The Northern Land Council writes: Re. “Northern Land Council’s $600m ‘prescribed town’ deal” (6 July, item 2). Northern Land Council (NLC) Chief Executive, Norman Fry, today rejected speculation in an article by “Henri Ivrey” on the Crikey website that it is secretly brokering a $600 million deal for the compulsory acquisition of 60 Aboriginal communities in both the Northern and Central Land Council regions as “mischievous nonsense”.  “The NLC is not engaged in ‘secret negotiations’ to compulsorily acquire Aboriginal land, and has always opposed compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land, or removal of the permit system,” Mr Fry said. “I publicly said so when Minister Brough announced a permit review in October 2006, and again when he announced compulsory acquisition and removal of permits for communities in June 2007. In consultations earlier this year traditional owners and residents of Aboriginal communities in the NLC’s region overwhelmingly rejected Minister Brough’s position regarding compulsory acquisition and the removal of the permit system,” Mr Fry said. “The permit system is widely recognised as a valuable policing tool, and ensures communities and fragile ecosystems are protected from rampant tourism – facts which the Commonwealth Government should recognise and should discuss with all Aboriginal communities before making any amendments. The baseless claims by one ‘Henri Ivrey’, a ‘Darwin insider’ nobody has heard of, are mischievous nonsense which cannot be taken seriously.”

Dr Haneef:

Rob Garnett writes: Re. “Haneef on bail, Ruddock guilty of meddling” (yesterday, item 12). I can understand Ruddock, Howard and Andrews trampling over the justice system in pursuit of absolute power. Their motto is “whatever it takes”. Luckily we can remove them via the ballot box. But I cannot understand why AFP Commissioner Keelty joins them. The role of any police commissioner is to uphold the enforcement of the law. It is not to provide public relations appearances to give credibility to the policies of politicians and the executives. For a Police Commissioner to provide them such legitimacy is appalling. Police Commissioners who understand their role would refuse to comment on “operational matters” or matters that were the prerogative of the courts. Does he understand the principle of the separation of powers? It would appear not. His judgment is appalling. He should resign immediately.

Marty O’Neill writes: Dr Haneef’s counsel have said that the Australian Federal Police gave them clear indication that immigration action would not be taken against Dr Haneef. It is very clear that — after the Federal Police debacle in relation to the Bali Nine — no-one in this country should ever take the word of a member of the Australian Federal Police.

Jody Bailey writes: Kevin Andrews acted entirely appropriately under the law. But that specific law is entirely inappropriate to where we live, who we are and what we know. Detention for secret reasons is always corruptible. No matter the good intention, that’s its indiscriminately tragic flaw. And sadly, our experience confirms that good intentions don’t always constrain political imperatives.

James Guest writes: Not for the first time Greg Barns writes rubbish about something concerning which he has more opinions than knowledge. Maybe he has listened to every boring word uttered by Philip Ruddock and Mick Keelty but, apart from the partisan and too often self-important seeming Lex Lasry, he would be hard put to get worthwhile support for the view that Dr Mohammed Haneef has had his chances of a fair trial endangered. Whether tried by a magistrate, judge or jury, nothing is more likely than the complete turning round of all the publicity to engender sympathy for the accused and add ridicule to the defence’s armoury. Most claims of contempt of court when supposed to have been likely to prejudice professional judiciary are rightly regarded as absurd, however irresponsible and irritating the conduct of those allegedly in contempt. And no jury advocate would be worth his salt if he couldn’t make a jury feel their importance as protectors of a fair go and the embodiment of reasonable doubt. Even if, by some faint chance, a qualified person, not a querulous journalist or opinionista, were to make a case that certain things said publicly should not be allowed even to form part of the background noise to a jury’s deliberations, there are several well established methods of mitigating, to the point of virtually eliminating, such causes of prejudice (eg. by careful jury selection, by change of trial venue, by some delay in the trial). Now let me offer some really prejudicial views, widely shared by sensible people, which are a lot less boringly restrained than the A-G’s or Keelty commentaries. The SIM card business is surely nonsense — unless Dr Haneef has, during 12 hours’ questioning given some hopelessly dumb answers to questions about handing over the SIM card to a close relation. (Hands up those who haven’t done that when leaving a country for an extended absence when there is value in the SIM card). And it is notorious that you can get cheaper air fares in India than here, so it would make very good sense for Dr Haneef to get a one-way ticket paid for in our relatively hard currency and pay for the return ticket in India, in rupees. Indeed it is plausible that he might buy a really cheap return ticket in Bangalore on the reasonable supposition that he would eventually be leaving Australia and going to live with his wife in Bangalore, at least for some extended period, possibly after his Temporary Visa expires. Now suppose you read that and were called to jury duty after having nodded your agreement to the sense of it as you read it at the breakfast table. By the time the prosecution and defence counsel have addressed you, do you really think that, even if you are Greg Barns, you will have your brain still addled or misdirected by it?

Contractors and Iraq:

Former WA Premier, Peter Dowding, writes: Re. “Contractors keep the ‘Coalition of the Billing’ running in Iraq” (yesterday, item 3). To understand how two Australian “contractors” could end up being killed in Iraq, readers of Crikey should spend some money to acquire Blackwater: The rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army by Jeremy Scahill. The message is that Australia has been taken to a dangerous place by John Howard. Now we need to extricate ourselves before other soldiers of fortune expose us to more dangers as a community. The focus of the book is the rise, and rise, and rise of the company formed by a supporter of Christian fundamentalism and the Neo-Conservative Right, former Navy SEAL Erik Prince. On Boxing Day 1999, Prince formed Blackwater Lodge and Training Centre in North Carolina to “fulfil the anticipated demand for Government outsourcing of firearms and related security training”. By 2006 Blackwater had “security “contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan and established on behalf of the United States what appears to be its own private Army in Azerbaijan to secure the US oil interests there, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues and employing mercenary soldiers from all over the world, including possibly Australian ex SAS personnel. As Scahill documents, the services performed by Blackwater range from security for the personnel of companies doing business in Iraq, to guarding the US “pro-consul” Paul Bremer and subsequent US Ambassadors to Iraq including Negroponte, under whose direction much of the US “dirty war” intervention in South America occurred during the 1980s. One of Bremer’s last official acts before leaving Iraq was to pass a decree that gave companies including Blackwater immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed in Iraq, leaving the company and its personnel able to act with impunity and above the law. If Scahill is correct then there is already very much more than merely a third force at play in the Middle East, but a massive highly trained and well equipped Army, unaccountable at a political or administrative level to any standard Government structure, being funded with hundreds of millions of dollars and being used to pursue objectives from which a democratically elected Government would have to retreat, but which can be performed by this unaccountable force in breach of all laws of the Country in which they operate and apparently with impunity from International law. Australia hardly rates a mention in the research but the question needs to be asked of the extent to which our Government has used Blackwater’s services and the extent to which our citizens may be participating as employees of Blackwater. Now that Hicks is tucked up in his South Australian prison perhaps we should contemplate our attitudes to soldiers of fortune. This book is a mandatory read for citizens as well as politicians from all parties.

Noel Courtis writes: I know you have blamed John Howard for everything but I am amazed that you can blame him for a contractor, who went to Iraq chasing big money, being killed. I don’t want you to be “Fair and Balanced” like FOX but you could lean a little more towards the middle!

The separation of “mental powers” in government:

Today Tonight reporter, Bryan Seymour, writes: Re. “A tale of two drugs: are Abbott’s religious beliefs getting in the way?” (yesterday, item 6). Professor Wayne Hall raises an important question about the separation of “mental powers” in government; how the personal and religious beliefs of our elected leaders influence their deliberations on policy. It’s no secret Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott is an adherent to Catholicism. The Minister’s statements on the Abortion Pill RU486 and the Naltrexone Implant treating addiction do reflect his religious, and coincidentally his political, leanings. However the Professor makes several erroneous assertions about the Naltrexone Implant developed by Perth doctor George O’Neil. The implant has been put into more than 3,000 patients, not “at least 1,000″… the implant has and is being evaluated for both safety and efficacy (my report included preliminary results on both for 40 patients involved in a trial conducted by Professor Gary Hulse at the University of Western Australia — final results on all 70 trial subjects are expected by the end of the month)… Dr O’Neil has not “allegedly” saved the lives of high risk patients, I have met and interviewed many of them and I can assure you 1) They really are alive, 2) Many would otherwise have died and 3) Patients spending between $300 and $1,200 per day on heroin are “high risk”. Professor Hall suggests doctors at large might “follow George O’Neill’s example” and use the Special Access Scheme to prescribe RU486 to any patient they think is high risk. Good idea but let them truly follow his example. Let’s have all doctors in Australia work 100 hours a week, never turn a patient away and take a loan out against their family home to support the ongoing treatment of patients who cannot afford to pay. Dr O’Neill is his own best defence against claims of avarice and greed as he is extraordinarily humble and eschews material gain (as a glance at his home confirms). Professor Hall also omitted from his article the comments in my story from Western Australian Health Minister Jim McGinty, who is not a deeply religious man yet is far more effusive in his support for Dr O’Neill than is Mr Abbott. Mr McGinty affirmed that results, not religious zeal, underpin his support. I applaud Professor Hall in raising the question of politics and ideology as they relate to Australia’s drug approval process. I humbly submit that his illustration of this conflict is itself in need of treatment.

Distilling the polls:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Howard needs to do a Keating” (yesterday, item 8). What can one distil from the latest polls? Nielsen suggests people want meddling in the price of groceries, petrol and houses, even when the ALP spokesman Wayne Swan points out there is no guarantee it will work. Robert Mugabe has taken a lead here, recently arresting business owners for price increases, and businesses are failing as a result of not been able to recoup costs. Polls are always unhelpful on defence and foreign policy issues, and opinion poll driven policy is worst. Democracies are notoriously weak at dealing with hard issues, wars are battles of will – give up and you lose. Terrorism of the Islamic sort will be (and has been) with us for decades, Iraq may be a cause for them but withdrawing will not stop the threat, as attacks well and truly preceded Iraq. Islamists are active in Afghanistan too, Somalia, and across dozens of countries, are we planning in running from all of them? The ALP policy of withdrawal from Iraq is supposed to be in tune with public opinion. Except we will still have about 1,000 personnel there instead of 1,500 now under that policy and still be engaged elsewhere – until presumably public opinion tires of being there too? Morgan polls indicate that people support the Coalition for positive reasons largely, 11 positive to 8 negative whilst negative reasons drive reasons for ALP support 3 positive versus 20 negative. An encouraging science isn’t it?

Why you are safer in an airliner than in a hospital:

Mike Martin writes: Re. “Governments urged to lead on patient safety (yesterday, item 17). Is it really seven years and five months since James Reason’s article, “Human error: models and management” appeared in The British Medical Journal? And explained the problem? And nothing happened here? And more than two years since Norman Swan interviewed Reason on the ABC’s Health Report on human factors in health care? And still nothing happened? The airline industry, in which Professor Reason has had a powerful influence, has long shown how these things should be dealt with, as a visit to The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s website explains. (That’s why you are safer in an airliner than in a hospital.) Australians have capacity to understand this process, are doing it, but not doing it enough in the health sector. Why not? It’s not about finding people to blame. Professor Reason found his Eureka Moment in considering absentmindedness: getting into the bath with your socks on, saying “Thank you” to a stamp machine, and putting cat-meat into the teapot. Perhaps the only way to get government focus on the problem is to issue all medical practitioners with a SIM card and require them to mail it to a random Middle Eastern address. That might get some momentum.

Carbon food for thought:

John Goldsworthy writes: Re. “The Swindle: Just where did the ABC get its rent-a-crowd?” (Friday, item 2). Fair dinkum, where did this Cam Smith come from? He is so far out in left field he seems lost in the fog. Even if the studio audience seemed to be very right wing, the panel seemed to be very left wing with only three exceptions. Come back to reality Cam. A few items of data may put things in perspective: Yes, the oceans are rising at present, @ 0.3mm per year. That equals 3cm in 100 years IF the trend continues; and yes, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 380 parts per million (ppm). 7000 to 10000 years ago it was only 340ppm. We cannot exist without CO2. Incidentally, the percentage of Oxygen remains about the same (21%) compared with CO2 which is at about 0.03%.of total atmosphere. The most plentiful and effective greenhouse gas is water vapour at up to 4%. Total atmospheric CO2 is between 750 and 830 gigatonnes (gt). Man made CO2 is said to be between 3 gt and 7gt per year which is between 0.01% and 0.03% of that emitted by land and sea each year which is about 210gt. The man-made component is insignificant. The Kyoto Protocol will achieve very little at enormous cost to the economy. There is a lot more but that should be some food for thought.

A worts and all correction:

David Vaux writes: Re. “Crikey TV exclusive: How St John got his Wort” (yesterday, item 16). The Cochrane Review on St John’s Wort states: “The available evidence suggests that several specific extracts of St John’s wort may be effective for treating mild to moderate depression, although the data are not fully convincing.” And: “They seem more effective than placebo and similarly effective as standard antidepressants for treating mild to moderate depressive symptoms.” These statements are a lot weaker than the claim in Crikey: “…there is sometimes very strong scientific evidence to support the use of herbal remedies. For example, St John’s Wort may even be better for treating a lot of depression than the widely prescribed pharmaceuticals.” Although both Prof. Stephen Myers and Ray Moynihan claimed the Cochrane Review said there was very strong scientific evidence for the effectiveness of St John’s wort, the Cochrane Review actually said the data were not fully convincing, and it only seems to be better than placebo.

There is no slander in an allowed fool:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Never mind the WSJ, what about The Simpsons?” (Yesterday, item 5). Lauren Parle argues that if The Simpsons can have a go at Murdoch, the Wall Street Journal’s independence is safe under the control of the Twenty First Century Fox. The difference is that the WSJ has a reputation as a serious business journal, while The Simpsons’ role in the Limited News Empire is like that of a court jester. As Shakespeare said, “There is no slander in an allowed fool.”

The PM’s poet:

Chris Hunter writes: Re. “PM’s poet cops it from the New Yorker” (yesterday, item 22). Les Murray the PM’s poet? Try Les Murray as Christopher Pearson’s poet. The Adelaide Review was shot with Murray’s addled verse. Hence the PM’s interest. A dark phase in Adelaide’s art history.

Stan Zemanek:

Lauren Ellis writes: Re. “Zemanek, lest we forget, was a twit” (yesterday, item 21). Helen Razer I totally agree with you. While it is sad for his family I’m sure, Stan Zemanek’s death is no great tragedy. The man epitomised that repellent combination of arrogance and ignorance. He was an inarticulate, small-minded and thoroughly irresponsible broadcaster – regardless of how great a guy he was “when the cameras stopped rolling”.

Free-to-air TV free fall:

Chris Gulland writes: Re. “Commercial Free-to-air TV in free fall?” (Yesterday, item 19). In response to the Andrew Dodd insight to the latest six months of TV ratings and the shift to pay TV. Has any one from the respective commercial broadcasters actually sat down and tried to watch any program on commercial TV of late? Saturation promos, crawls paid adverts and advertorials distract the viewer from the programs, so much that a majority of programs have now become unwatchable. It is my belief that until the TV stations correct the balance of paid advertising and self promotion time down to a more realistic level, they will continue to lose market share and viewers will continue to look at alternatives.

Nigel Brunel writes: No wonder free to air is free falling. Here’s something I have never understood — if you have Austar or Foxtel — you can’t get the free to air channels of Seven, Nine and Ten using the same remote (ABC and SBS are in the Pay TV list). For the others, you have to muck around, changing remotes, changing bands on your TV to hop between Pay and free-to-air. In NZ, you get all channels on the same band — so if you have Pay TV in NZ, the free to air channels are in there as well. Maybe that might stop the free fall if you could do that but I doubt the pumpkin heads who run FTA understand that.

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 2: “Of the 47 electorates listed below, there are 23 currently in Coalition hands, and 23 with the ALP. One resides with the Country Liberal Party.” Since when is the Country Liberal Party not part of the Coalition? Also, Calare is listed in the table as Liberal; in fact its retiring member is an independent. It probably should also be pointed out that the margins are pre-redistribution, so some of them are very misleading.

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