Babcock & Brown:

Kelly Hibbins, Babcock & Brown, writes: Re. “Babcock bounces as Bear Stearns extracts more value” (yesterday, item 17). Just in terms of your comments about us facing mark to market write downs on the funds a couple of points: 1) The book value of our investments in the funds is the net asset value as determined by the funds auditors every six months and signed off by the funds independent directors. 2) We equity account our investments in the funds and therefore our book value reflects the equity accounted share of the net asset value. 3) The net asset value is not determined by reference to the share price but the underlying value of the assets. 4) It is not our view that the underlying value of the assets in our funds has been impaired by the fall in the share market. 5) Only two of our funds revalue assets the Japan Property Trust and Communities. In the case of BJT they announced a number of transactions in January which we believe reflects the conservative value of the properties in the portfolio. In the case of BBC all the properties were valued at the time of the restructuring of Prime in August last year. So we don’t believe there will be any write downs for BNB in the results. There has certainly been no decline in the value of infrastructure assets in the market as evidenced by transaction such as Tuas Power sale in Singapore last week. The $200 million Phil was referring to was just simply the difference in the value based on the share price at December versus now.

Mark Latham:

Kate Newton writes: Re. “Latham is the poltergeist of federal politics” (yesterday, item 7). What people seem to want to forget, including both Bernard Keane and Mark Latham himself is that illness forced Latham out of politics. I have only read the juicy quotes, not his AFR pieces themselves, and the excerpts sound angry and bitter. But I think we should cut him some slack. Although he made campaign mistakes that cost him the top job in 2004, it is too blokey on both sides to ignore the potential effects of poor health, both on those electoral misjudgments and on the manner and fact of his leaving. The political events were not down to one person – colleagues and voters supported him once. Circumstances change; the electorate is fickle; and 2004 was not 2007. The guy has lost his career. Better perhaps to be hated than pitied? But I would like to see more balance and equanimity. It takes two to tango, and the media has been relentlessly hostile to Latham ever since their quarry upped stumps. Fair suck of the sav.

Niall Clugston writes: Mark Latham is, of course, irrelevant, which is why his words continue to attract so much attention. Bernard Keane, however, is not so much interested in Latham’s words, as putting his own in Latham’s mouth. Of course, Latham was wrong about some things – are unions such a liability for the ALP, for example? – But who doubts the political system is beset by careerism and factionalism? How can Keane justify his statement that Latham was “profoundly wrong, about his party and about his country”? Keane doesn’t bother to list Latham’s manifold errors, except to say that “There wasn’t much ‘public apathy’… last November”. Really? Rather than the popular revolution led by young people and GetUp supporters he conjures up, last election was a cyclical result aided by Howard’s hubris, and Rudd’s new government can hardly be said to represent radical change.

Deborah Hurst writes: Bernard Keane tries hard to lay a glove on Mark Latham but fails miserably. Latham may have passed into political history, and the Australian people have definitely moved on, but Latham still manages to rankle the sensitive souls of the Australian media. It is often forgotten that Latham surged ahead in the polls in 2004 and had Howard on the ropes. Latham presented a set of social politices that would have revolutionised Australian society for the better. Had they come to pass, those policies would have put us in a vastly improved position in a few decades time when the fruits of improved literacy, early interventions and better funded public education would have been manifest. Public apathy is difficult to detect in a nation that features compulsory voting, but the fact that GetUp even exists should serve as a warning, not as an indication of a healthy democracy. And as for Latham’s views of politics as “fundamentally sick and broken”, ask anyone living in NSW right now if that is not the case.

Tony Barrell writes: By referring to “lattesippers” your new political correspondent Bernard Keane has, disappointingly, if not predictably, started to recycle moribund identifiers from the redundant vocabulary of neo-con columnists. If he meant to say inner city lefty trendy greenies with sociology degrees why not say so? Latte (like chardonnay) is now the choice of the suburbs and proud of it. And it’s only coffee with milk. If he wants to make a point about this vague, nebulous but easy straw target, Bernard needs a bit more imagination, concentration and application. What you expect from top flight political commentator. We letter writers can do the lazy knee jerk stuff.

China, Tibet and the Olympics:

Tom Richman writes: Re. “Mungo: Tibet against China won’t change a thing” (yesterday, item 1). Before getting all giddy about a “free” Tibet, we might want to soberly reflect on what happened to the Afghanis after they were “freed” from the Soviets. While rock throwing lamas in Lhasa are clearly no Taliban, neither are they democrats as we know the word, nor do they represent the remnants of an idyllic Shangri-la. In fact prior its absorption by China in 1951,Tibet was under a feudal theocracy dominated by all powerful monasteries and 175 nobles families, which, together, constituted only 10% of the population, but owned 100% of the land. This power was imposed on their serfs (who like American slaves, had only their master’s surname) by some of the cruelest corporal punishment ever handed out at whim (as Buddhists there was no capital punishment). They were also no conservationists, having hired Hindu outcasts to kill yaks to feed hypocritical, “vegetarian” lamas, and, in doing so, nearly wiped out the yak population. Meanwhile, monasteries were constantly at war with one another in pursuit of each other’s wealth, mostly using specially trained warrior monks. That’s when they weren’t imposing back breaking land rents, usurious loans and extreme corvees, i.e. times where serfs had to work for their masters gratis. As with Afghanistan, be careful what you ask for (when blindly shouting Free Tibet)… you might just get it.

David Mortimer writes: The tone of the China and Olympics comment is very curmudgeonly. How about getting into the spirit and celebrate something that is not perfect, but will be a great moment?

The hermaphrodic Nats/Libs merger:

Barry Welch writes: Re. “Queensland Nats: this unity thing is about saving our bacon” (yesterday, item 3). The Nats/Libs will be the offspring of Hermes and Aphrodite – Hermaproditos – neither one nor the other but both – and repugnant.


Steve Johnson writes: Tamas Calderwood (yesterday, comments) has a habit of starting arguments and failing to complete them. To be succinct, Tamas’s premise is that hindsight alone makes the Iraq War look bad. It takes “prescience”, says Tamas, to now imagine a world without that intervention, a world where Saddam is still tyrannising his population. But the world ain’t black and white, Tamas. The big hairy grey bits are the 100,000 Iraqi deaths to date, and the 4,500-plus Coalition fatalities, and the US$500 to US$1,000 billion price tag. And the recent hikes in the price of oil. How about this as an alternative? Saddam dies of a heart attack from too many lamb kebabs in 2002, and his oldest son, Uday, decides to horse-trade with the UN, successfully bringing any escalation back under control, while Uday spends his life on Bribie Island in exile and Iraq conducts free and fair elections. Who knows? If it could happen with Cuba, it could happen anywhere. I’m not arguing that nothing should have been done about Saddam, but overlooking the number of deaths so far in Iraq just to make some partisan point in an argument, as if the world only ever offers two clear alternatives, is an intellectually miserable line to take. The war in Iraq was based on incorrect intelligence, and has subsequently been accepted by most people as a major mistake. Time to fix it up and move on.

Tim Mackay writes: I can see the clear logic and source behind Tamas Calderwood’s neo-conservative line of thought. If the end result is palatable in Iraq, then who cares how our leaders got us there? Leaders who set little store by their word but have known how to over-reach men by their cunning have accomplished great things, and in the end got the better of those who trusted to honest dealing. Our leaders must be lions, but they must also know how to play the fox. Our leaders who wish to deceive will never fail to find willing dupes. Our leaders, in short, ought not to quit good courses if they can help it, but should know how to follow evil courses if they must. (With apologies to a certain 15th century Florentine political philosopher).

Mark Hardcastle writes: If Tamas Calderwood is looking for the alternative to the US led destruction and re-exploitation of Iraq he might find examples in the numerous other nations where the US has installed, supported and propped up other murderous dictators: including, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Bolivia Haiti, Iran etc. The nations where US manipulation has decreased have begun the path to recovery.

NSW Cabinet:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “NSW Cabinet set for bloodbath” (yesterday, item 8). Alex Mitchell suggests the only chance of Premier Iemma doing the right thing and clearing the way for John Watkins is by waiting till after annual conference. That is a great pity for the ALP and for NSW. Iemma is a disaster, a good Premier acts as a good coach for a Ministry, teaching them how to be better Ministers. To do that it helps to have been a good Minister in the first place, which Iemma wasn’t. If anyone in the NSW ALP wants a shot at winning the 2011 election they need to stop thinking of John Watkins as “Mr Fix-It” and instead think of him as the Leader. In the process he needs to claim the same power to appoint a ministry as Kevin Rudd claimed. All NSW ALP MPs should realise their job depends upon it.

Political donations:

Shirley Colless writes: Re. “NSW’s worst premier could still do something worthwhile…” (Yesterday, item 9). A ban on political donations would, on the surface, appear a good thing if it removes the probability of sectional groups buying favours with Macquarie Street, Sussex Street and wherever the Liberal and National Parties in NSW lurk these days. But the idea of full public funding of election campaigns puts a very wet sock in my hip pocket. Already candidates get a very nice little post-election handout courtesy of my hard earned tax dollars, even if they fail to get elected, and I can’t remember ever being consulted by anyone about the introduction of that little scam. So were such a novel idea of full public funding to be adopted, I would want to see some very stringent limitations put on how much could be spent by candidates for any election, whether it be Federal or State, with no after election additional handouts being available. And of course, local government doesn’t come into it Mr. Iemma’s calculations, does it? LG candidates would still have to either self fund or tout for donations, with no post-election publicly funded handouts, so doesn’t that leave that level of government still wide open for the property interests in particular to buy councillors?

The 2020 summit:

Noel Hadjimichael writes: The Rudd 2020 Summit is on the horizon and I am still unsure whether the lucky 1000 have been announced, or just the unlucky (but now free from stress) 9000 failed candidates. What is interesting will be the capacity of a 100 person forum to operate and function any better than the CanCon, the Hawke Summit, or a large Rotary meeting. Will key performance indicators be used to assess the value or outcomes of the individual teams (for a better word)? For example, will the recommendations and directions from the health group be reported by the media and given due consideration when it might be one of the more “high brow” or technically proficient expert panels? Similarly, will the governance group (looking at the health of our federal system) come out with a “nice idea at the time” statement on a treaty with our first nations, the republic or a bill of rights? The ambiguous nature of the summit debates and the yet to be fully explained criteria for selection may lead some politicians to refute any idea that they didn’t think of already or don’t like.


Simon Hoyle writes: Re. “Why the Mokbel trial should be on TV” (yesterday, item 15). I don’t know if the screening of Underbelly will or will not jeopardise Tony Mokbel’s right to a fair trial. But I know that Mokbel is jeopardising my right to enjoy Underbelly. The Kooka Brothers’ item on Mokbel’s past gave away at least one key plot development in the TV series.


Jenny Morris writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 11). I’m on the Crikey record as a fan of a daily dose from Richard’s kitchen, but what does this mean: “Maybe The Oz is about to join The Age and The SMH as a broadloid!” I was under the impression The Oz is already one of the big comics – apart from the reflected gravitas that comes from a focus on national rather than state affairs, I don’t see The Oz as a serious paper. It’s been indigestible for some time. Perhaps Richard could expand upon this. Or not. Anyway, keep the chunks coming.

The West’s daylight savings:

James Wade writes: Re. “Media briefs and TV ratings” (yesterday, item 16). Further to your readers comments regarding The West Australian’s published picture, I would be insisting that the paper not only verify the time the photo was taken but also provide the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO of the film or digital camera sensor. To my eye the photo looks dramatically under exposed, and I believe they may have even “burned” some sections of the image to make it appear darker than it really is. The image just doesn’t look “right” to me.

Plastic bags:

Diana Simmonds writes: Re. “Plastic fantastic: Bagging the bag baggers” (20 March, item 5). When I arrived in Australia 20 years ago (for a short holiday) three things immediately hit me about the difference between London and Sydney: 1) Sydney shut at lunchtime on Saturday and didn’t open again until Monday morning (not a bad thing as the 24/7 economy only works if a whole mob of people are low paid and exploited). 2) It was a startlingly white country (that’s changed a bit). 3) When you went to the supermarket you got your shopping in literally endless supplies of plastic carrier bags. In London back then it was unheard of: you went to the supermarket with bags of your own or you foraged for cardboard boxes – supplied ad hoc by the supermarket and recycled from their product delivery; or you paid 5p a bag if you really did want nice fresh clean plastic bags. And that was 20 (twenty!) years ago!

Comedy and news:

Deb Russell writes: Sorry Daniel Lewis (yesterday, comments) but I’d hardly put The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the “Comedy” genre. Yes, the show is very funny, I often find myself laughing my arse off, especially at the very hot and very witty Jon, but the majority of the content in his show is politically factual and current. Just because the delivery is in a comedic fashion does not make it any less news worthy. Are you saying that news can’t be funny? And are you saying that CNN, Fox News or heaven forbid Sky Channel are the bastions of true and trustworthy news? Naked News is just wrong; it’s just naked and nothing to do with news, although my husband would probably disagree with me on that one. And finally… Duh … the reason these shows are on The Comedy Channel is because in America the majority of programs which are seen as controversial or not mainstream only appear on Pay TV. Commercial stations aren’t willing to pay for and take risks in producing such shows.

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