A correction:

Katherine Wilson writes: Most — if not all — journalists will at some time experience what social scientists like to call ‘recall bias’. And many will, despite their earnest attempts at accuracy, make the odd reporting blunder. Most have also felt that sinking dismay when they discover the sub-editor has hacked the nuances out their report — or worse, slanted it in such a way as to distort its original meaning. But I don’t know if any of these scenarios can fully explain the whoppers in a recent Crikey article that claims to quote me. It’s a shame, because I’m sure the article’s author, the pseudonymous Lionel Elmore, is on the side of angels. First, Elmore’s article claims that:

Crikey can now reveal that in April 2005 the Port of Melbourne Corporation paid for its staff to attend a workshop on how to spy on and discredit critics of massive development projects.

True — kind of, a bit. What “Crikey can now reveal” was based on a feature I wrote a few years back, published in Overland and already quoted in other media. It reported that one PoMC staffer, Liza McDonald, did indeed attend a dirty tactics workshop presented by the PRIA and the IPA — along with many other big business and government flacks I named in the Overland article. But then Lionel Elmore — whom I have neither met nor been interviewed by — reports:

Speaking exclusively to Crikey, journalist Katherine Wilson, who attended the workshop, says that the PoMC’s Environment Effects Statement had just been savaged by a panel convened by the Victorian Government’s to hear submissions on the EES.

I said no such thing, and have no knowledge of this (if it is true). I did not speak at any time to Crikey about this, let alone “exclusively”. I did not write, as the article claims, that the workshop’s “adversarial and aggressive approach to activists was too much for even one of the PoMC staff.” The fiction continues:

Wilson’s frustrations stemmed from the PoMC spending $12 million on an environmental impact statement, that, in its own words, “didn’t get the result that we wanted”. Referring to the PoMC’s contentious plans to undertake test dredging, Wilson made the point that unless you go ahead and channel-deepen, “you can’t demonstrate entirely that nothing will go wrong”.

The article conflates what PoMC staffer Liza McDonald was quoted saying in my 2006 feature with my own views (which are certainly not these). This is a shame, because in the context, those words coming from the PoMC amount to a scandal. By attributing the quotes and views to me, Elmore’s article not only misreported — it buried the lead.

No class action:

Michael Roset, Manion McCosker Solicitors and Attorneys, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 9). Your newsletter yesterday stated that our firm has prepared a class application in relation to the Commonwealth Government’s apology delivered to indigenous Australians. This is not correct — we do not hold any such instructions. We, of course, wish the reconciliation process well.

Compensation for saying sorry:

Dave Liberts writes: Re. “Faris: Aboriginals must be compensated. Here’s how” (yesterday, item 13). I’m no lawyer and Peter Faris is a QC, so obviously I could be wrong about this, but I really think he’s flying a kite with his knock-up Statement of Claim. Although Faris does refer to the recent South Australian case of Bruce Trevorrow in suggesting that $500,000 is the likely value of compensation, he’s conveniently ignored every other detail of the Trevorrow case. For example, Faris regards the apology as an admission of liability, yet the South Australian government’s 1997 apology never came into the arguments put by Trevorrow’s lawyers in that case. If apology was crucial to liability, one would have expected it to pop up. The United Nations charters or ramblings about duties and rights don’t cop a mention in the judgement either. The key to any class action will not only be to prove that quantifiable harm was done, but to prove that the removal was unlawful at that time. Trevorrow managed to do this in respect of his case, but many others will struggle. Faris has also completely failed to explain why the Commonwealth of Australia should be a defendant when it was the states who administered the removal of these children (under state laws), and the Trevorrow case and the Tasmanian compensation arrangements further confirm that this is a problem for the States, not the Commonwealth.

Troy Rich writes: I read the outrageous Faris piece where he writes: “An apology is just words but righting wrongs is something else: the only way wrongs can be righted is by compensation.” I don’t know if he was writing tongue in cheek, but it appears not. I disagree fully. Far from money being the only way to right a wrong as he claims, a far more fair and constructive form of compensation that would reap dividends for the whole country for many decades and even centuries hence, is exactly what happened yesterday, February 13, 2008! This marks a broad shift in how many of us think, feel and are able to share those thoughts and feelings with others, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and take tangible action both personally and collectively in the future. It’s like a curtain has been lifted and we can move forward together. That’s priceless! This is a watershed moment that could genuinely right wrongs into the future and make our nation great – however it is sullied by Peter Faris, QC’s fiscal reductionism. Thanks Peter.

David Flint on saying sorry:

Jack White writes: Re. “Sorry reaction: from Ray Gaita to David Flint” (yesterday, item 4). David Flint’s comments were pathetic. He is not mature enough to acknowledge bi-partisanship when he sees it. Nelson’s speech was not superior to Rudd’s – not by any stretch. Rudd’s courage and national leadership was a high water mark for this country. Nelson’s speech and acquiescence to the theatre was an also an extraordinary display of maturity and leadership. However, Rudd came first – fact! The latest Northern Territory land grab is illegal and miserable and misguided. Ask two questions 1. Why were there half caste Aboriginal children? 2. Who has benefited from slave type wages paid to Aboriginal workers and who has profited from sly grog sales? Reimburse wages to a fair level, make white fathers pay for their offspring and forget this bullsh-t talk of “legal” proof. There is no more need of proof than what already exists. I am sorry people like David Flint are unable to grasp neither the essence of the problem nor the essence of the solution. A long march starts with a single step.

Steve Martin writes: I don’t really understand what David Flint is on about. Is he suggesting that justice can’t be served because it may cost money? Surely not! Irrespective of what David Flint and Keith Windschuttle may think about opening the flood gates to compensation claims, there appears to be no evidence that this could happen without the consent of the courts due to the statute of limitations. Even if a claimant were to get permission to mount a claim, proving detriment would be near impossible, see for example the Lorna Cubillo attempt to get compensation. The only real hope for any of the “Stolen generations” would be through ex gratia payments, and at the moment the Federal Government has ruled this out.

Andrew Lewis writes: It’s just appalling and sad that the conservative voices continue to hang onto the meanest, basest excuses for not saying sorry. Flint and his flint-hard heart, Faris and his lawyerly opinions that don’t amount to a hill of beans, Windschuttle with his lawyers arguments about whether ‘genocide’ is an appropriate word. Really who cares anymore? Fellas, a word of advice: The country, the nation, moved on yesterday. The rest of us are happy for you to stay where you are while we ride off in the sunset, but would you do us the courtesy of just shutting up in public from now on. Thanks. That would be nice.

Talkback response to the apology:

Marilyn Shepherd writes: Re. “Sorry: Australia talks back” (yesterday, item 10). Reading the listener reaction to the apology to the stolen generations I have to wonder two things. Did they listen to the apology and why did they bother with such ugly closed minds. They make me sick to my stomach and should go back to the lands of their ancestors. To qualify that I will state that my own family led the massacre of a tribe of Aborigines as late as 1910 so they could steal the land and the ranters who are given a voice here should be sickened by their heartless cruelty. I have no idea why they seem to think that Aborigines are “given millions” when that is not the truth. Aborigines are supplied about 10% of the health care of other Australians and an Afghan child of recent refugees has a greater chance of surviving past 65 than an Aboriginal child born in their own country.

Crikey’s take on the apology:

Philippa Cooper writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Much was said in Parliament House this morning about Australia being a democracy – Mick Dodson said at the National Press Club how great a democracy Australia was, with some people having opinions that didn’t agree with others. Why then does Crikey make such a lot about one man and his differing opinion about the need to say sorry? Is John Howard no more or less an Australian with rights to agree or disagree with the prevailing point of view? Emotive comments such as appeared in your leader yesterday are as unnecessary as they are churlish – if you don’t agree with his opinion then let him be – it’s his right not to agree isn’t it? Or is holding an alternative opinion alright, but if you happen to give voice to it, then look out. Oh, and by the way, who actually ordered the Northern Territory intervention again?

Noel Courtis writes: Yesterday was Sorry Day. John Howard kept a low profile and he left the stage to “Your Kev” three months ago. I subscribe to Crikey to read things I don’t read in the paper. Get back to news – Forget John and try not to worship Kev so much.

Very petty Crikey:

Garth Wong writes: Re. “John Howard’s apology” (yesterday, item 5). Your piece on John Howard’s mother is gratuitous bullsh-t and exposes the pettiness Crikey has descended to recently!

Rudd at the table:

Tom Moloney writes: The House passed the motion and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition walked to the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery. Do I imagine that I saw the Prime Minister walk half a pace towards the Opposition side of the table on his return? Also. Mr Keating was not up to speed for the first minute or so of his appearance on ABC. I think the man had been weeping. Quite right too.

People as assets:

Peter Burns writes: Re. “People become assets” (yesterday, item 17). Richard Farmer points out people being regarded by government as “assets” but there’s another, more puzzling, description I’d like to share with readers. Last Australia Day, at the citizenship ceremony held at Canberra’s Regatta Point, the Governor-General had the last say with the final speech of the occasion, after PM Rudd had handed out more than a hundred certificates in front of several hundred family, friends, and dignitaries. Maybe the G-G had just had a conversation with the Secretary of the Immigration Department, because he opened his speech with a reference to our newest citizens as “customers,” just as Immigration officers are expected to do. Many in the audience looked puzzled but then some became quite agitated as he repeated the phrase soon after, saying “for customers you certainly are.” Was he trying to dig himself out of a hole only to get deeper into the mud? Who knows, but many of those mingling around after the ceremony were asking among themselves what he meant by their being customers. I’ve written to Government House asking what Major-General Jeffrey meant; I’ll let you know the answer when I get one.

East Timor:

Tony Barrell writes: Re. “More questions than answers in East Timor” (Tuesday, item 2). What happened to Crikey’s theory on Tuesday Feb 12 that the now deceased rebel Reinardo was trying to protect Jose Ramos Horta? Surely the essence of a good conspiracy theory is you have to keep it alive, not put it out once and forget about it.

Foxtel:

Kristen Foster, Foxtel’s director of corporate affairs, writes: Mark Wallace (yesterday, comments) misses the point of Foxtel’s correspondence with Crikey over television ratings. The point is: Crikey’s review of summer TV viewing ignored the large and growing viewing share of subscription TV. That “flat earth” view of the TV world, long cherished and propagated by the commercial TV networks and their friends, should be dead and buried. Mr Wallace is right when he says that Foxtel is a collection of television channels covering all types of programming genres – our customers know it and that’s exactly why they subscribe. Our ratings are available for all the measures Mr Wallace describes. Ian Scandrett (yesterday, comments) says he watches more subscription television than free-to-air television. That’s consistent with the OzTam ratings that show people with subscription TV consistently devote the vast majority of their viewing to subscription TV. What Mr Scandrett doesn’t appear to understand is that OzTam, the official service that measures all TV viewing in Australia, has total control over the location and installation of its ratings measurement equipment. OzTam is owned by the commercial television networks. Foxtel subscribes to those ratings, but like other TV companies, it has no involvement in the deployment of the ratings devices, although we understand there is no problem with installing them to standard plasma and LCD screens. This independence is necessary for the integrity of the system. Any questions about how the technology is deployed are a matter for OzTam.

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Peter Fray

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