ABC Learning:

Shirley Colless writes: Re. “ABC Learning will come back to haunt the Opposition” (yesterday, item 9). There is, of course, another nail to be driven into the Coalition’s coffin on the ABC learning fiasco, and that is the powerlessness of the ACCC to control, under the competition laws, the unending stream of takeovers of other operators of child care centres. Is it the case that John Howard absolutely hated his stint as Minister for Consumer Affairs and did this lead to his constant muzzling of the Competition and Consumer Commission? And did this in turn lead to judgement after judgement from the ACCC that the domination of the childcare market by one provider was OK?

Whatever the cause, it is only too evident, given Howard’s total domination of his cabinet, that it was his policy to let “the market rip” and then to provide massive and uncontrolled subsidies that allowed, for instance, ABC to charge a full day’s fee for half-day care and receive the full day’s subsidy. Nice one, when you can get it by allowing the taxpayers and parents pay through the nose for the privilege of privatising child care. Now, of course, is the time for Rudd and Co. to put some teeth back into the competition laws so that it can play fair with consumers.

Mitchell Holmes writes: Bernard Keane wrote: “The concept of making money from childcare, the flashiness of Eddie Groves, the reliance on taxpayer subsidies, its remorseless expansion — all rubbed a lot of ordinary parents the wrong way.” What is so wrong about running a profitable business, even with the assistance of government subsidies?

The government subsidies are just part of the ground rules of operating a childcare centre in Australia. Many other private businesses rely on some level of taxpayer funding/subsidy/guarantee — the privatised job network, private medical insurance, nursing homes, local car manufacturers, banks etc. The economics of such subsidies certainly should be questioned but that means questioning the policy decisions of governments.

However if the subsidies are part of the ground rules one can hardly criticise privately owned businesses for profiting from them. Child care centres are not of themselves less worthy or of lesser quality simply because they are run for profit. In fact the non-financial aspects of running childcare centres (staff numbers, staff qualifications, facilities, health, safety, curriculum, etc) are regularly and closely scrutinised. If any Australian childcare centre is not up to standard, there are already mechanisms in place to enforce remedies.

As for Eddie Groves’ “flashiness” — there are some things in life that just cannot be legislated against!

The Howard Years:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “The Howard Years: history told by the players” (yesterday, item 10). Peter Brent reflects the same concern as me about The Howard Years. John Howard, 1996 to 1998, was not the successful conviction politician he was made out to be — and yet, Gerard Henderson in the SMH has still managed to grumble about it being a piece of left-wing history! However on closer reading it appears that Gerard’s critique in this matter is more that the ABC has promoted the show as being left-leaning, not that its content actually is.

Jim Hanna writes: Peter Brent, your memory is fine. What is worth noting however is that Labor in Power was televised while Labor was still in power. Clearly, the producers and the participants thought a political epitaph was about to be visited upon them. The Howard Years is being screened almost a year after Howard was banished by the voters and well after Costello publicly renounced any lingering leadership aspirations. Can’t wait ‘til they get to the episodes with Malcolm. Will he be as frank?

Christopher Ridings writes: I may have blinked at the wrong time when watching The Howard Years on the ABC on Monday night but I completely missed the name of the Opposition Leader.

The global financial crisis:

Ken Lambert writes: Re. “US, Japan, New Zealand et al playing follow the leader into recession” (yesterday, item 22). One of the axioms of free markets is that “good money drives out the bad”, or “good anything drives out the bad”. Or should we say this is an axiom of “perfectly informed free markets”. So what about the free market in ratings agencies? It should fit the definition of a free market.

I cannot think of a business that relies more on trust, impartiality and hard earned reputation than a ratings agency in a free market environment. All our banks and financial institutions boast about their “AA” of “BBB” rating from S&P or Moody’s or Fitch. Moody’s moves markets — and has; with a downgrade of one of our lesser institutions or a State Government.

An essential part of the great American sub-prime scam was getting the bundles of mortgages rated as ‘investment grade’ by the ratings agencies so you could flog them to Shire Councils in Australia, or villages in Norway or Fannie and Freddie. “We should not even be rating this crap” …”We would rate it even if a cow structured it”…”Lets hope we have retired with our bonuses before this house of cards collapses”. These are choice bits from emails between ratings agency employees read out before a US House Committee a few weeks ago.

Greenspan has already admitted before the same committee that he “screwed-up” over derivatives. The whole world has been screwed by the purveyors of dud securities, and the chief facilitators of this giant American scam were the ratings agencies. This free market was totally corrupted by the flawed idea that a rating agency can impartially rate the purveyors who pay it.

Let us hope they don’t survive the legal tsunami which will surely come from their victims.

Rudd, Bush and G20:

Martyn Smith writes: I share Noel Courtis’s concern (yesterday, comments) regarding “Rudd and the blabby mouth affair” but have a different perspective. Yes, the matter is an embarrassment for Kevin Rudd, but it has blown over, despite the efforts of such as Bernard Keane, who seems obsessed by it.

It would appear that the PM was entertaining at home, took a phone call and made an off the cuff remark, possible out of frustration, which he wrongly presumed would not be repeated or reported outside the room. He was wrong and doubtless will learn from the experience. I suspect someone unknown has broken a convention.

Journalists who travelled with Maggie Thatcher did not repeat remarks from her husband Dennis, who used to wander down to the back of the plane, whiskey in hand and harangue the press and presumably relay her thoughts. Journalists in the USA recently had to defend themselves for not broadcasting what Sarah Palin said off the record.

As far as a blabber mouth is concerned do you remember Peter Costello’s remarks after meeting the Chairman of the Reserve early on in his time as treasurer? Even lawyers can slip up. I have a suspicion that our PM will guard his mouth, and who is invited to the Lodge for “tea and scones” in future.

Embargoes:

Roger Fry writes: Re. “Embargo etiquette: MX screws homeless people to get the scoop” (yesterday, item 14). Diana Wolfe should calm down about her embargo being broken. Most media training courses that I know give the clear rule — don’t embargo. Why insist on an embargo — does it confer power to retain something? It’s like the quaint word “release” on a media statement implying that we are holding something, and then bequeathing it to the masses.

It’s quite simple — if you want something used send it out; if you don’t want it used, don’t send it until the time is right. On the positive side, Ms Wolfe should be glad of some free publicity for her cause, courtesy of Crikey.

The Gold Coast:

Colin Hill writes: Re. “Media briefs: Obama vs FDR… Polikovskaya trial open to public” (yesterday, item 17). Had to have a good laugh at the editorial from the Gold Coast Bulletin. As a former long time resident of the now commercially and developmentally trashed Gold Coast I used to read this type of tripe on a daily basis in this totally biased and narrow minded local rag. It seems the Gold Coast thinks itself as a jewel in the crown of tourism but suffers a mighty loss of self confidence and wants to be told by all and sundry that it really is.

The Gold Coast had its heyday in the late 80’s and 90’s and has been in decline ever since with its 80’s mentally of tourism based on concrete and theme parks and development, development, and more development. Who wants to be a tourist or live in traffic gridlocked, over developed, dry, water restricted region [which was caused more by governments of all levels’ inaction and incompetence rather than any degree of drought or climate change]?

Sure you can go down the beach and enjoy “40km of sandy beaches”, it just takes you an hour to get there and any time after 1pm there are huge shadows on 30 kms of those beaches caused by monolithic skyscrapers. Sure you can visit the hinterland that has shrunk to a shadow of its former self due to over development stretching way up in to “them thar hills”. Oh yes a lovely place. Glad I got out when I did!

A free plug:

Paddy Douneen writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). To have one ABC radio programme host talk about the B-nK Longer campaign is careless, but to have three do it on consecutive shows is approaching the same frequency of paid for advertising on the commercial radio stations. The marketing guys at AMI will be just loving it!

Head of State:

Stephen Magee writes: Chris Hunter (yesterday, comments) shouldn’t be too quick to damn the US law that restricts the Presidency to people born in the USA. Australian law currently prevents Catholics from becoming or marrying our Head of State. Even non-Catholics are barred if they weren’t born into the right family. And nobody in Australia gets a vote on the Head of State, so we can’t even pick and choose which of the odious Windsors we end up with.

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Peter Fray

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