The “Phantoms of the Parliament”:

Chris Johnson writes: Re. “Pollie bludgers: Should they stay or should they go?” (Yesterday, item 1). I know its not drawing rave reviews but surely someone agrees this current “Phantoms of the Parliament” spectre in Canberra is the best political entertainment we’ve had in years? A combination of sitcom, reality and side-show, the tale of a bunch of poll-crushed toffs hanging round the halls of parliament acting more like ghouls than government members, is real value for taxpayer dollars. Stirring pathos watching a string of former government luminaries so desperate they’ll use benches and benefits to stylishly trapeze from disgrace. All of them scared witless about facing a world of insignificance with a splinter-group reputation. Hard to imagine this is the same bunch of flash rats with gold teeth that couldn’t wait to claim the moral high ground from which they’re now retreating at a rapid rate? Prepared to dump dignity and albeit a wet-lettuce leader to avoid being the last one holding the bag! Can’t wait to see if the clown princes draw straws, spin the bottle or even go a round of Russian roulette to sort out who’ll trigger the first in a series of by-elections. MP’s truly reflect human nature at its very worst… or most average.

David Havyatt writes: The suggestion that Rudd would wilfully call elections on different Saturdays for two MPs retiring together is fanciful; this is a PM who takes being efficient seriously, and who would not resort to such nonsense. In fact he takes political institutions seriously, and while he may be enjoying the public humiliation the Liberals and Nationals are suffering from the attitudes of Downer, Vaile and now Tuckey, he will also be mindful of the damage being done to the standing of all politicians. To that end it would be desirable for the PM to make clear what his approach will be and to indicate the dates he think will be suitable for by-elections this calendar year, with my thoughts being one in June and one in August (before the NSW local Government elections) and another in October or November and he can advise the Parliament that the by-elections will be held on those days for any of the coalition members interested in slinking off in sufficient time for the by-elections to be held on those days (Rudd could nominate the cut-off days too). It would concentrate the minds of the coalition MPs wonderfully, and make Rudd look reasonable to boot.

Shirley Colless writes: There are obviously big problems in terms of what the taxpayers have to pay out. Do all of these little Coalition malcontents, so miffed by the fact that they, like the Labor politicians in 1996 had, now have to sit out their terms in opposition, really expect any sympathy whatsoever from the electorate? Of course, the electorate will have to pay out, in super/pension arrangements that far outweigh anything the normal pleb is entitled to, including their ability to draw down on their pensions at the same time as they take up lucrative lobbying positions in private enterprise. And of course, there is one small, possibly microscopic, even nano possibility, that the coalition secretariats might, just might, possibly find some new blood out there that is prepared to sit out the heavy years in opposition, gaining the skills necessary to move into government sometime in this millennium. Labor did it. But don’t bet that the Coalition can.

Bob Johnson writes: The practice of Parliamentarians leaving before their term has expired should not be a burden on the taxpayer. If one decides to go early, then there should be some percentage of the by-election cost deducted from their superannuation, unless a panel of independent doctors can certify that he is leaving because of a health problem…and I don’t mean a panel of mates in the medical profession.

Crikey’s Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane writes: Geoff Anderson draws my attention to the fact that it is the Speaker of the House of Representatives who has the power, under the Constitution, to issue the writ for the election of a new member. Gerard Newman and Scott Bennett’s paper on House of Representatives by-elections provides a nice discussion. As Geoff notes, it will be interesting to see how verging-on-independent Speaker Harry Jenkins responds if the Government wants to play with by-election dates.

Eddy Groves:

Justin Larkin writes: Re. “So much for the Eddy Groves ‘coup'” (yesterday, item 2). I don’t understand Stephen Mayne’s reporting that Eddy Groves and his wife are separated or childless or that one or both of them live on the Gold Coast. The Groves’ marital and parental status are surely personal matters of very little relevance to the ABC corporate saga. Crikey was happy to slug Bill Heffernan for his similarly outrageous comments about Julia Gillard and it gives Mayne’s reporting of this story a nasty, prurient and distasteful edge. I am deeply uncomfortable about many aspects of how Eddy Groves made his money but it is more a story about how governments continue to neglect child care and an entrepreneur jumped on a red hot opportunity. Whether or not he’s a good business man is a matter that should be discussed but why drag his marriage into it. As a disclaimer I should disclose that I’ve never lived on the Gold Coast but nearly twenty years ago my son went to a child care centre in Brisbane run by Le Neve Groves. I always found Le Neve pleasant and professional. The centre seemed well run and my little boy was happy and well cared for.

John Goldbaum writes: Stephen Mayne’s observation was interesting but the news could get even worse for Eddy. Not just “a separated childless married couple” caring for heaps of other people’s kids, but possibly a g-y angle as well. Le Neve sounds like the name of a drag queen.

Kim McDonald writes: What, exactly, was Stephen Mayne implying with his “Hmmm”s in his article on Eddy Groves and ABC..?

Vaile of Arabia:

Harvey Tarvydas writes: Re. “Vaile of Arabia deserts the Opposition” (Wednesday, item 1). While direct competition may not be the issue, in Vaile’s situation it is an indirect issue due to the extraordinary privileged information and influence he is being paid to share with no-one knowing the commercial or other spread of it. True to form Vaile wants to childishly or contemptuously generate the ‘student working on his designated holiday period’ sympathy. The more appropriate analogy is an executive or managing director of Coles suddenly taking time off (even if due) to work as a consultant for Woolworths. Ethics wouldn’t come into this. It would be illegal and attract jail time for its contempt of shareholders (Coles of course). We are all shareholders of Australia and all its contents (unofficially as far as ASIC is concerned). Vaile doesn’t realise he has no talent to offer industry just his privileged possessions which actually belong to us just as Coles shareholders own most of what’s in their directors’ heads.

John Richardson writes: Re. “Mark Vaile is my member” (yesterday, item 12). Are Diana Lyons and Peter for real? Do they honestly think that that there are politicians out there who are any better than Mark Vaile? Do they really believe that politicians can be expected to put the interests of their constituents ahead of those of their party or their own? Do they really think that politicians care about what their constituents think about issues? Pigs might fly. As far as I’m concerned, Mark Vaile is no better or worse than any other self-interested, self-promoting politician, whether it be Brendan Nelson, Kevin Rudd or any of them. Indeed, the nature of the two party system of “democracy” – be it the Westminster, Potomac or Pakistani model – guarantees that our so-called “elected representatives” will never pay more than lip service to the opinions, needs or interests of voters, except or unless they happen to be individuals of wealth, power and or influence. As a wise man once said: “we can vote for any party we like, but we’ll always get the same government”, whilst another wise man once observed that “we are blessed with governments we deserve”.

Guy Rundle in the US:

Chris Hunter writes: Re. “US08: SNL factor and/or the pants suit swings it for Hillary” (yesterday, item 4). Now I’m worried about Guy Rundle, caught up in the “headroot’ of US politics — coming to the bizarre realisation that pants suits probably do outweigh the “war thing”, and that Hillary’s off the cuff reply to John Stewart was the probable vote clincher. As our valiant man in the US is making clear, hype amounts to everything and foreign policy, well, what is US foreign policy from the symbiotic Clinton camp? The only truly spontaneous reaction (and therefore revealing) I can remember from Hillary Clinton in this regard was what Phillip Adam’s described as her “org-smic” jumping for joy when Bush declared war on everything that moved. Like a true “Republican” she endorsed George like no other with her gleeful mashing of digits. I dunno Crikey. Is there a fund we can donate to on behalf of Guy? A quick holiday to Cuba — R&R. Hell, the bloke is priceless, but at this rate he’ll be burned out long before that Hemingway cigar reaches his…

Robert Manne:

Eva Cox writes: Re. “Ignore The Oz, Robert Manne’s Dear Rudd letters are important” (yesterday, item 5). Never mind left biases. Has no-one else noticed that Robert Man(ne) seems to think most Australian thinkers are male, and mainly ageing Anglo European? Two Jewish reffos like me do not make diversity sing. The ratio of four women to 15 men showed similar blinkers to the Glyn Davis 20/20 selection. Is there a sameness problem in Melbourne Academe?

The AHA’s new guard:

Pamela Curr writes: Re. “Time gentlemen! Changing of the guard at AHA” (yesterday, item 9). If the hotel lobby want to redeem themselves, they could make a stand on a public health issue. While this might seem a curious turn for an industry based on getting us to drink copious amounts of alcohol, who better than the dealers to step up to the challenge. Currently in Australia spirits such as whisky are taxed at $65.56 a litre of alcohol (about $20 a bottle), which is the highest rate in the OECD. This high tax rate reflects the belief that drinking less spirit is theoretically beneficial for public health. However, RTDs (pre-mixed spirits and soft drink in a can) are taxed at $38.70 a litre of alcohol. This low tax rate enables the spirit and sugar water mixes which our children are drinking at dangerous levels to be cheap and affordable. Many teenagers don’t actually like alcohol however the industry has found away around this by lacing spirits with sugary soft drinks. Take a stroll down the refrigerated cabinets and you will a huge array of cans of this stuff – all aimed at the teen market. Instead of urging government to restrict licences to clubs, the hotel lobby could earn brownie points by concentrating on measures to limit the attraction of grog to our kids.

Qantas:

Peter Dorrian writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Regarding your story on the Qantas valet parking mess. I arrived to drop my car off Tuesday morning to find the usual excellent service a little bit awry (rather than rocking up, getting a pleasant hello, and handed a ticket) all information regarding car rego, etc etc had to be re-entered into “a new system”, which obviously took some time. They didn’t even know what flights I was on, nor what time I was returning (which was normally all printed on your ticket). Upon my return that evening, the queue stretched back to more than 20 people, with lots of others standing around looking very dark. Cars had gone missing, dockets not where they should be, and the staff, whilst doing their best, were clearly frustrated by whatever new “system” had been put in place by the new operator. I was amused by your comments about cutting costs – on Tuesday night, the wait was so long that no-one was being charged a cent for their days parking! On reflection, its just another typical Qantas “let’s cut some costs and to hell with our regular customers” story – no attempt to retain or transfer customer data, no-one down there in the first few days of the new operator checking to see if things were running ok. If there was any real competition, they’d be flying empty planes around the nation in an instant. So imagine my surprise when I arrived home last evening, to find an express post letter from Qantas, very apologetic letter regarding the valet parking episode on Tuesday, accompanied by 2 free parking vouchers and a $100 flight credit! The complaints must have been shocking.

Star fu*king:

Sean Robert Hosking writes: Re. “Star fu*king – it’s the Australian way” (Wednesday, item 18). I usually enjoy Greg Barns’ pieces on matters of public interest, accountability and human rights but his offering suggests he must have been scratching around for something to submit. Greg’s sense of democracy seems to be of the sterile and disengaged kind that posits all right to social commentary with experts and specialists. Given his avowed interest in the maintenance of a healthy democracy Greg must surely know that every citizen, not just the ones with pin heads and white coats, has not just the right, but also an obligation to concern themselves with matters of national/international importance. Papers quote people like Ian McEwan because people are interested in their opinion, just like I’m interested in my friends opinions on a range of things, none of which they are ‘expert’. Presumably a dinner party at Greg’s house would consist of the banker talking exclusively about banking, the butcher about butchering and the accountant (god forbid!) about accounting. If any of them were to stray outside of their area of specialisation then Greg would be there to shut them up.

Drew Turney writes: Greg Barns; it’s simple. The rich and privileged hang around together and not the unwashed. Plus who would be better served to push your environmental or civil liberties barrow, an unknown and boring climate change scientist who knows what he’s talking about, or a famous celebrity who gets media attention wherever he/she goes? What’s more, making those people look like us is half the trick. Seen the ads for whothehellcares.com where Cate Blanchett says “I’m an Australian and I’m a mother”. She’s one of us, isn’t she? Imagine how much we’d relate if she said “I’m Cate, I’m an Oscar winner and a multi-millionaire who divides her time between Hollywood and the eastern suburbs”?

David Flint:

Steven McKiernan writes: Re. “Flint: Don’t blame the Royal Family for Harry’s leak” (yesterday, item 19). David Flint, you just don’t get it. No-one cares. About you, your shameless elitist toadying of the Royal Family, and your semi-literate rants about a-sehattery. Go back to your day job, if you can remember where you left the keys.

Who is Julie Bishop?:

Alan Lander writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (yesterday, item 7). First Dog asks, “Who or what is Julie Bishop?” I like to call her the twitch in the WorkChoices corpse, personally.

Doctors’ wives:

Jill Hill writes: Re. “Fly away Peter?” (Yesterday, item 8). Bernard Keane wrote: “The demographics of Higgins, they point out, are slowly changing due to urban infill, while the doctors’ wives phenomenon may play out differently in the absence of Costello.” I will not renew my subscription to Crikey while you have contributors who refer to the “doctors’ wives” phenomenon. It is SO sexist. There are currently more female medical graduates than male graduates, and more female GPs in practice than male GPs in practice. It is difficult to believe that the media still portrays women this way. Crikey should be ashamed.

GM food:

Mark Hardcastle writes: It was notable that Nick Evans (Tuesday, comments) described Katherine Wilson’s report on GM crops as disingenuous, given that he misrepresents the argument of the GM critics cited in Wilson’s report. In one letter Evans wants to sideline epidemiologists, like Dr Judy Carman (who is pushing for appropriate safety trials of GM crops before they are commercialised). Then in the next letter he writes that Katherine Wilson wants to “halt research”, by reporting on the views of critics who show there is inadequate safety testing of GM foods. Evans should know full well that the scientists and researchers, he is so easy to dismiss, are actually calling for more testing of GM not less. Dr Carman points out that the adverse health effects of the CSIRO GM pea were only found because of extra testing. These more appropriate tests should also be required for other GM crops before they are commercialised in Australia. Wouldn’t most people agree that it is wise to determine the human health impacts of GM foods (even going as far a having actual human trials) before we release it to forever infect and alter our existing food pool?

The Melbourne Grand Prix:

Colin Smith, Save Albert Park count coordinator, writes: For Ken Sparkes’ information (yesterday, comments) – Save Albert Park has not done a count since 2004 – apart from a sampling and estimating exercise involving two people in 2005. So it is not surprising he did not see any of us at the gates in 2007. We counted on all days at all gates seven times in seven years – from 1998 to 2004 inclusive. That’s 28 days of counting at what started out as 10 gates in 1998 and reduced to eight by 2004. We had between 20 and 25 people counting at any one time – mostly using clickers – and rostered about 100 people over the four days. And nobody was paid a cent for any of it. We can tell Ken Sparkes – should he be interested – how many people entered at Gate eight between 11.15am and 11.30am on Sunday 12 March 2000; how many of them were credential-holders rather than ticket-holders; and how many people exited in the same period. (Answers: 699; 21 and 21). We showed consistently that the Australian Grand Prix Corporation invented over 100,000 attendances per annum – enough to overfill the MCG – and we have all the data sheets to prove it – a stack 30 cm high. Meanwhile, the Grand Prix Corporation hasn’t been counting at all. It just estimates, and won’t tell you how it does it. Furthermore, its various attendance and patronage claims are a statistical joke – contradicted not only by SAP but by each other.

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Peter Fray

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