The Kirribilli cookout:

Dr Peter Phelps, chief-of-staff to the Special Minister of State, writes: Re. “Coming the raw prawn: was the Kirribilli cookout kosher?” (yesterday, item 8). I adore Christian, but unfortunately he has fallen for the old trap of believing that what journalists write, and Opposition MPs say, is unimpeachable fact. Christian wrote: “Australian Electoral Commissioner Kevin Bodel …” The Truth: Mr Bodel is the Director of Funding and Disclosure, not the Commissioner. The Commissioner is Ian Campbell (no, not that one, another one!). Christian wrote: “…told The Australian use of Kirribilli House might need to be declared as a gift in kind to the Liberal Party”. The Truth: No he didn’t. He was asked a hypothetical question by the Australian journalist on the provision of accommodation as a declarable “gift” under the Electoral Act. When the journalist asked about Kirribilli specifically, he told her that he did not have enough information to answer the question. Nevertheless, the journalist wrote her story with the first answer to the second question. Nice — and so honourable. Christian wrote: “…he was called at home by Special Minister for State Gary Nairn and told to shut his gob.” The Truth: Completely false. The SMOS has not spoken to Mr Bodel about this matter at home or anywhere else. The SMOS and I both spoke to the Commissioner, to let him know that the journalist was going to write a story that misquoted one of his officials. Neither the SMOS nor I told anybody to stop making statements, nor did we tell the Commissioner to gag anyone either. You can’t “tell” the AEC Commissioner to do anything anyway. So the allegation is simply untrue. Even the Australian journalist herself now admits that she never intended to implicate the SMOS or myself in any gagging attempt — although it is noticeable that (despite attending a number of press conferences with ALP figures who repeated this false claim) she did nothing to correct the misapprehension which she herself had created. In all aspects of this matter both the SMOS and I have behaved with the utmost propriety — and if you don’t believe me, then this is what the Commissioner himself said via a press release: “The AEC takes its integrity and independence very seriously and I want to make it quite clear that no attempt was made by the Government or anybody else to influence the AEC in its response to this issue,” Electoral Commissioner Ian Campbell said. “Contrary to some media reports, the AEC Director of Funding and Disclosure, Mr Kevin Bodel was not asked by the AEC or the Government to “shut up” regarding these matters.” Just because something is in the paper does not make it true, Christian.

Matt Coffey writes: Surely the ALP know that claiming a gift in kind under the AEC guidelines requires you to file a record of the “circumstances” of when and what the gift in kind is, in any case for pollies it is an annual report or a month after proroguing occurs, and the AEC operates under the calendar year or from, and or until, the change of government; so John Howard has until 31 December  to file his soirée’. Now that the ALP has blown the cover and reminded him of his “dinky poos” with the boys he’s availed free advice from the AG and AEC, had the dorks in Labor waited until at least the election or proroguing, then the LPA/Coalition would have to foot the bill for legal advice. Well done ALP, honk, honk doh! I suggest the PM throw open the Sydney residence to the ACTU and ALP, the tab would be cheap with VB, pies & sauce and Château Cardboard as the preferred gourmet options, perhaps in the twilight of the shindig they could come up with another “harebrained” failure like this attempt at a smear.

Lachie Hill writes: I organise corporate events and there is no way you could provide top-class canapés and drinks – and serving staff – for under $10 a head. If it is possible then I’d like to know who the caterer is! But it’s not possible unless (a) the drinks have been purchased at wholesale or very best mates’ rates and (b) the food purchase and preparation is equally heavily discounted. There’s a discount or a subsidy that isn’t making sense.

Jonah Jones writes: The use of taxpayer-funded Kirribilli is a priceless gift to the Liberal Party, so the possibility of a $1000 fine imposed by the Australian Electoral Commissioner is meaningless. In the interests of equity and fairness, the PM should offer Kirribilli to the Opposition for a fund-raiser prior to this year’s election.

Sasha Marker writes: The next time Mr & Mrs Bucket want to throw a party in “their” house, they should choose Wollstonecraft…

Yuendumu:

Chris Hunter writes: Re. “Just another day of cold justice at Yuendumu” (Friday, item 1). It seems as though Crikey didn’t just drop into any old court day at Yuendumu. It turned out to be quite an historic one judging from Bob Gosford’s lucid presentation. The Mediation and Justice group should be very proud of their achievements so far. Sure they couldn’t prevent all defendants from heading off to the Big-House but they may well have intervened in the possibility of others heading in that direction. This is a far cry from the justice I witnessed being handed down to Yirkalla men at Nhullunbuy (Gove) courthouse in early 1972 — no interpreter or any legal representation for any of them. One man had no idea of how to plead. He didn’t seem to understand the question, or the process. Puzzled, he countered in local tongue — which the non-Aboriginal judge and police prosecutor took for sounding like “guilty”. And thus he became so, with all the dark predictability of white Australia going about its business. Crikey didn’t just drop into any old court day at Yuendumu …

Marlene Hodder writes: Have to point out that Warlpiri is the main language spoken at Yuendumu with no doubt Luritja and Arrernte also being spoken by many people but not as the first language. Am intrigued to know in what capacity Mr Gosford produced this article as most non-Yapa Yuendumu residents are bound by Warlpiri Media protocols or their employment contracts. I have in mind Mal Brough was hell bent on changing the permit system so that journalists could have open access to this and other communities, in light of the brouhaha over a certain Mr Toohey illegally entering another NT community.

The ethics of torture:

Pamela Curr, campaign coordinator, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, writes: Re. “Bagaric’s torturous attention seeking” (Friday, item 20). Lest we forget that Bargaric, that enthusiastic torture proponent was a Refugee Tribunal Member until he took to publicly proclaiming his opinions. His fellow tribunal members who have been more discreet with their views remain in situ. Some RRT decisions which refuse the refugee applicant’s case usually on the basis that they are “not credible”, will also acknowledge that the refugee applicant has been tortured. One notable case was a 19-year-old boy whose hand was deformed because all the fingers had been broken and not reset. He was asked by his torturers to hold up the hand with which he wrote. He was blindfolded at the time and had been beaten for three days. The upheld hand was then placed on the desk and smashed with a hot metal bar. The physical evidence was accepted by the member but a visa was refused. Another man who had been tortured in the Algerian way was told that he was lying and his problem was only “hemorrhoids” until an independent surgeon decreed otherwise. The Saddam method of hanging people upside down for hours after beating them was well known by the members but Iraqi refugees on Nauru still waited four years for a visa. Lest we forget.

David Bednall writes: The other issue about torture is its use as a tool of repression, as Amnesty International and victims of torture can attest. Even the US with its long history of championing the rights and liberties of its citizens can descend into “rendition” programs aimed at permitting torture. In regimes with less scrutiny, even fewer controls are likely, giving license to sadists and despots. Given its unreliability and cruelty, what is the moral justification for torture?

The dreaded unions:

Chris O’Regan writes: Re. “Just how unpopular are the dreaded unions?” (Friday, item 10). Mark Bahnisch is understandably somewhat perplexed by why the Howard Government is so stridently union-bashing, since the attitude of the average voter towards trade unions is at worst indifference and for most mild sympathy. The clue comes in the Morgan polling you reported in the same issue. Howard, at the moment, is staring political death in the face. Not only have the swingers deserted him in droves: it looks as though his more solid support is leaking away as well. He needs to preach/screech to the true liberal believers just so he can regain control of his base. The second reason is much less sophisticated: Howard has gained absolutely no traction with any of his pro-WorkChoice spin. The Government (and The Australian) are now resorting to furious anti-union invective as their only response to anything the ACTU or ALP put forward. Injecting more white noise into the debate helps them to cloud the issue, and may even succeed in quietening their opponents under a hail of abuse. It’s desperate, but so are the poll numbers for Howard.

Colin Bower writes: I’ve been a member of a union all of my working life, some 30 years. The biggest disincentive to joining a union is very simple — the cost. Union membership does not come cheap, around $450 per annum for the union I am in. When things get financially tight, it is one of the things people can easily drop, especially in this era of voluntary unionism. So, while many people appreciate the need for unions to look after workers’ rights, not many can afford to support them by joining. This means there are a lot of free riders out there, people who benefit from what unions do, but who do not share the cost of winning those benefits. This has rankled with me over many years. Of course, the more people who drop out, the more serious the free-riding problem becomes, and the harder it is for unions to do their quite legitimate job in society.

Neighbours cameos:

Red Symons writes: Re. Gratuitous list of Neighbours celebrity cameos (Friday, item 28). I’m not angry. I’m just disappointed. I usually find Crikey an impeccable source of opinion embellished by the odd nugget of fact. I am surprised that in a recent list of celebrity cameos on the television canape “Neighbours (everybody wants good)” my own name was not included. Is it not a simple matter of fact that I appeared on the first week of the program to go to air – on Channel seven no less? For those not in the business of show it might seem whining and self-absorbed to feel hurt by the lack of inclusion. Good point. However, as one who has given one’s life to light entertainment and for whom a jolly party snap in the social pages is not just vocational lifeblood but a stay of execution in a once significant career, being on the list is an imperative of survival.

Defence recruitment:

Guy Allen writes: Re. “Money equals troops — so who forgot to tell Dr Nelson?” (Friday, item 15). I won’t pretend to understand the recruiting problems of the Australian Defence Force, but can at least point out, from personal experience, that the organisation can’t seem to get the basics (such as actually helping potential recruits face-to-face) right. My daughter was keen to join the Air Force as a pilot. She joined the Air Force cadets, learned to fly, got a private licence, and great scores in high school. Her ambition was to fly heavy transport, rather than fighter aircraft. When we approached the recruiting arm of the Defence folk, it was a royal run-around, and we couldn’t help getting the feeling they really didn’t want girls. On early contact, they demanded she go through a full medical and psychological assessment, while we first wanted to sit down with someone who knew the process and discuss the options. Repeated attempts to talk first and assess later were met with some dingbat on the phone reading back the Defence Force website to us. When we finally managed to get an appointment with a warrant officer in Melbourne, he didn’t show and no alternative was offered on the day we turned up. It was shabby treatment. This, and the fact that Defence was in the news for years for its record of covering up the circumstances of non-conflict deaths, made it all too hard. It had “don’t touch” written all over it. She is moving on to a career in commercial aviation and, while it will cost us a great deal of money, I’m pleased. If the recruiting is so poor, I can’t see the treatment in the service being any better. Something which intrigues me is a friend with a son of the same age (in the same city)  had a different experience. Though the lad had no cadet contact or flying experience, he was appointed a Defence career mentor. He got to the stage of undergoing a flying test in NSW, but it did not work out. However, the difference in the force’s interest between the girl and boy was at best questionable.

An inflexible and archaic electoral system:

John McCombe writes: Re. “How France’s choice could have been ours” (Friday, item 21). I agree on your description of the Australian electoral system as inflexible and archaic, however there is a preceding reason for the sinking of differences between liberals and conservatives and the “two-party” system. Electorates returning a single member via a preferential voting system will result in the “least disliked” candidate prevailing, the “most disliked” being the first eliminated and preferences distributed, and so on, until we have only the least disliked remaining. It is the scramble for those preferences that produces the two-party system and pushes those two parties closer politically. If we want a parliament more representative of the voting public, ie. with more diversity, and more of the democratic process brought into the open, we need to look at the voting systems of New Zealand and most of Western Europe.

Banking:

Mark Scott writes: Re. “Inside jobs the big risk to banks” (Friday, item 30). I would have to agree with the sentiment in Friday’s article, “Inside jobs the big risk to banks”, however, would like to add that incompetence would go hand in hand with that. As treasurer for a not-for-profit organisation, I’ve been setting up online banking with one of the big four banks. When the account was established, rather than linking it to myself, they linked it to another customer with the same name (but not same address). So I’ve been waiting a long time for an online banking password to arrive, which of course hasn’t because it was sent to the other Mark Scott. At least the bank in question was able to admit their mistake, and the other Mark didn’t touch our funds. 

Somalia:

Nigel Catchlove writes: Re. “Chaos reigns as Gaza becomes Hamastan” (Friday, item 4). I don’t know a lot about Middle East politics, I rely on media commentary by people like Guy Rundle and perhaps he has a point but the credibility of his argument was destroyed by a rabid anti-US diatribe which was in no way based on fact: “There is no state in Somalia, thanks to the Ethiopian invasion — US supported — crushing such order as allowed people to go about their daily lives without getting killed.” I was there in 1992/93 and there was no Somali state then. There has not been a functioning Somali state since 1991 when Said Barre, their socialist dictator was ousted. The UN gesticulated wildly and tore at their own party dresses but alas they could not restore peace. The US and partner countries including Australia went in with an iron fist and successfully quelled the warlords who were intent on crushing any opposition in order to gain power. The UN’s bunny-hugging diplomatic language was Swahili to the warlords and despite several powerless, transitional governments recognised by the UN that have been formed since then, no one has been able to allow “people to go about their daily lives” in Somalia. He makes the country sound like it would be a Utopia if it wasn’t for that nasty US. Nice effort, but fail.

The war on drugs:

Lindsay Langlands writes: Re. “Little truce in the war on drugs” (Wednesday, item 17). I couldn’t agree more with Mark Robinson’s sentiments. As we are all aware common sense isn’t very common, and it’s a shame that our politicians are a fine example of this. It never fails to amaze me that state MPs insist on throwing dollars and their support behind systems that are proven failures, and at the same time of doing that are able to masquerade their real agenda which is of course is zero tolerance. More people than ever are injecting as a preferred mode of administrating their drug of choice. Why on earth MPs focus on heroin use only when referring to the injecting centre is beyond me, people inject many other substances, the figures for Hepatitis C positive folk is on the increase, surely this is reason enough to cause concern for even the most ill-informed politician. One day, and hopefully before it’s too late, MPs will wake up themselves and admit the truth — their current approach to injecting centres is one requiring a rethink as it leaves much to be desired, and by not even considering the idea of more is promoting, not decreasing the spread of infections within communities.

Give doctors the benefit of doubt:

Elizabeth Chamberlin writes: Re. “Conduct becoming? GPs’ GlaxoSmithKline degustation” (Thursday, item 3). Honestly — I prefer to offer our doctors the benefit of doubt in this case — We are talking about highly educated professional people. The doctor in my family is totally dedicated to the well-being of his patients, and has been for the entire 40-odd years he has been practicing as a GP. The occasional business trip to a fancy hotel with a luxury dinner and pleasant facilities will never be enough to compromise his intention to provide the optimal treatment for his patients. Gone are the days of extravagant ski-resort holidays and cruise ship information sessions, practices which he always frowned upon anyway. But, if the pharmaceutical companies want to fly a few doctors around occasionally and feed them in a 5-star restaurant, I have no problem with that. There are bigger fishes to fry.

Take a cold shower, Christian:

Grant Archibald writes: Re. “The Ruddslide: Things can only get bitter ” (Friday, item 16). Ruddslide? Give us a break. Tell Christian to take a cold shower. Which leader of which Western democracy governs without wanting to control the levers? That was just a silly article. Your respected journal deserves better than that.

Oops:

Friday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 11: “So, it would be hard to paint Milne’s suggestion as cooky.” Cooky? I think she means “kooky”. Item 17: “Alexander Downer is want to describe Kevin Rudd …”. That’d be “wont”, not “want”.

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