Misusing by not using. Giving members of parliament the right to say what they will within the confines of their parliamentary chambers, without fear of legal retribution, is an important component of our democratic system. This parliamentary privilege developed for just the kind of case which Greens Leader Bob Brown recently has spoken of — where a lobbyist offered him a bribe to vote in a particular fashion. Without special protection, MPs would feel constrained from giving details of what clearly are serious threats to the way our democracy works. An allegation that a person representing a large media company had offered a $1 million bribe, if made in any normal forum, would result in defamation action that the MP would be in grave danger of losing because it was based on one person’s word against another. Senator Brown has explained not previously revealing details of this vote buying attempt that occurred eight years ago in this way: “I didn’t because it went nowhere and because in making, publishing an approach like that, the advice I got was that I would be open to defamation, a position that could be taken because I was defaming a character who would clearly deny the conversation had ever taken place. It is a case of one person’s word against another.” When asked by Sydney Morning Herald journalist Stephanie Peatling why he had not elaborated on the bribery claim in the Senate, where politicians are protected by parliamentary privilege, Senator Brown said he was “not one for making such claims without being able to do so outside [Parliament]”. If he really believes that, then Senator Brown is throwing away an important safeguard of our democracy. Debate would be very much limited indeed if the restrictions of the defamation laws were generally applied to parliamentary proceedings and reports. And by not naming the person, yet narrowing the suspects to someone working for “a large media company”, Senator Brown has unfairly cast suspicion on the innocent as well as the guilty. Let me add, as someone who has in the past made representations in Canberra at different times for Messrs Murdoch, Packer and Stokes, that “it was not I” who offered the million!

Thoroughbred industry should think about mulesing. The leaders in the Australian thoroughbred industry should perhaps have a chat with the wool industry chiefs who every day seem to have to fight a new battle with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This very clever animal rights group, which is having considerable success in persuading textile manufacturers around the world that the mulesing of sheep is cruel, is now turning its attention to what it sees as the cruelty of horse racing.

The spur for PETA’s new campaign was the televised killing of Eight Belles at the end of this year’s Kentucky Derby after the filly broke both front ankles as her jockey was pulling her up. That sudden act of euthanasia revived memories of the long drawn out attempt by veterinarians to save the life of the 2000 Derby winner Barbaro who suffered injuries in the Preakness Stakes a few weeks later and was, as they euphemistically say in the racing game, put down after several months of attempts to save him failed.

Don’t mention the war. In Tasmania the war of words between the environmentally concerned and the timber giant Gunns continues but it is a war the Tasmanian Government is loathe to even mention. Last Friday the state’s Primary Industries and Water Minister David Llewellyn put out a press statement on results from the latest round of chemical testing of Tasmania’s rivers and streams. After giving details of tests that revealed traces of pesticides in the Coal River at Richmond, Mr Llewellyn reported that the “latest sampling indicates that the low levels of simazine previously detected in the Macquarie River have disappeared.” The levels detected, he said, did not pose any risk to public health and there were existing warnings in place against use of water from the river for drinking purposes, because of algal contamination. The minister’s statement ended with the comment that The Director of Public Health, Dr Roscoe Taylor, advised that he has required “the relevant operator” to discontinue the use of long-acting herbicides such as simazine and atrazine in the Macquarie River catchment until advised further. And who would that relevant operator be? Gunns Limited, of course, who use the chemicals to kill weeds in forestry plantations. Dr Taylor told the Hobart Mercury he had written telling the company not to use the chemicals in the Macquarie River catchment area.

Germans have acted, will Australia? The crisis in the Rhine Valley of the bees being killed by agricultural chemicals (Crikey last Monday) has seen the Federal German Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) ban a wide range of insecticides including at least one being sold in Australia by Bayer.

Mesurol is used in this country as a Bird Repellent and Snail and Slug Spray but its registration has been withdrawn in Germany because of fears about the consequences on bees of its use. Also withdrawn is the Bayer seed treatment sold in New Zealand as Poncho.

The Daily Reality Check

I confess I couldn’t resist it myself — Man dies in spitting contest plunge is the kind of headline that gets you in and I am an old tabloid boy at heart. It certainly worked for the Sydney Daily Telegraph website where it beat out such gems as a Deborah Hutton swapping a female friend for a man and a woman missing for 42 years found dead in a chair in her flat. The Australian reinforced its position as the leading serious news website with its readers favouring stories on the Chinese earthquake and the American presidential campaign along with a couple of Australian political items.

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

With the Liberal Party giving the impression that it is just one big squabble it is as if the newspapers are the only opposition that Kevin Rudd has. The tabloids certainly did their best this morning to make out that an opinion poll is really important.

The Pick of the Weekend’s Political Coverage

What the world is reading on the net

Quote of the Day:

We may well have underestimated consumer negativity.

— General manager of sales for the Cascade Brewery, Dominic Bury, on the savage reaction of drinkers to a reduction in size of Cascade Pale stubbies from 375ml to 330ml while the price remained the same. Who said Tasmanians couldn’t count?

Peter Fray

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