The budget coverage and Crikey as lemmings:

Kapil Talwar writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey wrote: “That several hundred of the finest minds in Australian journalism would willingly submit to a half-day’s detention simply to read in detail what they have already been told is as great a mystery as a cliff-base beach littered with lemmings. Why do they do it?” They do it because the buildup of suspense, dramatised history and a sense of climax, and the usual masala of egos, power, money, unscrupulous competition, with s-x stories thrown in for good measure, has become the formula of every bit of information that the media reports on. When one makes a soap opera of something as straightforward as this year’s budget, you know we’re all in deep doodoo. The media are only half the story. The second half constitutes the readers who, to lessen the tediousness of time or, worse, because they genuinely feel this charade keeps them informed, get suckered into yet another drama. This is where the media meets Hollywood. Any news item has to built up into a story – more pages, more readers, more, more, more of less, less, less. Like you didn’t already know…

Tony Barrell writes: Thanks Crikey for saying the budget is all hype and the media should stop playing along. But why is it we expect the government to fix everything in its annual budget? Well, the self same mainstream media that had been wistfully complaining about the hype element for at least a decade shows no signs of changing its behaviour. The reason is simple: it’s all the media does: make the story, break it and then bust it. Why would they want to change that? Nevertheless, I look forward to the day when the budget is published on the Treasury website, in easily digestible bite size chunks over, say six weeks. All this breathless buggerising is a pain. And stay out of the lock-down. It only encourages them.

Steve Lambert writes: The rot really has set in at Crikey when the leading editorial refers to the “Australian media” in the third person. Newsflash Crikey, you are the media. And last time I checked, Crikey was whinging about Peter Costello shutting them out of the budget lock-ups in 2005, 2006, and 2007. I agreed fully with the complaints then that online media was mainstream, and that Crikey should be allowed to attend as a matter of freedom of the press. But now apparently those attending are lemmings because they willingly submit to such detention and degradation. Which is it to be? No more of the mock outrage and confected disdain please, I can read the tabloids for that.

Dave Horsfall writes: Crikey wrote: “as great a mystery as a cliff-base beach littered with lemmings.” Please don’t perpetuate this myth; the Walt Disney footage was faked.

Nelson’s budget reply:

John Lawrence writes: Re. “Oh the humanity! Tonight’s Brendan Nelson budget reply today!” (Yesterday, item 5). I’ve just listened to the worst Budget reply speech in my living memory. In respect of the proposed CGT changes for small businesses, the alternative PM obviously doesn’t understand the Tax Act (Div 152) which his party introduced. The 15 year rule acts, in the first instance, to reduce any capital gain on the sale of business assets to nil. But if this rule is not applicable, then there are a series of exemptions such as the active asset exemption and the retirement exemption which reduce any capital gain on the sale of small business assets to nil for people over 55. And what’s more, the 15 year rule requires retirement, yet the other provisions don’t. There is no need to amend the Act to allow for a tax free capital gain after 5 years for over 55s. It currently exists even if you own the assets for a mere week. Who’s advising this clown? Someone on alcopops perhaps?

John Goldbaum writes: Bernard Keane might amuse the cognoscenti but Brendan Nelson’s defence of alcopops is his cunning plan to win the votes of Corey Worthington and his friends come the next election.

Jody Bailey writes: Other than paying lip service to Peter Costello and John Howard, Brendan Nelson’s budget reply speech sounded like a very articulate opposition to the eleven years of government we’ve just endured.

Questions about Australia’s economy:

Glen Frost writes: Re. “How overvalued is Australian residential property?” (Yesterday, item 29). Great article by Adam Schwab but there are four things I’d like someone to explain about the Aussie residential property market please: To what extent does negative gearing prop up average and lower than average house prices? To what extent does international investment keep premium property prices high? The cash economy; I’ve met plenty of tradesmen with million dollar houses; does the ATO know what size the cash-economy is? Banks: my sister-in-law in London just got a mortgage for 6 times joint income (phew!); what’s the real figure in Australia?

Means testing, levies and the baby bonus:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Quiggin: Swan avoided the hard decisions” (Wednesday, item 5). The object of means testings is to assist those in need the most and less so those less in need. The point is not to be mean! There are times it makes more sense to make things universal. The introduction of sudden death cut offs of $150,000 on baby bonuses and other payments is retrograde. Literally for a dollar someone is $5,000 worse off. This is like the old family payments which Labor sudden death means tested. The education “help” for children is selective and complex. Seniors have had their bonus payments cut altogether hidden under the fanfare of payments this year only. The environmental message of the ALP is bizarre, they pretend to be interested in the environment, but signing Kyoto then means testing people ($100,000 cut off) installing solar panels and heating, rainwater tanks etc exposes them as frauds. Similarly for a government that claims to pursue evidence based policy why cut the CSIRO (when we need more science and facts) but increase funds for the arts? Perhaps escapism is more palatable than reality? Funds for Labor think tanks but cuts elsewhere, very fair! The luckiest ever incoming federal treasurer (huge surplus, low unemployment, low inflation, and low interest rates) is Mr Mean and Tricky. The Medicare levy surcharge change will actually make public hospital access harder for the people that most need it, as people drop private insurance. We will have more tiers and division in society than every because the ALP is actually creating them for base political reasons and sending most of the economics indicators the wrong way to boot.

Matt van Breda writes: Most European democracies have recognised that unemployment below approx. 5% can be regarded to be “full unemployment.” The cost to get these, mainly unemployable people into the workforce is greater than the benefit. We have a massive labour shortage. Partly because of a lacks education system and partly due to a far greater demand for new labour than the existing population can produce. Means testing the baby bonus was not a very good idea. It will have a devastating effect on population growth! Governments don’t learn very quickly. Some not at all. Not even after 11years in the wilderness!

Steve Martin writes: David White (yesterday, comments) complains that he and his wife are being mistreated by the Federal Government’s cut off point of $150K combined income for the payment of the baby bonus, and listed a number of points to justify his argument. There is one point that he has not raised, while he and his wife are comfortably off on this income, or should be; once his wife leaves work to have her child the family income is possibly halved, or anyway much reduced. And because of this the baby bonus would no doubt be welcome. After all until his wife returns to the work force there income is well below the cut-off point.

Mark Freeman writes: Re. “Family tax benefits still a mass of contradictions” (yesterday, item 13). Dear Crikey, the general thrust of Jessica Brown’s article is all well and good but misses the political reality. The middle class component of welfare is political protection money. It directly co-opts the politically better connected and influential middle class and maintains their support for welfare and other public benefits. The current converse situation with education further bears this out this type of relationship. Greater financial assistance to private education has created a middle class stampede and a concurrent drop in political support for public education, now seen as a mere safety net. This is how governments create or dispel political support for programs – by the way they are targeted.

The environment and the budget:

Phil Bourke writes: Re. “Hamilton: Climate change should inform every budget decision” (Wednesday, item 6). As Clive Hamilton states, the Government looks down the barrel of major emission cuts between now and 2020, and even bigger cuts beyond that, population growth is the great unmentionable. But also seriously absent is the political courage to really put lowering greenhouse emissions as the hurdle for all government (federal, state and local) investment and legislative actions. In this budget we have some fancy lip-service for climate change initiatives (around $1billion spread over the next 4 years) at the same time as infrastructure investments (read the budget release from Albanese – its all about roads, freeways and not a mention of public transport) are more than the climate change funding alone. Whilst BMW, Merc and Porsche buyers have to pay a little more for their cars, thanks to the FBT regime, such company or novated lease cars enjoy a taxpayer subsidy of $2billion each and every year. Where is the big nation building vision of federal funding for public transport? Where is the vision to change behaviour to reduce transport emissions?

Jim Hart writes: Re. “Milne: The great climate betrayal” (yesterday, item 17). Thanks to Christine Milne for her assessment on how the Budget lets down the environment, especially regarding the means test on the subsidy for solar panels. As she and others have already pointed out, on an income under $100,000 you’re not likely to be able to afford the panels even with a subsidy. But that’s probably irrelevant since you probably can’t afford to buy a house in the first place and the subsidy is only available to home-owners. Nice little Catch22 you’ve got there Wayne.

Robert Bruinewoud writes: Re. John Hunwick (yesterday, comments) who wrote that “most people involved in dealing with the details of the budget do not have anything resembling an ecological education”. This may be true, but it in no way absolves them of the blame they must carry for failing to take the necessary steps to prevent Australia’s, and the world’s, inexorable slide towards environmental disaster. They have asked to be put in power, so they must be held responsible for not using it wisely. Failing to “see the connections” because they didn’t put in the time to educate themselves cannot be allowed to be used as an excuse. No more than “following orders” was allowed as an excuse 60 years ago.

Israel and Iran:

Steve Perry writes: Re. “Rudd government reignites campaign against Iranian president” (yesterday, item 23). Antony Loewenstein claims “The Iranian leader is certainly prone to making outlandish comments about Israel and denying the Holocaust, but that’s no more offensive than a host of Israeli leaders advocating the elimination or ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.” Despite referring to a “host” of them, Loewenstein fails to actually quote even one elected Israeli official who has made such claims. No real surprise as he made it up. In between whitewashing the Iranian psychopath, Loewenstein finds his comments merely “outlandish” and denies Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel’s total destruction, something Loewenstein himself endorses, albeit in a fuzzy political way, rather than a thermonuclear one. Why should anyone believe him, when it is clearly Loewenstein who is prone to making outlandish (or simply inaccurate) comments?

Tax loopholes:

Peter Hill writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 9). Crikey published: “The latest tax loophole for Australia’s ultra-wealthy individuals is Prescribed Private Funds (PPF’s).” Latest? Where has your “tipper” been since 2001 when the PPF measures were recommended to the Government and introduced? Loophole? Quite the opposite. Um, there are some pretty onerous requirements for a PPF before it can be submitted for approval by that noted friend of the ultra-wealthy, the Federal Treasurer. And hey, anyone making a capital gain of, say, $100 can donate it to a charity and get a tax deduction (or even $100 million if you’re really that way inclined). A PPF is not some personal fund you can use to pay out money willy nilly. And no, the money can’t be controlled by the donor for a start (or their kids, or any associates). And no, the money can’t be spent on anything to do with the donor, directly or indirectly. The money must be donated to a charity as a gift. You know, one of those things you give money to for nothing in return. One of those things you can donate a $100 to, or even $2. And the last time I checked, there were over 1,000 cultural organisations benefiting from PPFs, including, for example, those well-known elitist high-living charities like The Redfern Aboriginal Dance Theatre, the ARC Rock & Roll Fund, and the Gold Coast Barbershop Harmony Fund. The point is, a gift is a gift is a gift and, since Adam was a kid, tax deductible.

First Dog on the Moon:

Denise Marcos writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (Wednesday, item 9). Regarding Kevin Rudd’s cat. Having idly browsed the Australian honours website I failed to find any reference to cartoon animals being excluded from awards. Can anyone put me on the right track here? Otherwise I’ll be nominating the Rudd’s irreverent family pet, Jasper, for an Order of Australia for his incisive, cutting-edge and fearless political commentary. C’mon, you know he deserves it.

Ad placement:

Barrie O’Shea writes: Re. Yesterday’s comments. What marvelous product placement! You have two letters about climate change followed by an advertisement for a vehicle that produces 333g of CO2 per km! We know that you have to pay the bills but maybe a little more thought next time…

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