Marrickville Council:

Mary O’Sullivan, Marrickville Labor Councillor, writes: Re. “NSW stand-off between Tebbutt and Keneally” (Tuesday, item 17). Alex Mitchell should have checked with the Marrickville Councillors who voted against the Greens motion he trumps in his article. But — as has been the way with lazy journalists since Dreyfus — why let facts get in the way of hearsay and a good conspiracy theory? Throw in a s-xist depiction of an imagined spat between two women politicians and fiction follows.

For the record Marrickville Councillors are all deeply concerned about the proposed Lewisham development’s impact on the Marrickville Council area, as well as its potential to harm businesses and communities in Ashfield and Leichardt. The gist of the Greens motion was that the development be assessed by Marrickville Council!

The opponents (including the Mayor) want it assessed at arms length by the independent Planning Assessment Commission. That way all the affected Council areas and residents can put in submissions and the developer has to respond.

Contrary to Alex Mitchell’s insinuation, if there are political donations declared, the Planning and Assessment Commission’s determination is final. Ministers and local members have no involvement.

Ben Keneally writes: Alex Mitchell is incorrect when he states that I am “a senior NSW bureaucrat”. As was reported at the time, I left the NSW Public Service in January of this year. I request that you correct the record.

Matthew Johns:

Alex Clarkin writes: Re. “Rundle: in this sporting life we’ll all go down together” (yesterday, item 2). Booze was the elephant in Matthew Johns’ hotel room. I reckon there was another person in the John’s hotel that night. And he was big and grey and smelled of Bundy…

I believe there is nothing “wrong” with group s-x provided it’s consensual. League players are not everyone’s cup of tea, but whatever people want to do in their own time, be it with other people, kitchen appliances or domestic animals, is up to them, provided everyone involved is cool and able to make an informed choice about what is going on. By informed choice I mean the person is able to fully understand the consequences of their actions. And this concept of informed choice is, I think, what is missing in the media commentary about this incident.

If the lady in question had made an informed choice that she wanted to have s-x with all these men, then indeed there is nothing “wrong” with what happened despite how distasteful this activity might be to some of us. However, I’d be willing to bet a slab of XXXX that the young lady was unfortunately out of her mind on booze, and so were the rugby players involved. She was thus not herself, and unable to make an informed choice.

Any rational man at this point would have said to himself “this is not right, she really does not want to do this, and we should stop immediately.” But it is likely that these men were not rational at that time. They were young, s-xually aroused and more importantly drunk. Their ability to make rational decisions was effectively nil. Hence what happened, happened. So who’s to blame? Well assuming that everyone was drunk… everyone, including us! They are all to blame for getting so drunk that they all put themselves in that situation.

We are all to blame because, while the excessive consumption of alcohol is tolerated, even condoned, people will continue to drink, get drunk, behave like animals and regret it in the morning — or worse. These young people all went out and got smashed. The result was a night that cost Johns his career and some poor young lady her sanity. We all need to wake up and smell the vomit.

Jenny Morris writes: Great piece by Guy Rundle on the Matthew Johns saga. What I don’t understand is the seemingly uncontested view that clubs are responsible for doing what the players’ parents/families/schools/communities should have done — certainly by the time they get to be over 18 — which is to educate them in how you treat other human beings — preferably with respect.

How is that these men get to be 18 and older and have such groupthink (as it were) about women and what constitutes not only culturally acceptable but legal behaviour? I wish the clubs and the peak bodies well in trying to change views that are obviously deeply held, unchallenged and even cultivated in the environments in which these men “grow up”.

Or maybe that’s the problem — the perpetual youth most sportsmen spend their lives in, pandered to by everyone around them.

Frank Lucy writes: Michael Winkler (yesterday, comments) chastised Four Corners for not “clearly differentiat[ing] between private behaviour that offends some people’s morality (completely consensual group s-x) and criminal behaviour (rape, s-xual assault)”. But that’s much easier said than done.

His original piece had no apparent point to make, apart from listing the many cases the show didn’t deal with. Winkler’s complaint regarding the woman with the fake tan, that “no male interviewees were shown doing anything similar” makes no sense whatsoever. She was included to indicate that some women really dig f*cking footballers and good luck to them. (On related matter, I’m quite sure she stated she didn’t do group s-x.)

I have no idea what point Michael Winkler was trying to make and suspect he just wanted to write something.

PS. Guy Rundle’s suggestion it’s an “inner city” thing — as if we now caricature suburban and regional people as more s-xually relaxed and comfortable with group s-x than uptight inner urban trendies — is a huge stretch and runs counter the general caricature.

Justin Templer writes: I would like to apologise for the fact that while watching The Footy Show last night I felt a twinge of sorriness and embarrassment for Fatty Vautin who was expressing sorriness and embarrassment for patting Matthew Johns who had been expressing sorriness and embarrassment for acts involving a lady from NZ 00 who now seems to be aggrieved and possibly also sorry and embarrassed.

I missed national Sorry Day when it occurred and so am very much looking forward to the forthcoming Day of Shame, and the walk of sorriness and embarrassment over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Kruddget:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Hewson: assuming unattainable growth rates to fool the electorate” (Wednesday, item 3). The more I look at the Rudd Budget the less sense it makes. I accept that the deficit will be large, but to ‘maintain’ jobs does not require wasteful spending. To pay for the deficit and increased spending to “maintain” jobs (more than $100, 000 for each, at least) Rudd will cut payments to families, potential independent youth allowance recipients, clobber superannuation savers, higher income pensioners, recover Centrelink debts faster from our poorest citizens, give the unemployed nothing at all, and increase student contributions from nursing and education course students when are trying to get more of both.

The stimulus payments are so poorly designed, foreign nationals are receiving them, new toilet blocks are been built in schools that are to close, some working students are getting multiple payments, many low income people get nothing at all.

Why hurt our most disadvantaged, a small tax increase would have been easier and fairer?

The word that adequately describes the Rudd Regime is incompetent. Just what we need when we have the worst economic situation for decades!

Colin Prasad writes: An idea on what can the Government sell to reduce debt. For example:

Australia Post (its a freight company with franchised outlets anyway).
Hume Highway.
Electricity generators and retailers in all states except Vic.
Prisons.
Sale and lease backs of buildings say, like Parliament House.
Public transport in most states except Vic. Hey its booming, who wouldn’t want to buy it.
Water/De-sal.
A couple of Hospitals.
A few Unis — especially the graduate schools.

Australia for Sale! Crazy crazy crazy bargains!

Perhaps we will follow a well worn path of labour racking up debt on overdue infrastructure, and then liberal getting in and selling off assets at bargain prices, declining service levels and claiming how clever they were in reducing labours debt.

Malcolm Turnbull:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “Now is the time for Turnbull to come to the aid of his party” (yesterday, item 4). So Bernard Keane writes “If the Coalition had the courage of its ideological convictions, it should have been greeting a $53b deficit with howls of fury about the betrayal of future generations.” He has borrowed the proposition from the Liberals that a deficit of this magnitude creates an undue burden on future generations. Two things to note.

Firstly, a deficit of this magnitude can be overcome and repaid within a ten year period. Secondly, unlike budgets of the seventies, this is not a deficit primarily incurred to live beyond our means but to invest in the future.

Future taxpayers will get more benefit from the roads, railways, ports and broadband being funded than will current taxpayers. Deficit budget puts the onus on them to pay for that infrastructure, and for the payment to come from an economy that will have expanded faster than it would without those investments.

Quite frankly the opposition has nowhere to go at all on the budget — the best territory remains that not many really hard decisions were made, but oppositions don’t win on saying they’d have been harder.

Big Super:

Andrew Brown writes: Re. “The league tables Big Super doesn’t want you to see” (yesterday, item 1).Bernard Keane must be in the pay of Industry Fund Super to publish twaddle like this. How about explaining to the readers that funds like MTAA have a 48%benchmark weight to UNLISTED assets like property and infrastructure (CBUS has 46% etc. etc.), way greater than a retail fund. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that except when you get HUGE distortions between the pricing of (ASX) LISTED and unlisted assets – which we currently have.

Take property for example. In the listed arena, at the end of April 2009, the average listed Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), when you adjust for its debt, traded at about a 31% discount to the gross value of the buildings. In other words, if the building was worth $100 and there was $40 in debt, then instead of the equity being valued at $60, it was actually being valued at $29 (building value $69-$40 of debt).

The industry funds have their property assets at independent valuation of $100. When there are 12-15% property exposures in these funds, such a distortion is very meaningful. Few “retail” funds carry unlisted property of any significance. Why don’t the Industry Funds liquidate their buildings and reinvest in the listed REIT sector? I didn’t see too many Industry Funds with property returns of -55% for the year to 31 December 2008 — the total return for the ASX 300 AREIT index — yet many of them hold units in unlisted, geared structures.

There are similar, though less transparent observations which could be made about infrastructure by comparing the listed and unlisted vehicles — see Macquarie Group’s version of accounting if you don’t believe me.

I’m no defender of retail funds and having left that part of the funds management industry some years ago, cringe at the advertising garbage that some of these funds put out. There is significant rationale for long term funds to be invested in the type of assets favoured by these larger Industry Funds, but likewise there is an obligation of those writing about and advertising these types of funds to provide true comparisons, not just misleading league tables.

That obligation extends to publications like Crikey. Best stick to politics, Bernard.

Brian Mitchell writes: Sounds like the Investment and Financial Services Association is taking tips from the teachers’ unions, which dislike a public spotlight being shone on schools’ performance. An unholy alliance if ever there was one.

Greg Sheridan:

Alan Lander writes: Re. “Greg Sheridan wants to be UN secretary general. No, really” (yesterday, item 9). Bernard Keane’s piece on Greg Sheridan is on the money. But Sheridan is still following his US acolytes in trying to ambush the language as so succinctly explained in US journalist David Brock’s 2002 book Blinded by the Right, which points to the ideological bankruptcy of the US Right after the end of the Cold War. He’s right too, about Howards’ outsourcing of foreign policy to America.

As one wag put it: “Keating could think outside the square. Howard couldn’t think outside the Pentagon”.

Oh! Possum:

Michael Vanderlaan writes: Re. “Comitatus: The politics behind the Rudd’s $150K means test” (yesterday, item 5). It’s all well and good to put a regression line into a chaotic scatterplot of data, but to describe the resulting plot as “an obvious relationship” is misleading. When instructed, spreadsheet software will always draw regression lines on any data, regardless of underlying significance.

Possum should check the error estimates (which don’t get plotted), or at the very least the correlation between the data, before jumping to “obvious” conclusions.

Canada:

Malcolm MacKerras writes: Re. “BC-STV vs MMP: a psephological case study” (8 April, item 18). Back in April an article by me appeared in Crikey that compared and contrasted Australia’s Hare-Clark system (known in the international literature as the Single Transferable Vote) with New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional system. The article noted that in British Columbia there would be a provincial election on 12 May which would be accompanied by a referendum on the voting system.

I predicted that STV would replace the existing first-past-the-post system. Unfortunately I was wrong.

The electors of British Columbia voted 60-40 for first-past-the-post. I am rather shocked by the result and, clearly, I shall need to find out what went wrong. My early speculation is that Canadians do not like an idea we Australians take for granted, namely numbering candidates on a ballot paper in order of preference. Another possibility is that Canadians simply like a system in which one party wins a majority of seats, even on a low vote.

This is a devastating blow to those Canadians who want proportional representation of any kind. I say that because MMP-type schemes have been even more resoundingly defeated in other provinces. It is also a body blow to Canada’s Greens who are locked out of legislatures at all levels by the fact that every member of every Canadian legislature is elected from a single-member district by first-past-the-post.

The provincial general election returned a predictable result. The right-of-centre Liberal government of Premier Gordon Campbell won 48 seats while the left-of-centre New Democratic Party won 37. Campbell has been Premier since 2001 and this was his third victory.

In agony:

Simon Wilkins writes: Re. “NEW! To Whom It May Concern: On gossiping” (yesterday, item 17).

Dear Crikey Agony Aunt,

I have an issue I would like resolved. I read an online newsletter (name withheld). I have been doing this for some time. Recently, however, I have noticed subtle changes appearing that leave me concerned. Among them, the appearance of an agony aunt column that would be more at home in a copy of Woman’s Day than Crikey … I mean, name withheld! Does this mean our relationship has changed? Am I right to feel concerned? Also, why does it hurt when I pee?

Jokes aside, an AA column was not only an odd thing to find in Crikey, but unfortunately was also lacking in the wit and wisdom it purported to contain. If you are going to have an agony aunt, why not make it someone else’s agony (rather than the contributor and/or the reader). Someone gossiping about you at work?? Here’s one solution. Fight fire with, well, getting them fired … How you say??? Easy! Let Crikey‘s newsletter be your guide:

  1. WA Liberals: Egg them on in wild behaviour at the next office function. Did someone say “Snedger”??
  2. Matty Johns: Get Four Corners to run a story detailing their (alleged) wrongdoings many years in the past.
  3. Endorsement: Encourage them to “dispel myths” about a product of dubious benefit (Coca-Cola, methamphetamines, the NSW Labor Party).
  4. Sackwatch: There is a bloody recession on you know!! If your “office gossip” thinks they were already fired, why would they come into work (a self fulfilling prophecy)? A single email to Crikey‘s sackwatch with their name in it should suffice. Stick up copies around the office to speed the process along.

If all these ideas don’t work, leave copies of their CV lying around on the company photocopier … people will assume the best/worst and it won’t be long until they get called into a meeting with the boss about their attitude/loyalty/impending desk cleanout.

Problem solved. Now about that pissing glass business? Seriously, can anyone help?

How the internet works:

Gabriel McGrath writes: Re. “Media briefs: Gruen’s controversial ad… NY Times tech revolution…” (Yesterday, item 24). Regarding yesterday’s tip: “News.com also appear to be in a two year time warp. See the number 4 story today.”

Internet 101:

  1. Person writes story with s-x/nudity in it. The story appears on a webpage.
  2. Some years later, somebody reads the story, then links to it … from their blog/Facebook/Twitter/whatever
  3. People forward the link to friends or republish it. Repeat.
  4. Traffic to story increases — enough for it to appear in the “current top 10”.

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

Andy Cole writes: Of course Tamas Calderwood (Tuesday, comments) is correct. For example here in Townsville the minimum temperature on the night of the 1st of this month was appreciably below the long term average for May.

This hits all the alarmist claims about global warming for six – clean out of the ground in fact. Doesn’t it.

Mamdouh Habib:

Robyn Seth-Purdie, Government Relations Adviser, Amnesty International Australia, writes: Re. “The many renditions of Mamdouh Habib” (7 May, item 6). Richard Neville’s essay is a timely reminder that Australia cannot afford to be complacent about its human rights record. Australians do not think of themselves as a torture tolerating people and would probably be surprised to learn that they live in a country that has not criminalised torture nor ensured that information obtained under torture could never be used in evidence, and has not legislated to prevent people from being sent to countries where they could be tortured or even subjected to the death penalty. These are all basic obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Australia formally adopted in 1989.

In its briefing for the Committee Against Torture of October 2007, Amnesty International raised concerns about Australia’s failures to investigate credible reports that two of its nationals, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, had been subjected torture, and that Mamdouh Habib had been “rendered” to Egypt with the knowledge of Australian officials. It noted that the failure to provide the legislative infrastructure to give effect to Convention obligations meant that there was no clear legal remedy available for either individual. Justice Perram’s judgement of 16 March 2009 demonstrates the difficulty that Mr Habib faces in establishing grounds for action against the Commonwealth on existing legal protection.

The Committee’s scheduled consideration of Australia in early November 2007 was postponed at the request of the Howard government – an unprecedented move, as the fact that it occurred during the caretaker period is not relevant to the proceedings – and re-scheduled for April 2008. In its up-dated briefing of March 2008 Amnesty International noted that its previous concerns had still not been addressed.
The Committee’s Concluding Observations included what can only be inferred to be a reference to the David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib cases at para 19:

19. The Committee is concerned that the State party might have failed to establish its jurisdiction in some cases where Australian nationals have been victims of acts of torture abroad.

The State party should consider establishing its jurisdiction over the offences referred to in article 4 of the Convention in all cases listed in article 5of the Convention, including when the victim is a national of the State party.

Article 4 of the Convention is the requirement to criminalise not only acts of torture but attempts to commit, and complicity or participation in, such acts.

Article 5 is the requirement to establish jurisdiction over acts of torture perpetrated in a place under the control of the state party, or by a national, and to consider doing so in other cases where the victim is a national.

The allegations that Australian officials participated in, or were complicit in, acts of torture committed against Mr Habib as an Australian national would fall under the Article 5 (1)(b) requirement to establish jurisdiction over offences committed by nationals. However, the Government should also exercise the discretion to establish jurisdiction over acts of torture committed by foreign nationals against both Mr Habib and Mr Hicks. Furthermore, it should consider the implications of Australia’s acceptance of Mr Hick’s conviction in a military tribunal, using procedures that fall short of those required for a fair trial, including the admission of evidence obtained under torture.

The US is still struggling to come to terms with the disastrous effects of its abandonment of international human rights and humanitarian standards in the name of a “war against terror”. Australia should take a stand and show beyond any shadow of a doubt that it eschews torture in all circumstances and will not shy away from having actions that are incompatible with this policy properly investigated and redressed.

The Australian Government is due to submit its response to the Committee’s findings on 16 May. Amnesty International looks forward to see firm and prompt plans to ensure that the provisions of the Convention Against Torture are comprehensively enshrined in Australian law, policy and practice. At present, there’s a long way to go.

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