Correction:

Henry Ergas writes: Re. “Who loves the smell of Ruddbank in the morning?” (Yesterday, item 2). Bernard Keane wrote, “neither Ergas nor The Oz feel inclined to reveal that Ergas has been in the pay of the Federal Liberal Party, conducting Malcolm Turnbull’s own version of the Henry tax review.” As I have never been “in the pay of the Federal Liberal Party”, your comment is entirely incorrect.

Peter Costello and Christianity:

Niall Clugston writes: Mark Duffett (Yesterday, comments) describes the statement that “Australian society and law are founded on Christianity” as “literally Law 101 stuff”. I would dispute this on historical rather than theological grounds.

Australian law is based on English law which ultimately derives from Germanic and Roman law, both of which are essentially pre-Christian. The main “Christian” contribution comes from Middle Ages, which was anti-capitalist in theory and disrespectful of private property in practice, despite what Costello seems to think.

To give one example, title in property is still described as “fee simple”, which expresses a feudal obligation to our liege Elizabeth, not a right of ownership due to purchase. Of course, society has long ago trespassed beyond its hallowed legal boundaries, but I for one am not quite sure that parliamentarism, industrialism, colonialism, etc were spontaneous outbreaks of religious zeal.

PS. I would also like to contribute to the exciting return of the Burchett Section but I think you have a quota in place.

Tom Richman writes: Re. Wednesday’s editorial. I would suggest that all religions, not just Christianity are largely predicated on the institutionalisation of insanity, Catch the Fire simply being a timely example because of its calculated, secretive and hypocritical intrusion into secular politics. Highlighting this point is the case of my brother and his best friend, where one was committed to a mental facility because he “heard the voice of God”, while the other became a clergyman after hearing the same voices. Then, again, if there were a God, clearly He didn’t want Peter Costello as Prime Minister.

John H Williams writes: The Rev. Peter Costello’s Catch the Fire sermon puts one in mind of the best Q and A of the 2007 election campaign:

Rourke Sheridan (a five-year-old): Who made cactuses?
Peter Costello: God made everything, so God made cactuses.

I think that Peter’s career path has taken him on a political detour, when his true calling was always that of a comedy writer/evangelist.

Myer:

Denise Marcos writes: Re. “Are you being sacked? Myer’s cost-cutting casualties” (Wednesday, item 3). One area where David Jones can save a wage is the hapless individual planted behind the silent enquiry counter of the ill-fated David Jones American Express Card. I have never — never ever — sighted a single punter sniffing the air of credit in the vicinity of this doomed enterprise. I suggest DJ’s management boffins either put this currently dormant employee out of their misery or utilise them to operate a till. Customers will appreciate the latter.

Andrew Brown writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. In these straightened times, pray what is wrong with Fletcher Jones chinos? At least those of us of a (slightly) more rounded profile can find a pair to fit at below $80, and a polite assistant to help — a sharp contrast to Myer (the lack of staff must surely be inversely related to shrinkage) and increasingly DJ’s.

Justin Templer writes: Re. “Grumpy” (Yesterday, comments). Crikey. What is this? Serious comment? Are you the Daily Telegraph? For God’s sake, get a grip.

Israeli travellers:

Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler writes: Re. “Backman’s article was not anti-Semitic” (Wednesday, item 10) There’s no shortage of solid evidence about the behaviour of Israeli tourists. When my book Once While Travelling — the Lonely Planet Story was published back in 2005, I commented on the reputations as travellers of assorted nationalities including ‘Loud Americans? Drunk Australians? Snooty Frenchmen? The haughty English (and their “lager lout” cousins) or the pushy Germans?’ But, I wrote (and Penguin published):

If one nationality gets the almost universal thumbs down, however, it’s Israelis. Young Israelis, fresh out of the army, are used to being pushy, demanding and aggressive. Perhaps there’s a national tendency to argue about prices as well, but in the developing world to get aggressive about saving fifty cents is not going to make you flavour of the month.

Israelis have made themselves unpopular almost everywhere. It’s become such a problem that Israeli embassies, fed up with making excuses for their bad-mannered nationals, have begged their travellers to behave themselves.

At an international tourism conference a couple of years ago I was given a copy of a paper, written by an Israeli academic, on “The Case of Israeli Backpackers” on exactly this problem. Of course there are many totally reasonable Israeli travellers, just as there are many Australians who are not loud mouthed drunks. The problem, for Israel, is that their numbers of badly behaved travellers is totally disproportionate. Oh, hasn’t that word — disproportionate — been used somewhere else recently?

Executive remuneration:

Charles Berger, Director of Strategic Ideas at the Australian Conservation Foundation writes: Re. “Banker bonus clawback bill of 2009” (Wednesday, item 21). Adam Schwab suggests that bankers should have to repay bonuses that they’ve earned based on “fictitious profits”. A great idea, and in fact the US already has a legal mechanism for this to occur. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, adopted in the wake of the Enron scandal, requires the repayment of executive bonuses for any period in which the company breached financial reporting requirements. It will be most interesting to see whether the SEC has the gumption to use these laws as they were intended to be used.

While incentive-based compensation is meant to encourage good performance, too often it rewards short-term perspective and excessive risk-taking, especially with longer-term social and environmental risks. The Australian Conservation Foundation urged the Australian government in 2004 to enact legislation to make corporate executives repay their bonuses when they damage the environment.

This proposal, and dozens of other good ideas for corporate governance reform, fell on the deaf ears of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Corporate Social Responsibility, which ended up recommending nothing of any consequence.

Now that the perils of untrammelled self-interest among corporate managers has been made painfully obvious to us, perhaps it’s time to revisit some of the innovative ideas put forward during the 2004 inquiry and ensure that corporate interests are better aligned to the public interest.

Lawrence Springborg:

Chris Johnston writes: Re. “Springborg’s leadership question” (Yesterday, item 11). Most Queenslanders would admit they’re ambushed on making an astute, if any, political choice by the standards of their two major parties. It’s a state worn down by a series of master manipulators to the point where constituents don’t believe their vote makes a difference.

Bligh carries the Beattie taint of spin, scandals, inquiries and infrastructure failure that were as much as he could muster. That the Liberals and Nationals couldn’t capitalize on such gross catastrophes as Dr Death, mass blackouts, a crippled health system, indigenous riots and misfit MPs either imprisoned, trashing human rights, embroiled in litigation or just plain CMC’d says too much about the conservative rabble with a history much the same.

The Borg like Joh blunders through governance with a farcical twist. His LNP won’t let the budget slip into deficit because he’ll ‘front-end jobs” and get rid of positions that are “denecessary”. More chilling is these challenged parties with gormless members have no apolitical public service for support or advice.

It’s full of party appointees whose jobs rest with their masters. Any wonder Queenslanders are struggling with democracy after its police minister authorised “hoon watch” to permit the public to dob in law-breakers whose photos are displayed publicly.

“A bus fare evader gave himself up after his photo was displayed in a Crime Bulletin,”crowed the Minister for Police as she hailed it the future of policing in Australia.

Suffer Australia if that’s called going forward. Here comes another HREOC hearing.

Khmer Rouge trials:

Humphrey Hollins, in Cambodia, writes: Re. “Letter from… Phnom Penh” (Wednesday, item 16). Good report in Crikey on the Khmer Rouge tribunal, I know many people here on the great KR gravy train. What your article didn’t mention was the on going corruption allegations and how defence lawyers are arguing that corruption within the court will cruel their clients chances.

It is a fact that Khmer employees have bought their jobs and that unqualified Khmers are earning ridiculous salaries like 8k a month and much of this is kicked back. But of course there are numerous western lawyers on much better money with their noses even deeper in the trough. It is in everyone’s interests here to keep the thing staggering along for as long as possible.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun sen doesn’t want too much evidence aired as it will expose people in his current government and he certainly doesn’t want any of his cronies charged. The employees of the court, Khmer and Barang obviously want to keep earning their salaries for as long as possible.

Qantas

Tony Barrell writes: Re. “Qantas Frequent Flyers: Beware the Ides of March” (Yesterday, item 4) Your story about Qantas Frequent Flyer points is true. I was told a few months ago, by Amex, that points earned on my green Amex charge card could not be transferred to Qantas FF after the end of March this year. So I transferred them to my FF account and booked a couple of returns to Tokyo.

Qantas, of course, had no seats available, not even in January so I had to fly by JAL (which shares the route with Qantas), which was OK, until right at the end of the booking procedure the Qantas online salesperson told me that although I had enough points for the seats (Iater having topped up with cash) they told me the taxes and surcharges on each ticket amounted to approximately $1300, which rather took the edge of my enthusiasm.

The operative then let slip that JAL was still charging its fuel excise at levels fixed when prices were high.

Climate change:

Tim Marsh writes: The indefatigable Tamas Calderwood (Yesterday, comments) is on his game again today. Crikey, can we set an auto-letter up for me, so every time he claims that the Earth is cooling, I can point you here, here and here. Tra-la-la. The data is part of some huge conspiracy no doubt. Perhaps my eyes deceive me and I am interpreting it incorrectly? Ergo, schmergo.

Marty Ross writes: May I pay extra for a special subscription? Just eliminate any and all Tamas Calderwood correspondence from my daily Crikey. Tamas has gone beyond painful, to drill-in-the brain torture. Please. Enough.

Storm Finance:

K J Lewis writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 9). Is this right? The banks might be a little to blame for what’s happened with those Storm “investors”, but if someone was urging us to go to the bank, to borrow thousands (even hundreds of thousands), putting up our house as collateral in many cases, to invest on a “good thing” some tout reckoned they had in “the second at Bong Bong”, who would we be pointing the finger at? And what would we be saying about a bank that actually “lent” for that?


The special Crikey Wilfred Burchett section:

Bruce Watson writes: Certainly Crikey readers are getting their fill of Wilfred Burchett. But Burchett’s followers need to understand that whenever some piece of hagiography is produced seeking to whitewash his behaviour, there will always be those who are prepared to correct the record.

I am surprised that George Burchett hasn’t read Tibor Meray’s book. It has been reviewed in Australia at least three times, including by me in the SMH last year. It is a detailed deconstruction of a period of Burchett’s life.

As to the suggestion that Meray worked from memory; I met with him in Paris earlier this month. And an interesting discussion it was too as he is one of the few alive who had worked closely with Burchett. He advised that he had kept detailed notes in six volumes which he managed to get out of Hungary post the Russian invasion. Incidentally, Meray pours cold water on the suggestion that Burchett was a KGB agent.

There are disingenuous defences mounted for Burchett’s behaviour. Relevant bits of data are omitted which would put a different interpretation on a bald statement. For example, George Burchett in Crikey (7 January, comments) cited Marine Andrew Condron as having been grateful for Burchett’s humanitarian behaviour towards him. What wasn’t mentioned was that of the entire British and Commonwealth armed forces Condron was the only defector to the North Koreans. Funny about that.

In the liberal West a man is free to express whatever views he likes. Wilfred Burchett opposed this concept and is damned by his own writings where he belittles what we consider fundamental and basic freedoms: the rights of free speech; a free press; to vote; to travel. But irrespective of these published views, where he crossed the line was in the Korean POW issue.

None of Burchett’s acolytes hit this on the head save to say it is “disputed”. Well here’s their chance: are they prepared to state now and clearly that the evidence as to mistreatment given against Burchett by the former POW’s were lies — that all these men, and let’s name one — George Cross winner Derek Kinne –committed perjury? Well, let’s hear it.

James Jeffrey writes: Simon Nasht (Yesterday, comments) is himself indulging in a little misquotation when he says I claimed Wilfred Burchett endangered Tibor Meray’s life. What I wrote (15 December, comments) was: “Burchett may be dead, but some of the people he seriously hurt or whose lives he endangered along the way are still alive, Meray included.”

Not the most wonderfully constructed sentence, to be sure, but note the cunning use of the word “or”. So take off five points yourself, Simon.

I remain interested because half my family is Hungarian and I’m keenly aware of what went on there under the regime that Burchett so energetically supported. Your line about people being “rooted to the past and its grim struggles” sounds thrillingly Howardesque with its hint of black armbands.

As I said before, if Burchett had been a cheerleader for homicidal Nazis instead of homicidal Stalinists, this debate wouldn’t exist and Crikey might have room to run an extra instalment of First Dog on the Moon instead.

First Dog on the Moon responds:

Steven McKiernan writes: As much as I should be a willing participant and observer of the latest incarnation of the Wilfred Burchett culture wars and take time to be interested in this archaic post-modern saga, might I posit the following piece of advice to your Burchett correspondents:

Get a f-cking room/blog/street corner and f-ck off.

That is all.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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