ll have to keep on suffering a second-rate service from a second-rate airline.


Mike Martin writes: Bill Bariamis is spot-on (yesterday, comments). The AFR used to be a good newspaper before its insane efforts to “improve” its website and charge ridiculous amounts of money for increasingly less value (I think the quality of its feature and opinion content has deteriorated in recent times too). It has been sheltered in the past by lack of good alternatives. However, if The Australian is beefing up its business coverage, why not supplement it with a level 1 online subscription to the Financial Times (full newspaper content, five-year archive, news alerts etc) for the princely sum of $US110 a year. That could be a very good substitute indeed and with more Australian subscribers the FT‘s local coverage might well increase. I don’t subscribe to the FT as The Economist is sufficient for my needs, but people who do insist that it is the best business newspaper in the world.

David Hicks and Neil James:

Harold Thornton writes: Neil James claims that “David Hicks was detained in accordance with the Geneva Conventions”. Since the Geneva Conventions require that detainees be afforded the same standards of accommodation as the detaining power’s own soldiers, perhaps he could offer some explanation as to why there haven’t been more complaints in the US about soldiers being kept locked in cages, tortured, s-xually humiliated and denied access to communications, news etc? Or maybe this is why they’re having so much difficulty recruiting these days?

Alex Can writes: Neil James continues to ignore the facts that POWs are where you find them, not who you determine them to be. Courts of law of belligerent nations have no role in determining a POW’s status or punishment; otherwise any legitimately determined Islamic court could deny Australian PoW status to James’s members and even legitimise their beheading as punishment for aggressors. Mr James would do better by his members by calling for all POWs to be treated fairly rather than his participation in inane political debates which place his members at risk.

Michael de Angelos writes: Neil James cherry-picks various Geneva or UN conventions to justify the inhuman detainment of David Hicks — surely the most insignificant player in the so-called war on terror, but ignores one of the most important UN charters to which we are a signatory to. That is the definition of an “act of terrorism” which is basically defined as a murderous act of terror on a civilian population in order to produce a desired outcome such as a change in leadership. That is exactly what we have done in Afghanistan and Iraq — bombing civilian populations into submission. Furthermore before the invasion of Afghanistan all NGOs and aid groups were ordered by the US to remain in Pakistan and cease trucking in food supplies to the starving Afghan civilian population. James should get his priorities in order.

John Richardson writes: Neil James impresses with his grasp of the legal justification for the sorry treatment meted out on David Hicks, as much as he does with his inability to acknowledge the profound injustice visited on his fellow countryman, courtesy of a corrupt & perverted legal process. Given the nature of his position & the certainty of his knowledge, I’d like Neil to examine the failure of the Federal Government to complete its secret & continuing eight-year-old “investigation” into allegations that members of the SAS tortured & murdered Indonesian militia prisoners in East Timor in 1999. Perhaps he could explain why we should be persuaded by his conviction that members of the ADF always “fully comply with the Laws of Armed Conflict in the prosecution of military operations”, when it seems patently obvious that such laws are really rendered worthless when left to the tender ministrations of lawyers, politicians & their expert apologists?

Tasmanian Logging:

Tom McLoughlin, ecology action Australia, writes: Mr Chipman (yesterday, comments) must be baffled by his own corrupt RFA agreement specifications. 100 of our best independent forest scientists led by Prof Tony Norton, Prof Jamie Kirkpatrick and other luminaries have described this document as follows: “The Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) is widely perceived in the scientific community to have failed to deliver the intended protection for environmental, wilderness and heritage values that state and federal governments committed to when they signed the National Forest Policy in 1992. The scientific processes in the Tasmanian RFA were overwhelmed by political compromises. Established criteria for forest conservation were not fully applied. There are large areas of high conservation value forest that would have been reserved if the RFA criteria for forest conservation had been fully applied. Logging practices and the conversion of native forests to plantations have intensified in the seven years since the signing of the RFA, resulting in record volumes of export wood chip production. This intensification, combined with the well-documented inadequacies of the conservation reserve system (exemplified by the large areas of unlogged Eucalyptus regnans tall open-forest that remain unprotected) has produced highly modified forested landscapes with diminished landscape values.” The full statement and signatories is extracted here. This devastating criticism was before the widespread public concern over climate change. This scientific advice was reported at the time on the radio national Earthbeat program until it was axed soon after the re-election of the Howard Government in 2004.

Digital TV:

Sydney Morgan writes: Re. “Digital TV on the rise” (yesterday, item 18). Margaret Simons said yesterday that “Once the analogue signal is switched off, most television sets in Australia will become useless. Obviously it will be politically and practically impossible to achieve switch-off until the vast majority of Australians have digital sets.” To receive a digital TV signal it is not necessary to have a digital TV as Margaret implies. A set-top box attached to an analogue TV will do the trick and they are very cheap if you look around. Aldi recently had a batch for $45 but I have seen them in Woolies for $55.There is a lot of confusion around about the word “digital”. Plasmas and LCDs must process their picture within the set digitally but may and often do receive an analogue signal whereas an ordinary old analogue TV can receive a digital broadcast signal from a set-top box and process the picture in an analogue fashion.

The Today show:

Richard Morris writes: Re. “Viewers tune in for Wilkinson’s Today debut” (Tuesday, item 26). I refer to Glen Dyer’s speculation that Karl Stefanovic is somehow responsible for the Today show’s low ratings and the recent succession of the five female co-hosts. I think it is important to point out that of the five co-hosts, only one, Jessica Rowe, arguably left due to poor performance, Tracy Grimshaw was poached within the network to host A Current Affair, and Sarah O’Hare and Kellie Connolly were fill-ins. Lisa Wilkinson has now joined the show, bringing a much hyped, high-profile reputation and anticipation that is expected to save the show, but the ratings are taking a noticeably downward trend since she has been on air. A viewer backlash for replacing Kellie Connolly perhaps? Could Nine’s management be asking themselves some very hard questions now that they have broken up what was arguably the most highly compatible hosting team of Connolly and Stefanovic that perhaps had the chemistry to finally compete with Sunrise’s Mel and Kochie dominance? Both Connolly and Stefanovic are long time loyal Nine stalwarts who grew their talents within the network. They are not last minute ring-ins from rival networks brought in on a reactive management decision. Will Channel Seven recruit Lisa Wilkinson go down the same sorry road as Channel Ten recruit Jessica Rowe, who joined the show with as much expectation and anticipation as Wilkinson? Only time will tell.

Liz Tourle writes: We have been tuning into the Today show – yep, I agree, it was tough for Lisa Wilkinson yesterday with ratings well down compared to Sunrise, but she is a breath of fresh air – in spite of a dreaded lurgy affecting her voice. Could it possibly be the side kick that is holding her back?

Tasmanian logging, David Hicks and Neil James:

Andrew Cameron writes: I couldn’t believe it in yesterday’s comments when we ended up with a Daily Double of Diatribe. Firstly, Barry Chipman and his numerical nonsense, immediately followed by that other defender of the indefensible, Neil James, the sophistic soldier. Made yesterday’s edition all the more worthwhile.


Dave Liberts writes: Re. “Who wants to clean up the AFR.com mess? Hiring now” (yesterday, item 23). Apologies for being pedantic, but in reference to your article on AFR.com, Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction was the superb Winston “The Wolf” Woolfe, not “the Cleaner”. Speaking of characters: “Just because you ARE a character doesn’t mean you HAVE character,” as The Wolf so brilliantly stated near the movie’s end — a lesson for us all.

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): The rogue apostrophe is in item 22: “… a massive propaganda campaign to convince Australians that it’s non-action on climate change is really the evidence of leadership.”

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.

Peter Fray

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