News Limited features:

Greg Baxter, Director, Corporate Affairs, News Ltd, writes: Re. “News Ltd features enter a brave new — centralised — world” (yesterday, item 4). Your item yesterday about News Limited centralising features was largely incorrect.

Features production is NOT being centralised in Sydney. The first national print section – the Escape travel section – is being edited and produced in Brisbane. It is likely the majority of the new sections will NOT be produced in Sydney. The new section editors are NOT all based in Sydney as you claimed – they are based in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide AND Sydney. There will NOT be any reduction in local content. The plan is to increase pagination because of increased advertising support and reader interest, which means the amount of local content, is likely to increase.

In short, the assertions that the production of six sections will be located in Sydney and that local content will decrease are both wrong. There is also no reason for our staff on individual contracts to believe that “their positions are particularly tenuous” or as the MEAA claims that job losses “could be significant”. This initiative would have to qualify as one of the very few significant investments in journalism by any publisher in the past year. It is a very real attempt to expand the audience for our journalism and generate significantly increased advertising revenue from a national, integrated print and online platform.

What the people want:

Graham Young, Chief Editor and Founder, On Line Opinion, writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 10). I was appalled to read Richard Farmer’s piece on our latest poll. Generally Farmer’s commentary is on the money, but in this case it is sloppy and ill-informed, two characteristics he could have cured by contacting me for some clarification and explanation.

I’ll leave it to The Australian to defend its interpretation of our results, but I’m more than happy to defend the results themselves.

Farmer says that our “What the people want” polling has “no track record to speak of”, ignoring the fact that we have been conducting qualitative online polls since 2001. Over that time we have used the research to fairly accurately guide our predictions as to what will happen in elections, and why. We use the quantitative statistics to put our qualitative findings into context.

We do not claim that our polls are representative of the population at large, but as with all qualitative research, they are not unrepresentative either. So, used carefully, they can provide indications of what is happening, and what is likely to happen. Movements in support in our samples are generally indicative of direction, though not necessarily magnitude, of movements in the population at large.

At no stage have I, or from what I can see The Australian, claimed that Kevin Rudd’s vote in Queensland is 10% lower than it was in 2007. The claim is that it is 10% lower in the sample, which is just a mathematical fact. As our respondents are better informed than average, and self-selecting, what we tend to find in our surveys is that they tend to lead public opinion rather than follow it. They come to conclusions that others come to later, because our respondents think about these issues more than the average Australian. They are also more likely to participate if they feel strongly about particular issues at the time we conduct a poll.

The poll in question had a sample size of 1535, which is fairly typical for our national polls. When it comes to qualitative research this is a huge sample size. Hugh Mackay has for years expounded on the state of the Australian collective conscious on the basis of small focus groups in suburban living rooms. Our methodology is far superior to this because of the size of the sample, and also its transparency. Again, if Farmer wanted to contact me, as The Australian did, he could, for the purposes of writing an article, get access to any data he wanted to see. Try doing that with any other qualitative researcher.

In the end, the important question is whether Rudd’s support in Queensland is softer than it was 18 months ago. I think the answer to that is likely to be yes. We know that the quantitative polling over-stated his support before the last election, and that is likely to be the case now. As a former political operative Farmer should understand that the issue is not how voters would have voted if there was an election last weekend, but how they might vote next weekend, or in six months time. Our qualitative methodology provides a basis for making those sorts of judgements, which is why political parties employ both quant and qual in planning their strategies.

We are the only organisation filling the gap in qualitative polling and making it generally available.

Rather than talking his own book and prosecuting his own feud with The Australian, Farmer might better use his time having a chat and finding out what we are really doing. It could make his political commentary even more relevant.

Islamaphobia:

Daniel Pipes writes: Re, “Palestine, Israel and freedom of speech: striking at the heart of liberal democracies” (Monday, item 17). I object to a paragraph written by Anthony Loewenstein and published by Crikey on May 18, The offending parts are in bold:

There have been countless examples of senior Jewish leaders publicly supporting viciously anti-Islam and anti-Arab sentiments and regularly welcoming overseas visitors, such as Daniel Pipes, who routinely defame Muslims in the name of their Zionist jihad. Pipes continually claimed during last year’s US Presidential debate that Barack Obama was Muslim, a transparent attempt to insinuate terrorist-sympathy. I don’t remember the shock-jocks calling for the Jewish establishment to stand up and take a stand against such bigotry (such is demanded of Muslims.)

There are two errors of fact in this statement:

  1. I attack Islamists and Islamism, not Muslims and Islam — a very important distinction. Here is one of many examples where I make this distinction, from an article titled “Islamophobia?” from 2005: “Despite writing again and again against radical Islam the ideology, not Islam the religion, I have been made the runner-up for a mock ‘Islamophobia Award’ in Great Britain, deemed America’s ‘leading Islamophobe,’ and even called an ‘Islamophobe Incarnate.” (What I really am is an “Islamism-ophobe.”)
  2. I wrote that Obama was a Muslim as a child but is now a Christian — a critical distinction that your author misrepresents. For documentation of the falsehood of the second point, including a prior retraction by the American ABC News, see “Obama is currently a Muslim?

Live Local:

John MacFarlane, Senior Producer, Live Local/Digital Eskimo, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). We at live local truly enjoyed Guy Rundle’s spoof assessment of our launch evening. His true message — artfully framed by his clever satirical style, featuring numerous deft factual errors — captured exactly the ethos of live local: the project is not merely about reducing food miles or spouting common environmentalist memes.

Rather, as Rundle subtly observes, live local is about neighbourhood and community — the only themes that could possibly unite people like First Opposition lady Lucy Turnbull with people like anarcho-artist Mickie Quick, Transition Town advocate Peter Driscoll and sustainability consultant Michael Mobbs. Rundle gets it: the way he declined to mention Blair Palese’s role as Green Pages editor to pointedly highlight the way this project transcends eco-philosophies was true genius. Well done!

Rundle’s feigned failure to listen to the evening’s fascinating talks or read the literature was a clever metaphor for the media’s failure to take up the stories of community and citizenship that are so crucial to creating positive change. His ironic description of the venue as wanky was a masterful reverse reference to Table for 20’s donation of 10% of nightly income to the Hope St. Mission — $170,000 so far. Drunk and angry? No. Drunk and brilliant? Yes.

As Rundle notes (between the lines), live local is not for the elite, but for people who care about their neighbourhoods — i.e., everyone. We hope others will join Rundle in visiting www.livelocal.org.au and help to build a relocalisation resource accessible to all.

Card carrying politicians:

Edward James writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Card carrying politicians are a shrinking minority in Australia, which means we are being governed by a minority of the voting population adjusting the rules to serve its own political machine. While we identify our political process as democratic, it has been crippled by the politics of the two parties not much preferred. It grates when I read variations of, if we don’t like it we can make our dissatisfaction know at the ballot box.

I wont wait four years to make my dissatisfaction known I will turn up outside the office or the parliament. Or alternately publish full page adds naming particular politicians and identifying what they are doing wrong on our behalf particularly those telling lies to further their own ends. A liar is a liar being a politician makes no difference.

Our economic future::

Jeremy Hearn writes: Re. “Our economic future” (yesterday, comments). Nearly every day the papers tell us that we are facing a demographic time bomb. Australians are not having enough children to replace their numbers. They say there will not be enough people to look after us in our old age, let alone staff the Wallabies and the Australian cricket team. Many reputable commentators say this is the biggest problem we face. If so, shouldn’t the government be doing more to encourage Australians to have children? After all, the natural result of a shrinking population is a shrinking economy which means permanent recession.

I am sure that every 60 plus Australian wants their grandchildren out there doing the things they did, and hopefully better. They can’t have that when the current government arrangements do not encourage young Australians to have kids. One of the reasons for the baby boom in the sixties is that Government policies, particularly the tax regime encouraged the forming of families and the bearing of children.

When I had my first (very basic) job the bloke next to me got a paycheque of $128 and I got $90, when I asked him why, he said he had a wife and two kids. This was how tax was structured at the time. Having a wife or children increased the tax free threshold substantially. Indeed to the point where this man was receiving more than a third more money than I was.

I asked him why. When he explained the reason I accepted this as perfectly sensible immediately. Vicious discrimination though it be, I am sure that the current generation would have the same reaction I did. We need to support local families and kids much more, and the way it was done in the 60s was pretty good.

Optus:

Julian Gillespie writes: Re. “Optus takes on Telstra for the worst customer service in Australia” (yesterday, item 21). Adam Schwab was right on the money. Just yesterday I called Optus to query how they could charge me $60 on a contract capped at $49 per month, when I had not exceeded my $300 of “included value” by a long shot. The first two Optus customer service people I spoke to each managed to drop my call after 15 minutes on both occasions, and right at the same time each of them was failing to explain the legitimacy of the additional $11.

On my third attempt the customer service person needed to place me on hold three times, before finally agreeing that the invoice was wrong, so the amount payable would be reduced to $54.56 instead. When I asked her to clarify how they managed to fix on this figure and still not the original contract amount of $49, I was then placed on hold again (because she didn’t know) before being transferred to a young lady in the Cancellations section! She of course couldn’t explain anything to me because only the people in Accounts could do that.

After placing me hold twice she came back stating that the people she spoke to in accounts couldn’t explain the charges above $49 either, and with that I was told a formal “investigation” would be initiated and that I could expect Optus to contact me in about five days with their findings. In total I spent just shy of one and a half hours on the phone chasing these charges down, only to learn that Optus accounts people couldn’t interpret their own invoices.

But what gets me is how common these little “errors” appear to be in my invoices and those of friends I canvassed on this issue, where many agreed they didn’t have the time to chase down a few dollars here, a few dollars there. Now with an estimated mobile customer base of 1.87 million in Australia alone, these little accounting errors (which always strangely involve me getting charged more instead of less) could amount to a several extra millions of dollars in revenue each month — little “mistakes” that possibly amount to big business.

Sri Lanka:

Anne Abayasekara writes: Re. “Ignoring the Issues: the end of the Tamil Tigers” (yesterday, item 12). While I cannot agree with everything that’s said in this article, I do concur wholeheartedly with it’s conclusion, beginning with the words, “To cope with an estranged Tamil population, Sri Lanka itself must be reconstituted and reformed, possibly as a multi-national state…”

There are many of us in the South who hope and pray that our leaders will have the wisdom and the vision to lead us to a lasting peace and the building of a united Sri Lankan nation in which all citizens will have equal rights that are upheld by the State and the judiciary.

Should I dob my team-mates in?:

Simon Wilkins writes: Re. “To whom it may concern: Should I dob my team-mates in?” (Yesterday, item 15). Oh dear. The point of an advice column is to give … wait for it … advice! Your agony aunt seems to have gotten so lost in their own cheap sherry and existentialism-induced depression spiral that they forgot to offer any. Allow me to come to the rescue (again) of poor AA and MJ of Rockdale.

How does that saying go? “There’s no “I” in TEAM, but there is a “U” in STUPID”. Did you think that the best way to keep a marital infidelity hushed up was to allow the rest of the team into the room? Did you think that if someone says they are a “fan”, they obviously meant “of group s-x?” No. Probably not. Hindsight’s 20/20 and all that hey?

As promised then, here’s the advice. MJ, you and the fan now have more in common that you realise, as the current “support” of your teammates, makes it apparent that you also got f-cked by the whole team! Forget trying to argue with the media about the merits of bukakke/group s-x/NRL (although the only difference I can see is when there there is a girl involved) and focus on preventing future victims of the same behaviour. In time you might even get some recognition for it.

Lastly, the next time you think your mates are so great, maybe ask yourself why all six of them want to have s-x with the same girl you just did … at once.

Just a thought.

The age pension:

Ross Copeland writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). Crikey published:

Monash University sacks all its prominent and distinguished academics — its Professors — at age 65. While their union, NTEU, is preparing significant court action against Monash University it begs the question, once the new retirement age of 67 kicks in, what will the Professors be doing between 65 and 67?

The tip appears predicated on the furphy that the government is lifting retirement age to 67. It is the age when the age pension can be accessed which is being raised, which is not the same as retirement age. There are very few occupations now which have a mandated retirement age due to age discrimination laws.

Judges have a specified retirement age and maybe Monash professors do too, but I would be surprised if that would withstand a challenge.

However I would be even more surprised if a retired professor would need the age pension to survive on.

The Old Testament:

Gerard McEwen writes: Re. “Why Bush invaded Iraq: the war on Gog and Magog” (Tuesday, item 1). Why is it that so-called “born again” Christians are always obsessed with the Old Testament? Nothing to do with Christ or Christianity — just a perverse and pre-Christian justification for non-Christian behaviour.

Not the right cattle:

Simon Smith writes: Re. “The ETS: our very own pig with lipstick (and a touch of kohl)” (yesterday, item 2). Your article says that the cattle industry at 11% is the largest source of emissions. This is incorrect. Stationery energy (i.e. electricity) generation is much larger at around 50%. You can see for yourself in the national inventory.

In my day…:

David Pullar writes: Re. “Not much stimulation for the poor kids on youth allowance” (yesterday, item 11). I’m intrigued to see speeding camera and parking fines listed as essential living costs for Youth Allowance recipients. Have things really changed so much since my student days?

Peter Fray

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