Correction:

Former Democrats Senator Andrew Murray writes: Re. “Big Alcohol’s cosy relationship with the Senate” (yesterday, item 4). The most basic of journalistic principles is to check your facts with those you intend naming. The second is to check the motives and integrity of your sources.

This is what Crikey said:

Since leaving parliament, Murray has pursued his interest in the liquor industry (before politics he owned a bottle shop) and generously offered to write an alcohol tax submission to Ken Henry’s Tax Review on behalf of a coalition of leading health groups.

Wrong on all counts. I have not been pursuing my interest in the liquor industry since I left parliament. As for the tax submission, (as you will find if you ask them), the health groups approached me out of the blue (as they knew of my expertise in tax policy). I did not approach them.

And as for the bottle shop remark and that I am one of those “hunted” by the spirits industry. Under my portfolio I dealt with all sectors — whether it was the wine industry advocating a wine cellar door rebate, which I successfully negotiated; the beer people advocating cheaper draught beer, which I successfully negotiated; the low-alcohol beer changes, which I helped negotiate; or the alcohol abuse people advocating the introduction of low alcohol wines or low-alcohol RTDs, which I tried but failed to negotiate.

I have had 36+ years of relations, meetings and events all over the world with people in the beer, wine, spirits, non-alcohol, alcohol research, alcohol abuse fields, on and off consumption sectors and every field related to those. Please look at that statement closely — 36 years, starting from 1973 as a Brewery executive, in every field related to alcohol. And all over the world. I am a published author in the field, long before my Senate stint.

I am for instance an Honorary Life Member of the Federated Hotels and Liquor Association of South Africa. I was a part-owner of companies which were very large importers and sellers of spirits, wines, beers and non-alcoholic beverages. I do not have a view as to why I was honoured by the Keepers, apart from the fact that I share that honour with others with similar backgrounds.

And (as I know you haven’t) why don’t you actually read the submission I contributed to. It argues for tax increases not reductions.

In captions for yesterday’s story by Alex Mitchell on the Senate and the Liquor industry, Gordon Broderick, head of the the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA) was incorrectly identified as Senator Paul Calvert. Crikey apologises to all concerned for any confusion.

Obama’s America:

Brian Mitchell, former senior political staffer within the Rudd Government, writes: Re. “Obama’s America: Rome is burning” (yesterday, item 18). Good to see that Karyn McDermott — whom I studied journalism with at WA’s Curtin University back in the late 1980s — has stuck to her political guns after all these years. Unfortunately her fervent faith in the Right has become so absolute she has lost even the tiniest shred of journalistic objectivity.

It is breath-taking that she lays at Barack Obama’s feet the responsibility for the Global Recession. She advised George W Bush’s Republicans. So perhaps she can tell us where the regulation of Wall Street was? The checks and balances, the proclamations from the White House that company profits were laudable aims but executive greed was unacceptable? No, she can’t. Karyn’s Republicans did all they could to derail such measures.

Karyn says Obama has failed because after four months he hasn’t turned around the economic tsunami that had been gaining momentum for years, a tsunami made bigger by the Republicans’ failure to rein in naked greed. She says Obama is to blame for a tumbling Dow and neglects to mention the $100 billion crimes of Madoff and his ilk.

Karyn’s article represents stunning hubris. Unfettered capitalism — a child of Karyn’s Republicans — has led us into this Global Recession. The recession is a direct result of the manifest failures of governments to govern in the public interest.

Karyn should at the very least admit to this before presuming to offer more of the problem as its own solution.

Peter Johns writes: The article by Karyn McDermott was the biggest mess I have ever read on Crikey. So Obama’s responsible for CNN’s news coverage is he? The stock market is down since he was inaugurated … could never happen under the Republicans! And Glen Beck (who?) is now the definitive word on Presidential performance.

Then we are subject to a re-hash of the absolute non-event that was the DVD present to Gordon Brown. Already a week old and even then not worthy of note. I would bet my house that McDermott’s suggestion the DVD’s were not “decoded” for viewing in the UK is complete fiction. And who is throwing the term “quadrillion” around other than herself? As this is about 17 times the GDP of every country in the world combined I very much doubt it is a figure of any relevance.

That her involvement with the Federal Liberal and Republican parties coincided with their utter defeat and humiliation cannot be a co-incidence.

Peter Nevin writes: Karyn McDermott makes the case that the US is going to hell in a hand basket, burning massive amounts of money in “bailout after bailout”.

In that context, the fact that Barack Obama gave Gordon Brown a collection of DVDs — rather than something more flamboyant and, by implication, more expensive — is to be commended rather than attacked, I would have thought.

That said, maybe Obama realises that the biggest gift that he can give Brown is one that George W Bush never gave Tony Blair — namely, the slightest indication that he actually gave a damn about anything the bloke said.

Lizzie O’Shea writes: I usually am happy to read articles by non-journos and other types who don’t regularly write for Crikey, but Karyn McDermott’s offering was just tedious. I don’t care if you are publishing this in the name of “balance”; this is not why I subscribe to Crikey. Lift your game.

Pauline Hanson:

Sally Goldner writes: Re. “Pauline Hanson: it was not me. I’m suing” (yesterday, item 5). I don’t care if any public figure of any political persuasion has had some sensual photographs taken of them. This whole thing is just about trying to make people feel guilty about anything remotely connected to s-x. If it’s within the law, consensual and of adult age, so what? The whole episode is a no-price favourite for Crikey‘s Wankley this week.

Jackie French writes: Below is a 30 year old photo of a naked Peter Costello, disguised as a wallaby. He is the one on the right. Will send details of my Nigerian bank account if you have a spare $15,000.

Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Bacon:

James Turnbull writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey asked: “How many degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and Malcolm Turnbull anyway?”

Whilst I presume the question was largely rhetorical but the answer (if we stretch the game a little) is four.

Malcolm Turnbull is the son of the actor and academic: Carol Lansbury, who was the cousin of: Angela Lansbury, who acted in: Nanny PcPhee (2005) with, Colin Firth, who acted in: Where the truth Lies (2005), with: Kevin Bacon.

Government advertising:

Commonwealth public servant “Bladder Splattle” writes: Re. “Liberal mates milked millions from Howard’s ad bonanza” (13 March, item 1). Having read the article on the ANAO audit of Government advertising, I feel compelled to make a couple of observations. As a Commonwealth public servant who spent some time spending Commonwealth money, it seems to me that an offense has been committed.

Under the FMA Act 1997, all Commonwealth purchases have to meet a set of requirements laid out in the Procurement Guidelines (CPGs), updated 1 Jan 05. These lay out the legal requirements for Commonwealth purchases. Note that they’re REQUIREMENTS, not actually guidelines at all, and all Commonwealth purchases with a total value of $80,000 or more are subject to the CPGs. Select tenders or direct offers require the sign off of the delegate of the Minister whose department is expending the funds. For this sort of thing that’s usually the CFO or dep sec or similar.

If, as implied in your article, money has been committed or expended without the legally-required procedures laid out in the CPGs, an offense has been committed.

Reading the comments on your article, it’s clear most have missed this point. However, James K has got a point, although not the one he thinks. In the case to which he refers, the High Court was testing whether there was an appropriation for government advertising, and decided that there was and that it was all constitutional. Fine.

However, while the penalties for acting unconstitutionally are not very clear, there are VERY clear penalties for the inappropriate use of public money under the FMA Act 1997, and since the High Court has ruled that there IS an appropriation for Government advertising, this falls squarely under that appropriation and therefore under the FMA Act.

This goes to the question of whether Commonwealth Public Servants are constrained to act within the law, or whether there are no penalties for breaking the law. It seems to me there’s a case to be investigated and perhaps prosecuted here.

Is the DPP taking action?

P.S: I’ve not read the ANAO report yet, and thus the qualifications to my statements above.

Frequent flyers:

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. “True cost of loyalty for Qantas frequent flyers” (yesterday, item 11). I can understand how say Qantas can offer frequent flyer points to accumulate until you get a free flight. I am less clear on how a person gets a cheap toaster because they flew somewhere, (if they can) or to put it more directly, how someone who shops at Woolies or Coles is then given a 4 cent or 6 cent discount per litre of petrol at their petrol stations. Surely these schemes are anti-competitive and a distortion of the market.

Surely the punter is either left to pay more for their groceries to subsidise the petrol, or the petrol price is raised for the non-Woolies/Coles shopping customer. Whatever else, they are surely a cross-subsidisation of substantially separate businesses, which looks like a form of discriminatory pricing to me, or perhaps price fixing. I thought that was illegal?

If anyone out there can explain to me why these schemes aren’t illegal, particularly where they cross industries and product lines, I would appreciate it. There is no question that these damned things help entrench the frightening duopoly of Coles and Woolies in the grocery markets, and they distort the market substantially.

Personally, I would rather that all rewards programs be outlawed. Nothing tells me that I am paying too much for a product like a frequent customer/discount arrangement, and that goes from the local coffee barista to the giant Woolworths corporation itself. Much obliged.

Jim Hart writes: Re. “Woollies, Mathiesons and the licence to print money” (yesterday, item 10). After reading items 10 and 11 today I’m looking forward to the day when punters who pour their money into Woolies-owned pokies will be earn Qantas points on every spin. And conversely when frequent fliers (and frequent shoppers) can use Qantas points instead of money to play the pokies.

Underbelly:

Gabriel McGrath writes: Re. “The week in geek: Underbelly shoots pirates … What is Apple planning next?” (13 March, item 4). I fear Duncan Riley may have added 1 + 1… and got “window” as the answer (ask a primary schooler to explain the gag).

He suggests less people are downloading are Underbelly from P2P networks, thanks to Channel Nine’s free legal downloads. I don’t think so.

Last year, fans could download Underbelly weeks before it went to air, thanks to leaked copies. This year, the leaks have stopped. And downloads plummeted. Watching a show weeks before broadcast is “cool”.

Here’s a short list of things that aren’t:

  1. Having to install invasive software just to view an episode.
  2. Having the episode “self destruct” at the end of the series.
  3. Downloading the file slowly from Channel Nine (one connection), rather than quickly via P2P (many connections).
  4. Official episode files that are more than twice the size of the unofficial ones (800mb vs 350mb)

Considering Australia’s slow net connections, and some ISPs’ nasty “caps”, points 3 & 4 are just crazy. If downloads hurt ratings, how did Underbelly rate its socks off last year? If downloads hurt DVD sales, how did Underbelly uncut became “the fastest selling Australian drama series of all time”?

Downloads are fantastic for promoting the brand. Downloads with restrictions, hoops, conditions & caveats are not.

Ireland:

Stephen Magee writes: Nice little story from Alex Clarkin (yesterday, comments) about the late David Ervine. However, a few comments are in order. I gather that Alex is writing from Dublin, rather than Belfast: up North, the general perspective is that there is a huge difference between “relative peace” and peace.

On one view, the Protestant paramilitaries have transformed into criminal gangs that would rival those of Mexico (the alternative view is that they were always criminal gangs with a thin veneer of Reformation ideology).

On the other side, the history of Irish republicanism would suggest that Alex is unduly sanguine when he says that “no-one has the stomach for the fight anymore”.

Militant Irish republicanism split in 1914, 1916, 1921, 1926, 1969, 1986 and 1997. Each time, the more militant splinter group continued the armed struggle in the face of majority disapproval among the population. Only the 1926 split did not result in what might be called major hostilities.

It is too soon to conclude that the current splinter groups will not be able to destroy even the “relative peace”.

Climate change sh-t storm:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Climate Change debates in Crikey can be hilarious. James Burke (yesterday, comments) calls anyone skeptical of the global warming hypothesis “quislings” and considers it “treason”. Tim Marsh (yesterday, comments) says I am “focusing on absolute quantum instead of relative difference (and the related effect)”. Hmm … nope; can’t decipher that one.

The best is from Mark Byrne (yesterday, comments) and allow me to address some of his points:

  1. Our capital cities are on water restrictions because our population is now 21.6 million and we haven’t built a dam in decades;
  2. Care to list which of the world’s 100,000+ glaciers are melting?
  3. Food shortages are a problem because of the insane green policy of growing bio-fuels instead of, um, food. There is no agricultural crisis otherwise;
  4. Fire seasons are getting longer? Data on that claim please;
  5. Exactly which “Ecosystems are collapsing”?
  6. “The loss of Arctic ice may have pushed us past a tipping point”, yet Arctic sea-ice is currently at normal levels. How odd.
  7. Finally, to challenge my central claim that 0.36C of warming in 30 years isn’t a crisis, Mark’s knockout response is that: “we are facing a crisis, the scale of which we cannot fully comprehend”.

Very convincing. Meanwhile, no sign of any crisis in the temperature data…

Greg Samuelson writes: Re. “Copenhagen’s climate message: the worst case confirmed” (yesterday, item 2). So scientists are getting tetchy about being ignored re global warming? After years of margarine being better/worse/better than butter, back burning increasing/decreasing/making bugger all difference to the risk of bushfires, two/one/zero glasses of wine a day being good/bad for your heart, etc etc ad nauseam, surely these clipboard monkeys can’t be surprised. Can they?

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