The politics of the surging cost of oil:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Another day, another end-of-the-world editorial from Crikey. The problem with your argument is that higher prices lead to more production or a switch to cheaper alternatives. This is called the “price mechanism”. And don’t bother telling me we are running out of resources because every doomsayer since Malthus has been wrong on that one. What’s disturbing is your assertion that the issues we face are too important for adversarial politics. This little totalitarian streak simply means you don’t want the issues debated, presumably because you already have all the answers. Well, no thanks — I quite enjoy the debating part, especially because it leads to much better solutions.

John Taylor writes: Would somebody like to show today’s editorial to Glenn Stevens and his board, and suggest to them that it’s time to adopt a more flexible stance to their inflation target. Circumstances would suggest that a target of 2 or 3% is impossible to achieve and while ever petrol prices remain where they are, there will be no need to increase interest rates to achieve a slowdown in spending. The additional cost of operating the vehicles of “working families” will be sufficient. By the way, has anyone ever asked whether “working families” would prefer an inflation rate of 2 or 3% and be sold up by their Bank or 4 or 5% and hang on by the skin of their teeth? If the Rudd Government wants to be more than a one term wonder, this is the issue they will need to prioritise. In 2010, no-one will care whether it was the RBA’s fault or the Government’s; the “pain blame” will be enough to see the ALP obliterated.

Trevor Best writes: At last you have said something I can agree with. We have to do things very differently. However, it can be completely painless. Just do what my extended family has done for four generations – reproduce only at replacement level. We must legislate for maximum family size, and licence the right to have children (no criminal records, and reasonable asset or earning prospects). Then a few families will anyhow fail to meet the maximum and Australia’s population will reduce by this means to twenty million, and when that happens we can even accept migrants. The Greens and the political Left have recently been pushing the idea that the world will jump to follow our example in environmental matters. We are now among the lowest polluters in the world per square kilometre occupied (taking in our continental shelf and Antarctic territories) so let’s see the world follow that example and our population restraint and all the problems will be very simply solved within a generation.

Stephen Martin writes: Re. “Time for the price of fuel to rise above politics” (yesterday, item 1). Long term it may well be true that petrol prices will rise, but the current surge seems a bit suspicious. I know that India and China are expanding rapidly, but they were also six or so months ago before the recent rise of oil from $80 to the current $135 per barrel even allowing for the weak US$. The question needs to be asked: why the surge? Speculators may be part of the problem and let’s hope they get their fingers well and truly burnt if this is the case. More importantly the high price should lead to development of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, and the mandatory improvement of fuel efficiency in motor cars, and to further exploration. What hasn’t been mentioned of course is the vast resource of shale oil which must be economical to develop at the current oil price in the longer term. But with the present windfall price of crude, why not make hay while the sun is shining so brightly for the oil cartel?

Richard Goodwin writes: Can you research an article on who is pocketing all the extra income being generated by the escalating oil price? If it is the oil producing nations, what is the extent of their recent wealth gains and what are they doing with their money?

Moira Smith writes: 5 cents a litre … as recommended by Brendan Nelson. $2 a week. Gee that’s gong to make a big difference to my bottom line. After a week or two, I might even be able to afford a milkshake.

Tania Zaetta:

Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association, writes: Re. “The Daily Telegraph’s Tour of rooty” (yesterday, item18). Jane Nethercote rightly decries the prurient media pillorying of Tania Zaetta but, even ignoring the contrived squaring off between Channels Seven and Nine, there are even wider issues involved. First, Tania has strongly denied the allegation and her denials have been backed by other artists on the tour. Second, the hectic scheduling of the tour program, the operational and living conditions at Tarin Kowt and the OH&S (and insurance) aspects of closely protecting the entertainers, would tend to preclude unprogrammed and necessarily private social activities however brief. Third, in any event, Tania’s privacy and dignity have been violated to no public benefit. Fourth, irrespective of contractual obligations supposedly forbidding close personal “fraternisation” (a loaded term) by touring entertainers, anyone involved in such socialising would be an adult Australian citizen and it is none of our business anyway. Fifth, those peddling the allegation are likely to have been the victim of (inappropriate) digger humour but deserved mickey-taking. Sixth, I suspect the diggers appreciated Tania singing for them more than they did Angry Anderson, even if their parents had advised who he was. Finally, it is hard enough to get modern “rock artists” to tour our Middle East contingents anyway, although C&W musicians, comedians and dancers seem to be much braver and more committed to their citizenship. It would be unfortunate if Tania’s treatment discouraged other real entertainers from touring – although the routines of future comedians who do are sure to suggest even more unlikely scenarios.

James McDonald writes: I had to squint to see it … of course Crikey is no smut rag and would never report celebrity s-x just for the titillation of it. Far from it; Crikey was only fulfilling its tough and noble calling as media-watcher, expressing its shock at how low some of the tabloids will sink and how slipshod the ADF is with privacy. And what better way to do so than with giggles, s-xual double-entendres, b-ms-and-t-ts photos, and calls for YouTube to post the resulting porn. Yet somehow, I find I have more respect for the smut-rags that publish this drivel under their own flag. Jane Nethercote, with respect, I think you’re a bit overdue for a holiday.

Glen Frost writes: Honestly, one arm of Government is paying people to have kids and another is tut-tutting about sperm meeting an egg. I think a cold shower is in order; especially in the desert with a TV entertainer to do the washing…

Come, visit the “table of knowledge”:

Matt Hingerty writes: Re. “Iemma’s diversion: ban political donations” (31 March, item 4). In the last week I attended a staff planning retreat at the Novotel in Wollongong. One of my colleagues pointed out the “hole in the wall” kebab shop across the road with a cheap and very empty plastic table and chairs as the now infamous “table of knowledge” as used daily by various former Wollongong civic and developer identities to swap gossip, tactics and, allegedly, metaphoric brown paper bags. Fascinated that such a mundane and otherwise unremarkable setting generated a couple of weeks of national headlines, I wandered over to buy a couple of papers and hear how the coverage had made the owner rich from all the visiting politicos wanting to bask in the vainglory for a couple of minutes. Nothing could be further from the truth – a sad and somewhat bemused and resigned proprietor – your central casting Arabic small business battler – said that since all the press much of his business had dried up. So come on all you fellow politico’s, media hoovers and pundits who were so titillated by the goings-on at the “table” – if you’re in town drop into the North Beach kebab shop and buy a paper and a coffee and help out an innocent victim side-swiped by NSW political history.

Rorting surgical billing:

John Orchard, sports physician, writes: Re. “Kossman witch-hunt a study in procedural unfairness” (yesterday, item 14). Greg Barns makes a good point about the procedural fairness of the special panel in the Kossman case (irrespective of his competence and billing patterns). What is most surprising is that a special panel was needed in the first place. Surely there should be specific government bodies with the scope to investigate allegations of at least improper billing. Workers compensation and transport accident schemes have always been potentially easy for surgeons to rort, as the patient (who is best placed to argue about whether a particular procedure was actually done or whether the consultant surgeon actually attended the operation) doesn’t part with any money him/herself. Now that “No Gaps” schemes have been encouraged by the government, many so-called private operations are in the same position. It is amazing situation to think that a system has been set up that is so easy for a surgeon to bill for an operation not performed (i.e. that doesn’t cost the patient anything no matter how many items are claimed), yet there is never any routine check to make sure the work was actually done. I have heard on occasions (albeit second and third hand) of cases where surgeons apparently add “extra” item numbers, or, in public hospitals, bill for a procedure done by the hospital registrar in their absence. By contrast, I have never heard of any patient being contacted by, say, a Worker’s Compensation scheme and asked – “we have paid the bill we received on your behalf for procedure X done by Dr. Smith – we just wanted to make sure that you did in fact have this procedure done and that Dr Smith was actually present performing the operation”. The most important lesson from the Kossman case is to lose the naivety that improper billing by surgeons is so rare that no formal investigative body is needed to consider it.

Tax cheats and tax babies:

David Conallin writes: Re. “Labor targets 600,000 tax cheats” (yesterday, item 8). Back in the late 90s I was in Greece and as I was an accountant in Oz someone showed me a Greek Tax return. It had a section where you had to put the registration and other details of your car. Apparently if it exceeded a certain amount compared to your income, you were simply tax an additional percentage of its cost. Problem solved!

Chris Chambers writes: I am a CPA specialising in income tax and I had a question yesterday from a client: From a tax point of view when is the best time to have a baby? It sure is time to simply our tax system or should CPA’s design a calculator to enable us to calculate a date.


Sarah Bacon, in London, writes: From what Magnus Vikingur has seen (yesterday, comments), since most people don’t know how to use self-check-in counters at airports, he might like to pop across to the UK to observe that, with a little care and imagination, they work fine. Regardless of all the other problems with which British Airways and others torture their clientele, I do admit to appreciating the self check-in service at the small yet still busy airports, such as Edinburgh, for the simple reason that a staff member is on hand to help. After passengers join the check-in queue, a staff member asks each one about their needs, ascertaining whether a self check-in is viable, after which the passenger is swiftly escorted to a computer terminal and taken through the process. Not only is the passenger educated – for future reference – but the delight at avoiding the queue is palpable. In the end, as ever, it does just come down to the personal touch.


David Hand writes: Re. “Haneef, civil liberties versus public safety” (Wednesday, comments). I can infer from your readers’ comments on Wednesday that in their view, the Haneef case is really an expose of the lengths the Howard government would go to whip up some xenophobic hysteria in order to get re-elected. It’s the political interference that’s turning everybody on. This is a good point but not the one I was making. Write it all off to party politics if you want but I think that’s a brave call.

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