The Australia Council:

Kathy Keele, chief executive of the Australia Council for the Arts writes: There are factual errors in the Ben Eltham and Nicholas Pickard pieceKevin Rudd’s efficiency dividend hits the Australia Council’ (Item 19 June 27, 2008) which I would like to correct for the benefit of crikey readers. Of the 28 people who are leaving or have left the Australia Council in 2007-08, only 13 were due to their roles being made ‘redundant’. The other 15 left of their own accord during the year – natural attrition – or because the projects they were working on ended. The second error of fact is about Australia Council staff spending less ‘face time’ working with artists around Australia. The reduction in ‘face-to-face meeting time’ refers exclusively to travel to Sydney by members of the various peer assessment panels. It is one of the new measures to streamline the grant making process; reducing administrative costs (airfares, accommodation and per diems), taking advantage of new online technologies to assess applications and most importantly, ensuring that the available funds go to Australian artists to make art.

Fixing politics:

Chris Hunter writes: Miriam Lyons’ article (yesterday, item 11) is a rational response to Bernard Keane’s question about Australia’s current political model and its capability of dealing with the challenges of the 21st century. However, despite the “fundamental attribution error” she identifies, what ultimately typifies our lack of national vision is the standard of the political animal itself — where are the visionaries? For example, why has local government “the productive little floodplain” been so eroded through amalgamation that numerous towns across Australia have no local Mayors or relative town halls? Amalgamation is a financial decision but removing Mayors creates a moral dilemma leading to the breakdown and identity loss within the community — honourary Mayors should be retained if only on a volunteer basis — voted for during local government elections. This is just one piece of micro management. On a broader level a “pacific dollar” needs to be created to encourage a vibrant trading base for the entire region. It is no help to any of us pacific nations having only national currencies. So where are the visionaries? Where are the real ideas so sadly lacking in that most anal of institutions — Canberra?

The honeymooners:

Julian Zytnik writes: Honestly, what is it with the ‘honeymoon’ fetish amongst the Canberra beltway tea leaf readers (yesterday, editorial)? So much oooh-portentiousness and Kellyesque gravitas, falling over each other to be the first to make the ‘HIOB’ call (‘honeymoon is over baby’). They’re like doomsday cult members laying down the date of Armageddon…again, again and again. As Possum Comitatus said earlier this year: ‘with all these honeymoons, Rudd is quickly becoming the Casanova of issue polygamists everywhere’. Crikey, you list a series of HIOB pronouncements stretching back to March. In truth, the trail goes back to January…2007. Coalition insiders were talking about the prospect back then. By May 2007 both Fairfax and Murdoch papers had pronounced HIOB on at least four occasions. The Courier Mail then published a Galaxy Poll in June 2007 as part of a major HIOB declaration. Crikey’s own Christian Kerr said on 20 June 2007: ‘life in the Rudd office probably hasn’t been all that nice over the past 48 hours. This could finally spell the end of the honeymoon’. It goes on, past the election and beyond. It’s not the accuracy or otherwise of the soothsaying that bothers me. It’s just that the column inches could be much better spent on actual reasons for the honeymoons (or their overness).

On wayward teens and their offensive T-shirts:

James Burke writes:  Ah. Greg Barns, unerring crusader for justice that he considers himself to be, ventures out to save the Corey Delaneys of our nation from the dour old Plods (yesterday, item 14). When I was a teenager in Canberra this was a hot issue, with the police confiscating heavy metal T-shirts they thought transgressed the boundaries of propriety. Even at the time, anti-social lout that I was, I found the protestations of the headbangers amusing. Why else wear the shirt if not to p-ss off The Man? A bit like the homies, with their tinted car windows, gangsta hoodies, handgun-sporting websites and “FTP” tags, getting all upset when they garner police attention (sorry, ‘harassment’). Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk, hombres. Aside from all that, it’s hilarious to hear Barnsy come out in favour of freedom of expression, after his “thou shalt not besmirch the dead” screed about Bob Collins last year. Apparently, making random offensive gestures at the general public is acceptable, but reporting the dirty laundry of the dearly departed ist verboten. Black armband historians be warned …

Cathy Price writes: So Greg Barns thinks there is no victim in the case of the 16-year-old charged with offensive behaviour on the Gold Coast. What about the large group of women who are not feminists or l-sbians and do find the c-word to be the most offensive they can hear or read? Or the Christians who find it a straightforward case of blasphemy (I notice that Barns completely ignored this group in his article)? A quick survey of my female friends and colleagues (ranging in age from early 20s to mid 50s) reveals that all but one (a self-confessed, man-hating feminist) hate the word and most will speak up and complain when it’s used within earshot. And it’s nothing to do with being squeamish – if Barns went through what we do every month, he’d learn that we get over that at a pretty young age. In fact nobody seems to be able to identify exactly why they hate the word so much. Maybe it’s because it was introduced into mainstream language through that most famous of sexist pigs, William Shakespeare. Maybe it’s because, unlike “d-ck” and “pr-ck” it’s a word that has only one meaning. Maybe it’s just that it’s crude. But it shouldn’t matter why we find it offensive, the point is that we do. And while I’m all for free speech (I’m not ashamed of being a Gordon Ramsay fan), everyone should also be able to choose, within reason, whether or not they are exposed to material that causes them distress. Why else do TV shows and movies come with classifications? Not all that long ago I was asked by a father to cover up a French Connection t-shirt with the slogan “fcuk fashion” while in front of his children. I personally thought that if his 6-year-old daughter saw anything rude in that maybe there was a larger problem that he needed to address. But I did it anyway because he still had the right to protect her. If that same father had asked the 16 year old to cover up his offensive shirt, I’m sure he would have been told where to go. And, to my knowledge, the job of the police is to protect us where we can’t protect ourselves.

Wayne Robinson writes: Yes, the T-shirt is offensive, but using the law against a 16-year-old is like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. It would have been better if the policeman had laughed at the teenager’s bad taste, or even better still, agreed with it. Now that would have caused the teenager to stop wearing the T-shirt more quickly than anything else. Teenagers just hate not offending their elders.


Keith Perkins writes: In Richard Farmer’s brief summary of the Gippsland by-election (Crikey, item 12, yesterday) he describes the National vote as solid. I am bewilderingly bewildered. The Labor loss of -8.5% was disastrous while the National’s loss of -8.4% was solid. It’s obvious that I need to do a crash course in election-result analysis. There is a false assumption by most of the media political experts that had there not been a Liberal candidate running then those who voted Liberal would have voted for the Nats. This is not necessarily so. I know many Liberal voters who would have voted for Robert Mugabe in preference to voting for a National. Like a vast number of Australian voters the Liberal voters of Gippsland didn’t understand that, under our preferential system of voting, a vote for their candidate was virtually a vote for the National candidate. The National’s first preference votes in Gippsland, for the past three elections were 2004.48.3%..2007.48.3%..2008.39.9%

World Youth Day:

Steve Rattray writes: I was just wondering if you could publish the benefits [other than the enormous cost & disruption] of Sydney hosting World [Catholic] Youth week – for the benefit of the majority of NSW residents — who are not Catholic? AND if it’s such a good idea as I am sure your report will show — when are we hosting World [Anglican] Youth week?

Death of the Democrats:

Graham Bell writes from out in the Central Queensland bush: I supported the Australian Democrats in every election since their founding. They did a lot of good …. but let’s not forget the harm they did …. in their malignant neglect of Australian war veterans [though Sen. Andrew Bartlett did repeatedly speak up our ex-Diggers] …. and in their disdain for people living in rural and regional Australia. Never forget that snobbishness, inside the Australian Democrats, towards people living in the bush was one of the factors that kept the bumbling National Party alive. It was, too, the extraordinary unwillingness of the Australian Democrats to engage with Australians out in the bush that created the vacuum which Pauline Hanson and One Nation filled — worse yet, instead of listening those voters and trying to win them over, the Australian Democrats persisted in treating all “bushies” as rednecks, racists, Hansonites and environmental vandals!! A sure-fire recipe for political annihilation if ever there was one.

The aviation fan club:

Danu Poyner writes: I second Michael Nolan’s suggestion (Comments, 30/6/08) for an aviation section (or perhaps a transport one) in the daily email, though for less cynical reasons. Despite knowing little about the aviation industry and being an infrequent flyer, I find Ben Sandilands’ contributions valuable and insightful. This kind of in-depth behind-the-headlines reporting on any issue is why I subscribe to Crikey and is in keeping with the “telling you what they won’t” approach you’ve been marketing. 

Colin Hill writes: Please please keep up the aviation stories and especially Qantas issues. It’s what I read Crikey for! It’s also a very corrupt industry that put profits above people’s lives.

Dianne Calistro writes: Despite other reader’s yawning about QF stories, it’s been useful to me as a user of QF freight services. Cargo rates 2nd of the passenger jets bellies after passenger luggage. 

Iran and the US:

Eric Ellis writes from Jakarta: What errant nonsense Jenny Eather’s conclusions about Iran and the US are — “US embassy in Iran: realtor’s nighmare” — based on her gee-whiz travelogue-with-pix today. Having reported and travelled widely through Iran for Fortune Magazine in recent years, it is obvious that genuine anti-US fervour is conveniently whipped up by government/conservative clerics amongst rent-a-crowds as it suits, as indeed is the ire against Israel amongst average Iranians, particularly in chi-chi North Tehran where the old US embassy is located. Amazing that both Coke and Pepsi — two of the most obvious symbols of the Great Satan — now dominate the Iranian drinks markets just 2-3 years after being allowed back there. Maybe Jenny was too embraced by easy cliches to have noticed that in a city that booms with oil-drenched youthful aspiration, the decals on the ex-embassy walls look as old as they are – 30 years – because there is zero appetite for keeping them refreshed. I wonder if Jenny noticed how many US-agitated Iranians were inside the embassy/museum when she visited. I’ve been there twice in recent years and I was the only visitor both times. While the largely phony anti-US rancour looks compelling on Western newscasts and in fiery State Department speeches, most Iranians have 1) lots of relatives doing well in the US and 2) love it that their corrupt bureaucracy is powerless and too incompetent to stop the ceaseless US TV being piped into their homes by local cable operators. They don’t care that much for Palestinians too, largely because Iranians ain’t Arabs (who they dislike intensely), and it’s not their fight. Indeed, middle-class Iranians joke that if the US did decide to invade Iran, Tehranis would be out on the street telling them how to avoid the city’s horrendous traffic so as to better get the job done. Rather than treat us with nice faded pics – Jenny could find lots of faded and equally irrelevant communist murals in the former USSR too – I suggest she visit Behesht-e Zahra, in Tehran’s southern outskirts for a more compelling take on what moves Iranians. It’s the cemetery dedicated to the ‘martyrs’ of the Iran-Iraq War, where as many as a million Iranians died. It’s crowded with genuinely weeping widows and mothers and, unlike the tumbledown pile on Taleqani St, is constantly spruced up, so much so that the government added a purpose-built metro line out there. 

Emissions Trading:

David Bowyer writes: I respond to Niall Clugston (Your Say, 30 June 2008) who claims that I have “missed the point”. Mr Clugston puts words in my mouth by attempting to restate my argument as saying that “in other words, carbon trading delivers a given level of pollution rather than minimising it”. This is true only to the very limited extent that in any given period of one or two years within the Emissions Trading Scheme, the government will mandate a discrete target limit in carbon emissions, which will determine the number of available carbon permits in that period. The larger point is, in fact, that in the long term the government will establish and mandate a series of carbon “trajectories” which are intended to place Australia on a path towards firstly halting growth in our carbon emissions, and secondly towards reducing our emissions towards a target of 60 per cent by 2050. By definition, successive emissions targets over time will progressively decrease the amount of allowable emissions. There would scarcely be any point in implementing an emissions trading scheme if this were not the ultimate goal. I would restate my original point that an emissions trading scheme enables the government to control the emissions target “lever” whereas a carbon tax would place this lever in the hands of the market. I believe that since we are attempting to tackle a problem of the size and scope of global climate change, with the ramifications of our current actions extending generations from now, we cannot entrust emissions decisions purely to the private sector, as would be the case under a carbon taxation regime.


Mel Campbell writes: I’m well aware that it’s a common PR exercise for media outlets to publish excerpts from new books – especially when they’re ‘iss-ewes-based ‘ yarns like Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man. Still, wasn’t it a little excessive to use the Video Of The Day in the same edition to plug Chloe’s book as well? Penguin must be very pleased.

Ministerial code of conduct:

Chris Johnson writes: New Ministerial staff code: let’s start at the very beginning: Why Faulkner’s Code of Conduct is relevant to electorate staff is confusing. It seems almost fanciful to exact some form of administrative standard from workers in a no standards workplace. MP support staff working in electorates are neither public servants nor government employees. Their jobs are bank-rolled by parliaments who for all intents and purposes ‘on-hire’ them to MPs. They are managed by the MP with the codes and ethics of the MP and the Party superseding all other considerations and allegiance. Which makes Faulkner’s CoC either duplication or window-dressing integrity for a dogsbody job. Under the MP-supported WorkChoices model – all rights to the MP and the Party, none to staff — these workers are as dispensable as tissues. It’s an archaic deal dating back pre-Federation when no party or MP could afford or find ‘skilled workers’ (outside family and friends) to commit to jobs that merged a myriad of government, parliamentary and party-political roles under one umbrella. And as then, working for an MP in the electorate short-circuits any long-term career prospects as well as local employment, the political taint in small communities is strong. Electorate workplaces fail the most fundamental and inherent principles identified as essential to a modern industrial relations system, with WHS, OHS and EEO all discretionary under the MPs autocratic staff management. And that’s why, a century on, staff such as Gillian Sneddon wander the employment wastelands when the wheels come off – no-one’s responsibility.

On leadership:

Royzorro Rogers writes: Team, Have you ever wondered how good it might be if we had leaders with guts and vision? No? Hmm….well let me tell you, the electorate does, often. Here’s a freebie for you: anyone who bangs on a carbon tax prior to the next election is going to be looking for a real job very soon after. You may think this is leadership, the electorate doesn’t. But, here’s a saviour: Child care: why not encourage employers to do something positive to aid their workers? Simply give BIG tax incentives to those employers who provide low cost child care at the workplace. You guys have done all you can to woo women back to work, with all kinds of lurks and bonuses. But there are many women now working just to pay for their child care. What a ludicrous situation.  So go on, get tough boys and show us some visionary leadership. It’s been a while since we had some…

Thinking pink:

John Carusi writes: Regarding the article “Can shopping cure breast cancer?” (yesterday, item 16), this “pinkwashing” is now getting out hand when an alcoholic beverage can be branded as such, even though alcohol itself, as mentioned, is a possible risk component. So, why not then have special pink Bacardi Breezers: not only can you boost the Federal coffers with the recent tax increase, but also feel safe in the knowledge that you are contributing towards a potential cure, all the while digging your own grave. Hey, what the hell…why not just go the whole box-and-die and have Winfield market their own suitably shaded October special? I can just imagine it, where someone asks, completely without any sense of irony, at the shop counter for a pack of Winnie Pinks. I’d love just to see the demographic survey report for this product (ie target markets) and I don’t think that’d be beyond the pale for a tobacco company to entertain such a contradictory idea, either. Maintain the healthy scepticism that Crikey is renowned for!

Crikey pays for itself:

Bob Joyce writes: Well, almost. A series of minor financial hiccups saw the Commonwealth Bank charge me three times in a month for going over my account limit. 3 x $30 fee. I phoned the bank, and spoke to a nice young man who told me that he was unable to do anything about it. After I insisted on speaking to his supervisor, I mentioned that I had read in Crikey that there is some doubt about the legality of the over-limit fee. That sealed it — the $90 refund appeared in my account about an hour later. The supervisor of course insisted that the fees are completely legal, and that the refund was in no way an admission of anything, but was merely an expression of the Commonwealth Bank’s generosity. Thank you Crikey. I shall now renew my subscription.