British American Tobacco:

Bede Fennell, Head of Public Affairs, British American Tobacco Australasia, writes: Re. “Can British American Tobacco lie straight in bed?” (26 November, item 13). I write in response to Mr Chapman’s recent commentary airing some very personal grievances that he has with our company. Given the inaccurate and personal nature of his comments I would like to address the substantive issues raised.

Firstly he implies that we used his invitation as a form of solicitation so other invitees will attend the event. This is not the case. At no stage did we say that Mr Chapman condoned, approved, would be attending or would even be present at the event. We were merely open about who we invited and included the list of all invitees in every invitation that we sent out. Secondly, Mr Chapman raises some concerns about a letter that I have written to Local Councils which, in one paragraph of a three page letter, draws attention to his opposition to outdoor smoking bans. My letter was written in response to Council’s consideration of a smoking ban in various outdoor places. The aim of this letter was to inform the debate and encourage engagement with all relevant stakeholders be they retailers, hoteliers or tobacco companies.

Whilst Mr Chapman alludes that we misrepresented his position, I stand by the letter and its contents and have quoted him accurately. In fact in the Canberra Times article Mr Chapman went as far as to say that “to say that a smoker couldn’t go around the shores of Lake Burley Griffin with a picnic lunch and have a cigarette — I call it sort of like a North Korean solution.” Further, in the ABC article, Mr Chapman reinforces his belief that “to me “going too far” in SHS (Second Hand Smoke) policy means efforts premised on reducing harm to others, which ban smoking in outdoor settings such as ships decks, parks, golf courses, beaches, outdoor parking lots, hospital gardens and streets”

I noticed that, coincidentally, the next day Mike Daube (Mr Chapman’s “colleague”) used your website to publicly intimidate a well known Australian charity simply because they do not share his view of the world. Mike Daube is a senior member of the Federal Government’s Preventative Health Taskforce and it is concerning that a person in such a position would seek to so publicly attack the credibility of one of Australia’s charities.

In fact Mr Daube as a Federal representative has also declined on several occasions to meet or discuss with us the Federal taskforce’s views. Given that we are an employer of over 1000 people and relevant to this taskforce, we expected at the very least some response from him rather than yet another public attack.

It is important that the public record is corrected, because at the end of the day, the more debate there is about smoking and tobacco issues from all relevant stakeholders, the better informed the community and decision makers will be, which will enable people to make informed choices and regulators to make sensible and effective regulation.

Homophobia:

Rod Swift writes: Re. Michael Byrne (28 November, comments). There are a number of people claiming that the Marsh/Williams document is “evidence-based”. While this document *seems* to have nearly 200 references quoted, what the document claims that research says is not all it seems. For example, I have found evidence of clear misrepresentations or scientific errors in two of the references in that document.

For example, the Gender Matters document says the study by R. Green, et al., “Lesbian Mothers and Their children: A Comparison with Solo Parent Heterosexual Mothers and Their Children,” Archives of Sexual Behaviour 15, 1986, pp. 167-184, apparently claims to show “…developmentally important statistically significant differences between children reared by homosexual parents compared to heterosexual parents.” But does that study actually say that? Well, no!

Indeed, the abstract summary of that study, which can be found online says in fact the opposite:

No significant differences were found between the two types of households for boys and few significant differences for girls. Concerns that being raised by a homosexual mother might produce sexual identity conflict and peer group stigmatization were not supported by the research findings.

Data also revealed more similarities than differences in parenting experiences, marital history, and present living situations of the two groups of mothers. The postulated compromised parental fitness of lesbian mothers, commonly asserted in child custody cases, is not supported by these data.

So, it appears that the Gender Matters document clearly misquotes and skews data, or claims that research says certain things, when it doesn’t. The Green study says that the children of lesbians are just fine, thanks very much. So how could they get it so wrong? One might want to ask Mr Marsh how?

Secondly, though, the study cites at least one deceptive study by anti-gay “researcher” Paul Cameron, which has been thoroughly disproven. The Gender Matters document claims the study “Federal Distortion of The Homosexual Footprint” is evidence that homosexuals die at an average age two decades younger than heterosexuals. However, Mr Cameron (a proven distorter of statistics) has had two studies on mortality of gay men invalidated due to basic and fundamental statistical errors. For example, see these sites, here and here.

The facts of the matter are is that there is a more balanced and independent viewpoint on the efficacy of gay and lesbian parenting from reputable sources. The Gender Matters document cited one (and distorted it to claim the opposite), but a full narrative is available from the peak psychological bodies — for example here. When people claim that the Gender Matters document is “evidence-based” and “accurate”, it is clear they haven’t gone and checked whether the citations are accurate, merely thought that it looks evidence-based or authoritative.

Danu Poyner writes: I’m inferring from Michael Byrne’s comments on homophobia that he holds the “traditional” view that “homosexuality is an aberration of the natural order of s-xual practice, as life source, and relationship”. Michael is, regrettably, entitled to hold these views, but I’m disappointed in Crikey for publishing them and thereby giving both Michael and his views some sense of legitimacy.

It would be nice to be able to get through my day without being attacked, however vicariously, by others for what is an innate and, if you believe so, God-given part of my life and being. To be on the receiving end of such hateful comments is hurtful in and of itself, but hurts more when presented as a reasonable and legitimate viewpoint. I can’t argue that it’s traditional, but a quick look at other ‘traditional’ views over the ages invariably puts that idea in context.

Most of all, I resent having to respond to someone else’s hateful prejudices. And yet I have to respond to it, because otherwise it goes unchallenged and gains further legitimacy. The burden of proof should be on Michael to support his views, not on those he is attacking to defend themselves. So please, Crikey, unless you think that discrimination and hateful, ignorant prejudice belongs in your publication, don’t publish it in future. As for Michael, I have no idea what you have against homosexuals or why it affects you, but I’m happy to discuss it with you if you’re interested.

Australia’s internet failure:

Rachel Dixon writes: Re. “Kruddiversary: The internet thanks you for 12 months of achieving nothing” (27 November, item 17) Stilgherrian wrote: “The Australia 2020 Summit was hardly aware the internet existed.”

Of course, the 2020 Summit report doesn’t mention a good deal of the discussion that went on at the Summit — as has been noted in the press previously, the process of facilitating the groups and sessions was flawed, and the process of distilling the ideas raised was done away from the groups. Several of the delegates in the “Towards a Creative Australia” strand (myself included) made impassioned pleas for increased emphasis on the role of networks in creation and distribution of content, noting how critical it was to Australia’s future.

A key point I kept raising at the time was that the nation needed a Fibre-to-the-Home proposal, rather than Fibre-to-the-Node that is manifestly inadequate to keep up with anticipated demand. I’m sure most of the “Creative Australia” participants thought I was geeking out, and that was one reason the idea never made the summary. But it might also have been that the Summit process was managed in such a way as to avoid giving the Government anything too hard to think about.

Many members of the “Creative Australia” strand were extremely unhappy with the contents of the draft and the final document, although most had other reasons than broadband. Some of the proposals in the summary given at the end of the Summit were in direct contradiction to the actual conclusions of the group. Many of us looked at one another in bafflement during the closing session.

Since then DBCDE has convened several industry forums to discuss “The Digital Economy”, at which many of the things Stilgherrian talks about were canvassed with industry (this is not to defend the Government, just to note that there’s no end to talking about the NBN problem, and the Government has heard these issues canvassed, heard them from many sources).

One of the themes that came up at the first of these workshops was why — in a country this size — we expect to have a one-size-fits-all model for the Internet. It’s actually a whacky notion. My sister-in-law lives in Nundle NSW, a charming place which suffers from very limited broadband, being very small and more than 5 hours drive from Sydney. But it has lovely air quality, and no aircraft noise. Why is it okay for the a hypothetical someone in Nundle to demand equality of broadband access, but not okay for me in Newtown NSW to demand air quality approaching Nundle’s, or a similar noise profile?

By insisting on giving the bush the same broadband, we tie the cities of Australia to doomed-to-mediocrity broadband, on an NBN that’s already obsolete and will take years to build. 90% of us must suffer so that the other 10% can have equality of access. It’s madness. It’s time to abandon 98% coverage and accept that — just as railway lines favoured certain towns over others in the 19th century — not all places in Australia are going to get good broadband.

Then we can look at getting *real* broadband — of the sort the rest of the world is beginning to enjoy — in our comparatively densely populated cities. I want my 50Mbit/second, and I want it yesterday. As a trade-off I’ll suffer the black, sooty residue that falls on my house every day from the traffic and air pollution, and continue to put up with aircraft noise.

Climate change:

Dr Mark Duffett, geophysicist at the University of Tasmania, writes: Re. “Rudd’s emissions target is meaningless” (yesterday, item 18). Dr Andrew Glikson appears to think that the best way to get action on climate change is to relentlessly seek out absolute worst case, top decile scenarios and broadcast them as if they represent mainstream scientific truth. Apart from anything else, this may be counterproductive. But worse is that statements like the flat assertion “550 ppmv CO2-e… renders many metres-scale sea level rise through the 21st century inevitable” grossly misrepresent the state of scientific opinion.

Work of the highest peer-reviewed quality by experts on ice sheet physics indicates that 0.8m global sea level rise by 2100 is most likely, certainly no more than 2m, under any remotely feasible emissions scenario. (The main reason for this is that the shape of the underlying bedrock topography places firm physical constraints on the volume of ice that can reach the ocean over a given time period). This is bad enough, but certainly not the apocalyptic “many metres over the 21st century” trumpeted as ‘inevitable’ by Glikson.

The reliance of Hansen, Glikson et al on paleoclimatic evidence as a pretext to discount the best estimates of glaciologists ignores the contingency of Earth history. They should tone down the climate p-rn purveyance unless and until they can reconcile all the lines of evidence for their claims. Their consciousness-raising political ends do not justify (and may not be served by) their alarmist means.

Obama:

Martin Gordon writes: A few news items are popping up in Australia about the new team of Obama officials. But a host of items are appearing in the US with a lot of dismay about some appointments. The Washington Post (which had endorsed Obama) recently reflected on the ironies of some appointments. The proposed new treasury secretary Timothy Geithner was involved in the development of Citicorp in the Clinton years along with Larry Summers (a former Clinton and now Obama official). Robert Rubin who was a Clinton treasury secretary is now a Citicorp executive and will be rescued by his old protégé Geithner with US taxpayer’s money. “The connections go way beyond irony.”

For a man elected on the mantra of “change” Obama seems to be making some curious moves. His chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is a former director of the bailed out mortgage organisation Freddie Mac (and coincidentally he was the largest recipient of hedge-fund donations).

The peace groups that supported Obama are now anxious about his actual views on issues such as Iraq. He now downplays his apparent differences with Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden, as Obama now realises that he actually has to deal with the reality of the world not merely talk about it. The rhetoric of “change has come…” sounds more and more like empty words. The Obama effect has parallels, its most significant predecessor was the “Blair effect” (remember Tony?). There is an unpleasant sense of déjà vu in all of this.

Socialism:

Nicholas Roberts writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. I wouldn’t be writing-off socialism so quickly. We are seeing plenty of conservative socialism for the struggling corporations and lots of casino socialism for the banks. No doubt the staff of Crikey will pretty much to a person remember the corporate socialism of Fairfax. And who will forget the national socialism of the Bush Administration. In fact, their is no need to forget it, for its still with us. But with a new team. Christ I wish I hadn’t subscribed to the socialised payments system for this journal, but I am relieved that we have socialised medicine, health, education. Sorry Crikey, the rejuvenation of the Liberal Party membership or the markets, with or without its party branding, will not happen that easily.

The death of Joern Utzon:

Catherine Reynolds writes: John O’Hara’s abuse of Utzon is shameful (yesterday, comments). Utzon gave Australia the rarest of gifts — an exquisite building that became a defining symbol for the nation. The Askin government thanked Utzon by strewing obstacles in his path. He was owed $100,000 in fees which they refused to pay, forcing him to resign. Just like O’Hara, they besmirched his reputation, generating an impression which had a significant subsequent detrimental impact on his career. The initial difficulties with the project were, in part, a result of the previous government commencing the podium before the final plans were completed. Before the engineering resolution to the shells was even realised. A solution which Utzon himself finally resolved.

The flaws associated with the interior were thanks to the subsequent architects, Hall, Todd and Littlemore, whom O’Hara lauds. They built interiors with box seats in the Opera Theatre with no view of the stage, and acoustics so bad the orchestra has to be changed at intervals due to occupational health and safety issues connected to potential hearing loss. When Utzon left the project, the sails almost completed, costs were $22.9 million.

Hall, Todd and Littlemore blew that out to $103 million. And we have ludicrously dated interiors and inadequate theatres as a result. Fortunately the Sydney Opera Trust has done its utmost to rectify earlier errors; they reemployed Utzon in 1999 to develop a set of design principles to guide all future work. The Opera House has been listed as a world heritage site, and Utzon has been awarded the world’s most prestigious architectural award, the Pritzker Prize. But of course, O’Hara knows the “real story”. Perhaps he was also one of the people living in Kirribilli who, while the Opera House was being built, complained that it was ruining their view?

Shirley Colless writes: It is interesting that John O’Hara claims that the NSW Labor Government was booted out at least in part by voters losing patience after cost blow-out upon cost blow-out, with the Sydney Opera House project getting nowhere, this at a time when the shells were being constructed and day by day Sydney-siders could see the progress on the site. He ignores all of the other factors at work in that electoral decision.

 O’Hara fails to mention that the Davis Hughes’ putsch that removed Jorn Utzon as the architect of the Sydney Opera House signally failed to meet the two criteria that Hughes used as his justification: time and cost. With three architects and who knows how many other senior and junior staff plus consultants to hand, Hughes managed to see the Sydney Opera House completed six to seven years and at almost double the cost after he had sacked Utzon.

No, John, Utzon did not resign, Davis Hughes was out to get him from well before the moment he became Minister for Public Works in May 1965 and he made sure he did, even though technically he was not Utzon’s client. But a putsch is a putsch is a putsch and Premier Askin must have agreed with his minister’s decision, so ’nuff said about that delightful pair.

Mayne wins:

Matthew Horan writes: Re. “Shock, horror: Stephen Mayne wins an election” (yesterday, item 17). Well done on finally getting a gig! I’d even argue that this one is probably the pick of the bunch — despite their often bumptious reputation, local councils are the heartland of our democracy. Or at least they should be, and I suppose the good ones are. You’re going to have a lot of hard work in front of you, and even though you’re a work-shy skiver, I’m sure you’ll muddle through.

Just remember what Ronald Reagan said “dance with the one that brung ya”. In his case, it meant “give a lot of money to oil barons”. In your case, the ones that brung ya were the ones looking for real reform. So don’t forget them and keep fighting the good fight. If nothing else, it’s not going to be boring…

Jim Hart writes: Congratulations to Stephen Mayne for finally getting one foot on the bottom rung of the ladder of democracy. But I think his constituents might expect a bit more than to “push for change in a collegiate fashion.” Is it really that important to redesign the school uniforms of Manningham?

Terry Blundell writes: Well done Stephen Mayne. Would love to be a rate payer in your area and visit the council meetings. Would have loved to see the look on the faces of the bureaucrats at the morning coffee yesterday.

Shame on you all:

Marcus Vernon writes: Re. “And the Wankley goes to … Crikey” (28 November, item 26). Crikey, I’d like to be able to say that you are being hard on yourself for taking the Wankley award last week for beating up on Sarah Palin’s baby — but no, you really deserved it. Indeed, the award should be handed out many times over to all the smart-aleck commentators who found it necessary to make offensive comments about the names of the Palin children during the presidential campaign.

That performance revealed the inner bully in all of you. Dependent children of politicians should be strictly off limits, no matter what you think of their parents and their policies. I haven’t heard anyone make the same gratuitous comments about Barack Obama’s daughters, nor should they. And the Palin children should have been afforded the same respectful, protective treatment from journalists, many of whom are parents themselves. Shame on you all.

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Peter Fray

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