The ABC and Newcastle:

Carol Duncan, 1233 ABC Newcastle presenter, writes: Re. “The ABC is so important, advertisers will just love it” (Wednesday, item 22). I read Margaret Simons’s piece about 1233 ABC Newcastle. Thank you. After all we have been through here since last Friday, I was just shattered to read Gerard Henderson’s latest opinion piece and his thoughts on what the ABC staff are like and what he thinks we believe. I believe the job I have with the ABC is one of life’s great privileges. Now more than ever. Would he like to come and help dry my house out, or to console my five-year old son whose fear and distress at his mother leaving home to come back to work to continue the emergency broadcasting is manifesting itself in bed-wetting, clinging, and complaints of illness and pain?

The ethics of torture:

David Mendelssohn writes: Re. “The ethics of torture: How emotion still trumps reason” (yesterday, item 5). Mirko Bagaric, torture is not just cruel and inhumane; it is worthless as a means of obtaining reliable information about anything. The purported ethical justification for torture — it is horrible but nevertheless yields valuable intelligence which may save many lives — just doesn’t hold water. The number of times it actually pans out that way is pathetically seldom but the number of people who say whatever they think their torturers want to hear, just to put an end to the pain, even if temporarily, is vast. And the number of innocent people named by victims of torture and then themselves tortured and/or murdered is huge. Torture is not only horrible, it doesn’t work — unless the objective is not actually to obtain information but to cower and terrorise a population.

Carol Lea Grimshaw writes: Great shame is brought upon the legal community when one of its most educated jurists repeatedly profits from base populist sentiment, particularly in a climate of uncertainty where fear is the prime currency in commercial media and politics. Common law tradition places the highest value on innocence and the reliability of objective evidence. That focus is underpinned by substantial moral theory — the least of which derives from Kantian ethics. In the UK, cases such as the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four prove that, even when practised by Western cultures, torture is an unreliable method of obtaining accurate confessions, resulting in false convictions and needless suffering by innocents, their families, friends and communities. Professor Bagaric’s premise that the maximum harm done to an individual is satisfactory if it delivers the greatest good for the greatest number conveniently ignores the moral enlightenment which has occurred over the preceding century and which reinforces the centrality of fundamental individual human rights. The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, internationally prohibits torture at law: contrary to Professor Bagaric’s publications, the Convention is an accurate reflection of majority sentiment and representative of that enlightenment. Perhaps someone will do the professor a favour and download a copy of the Convention for his consideration before he gets demoted again!

Alex Rose writes: Mirko Bagaric, you have set up a convincing strawman — that torture is banned just because it makes us feel emotionally queasy — and you’ve done a creditable job attacking it, while claiming that conducting counter-terrorism operations without recourse to torture counts as “doing nothing while innocent people die”. Yes, the typical example of the terrorist who can only be made to reveal the location of a ticking time bomb by seeing his body parts cut off, can, in ethical theory, justify torture. But the debate has long since moved on. In the real world, nobody can prove that torturing a suspect in a specific situation will save innocent people; a prediction that it “might” isn’t good enough. Nobody can have confidence in information extracted under torture; certainly not on the basis that, as you say, sometimes tortured suspects tell the truth. Ultimately, the question is not whether torture is OK in hypothetical situations, but whether the state should be given the right to torture its citizens. And time and again, states and their human agents have proven themselves irresponsible in exercising that right. This is why we don’t countenance torture. It’s not absolutism, nor emotional knee-jerk, but practical experience. The framers of the English bill of rights, proscribing “cruel and unusual punishment”, understood this 300 years ago. Good luck with your book.

Thomas Gregory writes: Dr Bagaric asserts that those absolutely opposed to torture are irrational and over-emotional. He asserts that those opposing torture “aren’t sufficiently repulsed by [it] and are too willing to accept the murder of innocent people.” Firstly, he does not explain how an absolute ban on torture is (counter-intuitively) actually a position held by people who are not as repulsed by torture as those who support its use. Secondly, he does not explain how a ban on torture equates to acceptance of the murder of innocent people: if he could explain it, then the question of torture really would be the “difficult ethical balance” that he pretends it to be. The “ticking-bomb” scenario that is usually trotted out to support torture is purely hypothetical. There must be the confluence of: a suspect that authorities know to possess the information they seek; a bomb about to explode about which the authorities know all but one final detail; and no other way to get that detail (despite all that the authorities already know). If this situation has ever occurred, Dr Bagaric would be wise to prove so, but I very much doubt he could. After the hypothetical, we have the irrational: copious research has shown that torture does not produce good information. As for the practicalities we have the judicial cliché par excellence: The floodgates. Put another way, where would torture end? If the individual doesn’t open up, is it permissible to torture their family members? Their pets? To threaten to kill them? Dr Bagaric supports the legal regulation of torture as an interrogation technique, a significant deviation from the status quo, so the burden falls to him to explain how such legal regulation would work. Those opposed to torture do not hold their position irrationally: indeed, as demonstrated above, the case for torture is incredibly problematic and thus far devoid of rational and persuasive arguments. However, in addition to the rational position against torture, there is a moral and ethical conviction that torture is abhorrent because it is lazy, inhuman, and degrades the torturer as it betrays the tortured.

Wayne Robinson writes: My main objection to torture is regarding who would be doing the torturing and who would be authorising the torture? Wouldn’t it be dangerous to be corrupting members of police and other security forces into thinking that torture can ever be justified? Is Mirko Bagaric going to volunteer to be a torturer?

Doctors, GSK and freebies:

Dr Chris Topovsek writes: Re. “Conduct becoming? GPs’ GlaxoSmithKline degustation” (yesterday, item 3). Why is it that do-gooders like Ken Harvey have to whinge about getting a nice break from the drudgery, blood and vomit of medicine every now and then. If he wants to eat “finger food” (I wouldn’t feed it to my fingers) in a pokey little backroom then he should do that. Leave alone the rest of us that enjoy a little bit of pampering every now and then, and somehow, without Ken’s interference, can still manage to make rational decisions on drug choice and use. Find some patients to treat, Ken. You’ll have less time for waxing lyrical. I hear the bush needs some doctors. Trust me, you won’t have time to go to nice dinners anyway (nor for your family or hobbies either).

Mac Cott writes: GSK doesn’t extend its generosity to osteo-afflicted oldies. Last year their excellent product Panadol Osteo, a slow-release paracetamol tablet for the relief of “persistent pain associated with osteoarthritis” was taken up widely as a substitute for the clouded Celebrex. A 96-caplet box costs $4.60 on NHS (full cost $8.40) BUT few pharmacies have had any supply for many months. Can’t get it, they tell us. Demand too big, they say. NHS says it can’t do anything to improve the supply. But wait, from the identical pill-making machine comes the identical product, Panadol EXTEND… “Freely” available at about 10 bucks a packet of only 18 caps. We know where GSK get their extra bucks to feed GPs and, we suspect, government lackeys as well. Just a passing thought …

Dr Michael Robertson writes: Re. “Working the arse end of medicine (even when you’re not a proctologist)” (yesterday, item 16). Tanveer Ahmed’s item comes across as quite paranoid. The pass rate in the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrist exams is actually closer to 50% and has been so for decades. This is comparable with other specialties. Specialist colleges do not conspire with governments to entrap young doctors into the public system; they undertake to set and evaluate standards for specialists and inform public debate in their field. The blame for the disaster that is Australian medicine should be laid at the feet of Michael Wooldridge for his restriction of provider numbers in the mid-1990s. Dr Ahmed, being a psychiatrist is actually quite a complex and challenging task — perhaps the pathway out of the public hospital system and getting one’s snout in the Medicare-funded trough is to drop the attitude that one’s specialty is “not such an extraordinary task?”

Chris Colenso-Dunne writes: In early 1992 I filled in our application for my family and me to migrate to Australia from the UK as permanent residents. Two things immediately struck me. First, one’s age-related migration points steadily reduced the older one was. Second, all UK emigrant applicants who were doctors immediately lost 10 points. Given that it takes many years to complete one’s basic medical training and then years more to specialise, 15 years ago many experienced UK medical specialists would have found they were too old to get enough migration points to migrate to Australia. Since coming to Australia, I have pointed out this fact to every reporter I thought might be interested and even, a couple of years back, to our previous Queensland MP when I was discussing the shortage of medical specialists with her. None knew that would be immigrant doctors were penalised back then in this way and it seemed none thought it was even of much importance.

The Australian:

Scott Howard writes: Re. “The Oz‘s hit list: the ‘psychotic left’ fires back” (yesterday, item 7). First, I’m very curious why Chris Mitchell is incapable of defending himself (and his newspaper). He can dish it but he can’t take it. Second, if Messrs Marr, Hamilton and Manne can be tarred with the brush of hyperbole, they can only attempt to match The Australian‘s vast experience and expertise with the very same brush. Third, is the The Australian/Mitchell view now so skewed that they can only see life through a left/right prism? By implication Nick Cater agrees that our right to know is being limited but in the same breath argues that it’s not “political”. Ignore any particular side of politics: our right to know is being limited — can that be anything other than “political”? How can anyone reach a view on a matter of public concern, on political parties’ alternative policy positions, if our Government or other systems of the state withholds from us important information on that matter? Is the suggestion that in the Government’s case they are not selective about what information they seek to withhold and therefore it’s not “political”? Really? Seriously? Finally, if what Robert Manne says is correct, the selective use of information, of edited versions of Manne’s writings to distort what he wrote and its context is simply not acceptable from a serious national newspaper (as opposed to a tabloid paper where it seems its almost obligatory) nor its editor. Those who resort to personal attacks only reveal the weakness of their arguments or positions; or I suppose their laziness.

Frank Lucy writes: The state of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspapers provides evidence of the low regard in which he holds his own country. At the time he’s trying to reassure American shareholders of his fitness to run The Wall Street Journal, he has to disown as aberrant the behaviour of his wild colonial boys back home. The Australian‘s editorials are just embarrassing. Like a lazily run political blog, they contain hazily formed semi-ideas and read like they’ve been banged out in 10 minutes flat. I bet they’re full of spelling mistakes when the subs get them. Everyone in the upper echelons of our national broadsheet now appears to be an imbecile. Does Rupert really think so little of us as to let his one national broadsheet reach such a state of decay? Obviously yes. He treats his American readers with much more respect.

Geoff Robinson writes: I once read some years of The Sydney Morning Herald from the early 1930s. The editorials expressed a strongly conservative position but they were well argued and written, with none of the immature rubbish in The Australian editorials, any future researcher who looked over their current editorials for a view of what even some citizens were thinking would be baffled, editorials are supposed to be a considered argument not a hissy-fit at the level of MySpace. The 1930s Herald was a good journal of record; editorial and news were kept separate. The Australian should take a lesson from past conservative media.

The Kirribilli cookout:

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Coming the raw prawn: was the Kirribilli cookout kosher?” (Yesterday, item 8). There is a simple solution to the vexed question of whether (heaven forfend) our PM was rorting the system by having a private shindy at Kirribilli House. The Labor Party, or perhaps, the Crikey mob should get on the blower to Kirribilli House and ask what day it is convenient for them to hold their own function and how much that would be. If my daughter was getting married I would certainly pony up the $8000 the Libs paid for their party. That is very cheap. By the way how much did the PM pay to hold his daughter’s wedding in the same place?

Jeff Lawrence:

Tom McLoughlin writes: Re. “New ACTU boss ‘incompetent’: Keating” (yesterday, item 1). It’s obvious as soon as I saw him and heard him speak. He is totally non-threatening. An inspired choice this week vis-a-vis the “ugly union goons” stereotype of the Government in the march to the election. I tell ya Rudd has Howard’s measure, and is playing with his head, too. Keating just makes it even more perfect. It’s the election, stupid!

Rules for lobbyists:

Neale Towart writes: Re. “Rules for lobbyists: never write it down” (yesterday, item 9). Richard, the trouble with your rules is that the documents were never secret but a public plan that is simply part of the overall strategy worked out in 2004 and followed ever since. The leak may have been from a pile of hundreds distributed widely. Gee whiz, unions contacting members about issues. All professional politics watchers seem to forget that most people don’t play the silly games that those in the closed boxes seem to enjoy.

Bronwyn Bishop:

Lyle Allan writes: Re. “Her career died long ago, so why not wear a shroud?” (yesterday, item 15). Bronwyn Bishop has one great initiative to her name. It’s the National Toilet Map, which can be found on the internet and has been cited, without any attribution to Bishop, by the Victorian TWU house journal. Then again, some truckies are likely to be a little less continent than younger persons generally are, and may be grateful to Bishop if they knew she was really behind it. I looked at it yesterday and it doesn’t seem to have been updated for a while. Perhaps the old bureaucratic excuse of not enough funds! Must tell Bronny. Must ask her to put pressure on those now responsible for keeping her baby! Wasn’t too long ago the media were touting Bronny as PM material. What has happened to her? Don’t the public like toilet maps? Or don’t like to admit they sometimes get caught short.


John Goldsworthy writes: Re. “Shock, horror: Labor passes up sound-bite opportunity” (yesterday, item 11). Regarding Michael Pascoe’s comment about Oz needing more immigrants. It does not take a “Pauline” to realise that the biggest weakness with “Capitalism” is the need for a constantly increasing population. But our resources (water, energy, food, etc) are limited. One of the prime causes of the stress created by the current drought is the increase in population. In 1914, the Murray River ran dry but the population at that time was probably less than 10,000,000. Now the population has doubled and the same, or similar, circumstances are causing much more heartburn. Our population limit should be geared to the bad times not the good. It is belt-tightening time now!


Hany Pham writes: Re. “Menzies bags a cool $3 million art profit” (yesterday, item 6). I believe Morry Fraid is actually the co-owner of the SPOTLIGHT chain, which certainly sells haberdashery and fabric. The company that you referred to engages in activities including, as it’s name suggests, keeping things SPOTLESS.

Yesterday’s typos: (House pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 4: “Severe forms of trafficking in persons is defined by the TVPA as: (a) s-x trafficking in which a commercial s-x act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person is induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age”. The first “is” (“is defined”) is just defensible, since “Severe forms of trafficking” is a term, but in that case it really should be in quotes, or else the “is” should be “are”; but the third “is” (“person is induced”) is clearly redundant.

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