A cowardly attack:

Christina Buckridge, Manager, Corporate Affairs, University of Melbourne, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 9). The cowardly anonymous attack on the staff and the reputation of University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Music by a claimed “parent” warrants a quick response. And perhaps it is also worth noting that although some parents want to interfere in their children’s university experience, the “contract” is between the University and the student — not the parent. The University recognises that this is sometimes difficult for parents to understand. And it is a fact of life that while some excellent staff leave the Faculty to pursue their own careers, others arrive.

For instance, the Faculty has welcomed as Head of Voice none other than Miss Rosamund Illing, one of Australia’s most distinguished and acclaimed sopranos, and Elliott Gyger who joined the Faculty from Harvard as Lecturer in Composition had a major premiere in the US earlier this year. The richness of the staff is enhanced through wonderful honorary appointments such as internationally-renowned cellist Liwei Qin, one of the world’s greatest horn players Professor Barry Tuckwell, and the foundation Dean of the VCA, Professor John Hopkins — all of whom provide valuable learning experiences and international networks for students.

These appointments are outstanding additions to the highly-talented staff in the Faculty and in the VCA School of Music. This strong creative environment augurs well for April 2009, when Melbourne will become home to the most comprehensive music school in Australia with the Faculty of Music and Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) School of Music joining forces to create the University of Melbourne School of Music.

This new School of Music will combine the academic and artistic expertise of the Faculty and of the VCA School to build on their distinctive strengths in music performance, both classical and contemporary, improvisation, musicology and ethnomusicology, music therapy, music education, composition and conducting. The new School will have a strong identity and a clear vision for international excellence in music training, scholarship and research. It will be home to around 1,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students; a “powerhouse” of comprehensive and high-quality music education and training.

John Bevan writes: Crikey’s “Tips and rumours” section seems to be becoming a place for anonymous attacks rather than real tips and rumours. I think that if you want to attack some person or institution you should have the guts to put your name to it except in the most exceptional circumstances.

Fortescue and China:

Cameron Morse, a Fortescue spokesman, writes: Re. “Chinese growth to slow, but don’t expect global ruination” (yesterday, item 22). Fortescue has not renegotiated iron ore contract prices. The iron ore prices received by Fortescue are set at the agreed benchmark price and continue to be set at that price. Every tonne of iron ore produced by Fortescue has been shipped from Port Hedland and received by our Chinese customers at the agreed price.

Restructuring the economy:

Mark Hardcastle writes: Re. “Tackling climate change: targeted investment vs handouts” (yesterday, item 16). We need to restructure the economy and reduce carbon emissions. The government’s proposed “pokies and plasma” stimulus package is trying to breath life into a diseased corps. Much of what was assumed to be economic progress in the last decade ended up being bogus paper gains, gone in a flash. We’ve had a boom in low paid retail jobs and became more dependent on (and controlled by) the unsustainable quarry economy. We need a new economy rather than putting lipstick on this pig.

The new economy has been held back by the interest of the establishment. Those with insight into the machinations of federal cabinet have been informed that the Commonwealth has been threatened with a sovereign credit downgrade if the carbon trading system causes losses to pre-existing investments. But this was before the economic crisis. One might expect some reprioritisation of investment concerns with recent developments. We will be poorer if we allow special interest groups to delay either the reduction of carbon emissions, or the restructure of the economy.

If we have to buy-off existing fossil fuel investors than make sure that is done so in a way that prevents coal from suppressing or slowing the new renewable economy.

Nationalism rising:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Nationalism rises as state governments fall” (yesterday, item 2). So Bernard Keane writes a piece about reforming Federal-State relations without mentioning the Constitution! Yet another example of “Blind Federalism”. The awkward fact is you can’t really reform Australia’s system of government without a successful referendum, and that’s almost impossible. Of course, there is another strategy: the legal loophole, such as when the Federal Government seized control of taxation. Unfortunately this creates anomalies, like the whopping big one politely called the “vertical fiscal imbalance”. WorkChoices, for example, didn’t apply to workplaces that weren’t “financial and trading corporations”.

Keane gives the false impression that State governments’ powers have been whittled away. Well, they’re still in charge of roads, railways, ports, urban planning, hospitals, schools, universities, national parks, etc — most of the everyday stuff, in fact. Which is mainly why they attract so many complaints. But Keane is right to say Canberra attracts politically best and brightest — it’s almost as good as going overseas!

Joe Boswell writes: Bernard Keane wrote: “The trick for the Government is to turn this malice toward the states into politically-useful pressure on Premiers and Chief Ministers to cooperate with the Commonwealth’s reform agenda.” I cannot agree. That’s just using the discontent to put more pressure on a system that’s broken anyway. Getting more cooperation from State Ministers does nothing to address what’s really gone wrong.

Every day in my job I see the huge waste and inefficiency of pointless duplication of legislation, jurisdictions and administration across Australia, not to mention the impossibility of anyone in government being accountable for anything when both States and Commonwealth claim to be running everything. The original vision of Federation was for the States to operate independently in many areas, and a relatively small role for Canberra.

This has evolved into something unrecognisable and horribly dysfunctional. It’s as though the manager of a team of cyclists decided to physically lash together all the bikes any old how, call the result a car and make himself the driver — while all the riders try to pedal and steer. It’s a crock. Either restore their original powers to the States, by giving them real control over health, education and so on, which means also the power to raise all the revenue they need, or abolish them.

Rundle, Colin Powell and McCain/Palin:

Peter Lloyd writes: Re. “Rundle08: Palin on SNL not enough to combat the Powell blow” (yesterday, item 3). I’d like to add to the chorus proclaiming the excellence of Guy Rundle’s US election coverage, but his claim that Colin Powell is in some way a war criminal is utterly ludicrous. Yes, an Iraqi Army was utterly massacred on the Basra Road in 1991, but unlike Rundle’s comparisons those massacred were military personnel engaged in operations and under command. Few would accuse the German machine gunners on the Somme of being criminals for their efficient dispatch of tens of thousands of British troops served up to them by incompetent commanders in 1916. The casual historian could name many similar examples of rampant destruction visited upon routed armies, and more than a few where an enemy not completely crushed rose again to turn the tables.

Powell is actually one of the greatest-ever US military leaders: he helped rebuild the US army after Vietnam, and in 1991 ensured it was given a clear strategic objective and an international mandate. Despite pre-war fears of Armageddon (there are many Australian “analysts” who would prefer to forget their statements of the time); the war was won easily because of this thinking and preparation. A decade later, a new generation of toadying and gutless US military leaders capitulated to profoundly ignorant civilian dilatants, producing a very different result against the same enemy. That Powell allowed himself to be part of this will, as Rundle correctly observes, taint his legacy in perpetuity, and Australian military leaders should take careful note after their own shameful behaviour during the Howard years.

Bruce Graham writes: I love you Guy. You are the smartest thing to come out of the Victorian left wing in 20 years. But all of us get a little tired sometimes, and one column a day on the road is a punishing schedule. Basra Road as a war crime? Only in the sense that all war is murder. A concept with as little basis in law as “property is theft”. US military behaviour in the early phase of the war followed textbook US military philosophy. Literally. Sink a few beers with a friendly army officer sometime, and ask to look at his textbooks. Babi Yar, Nanjing, My Lai each were war CRIMES not because helpless people were killed, but because the helpless people were civilians. At Sanddakan the victims were POWs.

Sadly, the only thing those Iraq conscripts could have done to save their own lives would have been to mutiny, then run into the desert abandoning their trucks. Difficult as it is to comprehend, there were people in the USA (who should have been smarter) who took Saddam Hussein’s boastings at face value, and there were people in Iraq prior to the invasion who failed to understand the cold blooded literalism which is admired (if not always practised) in the US army. Of such misunderstandings, massacres are formed.

So, Guy, all war is a crime, all property is theft, and one day the proletariat will rise up. After that, you and I, and any other intellectual in the country will be up against a wall. Until then, Colin Powell is a guy who did a legal job too damn well for your taste. “Any time there is a fair fight, somebody made a mistake”.

Kerryn Goldsworthy writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Yesterday’s editorial about McCain’s unwise gamble on Sarah Palin omits to mention that it wasn’t really McCain’s gamble at all. McCain did not want Palin. He wanted Joe Lieberman, but his hand was forced at the eleventh hour by the Christian Right, whose anti-abortion hysteria precluded their acceptance of Lieberman, who is pro-choice, to the point where they threatened to withdraw their support and throw the Republican convention into chaos. Which means we may have the anti-abortionists to thank if the Democrats win. Heh.

The ACT election:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “ACT election: liberals fumble” (yesterday, item 12). Congratulations to the Greens in the ACT for crossing the electoral threshold where the electoral system is a barrier to minor parties. Whilst the ALP has been chastened, the rise of the Greens did not capture all of that discontent. The loss of votes from the ALP overall (9.2%) did not flow entirely to the Greens (6.3%). Whilst the Liberal Party lost some ground, the total votes for them and the other parties is 2.9% higher than in 2004.

Overall the non ALP/Green vote has risen to 46.6%, a respectable total in a town such as Canberra. In fact if Canberra was one electorate, parties such as the Motorists and Community parties would be represented in the Assembly. As the threshold for election to the Assembly has been reached by the Greens they may lose interest in increasing competition and prefer to make it harder to be challenged. Time will tell.

Radio National:

Jennifer Dillon writes: Re. 15 October editorial. Crikey drew attention to what horrified RN listeners already knew, the extraordinary decision of ABC Radio National management to dump specialist programming and in particular The Religion Report. In the week following, many column inches of thoughtful, serious comment has been written, Mark Scott has endeavoured to justify the decision by suggesting that we can find such specialist commentary on-line (hang on, its radio, mate! We LISTEN to it). Sue Howard has been conspicuous by her silence and Crikey yesterday suggests for very good reasons.

Now, we are told that presenter Stephen Crittenden has been suspended for daring to draw attention (in his program on 14 October) to his fears that an anti-intellectual push in favour of popularism is not in the best interests of RN or its listeners. Be very careful RN, as Crikey says, somewhere in the addled morass of modern media there is a group of listeners that prize knowledge and insight over popularity and accessibility. RN, your charter is to present quality programming for the Australian audience. The audience is speaking, LISTEN to it.

Bretton Woods:

Julian Gillespie writes: Re. “Bretton Woods Mark II? Now there’s an idea” (10 October, item 13). A second Bretton Woods system? Unlikely. For starters no one has dared raise the idea of returning to a gold standard — why? — well for one the price of gold would (on current tonnage) need to increase five fold in order to match global M0 (outstanding notes and coins in circulation excluding vault holdings), not to mention the USA holds very little gold in reserve compared to China and Japan — in other words the US wouldn’t want to give other nations with substantial reserves a “leg up”. Otherwise banks in the US have a wholesale resistance to being regulated from abroad, considering the amount of regulation they already suffer in the States.

Currently there are 12 Federal Reserve banks spread across the US responsible for regulating their patch of dirt. Then there is the plethora of small regional banks within those Federal zones, where for instance a local credit union may provide excellent service, but only have $20 million total assets under its control. These small regional banks collectively have considerable clout (and self interest) for resisting the imposition of regulation from abroad.

As of August 2008 the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was insuring 8,430 commercial banks in the US, and that number doesn’t include the non-members of the Federal Reserve system — quite a difference to the 14 Australian-owned banks we have here — (though we do have about 200 Authorised Deposit taking Institutions in all) — I guess the numbers and the depth of US banking regulations we can surmise from them, speak for themselves — so in the immortal words of The Castle’s Darryl Kerrigan, Messrs Sarkozy and Brown must be “dreaming”.


Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “NSW Libs give Premier Rees a glimmer of hope” (yesterday, item 11). Last week as doctors in Dubbo dug into their bank balances to buy bandages for use in the local hospital, medical workers in Orange wondered when they would be paid and suppliers to our health system wondered when their invoices would be honoured, Nathan Rees announced a bread and circuses program for next year. Picnics on the harbour sound and light shows, all funded by the taxpayers. This is on top of the $30 million he is able to find for the V-8 obscenity at Homebush.

But money for doctors sorry, you will have to wait. In other countries the heads of the state government ministers would be on pikes being paraded around the city. But we are civilised people and will have to wait another three years before we can turf out this corrupt bunch of poseurs who besmirch the good name of Labor. If Rees had any decency he would call an election now and die on his feet like a man of honour instead of holding onto an office he does not deserve for another three years.

Terra nullius:

Bruce Smith writes: Michael Kennedy (yesterday, comments) continues a common misunderstanding of the concept of terra nullius. It doesn’t mean the land was unpopulated, rather that it was not owned. The Australian Museum expands on this here. The Mabo decision overturned terra nullius by finding that there was a form of land ownership in place not recognised by the settlers.

Thought of the Day:

Bev Kilsby writes: Re. “Kevin Rudd and the death penalty” (yesterday, item 14). Thank goodness our Prime Minister is against the death penalty. As a believing Christian, I believe everyone has different standards, and Jesus forgave people and let them go in peace and so should we follow the same example. And do not keep telling people off and saying they are evil, because no one is perfect in my opinion, we are all human, and are put on this earth to value one another, instead of being at their throats in rage or anger.

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