NSW’s criminal justice system:

Simon Lees, advisor to NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos, writes: Re. “NSW set to penalise defendants for testing the prosecution” (yesterday, item 9). Greg Barns would do well to read the legislation before criticising it. Firstly, it is not designed to apply to people who maintain their innocence. It seeks to restrict the sentence discount given to those defendants who wait until on or near the trial to plead guilty – a plea which has little utilitarian value. Secondly, the police will be obliged to provide a brief of evidence at an early stage, which will allow the defence to properly scrutinise the prosecution’s case. Thirdly, in order to get a full discount, the defendant has to enter a plea before being committed, not before the committal process. It is not the same thing. Finally, this is a 12 month pilot, with a control group, which will be independently evaluated by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. Surely evidence based public policy is the way to develop reforms to the criminal justice system? Perhaps this is why the NSW Law Society, not usually a member of the “law and order brigade”, has welcomed the legislation.

Rudd’s Japan diplomacy:

Tony Barrell writes: Re. “Robb burns Rudd over Japanese diplomacy” (yesterday, item 8). In regards to the opposition “burning” Kevin Rudd for getting too close to China and not Japan, look at it this way: over the past five years or so Australia rather recklessly helped create an anti-China triumvirate with the USA by agreeing to be part of the national missile Defence system, (which Japan also supports). Ostensibly aimed at rogue states such as North Korea, the actual target was, of course China and the Howard government enthusiastically endorsed the line taken by Japan’s conservatives. So to correct that bias deserves credit rather than opprobrium from Andrew Robb. The other interesting consideration is that the current Japanese government is thoroughly on the nose with its electorate, a fact that Kevin08 would doubtless know even if Robb and Bernard Keane don’t. It could well be that by July there will be yet another PM in Tokyo and hurrying up there too early would have been rather futile.

Martin Gordon writes: The plan by the PM to campaign for Australian membership of the UN Security Council is a nice idea, but hardly a priority; cost aside, its effect would be minimal. I would be more interested in our PM’s views on a resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council as opposing it (which any principled stance on human rights would require) would almost certainly derail our Security Council bid as we would be opposed by Islamic nations, in addition to southern African nations for our stand against Robert Mugabe, and the South Pacific for expecting better performance of the governments in the region. The 47 member body voted 32-0 (with Europeans etc abstaining) to turn the body’s expert on free speech into a policeman on negative comments on Islam. In effect the body charge with protecting free speech will be charged with limiting it. The real democracies of the world oppose it, as does Human Right Watch and Reporters Without Borders. Well Kev, China and Tibet aside, do we believe in human rights or don’t we?

OPEL and rural broadband:

Danny O’Brien writes: Re. “Conroy scraps Coonan’s rural broadband plan” (yesterday, item 1). As a former DCITA bureaucrat, Bernard Keane should know better than to refer to the OPEL deal as a “belated” and “hurried” response by the Howard Government to Rudd’s broadband plan. We know the gallery embraced the broadband plan as a further example of Rudd’s genius (even though it had been Beazley’s policy some time earlier), but the reality is that “Australia Connected” and the OPEL deal that was part of it stemmed from the sale of Telstra legislation way back in 2005 and the $3.1 billion concession to the Nats for rural and regional services. Indeed, the bids for Australia Connected had either closed or were close to it before Rudd even mentioned broadband.

The stockmarket:

Greg Samuelson writes: Re. “Kohler: Tricom left in the lurch” (yesterday, item 21). These “unfortunate investors suddenly losing everything through no fault of their own” remind me of an old comic book story about a French peasant who sold his soul to the Devil in order to become a wealthy nobleman, only to be immediately guillotined in the French Revolution. The moral of course is that you never ever take the word of the Devil on anything, period. How many Enrons, Opes Primes, Bear Stearns, One-Tels etc do there need to be before investors realise that if you play the stock market, you are doing with your money what that peasant did with his soul; that is, you are placing it the hands of a class of individuals who have demonstrated time and time again that they are a law totally unto, and for, themselves. Be it secret commissions, insider trading, dodgy accounting, non-disclosures or whatever, if there is a dishonest buck to be made, they will recklessly risk your bucks to make it. These whining investors now masquerading as hard-done-by battlers were quite happy to accept the profits no questions asked when they were flowing. They ought not to be complaining now that they have been financially guillotined.

The RBA:

Brett Hayton writes: Re. “RBA will wait and see what the Budget holds” (yesterday, item 19). So the RBA forestalled from whacking borrowers with another interest rate rise, ruminating about the inflation bogey, petrol, food and rents this time round being the culprits. This year they can’t blame bananas. Well it’s just a load of doublespeak and hypocrisy. The worst offenders for price rises are government, at every level. Every year without fail, federal, state and local governments raise their own fees and charges by at least CPI, never less. Crikey, we need a government price index to measure government price increases. Also, a call for government price freezes for the term of each government, i.e. three years. It’s utter hypocrisy. Governments are just good old fashioned monopolists, employing spin doctors at every turn.

The ABC:

Alan Knight, national spokesperson for the Friends of the ABC, writes: Re. “Mark Scott’s ABC vision will be a nightmare” (yesterday, item 15). Further to one of the points raised by the anonymous ABC insider. Richard Alston, former Howard communications minister, began the push to outsource ABC production. It wasn’t a surprise that a government hostile to the ABC would seek this backdoor way of privatising it. No information was presented to demonstrate outsourcing was more cost-effective. On the contrary, given the ABC’s production experience and facilities, and the level of oversight required to ensure adherence to ABC Charter and editorial policies, there are good reasons to believe that ABC in-house production would be more efficient. Senator Alston exempted news and current affairs at the time, but who knows for how long. Governments are learning the value of undermining from within, and, a step at a time, dismantling services they would rather rid themselves of. The ABC should continue to broadcast some types of programming made externally. But it should also maintain a strong core of in-house production. There is little point to having the ABC if it becomes merely a vehicle for broadcasting content produced outside. Australian production that is cheaper for the ABC to purchase than to produce is frequently the result of other producers accessing public funding that is barred to the ABC. (e.g. Film Commission funding) So let’s make it fair. Either the ABC should have access to the same public funds available to other producers. Or, if that money is really not intended to benefit the ABC, then the ABC shouldn’t be allowed to purchase programs sold to them more cheaply as a result of it.

David Tiley, editor of Screen Hub, writes: I am a strong supporter of the production role of the ABC in many areas, particularly where it has the opportunity to (re)create a decent training infrastructure. But the reasons for outsourcing were not all invented by some small version of Satan just to worry the dreams of loyal ABC staffers who could be earning more in the private sector. The ABC simply wants to engage with the talent and ideas available in the independent sector, not just to top up production when the geniuses inside the organisation are otherwise engaged. Auntie wants genuine partnerships, based on deals in which it pays a reasonable license fee and ownership resides with the production company that cooked up the idea and wore out the shoe leather to raise the money. Oh, and took the risk. What do you think the taxpayers would prefer? The ABC making a single million dollar program which it owns and might make some money back from sales and ancillaries in an extremely risky marketplace. Or making three programs, in which other broadcasters invest a license fee too, but Auntie doesn’t get any sales revenue? (The figures are arbitrary, of course). With an organisation as large as the ABC, both ends of the spectrum are undesirable. In the middle is an ABC which is closely engaged with the independent production community on constructive synergies. SBS is a whole other scenario, and shouldn’t be dragged into this particular debate.

An ABC insider writes: It’s not like Crikey to adopt the party line without question. Margaret Simons seems to accept the smashing of the ABC’s heart as a matter of course. Imagine if ABC head Mark Scott was proposing that the ABC close down the in-house production of news and current affairs because it was cheaper to hire journalists from outside the ABC. Issues about meeting the requirements of the Charter and commercialism would then be clear as crystal. It isn’t that much different for program production. Co-productions now carry the ABC stamp of quality because significant parts of the staff are on loan to co-productions from the ABC production pool. As it is with the squeeze on production, such as the closing down of nature documentary making, top staff are making career changes out of television production completely or are moving overseas. The people who produce programs for the ABC are experts who in the main choose to work at the ABC rather than at other Australian production companies or other television networks. There is no guarantee that these professionals will be on hand for projects if the ABC pushes them out. Instead the ABC will have to rely on employees of commercial companies. Every one of the millions of creative decisions made in every program’s production will then include a strong commercial perspective.


Terry Kidd writes: Re. “Rice prices rise: stock up on fragrant basmati now” (yesterday, item 23). Rice has soared in price. Rice exports are being cut back by producing countries, which will guarantee a shortening of supply and thus further price rises. Wheat, soybeans, palm oil and corn are also seeing record prices. All these commodities are staple food items for most people in the third world, and I include China and India in that classification. What happens when most of the people in the Third World are hungry because they cannot afford basic food items? Already we are seeing unrest in Sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico, India, Peru. How much further can this spread if governments cannot lower prices, something which may be impossible for them to do when they are faced with global market forces? Could this be a harbinger of a breakdown in the current world order? I believe that this particular scheme of events has much further to run than we can imagine as yet.


Gerard Brody, director of policy and campaigns at the Consumer Action Law Centre, writes: Re. “Four Corners didn’t pursue the full debt story” (Tuesday, item 19). Glenn Dyer, in his criticism of Four Corners’ Debtland, states that where lenders’ hold a mortgage, the house only really belongs to us if we pay off the debt. Glenn, reminding us of the lender’s right to sell does not reduce the devastation caused to families who find themselves in this situation. We also dispute Glenn’s assertion that giving lenders access to more personal financial information would lead to more responsible lending – indeed this does not appear to have been the case in the US where lenders have access to more personal information than our lenders would dream of. There is no argument that access to more information will increase consumer lending overall. While this may change some credit decisions, we would be naïve to believe that this would necessarily lead to good outcomes for consumers. Even if an Australian database wasn’t used for marketing lists, more information can be used to “up sell” credit, or to screen consumers for a range of credit offers, perhaps making various marketing strategies more effective. The worst outcome would be the introduction of more comprehensive credit reporting while we still lack any effective regulation to require responsible lending decisions. While other financial services such as financial advisors and insurance brokers are required to ensure that the product they sell suits the individual’s circumstances, this is not the case with credit products. While lenders can (and they do) profit from irresponsible lending practices, consumers will suffer – whether lenders have access to more financial information or not.

Jules Dassin:

Victoria Campbell writes: Re. “Vale Jules Dassin” (yesterday, item 16). Regarding Guy Rundle and his use of the term: “soup to nuts” I had to look it up in Wikipedia but I love it! Apparently it is comparable to expressions in other languages, such as the Latin phrase ab ovo usque ad mala (“from the egg to the apples”), describing the typical Roman meal. Is there an Australian equivalent?

The AFL:

Mark Langdon writes: Re. Doug Melville (yesterday, comments). Whilst I agree with the comments from Doug on Glenn Dyer having missed a point about the Dogs vs. Saints game (and possibly AFL more broadly than that), he then goes on to say “the Bulldogs and the Saints are currently both unbeaten, and two of the three form teams of the competition”. I found that curious because I am stuck as to whom the other form team would be – the unbeaten Hawks or the unbeaten Cats, who are currently sitting one and two on the ladder. If you are going to have a go at someone for their lack of clue, perhaps, Doug, you could be clearer with your point.

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