CRIKEY: On Friday Crikey ran an item in tips and rumours that asked whether Mastercard or Visa were profiting from fees on donations made via them to the Red Cross and speculated as to whether the companies could donate the fee money. Mastercard and Visa have since told Crikey that all donations to Australian registered charities on MasterCard and Visa cards are fee free. Mastercard has donated $100,000 to the Australian Red Cross and told Crikey that “this is merely the first step in our response to help the victims of this horrendous event.” Visa has made a $50,000 donation to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Appeal via the Australian Red Cross.

Victorian bushfires:

David Siebert writes: Re. “And the Wankley Award goes to… fire reporting” (Friday, item 16). Is Miranda Devine serious? She seems to be an expert on everything — politics, science, social issues, pollution, education, drugs, euthanasia, environment, and now fire prevention. Seriously please. And what poor taste and poor timing. Lynching already. An ill-informed position so quickly. We don’t need a Royal Commission after all. We have our answer already courtesy of Ms Devine.

Some of those that agreed with her came up with the condescending “noble savage” argument about the indigenous people of Australia setting fire as if it is “natural”. Rubbish. Yes it may have been happening for some time but deliberately light fires is not natural. Come on. The people making these arguments will also quite happily argue the negative for Native Title or similar when it suits them. I think the forests were getting on fine by themselves before man arrived. Both Aboriginal and European Australians. Typical of Devine’s followers. I guess they need to get back some of the venom and blame the Howard Years made commonplace and acceptable.

Let’s sort this tragedy out first before we look at the cause, rather than stupidly follow this sensationalist tripe. I just pray for more self-control next time I see an article by her. I just can’t seem to help myself and never fail to upset myself each time.

Rod Raymont writes: It’s started. A man is charged with arson over some of the Victorian bushfires and the media’s vilification of an as yet untried person begins in earnest. TV news reporters ask locals what they would like to do with him and traumatised people oblige with blood curdling responses. Pictures of the man from his Facebook entry are run in the papers. The News Limited Sunday papers report neighbours’ claims he regularly started fires in his backyard and a bit of unsourced Police tittle tattle about the man’s only friend being his Mother. Yet again the media seem to allow a sniff of blood to overcome a sense of fair play or in deed any cynicism about a Police brief of evidence.

The media no doubt congratulated itself over uncovering the Haneef bungle, but the fact is most were willing to run any scrap of damning, prejudicial information the Federal Police fed them about the good Doctor until a bit of leg work by a few reporters uncovered the truth. And this week in Sydney, the charges against former footballer Mark Catchpole were reduced to failing to renew a licence on a gun and possesing a small quantity of drugs. A few months ago when he was arrested in front of the cameras, Police were suggesting he was the biggest drug trafficker in Sydney. Let’s wait and see what he is actually convicted of.

It happens time and again, but it appears in the most recent case a loner who likes his Mother doesn’t have a reputation worth worrying about. What do your regular legal correspondents Greg Barnes and Peter Farris think?

Christine Vickers writes: It is hard to fathom why the Bendigo fires seem to have been lost from national consciousness. Perhaps it is because Bendigo is not tree change country, it is battler territory a long way from the heart of Melbourne. It is not part of the world of the articulate intelligentsia — nor is it a tourist destination — although parts of it, pre fire, were pretty enough. Long Gully, the suburb that copped the major damage — a loss of fifty homes — was built on land exhausted from the gold diggings. The central business district of Bendigo is close. There is a burnt out block across the road from St John of God Hospital. This is one of those “might have been” stories.

Perhaps the Bendigo fire has been somewhat sidelined because its meaning is hard to assimilate. It was not “over there” or “somewhere else”. It was in the midst of most of our way of living — in our suburb or the one next door. The fire occurred in the middle of a city — not on its edges like Kinglake or Canberra. It can happen in any suburb in any city or town.

Trauma freezes thought. It crosses personal boundaries leaving an insidious sense of danger. It disrupts our patterns of living, and the assumptions and mythologies upon which we build our lives. A typical response is to look for an explanation — a scapegoat. We seek an arsonist, read about faulty power lines, or a dropped cigarette.

Even the hottest day on record is mentioned as a cause — anything to absolve oneself from responsibility, or face that we were powerless that day. It is an attempt to restore a known order. Trauma also divides. It takes effort to listen to grief, and hear painful, almost unbearable thoughts. The Bendigo folk already feel excluded. You can see it in the anger written in handpainted signs telling sightseers to go away.

They have something to say. Not to listen may be costly.

David Hand writes: What irony. Sam the koala was injured in back-burning operations so Dave the CFA man actually helped cause the injuries suffered — a worthy contribution to the Book of Heroic Failures.

This is another example of the contempt the media has for its audience. When information like this comes out, people feel patronised and manipulated. Though media executives might argue for the greater good and get a ratings or readership boost from a story like this, it is yet another small contribution to the descent of commercial news and current affairs into banal, trivial, voyeuristic fluff.

Like water eroding a rock, the incessant chipping away of journalistic integrity in the media is destroying people’s confidence in the truth of stories.

They simply lack authenticity and the industry is doing great damage to itself.

Corvan Townsend writes: So the profits from Coles supermarkets on friday 13th go to the bushfire appeal. An admirable gesture however one could be excused for being cynical enough to suggest that the “generous” donation will be well offset by the price gouging by Coles at the petrol pumps which today are selling unleaded motor spirit in Melbourne metro at 126.9cpl. This price being charged as crude falls to $US 34 per barrel!!

Brian Haill writes: With the Queen’s Birthday Honours coming up in June, I’d urge the State government and the people of Victoria to nominate the Country Fire Authority as a body for an Order of Australia award to mark its members’ bravery in the face of the Black Saturday firestorms. Such ongoing commitment needs to be recognised in such a fashion. 

Stimulus:

Tom Osborn writes: Re. “Stimulus secured: A Xenophon stunt — on a massive scale” (Friday, item 1). Bernard Keane states, “the entire Australian agriculture sector is worth 2-3% of GDP, meaning the MDB is worth fractions of fractions of GDP”. This may be technically correct, but it misses the point entirely. Farm GDP is a measure of the market value of agriculture (roughly speaking, what the farmer gets).

Bernard misses the huge value multiplier effect of the retail and export supply chains, which boosts the retail value contribution of agriculture enormously. Ie, if you switch off the “fractions of fractions of GDP”, you are talking about a correspondingly much larger (and wilder) impact on the economy.

Martin Gordon writes: Rivers of cash will assume a whole new meaning after the Rudd Government finally learnt that playing ‘stupid’ (as opposed to ‘hard’) ball doesn’t work. Nick Xenophon has basically got the Feds to bring forward spending they were going to do anyway in the Murray Darling Basin. What amazes me is how feeble the Greens were, not even sticking up for environmental icons like the rivers.

The Coalition may be criticised for getting between people and (the short term) pile of money, but the proof (such as it is) from the US on big hits of money is that they tend to be saved and the stimulus minimal. If this does not work, I expect there will be further repeats, and more Rudd and Swan grandstanding (groan). But expect them to be much more attuned to Xenophon demands.

John Shailer writes: Although not widely reported, during the condolence motion in Federal Parliament last week, Kevin Rudd was the only speaker, who attempted to put pressure on the opposition parties, by linking aid for the survivors of the Victorian bushfire inferno with the passing of his economic stimulus package.

This is the lowest form of wedge politics, and the bushfire victims deserve better from their elected leader!

Satellites:

University of Western Australia School of Mechanical Engineering Senior Lecturer Matt Hardin writes: Re. “Crikey Clarifier: when satellites collide” (Friday, item 9). Ben Sandilands talks about kinetic energy as “Mass times velocity equals a nasty hole”; that is momentum. Kinetic energy is mass times velocity squared (divided by two) which is much, much worse.

David Allen writes: Re: University of Tasmania Geophysicist Dr Mark Duffett (Friday, comments). He doesn’t mention Satnav, failure of which would have a major impact on not only the airline and maritime industries but on sophisticated war machines. A great leveller perhaps.

Liberal party:

Shirley Colless writes: Re. “NSW Liberals at war over state seats” (Friday, item 13). If Joe Hockey is really searching for a seat in the NSW Parliament and cannot beat Jillian Skinner to preselection for North Shore then he has the wee small problem (and Joe is neither wee nor small). All of the street cred he has built up on the Lower North Shore, including living in his electorate, goes down the gurgler. He would have to start from scratch in some other electorate, unless of course he found another seat rusted on to the Liberal Party.

Of course, in trying, for instance, to roll or encourage the self-immolation of Peter Debnam in Vaucluse he might not find it best to rely on the Eastern Suburbs knowledge and political skills of his media adviser, Trent Zimmerman, who signally failed to keep the seat of Wentworth in his former employer’s hands when Turnbull challenged. And who bombed out in attempting a takeover of the Mayoralty of North Sydney.

Sorry Day anniversary:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Initiatives Project Leader David Towney writes: Re. “A nation building and jobs plan for indigenous Australia” (Thursday, item 16) CDEP is essential in Aboriginal communities. It build capacity and provides not only an employment and training role in Aboriginal communities, it provides value to the person and a caring role doing that. It can also provide a sort of local government role for the community where there are no such facilities. Local government services are missing, as well as Aboriginal manufacturing goods for houses and fabrication.

All these programs would show innovation by the government, where pride was restored if certain Aboriginal communities could involve ourselves in the manufacturing building industry resources, such as timber board, glass, plasterboards etc. This would provide pride in the building of houses, especially if communities were “linked” and not double up on the resources they were to manufacture and only one community produced or focused on that resource and another produced a different resource.

That would need to also rely on bug business to link with communities to do this and build corporate networks. Value in work and value in community are what’s needed to produce healthy communities. That would produce healthy male role models who could easily then seek fulltime employment in the wider community on essential skills and not just pottery or painting hobbies.

This would also help to alleviate the desire for kids to think they are on a career path if they sit doing pottery in CDEP. This is not a goal in life, it simply delays responsibility in achieving in life. Many times, I have talked with high school students who only wished to ‘progress’ when leaving school to a “job” in the CDEP.

Better nation building from the Prime Minister to me, means CDEPs can take a role in corporate partnerships and valued employment and stature once again in the community for males who have been degraded due to the intervention issues.

Keith Thomas writes: Re. “Sorry day anniversary: One year on, mind the gap” (Friday, item 4). Jon Altman wrote, “The CTG framework looks to close a number of statistically identified gaps like employment outcomes, year 12 retentions, reading, writing and numeracy; and child mortality by 50% in ten years; while the toughest gap, life expectancy, is to be closed within a generation.” But these are all about making indigenous Australians more like us (that is, seamlessly blended into the globalized culture and economy).

We talk about respecting their traditional society, but none of the issues Altman lists support or even acknowledge their aboriginality as worthy. Sure, many of them live lives today that are a mess — by both our standards and their own traditional standards — but CTG [closing the gap] assumes that the only direction to take out of this mess is towards the mainstream ideal.

The coming economic crisis may lead a few of us to knock our western mainstream ideal from its unquestioned pedestal.

Michael Byrne writes: On the cold but sunny clear day of May 2000 I joined the many hundreds of thousands for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk in support of indigenous Australians. Motivated by the cause and impelled by the fear that the number would be too few I jumped the train to Milson’s Point. The day provides three clear memories.

  1. The Aboriginal flag flying high on our Bridge — a fine sight for the occasion.
  2. The almost universal anti Howardism in talk by adjacent (white fella) walkers — narking politics in place of a more quiet reflective exercise of sorrow and respect for a people of an ancient race whom we have hurt.
  3. The work of a skywriter above the City. By the time he completed the Y of Sorry, the word was already in disintegration by the prevailing winds up so high. It gave me a sense of foreboding. Not that Sorry would never be uttered. It was inevitable. But of the future of the aboriginal people when their welfare is more influenced by the narks, nongs and opportunists that populate contemporary political activism where truth, or the seeking thereof, is an inconvenience to the cause.

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Peter Fray

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