The NSW Nurses’ Association:

General Secretary of the NSW Nurses’ Association, Brett Holmes, writes: Re. “The NSW hospital crisis and an ALP hackette” (yesterday, item 4). Alex Mitchell has got some important facts wrong in his article. The one that is an issue for me and the NSWNA is that he claims that I have signed a deal to give nurses a 2.5% pay rise in 2007-2008. Nurses in the NSW Public Health System received a 4% pay increase from the first pay period in July 2007. The Award expires on 20 June 2008 and no discussions on the next round of increases have begun. Mr Mitchell has failed to check his facts.


Tony Kevin writes: Re. “Burma: An action plan starting with the UN” (yesterday, item 3). Trevor Wilson – a former DFAT colleague – has set out the elements of a UN Security Council resolution that should ideally be passed without delay on Burma. Sadly, as recent news from New York makes clear, it won’t be, because the two key great power protagonists – US and China – are far more interested in ideological point scoring against each other than helping the Burmese regain their freedom. The US postures as a defender of democracy in six selected countries, one of which is currently Burma – the others are the usual suspects. China wants to register a doctrinaire Asian-region national sovereignty position. Time was when Australia had the moral credentials and influence in the region to be able to launch with Asian like-minded colleagues, e.g. among the ASEANs, an initiative for a UNSC resolution on the lines Trevor Wilson rightly outlines. Not at the moment, though, I fear.

Adam Lyons writes: Australia and the rest of the world can bring influence to bear on China so that China will ensure the Burmese military get the message. If the Australian government refused to deliver iron ore and natural gas and other commodities to a China that ignores the human rights practices of the junta in Burma. The Australian public could start by not buying products made in China.

Bob Collins:

Peter Mansour writes: Re. “Collins witchhunt is journalism at its most cynical” (yesterday, item 1). Greg Barnes has decently upheld the law, innocent until proven guilty, in his condemnation of the Bulletin and SMH but I’m disgusted with the Crikey editorial’s forked tongue, when it says “what is more important to society: a subjective concept of fairness or the facts about an increasingly apparent abuse of power by a very powerful politician?” But the law is not a ‘subjective concept of fairness’; the law is a social fact. And what a weasel way of pretending balance by saying ‘the facts about an increasingly apparent abuse of power’, because the facts, if you mean truth, cannot be ascertained now. But you have passed judgement already by using the terms ‘an increasingly apparent abuse of power’ – which indicates increased certainty. To top off this two-faced approach, you pretend to be hesitant about Paul Toohey’s view, but quote it extensively. You do a disservice to past and future victims of abuse if you ignore the law that requires proof; for then we would replace the rule of law with judgement by popular opinion.

Richard Letts writes: Paul Toohey has taken it upon himself to convict Collins. There is nothing conditional in his language. Crikey comes perilously close to doing the same. The insertion of the occasional “apparently” is all that saves Crikey.

Joe Mullett writes: It has been sickening to watch the political class instinctively react to protect Bob Collins’s reputation such as it is. The Hon. Susan Ryan told the media that she had “never believed the allegations”, while that cautious wordsmith, the Prime Minister, described the allegations as “unbelievable”. There is six-sevenths of this particular iceberg yet to be revealed.

Adam Dunsford writes: Yes we do live in a society where our laws are innocent until proven guilty and while you may defend the actions of SMH and The Bulletin to be for the best interest of society just remember that in the last six months (and for some of us in our opinion much longer) we, the public, have watched and read articles by journalists who defend their right and belief that their opinion (not facts) are equally a journalist’s prerogative. Do I trust any media source to be subjective in an analysis of possible occurrences? Like hell.

Corporate agriculture:

Ian Farquhar writes: Re. “Drought could open the door for corporate agriculture” (yesterday, item 2). Chris Brown makes a good point about the risks of “field to cash register” control by large multinationals, but in does so with the farm lobby’s usual double standards. Farms are just businesses, and when times are good, we don’t hear farmers volunteering any of their profits to the wider society. Yes, they are typically family businesses, but so are hundreds of thousands of other family businesses which go to the wall without parochial handouts. This isn’t economic rationalism, its consistency and fairness. It’s treating everyone the same, irrespective of some nationalistic fantasy about rural roots. If vertical ownership of industries is such a big issue, resolve it legislatively by preventing such takeovers, and limiting vertical penetration of a single entity. There are numerous ways this could be done without significant modification to existing legislation, and these would prevent those large multinationals from securing the vertical ownership of food production Brown worries about. Brown also notes that this subsidy presents “a weekly dole cheque for a family that has little or no other income and an interest rate subsidy that helps farmers get into even more debt.” If someone else’s company goes to the wall, or someone loses their job, their dole is tied to a mutual obligation, and isn’t accompanied by an interest rate subsidy. How about a fair go for all, Chris? Or are you happy in your little rural apartheid fantasy?

Chris Hunter writes: Chris Brown makes an important point when he rationalizes drought relief as food security. Australia does enjoy remarkably cheap food which has been advantaging all of us for a very long time. But when it comes to paying farmers to leave the land would it not be in the national interest to pay them to stay on and re-vegetate. That is, replant the native species prevalent before the land was cleared. The alternative is a dust bowl scenario. Walking off the land is not the answer.

John Hunwick writes: One of the outcomes overlooked in the farmers and drought debate is the need to seriously reconsider the sort of farming that can be pursued in many locations with the advent of climate change. By all means assist farmers to remain on site but perhaps their activities can no longer be sustained with a permanent decrease in rainfall. Moving to different crops and stock which are more suited to an arid climate will save the day. If not they should be retained to manage the land for soil cover, native vegetation and wildlife and be paid accordingly.

Drought assistance:

David Vaughan from Nathalia Victoria writes: I am a farmer, rural business owner and Crikey subscriber in Northern Victoria and I invite people from Crikey to come to our region and have a look around with me and see why we are different and what we are facing and why we are facing it. Do you remember Kodak, Ford etc? Saying that drought assistance delays the dawning of reality is a bit simplistic. What do you do with all the farmers and all the land in the majority of Australia if you ignore the fact— then when the weather changes and it rains again where to then? The majority of us pay tax so why shouldn’t we be looked after when times are tough? Come and see us — fair dinkum.

Marshall Roberts writes: Re. “Drought assistance critics need to get some perspective” (yesterday, item 11). I’m the 5th generation of my family to live on our farm in southern Tasmania, and I’m about to do the sums on taking it over. In my time on this 400 acre block I’ve worked and maintained heavy machinery, kept the books with accounting software, delivered calves James Herriot style, developed software-based tools for collating meteorological data, as well as lots of plain old back breaking work. But I’d consider myself grossly unqualified to comment on how other family farmers (especially in broad acre areas) are running their businesses, without at least getting out there and seeing it. I also run a sole trader IT business. That background saw me employed on contract for one of Tasmania’s largest bureaucracies this year, where I saw such sights as people on $70K+ salaries hand-typing tables of contents because they didn’t know their word processors could do it for them. Multiply those kinds of inefficiencies across ten of thousands of staff nationwide and I reckon you have taxpayer-funded inefficiencies that would rival or outdo anything you’d find in rural Australia. But no, when I do the sums, I won’t be taking assistance into account. Based on experience to date my earnings expectation will probably drop $30K on what I’ve got in the past by taking the office jobs on offer. So why even consider it? Lifestyle, yes, but also because I love this spot and I’d like to leave it better than I found it, and I think that there’s a need for such an attitude. From what I’ve seen, ‘Agribusiness’ doesn’t share it.

Colin Norris writes: It’s ironic that Ted O’Brien blames the Farmers traditional party for their shortcomings. I have been rattling on about this for years. Most farmers are locked into wool production then cattle and if they get time they might grow a bit of wheat, etc. Stock are low input and low profit, poor cash flow and most importantly, very little work and risk. You could poor the whole budget surplus into agriculture and they would not produce enough to feed a dead Galah.

Steve Martin writes: The question has been asked “Why should farmers get handouts, but not milk bar owners etc?” One reason I can think of immediately is milk bar owners and other small business owners go into business in the full knowledge of the competition they will face from other suppliers, and are confident that they can succeed with hard work. Farmers go into bat against fickle nature (i.e. God, or maybe the devil). Hard work and competition are not the issue for them.

Gary Mexted writes: Why are farmers different? Because they put food on my table three times each day and I want that to continue. In addition I am grateful to these hard working people who are not highly paid relative to the Australian community and risk mortgage their asset to provide my sustenance.

Preferences and folly:

John Ley writes: Re. “Why Family First can’t help Labor in the Senate” (yesterday, item 10). Charles Richardson’s refreshingly sound, logical argument yesterday in favour of Labor again giving its preferences in Victoria (and elsewhere) to the Greens was a pleasure to read. The folly of the preference deal Labor did with Family First in Victoria in 2004 have demonstrated in several key instances. In at least one case the Government was able to push through legislation opposed by Barnaby Joyce and all the non-Government parties except Family First. Without the support of Family First the media ownership legislation, which has given the opportunity for massive media concentration, would not have passed. The Senate is shaping up as a massive obstacle to Labor being able, if in government, to implement the policies on which it actually differentiates itself from the Coalition. Only the very optimistic outcome to which Charles refers will put it in a position to get legislation through if it is opposed by the Coalition. For the Greens to win the second Senate seat in the ACT will require a very substantial swing – of the order of 7%+. Canberrans will have to be prepared to defeat their only Coalition member or senator – something they have never done in the 33 years since the Territory senate seats were created – a very big ask. So if Labor gives away this possibility in favour of supporting the right wing religious Family First party, at least in Victoria, they will not only be creating a huge obstacle for a Rudd Government, they will be causing massive disillusionment in their own ranks and among progressive people throughout Australia.

Canberra airport:

Chief Executive of The Village Building Co, Bob Winnel, writes: Re. “The stoush over Canberra airport” (yesterday, item 15). It would appear from yesterday’s Crikey that the normally well informed Ben Sandilands has swallowed a large helping of Canberra Airport’s spin about the need to keep Queanbeyan, in NSW free from housing development. It is important that Crikey readers be aware of the facts. Sited 8 to 12 kilometres from the runway at Canberra airport, Tralee, will not frustrate the future development of Canberra Airport. Residents who buy homes at Tralee will not be exposed to the “24 hour surround sound jet noise” as suggested by Mr Sandilands, and Tralee meets the most stringent planning requirements in the world in relation to aircraft noise. After years of consultation with all parties including the Federal Government, ACT Government, Queanbeyan City Council and a range of other stakeholders, N.S.W Planning Minister Frank Sartor announced in April 2007 that he would adhere to the ACT Sub regional planning strategy signed by all relevant governments in 1998, and allow an initial development of 2000 homes at Tralee. No matter what false claims Canberra Airport makes about its future, these homes will not interfere with the airports growth. In relation to the suggestion that Canberra Airport will have a significant role in servicing Sydney residents, Mr Sandilands might like to jump in his car and take a drive to Canberra. The nation’s capital is not “only an extra 30 minutes drive time from south-western Sydney to Canberra Airport compared to the usual gridlock and poisonous fumes of the M5 East tunnel that gets between much of the metropolitan sprawl and Kingsford Smith”. It’s 260 kilometres from South West Sydney. Canberra Airport is basing their noise projections on traffic levels over double the volume of Sydney air traffic. These planes would land 6kms from the centre of Canberra, adjacent to existing ACT residential areas. They would fly over Queanbeyan, which is in Minister Sartor’s planning jurisdiction at one, two, three and four in the morning with more than one plane every two minutes, 24 hours per day. Does Mr Sandilands believe that Minister Sartor would be doing his job for Queanbeyan residents if he didn’t describe such projections as “outrageous and unconscionable”? A rapacious airport owner, loose with the truth is entitled to dream of massive further wealth at other people’s expense, but I don’t believe most people expect such dreams to become the basis for government policy. Sorry Mr Sandilands, but you have been gravely misinformed by an airport owner who wants to do to Canberra and Queanbeyan what no government is prepared to do to Sydney, in the middle of the night.

Andrew Maiden writes: Canberra airport argues against nearby residential development because, it says, there could be as many as 76 wide-bodied flight movements a day. Who are they kidding? If this projection were credible, the airport would already have started investing in bigger and better terminals. With only four aerobridges, surely the chief obstacle to growth is the size of the terminal rather than the possibility of aggrieved residents. Perhaps the projections of future air traffic movements help boost the value of the airport now, but they are no credible objection to the development of adjacent land.

Tariff reduction:

Marcus L’Estrange writes: Re. “Not another review of the textile, clothing and footwear industry!” (Yesterday, item 5). Alan Moran from the IPA missed a key point in his article on tariffs. The first major tariff reduction (25%) was during the 1972-1975 Whitlam Government, not the Hawke Government and it was mainly in the TCF area.

Andrew Bolt can be so mean:

Rob O’Connor writes: Re. “A big week on the gravy trains” (yesterday, item 9). Re. Richard Farmer and the health and medical research “gravy train”. I’m sure I won’t be the only one to point this out, but those weren’t exactly new commitments. Additional funding for NHMRC grants has been coming on-stream since 2001. What was unusual about the announcement was (a) that it was made by the PM, since the Minister for Health has always been the one making the announcement before, and (b) that it was made much, much earlier in the than usual. Yes, before the election, so that various Coalition worthies can go on about the research grants awarded to the unis in their regional, rural and marginal electorates. Since many of the large grants involve multiple players, I’m sure we’ll see more than one MP taking credit for the same grant – and they’re unlikely to break it down into campus-by-campus amounts; they’ll just lay claim to the whole thing. Note that the PM’s name did not appear on the announcement for ARC grant outcomes. I suppose he didn’t want to be associated with funding for some of those fuzzy weirdo humanities projects. Andrew Bolt can be so mean.

Home loans and interest rates:

Matthew Brennan writes: It seemed odd to me that the respondents to Glen Dyer’s article on problem home loans (yesterday, comments) all chose to take Dyer to task on an affordability axe which they all must have woken up grinding yesterday morning whilst ignoring what Dyer was saying. If the rate of defaults on home loans in Australia is only 0.41%, and this is not historically high, then one must suppose that Australian home buyers are as generally able to meet their mortgage repayments as they historically have been able to do. Dyer is therefore perfectly correct to say that the number of problem home loans in Australia is currently small. From the point of view of stability of the financial system this is good because it implies that a repeat here in Oz of what is happening in the US would seem less likely. The respondents to Dyer’s article were all correct to highlight that there are problems with housing affordability in Australia but that wasn’t Dyer’s point and all respondents ought to have enough sense to recognize that a sub prime default crisis induced credit crunch would drive market interest rates up which would make housing affordability even worse than it is now. And precipitate more defaults, not to mention the effect on employment and the economy.

Patrick Kelso writes: I don’t remember when interest rates hit 17%, I was about 5, my mother was a sole parent on a pension, and she had a loan for about $45,000 for our house. Houses in the area are now worth $250,000. 17% of $45,000 is less than $10,000, 6.5% (My current home loan rate) of $250,000 is over $15,000 per year. I’d like to see a sole parent pensioner get a loan for the same house now. Does anyone know what the pension was in 1988; I’ll bet the pension hasn’t increased to 5X its 1988 values.

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Peter Fray

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