The troubles in Ireland:

Irish subscriber Alex Clarkin writes: Re. “Rundle: Irish and Brits don’t see eye to eye on latest attacks” (Friday, item 18). Good call Guy Rundle. Love your work. The British press have papers to sell and would love to see a return the Troubles but it ain’t going to happen, provided no one does anything stupid that is. The North has enjoyed years of relative peace and the people are beginning to enjoy it. No one has the stomach for the fight anymore — who cares about dusty old divisions when there is the mortgage and bills to pay?

Something you might not be aware of though and I thought Crikey readers might find interesting. I was born and grew up in Dublin before coming to Oz, and back in the late 90’s they used to have a sensational drive time radio show with a bloke called Eammonn Dunphy. Dunphy is a bit of a character, sort of a lovable Andrew Bolt alcoholic (although I think he’s on the dry now) loose cannon who would stir sh-t and push peoples buttons.

Anyway I digress. One afternoon Dunphy had a bloke on the show called David Ervine. Now for those of you who don’t know, David was the leader of the PUP (Progressive Unionist Party) a sort of younger, more progressive version of the DUP (the Ian Paisley party). This was a pretty brave move by an Irish radio station as the guy was a confessed terrorist who had committed murders for the Unionist cause.

Anyway David went on to describe something on the show that was to me a revelation. Some time in the late 80’s members of the Provo’s and the Unionist sides started “sitting down and having a pint with one another”. In other words the genesis of peace in Northern Ireland, the end of the endless news reports “There’s been a bomb..” or “A body has been found in waste ground near..” etc. was basically blokes from either side of the political and cultural divide sitting down, having a beer and discussing how it simply can’t go on and what they needed to do to make it stop. I read between the lines that Ervine was one of those guys and I reckon there’s a strong chance Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were too.

Anyway the interview with Ervine was fascinating and really left me uplifted with faith in humanity again restored. The peace process has gone from strength to strength over the past 10 years and last weeks atrocities now have become the exception, not the rule for the North. In fact the incidents probably did more to pull the communities together in spontaneous public displays of revulsion for these murders.

Unfortunately David is no longer around to see his vision of a peaceful North realised, as he passed away in 2007, although I like to think he hangs out with the spirits of all the other old warriors in the great pub in the sky, provos and unionists alike.

The guys who committed the murders are the psychos that used to do the dirty work for the ‘RA and unfortunately it looks like they can’t be decommissioned like the scores of ammo dumps hidden across the provence. The community needs to expose them and turn them in to the police to let proper justice take place. Only then can the healing process continue.

Niall Clugston writes: Guy Rundle has this comment on the Provisional Sinn Fein: “Their strategy has been based on the gradual weakening of Union ties in the context of the EU combined with higher birth rates, hoping that Scotland will pull the UK apart, to be followed by Irish referendums north and south, unification, at which point the Proddys will start blowing things up.”

Rather than renewal of civil war with other borders, couldn’t this scenario lead to the unification of Ireland and Scotland (and perhaps Wales)? This would end centuries of English dominance while at same time assuaging the well-founded fears of the Protestant camp of Catholic dominance.

David Horkan writes: Guy Rundle writes well. Sometimes I share his views, and sometimes I don’t. However, describing Irish terrorists as ‘soldiers’ and the murder of British soldiers as ‘executions ‘ is taking silliness to extremes.

Queensland election:

George Perry writes: Re. “Anna Bligh’s ship of state threatened by a flood tide” (Friday, item 2). What is it with disasters and election campaigns that favour the underdog? Is it the way it changes people’s thinking, is it fundamental failures in spin, or is it nature’s (albeit harsh) way of levelling the field?

In three recent election campaigns we have seen the campaigning landscape change significantly against the frontrunner. Fans of The West Wing will remember the accident at a nuclear power plant ground Arnold Vinick’s presidential campaign to a standstill late in the campaign (yes, yes, I know it’s not real), opening the door for Matt Santos and giving him the momentum late in the campaign.

Then there’s the start of the financial meltdown on the eve of US presidential debates when John McCain proclaimed that the fundamentals of the US economy were still strong, but he nonetheless wanted to postpone the debates. It is hard to believe that even then McCain was ahead in all the polls. It was at this time that we started to hear, and believe in, Obama’s message of hope.

We all know what happened next.

Turn to the domestic scene and the oil spill in south-east Queensland. Both parties attempting to make political mileage out of a dreadful environmental disaster. While the gap between the incumbent Bligh government and the LNP was narrowing anyway, the oil spill appears to have given the LNP a boost in the polls. Not that Laurence Springborg seems to have said or done anything to earn the jump in the polls, it just seems that the spill is the government’s fault.

Of course, Springborg is not Obama or Santos, obviously. But he might have something in common with both of them this Saturday night.

Gen Y:

Kirill Reztsov writes: Re. “Essay: Gen Y … suffer in your jocks” (Friday, item 7). I think Generation Y and the whole way of sorting people based on the year they were born is utter bollocks. Every pundit who blabbers on about Gen Y seems to use a different set of dates. The AFR last Friday (March 13) defined Gen Y as anyone born between 1980 and 1994. So they are putting those who are turning 29 in the same basket as those turning 15.

I doubt a lot of 15 year old lawyers have been giving senior partners’ grief by chucking in their job and heading to London. And suppose we have someone born in 1979. By the AFR’s arbitrary definition, they are not Gen Y even though they have a HECS debt. What a difference a few months makes. But the biggest flaw with Gen Y-ism is that it completely disregards who people are and what they do.

A person born in 1985 in Mosman is apparently the same as a person born in 1985 in Malaysia who immigrated to Australia as a child with their parents. A refugee born in 1985 in Darfur is the apparently the same as a person born the same year in Nambour. A 25 year old who is volunteering on an aid project in PNG is apparently the same as a 25 year old in prison on the NSW South Coast.

They are all Gen Y, therefore they are all the same.

Peter Costello:

Shirley Schubert writes: Re. “Peter Costello, thirty years on” (Friday, item 13). Re: Charles Richardson’s comments on the Member for Higgins; why is it when I hear or read of the latest antics of the Member for Higgins that I keep recalling Brian’s mother in The Life of Brian?

Just call it The Life of Peter and you will hear a lot of people say “He’s not the Messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy!”

And, really, I would just like him to grow up or go away!

Frequent flying pollies:

Richard Scott writes: Re. “Stop the rort: Tanner closes in on frequent flyer points” (12 March, item 10). Ben Sandilands is clearly a little out of touch with the current rules on public servants and frequent flyer points. For at least a decade, it’s been made clear that it would be seen as breaching the code of conduct, if not fraud, for a public servant to redeem, for personal purposes, frequent flyer points accrued through business travel.

This proved near impossible to enforce, as the airline(s) refused to release frequent flyer point details to the Government, and so public servants were instructed to maintain their own records of which points were accrued through private and public-funded travel, and which were redeemed.

More recently, departmental travel contracts — at least in the case of my former employer — were set up so that no frequent flyer points accrued to individuals.

I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to see that the politicians have been lagging so far behind in getting their collective noses out of the trough.

Private equity:

Warwick Sauer writes: Re. “The risky business of private equity floats” (Friday, item 31). Adam Schwab says the major private equity floats since 2003 have returned an average of -58%. Schwab’s calculation of those returns was performed by taking their enterprise value at the time of their float, and comparing it to their enterprise value now.

The problem with Schwab’s analysis is punters generally don’t invest proportionately to the size of a company- instead; they usually throw a similar amount of money at each stock they pick, regardless of the company’s size. Calculating private equity floats’ returns on that basis paints an entirely different picture to the alarmist figures in Schwab’s item.

If Peter Punter put 10 large into each of the nine floats in Schwab’s list, and was still holding them all today, he’d now have around $115,900 (excluding dividends). If he put the same funds into an All Ords Index fund, he’d have about $95,000 (again excluding dividends).

That’s private-equity-float outperformance by around 20%, rather than the 63% underperformance promulgated by Schwab.

Climate change sh-t storm:

Glen Frost writes: Re. “As global crisis deepens, Australia’s emissions rise” (Friday, item 3). Can you please stop the simplistic churnalism of covering the commentators (Senators and lobbyists) who say acting to reduce carbon emissions will cost jobs.

Here are some examples of how the green tech revolution is changing the jobs people do in the UK where my wife has been to visit relatives (and the UK is having a real double sh-t-storm of a recession):

  1. A solar power electricity company now sponsors the local football (soccer) team; Smart Energy (Colchester United FC);
  2. My brother in-law started a business that audits domestic houses to give them an energy rating; the UK Government has introduced a law that states you can’t sell a house without people knowing the energy rating (it’s a bit like the energy rating star system we have on white goods);
  3. My wife’s niece lives in London and the local Council charges residents parking fees on the basis of car engine size; the larger the engine, the bigger the fee (most people live in terraces with no garages and so have to park on the street). It’s free to park if you have an electric car. This is changing behaviour — people are selling their gas guzzlers and buying smaller or electric cars.

So to all Australian journalists; this is a global issue and many people have some great ideas to reduce carbon emissions; please look around the world at what is going on, and report a balanced view of the “acting now will mean huge job losses” mantra that seems to have taken hold in some quarters.

James Burke writes: After years of shy throat-clearing and gentle taps on the world’s shoulder, the scientific community is finally using appropriate language and tone in their calls for action on global warming — desperation, frustration, even, could it be, anger.

None of the warnings from Copenhagen would surprise anyone who’s paid attention to the various facets of the global ecological crisis, though they will doubtless be greeted with derision by the usual denialist crew of dullards, loonies, worm tongues and outright crooks. Never mind, we can deal with them later — as far as I’m aware, the Commonwealth retains a law against treason.

In the meantime, let’s concentrate on eliminating coal from electricity generation and turning instead to geothermal, wind and solar power. Not that merely reducing emissions will avert the coming disaster; I’m convinced it’s too late for that. We need to find a technological solution.

The only way we, as a society and a species, can hope to do that is by treating the crisis with the seriousness it merits, and by treating the carbon quislings with the contempt they deserve.

Mark Byrne writes: Tamas Calderwood (Friday, comments) is amazing! “Interestingly, not a single comment challenged me on my central claim that a rise in temperature of 0.36C in thirty years (and less than 1C in over a hundred years) is not a crisis.”

This from Tamas just two paragraphs after he acknowledged the “bunch of apocalyptic events” that Tim Marsh highlights are assessed to worsen with continued warming. Tamas, water shortages are worsening.

Every one of our capital cities are on water restrictions. Glaciers that provide summer water in Asia are disappearing. Food shortages are a growing problem. Fire seasons are getting longer. Ecosystems that have lasted for millions of years are collapsing or moving at an unprecedented rate. The loss of Arctic ice may have pushed us past a warming tipping point beyond our control. All this with a warming trend of 0.15 degrees per decade.

Worse still, the warming trend won’t stop when we turn the tap off. If we collectively jump on the problem, the residual warming will continue for decades. There is a possibility it is already too late to preserve the ecosphere to a level that can sustain 6 billion humans. We risk population contraction (a bearable euphemism), and a massive threat to our civil way of life.

Tamas, if you’ve been waiting for someone to challenge your “central claim”, here it is … we are facing a dire crisis, the scale of which we cannot fully comprehend.

Power being what it is, suggests the weakest will suffer first, but in time we will all pay dearly.

Hopefully it’s not too late to change course.

Tim Marsh writes: Stephen Magee (Friday, comments), I’ll be happy to oblige. But by picking up on just the skiing, you miss the larger point. You could say — or maybe I should have said — “enjoy the planet as we have to date”.

Enjoying the delight on my/your kids’ faces at seeing their first snowfall, most of the world enjoying ample food, affordable water, proper seasons, and a lack of constant drought. I’ll let you mull that over, as the rest of us who want that type of world, keep listening to people who know better than you and I.

And Tamas Calderwood, dear chap, if you think a 0.37deg warming (please update your figures) is not significant, I’d urge you to read more. You are narrowly focussing on absolute quantum instead of relative difference (and the related effect). It’s like listening to a broken record.

Meanwhile, over in Copenhagen, people who actually live and breathe this stuff…

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

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey