Australians overseas:

Lizzie O’Shea writes: Re. Friday’s editorial. I’m not in the country at present, so I may not fully comprehend the intricacies or idiocies of the beermat mum saga (though I get the idea), however I disagree with the sentiment generally of your editorial.

Consider, for example, the case of Samantha Orobator: a British national who has been incarcerated in Laos since August 2008 in a women’s only prison on drug smuggling charges. She is currently five months pregnant (is receiving no antenatal car) and if convicted, faces death by firing squad. She first saw a lawyer two weeks ago, in the company of no less than ten officials from the Lao government. The intervention of the British government (at the behest of the tireless legal action charity, Reprieve) was and is her only hope. A prisoner exchange is currently being negotiated.

Of course, the media coverage in Australia of issues such as the beermat mum or Schappelle Corby is often filled with thinly veiled racism. Equally, the cavalier superiority complex of many Australians travelling overseas is disturbing. But the dispensation of consular assistance is a complex issue and your editorial did little to elucidate the matter.

Representation of prisoners overseas is an important mechanism for raising awareness about abuses of human rights in foreign countries. It can be a vehicle through which governments can be prodded into action in defence of human rights, in both Australia and Asia. For example, China is the world leader in executing prisoners and it might not be long until an Australian faces the death penalty there.

One would hope that should this occur, the Australian government will respond, or be forced to respond with a strong objection from a human rights perspective. I certainly hope that their treatment of the Bali 9 is not the benchmark, which was and continues to be shameful.

Bruce Messmer writes: Re your editorial on international travellers who get into trouble (self inflicted or otherwise). This is an excellent overview of the problem and I strongly agree with the sentiments expressed. A copy should be sent to both the P.M. and the minister for external affairs.

The next election:

David Hand writes: Re. “PM’s media deceptions treat voters like children” (21 May, item 1). I have felt some sympathy for Messers Rudd and Swan in the last week over their refusal to utter the words “$300 billion dollars deficit” and I say this as someone who supports the opposite side of politics. By this I am not defending spin, which is mainly used to obfuscate, such as the latest fashionable media term “structural deficit”, thereby pushing the quaint view that the coalition drove the economy into deficit while still in office.

Tony Jones has been lauded as some sort of champion of the people by pushing Kevin so hard on Lateline to “say the word” and it never let up all week. But I believe that Jones did it primarily because it’s great TV, not to represent the downtrodden masses in the democratic process. Kevin Rudd may have had ridicule and mockery heaped upon him but he still succeeded in avoiding the sound bite for the Coalition’s election advertising and he deserves some credit for that.

This is a real issue. It’s about the next election, not some passing conversation by the political media in May 2009 and when looked at through the prism of the next election campaign, Kevin may not have had the bad week everyone is saying he had. John Howard’s statement “the average Australian has never been better off” was used to devastating effect by the ALP in the 2007 election even though it now has an eerie resonance of authenticity in the harsh economic reality of 2009.

Maybe the Coalition could use it in 2010!

Germaine Greer:

Justin Templer writes: Re. “Rundle: Greer bores the t-ts off the Sydney Writers’ Festival” (Friday, item 14). In an elegantly headlined piece Guy Rundle writes that Germaine Greer bored the “t-ts” (mammaries) off the audience at the Sydney Writers Festival, occasioning the “susurrations” (whispering) of fabric on chairs. In other words, boredom. Quite believable, but no different to the yawn-inducing nature of Rundle’s thoughts, such as “Greer’s chiliasm … is the opposite of the sort of energy her audience wants”. Yes, no, maybe.

For those not keeping up with Rundle’s erudition, chiliasm is the belief that Christ will return to earth in visible form. Possibly proven by Rundle’s bodily presence. There was apparently a humorous moment when Greer referred to the inability of Australians to speak Asian languages — a wag at the back called out: “Kevin Rudd does”.

According to Rundle the ensuing laughter “suggested that the audience felt closer to Rudd’s modest gradualism and sense of what was possible here, than with the formerly-inspiring, energising scrutiny of an errant daughter forever judging it as falling short”.

Exactly. Unless, of course, they just thought it was funny.

Rugby league:

Peter Wilms writes: Re. “Rundle: how sport got caught between group s-x and a dishwasher” (Friday, item 4). It is a little rough for rugby league sponsors to be pontificating about the unacceptable behaviour of a group of players when, as likely as not, they condone the same sort of activity when they are “on tour”.

While the behaviour of the players is reprehensible, is it any more reprehensible than the benefits provided to attendees at conferences, conventions or whatever the term might be where big orders are in the offing?

The purported protection of the brand, under the circumstances, is an absolute nonsense and perhaps these sponsors should look to adequate protection in their contract negotiations rather than rushing to their media when the whole thing goes pear shaped.

The age pension:

Ava Hubble writes: Re. “The age pension” (Friday, comments). What is the point of increasing the pension age from 65 to 67 while age discrimination continues virtually unchecked in the Australian workplace?

Last August, during an ABC Background Briefing program, top recruitment consultant, Toby Marshall, lamented that he had difficulty in persuading employers to even interview job applicants who were over 35, despite the fact that they had exceptionally impressive qualifications.

A few weeks ago, while researching another story, I contacted Toby Marshall to ask if there is now more demand for older workers, especially since the financial meltdown, which has been quite widely blamed on the risk-taking of inexperienced young hot shots. But no. Marshall regretted that things had not changed; that the demand is still for “dynamic” staff in their early thirties.

So unless attitudes change or anti-discrimination laws become more tightly enforced, older workers will continue to be forced, in between casual jobs, to live on the dole — and for longer, until they are 67. Surely, in conjunction with the extension of the pension age, a concerted effort should be made to create more opportunities for talented mature-age workers and resurrect decent working conditions for all in Australia.

David Klein writes: Why will the government, from 20 September, take money from some pensioners to fund increases to other pensioners? The pension withdrawal rate for income received above the threshold increases from 40 cents to 50 cents in the dollar. A pensioner couple lucky enough to receive a part overseas pension for instance, which exceeds the allowable income of $6260 ($3130 each) by say $3000 now pays 40% tax or $1200.

From September at 50% it will be $1500. That leaves only $200 from the $10 per week increase. Nothing mentioned about the annual senior’s bonus of $500 each, introduced by Howard and honoured in 2008 by Kevin Rudd. It quietly disappeared from the radar. How many reasonably well off or rich people pay 50% tax?

In addition, many overseas age pension schemes, unlike Australia, require contributions deducted from wages. The overseas pension may be reduced if there is an income in Australia above a threshold. The leftover is then looked at by Centrelink to then reduce the Australian pension proportional to the amount.

Double taxation?

The Old Testamant:

Keith Binns writes: I know I’m a day late but Gerard McEwen on the Old Testament (21 May, comments) can’t go unchallenged. Far from being “just a perverse and pre-Christian justification for non-Christian behaviour” it is in fact the wellspring from which so much of what we now see as Christian behaviour comes.

The ideals of a relatively egalitarian society with a small gap between the rich and poor, of universal justice no matter what one’s social status and of social welfare to protect the vulnerable are all Old Testament concepts many which are applied but not specifically expounded in the New.

Go to an online concordance (such as here) and search for “poor” or “orphan” for example and see what you get. Even the concept of loving your neighbour, which is, of course, expounded at length in the New Testament, is originally Old Testament: Leviticus 19:18.

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

Ken Lambert writes: Re. Michael James (Friday, comments). I recently Googled some solar energy companies to see what it was like to take advantage of the $8000 Federal Govt subsidy for domestic PV Solar installation. A 1.04kW (1040 Watts) “home power station” with grid feed inverter cost about $12,000. It saved about $0.81 (81 cents) per day in coal fired grid power usage which averaged about $300 per year. This will produce the power output of a domestic frypan. Without the subsidy it would take $12,000/300 = 40 years to pay for itself. With the $8000 taxpayer subsidy it would cost a net $4000 and take about 13 years to pay for itself.

Scaling up to 3kW and 6kW “home power stations” cost about $40,000 and $80,000 respectively, and the $8000 subsidy off these systems took the payoff periods to 35 years and 40 years. The PV solar panels were warrantied for 20 years, and other components 10 years. Assuming the PV panels have a usable life of 35 to 40 years, they just pay for themselves when ready to be replaced (and this ignores any interest cost on the initial capital over 35 to 40 years). To be commercially viable, a seven to 10 year payback period would be reasonable, and this would require a cost reduction for PV solar to 20-25% of current costs. i.e. four to times  times cheaper than at present.

For those who see all the house roofs in Australia covered in PV solar panels, (just 4000 km2), please supply a working cost model. I think I will wait for the next generation of PV Solar — one that actually produces a saleable surplus of energy and is not a cost black hole subsidised by cheap coal fired energy.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12