Andrew Twaits, director of corporate and business affairs at Betfair, writes: Re. “High Court shock for the racing industry” (28 March, item 20). I wanted to drop you a note to clarify some important facts following your article in the Crikey newsletter. Towards the end of your article you said, “…Betfair have offered to pay a fee of 27 cents out of every $100 bet. The TAB currently pays a fee of $5 in every $100 wagered!” Both those statements are false. First, Betfair offered Racing NSW a product fee based on a percentage of gross profits; not turnover. We have never offered to pay Racing NSW (or any other racing body in Australia) a percentage of our turnover. Second, the TAB does not pay NSW Racing or the NSW Government as a percentage of its turnover. It makes its payments as a percentage of its revenue – just like Betfair has proposed. See the Betting Tax Act (NSW) 2001 to see exactly how the TAB is taxed. The requirement to pay product fees to racing based on revenue is found in the Racing Distribution Agreement between the TAB and the industry – not surprisingly, we don’t have a copy but the payment model is referred to in Figure 20 of the Wagering Industry Review Issues Paper published last week by Alan Cameron AM. You can read a copy here. To understand the practical difference between the TAB paying a percentage of turnover vs. a percentage of gross profits, you need only consider how much money goes to the racing industry or government when the TAB runs a zero take-out promotion such as “Fat Quaddies”. The result is that it doesn’t matter whether they “turn over” $100,000 or $10 million”, the industry and government receives nothing – because the TAB makes no revenue. That’s not a criticism of the TAB, they do it to get their aggregate takeout rates below the statutory threshold, and the promotions are great for racing, but it does highlight the false nature of the conventional wisdom that the TAB pays on turnover. In relation to our offer to Racing NSW, its worth pointing out that Racing NSW has declined to tell anyone what they believe we or any other interstate wagering operator – including bookmakers and TABs – should be paying for the “right” to cover NSW racing. Nor will they say publicly whether they think that any interstate wagering operators who do pay a fee should be able to advertise, as the local operators can do. As a final point, before we were licensed in Australia, we offered to pay every State racing body 20% of our gross revenue (from our global customer-base related to betting on their races. That offer was rejected and discussions were cut off. We accrued product fees for the racing bodies at that rate the entire time we were licensed and we still hold them in trust. To date, only Tasmanian Racing and RVL have accepted the accrued product fees.

Earth Hour – the good, the bad and the ugly:

Hamish Craib writes: Re. “Earth Hour: Sydney turns off turning off” (yesterday, item 3). Michael Pascoe observes that people in Sydney are already losing interest in Earth Hour. The same cannot be said of Brisbane – last Sunday morning, ABC radio reported traffic chaos around Mt Cootha lookout caused by spectators wanting to see the lights go out. Earth Hour will be even bigger next year; the ABC reported that most spectators at Mt Cootha were disappointed that only lights in the CBD went out, with one spectator suggesting that next year the Brisbane City Council might like to get on board by turning off street lighting. With Earth Hour generating such interest and ideas, we in the Smart State will no doubt continue to do our bit for global warming.

Warwick Sauer writes: Re. Earth Hour: what an absolute joke. Selective interpretation of statistics, “before” and “after” photos which purport to compare a weekday to a Saturday… bah. Earth Hour is worse than a pointless PR exercise: it is deceptive and counterproductive. I wonder how many people occupied their time from 8-9pm Saturday by watching a DVD on their energy-guzzling plasma? I wonder how many people think that by turning off one or two lights they’re “doing their bit”, when the reality is that it will take much, much more? I wonder how many of them woke up this morning and chose to catch the train to work rather than drive their 4WD/Falcodore (insert other large-vehicle-with-multiple-empty-seats here)?

Kevin Clarke writes: We all know that Earth Hour is ultimately a token event. So how about something with more impact like turning the once a year Earth Hour into a weekly Earth Day. Turn every SUNday into SunandEarthDay where one day each week, everyone (including companies and government) takes concrete action to cut back on electricity including lights, TV, PCs, etc., use the car less and so forth. And the next step after that is to take those SunandEarthDay actions and apply them to the other six days of the week. The key is to start by taking small, recurring steps and then building up from there. If the WWF and all the Earth Hour sponsors put as much effort into something like this as they put into Earth Hour, then we’d see something with an ongoing impact… which is ultimately the point.

James McDonald writes: Good on you Rob Garnett (yesterday, comments) for your information about power turndown and all your annoying facts ruining an otherwise brilliant argument. We were just winding you up, as part of an experiment to see if surplus energy can be efficiently stored in the agitation of a power engineer. Seriously though, the information is interesting and also means that wind and other “green” but intermittent sources of power can be a lot more useful than I’ve elsewhere been led to believe.

Brian Hooper writes: Just wondering if anyone can give us a heads up on the volume of carbon emissions created from all the candles burning during Earth Hour on Saturday night? 🙂

Mingus Drake writes: Re. “This news is brought to you by our sponsors” (yesterday, item 19). Valid points Jonathan Green; it could also be News Ltd eager to stick the boot into the environmental movement — this is after all the newspaper which publishes Andrew Bolt; but perhaps I’m just cynical.

Surging rice prices and Cambodia:

Humphrey Hollins writes: Re. “Surging rice prices add to food inflation pain” (yesterday, item 5). Food prices here in Cambodia have gone through the roof recently. The cheapest rice, paddy rice was 500 riel a kilo only two months ago and it is now 1500 riel. Chicken meat has increased by more than 50%, fish, which is the main protein consumed here, has increased by more than 50% and cooking gas by over 100%. Many people now cannot afford even the smallest gas canisters. Even beer which cost $11 a carton two weeks ago is now $16. With the Cambodian new year only two weeks away when everyone returns to the provinces and parties it couldn’t be worse for the government. Garment workers who are the mainstay of the economy only earn $45 a week and unions are threatening a general strike if they don’t get a wage rise. It’s going to be difficult to keep a lid on this.

The UN Security Council:

Nic Maclellan writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Nic Maclellan writes: Your editorial sneers at the proposal for Australia to seek one of the rotating elected seats on the Security Council, suggesting we might end up with the status of Burkina Faso, Belgium, Libya or Croatia. I seem to remember that some of the non-permanent members of the Security Council played a significant role in de-railing the US-UK push for the second UN resolution justifying the war on Iraq, forcing the allied powers to launch their invasion without UN backing. I for one would be happy if we mixed a bit more with members of the non-aligned movement and the non-nuclear states of the European Union, rather than trailing after Bush/Clinton and Blair/Brown into more foreign policy fiascos like Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe then the Labor government could work with the Middle Powers Initiative and implement its pre-election promise to support a Nuclear Weapons Convention (something that’s not high on the agenda during the Prime Minister’s current tour of Beijing, Washington and NATO headquarters).

Electoral funding in NSW:

Dave Liberts writes: Re. “Iemma’s diversion: ban political donations” (yesterday, item 4). Alex Mitchell’s assessment that public electoral funding is a rort without public benefit is, in my view, very incorrect. Politicians, especially those in marginal seats or with strong links to party HQ, are obsessed with fundraising and constantly keep an eye out for potential donors. Easy targets include lobbyists, property developers and hotels. Although parties make it clear that donations are not exchanged for favourable decisions or other direct assistance, it is equally clear that donors are automatically given “mate” status with all of the extra attention that entails. Handing over public funding without linking this to limits on campaign expenditure has not really worked very well, but public funding combined with restrictions on how that money can be spent may yet prove successful. Democracy is a public service, and it benefits all taxpayers for parties to be judged on their merits, not their advertising budgets. Conversely, it only benefits the wealthy and influential when politicians prioritise their donor mates ahead of the broader electorate.

Shirley Colless writes: One should not spend too much time thinking that Premier Iemma might, just possibly might, bow to the democratic process and put his suggestion for full public funding of state government elections to a referendum, right now, not in three year’s time. Given the actual number of registered (and legal) ALP or for that matter Lib/Nat members, it would be somewhat difficult for him to win that one. So no intestinal fortitude will be evident from Premier Iemma and, consequently, no respect for the democratic process.

The drug industry:

Kathryn Logan writes: Re. “Drug industry reveals its daily orgy of wining and dining” (28 March, item 1). Like all university students, I spent years waiting on doctors at the drug company trough aka Sydney’s best restaurants. These lunch and dinner meetings were always held in private dining rooms (or the restaurant was booked out) because the information presented was professionally privileged. One well-heeled North Shore doctor who seemed to be on every drug company’s guest list would always order a bottle of wine when the bill was put down in front of the host. He’d instruct the waiter opening the bottle to leave the cork which he’d then reinsert and take the bottle home with him. The most galling part of the session was the bill sign off – there was always an apologetic proviso that they’re not allowed to tip. Some ethical issue apparently…

Greg Sheridan:

Brefney Ruhl writes: Re. “Greg Sheridan catches up on Hamas” (yesterday, item 20). Now, now Irfan Yusuf. The realisation that terrorist demonising attitudes and activities such as the war on terror are actually counterproductive to the cause of peace, takes an intellectual leap that few neo-cons are able or willing to take. If Greg has in fact had a revelation in relation to what Islamist terrorism is really all about, this should be nurtured not denigrated. We all need to be positive and supportive with this newly inquiring mind. One never knows, he might even influence others on that side of the fence, dare we hope … Brendan, Philip, Janet, Chris?

Aurukun and The Australian:

David Lenihan writes: Re. “Aurukun Wetland Charters: The Australian got it wrong” (28 March, item 17). I have followed with much interest the ongoing saga regarding Ms Macklin’s stay onboard the Aurukun as “stirred up” by The Australian. The follow-up articles have neither improved the ridiculous position taken by The Oz, nor lessened the need for an outright apology to the indigenous company concerned, Gina Castelain and the Minister Jenny Macklin. The initial story was nothing but a beat-up, an attempt to discredit the Minister and when revealed as full of inaccuracies, misinformation and very poor reporting. The Australian should have cut its losses, apologised then and there and let it go. Readers could hardly think any worse of the papers bias than they currently do. Congratulations also to Crikey for not being intimidated by the bullying of The Australian’s Editor-In-Chief Chris Mitchell – his puffed up indignant attack merely made a sorry affair more so.

No Child Left Behind:

Tim Condren, teacher, writes: Re. Heather Ellison on George Bush (yesterday, comments). I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but the No Child Left Behind policy has been responsible for some of the worst results in education in that country’s history. Teacher organisations, Academics, Parent groups all decry the policy which has seen funding taken from where it is most needed and diverted elsewhere: where teachers have to continually pay for basic resources to teach their students and where teachers teach to the test, not the student, to the detriment of huge swathes of American youth. The No Child Left Behind Policy is just another example of that man’s incompetence and complete ignorance of the role of Government for those who need it most.

Save us, Glenn Dyer!:

Les Heimann writes: Glenn Dyer, we need you once more! Last year you rescued Melbourne’s loyal tribe of NRL’s greatest team – Melbourne Storm – from being left in the dark every time the Storm played on a Friday night. Help! It’s happening again, as nary a vision can be seen in Melbourne this coming Friday, either by Channel Nine or Foxtel (not till 12.15am that is). Now many of us also like AFL but really – what would be the ratings for Nine or Foxtel to put on the Friday game direct or even canned, a little later but not in the wee small hours. Your intervention last year won the day so please Glenn pull on your boots once more and charge into the fray for us – we don’t like being mushrooms.

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