Pension politics:

John Goldbaum writes: Re. “Pensioners, policy and practicalities” (yesterday, item 3). Any listener to talk-back radio would be well aware that aged pensioners voted mainly for John Howard. As Kevin Rudd won the election, the pensioners should wait their turn. Politics is simple. First reward the people who elected you and then see what you might be able to do for the others so they’ll vote for you next time. Although the aged pension can’t fall below 25% of Male Total Average Weekly Earnings, things could have been better if the Howard-Costello government had taken the pressure off the public purse by implementing Paul Keating’s proposed 15% compulsory superannuation contributions scheme in full and if superannuation had to be taken as an annuity so you couldn’t blow your lump sum and then go on the public teat.

With more self-funded retirees on 60% of their pre-retirement incomes, the aged pension could gradually have been lifted to 40% of MTAWE without removing the incentive of a 50% greater retirement income for average earners who work hard and provide for themselves. Kevin Rudd should implement the Keating superannuation model in full over the rest of this term in exchange for wage restraint, which will also allow Glenn Stevens to lower interest rates. If the Howard-Costello team had done that, we would have had more money saved for retirement and less money to fuel a house price bubble which is yet to fully deflate. Rudd should implement the Keating superannuation policy and then he will have the fiscal room to gradually lift the aged pension.

The Howard-Costello government not only failed to implement good superannuation policy but didn’t even bother to properly implement John Hewson’s Liberal Party GST policy. If GST was 15%, there would be no need for state governments to levy stamp duty, land tax or payroll tax. Stamp duty on house purchases is a lumpy tax and payroll tax loses out in recessions. State governments need a predictable stream of revenue. GST revenues would never suddenly drop by 50% in a housing bust, unlike stamp duty. As soon as Costello’s inflation genie has been put back in the bottle, Kevin Rudd should proceed with a five-year plan to lift GST by 1% each year until it has reached 15% and in return should force the states to reduce stamp duty, land tax and payroll tax by one-fifth each year over the same five year period.

David Dolan writes: There was an article in yesterday’s SMH stating the coalition is seeking an increase to the single pension, on which I have no argument, what I am becoming increasingly angry about is that ever since the November election most of the Coalition have been getting lots of press about all the things that the Government should be doing in this area or that, here is a typical example. The thing that is really annoying me is most of the things they want done are things that they let go to the dogs in the first place, and this is just an example, are they saying the pensioners had no problem until November 2007? The two big whingers are Brendon Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull, it is as if they were not in Government until November 2007, and take no responsibility for anything before then. How about Crikey doing some sort of analysis is this true Opposition, or just “lazy” whingeing.

Marilyn Shepherd writes: I find it incredible that Nelson and co. suddenly care about pensioners when they had 12 years to notice that the pension for single people was not enough for many, particularly women who had never worked but relied on hubby for the world. What is overlooked though is that is the tiniest group of pensioners of all, most others own their own homes and the assets allowed are over $800,000 for a couple if it is their own home. This is the group doing the most whinging now. I hear them all the time. “I can’t afford food because I have to buy petrol”, yet why do they have to buy petrol with very cheap public transport available in all capital cities? Then they claim “I can’t afford my private health care”, but when they get sick they go to the public system anyway and it is free. Prescriptions are only $5 after all.

Then they claim they cannot pay the power bills, yet one has to wonder how much they actually use. With the introduction of the $500 from the commonwealth no pensioners should be paying for electricity unless they are really extravagant. In SA the state pays a further $120 per annum — who in their right minds uses more than that in electricity? There is rent allowance, phone allowance, rates allowance for home owners, car rego reductions and so on which add up to thousands per year. These are the things Rudd and Macklin need to look at because it is the rent allowance mostly that has not been changed for 20 years and is a maximum of $53 per week when rents have risen by 100% or more in most areas.

Justin Templer writes: Any solution for those on a government aged pension needs to recognise that not all pensioners are equal. While some have a distressingly low quality of life others are not so unfortunate. Pensioner friends of ours, who planned carefully for retirement, live very comfortably — while drawing a taxpayer-funded pension they also frequently dine in expensive restaurants and travel overseas every couple of years. I suggest that the Rudd government carefully consider the source and the destination of any change in benefits rather than simply adopt the Howard model of throwing money at anyone with a vote.

Large Hadron Collider — sensationalist and wrong:

Evan Beaver writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. I’ve been bloody outraged by the coverage of the Large Hadron Collider in the popular media, and even in my beloved Crikey. Not one story has been released without mentioning the completely baseless assertion by those crackpots who think switching the LHC on will create a Black hole and destroy the world. Maybe there is a genuine sense of irony, or a gentle mocking of the elitism of it all, but this sentiment does nothing for the advancement of science or the general position of academia in Australia. While the inherent stupidity is obvious to the educated among us, the average punter will have no idea that there is NO CHANCE that a black hole can be created in this machine that will destroy the Earth.

This badly violates the laws of thermodynamics, the most incontrovertible laws in physics. By giving this nonsense oxygen all agencies involved are contributing to the battle Howard raged for years to de-value science in Australia. Why not rise above it all and report some truth? Let your readers know what this experiment is all about and why the black hole hypothesis is nonsense? If we’re not careful we’ll end up like the States where rational thought has been thrown out the window and Intelligent Design is taught as an ‘alternate theory’. Let’s be vigilant and defend good science and academia in the way they deserve.

Toby Fiander writes: I suppose this is another case of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story, but there won’t be any proton smashing at the LHC for another couple of weeks. All that will happen this afternoon our time is that they will figure out if it actually works by circulating a beam of protons in one direction. Then a while later, probably days later, the beam will be sent in the reverse direction. When the operators have figured out how to control the beams, and, no doubt, fixed a glitch or two, then the two beams will be made to collide. In the mean time, all you lot who like to worry about illusory threats instead of real ones can think about your mortality and your lack of control over it. It might have been money well spent if the result was contemplation on world peace, but, somehow I think all we are going to get out of this is more questions about how the universe really is.

Kevin McCready writes: Your editorial typifies the abysmal scientific illiteracy in Australia. Such particle collisions occur all the time in our atmosphere. The only difference is that in the LHC the collisions are under controlled circumstances where detailed observations can be made. The column inches you devote to LHC critics parallels the ignorance which mars the climate change crisis. In other words a few loony outliers get much more space than they deserve. Lift your game. You sound like the Daily Telegraph.

Graham Henderson writes: Just to let you know that the black hole doesn’t happen until they start sending particles both ways at once which is not for a few weeks. So those who thought they were safe when 6pm came can start panicking again. Those who spent all their money/s-xual energy/social capital this afternoon have gone off half-cocked so to speak. I’m actually relying on it to fix the global credit crisis. I think this is Bernanke’s last card

David Simpson writes: If you read the fine print you’ll notice that the LHC won’t be banging protons into each other for a few weeks yet. Despite the media factoids. The first weeks are getting the individual streams up to speed and testing. But let’s not let the facts get in the way of sensationalism, eh?

Wil Joelson writes: The disturbing thing bout this (w)hole show is the fact the keyboardist from Northern Irish nineties dance band D:Ream has his finger on at least one of the buttons… maybe he’s decided things aren’t actually gonna get much better after all…

*Yesterday, we asked Crikey readers how they would spend their last moments on Earth. Click here to see what they came up with…

Crikey’s WA election coverage:

Neil Bennett writes: Re. “Carpenter’s early election call a fatal mistake” (Monday, item 13). Disappointed with Crikey’s coverage — or lack thereof — of the WA Election. I suspect that to many East Coast readers, goings on here in Perth are of little interest. I have no problem with that. I, after all, could barely give a rat’s a*** about the sordid comings and goings in what passes for the NSW Government — the apparent focus of many daily emails. But as a Perth-based subscriber it would be great to see some decent coverage of electoral events here in the West. Sadly, the occasional thought bubble from NCB doesn’t make the grade.

The ABC:

Alister Air writes: Re. “ABC digital: 12 hours of kids TV” (yesterday, item 2). “ABC … has flagged the establishment of a … public affairs channel and a dedicated children’s channel.” Given the quality of Australian public affairs television, how will we be able to tell them apart? I suppose at least the children’s channel will be intentionally funny.


Mark Heydon writes: Re. “Secret Fairfax share scheme may be key to the slash and burn” (yesterday, item 1). This is not cloak and dagger stuff. Shares are a standard part of the remuneration package at many companies. Why should Fairfax be any different?

Garnaut and animals:

John Hunwick writes: Re. “Garnaut and climate change” (yesterday, comments) Some of the readers of Crikey still don’t get it. With climate change there won’t be just one change e.g. flooding of Bangladesh or Florida. If there is significant sea level rise it will affect many countries simultaneously, and the world’s economy will stagger. But at the same time there will be searing temperatures in places like Australia and therefore reduced food production, at the same time that essential services provided by nature like cleaning water, providing for pollination will virtually cease while the fishing industry in most seas will collapse beyond revival. These sorts of events will come in a cascade, within months not decades, and their effect will not be additive but exponential on our way of life. Wake up! We will not have the luxury of dealing with issues one at a time. The time to avert this sort of scenario is NOW, not when it begins.

Sharon Hutchings writes: In response to John Bowyer (yesterday, comments), firstly I fail to understand how breeding and farming billions of sentient creatures, many in unnatural and cruel intensive systems, then brutally bringing their life to an end for human taste preferences, is deemed “making them successful”? Australia has the highest livestock population per capita in the world (UNFAO) and most of our cleared land is used for animal agriculture (SoE 2006). On average we are the highest consumers of animal products (UNFAO). Beef and dairy cause the highest agricultural GHG emissions and require the highest amount of water per kilo of all our food commodities.

The dairy industry is the largest user of irrigation water. In 2007 a whopping 66% of the grain we produced was fed to livestock. Australia has the highest rate of colorectal cancer, and we’ve recently been awarded the gold medal for most obese! The growing middle-classes in China and India are following this devastating dietary choice. Just for the record, I’m a very social, happy, married vegan with two energetic, smart, happy kids. The inconvenient truth is that for a more environmentally sustainable, compassionate and healthy future, Australians should be making a serious effort to at least reduce our production and consumption of animal products.


Humphrey Hollins writes: One is never surprised to read Neil James” defence of any war (Tuesday, comments), after all people in the US military used to say that Vietnam is the only war we’ve got. People who spruik for wars conveniently forget the collateral damage to the innocents. I was in Snoul in eastern Cambodia today, a town made famous by its very destruction in the war that Neil defends. The town was levelled by US airpower after the South Vietnamese invasion of the so called fish hook region of Cambodia in 1970. The ARVN operation was to be a great example of the Vietnamisation of the war, South Vietnamese troops supported by US airpower. Code named Lam Son 719 it was a complete disaster when the invaders met ferocious resistance and radar controlled North Vietnamese guns plucked US choppers out of the sky like flies. Panicked South Vietnamese troops clung to the skids of evacuation helicopters and shot each other to gain a toehold and were shot by helicopter crews unable to become airborne.

US bombing destroyed the Cambodian towns of Memot and Snoul and the demonstration at Kent State University a few days later was the result. The National Guard shot and killed four students and of course this helped end the war. The invasion of Cambodia in the parrots beak and fishhook regions only drove the North Vietnamese further in to Cambodia and caused the US to widen their illegal bombing even further. This carpet bombing campaign mostly by B52s from Guam, planes that could not even be seen from the ground drove the Cambodians out of the countryside into Phnom Penh and some people say drove the Khmer Rouge mad. The KR were able to use the pretext of American bombing of Phnom Penh to empty the city and we all know what happened next. And Neil’s suggestion that Thailand may have been the next domino to fall just shows his ignorance of Thailand and its people, the Thai have always been ungovernable and the Vietnamese only wanted their country reunited, they certainly never had any interest in Thailand.

It Neil spent some time in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia he may well understand the historical context of the war, he obviously only believes his own propaganda at the moment. If he wishes to come to Cambodia or Laos he can see for himself the damage done by the US and its allies, these people are still paying the price for our ignorance. Why anyone would take on the Vietnamese who have fought against invaders for a thousand years beats me. They are a tough, resourceful and unforgiving opponent as we find to our cost.

Mark Schneider writes: Neil James, Executive Director, Australian Defence Association is to be congratulated for his succinct summary of the wider strategic consequences of the Vietnam War. I now understand why it was absolutely necessary to bomb Vietnam’s towns and villages into oblivion, destroy their economy, defoliate their jungles, butcher their people and set their orphaned children on fire.

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: H.K. Colebatch, (yesterday, comments) again misses the central flaw in his theory and ignores the thrust of my criticism. He bases his attempted defence only on what eventuated in 1975 not on all the possibilities that might have occurred if South Vietnam had been overrun a decade or more earlier when most other SE Asian states were suffering considerable political instability internally and in their (pre-ASEAN) mutual relations. He also ignores that the vulnerability of many SE Asian states to communist rule in that era was largely internal. It did not necessarily require the imposition of communism by external invasion (by Vietnam or anyone else), merely the considerable advantages offered to insurgents by the sympathy of contiguous states (or communist-controlled zones) with porous borders.

The communist sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia, for example, greatly assisted the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War but one of the main causes of the failure of the communist insurgency in peninsula Malaya was the inability of sympathetic regimes to provide much support because they were not controlling contiguous states. Finally, naively calling public-interest guardian organisations such as the ADA an “industry lobby” simply shows inadequate research unworthy of the title “social scientist”. Perhaps he also wrongly thinks that the Conservation Foundation somehow represents Gunns or that the Consumers Association lobbies for Woolworths?

Jock McDonagh writes: H.K. Colebatch appears to be talking at cross purposes to Neil James’ original points. My father, a Vietnam veteran and the first commanding officer of our Civil Affairs Unit in Phuoc Tuy Province in 1967/68 revisited the province in the late 1980s. He got to speak to a number of his old VC adversaries, including the commanding officer of the local Viet Cong’s D445 Battalion. The CO was alcoholic, partly because of the devastating allied artillery fire encountered at Long Tan in 1966 but mainly because political life was no better under the North Vietnamese junta than under the old Republic of (South) Vietnam. He believed the VC had done the work but the North Vietnamese got the benefits. Dad found that nearly all of the VC he met were really peeved at how it had all worked out and how different it was to what they had been promised by the North Vietnamese during the war. Interestingly, Dad also noted that most of the facilities his unit had built had been left untouched as the local VC had realised they had been for the greater good of the people.

Surely, a key point is that while Mr Colebatch’s understanding and views may not have changed from those he initially formed in the 1960s, the Vietnam of today is a far different place to the Vietnam of the 1980s and of the 1970s, 1960s, and indeed of the 1950s. He is drawing a very long bow to claim that the failure of communism to spread further than South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the mid 1970s was entirely unrelated to the nature and progress of the Vietnam War in its last decade and all the many changes in the international communist movement that occurred after the Sino-Soviet split in 1961, their border clashes in 1969 and North Vietnam’s increasing adherence to and dependence on the Soviet Union from the early 1970s to the collapse of the USSR 20 years later. Who knows what the South East Asia of today might look like if communist revolutions and coups had succeeded in the 1950s and early 1960s in the broad sweep of history envisaged by its ideologues and pushed by the Comintern at the time.

What’s more, when Saigon finally fell in May 1975 it was captured by a large scale conventional invasion by the North Vietnamese not by popular revolutionary fervour. The strategic and ideological exhaustion, and infighting, of the various communist powers by 1975 was in fact a marked contrast to their unity, situation, motivation and probable intentions before the major allied intervention began in South Vietnam in 1965.

Crikey presents … “Thoughts Of The Day”:

LHC vs. AGW:

Robert Bruinewoud writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Consider the following. A clear majority of particle physicists say that the LHC will not bring about the end of the world, and the world population takes them at their word. Then, a clear majority of climate scientists say that AGW is a dangerous reality which threatens the very existence of civilisation, and the world population says they are wrong, exaggerating or flat-out lying. Discuss.

Planet Earth, and who can stop Gary Ablett Junior:

Bev Kilsby writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Who knows what is ahead concerning the planet, buts it’s an amazing work of science and faith, and I love meditating on its greatness, and having fun about the clouds. As to who is going to win the flag in the AFL. At this stage I think Geelong, but who really knows what’s ahead for us. Why get so anxious, it’s only a game, but I guess wealth and money for some.

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