The Australian Press Council:

Jack Herman, executive secretary of the Australian Press Council, writes: Re. “Hundreds and thousands, it’s all the same at the Press Council” (Friday, item 15). Margaret Simons is quite entitled to analyse the Press Council adjudications from this month. She is not entitled to get the facts wrong: Adjudication 1394 upheld complaints from the Northern Grampians Shire Council. Based on figures published in its annual report, and on the Council’s website, the Council upheld 47% of complaints in 2006-2007 and over 40% of complaints adjudicated since 1988. Not to mention the 40-50% of complaints mediated each year to a successful settlement.

Richard Pratt:

Philip Woods writes: Re. “Could billionaire Dick Pratt really go to jail?” (Friday, item 1). Truly there is one law for the rich and one for the poor. Pratt’s company was fined $36 million for the proven charge of running a cartel. I understand that Pratt himself suffered zero court penalties. This was a fraud that touched every person in Australia. Every grocery, electronic, and liquor item in Australia is packed in a cardboard box and we paid for Pratt’s massive greed. There was no remorse for the act shown by either party and it was acknowledged that it would still be running today had it not been uncovered. Now it is possible that he perjured himself to lessen the penalty imposed by the court. If a bloke robbed a shop of $40 and a carton of smokes he would be guaranteed slammer time. It is interesting that Lord Jeffery Archer got four years for his perjury back in 2001 in London. Perhaps the Limeys are made of sterner stuff than we Aussies. More interesting is the fact that not one print or TV media resorted to their “de-rigueur” punning on the name and the matter — there are lots to be made with Pratt (“Pratt boxed in”). Certainly no politician, media personality or footballer would be safe.

Grant Jones writes: There are a few odd lines being run with regard to the ACCC and Richard Pratt matter. There appears to be a political line being run by Richard Pratt’s side that the criminal proceedings against Richard are some sort of vengeance by Samuel. Frankly this is ridiculous as Leonie Wood correctly points out. Do people actually believe that the Chairman of the ACCC would convince the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution and the other seven ACCC commissioners to “go after” Richard Pratt under the disguise of some sort of vendetta over a supposed tiff that Samuel and Pratt had when they were involved in the arts scene in the late 90s? Come on journalists, I think you can give Samuel a bit more credit than that. Is it not possible that Graeme Samuel and the DPP are simply doing what is required by law as the front page of the Herald Sun on Saturday morning pointed out? Or maybe this is all about him getting re-elected as the Chair of the ACCC again, but wait, wasn’t that the reason he supported FuelWatch last week? I’m guessing with the political clout that Richard Pratt possesses, this would do more damage than good for his re-election chances. The bigger issue here of course is whether the law firm Arnold Block Leibler personalising the matter isn’t a way of neglecting the blame for their possible costly oversight in this whole affair.


Denise Marcos writes: Re. “Flying on Qantas next week? You might want to read this” (Friday, item 5). Note to Geoff Dixon and the somnambulant Qantas board — the sole reason I fly Qantas is the hitherto exemplary safety record. Free of charge I offer the following consumer feedback: pay the engineers and mechanics what they demand (and rightly deserve), commensurately increase fares and, as in days of yore, the passengers will again feel safe. As for your own indulgent salary package, Geoff, I’m surprised you still have a job after recommending the doomed takeover which resulted in an embarrassing, but ultimately merciful, fracas. It’s tempting to shun Qantas as my preferred carrier however the prospect of having one’s face painted by a Virgin employee is daunting. In a nutshell, this is what we ask of Qantas: impeccable standards of safety, minimal disruption to flight times and no face-painting/crass gimmicks. Qantas Club members and loyalists are astonished we need to explain this to management.

James Stocks writes: So I should have listened to Ben Sandilands and cancelled my flight this morning. Originally scheduled on the 7.15am Melbourne – Sydney this was cancelled on Friday no doubt in preparation for Monday without the engineers. I was put on the 7.30am. The 7.30am is on time — amazing! We taxi out to the runway and then the Captain announces there is an issue with an engine start procedure. We taxi back to the bridge. A couple of “engineers” (I presume they were) came onboard and after 20 minutes the Captain announces that we must disembark. So now I’m in the Club again waiting for the 10am. Another great experience on the Spirit of Australia.

Doctors and drug companies:

A former senior drug company employee writes: Re. “Senior doctors ‘selling’ drugs for $5000 a day” (Friday, item 4). Ray Moynihan’s depiction of medical specialists in the health industry as paid spruikers lacked the intellectual rigour and scientific detachment that he usually claims to bring to this debate. Ray claimed “esteemed experts” (emotive term) “usually a specialist” (would you ask for opinion from someone not best qualified?) with the “Orwellian” (more emotion) title of Key Opinion Leader were being paid more than $2000 a day to speak at a drug company function and not declaring their affiliation. These experts were “often” on the drug company payroll as consultants and “some” (can’t we be precise?) who “firmly maintain they can take the cash” (echoes of Adler or Skase!) and remain independent. These “firm maintainers” remain apparently nameless. As invisible as they are, they’re backing up with speeches at breakfast, lunch and dinner and making $5000 (or more) a day. So some specialists might be better than others in convincing competing and presumably unknowing companies at the same scientific conference that their time is worth reimbursing several times over? I’ve never seen it but I’ll take Ray’s anecdotal word for it. Most of the experts I’ve seen value their reputation too much to be prevailed upon to “doctor” a presentation in front of hundreds of their peers. Doctors not only make judgments, they talk. Being a patsy would tend to brand a Key Opinion Leader as a “follower” and thus next to useless for a nefarious marketer. The key word here, however, is “reimbursing”. If a specialist makes $2000 a day working in his or her practice, it’s only fair that whoever wants to take them out of that workplace and present to an audience should compensate them for their time. Most, if not all, major drug companies have a written scale for this and the multinationals are at the sharp end of punitive legislation like the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act if they overstep the mark. I’m fairly sure Ray doesn’t write many books for free. I once hired a top-flight TV journalist to speak at a function and it cost me considerably more than two-grand. He was more entertaining than a proctologist (some might say he’d probed similar places to shine a light) but didn’t present too much in the way of peer-reviewed scientific data.

The military and the NT Intervention:

Bob Durnan writes: Neil James (Friday, comments) makes a valid and long overdue point about the military role in the NT Intervention. I witnessed their arrival and activities in two communities, and there wasn’t a hint of aggression on their part, or any action which wasn’t purely logistical and supportive to the medical teams and public servants and their programs. Certainly no signs of any weaponry either. Most local Aboriginal people had no fear of the military, having seen them helping out on other occasions (for example, they helped with the logistics with Fred Hollows’ early eye-health crusades across these same communities, projects which I also witnessed, as I was a volunteer working on those projects at the time). Many enjoyed talking to them (most of the troops were Aboriginal men and women or other local Norforce members, often related or known to some of the local community people), playing football with them, taking them hunting and to visit country, watching DVDs with them etc.

The characterisation of the communities as being fearful of the army is mostly misguided and incorrect, and to the extent it is based on fact, I believe that this may have been the result of people in communities which were not visited early in the project picking up on alarmist statements in the media by activists and sceptical commentators, amplified by community workers or members who were offended or anxious about various aspects of the Intervention. For example, as a means of engendering alarm and opposition, it possibly became easier to pick on the “military” component, than to try mobilising opposition to the extra policing or other measures that threatened many vested political, economic, ideological, grog running and dope dealing interests.

Similarly there was little mileage to be made from getting people upset about some extra doctors and nurses coming around, compared to the idea that the army was coming in on a mysterious mission because John Howard was said to be angry and believed that they were all r-ping their babies. There was some exaggeration in the comments by Brough, Howard and others at the time, but it was very difficult to argue with their general thrust, as reliable statistics indicated that Aboriginal women were experiencing alcohol-related death and injuries at around 45 to 50 times those being experienced by non-Aboriginal women; s-xual abuse was running around eight times the rate of non-Indigenous society; incarceration rates were several times higher; serious alcohol and cannabis abuse much higher; and on and on it goes.

Tiwi education:

Paul O’Halloran writes: Re. “Four Corners ‘ one-sided tale of Tiwi education” (Friday, item 3). I was disappointed the Four Corners program regarding educational engagement in the Tiwi Islands did not take a more questioning approach of how the bible-based curriculum offered by a fundamentalist Christian school with a fundamentalist American in charge of the boarding school is appropriate for indigenous Australians. In watching the program, I felt that this was a step back to the missionary-based schools of the past, a past for which there has been every reason to apologise. It seems that the main reason these missionary crusaders are on the Tiwi islands is to convert the indigenous inhabitants to Christianity. One can only imagine the sort of dogmatic, anti-learning and anti-questioning propaganda being promoted to learners in this largely federally funded school. I would have thought an approach more in tune with indigenous culture and beliefs would be more appropriate, relevant and sustainable.

Read meat and cancer:

Geoff Russell, Animal Liberation SA, writes : On what basis does Walt Hawtin (Friday, comments) say I make “emotional argument making apparent links” in my article “Dieticians underplay the red meat risk“? I quote from the most thorough survey of the data by acknowledged experts for a decade and they, not me, assert causality — not “apparent links”. The say that red meat, including pig meat and processed meats, cause cancer. He also asks what qualifications I have to talk about cancer. The focus of the article wasn’t cancer but the misrepresentation by the Dietitians Association of Australia of the World Cancer Research Foundation report with a little bit of information added to spice up the message. As it happens, I have degrees in both Philosophy and Mathematics, both fields where qualifications are irrelevant to judgments about the quality of work. The WCRF report has 150+ highly qualified authors, but the DAA or anybody else would be well within their rights to question any invalid arguments or poorly supported conclusions in that report. What the DAA have no right to do is to misrepresent the findings of the WCRF report — WCRF says clearly and unambiguously that DAA’s corporate sponsor Meat and Livestock Australia is selling a deadly product and DAA shouldn’t assert that WCRF says otherwise. I have written to Nicola Roxon asking that DAA receive appropriate government funding to do the important work that they should be doing without having to rely on corporate funding — which never comes without strings and is clearly influencing DAA activities.

A Responsible Service of Fat:

Glen Frost writes : Re. “Fat bomb explodes all over the media” (Friday, item 9). I was standing in line at a certain well known fast food burger outlet at my local food court, looking at some of the customers’ (very tragic) height-to-weight ratios. Anecdotal evidence from last night’s line was about the same as the fat bomb report. The following thought popped into my head: If we have Responsible Service of Alcohol, when will we get Responsible Service of Fat?

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