Despite the bagging I still like you:

Michael West, Fairfax Digital, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). This is the second time in two weeks Crikey has used this anonymous space to bag me. Crikey are responsible for this, not the anonymous person or whoever duped you. I don’t mind being bagged, bring it on, but in allowing people to do it on the quiet you are damaging your own brand by pandering to vested interests. Perhaps you could call to check the facts before you run such a “tip” next time. Despite the baggings, I like Crikey and always thought it a vital print outlet in a market dominated by two giants. Sadly, it has now been corporatised because you are now bagging rival business voices but there has been zilch, at least that I have seen, about the growing digital business publications associated with your stable. What differentiates Crikey now from the giants? The fact that you bag your rivals? No – it is the fact that you don’t second source stories. It’s time now that you are making money to do the right thing and try to firm things up. Are you in the game simply to get eyeballs to the page or because, in the tradition of founder Stephen Mayne, you give a damn?

Dr Stephen Gumley:

John Clarke, senior media and communications advisor at the Defence Materiel Organisation, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (21 February, item 9). The segment published relating to the head of DMO, Dr Gumley, is a misrepresentation of the facts relating to Dr Gumley’s appointment. Dr Gumley’s salary and the requirement for him to pay his own travel expenses between Canberra and Melbourne are a matter of public record. Dr Gumley pays for all his travel between his Canberra workplace and his Melbourne residence out of his own after-tax salary. He does not claim a travel allowance from the Commonwealth for travel between Canberra and his Melbourne residence. There is no benefit to him in respect of tax deductions. Dr Gumley’s name is Stephen, not Steven as in the published segment on Crikey. Estimates hearing: Testimony by Ric Smith with regards to Dr Gumley’s salary package (p26).

ABC Learning:

John Taylor writes: Re. “Kohler: Back to school, Eddy” (yesterday, item 2). Various items in recent days, both in Crikey and the business press, regarding ABC Learning Centres’ problems, raise a number of questions, to which I have not yet seen answers. Alan Kohler’s item today dissecting the Company’s balance sheet, suggests that maybe somebody should ask the auditors if they were awake for the past twelve months. Who actually bought the millions of shares which had to be sold to meet Directors margin calls? If the answer is Temasek Holdings, how does the Federal Government feel about 30% of Australia’s heavily Government subsidised child-care places being under the control of the Government of Singapore. The SMH today reports that, after recent sales resulting from margin calls, 96% of remaining directors shareholdings are still subject to margin calls. Gives rise to the question of who actually owned the Company: obviously the lenders not the Directors, which suggests BRW’s estimate of Mr. and Mrs. Groves worth has been seriously overestimated. The other question of course, is what did the Groves’ and other directors do with the money borrowed against their shares. Do the parents of children at ABC Centres understand this possible control? Will it have any effect on the way in which young minds are moulded at these centres?

Stephen Magee writes: Andrew Lewis (yesterday, comments) must be dreaming if he thinks that no-one can make a profit out of a childcare centre (yesterday, comments). This is an industry with a high degree of casualisation among its workforce, a fairly elastic ability to pay on the part of its customers and little volatility in the demand for its services. In plain English, the operator of a childcare centre knows (a) how many kids are turning up today, tomorrow and next month, (b) that any variability in numbers is easily overcome by calling in extra casual staff or telling existing casuals not to come in and (c) that parents (thanks to government subsidies and the need to get to work) are willing to pay more than enough to ensure a tidy profit.

Hamish Craib writes: Warwick’s Sauer’s comment on vicarious liability is not quite correct (yesterday, comments). While employers won’t be liable where an employee’s actions are outside the scope of their duties (for example, a bouncer murdering a pub’s patron), employers are commonly found guilty of offences against workplace health and safety legislation due to the actions of employees. The Hoppers’ Crossing case is a typical example of this. ABC Learning’s attempt to exculpate itself was breathtakingly misguided. But not just legally — who would want to put their child in the care of bastards who refuse responsibility for the negligence of an employee?

What is it with the left and alcohol?:

Michael Harvey writes: Re. “What is it with the left and alcohol?” (Yesterday, item 4). Once again the hypocrisy of Australians is revealed. We rail against drugs, yet the proportion of other drug abuse to alcohol abuse is miniscule. Alcohol is the most dangerous drug to withdraw from. Read Romancing Opiates by Dr Theodore Dalrymple. Yet the culture of drinking in this country is ubiquitous. It is lethally aligned with “motor sports”. It is irresponsibly shown at celebrations of other sporting events. In Darwin 2006 I saw how the populace coped with an approaching cyclone — they got shitfaced and lolled uselessly in the streets — the police had to plead with them not to keep drinking and cause an even worse evacuation problem. None of the debilitating effects of alcohol on performance are taken seriously, and it is constantly treated with indulgence as a right of passage for particularly young males, a reflection perhaps of the hypocritical legacy of Christianity. I should know — it took an immense effort of will to come off alcohol, something I’d been abusing since I was sucked in by its mystique as an altar boy. 35 years later my brain cells are still trying to grow back after being dry three years, my hands are trying to recover from Dupuytrens (being a musician this is a pretty alarming condition, but the links to alcohol are still being disputed, much like lung cancer and smoking) and after battling depression for years I’m consumed by anger at my stupidity at not waking up to the cause much earlier. My advice for those who have developed the habit is to stop deluding yourself that you can control it, decide not to drink and get a professional to help you stop. Those that ridicule or despise you for stopping aren’t worth knowing.

Rowen Cross writes: Geoff Munro makes some good points but ruins it with his own generalisation about the left. Members of the so-called “left” are just as much for as against the new temperance movement. By sticking the boot into Richard Farmer and Bernard Keane for being lefties that use stupid generalisations, he goes and uses one himself. Some of the statistics in this debate are quite amusing though. The media has reported the survey findings that 1 in 5 kids aged 16 and 17 are binge drinking on the weekend as a “shocking” increase. This is hilarious. When I was at school in the 1990s I reckon about half my peers were off their trolley every weekend.

Jeremy Scrivener writes: Come on. You can’t say “the Left and alcohol” based on the words of Richard Farmer. Richard Farmer’s website politicalowl.com describes Farmer as combining “a love of politics and sport with a passion for wine”. Combine this with his “extensive experience in politics, journalism and gambling (!)” and his years working for Hawke, I think it would be safe to characterise Farmer as a professional boozer who dabbles in journalism.

Labor’s appointments rhetoric:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “Labor follows through on its appointments rhetoric” (yesterday, item 3). Bernard Keane is perhaps letting his time as a political staffer confuse him (but it is nice to know who his former boss had lined up for the ABC Board). In case he hasn’t noticed the ALP has already appointed people not notably their friends (Warwick Smith, Tim Fisher) to the 2020 process, and the IR advisory body certainly looked ridgy didge. Those whose job it was to apply the fix can’t understand that others might be different, and worse that ultimately the fix damages the fixer. And where did Geoff Munro get the idea Keane is a lefty?

Jonathan Yarad writes: In relation to Bernard Keane, obviously he left out the appointments of Steve Bracks and Geoff Gallop. Therefore, like most of what has been witness in this new governments first 100, it was a lot of hot air, aiming for a headline.

Alan Kennedy writes: Bernard Keene shows a startling lack of originality in copying the unlamented Christian Kerr with puerile descriptions such as his one for The Friends of the ABC: “This has had the Friends of the ABC crying tears of joy into their Fair Trade organic soyaccinos.” This is toilet wall journalism but having sat through of week of Keene’s offering alas it seems to be all he is good for.

Stephen Cooke writes: You didn’t have me at hello, but I will be forever yours with this description: “This has had the Friends of the ABC crying tears of joy into their Fair Trade organic soyaccinos. But they shouldn’t raise their Leunig mugs in celebration just yet.”

Raising interest rates is an insane policy:

Rob Mulholland writes: Re. “Hello interest rates: Aussie dollar at 23-year high” (yesterday, item 19). The Reserve Bank, politicians and economists are all singing the praises of a continuing regime of raising interest rates to combat inflation. This campaign, if allowed to continue, will guarantee the failure of many small businesses, will cause massive increases in housing defaults and a subsequent (potentially catastrophic) decline in housing prices, and will take our great country into recession. Our most vulnerable citizens, of course, will suffer the most. According to the “experts” inflationary pressures are being caused by excessive growth in demand. This, of course, is only relative to supply. So working on the basis that “growth is good”, why would you act to stifle growth rather than increasing supply? Why not provide caps on interest rates for first home buyers or small businesses? Why not give tax incentives to invest in infrastructure projects? Why not import labour to address the “skills shortage” – even temporarily? Why not place more stringent regulations on the finance industry to stop indiscriminate lending practices? The rest of the world is dropping interest rates and we’re increasing them. This strengthens our dollar and makes our exports more expensive and less competitive. It makes cheap imports even cheaper, thereby increasing competitive pressures on home-grown businesses. Raising interest rates is an utterly insane policy in the current world environment and must be addressed immediately. I trust you will agree this is a significant issue and I’d be delighted if you saw fit to launch a campaign to address it.

GM food:

Nick Evans, editor of BioTechnologyNews.net, writes: Re. “Victoria gets ready to lift GM crop ban” (yesterday, item 14). Contrary to Katherine Wilson’s views the fact that Dr Higgins and the CSIRO abandoned work on a GM crop that turned out to be harmful is not an argument in favour of abandoning the development of GM crops — quite the reverse, in fact. It’s an argument in favour of the system that Australia has been working towards for many years — ethical science paired with strong regulation, to make sure that anything that makes it out of the lab is both safe and useful. If the countryside was now filled with mutant peas poisoning our mice and children, then Wilson might have a point. But as it happens, the work on the crop was abandoned and the research results were then published in a reputable scientific journal, as they should have been. And who, exactly, is supposed to be qualified to speak on the topic? The scientists who are doing the research and know the issues, or the hodgepodge of dieticians, geomorphologists, epidemiologists and anti-gm activists Wilson quotes in her article? Give me a break. Debate over future of future of science and biotechnology should be vigorous and public – but it should be an informed debate, and the fear-mongering of Wilson and her allies is neither honest nor productive. And, for Wilson’s information, Jeffrey Smith’s article in The Age on November 28 was not an “exposure”, it was an opinion piece. It’d be a little easier to take her articles seriously if she gave some indication that she was aware of the difference between the two.

Ladies, bring a platitude:

John Kotsopoulos writes: Re. “Ladies, bring a platitude: just 24 hours to feminise the summit” (yesterday, item 11). Sophie Black and Jane Nethercote should chill out. Who passed a law that said that every public forum had to be composed along gender lines? Which of the male worthies in the Rudd summit would they tip out to move above the 35% female representation that has been achieved, and on what basis other than the obvious? In my view few if any of the female alternatives that have been suggested come close to matching the male nominees. It’s sad that a useful exercise such as this has to be dragged into the arena of gender politics by the likes of the hugely irrelevant Women’s Electoral Lobby.

Canberra Times website:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. “Local identity still matters: Australian news on the web” (yesterday, item 17). You should have listed the Canberra Times in your chart comparing the popularity of Australian newspaper websites. It would have to have the weakest, clumsiest and barren website of any major newspaper. The print edition is good, but its representation online is stuck in the 1990s.

Renewable energy:

Mingus Drake writes: Ken Lambert (yesterday, comments) should check his facts on wind power. He won’t find too many 2.5MW wind turbines with blades sweeping within 10m of the ground. The typical size of a turbine in Australia is 80m with a 45m blade… makes one wonder what his agenda is when his basics aren’t right. Further, 100m towers are well and truly off the drawing board… the 116 turbine Mt Gellibrand project was approved by the Victorian Planning Minister in 2006 with 100m high towers. It’s a bid disingenuous to describe a site as both “remote” and with “high population centres”, I would have thought. Wind is the fastest growing energy source in the world, yet Lambert insists on describing it as “tiny”, and doesn’t bother to mention the not insignificant externality of the environmental impact of burning coal, which makes that 2 – 4 cents per kWh sound significantly less attractive…

Ken Lambert writes: Coal fired electricity costs 2 – 4 US cents per kWh. The Germans have targeted 12.5% ‘green electricity’ by 2010 and guaranteed a price for Solar feed-in at 54 – 57 cents per kWh. They sell it to consumers for 20 cents per kWh. The main customers for Chinese Solar panels in Germany are farmers who fit them on their barn roofs. German city dwellers without barn roofs pay over US$4 billion a year in higher energy prices. The Germans have had worse ideas – like attacking Russia. The payback period for a Solar panel is 8-9 years in a dominant fossil fuel economy where the electricity to make all the components (silicon, glass, aluminium), costs 2 – 4 cents per kWh. Now imagine we increase our electricity costs by 2.5 times for Wind and 5-10 times for Solar, and try to make our Solar panel only with electricity from these sources. What will a ‘green’ Solar panel then cost? In 2004, Solar made up 0.039% (less than one half of one tenth of one percent) of total world primary energy supply. It is currently viable in sunny remote areas for small scale supply. Wind and Solar are flourishing in some places, mainly thanks to subsidies.

Mark Byrne writes: Willem Schultink (Wednesday, comments) put the concern that renewable energy might be too slow to develop, yet his solution of nuclear power is far slower. Renewables have faster energy pay back time, can be mass-produced, and can be installed in tens- of -thousands of locations simultaneously with widely available engineering and trade skills. Schultink’s concerns about base-load are surmountable. It should be noted that it is consumer demand, not base-load that must be provided for. None-the-less, wind-power already substitutes for slabs of base-load in Australian and around the world. Other renewables like geothermal and solar-thermal can substitute for the remainder of base-load. Hugh Saddler and Mark Diesendorf have published modelling that demonstrates how our power demand can be met with a combination of existing renewable technologies, efficiency and gas. In addition to this we can employ high voltage DC transmission to export power efficiently across and between continents, giving continuity of supply. Ken Lambert’s comparison of the cost of wind vs. coal power, indicate he might have missed the memos from Stern and Garnaut. The price of coal represents market failure. The cost of displacing dirty coal is less than the cost of inaction, and Australia is exposed to greater climate change costs then most.

The ABC logo:

Robert Anderson writes: May I add my voice to the clamour over the new ABC logo? I don’t care! I am going now, to turn my attention to something really worth worrying about…

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Peter Fray

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