Sandi Logan, DIAC’s National Communications Manager, writes: Crikey’s “Tips and Rumours” (Friday, item 6) is incorrect and misleading, so let me correct the errors: there are in fact 105 Senior Executive Service (SES) officers in the Department, and not the 200 claimed. The department’s total headcount is about 7000, with 105 SES employees (including the Secretary). This SES headcount is entirely consistent
with Australian Public Service ratios of SES representation as a proportion of ongoing APS employees. The National Training Branch has 1 SES officer, nine EL2s, 22 EL1s and a further 42 staff — far from the figures your unnamed correspondent reported. Employees on temporary transfer from other parts of the department who are working as subject experts assisting in the design and development of technical training, are included in this total. And yes, unfortunately our national training manager was head-hunted by another Commonwealth agency, and the department expects to announce a very capable successor shortly. We all know it’s a tight and competitive employment market place. There has been no diminishing of the department’s commitment to training its staff in response to the Palmer and Comrie reports — in fact quite the opposite with $12M earmarked in the 2007-08 departmental budget for staff training. Inasmuch as the other references to our Systems for People information technology programme, allow me again to correct your informant’s misinformation. In October 2006, just four months after the Systems for People programme commenced, an interim client search facility was introduced that provided a single point of access to the department’s four major systems. This has been in use since then by staff who have a need to know and who are security-cleared. The Client Centric Portal represents a more advanced search facility covering the full range of departmental systems. It is being rolled out progressively, again only to those staff who need access to client records to do their job. The department’s security protocols provide that only staff who have a “need to know” will have access to every single one of our 91 million client records. The Government announced the Systems for People programme, valued at $495m over four years, in the May 2006 Budget. IBM was selected as the strategic partner for the programme. The programme is operating to an extremely rapid timeline and has already released a number of improvements to business processes, quality control, decision support and record keeping. It comprises a mix of departmental staff, IBM specialist contractors and other contractors. As was made clear when announced by the Government, the programme runs over four years and is running on time and delivering excellent results. And finally, Systems for People is already meeting many of the recommendations of the Palmer and Comrie reports. Furthermore, it is making major contribution to significant business transformation and strengthened client service and business operations across the department.

Bush begins US exit:

Stephen Harrington writes: Re. “‘Bringing some of our troop’s home’ … Bush begins US exit” (Friday, item 2). About two years ago now, I heard a political commentator suggest that the only way that America can effectively extricate itself from the quagmire in Iraq is to pull out troops while loudly — but falsely — claiming victory. This way, the US would be able to retain the tiny amount of credibility it still has left by withdrawing from a massively unpopular war, but not be seen to be running away from insurgents (effectively a military failure, but a propaganda victory). Last week’s announcement by Gen. David Petraeus that the ‘surge is working’ (and the President’s subsequent decision to bring a bunch of troops home next year) seems to indicate that they’re going to follow this strategy… Basically, the new plan, as John Hodgman so brilliantly put it on The Daily Show last week (see it here) is to claim success by redefining failure.

Government ad spending:

Katherine Stuart writes: Re. Friday’s editorial. Thank you for putting advertising spending at the top of your issue on Friday. I find it obscene that government (any government) spends such inordinate amounts of taxpayers’ money on advertising while it is cutting funding to education at all levels and other government responsibilities, which are the future of the country. I don’t understand how it is allowed and why there are no laws against it (are there?). Taxpayers’ money being used essentially to sell the current government and its policies? These are not community announcements. Is this one more thing John Howard has learned from little big brother Bush and the good ‘ol USA? In Sweden, where participation in the democratic process is far greater than here at all levels, a once-a-week noticeboard lasting five minutes on state TV used to suffice. Might be interesting to find some statistics on what other countries’ governments, that is, those are not trying to justify themselves and sell their actions in foreign wars, are spending on government advertising.

Peter Dowding on other significant September 11s:

Former WA Premier Peter Dowding writes: Re. “A reflection on the 9/11 anniversary” (11 September, item 23). I am reminded that whilst the world appropriately remembers the dead in the twin towers horror, the numbers of dead are miniscule compared to the hundreds of thousands of dead in the recent past in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Palestine, Lebanon and many other places- killed with arms supplied and distributed (and in many cases used) by the US. Democracynow.org has also reminded us that there were these events on past 11 September: 11 September 1973, US-backed Pinochet forces rose to power in Chile to overthrow the democratically-elected Salvador Allende. Allende died in the presidential palace; On 11 September 1990, American anthropologist Myrna Mack was murdered by US-backed Guateleman security forces; On 9/11 1993, in the midst of the US-backed coup in Haiti, Antoine Azenery was dragged out of a church by coup forces and murdered in broad-daylight. He had been commemorating a massacre of parishioners at the Saint John Boscoe church that had occurred five years earlier on 11 September, 1988. Father Jean Bertrand Aristide had narrowly escaped death in that attack. He later became president of Haiti; On 11 September, 1977 in South Africa Steve Biko founder of the black consciousness movement was being beaten in the back of a van by apartheid forces. He died in the early morning hours of 12 September, 1977. Which really goes to show that 11 September should be a day of soul searching for the whole world, not a day to engage in breast beating only about the undoubtedly dreadful Al-Qaeda.

Evil and seditious websites:

Marita Schrader writes: Re. “The PM has 16,050 MySpace friends, actually, make that 9” (Friday, item 19). Having a curious 15-year-old boy in the house, I thought it prudent to download the much touted Integard online filter from australia.gov.au. I haven’t had a problem with it until today I tried to click on the MySpace hyperlink in Mark Bahnisch’s story in Crikey on Friday today a satirical site under the name of John Howard. Much to my surprise (tongue in cheek) the site was blocked by Integard! It cited Adult and Illegal content. Gets me thinking what else the government’s filter will block. I’m off to find out whatever sites the government finds evil and seditious. I’ll start with Britney!


Dick Stratford writes: Re. “Meanwhile in Pakistan…” (Friday, item 13). Guy Rundle has drawn attention to what (or some of what) is happening in Pakistan. Thank god someone has the perception to do that! In his book Against All Enemies, Dick Clarke drew attention to the danger posed by a precarious Pakistan. Put simply, if clean elections are held there and a government of militant Islam emerges it will have the keys to a nuclear arsenal and, as Rundle points out, will have AQ Khan on hand to offer advice on so-called nuclear suitcases (which could be sent up people-smuggling routes into the southern part of America, thereafter by Greyhound to NYC, LA, DC etc). India could hardly be expected to sit by and do nothing if this scary scenario eventuates. Have Downer or Howard drawn attention to this situation? Not to my knowledge. They’ve been preoccupied with the senseless, counterproductive, expensive diversion in Iraq. Thanks, Guy. The situation in Pakistan could come to make global warming look irrelevant.

Howard, Rudd, balance in Crikey et al:

Nicola Stainlay writes: Re. “Bob Hawke: anti-Howard talk can’t help” (Friday, item 9). I’m not clever enough to contribute anything erudite or particularly intelligent, but I have to say that a win for the existing government will prevent our having to listen to Julia Gillard’s ghastly monotonous voice and Rudd’s pinched-lips, lemon-in-the-mouth, hear-me, hear-me self righteousness. Where did they learn to speak? Not the schools I taught at, that’s for sure! We’d never have encouraged or tolerated such boring invective – give it some spirit, for goodness’ sake! They can’t have been on their school’s debating teams – the opposition would have fallen asleep; they can’t have been in their school’s drama clubs as there aren’t any totally boring plays in the curriculum….Is it that their audience is half-witted and needs a slow-speed, repetitive monotone? I’ve never thought John Howard had the voice of a statesman, but his measured, assured, non-melodramatic tones are positively soporific and comforting compared to the harsh, grating and sour Gillard/Rudd voices. It’s now a rush for the remote here…

Fay Sharp writes: “Regrets”, as the song goes, “I’ve had a few” … My latest regret is that I’ve subscribed to your one-eyed publication. It’s just a vehicle to heap crap on John Howard and praise Kevin Rudd. Howard has, at least, an impressive political track record. Rudd’s had a lack-lustre political life and has very thin ideas for Australia’s future. Kev’s main gifts, it seems, are mandarin gab and, owing to strippers (doh) and being drunk twice (doh-doh), he is now a small ‘b’ bloke. How about some commentary balance?

Barry Hilson writes: All the salivating over coalition woes is getting a bit tiresome. Can we get some balance into the picture?

Winifred Lambert writes: “…my phone rings day and night with charities seeking donations”, moans Virginia Laugesen (Friday, comments) in her anti-Howard seethe. Er, Virginia, why not get on Howard’s ‘Do Not Call’ register and rid yourself of these pesky pelf seekers?

Election date speculation:

Sandra Reynolds writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Friday, item 6). On the never-ending speculation of the date of the up-coming Federal election I have a suggestion: Perhaps you should contact your favourite school office lady and find out when the Australian Electoral Commission has booked the school hall.

Join the real world:

David Lodge writes: Re. “Sinister interference in the process of justice” (Friday, item 14). Would Greg Barns like to join the real world at some stage or is it much too easy in his ivory tower acting like a renegade-save-the-world lawyer? After working with lawyers for the last four years, it’s very easy for me to recognise the Greg Barns types — their number one priority is their own ego in defending “the system” whilst being so far removed from the sometimes in-equal outcomes of the real world. I strongly urge Crikey readers to read the full news report on this matter instead of relying on Barns’ typical lawyer like “principal is everything” stance.  

The Chaser:

Philippe Charluet writes: Re. “APEC stunt makes Chaser most popular ABC comedy ever” (13 September, item 26). Like most of the population, I had a really good laugh at the latest Chaser antics. But as a professional television maker, I also am troubled with some ethical questions regarding what happened: 1) Is the chase for rating so important to ABC management that there is now a culture of breaking the law as its new way of securing viewing for its programs (one of the Chaser team expressed that last Thursday night on The 7:30 Report by saying: “Crime does pay”)? 2) What is next, the invasion of Kirribili House during one of these fabulous fund raising dinner parties? I would love to do this but this would bring only one outcome: going to jail and a hefty fine (and so it should). 3) It is also important to remind the Chaser team that, despite making good television in going through check points like butter, they were at all stages watched and monitored closely throughout the whole process – anyone having gone though military or police security procedures would know that. I think taking the risk for some of your crew to be shot in the process of making any type of programming (and that risk was very real when you saw the number of snipers on rooftops) was absolutely irresponsible and also worthy of ethical questioning. 4) And lastly, how much is this going to cost the taxpayer in defending all these people through the court system. Are the board members of the ABC willing to take on personal liabilities for this, as directors of a company which receives well over 1.2 billion dollars of our taxes? It might be time for the ABC to have a closer look at its own practice and spend our money more wisely…

Why do political commentators always miss out the great women:

Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt writes: Re. “A long way to the top for Australia’s women” (Friday, item 15). Why do political commentators always miss out the great women who have led governments not only by being anointed in between elections, but by actually winning elections? Anna Bligh will be to be congratulated; certainly, if/when she wins the next Queensland election. However, Rosemary Follett, who won no fewer than two elections in the ACT, taking office not because someone retired, but because she won in her own right, should be recognised as the first Australian woman not only to head a government, but to do so in her own right. Her election predated the taking over of government by Carmen Lawrence in Western Australia and Joan Kirner in Victoria. Similarly, Claire Martin has won two elections in the Northern Territory, both in her own right and not gaining government leadership because a bloke stood down. Congratulations and affirmation of merit should fall where they are due: and the two women to win in their own right should be acknowledged for these feats rather than being constantly overlooked.

What you talking about?:

Adam Rope writes: Re. “Bronwyn’s drug stance a flashback to the ’80s” (Friday, item 10). You missed one of Nancy Reagan’s more bizarre War on Drugs appearances in the 80s. She suddenly popped up in an episode of Diff’rent Strokes –– I was probably in the US at the time, dunno why — and talked to Gary Coleman, and his friends, about the terrible dangers of drugs. When one of the kids (ginger headed boy) admitted to trying marijuana, she told them all about the horrors of drug taking, via a story. She told them of another little boy who became “addicted” to marijuana, and started beat up on his younger sister when she wouldn’t give him money to get him drugs, and then became a petty thief — robbing items from the neighbours and pawning them off — in order to “feed his habit”. I thought that such an accurate and believable portrayal of the drugs menace was on a par with that wonderful documentary, Reefer Madness. No wonder they won the war.

The NT intervention:

Debra Russell writes: Have you ever been to a remote outback community David Lodge (Friday, comments)? I’m guessing from your comments on Friday that the answer would be no. I travelled through Ramingining on a permit about two years ago and apparently not much has changed in that time. Ramingining is a remote NT community halfway between Darwin and Gove and the ‘country’ of one of Australia’s great actors, David Gulpilil. I drove past his tin humpy, but unfortunately he wasn’t home for me to give him my apologies. There are still no facilities that you or I would expect in our community. No grocery shop or doctor’s surgery, no playground for the kids to play on, not even a bit of grass to kick a football around. There’s a phone box and a take away, which sells good wholesome food like pies, chips, lollies and coke. David you ask “How does self determination give these people purpose and meaning when they choose to get easy welfare and abuse each other?” Easy welfare? What’s so easy about living in a place where people have nothing to do, no decent food to eat and no employment prospects. It’d be enough to drive me to drink. What about you? No one in their right mind condones the s-xual abuse of any child, but Howard is doing nothing with this policy to address the lack of fundamental facilities and future prospects for those living in remote communities. As Australians, it is our right to live in a healthy and productive society in which we can live happy and productive lives.

Mike Hughes writes: David Lodge wrote: “As a taxpayer, why on earth should I subsidise remote communities who have no desire to be held responsible for their own lifestyles and indeed personal choices?” Interesting? Is someone now going to go in and shut down School of the Air, and remove government subsidies for the Flying Doctor service, as well as rip out power and other utilities from other non Aboriginal communities? Are all smokers and drinkers now going to be denied health care for their personal choices? What about people who drive cars and selfishly have accidents? Strip out their bodies for useable organs? We need more David Lodge’s in this world. Or at least the Tasmanian Young Liberals do.

David Hicks:

Kathleen Hughes writes: Re. Brenda Rawlins and Bill Scott’s compassionate and knowledgeable comments on David Hicks’s desire to finish high school: Talk about pots and kettles! (Friday, comments). If either of you has more than a primary school education I want my money back. My God, one of your countrymen is locked up for five years in that hellhole; he has to agree to pleading guilty and being gagged in order to get home, and complacent little smugbugglies like you two actually bother to write to say how you resent him getting through high school?

Deborah Hurst writes: How quickly people forget. Subscribers Brenda Rawlins and Bill Scott may have forgotten that David Hicks never generated any sympathy because he was hard done by or was innocent of any wrong-doing. The reason why Hicks came to national attention was the fact that the Government completely disregarded hundreds of years of legal convention and denied Hicks his basic human and legal rights he held as an Australian citizen. Hicks did not see a lawyer for two years, evidence against him has never been tendered in a court of law and he has never been charged with any recognisable offence in any established court.

Sick ’em Rex:

Brian Baxter writes: Re. “The Losers” (Friday, item 26). Glenn Dyer wrote: “SBS continues to show contempt for viewers by screening repeats of Inspector Rex … thereby making sure SBS gets maximum yield from this tired old property.” I hope SBS will bring Inspector Rex to Australia to bite Glenn Dyer on the bum!

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.