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Comments & corrections

Oct 11, 2007

Comments, corrections, clarifications, and c*ckups

Telstra's Next G network ... Rudd, McClelland and the death penalty ... WorkChoices and labour market reform ... Gunns and insider trading ... the Pacific highway porkbarrel ... public hospitals ... Brian Burke ...

Telstra’s Next G network:

Telstra’s FNQ regional manager, Wally Donaldson, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Re. Your item yesterday about the Northern Task Force having problems with Telstra’s Next G network. I know this country well – I attended a Gulf Savannah Development (GSD) meeting at Georgetown the day after the Task Force had been there. Barnaby Joyce was at the GSD meeting. I had a range of devices on display , including a working demonstration of the Next G wireless loop and several data devices – audience were impressed. I can confirm that our next G coverage is the same or better than what was previously available through CDMA. Unfortunately politicians from the big smoke don’t realise that in ten minutes you could be 15km from town and already outside handheld coverage whereas in the city you have only travelled a couple of km and are in an area that is saturated with base stations. With a carkit, coverage will be extended west of Georgetown to about 40km and east the the top of the Newcastle range (approx 30km, the signal won’t travel through the mountains). Coverage footprint in these areas is very often determined by terrain. I understand that the Task Force visited properties on the Gilbert River – 75km west of Georgetown and 75km east of the next Next G site at Croydon – we do not have coverage at the Gilbert River. Expectations of city visitors to these areas is that there should be coverage everywhere and the locals will always take the opportunity to tell politicians how tough it is in the bush and how they lack the services of the city. All the local shires have migrated to Next G (Etheridge, Croydon and Carpentaria) with no network complaints – we are working on a couple of handset issues. I think this is more about people’s expectations that mobile coverage should be everywhere and unfortunately Next G is being used as the vehicle to express these expectations under the disguise of poor coverage. If the task force devices worked at the airport they must be CDMA/Next G working on our network — there is no other carrier network at Georgetown, nor within 300km of Georgetown.

Rudd, McClelland and the death penalty:

John Shailer writes: Re. “McClelland’s execution should be a lesson for Rudd” (yesterday, item 2). Kevin Rudd helped prepare Labor’s policy for a regional coalition against the death penalty, including the Bali bombers. The Government’s policy is also against the death penalty, but not to lobby on behalf of the Bali bombers or other major terrorists. After a speech by Labor’s spokesman, Robert McLelland, confirming Labor’s policy, Me Too!, Kevin buckles at the knees with the first whiff of media grapeshot across his bows, abandons his policy, adopts John Howards policy, and hangs out to dry McLelland and two young staffers for simply doing their jobs, albeit very insensitively. Is this the kind of fearless and courageous leader we need to run our country, and to make and stick with the tough decisions, like anti-terrorism legislation; gun control; standing by the American alliance; Aboriginal child abuse; confronting union thugs etc – I don’t think so!

Simon Hoyle writes: I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the reaction to Robert McClelland’s comments on the death penalty. Surely, you either believe it’s wrong to kill people, under any circumstances (regardless of whether it’s as an act of murder or as a state-sanctioned execution), or you do not. That’s a matter for one’s own conscience, and personally I believe the former: killing is wrong, and there’s never, ever, a bad time to say so. Mr Rudd, Mr Howard, and anyone else who’d condemn Mr McClelland for his comments, have only to answer one, simple question: Do they believe that killing is wrong? And then they must have the courage to say what they think. I cannot see why it makes any difference when they’re asked the question.

Graham Dent writes: With the recent blow up in the debate on the death penalty I am surprised that (as far as I can see) the media have failed to pick up on the fact that yesterday 10 October was “World Against Death Penalty” day. There was also a UN proposal for a moratorium on the death penalty that was due to be voted on last tonight. What is the Australian Government’s position – it would be of interest to hear Howard/Downer’s views on the UN resolution! Heaven forbid that it might support it … what would that mean about their criticism of Labour policy … and if they don’t support it … doesn’t it make nonsense of Australia’s (and Howard’s) opposition to the death penalty? Isn’t politics a wonderful world?

Cathy Bannister writes: Re. “Counselled? Me?” (Yesterday, item 11). Christian Kerr seems to have a problem with the fact that Robert McClelland’s “offending” speech was still up on the ALP website yesterday. Actually, to remove it could be seen as an attempt to expunge the public record. The ALP should just leave it there and move on. Is it too much to hope that the whole episode might be a subtle shout out to the progressives, in the way that Howard’s argument that same s-x couples receiving IVF treatment would be a violation of a child’s unalienable right to have a mother and a father, was to bigots?

Warwick Sauer writes: Re. “Crikey Policy Comparison Part 8: death penalty” (yesterday, item 13). Crikey wrote: “Kevin Rudd wrapped McClelland’s knuckles…” Exactly what did Kevin Rudd “wrap” Robert McClelland’s knuckles in? Bandages embedded with broken glass? Therapeutic mud and seaweed? Or, perhaps: a dissertation on the respective meanings of “wrap” and “rap”?

WorkChoices and labour market reform:

Phil Teece writes: Re. “Socialist pedigree of the other WorkChoices academic” (yesterday, item 15). Leon Bertrand makes a familiar mistake in his assault on David Peetz. To be opposed to AWAs and the Howard Government’s WorkChoices does not automatically make one “bitterly opposed to labour market reform”, as he claims. Nor does a preference for collective negotiations. Rather than being focussed primarily on outcomes in labour relations, Leon and his ilk are in fact clearly obsessed with process, with individualisation of employment and with damaging trade unionism. With an open mind, it really isn’t hard to see that good or bad outcomes can come from either collective or individualist IR models, depending on the competence and sincerity of legislators and negotiating parties. Nor can it be denied that many of the world’s most productive economies have achieved excellent results without abandoning unionism or collective negotiation. Repeat after me Leon [and Janet and John and Joe]: “WorkChoices” is not the definition of labour market reform.” It is just one [arguably ill-conceived] approach to it. There are other ways to change industrial relations. Some people who are genuinely interested in genuine labour market reform prefer them.

Andrew Whiley writes: Leon Bertrand questions the credibility of various researchers who find negative impacts arising from WorkChoices and the new AWA regime. Why doesn’t he demand the Minister grant public access to a valid sample of raw data on all AWAs registered since the new legislation came into operation? Why is it that whenever a new report is released critical of WorkChoices, the howls of bias are directed at the authors, but no one asks for the core facts to be tabled? Minister Hockey has consistently refused to open the files for analysis after the initial round of embarrassing revelations that employers were cutting wages and conditions. If AWAs are so good why are they so secret?

William Fettes writes: Leon Bertrand’s ad hominem attack on John Buchanan misunderstands what impartiality means in academia. You don’t have to be indifferent to the Howard Government to produce a non-biased critical report. What matters is the rigour of the substantive work, not the associations of the person, or their political leanings. Nobody thinks the analyses of Alan Greenspan are worthless, because he happened to have associations with Ayn Rand, and her creepy Objectivist cult, as a naive graduate. He held objectively laughable views back then, yet that didn’t mean his data models were somehow contaminated by his political opinions. Obviously, the point of the allegation was to criticise the study, by attacking the authors, without having to dispute the paper’s methodology. Now if Leon wants to actually go through all those papers and show a pattern of flawed methodology that would be different. But the mere fact that the author has a corpus of heterodox economic views, diametrically opposed to Howard, is entirely consistent with the report being impartial and correct. That’s why peer review – and not apoliticism – is the standard of scientific social inquiry.

Mark Perica writes: John Buchanan and David Peetz are well credentialed academics who have many pier reviewed articles and scholarly works published. They both have doctorates and are leaders in the academic field of industrial relations. These men could not be more different to the cheer leading hacks at the right wing think tanks that misleadingly stand behind the appellation “Research Fellow” because they write something for the H.R Nicholls Society conference or publish a love letter to Howard in Quadrant. Peetz and Buchanan are committed to serious research. Leave them alone!

John Kelly writes: Seriously, what is “Brisbane-based blogger” Leon Bertrand’s claim to fame and expertise on the industrial relations system? And why does Crikey print this garbage? If there are criticisms to be made of the research of John Buchanan and his associates can’t we at least hear them from rational people with rational arguments to sustain? Maybe their silence says so much… Are there any other bloggers from Brissie out there? Would they care to comment on industrial relations or climate change (I hear the weather is good up there) or African migrants or taxes or the quality of Australia’s performance at the World Cup (either one). Because apparently if you have an internet connection and half-baked thought in your head that qualifies you to be published by Crikey. Oh… Did this get published? Oh bugger…

Gunns and insider trading:

Phil Diamond writes: Re. “Brisk trade in Gunns shares raises questions of timing” (yesterday, item 1). Concerning the possibility of insider trading after Turnbull gave Gunns the Chief Scientist’s Report, I feel that the one week chart is misleading. 1) Two days of alleged trading at 7 times so-called regular volumes did not alter the price one iota. 2) Have a look at the Etrade chart for GNS over the last 12 months. Two things stand out: first, those days of trade occurred at a (now) thrice time supported level. Second, the advance after Turnbull’s public release was blunted by an equally strong resistance level. Moreover, the volumes traded are not inordinately high when viewed over the 12 month period. The real point of the story is possibly that Turnbull broke his promise of simultaneous release to both Gunns and the Public. I do not hold shares in Gunns, but I am an amateur chartist.

The Pacific highway porkbarrel:

Bob Murphy writes: Re. “Nats add Pacific Highway to regional porkbarrel” (yesterday, item 9). David MacCormack has got a few things wrong in his whinge about the Pacific Highway “porkbarrel”. The Webber Report way back in the ’90s identified the coastal strip between Sydney and Brisbane and on up to Cairns as the fastest growing area of Australia. The Pacific Highway is the main traffic artery for the whole region and also the main connecting highway between Sydney and Brisbane. The two lane stretches are manifestly inadequate for present traffic flows as accident statistics show. Freight is expected to treble between Sydney and Brisbane by 2020 and Brisbane will be the 2nd largest city in Australia by 2026. And the population centres along the way are among the fastest growing towns in Australia. Most of them have the Pacific Highway and its traffic for a main street. Trucks are a lavishly rewarded interest group? Where, pray tell. Truck fuel tax and registration charges are set by government to recover the costs they impose on the road network. They pay their way. Trucks operate on thin margins and it is goods required by the community that they are carrying or they wouldn’t be out on the road. Who do you think pays for their fuel? Cowboys out for a good time? Meeting society’s freight task is the only legitimate reason they are on the road. Rail is not commercially suitable for short distances like Sydney-Brisbane and that is why it only has about 7% of the land freight in the corridor. Nor can it service intermediate stops between Sydney and Brisbane. The Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics, the Productivity Commission and the National Transport Commission say only about 13-15% of non-bulk land freight is contestable between road and rail. And even there it gets to and from rail at each end of the line by truck. The Pacific Highway is no pork barrel.

John Kramer writes: Thanks for the laugh, David MacCormack! All this talk of a vast National Party conspiracy to use “massive slush funds” to provide “gold-plated rural infrastructure” in the marginal seats of the NSW Mid-North Coast. Perhaps David could come up here and show me some? MacCormack correctly notes that the Pacific Highway and Sydney-Brisbane rail line are comprehensively inadequate to serve the needs of the local population, let alone tourists. So what golden infrastructure David going to show me? I’d advise him to not bother looking for any in the federal areas of telecommunications or the arts, and the state responsibilities of roads, schools, hospitals, ports, public transport and emergency services are unlikely to provide much fodder either. In the meantime whenever MacCormack is tempted to refer to rural spending as “leached from taxpayers” he might ponder the fact that out here we’re taxpayers too, and our taxes get leached away for such delights as Sydney’s desalination plant and motorways and Canberra’s vast bureaucracy and foolish wars. For all the talk about vast quantities spent on the Murray-Darling and drought relief, Howard’s biggest regional spending program this year will be the NT military intervention, which seems designed to deliver the wealth trapped under Aboriginal land to the city headquarters of our biggest mining companies. Thanks for nothing.

Nick Casmirri, former secretary of Northern Rivers trains for the future, writes: Congratulations to David MacCormack for offering a rare dissenting opinion on the Pacific Highway. Whilst I believe that an eventual full upgrade to dual carriageway is warranted, the major issue, and that of most concern to local motorists, is the ever-increasing heavy vehicle traffic. The insistence by the NSW and Federal Governments that new stages be built to the larger and more costly motorway standard illustrates that the main objective of the programme is not to improve safety but to significantly increase traffic capacity. With AusLink projecting that freight volumes on this route will triple over twenty years, the highway upgrade alone, without a serious investment in the rail network, will simply not keep pace with the traffic increase. It’d be great to see other media outlets exploring this issue more deeply, rather than being taken in by the roads lobby’s manipulation of the emotion of road tragedies. There’s a wide range of views about the highway amongst those who live on the North Coast, and a promise which locals know will mean more trucks on the roads may not be as electorally advantageous as it seems.

Adam Rope writes: I read the first sentence of an ABC report about the Pacific Highway yesterday morning. It simply stated “Prime Minister John Howard will join Transport Minister Mark Vaile today in Grafton, which is in the marginal seat of Page in northern New South Wales, to announce the money.” Don’t you just admire the use, in the one sentence, of the phrases “marginal seat” and “announce the money” to summarise the Coalition’s election strategy.

Public hospitals:

Sharyn Rogers writes: Re. “A surgeon writes: public hospitals face a sad diagnosis” (yesterday, item 6). As a Registered Nurse/Midwife over the last 30 years in the public and private, city and country health system and currently a part-time Duty Co-ordinator at the Lyell McEwin Hospital, I have to say Professor Guy Maddern’s summary of the health system is the most accurate and poignant description of what is happening. The politicians need to take note of each point and address it – we would then have a system that works.

Brian Burke:

Brian Mitchell writes: Re. “Can Brian Burke ever get a fair trial in WA?” (Yesterday, item 18). Like many lawyers Greg Barns is all too keen on restricting the freedom of the press in order to secure what he regards as fair a trial as possible for alleged crooks. Barns, who’s never happier than when advocating on behalf of the odious (last week he was banging on about the rights of dead child abuser Bob Collins), says it might be impossible for Brian Burke to secure a fair trial because of the massive (negative) exposure the Panama Hat has received courtesy of the open and transparent hearings by WA’s anti corruption commission. Barns describes the decision by the CCC to allow a “media free for all” as “unfortunate”. So what’s his alternative? A session where evidence is heard only by lawyers? The media did a professional job reporting on what happened at the CCC and the Carpenter Government responded quickly to the gory evidence that was presented. Is Barns suggesting Carpenter should have held off sacking Marlborough, Bowler and McRae until they’d had their “day in court”. Preposterous. With that reasoning, maybe the world has been too quick to judge the actions of Stalin and Hitler, after all, those two “innocent” gentlemen never got to court either. Barns often struggles to understand the essential role of a free media in a free society and I’m a little weary of his pontificating about the high-church status of the courts, as if they are the fount of all wisdom and justice.

The war on terror:

Irfan Yusuf writes: Yesterday I was criticised by the self-appointed Mufti of all things military-related, Neil James (yesterday, comments), for mistakenly stating that trooper David Pearce was the first Australian soldier to die in the current conflict in Afghanistan. In fact Pearce was the second. James suggested I had insulted the families and friends of fallen diggers by getting such details wrong. Although such persons have yet to complain, I will do something most un-Howardly and join Robert McClelland in apologising for the inadvertent error and regret any offence caused to anyone by my mistake. At the same time, I wonder at the assumptions that seem to underlie McClelland’s apology – that all survivors of terrorism (whether family and friends of actual victims or those injured in attacks) will necessarily support capital punishment for convicted terrorists. And that survivors only see those directly responsible for planning and carrying out the attacks as playing any meaningful role in explaining terrorism. And that these survivors are so overcome by perfectly legitimate emotion that they cannot and/or will not look to deeper causes of terrorist violence. And that therefore, the search for underlying causes is necessarily an insult to the survivors. While still recovering from horrific wounds after the July 7 2005 London bombing, Australian Louise Barry had no hesitation in telling the PM what she thought about the links between the bombs that killed over 50 people in London and the ongoing Iraq war. Gill Hicks survived the London blasts but lost both her legs. I met Ms Hicks and heard her speak at the recent Deliberative Poll in Canberra. A committed Christian, Ms Hicks now speaks out on peace issues and refuses to “hate the person who has done this to me”. Not all survivors can be expected to involve themselves in such philanthropic and noble endeavours. However to use their pain to fight culture wars and suppress debate on foreign policy and security issues is patronising to the survivors and insults the memories of the victims.

Michael Latz writes: It’s obviously very difficult for civilians like me to raise issues associated with the death of a soldier – someone who has sacrificed their life for our freedom and security – without risking unintended offence to the family and the ADF. Hence it’s understandable that Neil James (in your comments section yesterday) is critical of what appear to be inaccuracies in the first sentence of Irfan Yusuf’s piece of the day before. However, while I’ve never served and I’m certainly no expert in “military history and the mechanics of military action”, I thought it was very offensive that Brendan Nelson used Trooper Pearce’s death as an opportunity to speculate that the weapon that killed him may have originated in Iran. Irfan seems to make a good case that it’s unlikely Iran would be supplying such devices to insurgents in Afghanistan, and from what I read the ADF is reserving judgment until the bomb is analysed, so raising the issue at this time strikes me as quite disrespectful. Like Irfan I’m definitely not a supporter of the likes of Ahmedinejad and I’m concerned by the increasingly pro-war stance the US is taking towards Iran – I can’t help the feeling that Nelson is reading from a script suggested by the Whitehouse. The fact that our Defence Minister is making such provocative and unsubstantiated comments in this context strikes me as highly inappropriate, and leaves me very worried about the kind of tactics that may be used to justify further bloodshed.

Thanks Crikey:

Alan Hatfield writes: Re. “Gunns pulp mill: your questions answered” (yesterday, item 17). Thank you very much for the answers to my questions about the proposed pulp mill and forestry generally in Tasmania. I much appreciate the effort. You’ve now set the bar very high and raised my expectations to near-stratospheric levels. As soon as I have some more questions…

Stumped:

Jenny Sams writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Will the $7,000 cricket bowling machine paid by Howard for the local cricket club counteract the 300 women that Maxine has door knocking for her all over Bennelong? Think not.

Insensitive:

Darlene Taylor writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Given that the vast majority of your readers are probably blokes (and the kind of blokes who, shudder, work in politics), you undoubtedly didn’t think twice about using yesterday’s editorial. While making a political point against the Howard Government’s response to the crisis in Indigenous communities is fair enough, the way you went about it was insensitive indeed.

Dennis Shanahan:

Tom Price writes: Re. “Asylum seeker?” (Tuesday, item 24). Your media snippet on Dennis Shanahan arranging his future employment comes as no surprise. For 11 years, as the reliable conduit for the message of the day from the PM’s office. Honestly—when did Shanahan last break a story due to any independent effort, or vigilance on his own part? Anyone? No doubt News Ltd has had to ponder what value he would return from his remuneration as Political Editor and company lobbyist in the face of a de facto boycott by the new government. Warehousing, it seems, is the preferred means for rewarding Shanahan’s outstanding contribution to the political imperatives of both the Coalition and his employers. He can ride Geoff Elliott’s coat-tails in Washington for time while dusting off his old lecture notes for a refresher course in what his soi-disant profession should aim to achieve.

The Qantas frequent flyer program:

Mike McBain writes: Re. “Fiction fights fact over the Qantas frequent flyer program” (yesterday, item 30). My FF card has always carried the comment “Member since Jan 83” but I can’t remember if that was referenced from the Qantas absorption or takeover of Australian Airlines or whether it dated from my original invitation to join the TAA VIP club? Whatever the basis they began to lose my support when they treated their customers so badly during The Pilots’ Strike, continued to lose me when it was so difficult to use FF Points out of Tasmania and truly lost me when they began degrading the value of accumulated points. Now I treat Qantas & FF points as a joke if you live in Tasmania where you frequently get shunted onto unreliable and unimpressive Jet Star flights. If this airline won an award for world’s best discount airline then flying is the real joke. I fear the terrorists have already won that war.

John Mair writes: I know Mr Sandilands doesn’t like Qantas and that he is a mine of information when it comes to aviation, but his comment, “But there was indeed a Qantas loyalty scheme in 1987 called The Captain’s Club. If you were “in” or flew a lot at high fares, you could get a free drink in a lounge” is rather ungracious. The Captain’s Club was introduced when Qantas brought in their 747s. This was not 1987 – it was much earlier. Also it was for First Class passengers irrespective of how frequently you flew. Qantas also was the first international airline to introduce Business Class and at that time, if you paid a full economy fare, you were upgraded to Business. How things have changed…

Graham Edney writes: I’m an old fart with failing memory but I thought I was a member of Australian Airlines (nee TAA now Qantas)’ “Flight Deck Club” (at least I think that’s what it was called) in the early 1980s.

Dick Pratt:

Andrew W Scott writes: Re. “$40 million = small beer for Australia’s third richest man” (yesterday, item 27). Adam Schwab is right on the money with his calculations regarding the effect of the $40m fine for Richard Pratt. The effect of fines on the guilty should be measured in terms of both their net worth and their income. Adam’s calculations were similar to the calculations I referred to when I appeared on Today Tonight criticising the puny fines doled out to Crown Casino for playing with short decks of cards – those fines worked out to be the equivalent per count of a $0.60 fine for the average salary and wage earner. In my opinion a fine should be a function of two things – the severity of the crime or civil wrong, and the effect of that fine on the guilty. Let’s say my net worth is $5m and I earn $500k a year and I do something naughty and cop $5k fine – then I believe someone worth $1m and who earns $100k a year should cop a $1k fine for that same naughty. Let’s say someone who is worth and earns the same as me does something twice as naughty as whatever it was I did to get a $5k fine, then (s)he should cop a $10k fine. Could the lawyers out there tell me if there is any reason this couldn’t work? Do any other countries have this kind of thing? It seems to make sense…

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to boss@crikey.com.au. 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.

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