Earth Hour:

Mingus Drake writes: Re. “Earth Hour: can you trust these people in the dark?” (Friday, item 5). Thomas Hunter wrote: “Hewlett Packard told Crikey … We are turning off all of our lights in office buildings all around Australia…” …It raises the question of why this isn’t standard operation procedure for all Australian businesses. At 8pm. On a Saturday.” Indeed. I can’t speak for the latte sippers up north but in Melbourne the CBD office buildings are generally fully illuminated all night every night. Mind boggling that nothing has been done about this… seems the kind of painless good PR measure that Garrett’s office should be latching onto.

Rob Garnett writes: I am getting really p-ssed off with this crap about the electricity system. Why don’t Crikey ask for comment from the NEMMCO the National Electricity Management Marketing Company on this turndown issue. Here’s their website. They run the bloody system, but are strangely silent. Below is a typical daily graph of Victorian System demand which NEMMCO produce which illustrates the variation in supply each day. I hope Steve “I don’t believe in global warming” Wilson (Friday, comments) enjoys it. Why is it whenever I read anything in the media, about the industry that I work in — it’s crap. This makes me suspicious of everything else I read about subjects I don’t have experience of.

Paul Meakin writes: Re. Rob Garnett (Friday, comments) who wrote: “I’ve worked in the industry 30 years so I do have a rough idea” and commented that “control of Hydro Power is even quicker”. Wonderful except that in the context of the Earth Hour, shutting down Hydro Power will save zip, zero, nil, or otherwise no Carbon Dioxide or other Climate Warming Gases. Another expert comment!

The 2020 Summit:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. “2020 vision: Glyn Davis reveals the lucky (semi-female) 1000” (Friday, item 9). What a flop this’ll be! The people selected are those who have dominated print media and television and radio for the last decade or longer are getting yet another opportunity to talk to other people whose minds are as closed as their own. In ten years time, if we even bother to look back on this summit, we’ll be so embarrassed. The two useful things this bunch of has-beens could do is set in place a mechanism for genuinely new ideas to blossom and get a fair airing over the next few year and, secondly, to get out of the way.

Doctors and the drug industry:

Dr Sue Page writes: Re. “Drug industry reveals its daily orgy of wining and dining” (Friday, item 1). Both companies and doctors argue that the financial support to both education and research is not conducive to changed patterns of prescribing, but a quick look at this cash cow arrangement shows wild differences between companies that are not easily explained by other than targetting markets. Some companies show a bias to particular types of specialists, others to chronic disease specialists otherwise known as GPs, and all to use venues in up-market sections of major cities. Surely if expenditure was related to a genuine desire to promote evidence-based use of product, or to a purely philanthropic desire to support the educational needs of clinicians, the guest list would include other members of the clinical team than just medicos? And wouldn’t the greater spend be where there was greater need – as evidenced by under-use of product per head of population, or incidence rate of illness, or poor health outcomes, or even by lack of alternative sources of education? We know that primates are largely creatures of habit, we feel more comfortable with the familiar than the unfamiliar. It is highly unlikely a doctor will prescribe something unnecessary or dangerous for their patient. But having chosen to prescribe at all, it is obviously logical to assume that doctors are more likely to prescribe products that they recognise, and especially those recommended by “that nice rep from the conference last week”. It goes beyond naivity for medical associations to assert the entire profession has clean hands here. As a doctor myself, I do prescribe by brand name rather than generic because I believe investment in R&D is commendable. But I prefer to prescribe products that come from companies who have invested into the health of my community rather in me. Examples include those who have donated to the creation of our mothercraft unit, who contributed to conferences where the audience is multidisciplinary, those who produce tailored educational resources for my Aboriginal patients, and those who have supplied free supplies for patients without the income to afford the best treatment as recommended for their renal failure, MRSA, or diabetes. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and say all drug companies are bad, but when the bathwater needs changing, change it!

Steve Johnson writes: What a beat-up, Ray Moynihan. If Ray wants to see important medicines continue to be developed, but does not want it to be part of a for-profit value chain, then he should start harassing our government to increase funding by a thousand-fold, and to ban profit-taking companies from the Australian marketplace forever. The current pharmaceutical marketing environment is flawed, but it isn’t evil. This is a complex subject. I have worked in, or on the periphery of the pharmaceutical industry in Australia, UK and Asia for many years, and the motives of the vast majority of individuals are, more than any other industry I have experienced, driven by a genuine belief that they are making a positive difference to people’s lives. It becomes tiresome hearing this sort of screeching criticism without the balance of any constructive suggestions or realistic alternatives.

Arukun and The Australian:

Ying Qin writes: Re. “Aurukun Wetland Charters: The Australian got it wrong” (Friday, item 17). I would like to add some personal reflection regarding the Arukun community, the boat MV Pikkuw, and an astonishing young Aurukun woman, Gina Castelain. I visited the Cape York community of Aurukun in May 2006, as an adviser on the Aurukun bauxite project. This was an opportunity for the developer and its advisors to meet with the community, and to understand the programs that were currently in place. The boat building project that resulted in MV Pikkuw was one of the community’s most successful business ventures, and was indeed a source of “revenue and pride”. I would have thought that it was absolutely essential for Jenny Macklin, the Indigenous Affairs Minister, to see and experience the boat as an example of a successful indigenous community business enterprise. Also when I was at Aurukun, it was certainly considered more comfortable to stay in the guesthouse. On our trip, there was insufficient room at the guesthouse; the major client and the women stayed at the guesthouse, with the male advisors staying on the boat. I met Gina Castelain on that trip, and I was too impressed for words. As well as studying for her Masters in Melbourne, Gina worked with incredible energy on developing and leading community programs and business enterprises, including the MV Pikkuw project. Gina has devoted her life to the Aurukun community. The story in The Australian is a disgraceful beat-up in many ways, but the most shameful aspect is its repeated refusal to name Gina Castelain as a participant at the BBQ, and to imply that this wonderful, dedicated woman was somehow an outsider to the Aurukun community. In response to Media Watch, the editor Paul Whittaker contemptuously denies that The Australian has misled its readers in regard to Gina. He must be aware that this is absurd, and that The Australian owes Gina Castelain, and its readers, an apology.

Rudd and Blairite spin:

Bob Smith writes: Re. “There’s more to Kevin than Blairite spin” (Friday, item 12). Bernard Keane is on the money to argue that Kevin Rudd is on about more than Blairism and spin. Rudd brings to the Prime Ministership the experience of multiple careers–diplomatic service at junior levels, Queensland Premier’s office at a time of momentous change, head of Office of the Cabinet, and successful China consultant. Add to this his active church going, cheerful tolerance of non belief among colleagues, rural upbringing and enormous capacity for work and you have a man with, in Howard Gardner’s terms, truly “multiple intelligences”. How all this will work out we will need to wait and see. In the meantime, more analysis please and less biscuit cutter stereotyping.

Rundle on George W. Bush:

Heather Ellison writes: Re. “US08: A BBQ for burnt out Democrats” (yesterday, item 6). I am certainly not a George Bush apologist, but I take issue with Guy Rundle’s statement that Bush has achieved nothing. Bush is responsible for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. NCLB seeks to promote educational excellence through scientific evidence. As a doctor who tries to practice evidence based medicine as much as possible, and a parent of school age children, I am often frustrated by Australian educationalists who support fads and untested ideologies rather than evidence based practices. George Bush may have achieved almost nothing but NCLB is an excellent and much overdue step towards promoting a culture of scientific evidence in education.

Doctor shortage:

Keith Perkins writes: Re. “It’s time to think beyond hospitals” (Friday, item 15). With Australia experiencing such a critical doctor’s shortage it is clearly a flagrant waste of resources to have, in Canberra, a highly qualified doctor, posing as a politician.

New England Journal of Medicine:

Dr John S Dowden, Editor of Australian Prescriber, writes: I noted in Crikey (March 13, comments) that lawyers acting for a multinational drug company were seeking access to the files of the New England Journal of Medicine. They want to examine the confidential reviews of some of the journal’s articles which are now being quoted in product liability lawsuits against the company’s products. The good news is that a US federal district court has dismissed the same company’s subpoena seeking similar access to the confidential referees’ reports of the Journal of the American Medical Association. For more info, see here.


James Holyoake writes: Re. “US backs good, rich Shi’ites against the bad, poor ones” (Friday, Item 11). “Hang on a minute” Jeff Sparrow implores us “Isn’t, in fact, the SCIRI/ICI the same organisation which the International Crisis Group says ‘has never quite managed to shake off its past’…?” Would this be the same International Crisis Group which lists former Australian Attorney-General and Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans as its Brussels-based President and CEO? The same man, albeit of superior intellect, whom the Canberra Press Gallery seems to have completely forgotten since 2000? The man, who as a minister scrambled fighter planes over our loyal ally Tasmania, threw ashtrays around his office, berated even junior staff at diplomatic missions when in one of his renowned tantrums, and once threatened to garrotte a fellow Senator? Gawd save us, Jeff, things are bad enough already, so please don’t inflict any tub-thumping, ingratiating, so-called crisis group on us – they seem about as effective as the UN (if you have any doubts look up the “who funds crisis group” webpage and you will understand).

Senator Conroy:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “Wanted: vision for communications portfolio. Reward offered” (27 March, item 18). Margaret Simons is being more than a little unfair in her criticism of new Communications Minister Conroy. This is a portfolio that has, as she notes, suffered from serious neglect for twelve years – but in reality much of that neglect extends back even longer. At least some aspects were saved by an active policy department, but that too got crushed under the previous Government. Conroy has inherited the mess that is digital broadcasting (both TV and radio) and the telecommunications industry with unresolved structural issues because the Howard Government privatised without following the prescriptions of the Hilmer Committee. On digital switchover there isn’t much more that can be done than hope and pray. On telecommunications there is the single largest expenditure commitment (except tax cuts) in the election. Visions are easy; sorting out historic mess is the real hard work.


George Farley, chairman of the Australia Tibet Council, writes: Tom Richman (26 March, comments) knows a thing or two about Tibet. It was certainly not a paradise. Everyone from the Dalai Lama down has said this often. So what? Does that mean that we should ignore their current plight? Forget about human rights? Leave ‘em to the mercy of those who sent the tanks into Tiananmen Square in 1989 and massacred up to 8,000 Chinese students? And comparing Afghanistan to Tibet is absurd. As much as any human being can speak for a People, the Dalai Lama speaks for Tibetans. He and his tiny Administration in Dharamsala have totally and consistently opposed any form of violence for over 50 years. As for David Mortimer’s suggestion (26 March, comments) that we all celebrate the Games even though things are less than perfect in China, go ahead I say. Celebrate the Games after President Hu and the Dalai Lama sit down and come to a workable compromise. It’s in the world’s best interests that in 2008 we celebrate both these things.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected] . Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.