Stimulating the economy:

Paul Gilchrist writes : Re. “Mayne: Rudd the reckless Whitlamite” (Wednesday, item 3). Stephen Mayne is worried about the country’s financial position after the entire stimulus.

Now Stephen!, for the last 15 years I have been listening to financial advisors and finance journalists like yourself talking about China’s extraordinary growth supporting our economy. This always sounded like a crazy fairytale told by idiots, and that is what it is proving to be. Isn’t the truth that it just doesn’t matter whether we have over the top stimulus spending or not, we are [email protected]#%$ed either way? The only difference is who goes bankrupt first, the government or private individuals.

The truth about the “China growth” fairytale is that it depends on cheap credit in the importing countries like the US and us, and cheap labour in the developing countries. Now both of these are disappearing, the first quickly and the second more slowly. The choice for Australia is to put up tariff barriers and accept a much lower prosperity here, or continue with free trade, and accept a much lower prosperity here. This is retribution for greed on a Biblical scale.

But for pity’s sake, Stephen, please don’t pretend that financial “experts” like yourself are founts of wisdom — by promoting the mythical economy of the last couple of decades, you have lost your Emperor’s clothes.

Martin Gordon writes : Re. “Just how stimulating is Rudd’s package?” (Yesterday, item 10). We seem to have got the government we deserve. The flailing around about the urgency for action (as if a weekend will matter) conceals the complete botch they have made of a bonanza of double dipping. Many working students will be able to get two lots of $950. Many high income couples will still qualify for payments, as will many families with children despite having high incomes.

The losers are high income singles and couples and those without children, and of course self funded retirees, you got nothing in December and nothing again now. Well done Kev. The so-called stimulus package is remarkable for how astonishingly low its multiplier effect is, somewhere between 0.3 and 0.6 over the next two years.

At that rate flushing $100 bills down the toilet might have a greater impact and at least lead to a plumber led recovery!

Mark Heydon writes : Re. “Stimulus: what you’d get, when you’d get it and how” (yesterday, item 11). Interesting. Does the $950 for those with incomes below $950 go to each individual, or is it based on household income? You imply the former. If this is the case, is there an age limit on receiving the cash and can you submit a “nil” return to qualify? If so, does that open the door for every non-taxpayer (e.g. children, retired) to get a return in and receive $950?

Peter Howson:

Alex Mitchell writes : Re. “Peter Howson, minister for ‘trees, boongs and poofters’” (yesterday, item 13). Mungo MacCallum rendered a fine public service yesterday when he reminded us that the late Peter Howson was one of the Tory twits of the Menzies-Holt-Gorton-McMahon era and not a celebrated statesman as his epigones are now saying. Howson briefly hit the media spotlight in the 1960s during the “VIP air travel scandal”.

As Air Minister, Howson allowed Liberal grandees, their partners and friends to shuttle around the country in the taxpayer-funded planes and almost lost his job over it. He also achieved notoriety over his involvement in Australia’s commitment to the Vietnam War. During an overseas junket he stopped at Saigon and upon returning to Australia he announced — at the PM’s prodding — that he had received an official request from the regime’s leadership for Australian troops to be sent to the war. (In fact, of course, the request was made by Washington, but that’s another story).

At question time, Gough Whitlam asked Howson whether the request had been made to him in Vietnamese or French — two languages spoken in Vietnam but not by Howson. Howson’s bumbling response was pathetic. But, hey presto, the Liberal Government produced a letter from the Saigon junta which was given to Howson in Saigon asking for Australian military aid.

It was a moment of high parliamentary farce which only Mr and Mrs Muddle, John Howard and Lord Downer of Baghdad, have been able to repeat.

Michael Uniacke writes : Mungo MacCallum refers to the deceased Peter Howson’s “commitment to the deaf” in its allegorical sense. Howson wasn’t much different in the literal sense. He was part of a clique of conservative figures prominent in deaf affairs for a few decades late last century.

Like all of them, Howson had nothing to offer other than the myopic charitable attitude that all deaf people suffered in silence. A few in Australia’s Deaf community might dimly recall Howson as the man who more than 20 years ago made a fatuous prediction of the demise of their community.

No doubt Howson meant well. But where Australia’s Deaf community was concerned, Howson was monumentally irrelevant.

Climate change:

Ken Lambert writes: Re. Mark Byrne (yesterday, comments) who wrote: “In short we have high confidence about GHG forcing temperature change by 2.6 W/m2 and low to medium confidence about smaller contribution forcing a net temperature forcing of –0.8 W/m2. If this is your argument then it sounds accurate. There is even a chance that our contribution to warming is below best estimate and contribution to cooling above best estimate. However the chance of every component going to the 95% confidence limit (in the direction consistently needed +2.64 and –3.25 W/m2) is of a probability of 0.05^10, roughly equal to 1 in 10,000,000,000,000. And this is not supported by our &&continuing warming trend .”

Thank you Mark. I am glad that my point is accurate; however your summation of the cool-down forcings is misleading. AR4 Fig 2.4 shows the largest cool-down components of direct and cloud albedo aerosols of -0.5 W/sq.m and -0.7W/sq.m summing to -1.2W/sq.m. The range of uncertainty in these is large; – 0.9 to – 0.1 for direct aerosol, and -1.8 to -0.3 for cloud albedo. If only one of these cool down terms is correct i.e. the -1.8W/sq.m for cloud albedo, then the total GHG effect of CO2 (+1.83W/sq.m max) is wiped out.

Furthermore, the cloud albedo effect is ‘best estimated’ at -0.7 W/sq.m when the arithmetic average of -1.8 and -0.3 is -1.05W/sq.m. All the other components in the table (except smaller ozone) use the arithmetic average.

Finally, the critical point is that the net result of the subtraction of a low confidence number from a high confidence number, is a low confidence number – namely 1.6W/sq.m.

Tamas Calderwood writes: I’m not shifting the goalposts, “Gish galloping” or dodging evidence, but I am sticking to my point in the limited space I have in Crikey’s comment section.

Just to be clear, my argument can be summarized thus: The world warmed by 0.7C in the 20 th century and has plateaued and dipped slightly since. The entire 30 year satellite temperature data-set shows warming of 0.35C over 30 years. This warming is not outside natural variability, there is no evidence that CO2 was the primary factor in that warming and global warming is not accelerating despite increased emissions.

Therefore, global warming is not a crisis and the hypothesis that it’s man-made is probably false. Indeed, a hypothesis must be falsifiable in order to be scientific. So I ask the global warming believers this: What evidence would falsify the global warming hypothesis? (Global Cooling? No detectable greenhouse “fingerprint”?).

f you don’t have an answer to that question then you don’t even have a theory to defend.

Hot and bothered Adelaide resident Bruce Hore writes: Hi Tamas Calderwood (Wednesday, comments), Adelaide here again. You know, that OTHER Australian capital city on the southern coast of Australia. Some people like to call us … Downstream! We managed to survive the week of mid 30s temps, well most of us did. It’s a weird thing, people just expiring in the heat in a city pretty much used to hot temps.

But, just an update, its f-cking hot here again. 43 expected today, 33 overnight and 41 again tomorrow, unless the cool change doesn’t come and we are back up to 43 again. The record temp for Feb is 44.3, back in 2004 which is pretty recent as far as record temps go, but for you, we can have a good old Aussie go at poping that one off as well. Oh, no rain either yet. Not sure where all that water is going up in Queensland, but I doubt Anna and Co. will let any get down this way, if it is even in the basin.

Good news, next week we will be down to average temps again so I guess that means that there is no real increase in average temps over the year. Please rest easy.

Oh and in the ABC news, climate change was cited as a reason for weather shifts in at least two stories last night. If Aunty gets it…

In a shaking my head moment, I saw some press today; “NSW to be hottest place on the planet with temperatures to top 47 degrees“. I guess it would be the hottest place in the world, if you don’t include WA, SA or the NT.

Yours in dryness (humour and climate).

Public policy:

Greg Cameron writes: Re. “Streamlining policy analysis for government in tough times” (yesterday, item 15). Well done Crikey for publishing Tom Worthington’s comments in relation to Wednesday night’s public lecture by Mr Gary Banks entitled: Evidence-based policy-making: What is it? How do we get it? For those interested in public policy (what Crikey reader isn’t?) it’s essential reading.

A little birdie:

Rob Lake writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). A little truth please. The Yarra golf courses have endured significant reductions in their rights to pump water from the river — hence the dams. The most telling change has been to limit pumping to periods when the river flow is high. When stream flow falls to summer levels, let alone drought levels, pumping is restricted and eventually stopped.

By building dams to hold reserves, the courses are pumping during the wetter months, aiming to hold enough to get them through summer. Some courses, such as Green Acres, have returfed their fairways with grass species that require less than half the water of wild grasses.

All courses have an absolute maximum amount they can draw in a year.

A joke:

Sean Hosking writes: I thank Niall Clugston (yesterday, comments) for his helpful dissertation on why John Howard was not in fact a disciple of Mao Tse Tung but when I drew a link between Work choices and the Great Teacher I was sending up Andrew Bartlett’s suggestion that WorkChoices had little to do with Neo Liberal ideology. To spell it out really clearly, I was joking.

Birthday of the day:

A big happy birthday from Crikey to British singer Rick Astley who turns 43 today.

The special Crikey Wilfred Burchett section:

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Using Nick Shimmin’s own argument about respected publishers and scholars (yesterday, comments), perhaps he could stop avoiding dressing the core charges against Wilfred Burchett long made, in detail, in the highly reputable and academically rigorous official history of Australia in the Korean War 1950-53 by Professor Robert O’Neill and published by the Australian War Memorial in two volumes in 1981 and 1985. And in anticipation of possible knee-jerk accusations that the official histories of any war somehow reflect a “government version”, the professional and intellectual independence of the official historians such as Bean (WW I), Long (WW II), O’Neill (Korea), Edwards (Vietnam) and Horner (Post-Cold War conflicts) are not seriously disputed by any legitimate historian or informed observer.

The Korean War was the first one after the 1929 Geneva Conventions were updated in 1949. The war brought sustained and illegal attempts by the communist powers to indoctrinate UN Command prisoners-of-war (PW) with communist ideology, and illegally undermine their legitimate protections under the updated Third Geneva Convention. Burchett was intimately involved in the PW camps by his own choice and as a declared communist sympathiser (at least). Whatever he did or did not do in North Korea, and why, must be examined against these serious breaches of international humanitarian law by China, North Korea (and the USSR). It is worth noting that, despite the overwhelming evidence, for the rest of his life Burchett continued to deny that these systemic abuses had occurred — and this is probably why he also generally refused to participate in Australian media interviews where former PWs would also be present to confront him.

The core charges against Burchett from the point of view of serving and former defence force personnel concern his general behaviour towards Australian and allied PWs, especially the numerous instances where prisoners were illegally punished by their captors (sometimes very brutally) for “not co-operating” with Burchett and even for “upsetting” him by accusing him of treason. But even if we ignore such incidents, Burchett’s continual claims then and afterwards that the PWs were supposedly being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions — when no objective observer then or now seriously disputes that the North Koreans and Chinese flagrantly contravened the Conventions instead – demonstrates Burchett’s subjectivity and his lack of moral scruples and indeed common humanity. He was, at the very least in this aspect, a proven willing participant in the communist powers’ propaganda war not a “journalist who reported from the other side”.

The Australia Defence Association has always been a staunchly non-partisan body. We are not interested in the squabbling between various left-wing and right-wing historians about Burchett’s wider behaviour or the alleged ideological motivations or biased research methods of their respective opponents.

Our interest in the cases of Wilfred Burchett (and subsequently David Hicks) comes only from our apolitical belief that all Australians have citizenship and moral responsibilities not to aid an enemy that our defence force has been lawfully committed to fight, by our elected government, on behalf of all of us. Such actions should constitute a serious criminal offence. On the other hand, peaceful dissent from a government decision to go to war should not be illegal as long as it does not intentionally or recklessly involve direct, and in limited cases indirect, assistance to the enemy.

Until the UN Charter was signed in 1945 national “declarations of war” were valid under international law. Assisting an enemy was generally illegal under the English Treason Act of 1351 and, in time of war, Australian defence legislation — but the latter was dependent on there still being “declared wars”. After 1945 these could no longer occur but the legislation was left unreformed and this provided the legal loopholes that allowed Burchett (and much later Hicks) to avoid answering for their actions in an Australian court.

Contrast this situation, for example, with World War II. William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) and John Amery, among others, were tried and hanged in the UK in 1946 for broadcasting Nazi propaganda from Germany. An Australian, Captain Charles Cousens, was arraigned in Australia for broadcasting Japanese propaganda when coerced as a prisoner-of-war.

The core of the Burchett and Hicks controversies is really that they occurred in the 1946-2002 period when Australian legislation was disgracefully inadequate in regard to potentially treasonable acts, particularly for activities voluntarily or recklessly undertaken in enemy territory that assisted — or could be reasonably construed as assisting — the enemy. The combination of reasons for this legislative inadequacy has already been discussed in several contributions to Crikey, although Niall Clugston for one seems to keep missing them.

At long last, however, the loophole is closed. Under the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002, an Australian citizen anywhere in the world again clearly commits treason if he or she (among other things):

  • intentionally assists, by any means whatsoever, an enemy, at war with the Commonwealth;
  • intentionally assists, by “any means whatever”, another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force (ADF); or
  • forms an intention to do any of the above acts and manifests that intention by an overt act.

This means any Australian who now does what Burchett allegedly did – and what Hicks has admitted doing when serving under arms with the Taliban (at least) — will have their day in court to establish their guilt or innocence and we will be able to determine, in court, any particular mitigating or condemnatory circumstances that might apply.

This is as it should be. We all let the ADF, and especially, our prisoners-of-war from the Korean War, down very badly by not having up-to-date laws that would have allowed Wilfred Burchett to be tried and his guilt or innocence unequivocally established. This would also have saved many historians on both ideological extremes much effort, and indeed confusion, over the years.

Bill Hyde of Callistemon Publications writes: Re. Nick Shimmin. I only wish to respond to what Shimmin stated about Tibor Méray and his book titled On Burchett, published by us, Callistemon Publications. Nasht says that Méray had “vague accusations” in his book. Well, Méray’s book is full of very specific accusations. Just one of them: in this book you learn that Wilfred Burchett, the supposed “excellent investigative journalist” not only swallowed holus bolus the official accusations in the show trials behind the Iron Curtain against the accused but he added a shovelful of his own lies to the trumped up charges. Does this sound sufficiently specific?

Space does not permit me to mention more very specific and very true statements about Burchett. Furthermore: Shimmin states that the above “vague accusations” have been “peddled around for ages”. The fact is: We published the Méray book last year (2008). Méray was invited to be a witness against Burchett in Burchett’s law case against Jack Kane but he declined, although he could have testified serious facts against Burchett.

The reason Méray declined to give testimony: Méray remembered that Burchett was friendly and helpful to him in Korea. What prompted Méray to write this book was: he read Burchett’s lies about himself and his executed friend, the journalist Miklós Gimes and the lies infuriated him. How does this fact accord with Shimmin’s description of “peddled around for ages”?

Shimmin is ducking the issues and is trying to dismiss the Méray book as published by a “small vanity press”. I have already challenged Shimmin in Crikey to refute a single statement in the book by Tibor Méray, published by this “vanity press”. I am still waiting.

Bruce Watson writes: Nick Shimmin cannot dismiss so sweepingly the letters reproduced in Crikey concerning Burchett’s work for various communist parties by implying they might be forged. The letters themselves (and they are not new but unsurprisingly not mentioned by Nick Shimmin or George Burchett thus far) have all the “get up” of longstanding Party involvement.

Many people have been communists and a person is free to adhere to whatever political persuasion he chooses –at least in countries other than those championed by Burchett where dissension invariably led to the Gulag or worse– Burchett should have openly disclosed his allegiance rather than have pretended to be an independent operator. Rather than the matter turning full circle as Nick Shimmin would have us believe, we are still waiting on George Burchett to state whether the POW’s who gave evidence against his father (starting with George Cross winner Kinne) lied under oath in doing so.

In addition to this Nick Shimmin can further assist Crikey readers by stating equivocally that the letters reprinted in Crikey which on any plain reading condemn Burchett, are forgeries. Some evidence as to their being forged might be useful. Straight forward questions and easily answered.

James Jeffrey writes: As the Wilfred Burchett saga rolls on (and on and on), the one question I keep coming back to is this: why are communist boosters tolerated — even supported — when Nazis sympathisers are rightly shunned? It’s not as if there was any shortage of parallels between the two systems, so why the vast gulf between how the two sides are treated?

Some of the regimes Burchett’s admired — even decades later in his autobiography, long after any illusions ought to have been crushed under the weight of fact — were among the worst the 20th century had to offer and nothing short of a catastrophe for the people unlucky enough to live under them. If those regimes had flown the swastika instead of the hammer and sickle, who’d be lining up here to defend him?

Would Simon Nasht, Nick Shimmin or someone else be kind enough to explain?

Niall Clugston writes: Could I offer a summary of the Wilfred Wars? All participants seem to agree on the following:

  1. Burchett was a significant figure in the history of Australian journalism and politics, who continues to excite controversy.
  2. He was a supporter of world Communism.
  3. He was not a KGB agent.
  4. He did not torture POWs in the Korean War.

In fact, exactly the same conclusion I reached from reading Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World 1939-1983, edited by Ben Kiernan in 1986!

This should not be construed as suggesting that this entertaining debate be silenced.

“Wilfred Watcher” writes: Nick Shimmin boasts of his and George Burchett’s books being published by CUP and UNSW Press, but does not disclose that he is the National Sales Manager at CUP, where he has worked for over 20 years, and that his publisher at UNSW Press is a former CUP colleague.

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