Apology to Christopher Murphy:

CRIKEY: In the 4 February edition of Crikey under “Tips and rumours”, we published an item which referred to the prominent Sydney lawyer Christopher Murphy as “infamous”. Crikey acknowledges that Mr Murphy has an eminent and long established reputation as a successful Sydney lawyer. Crikey unreservedly withdraws the slur against Mr Murphy, and apologises for the hurt caused by the item.

The 2020 summit:

Gordon Pears writes: Re. “2020 summit: Talk for the sake of a talkfest” (yesterday, item 5). The 2020 Summit has the potential to create a fine blueprint for a future Australia. But then what? How can we move from vision to reality? No way: unless we have the right machinery to put it into effect. This will call for a political and constitutional structure designed to encourage thoughtful change rather than inhibit it. Neither Mr Rudd’s initiative nor any comment on it that I have read so far makes any reference to this need. The Australian Constitution is a British Act of Parliament designed over 100 years ago mainly to unite six quarrelsome colonies into something resembling a nation. Well, the colonies haven’t changed much but the environment within which they quarrel – socially, economically and globally – has changed beyond all recognition. The next federal election should be accompanied by a referendum to amend the Australian Constitution in a number of relevant ways. The minimum this should include would be to replace the present three year maximum parliamentary terms by fixed four year terms (which Mr Rudd already supports). Next, the separation of powers between Commonwealth and States should be re-written in 21st century language for 21st century conditions. Equally, the separation of powers between executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Commonwealth Government needs to be clarified. Finally, the Constitution should include a Bill of Rights. None of this will be easy to achieve, essentially because people with power will always resist change that reduces that power. Not all aspects of a mature and successful democracy can be written into a constitution. This includes much of the structure and behaviour of our political parties. Carmen Lawrence summed up one aspect of this beautifully: “The domination of the Parliament by a disciplined bipolar system means that the House of Representatives comes to be seen at worst as a theatre of meaningless ritual and at best as an institution under the foot of the Executive”.

Angela Munro writes: If Kevin Rudd’s serious about inclusive public conversations, he’ll clean up branch-stacking in the ALP. It guarantees the ma-a-a-tes (or celebs) get fast-tracked into Parliament while independent thinkers are sent packing. While he’s at it, he could lift Australia’s pitiful ranking on the international scale of freedom of the media. If we weren’t given the mushroom treatment we could all chip into the conversation.

John Donovan writes: David MacCormack, your cynicism is outrageously over the top, and completely detrimental to the outcomes sought and fostered by the planned summit. “Government by stunt” as you call it, is actually a method of reducing some of the bureaucracy involved in developing policy, that directly affects all of us. How about giving it a chance before you trash the idea completely huh? It’s more than was ever offered in 12 years of coalition government. For you to so cynically deride ideas of this nature less than three months into the term of the new government smacks of small minded bullying. How about instead of tearing the idea to pieces, you actually contribute something?

Charles Bryant writes: Thank you, David. You make good sense on the nonsense of 2020 Summit. During the lead up to the election, Kevin kept telling us that he would fix all those problems put to him during that time. Was that a sham? He now asks for advice on how that is to be done. Have we been done?

China, foreign ownership and Aussie assets :

David Havyatt writes: Re. “Time to stop China digging all the way to Australia’s assets” (yesterday, item 5). It is disappointing to see that Stephen Mayne as somebody who holds himself up to be a serious defender of shareholders’ rights pursuing such a pitiful jingoistic agenda. His analysis of how few Australian companies earn over $200M offshore compared to how many foreign companies earn $200M in Australia ignores the actual ownership arrangements at the expense of the domicile of the executive. For example, he includes Telecom New Zealand in the list, yet over 20% of Telecom is owned by Australian shareholders, who earn their dividends from the company’s profit in New Zealand. A number of Australian companies have moved their registration overseas following mergers they initiated or their acquisitions, and logically list on the more liquid stock exchange. We can mention News, but there are others like TNT, BHP Billiton itself, and soon Simsmetal. As a shareholder I don’t want management of Australian companies protected from acquisition – that lets management off the hook, and Mayne’s so-called “activism” (read self-promotion) has no effect. As for the fact that sometimes Government owns the investments, I’m not sure whether it is Mayne’s suggestion that our Government should own more of our or other countries economies. But at least the good socialist Peter Costello established a structure whereby our government buys stakes in firms here and overseas – called the Future Fund.

Harry Wallace writes: I started the AusBuy campaign 17 years ago (it is still going but without me for the last 10 years) when it was obvious to me and a small number of other business and professional people that Australia was headed for a financial disaster by allowing its strategic assets to become owned by its competitors or others who would have no concern for Australia’s long term welfare. Labor showed no interest. Keating took the teeth out of the FIRB and I was advised by insiders that Keating personally approved the takeover of an iconic Australian company. A member of his Electorate Committee arranged for me to meet John Howard, then still in Opposition. He had no interest at all in encouraging Australians to support their own companies despite the obvious financial and strategic value of doing this. With Net Foreign Liabilities doubling in less than 10 years under JH, Australia may well be beyond saving from sliding into Second world status. It would be great if the 2020 Conference produced a change of attitude – but I will not hold my breath! From the beginning of my campaign I found Paul Kelly and the News Group, despite having friends at senior positions, would only plug that foreign ownership had benefits, and no costs. I doubt if this will change. But please keep on about the problems foreign ownership will continue to bring to Australia.

Saying sorry:

David MacCormack writes: Re. “A sorry excuse for not apologising” (yesterday, item 15). Boy I really upset Chris Graham. I confess I was unaware, until his ad hominem attack yesterday, that I was either opposed to an apology to the “stolen generations” or a Liberal. I’m chuffed that he thinks I’m leadership material, although given the current state of conservative ranks, that isn’t saying much. But if my piece was the ugliest thing that he has ever seen, then he seriously needs to get out more. “Like it or not,” I wrote, “there are arguments against a formal apology.” Judging by his froth-mouthed fury, it’s probably safe to say Mr Graham doesn’t like it. But that doesn’t change the fact that many people hold to such arguments – including, until 24 November 2007, the Australian Government. Most likely, for many of them, those arguments are a fig leaf for bigotry; for others, they would be sincerely-held. But the demands for compensation triggered by the looming apology will undoubtedly reinforce the views of both. Whether Mr Graham, or for that matter I, agree or disagree with them is of no moment. Rather, the point is that the Coalition needs to work out whether it continues to endorse these arguments or minimises the political damage to itself by backing the apology. But given that Mr Graham put such bile into refuting what he thought were my arguments against an apology, I’m happy to play, at least as far as “genocide” goes. Simply put, I have never been able to understand the obsessive need to equate forced removal with mass extermination. It’s as if what happened wasn’t tragic enough, that it has to be somehow hyped up into Australia’s very own Holocaust. We can point to any number of historical figures who wanted, or approved of, or were resigned to, the extermination of Aboriginal people. But to make the leap from that to declaring that forced removal was part of a deliberate policy of mass extermination on the part of Australian governments neither reflects historical reality nor adds to our understanding of what happened. “Genocide”, as I’ve written previously , is now a buzzword wielded for political purposes (and no longer only by the Left). Labelling something “genocide” sticks it in a nice, easy category of pure evil that dismisses any complexity on the part of the participants. Its repeated use in this fashion undermines the meaning and importance of the term. But what’s the real issue here? I think it’s that I discussed the apology – something that should’ve been provided a decade ago, along with compensation for individual cases of demonstrated harm – in political terms. That I reduced an intensely emotional and deeply-heartfelt issue to one of pure political calculation, and suggested that our leaders might apologise for political purposes. This applies as much to Kevin Rudd, for whom the apology appears to be about messing with Opposition heads and “moving on” on indigenous issues (as if a tragedy like forced removal is something we can simply “move on” from), as it does to the increasingly hapless Brendan Nelson. Such an approach may indeed be cynical, but no more so than the politicians we are discussing. If you think for a moment that politics isn’t critical to even this debate, then you’re profoundly naïve.

Qantas woes:

Nicholas Plowman writes: Re. “Qantas jet flies on, never mind the leaks” (yesterday, item 11). It was impossible to say there was a related problem along the lines of a leak in the galley however the Captain made an announcement that the 1st Officer, who was at the time walking towards the back of the plane, was checking on a minor issue in the galley, and that there was “nothing to be worried about”. He went on to explain that this was to ensure the ground staff in Sydney could be efficient in their response once the plane was on the ground. There was muted laughter in response to a few passengers’ comments that were along the lines of; “hope it’s not leaking water” etc.

Graham Edney writes: On Friday I flew Jetstar from Newcastle to Brisbane. I checked in (with Driver’s Licence as ID) without incident but on boarding found a lady in “my” seat. It transpired that while processing me, the clerk had clicked on the next name on the alphabetical passenger manifest so that the lady and I both held boarding passes in her name. All was eventually sorted but how can the system allow the same person to board twice? There’s clearly scope here for mischief or worse.

An anonymous Qantas traveller writes: Here is a photograph I took a few days ago of the engine of a Qantas Dash 8-200, noisily making its way to Sydney. I took the photo because of the rather dilapidated state of the engine housing. There are several chips in the paintwork with patches missing from the top of the engine and paint peeling off the side panels. While I appreciate that the grubbiness and quality of the paintwork does not reflect the state of the airframe, (the exposed bare metal appears sound), it does not give a good impression.

Paddy McGuinness:

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Paddy McGuinness: the fight for his epitaph continues” (yesterday, item 18). That old fraud Paddy seems to be enjoying a mourning period longer than those accorded to Popes and dead monarchs. Now Michael Baume is dredged up out of the La Brea Tar pit to have is two cents worth in The Australian. Don’t they realise no-one cares? Looking at pictures of PP’s internment reminded me of Jurassic Park; all the ideological dinosaurs bumping into each other and wondering why they have become extinct. Happily Australia moved on last November and many of the old culture warriors were left strewn on the field of battle. Sadly those who survived now think they have the right to bore us spitless about how it was in their day. God help us! Bob Carr got it right about Paddy and his ilk trapping John Howard on the ideological flypaper. Happily he and his mob are still there while the rest of us can now move on.

Borrowing money:

Andrew Jameson writes: Peter Lloyd (yesterday, comments) can go to a US (or European, Japanese, Singaporean or Hong Kong) bank and borrow money. Unfortunately, he will need to borrow US dollars, change them into Australian dollars, and then repay US dollars throughout his mortgage. This is exactly what some enterprising bankers tried to do in the mid-1980s with Swiss Francs and Yen, when interest rates were less than half of those in Australia – until the exchange rate collapsed and $200k mortgages turned into $700k mortgages. But why bother about buying a house? Just borrow US dollars at 3.5%, invest it an ING Direct account at 6.4%, and then repay the loan. Unfortunately, these miraculous money-making perpetual motion machines don’t seem to work and over the long run, the currency risk will exact its price.

The price of defeat:

John Bowyer writes: Bravo Shirley Colless (yesterday, comments) on John Howard’s retirement but there is a solution. Let all politicians get their “pension” only when they reach pensionable age. That is 65 for men and 63 for women isn’t it? Oh yes and of course “Keating” them too, make them suffer an assets test and anything that denies us average punters the pension applies to them. Gee, that would save a few dollars and how delicious to hear the millionaires club behave like the cry-babies they all are.

Fly blown prose:

Kim McDonald writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Honestly, how can you wonder why people like me despairingly abandon their Crikey subscription and go squatting when you read stuff like today’s opening remarks. To expect people to actually pay for this sort of undergraduate drivel beggars credibility. Talk about “fly blown” prose…

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Peter Fray

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