The black and white of a Palm Island tragedy:

Jenny Sams writes: Re. “The black and white of a Palm Island tragedy” (yesterday, item 6). In reference to the Palm Island saga and the Police Union calling for apologies, let us look at the score? No whitey dead, one Aborigine dead, one Aborigine now to go to jail. If there had not been another Aboriginal death in custody all this mess would never have happened.

While we are still counting, let us look at the latest death in custody in Rockhampton, last week. Four whingeing prison officers, they have urine on their clothes, waiting for tests to be taken. No dead whiteys, one dead Aboriginal man lying at the prison officer’s feet. Which one would you like to be? The whitey in soiled clothes or the dead black man lying on the ground? If this is the prison guards’ attitude they should look for other jobs where they are not dealing with our most disadvantaged group of people.

For any avid reader, maybe the Deep South of America starts turning over in your brain; this couldn’t happen in Australia could it? But then of course, like sheep we follow America, in almost everything they do. Shame Australia, shame.

Simon Wilkins writes: Chris Graham’s article and accompanying First Dog on the Moon cartoon (“First Dog on the Moon” yesterday, item 7) provided an excellent update on the Palm Island travesty, but I am left with a feeling of impotent rage. Crikey excels at bringing underdone issues to the fore, but in cases such as this, just reporting alone seems to be insufficient. I am sure other readers feel the same and would appreciate links and suggestions for solutions on how best to stop what seems to be an endemic attitude problem within the police on Palm Island. If there are also groups petitioning the government to demand a retrial and fair compensation for the true victims then let’s hear about it as well. This must not stand.

Martin Copelin writes: No wonder young town/city Murris think they can do what they like — they show no respect to anyone and damage property at will. Hurley was a bit of an old time copper, believed in respect and discipline. I understand the deceased person showed neither and was foolish enough to biff Hurley. You have not mentioned the fact Wotton and the rioters burnt down the Palm Island court and police station. If I was involved in destruction such as this I would expect a bullet.

Graeme Harrison writes: The Lex Wotton riot conviction saga is so appallingly one-sided as to be a suitable script for an extra episode in the SBS series The First Australians. Perhaps the episode title could be “Last Pocket of Resistance Quashed”.

Ben Pennings writes: Thank you Chris Graham, it is great to see you writing for Crikey again. I sent your item to everyone I know and don’t know — left, right, centre — it needs to be read and acted on. I implore all Crikey readers to do the same. Please, or it will just keep happening.

The superannuation stack of cards:

John Russell writes: Re. “Businesses, retirees and the government teat” (yesterday, item 11). With respect I am somewhat irritated by Bernard Keane’s obvious envy and example of the tall poppy syndrome…perhaps when he also reaches pensionable age he might have other thoughts.

I and my wife invested a lot less than a million dollars in a self managed superannuation fund when we retired to Australia in 2002. As a professional accountant all my life and strong believer in putting my eggs in a number of baskets I concurred with our financial advisor to invest prudently and take the minimum annual pension from our fund. This prudence means that we are to 70% invested in non-equity bonds and money market funds. Here the gradual increase in value is less important than the regular inflow of interest as income for us. So that we are not unduly worried by the action taken by a number of the funds we are invested in, in the past few days.

In the present situation I did not panic as I believe that the underlying value of the properties which are the basis of our mortgage fund investments are sound and although perhaps losing value and thus value and the directly proportional income will return in a few years to acceptable levels. I agree with a moratorium on selling out of these funds… because a run on these will mean the sale of the underlying assets at fire sale values which will only harm those that remain. The 100% government guarantee is only a knee jerk reaction to populism which I am sure would also have been Mr. Turnbull’s reaction — the fact that the Irish started it — displays the fact that all those Irish jokes have a grain of truth in them.

Switzerland only guarantees savings accounts and then to a maximum of SFr 100,000 (which was AUD 100K in June 2008 and is now only AUD 71k). Saving accounts also have a number of restrictions as to how much can be called down at any time and if an early call down is made, the interest on the amount is debited for the lost period at the higher interest rate.

There are thousands of self-managed Superfunds in Australia with assets in Mortgage Trusts who don’t want the money out but just the relative security of spreading risks. To let some “worriers” bring the whole stack of cards down for the rest should not be allowed and any action taken should bear this principle in mind. In my opinion any guarantee over $100,000 should incur an insurance premium.


Mitchell Holmes writes: Re. “Paul Sheehan: white washing banks” (yesterday, item 18). There has been much made of the Big Four Banks finally passing on the whole 1% interest rate reduction from October. Perhaps we should look a little closer at some of the Big Four’s other brands. As a for instance, one of NAB’s other brands is Homeside Lending. Homeside’s variable rates have remained at between 8.75% and 9.39% (they have several products), with no reduction since the beginning of October at all. Before the rate reduction Homeside’s variable rates were in the middle of the Big Four pack. Now, they are among the most expensive going. A new borrower can choose from others in the market. A current Homeside customer is a little stuck, unless they deal with the rigmarole of refinancing.

Jill Whittaker writes: John Shailer (yesterday, comments) takes the same line as Glenn Milne. Marie Antoinette responded to the observation that there was no bread so that the peasants could eat cake. Wayne Swan has taken the opposite line. When those with funds seeking a high return have complained that they no longer can eat cake he is suggesting that they eat bread as the alternative. Centrelink is there to make sure that people don’t have to go hungry. The analogy used is the opposite of the Marie Antoinette solution. Bernard Keane has a much clearer view of the special pleading of those who have risked large sums in the attempt to make large sums.

John Kotsopoulos writes: Is John Shailer suggesting that the Government should pretend it can stand behind every deposit taking institution? Cripes I hope Malcolm Turnbull does not get wind of this.

Plagiarism and schadenfreude:

Cathy Bannister writes: Re. “Bishop’s plagiarism tells an uncomfortable story about neoliberalism” (yesterday, item 2). Julie Bishop plagiarising Roger Kerr? That’s crazy. She could have at least gone for Richard Prebble. Coals may glow in Prebs’ eyes whenever he speaks of “The Market”, but at least he’s funny. In any case, I’m scared that Bishop would seek to copy either. Labelling Kerr old-school deregulationists underestimates the sheer insanity of his viewpoint. Meanwhile, the measurement unit for schadenfreude must be either units or ampules.

Ewart Shaw writes: Bernard Keane was curious as to whether there might be or what might be the measure of schadenfreude. I was told that the definition of schadenfreude was seeing someone run into your neighbours Jaguar. So how about one Jaguar’s worth of schadenfreude, two Jaguars etc…

Shirley Colless writes: What I find interesting in the quite correct kerfuffle about plagiarism is that not only did plagiarism occur but the incorrect author’s name appeared on the article. What is the correct term for that?

Tom Osborn writes: The measurement unit for schadenfreude is crocodile tears…

David Flint and financially incompetent governments:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “The most financially incompetent government since federation” (yesterday, item 17). David Flint provides us with four stunning viewpoints in his latest contribution. The first is that the “run” on non-deposit taking institutions following the Government securing bank deposits makes this the most “financially incompetent government since federation.” This is one heck of a big call and shows that Flint like others fails to understand the difference between a deposit in a bank and an investment — be it in mortgage backed securities or the share market. People whose “life savings” are in investments of any kind have always risked them “being lost”. Thank goodness the Government does understand the difference.

I personally still rate the Howard Government as our financially most incompetent. It (1) failed to finish the job on taking superannuation to 15% (which would have reduced the Australian reliance on foreign capital to zero), (2) initiated (through capital gains tax changes) and oversaw a massive asset price inflation in housing prices and (3) paid no attention to the inflationary pressures in the economy and tried to talk them down. The Whitlam Government had the excuse of an international crisis that no one even in Treasury had reasonable advice on.

His second is the claim that the PM is obsessed with managing the daily media cycle. He concedes that his predecessor did just the same but suggests that Howard had to deal with a hostile media while Rudd doesn’t. Wow! We now know that Flint ONLY reads the Sydney Morning Herald, because that sure hasn’t been the interpretation of others — including Crikey — of the Murdoch media.

His third is that there has been a deliberate destruction of a fearless and independent public service over the last few decades. This is really interesting because the biggest complaint inside the ALP is the extent to which the PM abetted by John Faulkner is trying to rebuild an independent public service. Where, we all ask, were the Flintian tirades against the Howard Government’s decade of politicisation?

Finally he rails against the whole idea of an independent regulator (the Reserve Bank) being in charge of something “as important as monetary policy”. I wonder if Flint was full of self-loathing when he was paid from the public purse to be an independent regulator of the electronic media. But putting aside this quirkiness he likens not consulting the Governor of the Bank directly as akin to not consulting the Chief of the Defence Force (who Flint calls anachronistically the chief of the general staff) when going to war. Earth to David Flint ––they did consult the equivalent — he is called the Secretary of the Treasury and he spoke to all the financial regulators.

Denise Marcos writes: I’m pinching myself after reading David Flint yesterday. In disbelief I found myself agreeing with everything he penned. In particular his lament about “a fearless and independent public service” struck a chord. During the current financial drama Messrs Rudd and Swan maintain a confident, stoic demeanour but behind the closed door of the Cabinet Room one fears Dad’s Army is at work.

Tony Barrell writes: Isn’t it great that David Flint is back at Crikey? Well, it would be if he hadn’t decided it was time to spruik himself as a global financial guru (GFG). I liked him better when he was saying John Howard would win the election or that “so-called” global warming was a latte-sippers’ conspiracy. But at least he’s alive. Isn’t he?

Steven McKiernan writes: David Flint’s belated endorsement of Gough Whitlam’s economic mastery is a piece of wonderful timing. Flint must have only just recovered from the over-stimulation of Liz the Queen’s birthday bash. His synapses are firing very strangely recently.


David Lenihan writes: Re. “Global car-makers routed. Will Australia follow them into the ditch?” (Yesterday, item 23). I notice the lack of comment by your West Australian regional subscribers about the price of a cylinder of LPG. At the moment a cool $112.00 will get you a 70 litre refill. A year ago it was 90+ dollars, 2 years ago high 80’s. As some areas outside of Perth have natural gas being piped in it doesn’t affect them but, there are still many many towns that rely on LPG.

Perhaps the leader of the Nats will eventually get round to having a look at the reasons, or lack of, for the high cost. It surely must concern him that the people he determined he would help during his quest for power, are no longer at the mercy of big business who it appears simply play around with gas prices as it suits. Ask a pensioner how they got through last winter without heat, I have and the answers are heart rendering. Come on Mr Grylls lets hear from you. Its all very well having a cosy relationship with Libs, I doubt the regions will be too forgiving if you continue as you have started.

Political staffers:

Brian Mitchell writes: Re. Parliamentary staffers (yesterday, comments). I would like to add my two cents’ worth to the debate about political staffers, seeing as I’ve just finished being one. I worked for Tasmanian federal Labor MP Duncan Kerr, first as one of his electorate officers and, after Labor won the election, as Chief of Staff of his Parliamentary Secretary office. Duncan would have to be one of the best bosses I have ever had: He is thoughtful, understanding and has infinite compassion. He is fun to be around.

Everyone works hard for him because they want to, not because he is breathing down their necks. And it’s not just me; there is a veritable army of former staffers (he has served for 20 years so far) who continue to pop by to catch up, show off new babies and stay in touch with a former workplace that clearly holds happy memories. In the relatively short time I worked for Duncan — 18 months — I saw first-hand how highly he is regarded by his staff and constituents and he makes time for them all.

There is not a hint of malice in the man and even his political rivals (both within and outside the ALP) hold him in high personal regard. The Rudd Government would be well served if people such as Duncan could be held up as examples of how politicians should behave. PS: I quit, with regrets, so I could work from home and spend more time with my family.


Mary Sinclair writes: Re. Justin Templer (yesterday, comments). According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (another forbiddingly named public health establishment?), Australia’s level of smoking continues to fall and is among the lowest for OECD countries, thanks in large part to Professor Simon Chapman and others from Schools of Public Health around our country. Be afraid Justin Templer! With successes like these we can hope for similar controls on other dubious business practices masquerading as free enterprise.

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