Victorian bushfires:

Mark Adams, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, University of Sydney writes: Re. “Fires spark a new front in the culture wars” (yesterday, item 2). Professor Hamilton’s clever piece does him a disservice.

Clever in that he paints foresters as “old” and “environmentalists” as new. Clever in that he neatly clouds the issue of fuel-reduction or prescribed fire by cobbling together his so-called culture war stories about everything from logging to mining to shark-attacks to land-clearing and aboriginal burning.

Clever in that he paints environmental groups as saviours of the world as we know it. Clever in that he tries to portray deliberate fuel reduction and ecological burning as having uncertain science behind it. Clever in that he ignores a long list of conservation achievements of those in his so-called “old school”.

Clever in that he makes much of “scarring” and “damage” caused by escaped prescribed fires (perhaps a few hundred hectares), yet conveniently ignores the extraordinary damage brought about by incinerating 2.5 million hectares of forest in bushfires since 2003.

Clever in that he ignores the views of environmental groups elsewhere that have been pushing for greater deliberate use of fire in forest management. However through his lack of knowledge, he slights a group of people concerned about the public good.

People who have for years spent their own time and money travelling the length and breadth of Victoria and many other states, telling anyone who would listen that a tragedy was about to unfold. People whom in their professional lives, fought fires to save lives. People who did the back-breaking work of fuel reduction burning.

People who wrote the ecological texts Hamilton claims to back his views when in fact they do nothing of the sort. People who spent their lives researching the ecology of forests and teaching generations of students.

People who have a distinguished worldwide academic standing in the field of ecology of forests and fire, far beyond anything Professor Hamilton will ever achieve. In the emotional aftermath of tragic fires, it is understandable that language and tempers sometimes fray. Especially those of people close to the issue. 

It is much less forgivable that armchair experts such as Hamilton use these opportunities to push their own peculiar interpretation of Australian ecology. Acting in opposition to his own claimed “accommodation between old and new”, Hamilton seemingly seeks to preserve and build any divide between those who believe we should manage land and those who want the utopian ideal of a wild Australia.

It is time Mr Hamilton left the debate about fuels and forests.

Richard McGuire writes: Another timely and thought provoking piece by Clive Hamilton in the aftermath of the Victorian Fires. Bring on the Royal Commission. Hopefully those tossing around the generic term “greenie” will be asked to be more specific. And the climate change sceptics will get an opportunity to put the case that global warming played no part in the severity of the fires.

Trial by media:

Brian Mitchell writes: Re. “Will Brendan Sokaluk ever come to trial?” (yesterday, item 4). Greg Barns is a lawyer’s lawyer and I hope he never has any influence in enacting media policy in this country. He consistently calls for further restrictions on media freedom, usually because he’s afraid that disclosure of anything at all may, perhaps, prejudice the trial of a child not yet born but who may one day be charged with something.

On Monday, Barns was moaning about the disclosure of the identity of the man accused of arson. Shock and horror, that in a western democracy the name of an adult charged with a crime should be made public.

Barns predictably moans that coverage of the arson has been so widespread that no jury could possibly be empanelled. He ignores a wealth of evidence that juries are not prejudiced by media coverage, despite lawyers claiming they are. Even when media coverage is slavish, grisly and detailed, juries directed by judges to only consider the evidence before them have, on the whole, been able to do just that. It is a fiction that juries are influenced by media reporting, whether mild or wild, and it is time lawyers were made to prove otherwise before calling for further restrictions to Australia’s already tame media.

Barns clearly has little regard for the intellect and ethics of ordinary Australians, the people empanelled to pass judgement upon their peers. As a lawyer’s lawyer, he is more comfortable with only allowing those of his profession being able to pass judgement and clearly doesn’t think ordinary people can be trusted to do the job. But on the contrary, the armies of Australian juries, made up largely of pensioners, the unemployed, stay at home mums and 9-5 wage slaves, do an admirable job keeping the wheels of justice turning and do not require being spoon-fed by patronising lawyers like Barns.

Will Grant writes: “Since he was arrested on Friday, Brendan Sokaluk has been the subject of an out-of-control, frenzied smear and gossip attack by social networking sites like Facebook…” Time for a mentality shift Greg — it’s been people on Facebook, not Facebook itself, that have been discussing Sokaluk.

Halls of power:

Oliver Tobias writes: Re. “Pearls before swine: Bishop goes with grace” (yesterday, item 1). Team player urgently needed! Large well known political organisation looking for a team player to fill the position of leader, treasurer, or anything else that suits.

Skills required: The ideal candidate will possess sound posturing abilities, combined with an innate talent for polemics and myopic policy objectives. Spinning, weaving, ducking and other deceptive crafts are essential to the role, as decisions often affect millions of people in adverse ways. A good understanding of the concept of cooperation may be useful to assist the organisation through the current period of extreme failure.

A return to competitive individualism will be expected once power has been regained.

Verity Pravda writes: Clearly the Liberals are sniffing the chance to hang Rudd with the same complaints that were made against Julie Bishop. This would be a great political win, and provide the deputy Liberal leader with some much needed cover. But we are then breathlessly informed “both men produced identical quotes from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan to demonstrate the weaknesses of the global financial system.”

So what is the charge — that both accurately quoted the original? Or that Rudd “cheated” by quoting the same sources. Claiming this is plagiarism is like suggesting two students cheated because they both quoted the “To be or not to be” soliloquy when writing an essay on Hamlet.

Far worse for their case though is the implication that the Liberals have already subjected the Rudd piece to the “Google test” of typing whole phrases into the search engine and looking for a match. If this is all they have found they should shut up about it. All they would do now is just highlight how egregious the plagiarism on their side of the House was.

Simon Mansfield writes: The earliest an election can be held for the lower house and a half senate on the same day is August 7, 2010. Those pesky senate terms of office are a real inconvenience. July 1, 2010 is when the gates officially opens on a half senate. And while not a compulsory dual listed event, no prime minister is going to mess up the election timetable by calling a lower house election on its own. There are circumstances where it can fly (like right now) but nothing is free in life. But of course they all breathlessly write that there might be a double dissolution instead.

And according to some hard core research by an aspiring reporter they are going to put the alcopop and student union bills back up in the hope that one of them gets rejected allowing a double dissolution to be called over the price of colored fizzy water. Get real.

The real story of the election timetable is that after so many difficult votes Rudd has still not set up a double dissolution trigger. Clearly this is an intentional turn of events. The only choices are to run full term or do it right now, and while that looks like something fun to waste trees on what is the point of a lower house election if you don’t get physical control of the senate or at least a go at it.

No, the federal election season is pretty clear if you point your browser to this amazing online thingie they have at aph.gov.au. My money is on three years from last time — give or take a week.

Healthcare:

Mark Freeman writes: Re. “Bennett Report: a policy looking for an evidence-base” (yesterday, item 17). There were some most interesting ideas in Jeremy Sammut’s piece. However there were two sticking points. First he says “…seeking to avoid … hospitalisation is a Sissphyean labour. The better prevention we have, the longer people will live, until older and sicker patients inevitably require admission to hospital.” The whole idea is to provide longer healthier lives. Despite cries of doomsayers the aging population this causes is a sign of success.

Secondly Sammut disappointingly blows his evidence-base premise with his final line about “…inefficient State-run public hospital systems to churn through billions of taxpayer’s dollars while failing to deliver a safe and adequate standard of basic emergency and hospital care.”

Big call there.

Mark Hatcher writes: When will Nicola Roxon say and do anything? Rudd said that the [health] “buck stops with me”.

When will this buck stop? Do I really have to wait till next week to see a doctor? I am not sick then, I am sick now! Could a solution to the aforementioned health problem be to get an e-prescription from an e-doctor by video conference in Bangalore? Would the AMA support this? Or, would the video-conference by censored by Conroy’s filter?

A lot has been written about the filter. Will Conroy provide a list about what is filtered out? Or, should we just relax, sit back and leave our information requirements up to Conroy’s good Christian upbringing? Will Conroy’s filter allow me to read Crikey? Will Rudd show some leadership on something? Anything?

Rudd is a clever-but-awkward person with decades of experience in diplomacy (i.e. code for saying everything but doing nothing). Rudd’s “policies” are chess-like strategies to minimize political consequences.

Leadership they are not.

Australian economy:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. “Bank DeathWatch: lenders on the scrapheap” (yesterday, item 26). Glenn Dyer, you’ve been close on the tail of the sub-prime/credit/financial/depression crisis ahead of most others. You have been reading for some time, no doubt, the predictions of Nouriel Roubini, Nassim Taleb, Sanjayit Das, Steve Keene and others who were screaming out that a train wreck was coming.

You’d remember John McCain claiming at 9am one (September 2008?) morning that “the fundamentals of the US economy are sound” and two hours later admitting that there were major problems.

Bankers are guilty too. Remember back in June when Westpac predicted parity with the US dollar by March 2009 (anniversary coming up) and the other banks couldn’t wait to out-do Westpac, breathlessly predicting parity by the end of 2008 in their press releases a few hours later.

But we still have politicians claiming that it is all “much worse than expected”. Expected by them and their rose-coloured gasses wearing buddies and the real estate boosters, but not by you and me and thousands of others around the world. If you have time I’d like to see an article that tracks through the reality of what was happening and the deceit, lies and spin we have been fed by our leaders over the past eight or nine months.

It’s taboo in this country to criticise Ken Henry and Glenn Stevens (Stevens has be very quiet lately), but they, too, ought to be brought to account. Another taboo is “talking down the economy”, even when the talk is on the level. Turnbull can’t wait to criticise Rudd or Swann if they say something honest about Australia’s economic future. Hang ’em out to dry, Glenn!

Brett Gaskin writes: Re. “That’s not a debate, that’s Australian politics and commentary” (yesterday, item 15). Bernard states in today’s edition that the accusation by conservatives the current financial mess was caused by providing loans to lower socio-economic groups who couldn’t afford them has been dropped after being proven untrue. I can assure you this is not the case for many conservatives. Can Bernard pen an article with relevant links to show how this theory has been discredited?

John Craig writes: Re: “Koukoulas: this is Howard’s deficit, not Rudd’s” (yesterday, item 24). Your suggestion that Australia’s budget is now moving into deficit because past conservative governments spent their huge once-off surpluses has some merit — though it is perhaps a bit of an overstatement. However finding scapegoats for deficits doesn’t make the Rudd Government’s stimulus package any less risky in the short term, or its financial challenges any less daunting in the longer term. Blaming scapegoats seems to be a feature of Mr Rudd’s policy style, though one that has a very limited shelf-life.

Fairfax:

June Carter writes: Re. “A bumper boost: crunching the Fairfax circulation figures” (yesterday, item 20) Margaret Simons talking about bumper fairfax editions was incorrect.

As a former newsagent for 30 years I can assure her that the bumper editions would not have been delivered twice to anyone. All newsagents delivered the paper to their home delivery customers once only (naturally).

The bumper edition changes the Fairfax circulation in one way only — they deliver it on two days (to get the Saturday circulation figure).

In other words they deliver the bulk for delivery to subagents and home delivery and then deliver again on Saturday so that they prop up their weekend circulation figures. If they delivered the full supply on one day only it would fudge their weekend figures.

Even Fairfax wouldn’t be so stupid as to expect a customer to have the same paper delivered twice and pay for it. All subs customers and home delivery customers would receive a credit for a paper not received on a regular day.

That means that if they get a F/R M-S they would get the Friday one delivered and a credit for the Saturday paper.

Dr Leslie Cannold writes: Crikey, thanks for being you and especially for Margaret Simons — who is the best thing since sliced bread. Just love her.

Satellites:

Tom Osborn writes: David Allen (yesterday, comments) was worried yesterday about SatNav satellites being wiped out by collisions with space debris. GPS satellites orbit at 20,200 Km with 12 hour orbits and are well away from the vast bulk of space debris near the low earth orbits (“LEO’s” at about 800Km) and lower. LEOs are in much greater risk. The largest risk factor for GPS satellites is defunct GPS satellites at similar altitudes which lack the capacity to be diverted.

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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