Farewell Alexander Downer:

Jim MacAnally writes: Re. “Bidding farewell to our worst foreign minister” (yesterday, item 1). You keep sending me the articles from your newsroom, your desk or in some later years it seems your toilet. I was at one time thinking of joining your little following regarding the supply of news items other than the paper. The article yesterday regarding Alexander Downer has finished me with any reading of the items from your little dirt rag. When you first came on the scene I could read the articles with a bit of a laugh regardless of which side of politics and the people you were making fun of. Now I have looked at Crikey for the last time, everyone likes a laugh but this time too far, your smut and your one sided comments show that you cannot report an article without the cr-p and I believe it has belittled your read, I will now have Crikey go to the bin before it gets to my inbox. I may only be one but be careful, one may become two and so on, pretty soon you may all be following Downers lead but he has a job to go to will you?

Martin Copelin writes: Ye Gods man — do not mention Downer and that Democrat woman Stott whatever with the great John Gorton. Had the puritans of the then Liberal party left Gorton alone, we would never had Whitlam as PM and probably no Malcolm Fraser either. Australia would have been a far far better country and not divided by multiculturalism and an anti-white immigration policy.

Chris Sanderson writes: Dear Bernard, thank you for having the balls to name his and Howard’s betrayals of Australia. These things must be said or the history lessons will never be learnt and we’ll just go on voting in the same type of people, who will do it again…

David Schirripa writes: Please please please ask Paul Keating to write an epitaph for the said Lord…

Frank Lucy writes: I object most strongly to your vulgar attack on our longest serving Foreign Minister. He is the man who single-handedly put Australia back on the map AND he mostly did it without donning fishnet stockings. Like Mr Downer, I enjoy nothing more than watching Fox television, drinking scotch and reading Mark Steyn. Like Ms Albrechtsen, I shall miss Lord Downer immensely. Shame on you Crikey!

Garth Wong writes: Re. “Struggling to laud Lord Downer? Look to Ceaucescu” (yesterday, item 13). What a load of crock to infer that Downer had a personality similar to Ceaucescu by the spurious comparison of quotes with Janet Albrechtsen. If you trawl through the Bible, you will also find passages you can compare to the sayings of Mao Tse Tung. My regard for the standard of political comment in Crikey has plummeted to sewerage pipe depths.

Matthew Brennan writes: I was going to post a comment on Janet Albrechtsen’s statement about Alexander Downer’s departure “being applauded by his critics” being a Non Sequitur. But on checking Wikipedia, Non Sequitur doesn’t actually mean “the bleeding obvious” but rather “a logical fallacy”. So Albrechtsen’s notion that a cheered departure is somehow automatically a sign of a positive contribution from the recently departed is indeed a Non Sequitur and it’s all clear to me now!

Glen Frost writes: Why is Downer interested in Cyprus? Here are a few possible reasons why he’s keen on the UN gig: 1) It shouldn’t be that difficult a job; there are no oil fields to divvy up and the Turks want to join the EU so will probably agree to a diplomatic solution. Huzzah! Our man in Cyprus wins over the warring peoples in the Med. History is made! 2) Good stepping stone for job in London or New York. Lecturing at Cambridge on the historic agreement at a minimum! 3) Cyprus is only a few hours by plane from London with plenty of low cost carriers (e.g. EasyJet) — perhaps our man could come back to Oz and tell us about the benefits of a de-regulated and competitive airline industry? (Although I’d hate to see a reduction in the number of pollies undertaking fact finding trips on this issue); 4) The financial upside for investors in Cyprus is huge; friends of mine have recently bought a property on the Turkish side with the idea that when both sides do agree to unite the land and property values will rocket…

John Goldbaum writes: Alex The Axe (with apologies to Lizzie Borden):

Alex Downer took an axe
And gave his party forty whacks.
And when he saw what he had done
He gave his leader forty-one.

But you can’t chop your party up in South Australia
Not even if it’s bland and no surprise
No, you can’t chop your party up in South Australia
You know how voters love to criticize

If it wasn’t done for pleasure and it wasn’t done for spite
Then it must have been because poor Alex wasn’t very bright
He’d always done the slightest thing the party asked of one
They said, “Alex, cut and run,” so that’s exactly what he’s done

But you can’t chop your party up in South Australia
Shut the door, and lock and latch it, here comes Alex with a brand new hatchet
And then blame all the damage on who’s left
Such a snob, I’ve heard it said, he met poor Brendan and cut him dead
Can’t chop Mohammed up in South Australia
J ump like a fish, jump like a porpoise, Dr Haneef won habeas corpus
And leave your party’s future quite bereft

Global warming:

John Bowyer writes: Re. “Revisiting the science on global warming: it ain’t pretty” (yesterday, item 2). Perhaps Ian McHugh can look back 15,000 years, a short period in history and see Northern ice five kilometres thick, down as far south as the North of England. With all that water bound up as ice there was no North Sea it was all icy tundra. Fifty years later the ice had melted and we had the sea. Now Greenland is called, well Greenland. Perhaps Ian could guess why? Ice is usually white. It was Greenland because it was green, lots of grass and in fact they grew crops there. My point is all these changes have occurred in the last fifteen thousand years, really within human memory. The climate lobby is getting shrill because unless they get their way very soon they will not be able to claim credit for any of the usual climate changes.

Noel Courtis writes: Our PM wants to race ahead of the rest of the world to tax us on emissions. Why? Does he want to appear to be a hero? The big polluters who signed Kyoto don’t have to do anything but “monitor” their emissions. For some reason he wants to up power costs because we have coal fired powerhouses. As we have nothing else, except a few windmills, and there seems little provision to replace them, why? The Americans seem the smart ones as they sit back.

World Youth Day:

Denis Wilson writes: I decided a long time ago that I would not go to Sydney to see the Pope. I am over Popes, to be truthful. However, that was before these outrageous Regulations were promulgated, last week. If I go I will wear a T-shirt with the following logo (on the front).

Surely a defence of truthfulness would get me over the narrow definition of “causing annoyance to participants in a World Youth Day event”. If not, I would love the opportunity to defend myself in court.

The photo is real, not faked up. Taken at Castel Gandolfo (Pope’s Summer Residence) outside Rome, 8 September 1968. It is a photo of me being introduced to Pope Paul VI, and about to kiss his ring. Something to think about, eh? I am the only person who could wear this T-shirt with it being “offensive”, gratuitous or annoying to Pilgrims. It is almost too good an opportunity to resist.

Aviation’s war on grooming:

Mark Freeman writes: Re. “CASA in flames” (Monday, item 13). Dear Crikey, I’ve just returned from holidays and, looking over your recent issues, see that aviation is still a big feature. Perhaps it’s time to look at the as yet unacknowledged but bizarre war on grooming by everything aviation. Some years ago airport security relieved me of my mini nail clippers. At most security points in my recent travels they were also relieving people of tweezers, toothpaste, shampoo and sundry other personal grooming items. Just what do they all have against good grooming and cleanliness? They all rudely ignored or rebuffed my enquiries which have only made me more suspicious of some dastardly plot. The war on freedom, err, that is terror, is bad enough, but please, can we at least stay clean, tidy and smell nice.

Oil politics:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Rising oil acts like another rate rise” (yesterday, item 4). What trials and tribulations befall the “Australian people” (we should dispatch “working families” to the dank cellar from which it emerged) does liquid gold bring forth? True it is that the RBA let go the rate rise lever but is it really the case they believe rising oil prices will do the job? We should think not. If you need to travel by car to get to work you will. In fact the only effect felt from rising oil prices will be further inflation — oh yes we shall see a downturn in discretionary spending — too bad, there goes Noosa for this year. Naturally we shall see pressure for increased wages in those areas where squeezing the boss is still effective and then it will all spiral downward won’t it. Ah, the recession we had to have — what a comfort. We do indeed need some imaginative thinking and there’s the rub. Can you just envisage our current pollies — any of them — being capable of that? Woe is us.

Breaking a leg:

Hans Torv writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Crikey published: “When Rolf Harris was inducted into ARIA’s Australian Music Hall of Fame … Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had been invited to do the honours but his cheerless advisers decided against him attending. By way of comparison, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating would have broken a leg to be there .” Was the bolded position conjecture or factual?

ABC Learning:

Warwick Sauer writes: Re. “Groves scoops up ABC Learning options at below market value” (yesterday, item 24). Adam Schwab should take another look at his high school economics notes. ABC Learning is currently trading at around 90c. Under ABC’s salary sacrifice scheme, Eddy is taking options exercisable until July 2011. Plug that information into an options pricing model and you get a net present value of, wow, around 23c — exactly what Eddy is paying for the options. There’s nothing magical here, Adam, and certainly no defrauding of shareholders. Just an entrepreneur who still believes in the business and is willing to back that judgment with his wallet. Dare I suggest that if Eddy has instead chosen to take his salary in cash, Mr Schwab would have spewed an even greater amount of vitriol, but would have based it on Eddy’s failure to have a vested interest in the company?

Voting rights:

Rob Pickering writes: Regarding John Goldbaum’s remarks (yesterday, comments) about income proportionate voting rights. This is possibly one of the most unfair and blatantly ridiculous things I’ve ever heard of. Fortunately we have a system where all of our population is treated equally, at least voting wise. The closest you’re going to get to a system like you suggest is when we elected a profligate Liberal party for over 10 years who insisted on handing out middle class welfare and tax breaks for the rich whilst still neglecting our native population, the homeless and the poor. I guess the end result in both cases would have been the same…

Paul Tulett writes: John Goldbaum’s  wrote: “Only taxpayers should be entitled to vote and the more tax you pay, the more votes you should have. Just like shareholders in public companies”. This sounds like a brilliant plan to ensure that only the wealthy (or the wealthy who choose to pay tax) get to elect all future Australian governments. But John, please remember that Australia is a society, not a public company. You obviously don’t support the concept of democracy. Money rules eh!


Gretchen Sleeman writes: Re. Steve Blume (yesterday, comments). I was not surprised about the lower voter turn out at the by-election in Gippsland cf. the 2007 election. For starters, the date was the first day of the school holidays; so many people were either out of the electorate or the entire state. At a by-election, you have to be in your electorate. Probably in this case, the only other option was the Melbourne Town Hall. Wonder who decided the date? Secondly, 20% of the voters had already turned up to major centres where they could pre-poll. They have learnt from the last few elections that pre-polls exist, but you have to be at a major town, and then find where the polling place is. Those who still don’t know pre-polling exists were probably disenfranchised. Wonder what that percentage was? 11.6% perhaps. It is rather supercilious to assume that the electorate was too comfortable. The real reasons are probably far more practical and relate to people trying to manage their time and busy lives in a geographically dispersed electorate.

Bang the table responds:

Matt Crozier and Crispin Butteriss writes: Re. “Lobbyists are behind community forum site Bang the Table” (yesterday, item 14). Well they say that all publicity is good publicity but it sure doesn’t feel like it tonight. The author has raised some really important issues in his article that deserve to be addressed in a public forum like this. First up, we were remiss not putting our names and backgrounds on the website. We apologise. It was an oversight that will be corrected by tomorrow evening rather than a deliberate decision to in any way conceal our identities — we are actually both really quite proud of the fact that we have created Bang the Table from scratch. It is the first service of its type anywhere in the world and we are both committed to developing a platform that helps the community get involved in debates about public policy. It is quite possibly the most important contribution that either of us has made to public policy development thus far in our careers, including our time working for government. It is also worth noting that we go into some detail about our backgrounds and experiences that lead to the creation of Bang the Table on our blog at www.onlinecommunityconsultation.com which is promoted on Bang the Table. Secondly, yes we are Directors of Duo Consulting Pty Ltd. Our work at Duo is currently being wrapped up, but without it we would not have had the experience or finances to launch Bang the Table. As well as the private sector clients Alex noted, we also did work for the University of Newcastle, and Tamworth and Wyong Councils. Thirdly, it is also absolutely true that we both have a background in Government. Between us we have worked in a range of roles for around 10 government departments as they went through various amalgamations and dis-aggregations. But surely this is a good thing? We have a combined experience of around 35 years in public policy, which, along with genuine debate, is what we are both passionate about and the reason we established Bang the Table. Fourthly, unfortunately our experience in government did teach us that the community gets ignored too often and that a more robust and open method of consultation is needed. But it also taught us that too often it is a small group of individuals who claim to represent the views of the community without any evidence to that effect, rather than the community more generally, who take control of the public policy space. Too often we have seen reasonable people walk out of community meetings because they are yelled down by one or two vocal, persistent and dare I say it, rude, individuals. And too often I have seen decisions unduly influenced by the regular letter writers rather than good quality policy discourse. It is this vocal minority who don’t like the idea of a space where everyone can have their say without fear of receiving a barrage of abuse from an angry activist with an often hidden agenda. Bang the Table provides an opportunity for people who wouldn’t ordinarily get involved in public policy debate to have their say in the peace and security of their own home or office. Fifthly, the article is clearly heavy with the implication that we are influenced in our moderation of the debate by the organisations we host. One look at the nature of the comments on the site today will confirm that this is patently untrue. When and organisation chooses to use Bang the Table, they open themselves to the possibility of criticism. This is to be applauded. At last, transparent public policy debate! We only remove comments if they are offensive, defamatory or spam. Lively and vigorous debate is encouraged. Finally, it would have been great to have received a phone call from the author to discuss our business, backgrounds and motivations for establishing Bang the Table. We believe that there is a really good news story in here waiting to get out, a story about two Aussie blokes who built a service that lets people debate the issues that affect them in the knowledge that they will not be censored (within a few pretty reasonable site rules) and knowing the decision-making organisation is actually listening . Take a look at the current debates on the site and make up your own mind. We welcome feedback and ideas for improvements.

The Australia Council:

John Baylis, director of theatre at the Australia Council, writes: Re. “Arts grant applicant tells: the bureaucracy is killing us!” (Tuesday, item 16). Some corrections to your “arts insider’s” statements about the Australia Council: Your correspondent is referring to the Theatre Board’s Key Organisations funding, which offers three-year grants to a limited number of outstanding theatre organisations. To achieve this funding, a company must make its case in competition with all other contenders, and we ask for a business plan and a summary of their following year’s activities to help us make our decisions. Far from requiring a “massive” or “absurdly detailed” document, we recommend that the business plan is 10 to 20 pages long and the 2009 program is only five pages. We do not ask for program details for 2010 and 2011, nor for a “cash-flow budget for 2011” or “very detailed forward budgets”. In fact we do not ask for any cash flow information at all, and the requested financial forecasting is confined to about half a page precisely because we know that this information can only be indicative at this stage of an organisation’s planning. What we do want is a strong sense of the company’s purpose: what is its reason for existing, what does it want to achieve, and how do its current and past achievements provide evidence for these aspirations. Our primary purpose in asking for the plans is to make decisions on which companies to fund. We currently have 40 applications requesting approximately $10 million of public funds. Our budget is closer to $5.5 m. The Theatre Board will meet in September to decide how to use this budget best, and the plans of the contenders, read in conjunction with the knowledge of their work, will be central to those decisions. We do believe that such planning is also beneficial to theatre companies themselves. If common sense doesn’t suggest that having a flexible plan for the next three years is better than having no plan, I refer interested readers to the work of two of the most interesting thinkers internationally on these issues, Charles Leadbeater and Adrian Ellis. A quick Google search will find their material. As for the acquittal material that we request once a year from successful funding recipients, we use this information to build the case for the extraordinary contribution that the small-to-medium theatre sector makes to Australian culture. It was this evidence that helped the Australia Council persuade the Australian Government last year to invest a further $19 million in the small-to-medium performing arts sector from 2007 to 2011, and we expect any case for future investment will need to be based on similar evidence. If companies don’t give this information to us, how will we build that case? It is understandable that there are tensions among companies as we move towards this September assessment meeting. Organisations which have been funded for decades will be competing with newer companies hungry for the support that three-year funding offers. Everyone is expecting change, and this creates uncertainty. We understand that and we have done a great deal to make the process as straightforward as possible. Given the high stakes involved for both the companies themselves and for the future of Australian theatre, our need for a 10 to 20 page plan from organisations requesting an average of $750,000 of public funds over the next three years is surely reasonable.

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