Super funds:

Richard Gilbert, CEO, IFSA, writes: Re. “The league tables Big Super doesn’t want you to see” (14 May, item 1). Bernard Keane’s article left a lot to be desired In terms of striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all the essential facts.

As the trade press covering the financial services industry would be aware, the Investment and Financial Services Association (IFSA), is an open and transparent organisation with a reputation for highly credible research and who are responsive to media inquiries when called. Too bad Bernard didn’t call before he filed his story as we could have made some very important points and alerted him to sections of our submission which he elected to ignore.

Why was IFSA singled out for attack? Our submission in response to APRA’s discussion paper on league tables raises essentially the same issues and concerns as do those lodged by ASFA, AIST and Unisuper, yet no mention of these organisations.

IFSA is not “anti” league tables at all. In fact, the industry is united in its concern about APRA’s approach to the presentation of fund data. Serious questions remain about how useful this data may be at a fund level. You have to be able to compare apples with apples. If not presented properly, comparisons between funds may be meaningless.

Mr Keane’s article used a table from SuperRatings to illustrate how the various investment options offered by funds have performed. It is precisely this level of disclosure that IFSA has called for in our response to the APRA discussion paper, although your readers would certainly not gain this impression from Bernard’s article.

APRA’s proposal will not lead to members being able to see how their investments have performed relative to other comparable investments. The operative word here is comparable. Instead, their proposal is to publish the return on assets at a fund level, so that the return on assets (RoA) for these funds is merely an aggregate of the returns experienced by all members across the range of products and investment options in a trust. The RoA of the trust therefore, does not reflect the investment experience of any single member or group of members within products operated by that trust.

If Bernard is of the view that super funds want to hide their investment option performance, he could always pick up a couple of newspapers who cleverly “hide” this information within their pages on a weekly basis. These funds are invariably IFSA members. The provision of this publicly available information is possible because well run super funds practice daily unit pricing. IFSA submissions are available on our website at www.ifsa.com.au, along with details on how to contact the IFSA Secretariat should further information about IFSA’s position on an issue be required. Our helpful staff will be only too happy to oblige.

Plagiarism:

Peter Wilson, Europe correspondent, The Australian, writes: Re. “The Australian and The Times: coverage too close for comfort” (yesterday, item 21). Bernard Keane yesterday levelled against me one of the most professionally damaging accusations one can make against a journalist: plagiarism.

He pointed out that a story about British MPs’ expenses which appeared in The Weekend Australian under my name contained several paragraphs that came from The Times of London without attribution. Well done, Sherlock.

Had he bothered to call me or my editors he would have been told that my work had been combined with a story bought from The Times, mainly about a separate issue in the House of Lords. The Australian has a longstanding contract to buy foreign stories from The Times. Normally such combined news stories carry an attribution to The Times, like that which appeared on a report from China a few pages on in the same paper. I took special care to ensure that was done in this case.

While I was asleep in London that agreed attribution went missing somewhere in Sydney. The people involved would have explained all this to Keane had he done some journalism and asked. It’s one thing to have a shot at a newspaper for an unintentional production error. It’s another thing entirely to present a specific reporter as lazily “cutting and pasting.”

Keane had plenty of time to find out what had happened before filing his report.

With so many good journos looking for work nowadays surely Crikey can afford to hire someone who would not lecture people about journalistic integrity while lazily firing off unchecked accusations like this and pretending that a belated right of reply will make up for any damage?

Crikey: Which is all very well, but we’d say Wilson’s argument is with his subs’ desk, not us.

Rumsfeld’s biblical briefings:

Keith Binns writes: Re. “Rumsfeld and Cheney’s torture approval was about self-justification” (yesterday, item 1). If Donald Rumsfeld had wanted to send something useful to George W. Bush out of the Bible who could have done no better than 1 Samual 4 where using a religious symbol in war had disastrous results:

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek.

The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle.

When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”

So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

When the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.

When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.” They also said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.

Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.

Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers.

The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Or, he could have quoted him Proverbs. Here are a few relevant example:

The wise lay up knowledge, but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near

The clever do all things intelligently, but the fool displays folly

Better to meet a she-bear robbed of its cubs than to confront a fool immersed in folly.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.

Justin Templer writes: Jeff Sparrow writes of George W. Bush that:

The President also believed he’d received a divine mandate to attack Iraq: (“God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.’ And I did.”).

I was so taken by this affirmation of my views of the Bush-presidency and the creation of God’s US Army that I decided to check further sources. Alas, it all fell in a heap.

According to The Times (London) the Palestinian Information Minister, Nabil Shaath, from whom this quote was originally sourced in 2003, agreed that the statement had not been meant literally, stating that “It was really a figure of speech (by Bush). We felt he was saying that he had a mission, a commitment, his faith in God would inspire him”.

It’s a pity when truth (and serious journalism) gets in the way of wishful belief.

Obama and abortion:

Jenny Ejlak writes: Re. “Obama at Notre Dame: Pro-life hecklers broke a taboo” (yesterday, item 9). I was calmly reading Clive Hamilton’s piece on the extreme pro-life opposition to Barack Obama until the last line which made me angry. The statement “They make monogamy and responsible parenthood look cool. That ought to translate into fewer abortions” strongly implies that unplanned pregnancies only happen to loose, promiscuous, irresponsible teenagers. Nothing could the further from truth.

If he had bothered to look at some stats he would find that women of all ages, backgrounds and relationships terminate pregnancies. Many women who are in marriages and/or monogamous relationships find themselves unexpectedly pregnant due to contraceptive failure, irregular menstrual cycles during menopause or other reasons. Even worse, sometimes a planned and wanted pregnancy goes wrong, with severe foetal abnormality leaving termination the only humane option.

Either way, the experience is a traumatic one for the woman and her partner and judgemental and misguided comments like this one only cause further pain.

Rudd’s popularity:

John Kotsopoulos writes: Re. “Nielson Poll signals return to healthy Oz democracy” (yesterday, item 8). The latest Newspoll has Labor’s primary vote climbing by 4% since the budget. The Age Poll has the reverse. I suggest The Age poll has been tainted by the accompanying question on the proposed lifting of the age for the pension from 65 to 67 because the question failed to mention that the proposal has bi-partisan support. I note that Age commentary blamed the slump in Labor’s vote on the pension issue which makes you wonder if this was the intended result.

Superannuation contributions:

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). I note that one of your correspondents is lamenting the government’s decision on concessional superannuation contributions. In simple terms, the concessional superannuation contributions are nothing more than a tax avoidance scheme. They have very little to do with securing retirement income and are primarily used by people of significant means who are near retirement age, not by young folk and not by the less wealthy.

The effect of the change is that a group of comparatively well-off people who used to use superannuation laws as a means to avoid tax will now have to use the capital gains joke or some other loophole; god knows the tax laws are full of such opportunity for those who can afford creative accountants.

Reducing the concession is reasonable, although I would have argued for its abolition. Certainly nobody who is inconvenienced by this change of law was ever any chance of being able to draw a pension anyway, (save for elaborate trust schemes and other accounting shenanigans) so the argument that it is counter productive is a non-sequitur.

At $25000 as the upper limit for individuals, this amounts to a tax break of around $4000 p.a. exclusively available to higher income earners. If you are not earning enough to be on the highest marginal tax rate then there is nothing in it for you, as there was nothing in it for you beforehand. Middle class welfare? The superannuation concession was upper class welfare, no ifs, no buts, no maybes.

The economy:

Robert Bruinewoud writes: Re. “So which is it, recession or recovery?” (Friday, item 8) Norway, those smug pinko buggers. They won Eurovision and now, in the midst of the worst global downturn since the Depression, Norway’s economy grew last year by just under 3 percent. Plus, the government enjoys a budget surplus of 11 percent and its ledger is entirely free of debt. Of course, they were just lucky — it could never happen here — it’s not like we’ve got abundant natural resources that we’ve been exporting overse… oh, wait…

Teaching:

Brian Mitchell of Hobart writes: Re. “Hobart teacher” (yesterday, comments). When I moved a motion at my ALP branch meeting to demand that private schools students be compelled to sit the same tests as public students, and the comparative data be made publicly available, I was howled down and my motion defeated with only myself and my seconder voting for it.

Those who led the “no” case were teachers in the state system who feared publicly comparing private and public school results would weaken their arguments that public education is doing well.

I’m all for national testing and think the Catholic principal alleged to have tried to fudge results should be sacked and possibly even charged with fraud (on the basis there is a financial incentive for his college in appearing to do well in tests).

Rundle, Williamson and latte watch:

Joseph Cotta writes: Re. “Rundle: little-t Williamson at $60 a seat” (yesterday, item 22). Politics aside and disregarding the lower case “t” and capitals, my wife and I enjoyed David Williamson’s play from start to finish and so did the packed- house on all three nights .The ovations were indicative of the measure of enjoyment felt by all. We wish Williamson gets on with the other two plays without bothering about opinions of capital “S” smarties in the trade.

Tony Barrell writes: As Crikey‘s unofficial “latte” watcher I have to say how disappointed I was to see Guy Rundle slipping into “latte lipping” (did he mean lapping?) as a critical social signifier. Of what? Would I characterise Rundle as either a boofhead bikie or a sewer pipe cleaner because he sports a Kenny style mo? Eh?

Headlines:

Rowan Fairbairn writes: Re. “A short history of bossy Herald Sun headlines: Read it now!” (Yesterday, item 20). There was that famous headline that resulted in copies of the Sunday Herald Sun being pulped — “Hewson wins in landslide” that lead to the famous bumper sticker — “Is that the truth or did you read it in the Herald Sun” a quote that’s even funnier if you recall the type of newspaper that the Truth was!

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