Big Tobacco:

Anita Tang, Cancer Council NSW, writes: Re “Can Australia break world records in tobacco control?” (14 August, item 7). Simon Chapman’s piece rightly points out the importance of the “scream test” as an indicator of the potency of public policies designed to curb consumption of harmful products. He also notes that the recent move by the NSW Government to ban tobacco retail displays met with “barely a whimper from the politically gutted tobacco industry”. This leads to the interesting question of how to judge the scream test when the obvious “screamers” no longer feel they can be visible in opposing policies that are obviously in the public interest, and where the industry in question has little political capital or community support.

In NSW, the lead-up to the decision to ban retail displays had been preceded by a battle between health interests and tobacco interests, but one where Big Tobacco took a conspicuously low profile. When the Government convened a forum to hear from stakeholders about the proposal to ban retail displays and other measures, only one tobacco company (Philip Morris) was represented on a list of 25. However, 11 of the other speakers were from the retail sector — ranging from large national supermarkets, through to bodies representing tobacconists, grocers, convenience stores, newsagents and supermarkets. By and large, these stakeholders had a similar chorus of objections to banning tobacco retail displays and a similar strategy of combining soothing statements of “we want to protect children too” and “we are parents ourselves” with veiled threats of the economic power of the sector and the vast number of employees dependent on tobacco sales.

We know that the tobacco companies attempted to marshal the retailers into opposing the proposed bans — we have seen a flyer sent by Philip Morris to retailers asking them to lobby Cabinet members, and that the retailers and business groups, even now, are continuing their attempts to persuade Parliamentarians to oppose the announced ban. Retailers and business interest groups are trotting out the all-too-predictable scaremongering with many and varied arguments against the display ban, but has never once admitted the real issue — that the ban will reduce the sales of tobacco, now and in the future. It is only the tobacco industry that will suffer from this outcome, but it is not something that can be openly discussed in polite company. Even the tobacco industry knows that it can’t admit that its interests cannot ever be reconciled with the interests of public health — if smoking rates go down, sales go down. Not a happy future for a Big Tobacco executive.

In the end, the Government realised that it had to choose — there was no way it could remain true to its stated goal of reducing smoking rates, and satisfy the retail industry lobbyists. We don’t know what happened in the Cabinet room, but we do know that in the end the NSW Government showed it had the courage of its convictions to make a decision that will serve as a milestone in public health history. One also likes to hope that it reflects an astute assessment by the Government that retail industry screams were part of its role as the stalking horse for Big Tobacco.

Inside the Christmas Island detention centre:

David Rivers writes: Re. “Inside the Christmas Island detention centre” (yesterday, item 4). Viewing the photos that accompanied Sophie Black’s article, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a recent visit to Dachau concentration camp in Munich, Germany. All that’s missing from the Christmas Island “facility” is the “Arbeit macht frei” sign across the entrance gate. Just because the Rudd government is more open to allowing the public to see what these installations look like doesn’t make the policy of mandatory detention any less unconscionable. I had hoped for a more progressive and compassionate approach under Rudd. Seems like I’ve been fooled again.

Peter Ramsey writes: Can I go to the Christmas Island facility to get away from the kids?

Reclaiming the middle:

John Goldbaum writes: Re. “Howard’s End silent on why we chose Kevin07” (yesterday, item 10). The Howard Government lost office because over its 11 years it drifted further to the right than it realised and the Labor Party moved simultaneously to occupy the middle ground. The ALP is regarded as a centre-left party but if you look at them today, you could mistake them for a centre-right party. The Liberals need to move back towards the middle so that the government will drift further to the left over time in order to appease its left wing. It will be a reverse of the Howard phenomenon. You cannot win government from an extreme. The ALP will lose office if they stuff up or after they have been there too long. The Liberals will return to government if they are electable at that time. Simply opposing everything weakens the Liberal brand. John Howard boasted that as leader of the opposition he voted with the Hawke-Keating Government for economically progressive policies. The Liberals need to emulate that aspect of his leadership with respect to social policies.

The ATO:

Gavin Putland writes: Re. “Phoenix companies: a lurk on the rise ” (Monday, item 3). Here’s a tip for any innocent directors caught up in the ATO’s crackdown on phoenix companies: threaten to counter-sue the ATO for recovery of compliance costs, especially for GST and employees’ PAYE income tax. Section 82 of the Constitution says: “The costs, charges, and expenses incident to the collection, management, and receipt of the Consolidated Revenue Fund shall form the first charge thereon.” This seems to imply that the compliance costs of the tax system are fully recoverable from the Commonwealth, not merely deductible against taxable income. The implication is especially clear when one party is required to perform “collection” of tax owed by another, as with GST and PAYE tax. I think the ATO would surrender rather than allow this issue to go before the High Court.

Germaine Greer:

Patricia Weston writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. How is Marcia Langton’s article on Germaine Greer an “honourable exception” to other commentaries on Greer’s very relevant contribution to current debate about the intervention? Langton herself personifies the bitter rage which must lie deep within any peoples or individuals so brutally and absolutely dispossessed. And in her case it is not in any sense contained. If any one has made a “vituperative and bitterly personal assault” on Greer it is she. So extreme is her own rage that she has been unable to read the article with any of the objectivity one might reasonably expect of an academic in her position. So she concludes that Greer is racist and simply wrong.

WA politics:

Alf Bock writes: In David Hand’s rush to defend Peter Costello (yesterday, comments) and denigrate ALP governments, he demonstrates a liberal disregard for accuracy — Alan Carpenter did not call the WA election one year early — in WA elections have traditionally been held in February/March, but since the introduction of four year terms have been held between December and February — so by going in September Carpenter went somewhere between three and six months earlier than would be “usual” (of course since the Upper House Liberals opposed fixed terms when it came to a vote they don’t have much of a leg to stand on).

The Age:

James Watkins writes: Re “Age advertising looking at $20 million decline” (yesterday, item 18). Surely if Age CEO Don Churchill doesn’t believe he can grow the business he should step aside now and let someone else have a go. Ditto for his advertising manager. It seems Churchill doesn’t have any solutions other than cutting costs. Which other business would refuse to sell its own product on its premises? Time for the Fairfax Board to get the sword out.

President Musharraf:

John Richardson writes: Re. “Musharraf stands down: a Crikey wrap” (yesterday, item 12). Eleri Harris wrote: “President Musharraf’s resignation has seen dancing in the streets of Lahore, the stock market picking up and hope reignited for democracy in Pakistan. But what will a new president mean for Kashmir, terrorism and international relations? … This is what the global media had to say about Pervez Musharraf stepping down…” But wasn’t it John Howard who said: “And also I salute somebody, in President Musharraf, who has led a transition of his country to a democratic state. Pakistan has not always been democratic, something the President freely acknowledged. And I do not think enough credit has been given to Pakistan under President Musharraf’s leadership for the transition over recent years…”

Digital enhancement:

Terence Hogan writes: Re. “Media briefs: Balding alert, That’s a bit stiff” (yesterday, item 19). Surely that’s one of the Hopoate kiddies going for bronze in the wrestling, I’d recognise that style anywhere and it’s exciting to see the legacy being kept up. Digital enhancement really seems to be the go in Beijing.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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