Swine Flu:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. “Flu, GFC, boat people … all good news for Rudd” (yesterday, item 1). We are being urged not to panic. But what sort of response would be panic and what would be prudent? The Canberra Times’ headline this morning is “Fears swine flu already here” with a 23 year-old photograph of the Swine Flu virus (I’ll stick that on the fridge: know your enemy) — clearly not a calming signal.

Would I be panicking if I pressed my doctor for a precautionary prescription for Tamiflu? What about buying a dozen P2 face masks at my local Bunnings? What about laying in food and other supplies to have on hand if a pandemic eventuates and quarantine arrangements restrict travel here in Australia? Kevin’s Rudd’s $900 might yet be promptly spent into the retail economy.

Geoff Russell writes: Yes, I know Bernard Keane was being tongue in cheek when he suggested (Yesterday item #1) that new pandemics always originate “in Third World countries”. But the first world has regular near misses. The first human/bird/pig reassortment virus was found in the US in 1998. Read about it in Michael Greger’s story here.

Australia has had its share also with outbreaks of Chicken-lethal Bird Flu in 1976 (H7N7), 1985 (H7N7), 1992 (H7N3), 1995 (H7N3), 1997 (H7N4). The US has had such outbreaks EVERY YEAR since the 1970s. If you were deliberately designing places to produce new and lethal diseases, they would look like an intensive pig or chicken meat factory farm.

The future of the ABC and the SBS:

ABC Section Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union Graeme Thomson writes: Re. “Will ABC and SBS survive our toughest budget in living memory?” (Yesterday, item 9). Bernard Keane has called for the sacking of what he calls the ABC’s standing army. This is the army that has brought some of the finest TV to our screens.

On one point your correspondent is correct. There is a crisis at the ABC about production. ABC TV management is committed to outsourcing production to the private sector and demolishing what little remains of internal production. We hear claptrap from management about their willingness to make the best programs available. But when the best is inside … program makers like Dr Richard Smith, the producer of Crude, are denied the opportunity of making programs … why? because ABC management has made it clear that it prefers to do business with the private sector (and let us stop this nonsense about calling it the “independent” sector … independent of what?).

Lest this reply be taken as a blind defence of internal production … the union that represents the standing army, the CPSU, acknowledges that some of the most imaginative program material on our screens comes from the private production sector … and could not have been produced inside. That is in part caused by the ABC’s need to secure additional sources of finance not available to internal producers. It is also because the internal workforce does not claim to have a monopoly over creative ideas.

The ABC works best as a mixed model … where the best creative ideas get to our screens. The ABC can provide a “safe port” for producers, a training ground for up and coming TV, feature film and on line workers, and opportunities to produce programs that are different from the commercials. But the production model now used is one sided; one that works to the disadvantage of the ABC, its audiences and the private sector producers. That the federal government has announced it will support an ABC Children’s Channel is to be applauded. That Mark Scott saw this as an opportunity for the “independent sector” but failed to mention any role for the producers of Playschool in the mix is unforgivable.

Yes there is a crisis. Mr Keane however is looking at the wrong place for sackings to remedy the problem. Those managers at the ABC who are determined to run internal production into the ground should be the first recipients of the long envelope.

Australian Community Television Alliance Secretary Laurie Patton writes: Bernard Keane’s piece on public broadcasting is interesting but it leaves out one of the biggest producers of local content in the country — Community Television. The CTV sector is currently marooned in analogue-only land while all the other free-to-airs are all simulcasting (thanks to the previous Government). ACTA supports the call for more money for the public broadcasting sector but please, Mr Rudd, you only need to provide a small amount of funding to guarantee the survival of a growing media sector where thousands of people work tirelessly for nothing to make programs that millions watch each week.

Electoral allowances:

B. S. Baynam writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. As you rightly state yesterday in your opening about Politicians remuneration it is time to significantly reduce MPs’ electoral allowances activities. It really struck a nerve when yet again with regular monotony, yesterday in my post-box arrived a printed communication from my local member Stephen Smith. And it is no simple low-cost print item. No, it’s large, A3 sized and a very glossy broadsheet. Money no object. Under the prominently placed and dominant ego-stroking picture of a smiling member, said Stephen Smith, are words saying that it is, “From Stephen Smith MP”.

Surely he personally is not paying for this! Try as Mr. Smith and doubtless other politicians would have us believe that they are imparting useful information to us as citizens, they should at the least go about it in a far less expensive manner. Or is this another example of spending our way out of the financial crisis.

Call me a cynic but his grinning image looking at me from a very large glossy sheet emphasises the profligate waste of these facile “community services”. Yes please Crikey, it’s time. Time to significantly reduce MP’s electoral allowances activities.

Rudd money:

A puzzled James Ipswich writes: Re. “ATO stuff-up could pull $22 out of your stimulus” (Friday, item 1). I received a letter in the mail from the ATO, and it stated that I will receive my payment via bank account or by check. I recently changed my details e.g. address to the ATO before this letter, they said over the phone that I had the option to manage my tax information myself without any ties to my tax accountant that processed my 2007/08 tax return, basically they said it will be transferred to my account instead of a check like my tax return.

My point is if I received the letter on the same day as my friend with the same financial institution and he managed to get the tax benefit instantly, why am I still waiting, I have belief that the money was mistakenly transferred to my accountants trust fund, I gave them a call to clarify this concern, but they said themselves they have no involvement if I told the ATO my change of details it would be put into my bank my the ATO.

Centrelink:

Mitchell Holmes writes: Re. “Students can live with the poverty but not the indignity” (yesterday, item 15). My experience of Centrelink’s invasive questioning occurred about four years ago when I married. While I wasn’t receiving any Centrelink benefits at all, my new wife was on a partial benefit due to her low income and support of her two teenage children.

My wife simply wanted to stop the payment of her benefits because our combined incomes would be well above the applicable thresholds. There was nothing simple about it. As well as a form of at least a dozen pages for her, there was a form for me. My form did not stop at a simple summary of my income and assets — Centrelink required precise details of every asset I owned.

As an example, Centrelink wanted information on my rental property so that they could have a Government valuer come and visit to value the property! And this was typical of the information they wanted to cease a payment! T

he only practical way to stop receiving a benefit is to verbally notify your changes but then not answer any Centrelink correspondence — eventually Centrelink will cease payment, pending receipt of the information!

Get a life Alex Mitchell:

Anonymous writes: Re. “Beazley to head up troubled Mick Young Scholarship Trust” (yesterday, item 4). In February 1996, ALP great Mick Young was having chemotherapy for his cancer. He could barely walk, but he could still swim. He went for a swim at Bondi. Mick saw a bloke drowning so he swam out and saved his life.

That bloke was Alex Mitchell. Mick said if he’d known he was a journo, he wouldn’t have bothered.

Mick died eight weeks later.

Yesterday in Crikey, Alex Mitchell wrote an unworthy piece of gossip about the Mick Young Trust.

Mick Young was a great bloke. His family, friends and former collegues have worked hard to raise money to help working class people get an education they otherwise would not have got. That’s what Mick would have wanted.

What’s Alex’s reason for being?

Where’s Jeff Wall?:

Paul Gilchrist writes: On 23rd February this year, your Jeff Wall wrote a hysterical item about the decision by the Catholic bishop in Brisbane to replace Fr Peter Kennedy at the St Mary’s parish. Among other things, Jeff said:

The move by the Catholic Diocese of Brisbane to close down its rebel priest and congregation at St Mary’s Parish in South Brisbane is rapidly becoming more than a mere PR disaster and it is starting to get international coverage as well.

The Archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, dismissed rebel priest Fr Peter Kennedy last week, but not only has he refused to leave, he has whipped up levels of congregation and wider support that must be more than worrying for the church hierarchy.

Compromise seems as far away as ever and, short of calling in the police to evict Fr Kennedy and hundreds of his supporters, the Archbishop’s chances of gaining control of the parish are actually diminishing.

etc, etc.

I couldn’t find a contact address for Jeff Wall, but I see no comment by him in Crikey yesterday on the fact that the “diminshing” possiblity of replacing Kennedy has just happened. Is this the “PR disaster” and the “whipped up” support that Jeff predicted? Bit of a dud, if you ask me.

How about asking Jeff to be a man and back up his earlier comments and not run away and hide.

On a more serious level, I have read comments from the people at St Mary’s yesterday and their desire to reach out to all St Mary’s parishioners. And, I assume, the people down the road with Fr Kennedy are not demons, but also have charitable thoughts for the people at St Mary’s.

You see, that is what life is really like, people living according to their best intentions and ideals, and not just an endless round of political gossip and backstabbing from a drama queen like Jeff Wall.

ANZAC DAY:

Thomas Richman writes: By all means give homage to the ANZAC spirit and the role it played in creating this wonderful country.

While doing so, however, let’s also recognise that we will not truly have come of age as a society unless we similarly include, during our commemorative events, a contingent of marchers representing the millions who protested our blind involvement in many of the wars in which we’ve been asked to participate, often against countries which posed no threat to us.

For example, let’s not forget those who twice successfully voted against conscription during WW1, or the healthy number of citizens who organised against the Boer, Viet Nam or Iraq conflicts. Indeed, an aldermastoned poster or twenty marching proudly between the equally proud holders of regimental banners would not be misplaced, nor would the presence of slouch hatted and bemedalled Veterans against the War.

Mad Man:

Tim Burrowes, editor of Mumbrella, writes: Re. “The week in geek: Facebook exec to head MySpace … shakin’ iPhone babies … ” (Friday, item 23). Duncan Riley’s suggestion we’ve been “pushing” Mad Men because SBS advertised the show with us is a bit thin. Mumbrella is, as Duncan observes, the best read web site for the Australian media and marketing industry — the people he describes as the “natural audience” for the show. So it’s not surprising SBS would advertise it on Mumbrella.

We cover the TV ratings every day, so it’s also not surprising we would highlight the performance of one of only two shows that are about the industry we write for.

So far the “pushing”, has consisted of three pieces: Reporting that the first episode clashed with the ABC2 repeat of The Gruen Transfer (the other show); observing that “the programme hasn’t captured the public’s attention in the way that The Gruen Transfer immediately did” and most recently, reporting that Mad Men’s audience had fallen by 74,000. By contrast, so far this year, we’ve written about The Gruen Transfer 28 times.

As Duncan observed, we indeed didn’t mention the ads in our stories. I’d be intrigued to know what form of disclosure he would have suggested. Somehow, “You see those slightly annoying strobing adverts for Mad Men at the top of this page? They’re ads. From SBS. For Mad Men,” seems a tad patronising to the readers.

Climate change cage match (now with its own blog):

Mark Byrne writes: The problem with putting most of our eggs in the Clean Coal basket is the real risk that it may never work on a commercial scale. There are serious bottlenecks in the scaling up the technology to become commercially viable for coal fired power.

Meanwhile, the current weak government action (here and abroad) is based on misleading public relations campaigns about the inevitability of CCS (in form universally suitable f coal fired power). This provides cover for “business as usual” and development of dangerous new coal fired power stations- on the promise of a retro-fit that may never arrive.

What sense does it make to weight both public and private investment so heavily towards coal when:

  • We need to start deep emission cuts now! – Not in 10, 15, or 20 years;
  • Currently renewable technologies are ready for deployment, provide the investment now, and you’ll get the power online within years and in some cases in months;
  • With the current funding imbalance (CCS receiving most of our public and private funding), If CCS fails to deliver within a decade there is no fallback. Renewables need mass deployment starting now. 10 years is too late to get serious about roll out. Thus there is a huge of opportunity cost of failing to back renewables (on a war production scale necessary);
  • It is the public that bears this risk of carbon leakage or catastrophic failure of stored carbon, (renewables do not create these externalised risks);

The Coal lobby feint support for renewables, but behind the scenes they push for week targets and slow starts to pricing carbon, which delay deployment of existing renewables. We would do well to consider the experience of Guy Pearse with the self described “Greenhouse Mafia, and the exposé by Clive Hamilton on the Coal lobby.

The coal industry, has tens of billions of profits each year (in Australia alone) which it could be investing in low carbon technology. Yet the coal industry only invests a small faction of their revenue in the technology. Some might consider this a sign of doubts about their commitment of the technology?

Regardless of how the coal industry allocates their revenue, public investment now needs to counter the imbalance in power by massive support for renewables. We now need to begin the roll out of renewables on a completely new scale (as demanded by science). We cannot afford another decade of delay.

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