Petrol politics – solutions, suggestions and ridicule:

James McDonald writes: Re. “Kevin and Brendan fiddle with excise as the world burns” (yesterday, item 2). Never mind your fuel tank, what about the truck that brought your lunch today? For a lateral way of beating fuel pain we should look at boosting freight rail in this country for regular non-bulk haul. The price at the pumps is an easy rally point for consumer desperation, but try to estimate the road-transport cost we pay for our apples and bread. Layer upon layer, somewhere along the line that cost burdens every thing we buy. But according to the Freight Rail Operators Group, rail transport is nine times more energy efficient than road. A 2005 Australasian Railway Association study estimated a potential for $27 billion increase in Australia’s GDP from reforming our freight rail network. See last year’s House of Reps report on the freight transport bottlenecks and inefficiencies that hold us back more and more every year, and its proposed solutions. How about if our reformer PM looks at spending the lion’s share of infrastructure budget on rail reform, both freight and passenger, instead of only $192 million on all rail combined and the rest of the billions on roads? Trucks carry 80 per cent of our non-bulk freight other than to and from WA (for which rail moves 80 per cent, and over that distance sea transport is even more efficient). It doesn’t need to. Exports are suffering too, ports clogged with ships waiting weeks to be loaded. Only banana republics can’t get their railways sorted out. There are brilliant modern technologies out there. Road-railer trailers can be transferred between train and truck at distribution points, so trucks can reach journey end-points without the need to unload the goods inside. We’re not short of steel. Road use by the heaviest vehicles could be reduced, bringing down maintenance, congestion, hazards, journey times and thus fuel consumption by those vehicles still on the road. The list of potential benefits goes on. Our long-haul truck drivers are heroes who’ve carried this whole country for years, but it’s time to offer those of them who want it a safer job in a federally reformed freight rail industry. Expensive, yes. And lacking the instant smiley gratification of road upgrades in marginal seats. But also anti-inflationary, growth-making, and planet-saving.

Humphrey Hollins writes: I sit here in Phnom Penh having a chuckle every day as I read my daily Crikey email. The problems of interest rates and fuel prices are not my problems. I sold my house in Perth at the top of the price cycle and live like a prince on money in the bank at 7.75%. Like many ex-pats in Cambodia I have a tiny carbon footprint, I don’t use hot water and I drive a 1994 Daewoo Tico which has three cylinders and a capacity of 800cc.With electric windows and excellent air conditioning it is a very comfortable but tiny car. Around town I get around 40mpg in the old money and on a trip up to 63mpg and this is with four people and their luggage, with the air con on full all the time. I have a mate in Australia who suggested many years ago that we should cover the roads with chicken wire and that we should all drive dodgems. He was right.

Gilbert Wahlquist writes: Brendan Nelson knows what he is doing. Bob Menzies used petrol to get rid of the Chifley government in December, 1949. Chif prudently re-imposed petrol rationing as part of his campaign against inflation. Menzies said he would find the petrol and end the rationing. Forget the bank tellers who were out there campaigning against Ben Chifley’s Bill to bring the banks into line; it was petrol that did it for Ming. Petrol beats planning every time at the ballot box. Nelson gets an A plus in history.

Mark Freeman writes: Perhaps it’s time for a form of windfall profits tax on longer standing Australian fields if only to stop so much of this windfall being exported as profits. The US had a similar tax in the 70’s oil price boom. Also in this article, Bernard Keane makes a common error about demand inelasticity. Nobody is saying that demand for anything is totally inelastic as price rises — just relatively inelastic. Recent reports from the US are a 4% drop in petrol use – but in partial response to a much larger increase in price (I’m sure other factors are at play too). Relative inelasticity suggests to me, especially in the case of petrol, that it’s really worth a lot more to us than we’re used to paying. So it could well take $5 per litre to really make a dent in consumption. And if we all used less, it would cost less. Not gonna happen though is it?

Judy King writes: When purchasing petrol today the proprietor of a small service station showed me a case of oil he had received from his supplier that morning. The new price was $2.60 per item more than the previous purchase. This oil was bottled and packed in April 2006. How is this possible? Maybe you can find out how much barrel oil was then!

John Bowyer writes: Re. “Politicians on petrol — no one’s mentioning the “c” word” (yesterday, item 9). I am now in my early sixties and for all of my life I have been told that I am going to die, very soon! Nuclear bombs, the complete breakdown of society. Then in the 1970’s that oil would run out before the end of the 20th century and the Amazon basin would be de-afforested in the same time frame. Now its climate change! Jeez just give it a rest. I do not believe you! I do believe that all the doom-sayers are full of it and have generally made a handsome living out of their views. I am not alone in these thoughts either.

Josephine Kneipp writes: As I watched the Today show yesterday morning I wondered why are we talking about reducing petrol prices when we should be talking about reducing petrol usage: surely after signing the Kyoto protocol, there has to be some action to back up this symbolism? As far as I can see, Crikey is the only media outlet who also asked these pertinent and meaningful questions rather than blowing on their dog whistle. And, of course, First Dog summed it up beautifully. Well done.

Greg Byfield writes: I have never read a more one sided left wing approach to almost all of your reports especially dealing with political issues. Do Rudd and the Labor Party contribute to your web site or are your reporters all left wing by nature or both?

Steven McCormack writes: Ricky Bryan’s notion (yesterday, comments) is an excellent idea. The idea of carbon-based taxing has been thought of by many as an ideal replacement for income based taxing (introduced by Bismark during another era of Statehood). Al Gore also gives it a plug as “the solution” during his updated presentation on planetary affairs, which can be viewed at Like a GST, carbon tax is automatically paid more by those who burn more carbon. This also addresses the per capita imbalance between the developed and developing world. I reckon public policy should always be designed to address and improves multiple public issues. Such a test of public policy should also validate longer-term policy horizons, such as those now being proposed by the PM, and with which I am fully in favour.

Ignaz Amrein writes: Ricky Bryan wrote: “If any of the Crikey readers can shoot a hole in this suggestion I’d love to read it.” Ricky, I can! I just printed out your “petrol issue” solution and I’m going to take it to the nearest shooting range tomorrow…

Camden’s a great place to live: 

Noel Hadjimichael writes: Re. “Time for the silent majority to enter Camden debate” (yesterday, item 11). The debate over the proposed school in the semi-rural and poorly serviced (in terms of transport) school site near Camden, on Sydney’s outskirts, is not just about education, planning or religious tolerance. It is all about perception. I was pleased that Crikey has moved on from the Alex Mitchell view of Camden. In over 20 years of residence (from the mid 1980s) and over 40 years of association, I have found Camden the very opposite of the spiteful, racist and intolerant enclave pictured by some of the commentators. It is home to many single parent families, a large and relatively mid rather than upscale gay community, lots of hardworking “working families” so beloved by our PM and finally a growing number of non-white residents (of the immigrant not indigenous type). Your local doctor or pharmacist is more likely to come form Bangladesh than Ballarat. Mr Trad was right to say that sweeping generalizations are unhelpful and not terribly Australian. The proposal, which will involve a very large “bussed in” group of students will only cause significant drains on transport, rob local public schools of Islamic students and do very little for parents who will live from 25 to 45 kms away. The State Government selling a site closer to where Islamic Australians live in Sydney (say closer to Holdsworthy or Cecil Park) will do more for this community than a fight. It would be similar in logic to the Jewish community choosing to locate a school in a locality where land is cheaper but away from our population base. A Jewish day school in Berwick or Pakenham would make similar sense in Victoria when relatively few local families are involved. Tolerance requires calm decision-making. The perception of a few bigots (yes they are bigots and worse still drape the Australian flag around their ignorance) is not the Camden I have known for many years. On Anzac Day in Camden, my partner and I (the very best combination of Jewish and Presbyterian traditions) watched with pride the marching of youth with our diggers. Our boys had Middle Eastern surnames, another boy’s family were Indians from Fiji, the remainder Irish, British, German, Dutch and Indonesian. Camden is better than this media stereotype and this shameful overreaction. However on planning grounds, the school proposal has severe problems.

The Henson fracas:

Robert Bruinewoud writes: Re. “Senator Bartlett: Moving beyond art v p-rn” (yesterday, item 15). Some years ago, my wife and I took our early-teenage daughters to the state museum. One of the the exhibits charted the changes in the human body from birth to old age. It featured full frontal, life-sized photographs of naked males and females including pubescent children. No arty shadows or demurely placed hands. Everything was in plain view, lit with the same antiseptic brightness preferred by hardcore p-rnographers. The only reason I remember this is because my daughters recognised the young male as someone they had gone to primary school with, and they had a bit of giggle about it. The point is, this kid was exposed in all the awful ways that Henson’s subjects are supposed to have been, and more so. From what I’ve seen, Henson’s subjects are presented as complex, multifaceted people – they are treated with compassion and dignity. In the museum the boy was almost dehumanised – simply an object to be studied for signs of physical and s-xual development. But, despite this, the boy was lucky. He was lucky there was no public outcry, that no do-gooders leapt to his defence and (inadvertently?) caused his image to be plastered all over the media. He was lucky that he didn’t ignite debate about his (in)ability to give consent, or the intentions of the photographer and curators, or the museum-going habits of paedophiles. No, he remained anonymous to all but those who visited the museum. And to them, he was soon forgotten, unless he’d once shared a playground with their daughters.

Paul Gilchrist writes: The gallery has to choose one image out of dozens for its invitation to the Bill Henson exhibition, guess which one it chooses? Malcolm Turnbull says he owns two Bill Henson pictures, “one a profile, one a sunset” i.e. no undressed children. Consider why the gallery chose the picture and why Malcolm felt he had to make the disclaimer, the truth lies there.

David Mendelssohn writes: Re. “Attack of the luvvies fails to hit its target” (Wednesday, item 8). Bernard Keane writes: “Politicians are in the business of being elected, which means taking mainstream positions on just about everything.” He perhaps, but Kevin Rudd certainly, should remember what that well-known conservative, Edmund Burke, said in 1774 to the electors of Bristol: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Joe Gyngell writes: With all the recent controversy about whether a 13-year-old can possibly consent to have n-ked photos taken of them my question is: has anyone considered the hundreds of babies likely to carry permanent mental scars as a result of being dressed up in animal suits for Anne Geddes photos? Surely no right-minded baby would ever consent to such humiliation. I’d hand over my kids to Henson before Geddes any day.

Quest newspapers:

Steve Zeppa, acting Editor-in-Chief, Quest Community Newspapers, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (22 May, item 7). Crikey’s disgruntled correspondent at Quest Newspapers has been busy composing three separate missives in recent weeks alleging staff are livid because they haven’t had a pay rise for three years. Perhaps your correspondent who moonlights as one of our staff hasn’t had an upgrading for a while for a good reason. Accuracy is a basic requirement of good journalism and sadly it is lacking in your correspondent’s reporting. Staff at Quest receive annual increases in pay and allowances in line with their employment agreements. Pay rates at Quest are not among the lowest in the industry; they are among the best. Grading reviews are held annually and based on performance, some get upgraded and some don’t. The MEAA has advised Quest that no current staff member has raised with them a specific grievance about pay. If any member of staff feels (differently) they should raise the issue with their line manager, or the Managing Editor. No editorial staff are asked to work Good Friday or Christmas.

The ABC Board:

Glenys Stradijot, friends of the ABC (Victoria), writes: Re. “Estimates adventures: bring back Connie Fierravanti-Wells” (Wednesday, item 11). Bernard Keane’s comments on the ABC Board staff-elected director position, that was abolished by the former Coalition government and which the new Labor government plans to restore, are misleading. There has been no indication that staff-elected directors have put any conflicting interests of ABC staff above the good of the ABC over the many years that different people have held the position. On the contrary, it has been several of the staff directors on whom the community has been able to rely to uphold the ABC’s best interests – its independence. When the position existed, the staff director was elected by, but was not a representative of the staff. Just as other ABC Board members are appointed by, but not meant to represent the interests of the government that appoints them. If anything, the potential for conflict of interest is less for someone elected by several hundred staff in a secret ballot than it is for a board member appointed by the government. The staff director position ensures there is at least one person with public broadcasting experience and intimate knowledge of the ABC on the broadcaster’s governing board. Importantly, it is a small but significant counter on occasions that any government stacks the ABC Board.

Scott McClellan:

Wayne Sanderson writes: Re. “US08: Forget Bush, will McLellen’s tell all hurt McCain?” (Yesterday, item 4). According to Guy Rundle, “What Happened [by former White House press sec Scott McClellan] is the most excoriating of all the tell-alls to come from the White House to date, … ” Perhaps, although that is a big call, especially from someone who admits to not having read a book which has only just been released. At this point the most excoriating book to have come from a former Bush insider is probably The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill. Written by Ron Suskind, it was O’Neill’s account of his time as Treasury Secretary, and published in 2004 — long before Bush-bashing became a popular national past-time.

Banking systems:

Bryan Bussell writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Monday, item 9). Crikey published “The Commonwealth Bank last month announced it is embarking on an AU$580 million four-year program to modernise its legacy core banking systems and introduce new features with the help of SAP and Accenture.” I would add my 46 years of IT experience to say. It will never happen. However Westpac spent about $1.0bn (real 1990 dollars) on CS 90 (which also never happened) and NAB blew about $400-600m on SAP in 2002. Not worth selling your shares over. All the majors are still wholly dependant on their core systems written in the early 70s. History is well against the Commonwealth.

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