Victoria’s bushfires:

Melissa Hrvojevic writes: Re. “Will Brendan Sokaluk ever come to trial?” (Monday, item 4). As a resident of Churchill I read your article with interest, especially where it said how and when the suspected arsonists name was released.

In actual fact Churchill is a very small town where most people can’t sneeze without someone on the other side of town hearing about it. I had heard the name Brendan Sokaluk as someone who was the arsonist on Thursday night as I believe had many people in the town, well before it was released by any of the media outlets.

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I just hope people keep in mind that this man’s family are innocent of any wrong doing and are most likely struggling to come to terms with a loved one being accused of something so horrific.

Don’t take it out on the innocent as they have been made victims in this too.

Justin Templer writes: Re. “Did Miranda Devine incite violence?” (Yesterday, item 5). Greg Barns suggests that Miranda Devine’s suggestion that “If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies” is “worthy of examination (in the) context” of incitement to violence.

And Greg further suggests that the plod should examine the statement closely to see if it constitutes incitement. Gosh Greg, where does all this sensitive new age journalist modelling come from? Lets all have a bit of a lie down.

After you’ve settled yourself note that the fragrant Miranda’s sentence starts with the word “If” – a conjunction suggesting a conditional position.

David Havyatt writes: Re. “Marysville minute by minute: an eyewitness to disaster” (yesterday, item 1). I have to know, exactly what were these people driving? They wrote they escaped from the peril in the Peril. Was that a 1911 Oldsmobile, or a 1956 Lotus? Or is it just their own xenophobic name for their yellow car?

A tubby Prime Minister:

Sergio Freire writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 15). Apropos the prospects of Joe Hockey ever assuming the Treasurer or PM gig while he remains a fatty-boombalatty, Richard Farmer challenges Crikey readers to name him a tubby Prime Minister. Child’s play. I submit to you, Mr Farmer, one Sir George Houston Reid, a Federation-era Sydney politician and this nation’s fourth PM (1904-05) who packed a whole lotta junk in da trunk.

The historical descriptions of the monocled, mustached (and extraordinarily fat) Reid are almost caricatures. The ABC’s Centenary of Federation webpage offers the following gems:

… an almost ludicrously obese figure with a swaying pigeon-toed gait and a tendency to help himself along on the furniture, constantly popping sweets into his mouth, peering with the aid of a monocle over a great walrus moustache … His appearance, his supposed public somnolence, his unattractive, high-pitched voice, the wit which was at its best when squashing an opponent or an interjector, seemed to more delicate souls to epitomise coarseness of mind and spirit. — (W.G. McMinn, George Reid, Melbourne University Press, 1989, p.2)

And this:

He did not walk, he rolled. He had a tremendously large dome-shaped head like Bismarck, with a thin thatching of mousy coloured hair. His eyes were blue — a pronounced hard, pebbly blue and they were sunk in rolls of fat. He wore an eye glass without having to screw up his features. It went into the right eye recess and remained put without effort. Spectacles made him look like a cross between a fat, German professor and a Japanese wrestler. —  (Herbert Campbell-Jones, Unpublished manuscript, The Cabinet of Captains — The Romance of Australia’s first Federal Parliament, National Library of Australia, NLA MS 8905 Folder 3, Chapter 17).

And this:

[Reid] represents the apotheosis of intelligence, the triumph of mind over matter. He is not beautiful, or graceful, or slim, or heroic looking. No one ever accused him of being a glass of fashion, or a mould of form. —  (Buchanan, A., The Real Australia, T Fisher Unwin, London, 1907, p 271)

Hockey appears remarkably svelte by comparison.

Economics and politics:

Chris Lehmann writes: Re. “The coalition got it really, really wrong on the financial crisis” (yesterday, item 14). Possum Comitatus wrote: “Most people derive their political news in small bites — the reactions and talking points they see and hear from their pollies on the radio, the five second grabs they see on the nightly news. What they saw from the Coalition they simply didn’t like.”

It seems you can’t win if you are a pollie, especially in opposition. If you take the policy approach of worrying about what people want, in small sound bites (as above), you are pilloried and accused of being populist and not looking at the big picture, or sacrificing your principles. If you take a long term principled position that is harder to explain in the short term but will seem prescient and measured in hindsight then you are “getting it wrong” or “committing political suicide”. We will se in the long run I suppose.

I’m not a large brained university educated commentator, I am an electrical contractor, but in the world of the self employed, or small business in which I move and attend business breakfasts and chamber of commerce meetings I am yet to find a single person who is in favour of the massive cash handouts as an effective long term strategy.

The coalition position of $20 billion on infrastructure (long term) and tax cuts (which would give an immediate stimulus), and then waiting to see what works before committing anymore funding seems to be the most prudent course of action to the majority of business people I know. It’s what you would do in your home budget, or your small business, it just makes common sense.

I think that taking a seemingly unpopular decision and “being very brave” as Sir Humphrey would say exhibits a certain leadership, and surely that is what we want from our “leaders”.

Julie Lloyd writes: Keith Thomas (yesterday, comments) requested that Glenn Dyer track “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.” He is also right to call for accountability from people like Ken Henry and Glenn Stevens. But to do those two things, I suggest that Glenn will need to go back just a little further than eight or nine months — say at least 12.

For example, in June last year (not even 12 months ago) when Westpac was telling us that we were heading for parity with the USD, Glenn was telling us that inflation was still our major worry and that issues in the global economy were NOT going to negatively impact Australia (talk about getting it wrong!), and Saul Eslake was telling us that interest rates would be in double digits by Christmas (they quickly changed that prediction!)

These people are PAID to analyse and model all the data that is available. They and their underlings supposedly spend ALL DAY doing this. Granted securitisation, CDOs etc are transactions that are difficult to unravel and trace but the volume of subprime mortgages being written was not confidential.

How did they get it so wrong? How did they miss this economic train wreck? Why do they still have their jobs?

Health reform:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Looking beyond vested interests to the blueprint for health reform” (yesterday, item 11). The Medicare system approach to a dental care and coordinated primary health care apparently proposed by the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission have considerable merit.

The primary care of largely model of GP style clinics with multi-professional skills exists in Europe and New Zealand, so is not new. If dentists express some concern about managing with long waiting lists (particularly for the state and territory generated waiting lists of some 700,000 awaiting public dental assistance patients) they have well founded fears, waiting lists have been a feature of such public system since the founding of the UK NHS in 1948. Our shameful list will be a major challenge to manage.

The implied threat to private health insurance is overstated getting the structure right is the key, as with Medicare most of the Commonwealth involvement is in fact insurance and finance orientated, not actual health care and service delivery. A sensible balance of public and private finance and service provisions makes a lot of sense — not a federal takeover; you simply take on all the problems. Let’s hope common sense prevails?

Jeremy Sammut, Research Fellow, Social Foundations Programme at the Centre for Independent Studies, writes: Of course Mark Freeman (yesterday, comments) is correct. Longer and healthier lives are a sign of the success of prevention. But this begs the question why the enormous push in the current health reform debate and in the Bennett report to pour money into boosting prevention? The “down side” of prevention is that the older people get, the sicker they become, until they inevitably get acutely ill and require admission to hospital.

In the last five years, hospital separations in public hospitals by patients aged 75-84 and 85 and over have increased by 25 per cent. A decade ago the 85 and over demographic was not even distinguished in the statistics. It’s not a ‘big call’ about inefficiency in the public hospital sector. Real funding for public hospitals has increased by 64% over the last decade, while bed numbers have declined relative to population while demand for admission has increased due to the ageing of the population. (Hospital administrators, by the way, have increased a staggering 69% over the same time period.)

As a result, emergency departments are chronically “blocked” — unable to admit patients in a timely manner–– due to hospital overcrowding — hospitals operating beyond 100% bed capacity. Various studies have linked emergency access block with higher mortality — an Australian study last year linked overcrowding to 1500 deaths a year, higher than the national road toll. Hence the line about “failing to deliver a safe and adequate standard of basic emergency and hospital care” is fair enough, I think.

Circulation figures:

Matt Boyd writes: Re. “A bumper boost: crunching the Fairfax circulation figures” (Monday, item 2). I read your story on the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation release with some degree of bemusement. While it’s a helluva lot of fun to speculate on what sort of pimped up ways these media boffins may have to inflate their figures, the truth, as they say, is out there.

When the Audit Bureau introduced its new rules and reporting methods publishers had to start disclosing the portion of those discounted sales through schools, hotels and the like. And yet ever since then each time new results come out, these figures don’t get much chop! While they are expressed as a percentage, surely it’s within the skill range of media commentators to whip out a calculator and figure what’s really going on? I’m pretty sure my six year old could manage as much.

For example, this time round The Australian has posted some big gains — up 2,000 copies on weekdays and 9,000 on weekends. Why is it so? Take a look at the airline and hotel component of their sales, do some quick sums and you’ll see they’re flogging an additional 3,700 copies each weekday and 4,300 copies on Saturday. Now surely there’s a story in that…

Gavin Robertson writes: June Carter (yesterday, comments) may well be sure that “the bumper editions would not have been delivered twice to anyone”. However every time there is a bumper edition of the SMH; I receive a full copy on both days. Of course the second bundle on the second day goes straight into the recycling bin, as it’s identical to that which I received on the first day. It obviously doesn’t help the environment so I’d assumed the only reason Fairfax do it is to help their circulation figures, somehow.

The Guardian:

Andy Cole writes: Re. “Media briefs: Kiwi all black ISP protest… Press freedom in East Timor challenged…” (Yesterday, item 22). How dare you criticise our beloved Guardian? And how dare you take up so much space in our beloved Crikey with such a catalogue of trivial cheap shots. And what possesses the editorial to publish it anyway? I’m all in favour of free speech but this is ridiculous.

Further, have you not heard of the parable of the mote and beam? Crikey is packed with typos, incorrect spellings, grammatical errors and inexactitudes, and (mostly incomprehensible) neologisms. These are some of the things that make the publication such an entertaining read. The same applies to the Guardian.

John Clarke:

Graeme Koetsveld writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. The reverse quiz is John Clarke’s very fine idea? John’s a serious genius but I very much doubt he would claim it as his idea. The concept has been around since BBC Radio’s “Round The Horne” in the late 1960s and perhaps even longer.

David Mortimer writes: John Clarke’s reverse quiz is poor taste. Attack by all means, but keep it in good taste. It is not funny and demeans your publication.

Space junk:

Tim Deyzel writes: Tom Osborn (yesterday, comments) correctly pointed out that existing geostationary (including GPS) satellites sit at a much higher altitude than those in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and are therefore at little risk of collision with debris in the LEO zone including that from the recent crash of Russian and American satellites. All geostationary satellites however eventually run out of fuel used to keep them ‘on station’ and have to be replaced … from earth.

It’s not inconceivable that we could reach a tipping point where space debris impacts space debris (as pointed out by Dr Mark Duffett) creating a continuous mist of junk around the planet. There would be a non-negligible risk of impact for launch vehicles trying to reach geostationary orbit from earth (the short transit time through the LEO zone notwithstanding) resulting in ever more collisions and higher costs to the point where even geostationary satellites cease to be commercially viable.

Offset Alpine:

Geoff Moss writes: I was sitting at the lights on Harris St, Sydney when beside pulled up an Offset Alpine Press truck. I pondered the name and had a flash of insight. “Alpine?” that’s a Swiss reference right? How could we miss that?

Lift your game:

James Holyoake writes: C’mon Crikey, you are getting a bit boring. Have a look at your political content recently. Bernard Keane rattling on about nothing really. The usual suspects lining up — Charles Richardson, Jeff Sparrow, Clive Hamilton (a climate-changer one post, an ethics professor the next) and Guy Rundle on local issues from somewhere near Rutland UK.

Yes, we are well aware the Libs are useless, but hasn’t the Labor government been running the country for almost 15 months now? Aren’t we in perhaps the greatest economic meltdown of modern times?

Perhaps you could analyse with the same energy and ferocity what the government is doing (or not doing, as Stilgherrian can) … after all, that’s where the power is!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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