Saving the Murray River with The Constitution?:

Rex Manson writes: Re. “Tug of Water: Can Kevin Rudd save the Murray?” (Yesterday, item 1). Perhaps we need constitutional reform as the only reference to water in our constitution is section 100: “Nor abridge right to use water. The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade or commerce, abridge the right of a State or of the residents therein to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation” So effectively it’s “State rights” over environmental considerations for a river. Perhaps we need, not only a new head of state, but a new constitution that actually recognises the environment. For example the Islamic republic of Iran acknowledges the environment in its constitution. As does Saudi Arabia and numerous other countries. From the Iranian constitution: “Article 50 [Preservation of the Environment] — The preservation of the environment, in which the present as well as the future generations have a right to flourishing social existence, is regarded as a public duty in the Islamic Republic. Economic and other activities that inevitably involve pollution of the environment or cause irreparable damage to it are therefore forbidden.” And the Saudi Arabian constitution states: “Article 32 [Environment, Nature] The state works for the preservation, protection, and improvement of the environment, and for the prevention of pollution.” Consequently as a country, it could be time to get serious about reform and to look closely at our constitution. Time to get real!

Alexander Downer:

Frank Lucy writes: Re. “Bidding farewell to our worst foreign minister” (Wednesday, item 1). I wish to pay tribute to my dear friend, Alexander Downer, a foreign minister of a special kind. He was and remains a man of utmost integrity, grace and humour. Of deep blue blood, I never once heard him ask anyone to address him as “Lord Downer”. “Mr Downer” always sufficed. An aristocrat, and yet a man of the people. Those in Iraq in particular have strong affection for him. A giant Australian, he will be missed.

Terence Hogan writes: Jim MacAnally (yesterday, comments), I can tell that you’re upset about Alexander’s eagerness to move on to other trouble spots where he’s sorely needed (those Mediterranean alfresco lunches are going to be super too) but I thought that amongst all that spluttering you might have given us just one teeny sentence that went some way towards partially refuting any, any, of the many compelling points made in the Crikey article. But I guess it’s all just too horrible to dwell on. In a way I’ll miss Alexander too because, like yourself, I enjoy a good laugh with my politics. But I try not to be selfish about it and for the sake of this country at least, I think he’s doing the right thing, at last.

Emissions trading:

Noel Courtis writes: Re. “Only 36% of CEOs know about emissions trading. So what?” (Yesterday, item 19). I would like to congratulate the 61% of people who Newspoll announced were in favour of an ETS. Amanda Gome states that a very small percentage of business people have any idea on the workings of ETS. It certainly makes me feel inadequate as I have been searching everywhere looking for the details of an ETS and cannot find them. Maybe Crikey could get that 61% to write articles of explanation to help people like me.

Darren Ray writes: After seeing figures tossed around like 30 to 40c per litre price rises under carbon pricing in an ETS, I did some quick sums… 1 litre of petrol burnt releases 2.3kg of CO2. With CO2 priced at say $40 per tonne (a rather higher price than what has been suggested we start with) this would imply a rise of 9.2c per litre on petrol prices, rather less than we are taxed, and what we have seen over recent months. My concern is that this kind of small rise is not going to be enough to motivate anyone to actively reduce petrol emissions, not that the rise will doom us all!

Helping Zimbabwe:

Paul Ronalds, Deputy CEO of World Vision, writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial about donations for Zimbabwe. World Vision is still in Zimbabwe, however, like all other aid agencies, our operations have been suspended. We have been able to do limited aid work, including feeding programs and essential medicines. We are not stockpiling aid or accepting new child sponsors from Australians until we have been able to re-establish our full program and operations. Australians can stay informed about our progress in Zimbabwe by visiting our website or calling 13 32 40.


Steve Blume writes: I think Gretchen Sleeman (yesterday, comments) seems a little disparaging of the good country folk of Gippsland — the high pre-poll vote suggest that quite a few knew what to do to account for a possible absence on the school holiday Saturday. She misses the point — the dispersed electorate and busy lives didn’t seem to restrict voting capacity in past elections with all elections since 1998 having turnouts from 95.7 to 96%, and even for the uninspiring 1999 republic/preamble referendum, 95.8% of the Gippsland voters managed to find where they could vote and do so. If the Rudd government were as on the nose as the take-out stories suggest then on the patterns of past by-elections we should have expected at least a “normal” turnout as well as a swing against the incumbent. Instead we seem to have an unusual 11.6% of abstentions — which confirms my curiosity about the gap and the lack of analysis of reasons for it. Over to the wonks, but perhaps the AEC will let us know what were the Gippsland voters “Top Ten Reason for Not Voting” as it collects the excuses — or the fines.

Greenwashing Greenland:

Steve Robinson writes: In response to John Bowyer’s assertion (yesterday, comments) that Greenland was so named because “it was green”. Actually John, Greenland was so named because Leif Erikson — regarded as the first European to set foot in the new world — wanted to scam people. Indeed this is perhaps the earliest documented case of a real estate scam. Whilst it is the case that when settled by the Icelanders, at the very end of the 10th Century, Greenland was considerably warmer than it is today it was still a very cold and inhospitable environment. However enterprising Leif felt that he could entice settlers into moving there by giving it a catchy name — and given than he was principally trying to recruit settlers from Iceland (so called because the Icelanders wanted to discourage people from moving there) — somewhere called Greenland sounded like the kind of place you’d like to move to. The Icelandic settlement in Greenland lasted a few centuries before collapsing as a result of climate change — it became considerably colder and has remained so until recent changes which many would assert are the result of anthropogenic climate change.

David Beattie writes: John Bowyer cranks out one of the climate denialists favourites — “it used to be hotter in Greenland”. There’s no evidence it was warmer when the Vikings were there. The settlement in Greenland finally collapsed in the 1400s because basically it was too cold (and they had wrecked their environment — sound familiar?). It is just as likely the settlement could re founded today, though of course existence would still be marginal. The name Greenland was/is seen as ironic, given the cold. For some reason, this has now become a hand-me-down myth that somehow it used to be warmer in Greenland, so all is ok now. Perhaps John could tell us why the artic summer ice has nearly disappeared? Again, we just don’t have time for this denialist rubbish — we are on the brink of devastating climate change and have to act now.

Voting rights:

John Goldbaum writes: Rob Pickering (yesterday, comments) should not misquote me. I advocated taxpaying-proportionate voting rights, not income-proportionate voting rights. Paul Tulett (yesterday, comments) was closer to the mark in recognizing that rich people will have more incentive to pay tax but thinks I’m being anti-democratic. Universal suffrage pre-dated the welfare state but the latter has allowed governments to buy votes from special pleading groups without any thought for fiscal responsibility or the rights of taxpayers not to be robbed of their money by self-serving government bribes to sectional interests such as religions, manufacturers and farmers, third-generation dole bludgers and improvident seniors. Many people, rich and poor, criticize government budget expenditure with the observation that they are spending our taxpayers’ dollars, not their government’s money. I am just suggesting that each dollar of tax you pay should buy you one stakeholders’ unit in deciding how this money is spent. My democratic inspiration comes from the principle underpinning the Boston Tea Party and the corollary is “no representation without taxation”.

Walt Hawtin writes: Just further to John Goldbaum’s (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek comment (Wednesday, comments) that voting rights in a general election should be proportional to tax paid, I am making an assumption that he is referring to personal income tax. Given that the rich presumably pay little in the way of personal income tax, John may not achieve his cheeky proposition. Generally, corporate voting rights are based on a proportionate equity ownership. I’m no economist, but as far as I know, Australian income tax does not represent anything like a proportional population-based equity split of the country’s gross assets.

Jake the Peg:

Christopher Ridings writes: Did Hans Torv’s suggestion (yesterday, comments) that former ALP PMs would have “broken a leg” to be at Rolf Harris’s induction to the ARIA’s Musical Hall of Fame stop to think that Jake the Peg would be there with his extra leg?

ABC Learning:

Adam Schwab writes: Warwick Sauer (yesterday, comments) took exception to the criticism of Eddy Groves’ generous options grant, claiming that “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.” The only problem with Sauer’s analysis is that he misunderstood the major problem with the grant. That is, not the 23 cent option price, but rather, the 92 cent “strike price”. Had ABC issued Groves options with a strike price of say, $5.00, then the 23 cent cost would not have been relevant. The issue was, and remains, that Groves is benefiting from a low exercise price for the options courtesy of his own trouble in running the company. The problem was basing the options on ABC’s current, flailing share price (a mistake which Sauer himself made).

The Australia Council and grant management:

An arts insider writes: Re. John Baylis (yesterday, comments). Look I know we are shocking bunch of whingers, and the funding situation in Australia is pretty good by international standards, and let me also say that we are utterly comfortable with the very competitive nature of funding rounds. We have no entitlement to any support and the council must request highly detailed information from its clients. And we have absolutely no personal animosity to the board and its staff, many of whom are friends and work colleagues. Our point is simply this: We deal with all three tiers of government plus philanthropic institutions and the private sector.

The Australia Council is consistently the most bureaucratic and managing of any funding body in Australia. And by a fair margin. One of the organisations I work with has a contract in the private sector that is worth five times our entire public funding from all sources. The contract is a single page. The guts of which is that if we don’t deliver what we say then the contract is terminated. In our company that would mean job losses in percentage terms way beyond anything that is happening at The OZCO. And no redundancy payments. We are fine with that. We work in the arts. Nobody makes us. It’s a choice.

The piece was not, as Baylis suggests, against planning. If one of us puts in an application that does not demonstrate that we have a plan for doing a bunch of things over a given period (which can be years – more than three if you want) and doesn’t explain how we can deliver it. And we don’t demonstrate that there is an audience for our work… then don’t fund us. Simple as that. If we do accept funding and don’t deliver then by all means make it very hard for us to get money in the future. If we commit fraud then call the police. Other tiers of government, and other federal agencies manage this process better. We know this because we deal with them too. It is all we are saying.

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