Utegate and limited news:

Hiro Sugita, in Japan, writes: Re. “Utegate cage match: Malcolm on the back foot” (yesterday, item 1). I am amazed with this ute-gate or email-gate. Partly the amazement comes from the fact that this has been blown so out of proportion when there are so many more important issues. But my amazement largely comes from uncanny resemblance of this with so-called “fake e-mail affair” taken place early 2006 in Japan which claimed a leadership of the then main opposition party and political and eventually real life of one opposition member of the opposition party.

In February 2006, one up-and-coming opposition member dropped a bombshell. He claimed that he possessed a copy of e-mail which proved large amount (equivalent of $350,000) had handed over from disgraced and jailed entrepreneur to a family member of the Secretary General of the ruling LDP (he was the second powerful politician in the LDP after the PM Koizumi).

Unfortunately for the MP and the Democrats leadership who wholeheartedly embraced the allegation, the e-mail was a hoax. Ensuring media and public criticism and ridicule forced not only the MP concerned to resign from the parliament but also the entire Democrats leadership from their position.

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Rod Raymont writes: In yesterday’s News Limited tabloids, Steve Lewis trumpeted “How I broke the story”. Strangely today there’s no account of “How I was conned by a fake email”. In fact no acknowledgement of his pivotal role in this affair. What chutzpah. No care and no responsibility apparently.

Malcolm Turnbull has to face the music but apparently Steve Lewis doesn’t. In Monday’s papers he opined: “In the interests of full transparency, Godwin Grech should be allowed to deliver his testimony.”

For the same reason, Steve Lewis should explain his actions.

Ray Edmondson writes: Maybe everyone should take a cold shower. If we apportioned the time that Parliament should be spending on the major issues of the day, this one is essentially so trivial that it shouldn’t get a look in. It’s tit for tat game playing. It demeans us all, wastes time, and it demeans the dignity of Parliament. In fact, it’s Parkinson’s “bike shed syndrome”.

C. Northcote Parkinson, who famously gave us the law that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”, also gave us the archetypal board meeting, in which five minutes was spent allocating 3 billion dollars to build a nuclear reactor, but the whole afternoon was spent dissecting the budget for the staff’s bike shed. The first issue was way above the head of board members, but everyone certainly had something to say about building sheds.

The Opposition seems to work at the level of bike sheds. Heaven help us if its wisdom can’t get onto a higher plane.

John Shailer writes: The Labor Party has form in the “dirty tricks” department, when it comes to providing forged material to Liberal Party Opposition Leaders! In South Australia recently a similar incident occurred, when Martin Hamilton-Smith, the Opposition Leader, was provided with a forged invoice regarding an illegal donation to the Labor Party. His standing was severely diminished, when it proved a forgery.

It is more than a coincidence that less than two months later the same scam has been played out on Malcolm Turnbull with a forged email from Kevin Rudd’s staffer. From day one of the current controversy, Kevin said he knew the email from his staffer was a forgery.

Is Kevin the man who knew too much?

G.T. Carroll writes: It would appear that the Liberals have learnt nothing from the Howard era where lying was lifted to an art form. Turnbull has had a rush of blood to the head, possibly brought by the departure of Costello.

Maggi Boult writes: Godwin Grech — Slytherin or Hufflepuff?

David Long writes: Re. “Utegate raises no end of questions for the media too” (yesterday, item 20). I guess one doesn’t read Crikey because its Shakespearian in its prose or presentation but “Crikey blogger Scott Bridges” should win some sort of award for cramming so many thrilling metaphors and clichés into such a short passage, in his summation yesterday of the political dilemma facing Messers Rudd, Swan and Turnbull in l’affaire Utegate…

“It’s a Mexican stand-off that will end with egg on face if nobody pulls the trigger”. Moved by the writing, it did leave me wondering though … is the gun loaded with eggs? And, more to the point, are they huevos rancheros?

Jenny Morris writes: The decline of journalism in the 21st Century: if any more evidence is needed, exhibit 1: the slavish attaching of the term “gate” to any word, to indicate scandal, or the media’s hope for same. I’ve listened to and watched the ABC over the weekend, so can only comment on its use there. ABC1 7pm news, Fran Kelly on Radio National yesterday morning — full of “utegate”, or perhaps “ute gate”, or even “ute-gate”.

In contrast, The Australian yesterday morning refered to the “ute affair”. This was funny perhaps the first time, after Watergate. But every time?

Exhibit 2: ABC1 7pm news, and childish, supposedly clever references, such as the sound of the bell at Kevin Rudd’s Sunday morning church, and the reporter (nameless only because I can’t remember) archly talking about “for whom the bell may be tolling” or words to that effect.

This is school newspaper standard, maybe even university rag. But our national broadcaster? I despair.

Tony Clifford writes: Re. “Mungo: Utegate threatens Prime Minister’s integrity” (yesterday, item 13). It’s great to see Mungo pick up his game after last weeks lapse. Two really good John Howard pot-shots. You can’t keep a “true believer/ true hater” down.

Greg McFarlane writes: John Goldbaum’s ditty (yesterday, comments) gets a couple of old dog’s juices flowing … to the tune of Copacabana … seems sort of appropriate.

His name is Godwin
He was an odd one
A pretty tale to tell
Of a public servant’s hell

Along came Malcolm
As smooth as talcum
Kissing and cooing, winking and wooing, truusst meee, I’ll ring your bell…

They say that Swanee
Was pullin’ a con-nee
Kevy gets a ute
It’s all a little cute

What is the answer
Who is the pretty danncerrr
J.G. got no dough, will we ever know, where doo eee-maaiiillls go

Scepticism and medicine:

James Sleeman writes: Re. “Scepticism can limit your options when it comes to medicine” (yesterday, item 19). I am glad you have published a reply to Loretta Mannon’s article. Natural methods in healthcare don’t always work but when they do it really makes you challenge medical orthodoxy. There are a lot of half truths out there:

  • Vitamin supplements don’t work (True — if you don’t do anything with the diet — add in minerals and essential fatty acids).
  • Gluten free/dairy free diet does not cure autism (True – but this diet can lessen symptoms markedly).
  • Vaccines don’t cause autism (True – but add vax toxic load to other environmental toxins and it is a very bad combination for some kids).

The autism controversy is a huge one for medicine and especially evidence based medicine. Autism is not a psychiatric illness but rather a biochemical one. Medicine often likes to assess treatment D (in depth) but if you have not done treatments A + B + C then D is not going to work. Unfortunately local GPs don’t have the time (or knowledge) to treat and educate patients on the A, B, and C.

If you thought the health system was going to go broke getting clogged with older patients, wait until the flood of kids with autism, borderline autistic symptoms, ADHD, allergies, anaphylactic and auto immune reactions take up more and more of the health system. Not only that but take up the time and resources in the education system as well. Autism is a huge issue (and along with asthma, allergies, ADHD) are rising in incidence in a very scary way.

Crikey should be following this issue in depth — our kid’s future depends on an open minded approach.

Tim Byron writes: Julian Zitnik’s article tries to insinuate that there is a link between autism and vaccinations; there is no link. Who did a study matters much less than how well the study was designed and conducted, and the kind of conspiracy needed to fraudulently fix hundreds of studies from researchers around the world is only found in Dan Brown novels, not in real life.

It turns out that that Andrew Wakefield, the researcher who originally found a link between vaccines and autism, used fraudulent data. The reduction in the amount of vaccinations that occurred after Wakefield’s research was publicised in the 1990s in the UK demonstrably caused at least two deaths. This is the reason that the “medical establishment” gets so upset with people who think that there is a link between autism and vaccines: vaccines have saved thousands of lives, and misinformation about them has the potential to harm infants.

Autism is a difficult disorder for parents and those afflicted, and I don’t blame parents for trying everything possible to help their children, but improvements caused by many “alternative” treatments are likely to be due to the placebo effect.

Ignaz Amrein writes: It is very refreshing to read Julian Zytnik’s article after last weeks extremist view by Loretta Marron. Ms Marron’s views seem to come straight from the time of the Spanish Inquisition. One would like to believe that we all learned a thing or two since then.

Citizenship tests:

Sandi Logan, Immigration’s spokesman, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). More than 107,000 people have passed the citizenship test since it was introduced in October 2007 and not one of them paid to sit the test on either the first or any subsequent occasion (apropos your “tips and rumours” on 22 June). Once people pass the test — and the success rate is currently 96.7 per cent on the first two attempts — they then pay a one-off fee to become an Australian citizen.

It seems your correspondent’s tip is based very much on rumour than anything else.

Degree-less Dean:

Karl Reed writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Crikey published” It seems that RMIT University may have set a new standard of academic appointment. Which acting Dean has no degree?”

I am not sure who you are referring to, but, I would hope that ANY university would recognise real academic talent, and reward it appropriately. Sure a degree (and PhD) are good indications of basic academic standing, however, the real test is academic quality. This is evidenced by the following, none of which require a degree…

  1. Highly cited journal and conference publications…
  2. Authoritative books. In the case of novels that won major prizes, and text books that have become standards…
  3. Patents, standards…
  4. Pervasive inventions and “technical” contributions…
  5. In the arts, consistent international standard performances, painting, films, plays etc. journalistic contributions.
  6. Major international prizes and awards (e.g. Nobel prizes etc.)
  7. Effective leadership of major national and international organisations, both commercial and research…

As an example, if Bill Gates wanted to be dean of business at any Australian University, I’d expect they might hire him…


Michael O’Hara writes: Re. “Little chance that anything will be salvaged from Timbercorp” (yesterday, item 23). Glenn Dyer’s article highlights the financial position of Timbercorp from the point of view of shareholders and creditors. Logically, the creditors want their money back and they want it back as quickly as possible. Everyone seems to have a “take” on Timbercorp and Great Southern, whether it be the misappropriation of farmland, misallocated tax concessions, misrepresentations to investors, greedy financial advisors (I am a financial advisor), stupid investor/growers (I am an investor/grower in Great Southern), inappropriate business models, mismanagement or simply a story of fools receiving their just deserts. However, I have read very little unbiased, measured analysis of what is taking place here, and for all of the detail contained in the article, it misses the single most important point of the whole Timbercorp/Great Southern debacle — and that is the world from a grower/investor’s point of view.

Let’s concede the benefit of the doubt and assume that growers overpaid for their holdings. Let’s assume they were all greedy for tax deductions and anyone who wasn’t was lured to invest by greedy financial advisors. Let’s assume the companies themselves were mismanaged and the Government either stupid or morally corrupt for dangling such overgenerous tax concessions. What do we have left? We have trustee/management companies that have attempted to promote and operate agricultural investments but have failed. We have growers who hold charges over large parcels of land, and who have a contractual right to continue to operate agricultural projects of one kind or another on that land for many years to come. Even if nothing were planted, those contractual rights have a value.

As an example of just how big that value is, we can look at Macquarie, who also offer agricultural projects, and they offer units in a land trust for the underlying land. Growers purchase units in that trust at a substantial discount to stated value, owing to the limited ability to market land that you cannot use because someone else has a charge over its use. The discount that Macquarie applies to account for this restriction of use is materially large.

And so we return to Timbercorp. If the projects can be terminated then it stands to reason that the contracts over the use of the land are removed. This frees up the creditors to force the sale of that land to help meet their loan debts. In other words, there is a very large dollar incentive for creditors to close those projects. It also provides an opportunity for growers to be steamrollered into accepting nil or minimal value for their contracts.

It is in the creditor’s interest to close the projects, and to do so as quickly as possible. Shutting down the records of the central business is a convenient step towards that, which can be cloaked with the appearance of financial prudence and displayed as an appropriate action when stewarding the limited resources of the Timbercorpse.

However, it is clear that allowing this to happen would be a serious failure to act by our investor protection watchdogs. The deficiency of the MIS Responsible Entity regime has been exposed as a huge gulf in the implementation of corporate consumer protection systems. It is also sadly true that commentators, analysts and industry experts will follow their ideological prejudices or commercial interests and ignore this deficiency while wagging disapproving fingers at those silly enough to invest in or allow themselves to be led into agricultural projects.

It seems to me that everyone is lining up behind the big banks to give an extra kick to the growers while they are down.


Len Gilchrist, Australian ex-pat and Vancouver Resident, writes: Re. “Tasers: what the Canadian Inquiry tells us” (yesterday, item 18). Mr Dziekanski was not waiting for his mother to arrive on a flight from Europe. Mr Dziekanski was the one arriving from Europe as an immigrant to join his mother already living in Canada.

Mr Dziekanski’s mother left the airport several hours after his flight arrived after being told by airport/airline staff that her son was not at the Vancouver airport.

Herein lies the tale of woe. It seems Mr Dziekanski was in the customs hall for something like 10 hours after arriving and clearing immigration. Furthermore all of the customs and border security officials, airport security staff and the airport staff guiding and assisting arriving passengers were all oblivious to his plight. It has been revealed he even had a sleep in the customs arrival hall. There no alcohol available for purchase in this high security area so RCMP accusations of drunkenness and disorderly conduct were dismissed.

The customs and immigration officials were also under the spot light in this Braidwood Inquiry for their lack of assistance. Their procedures are under review. With no English or interpreter being provided, Mr Dziekanski became agitated and frustrated with tiredness. Late into the evening the RCMP were called to a disturbance with a tragic result. Unfortunately Mr Dziekanski had not realised all he had to do was collect his suitcase and walk through the doors out into the lobby where his mother had been waiting.

This Taser gun incident and a couple of others involving the RCMP has somewhat diminished the reputation and public perception of this very outstanding police force. The image of a new immigrant to Canada being Tasered and killed by the RCMP on arrival is a very sad tale for all. The inquiry is set to re-open in September.

Let us all hope the Queensland police can be accountable for their actions and they don’t get into the lies, deceit, misrepresentation, obfuscation and blundering as has happened here in Vancouver. We can all hope but must also wonder.

A further item of note is that the senior RCMP officer involved in this unfortunate Taser incident has subsequently been involved in a road traffic accident and he has been charged with impaired driving. His motor vehicle collided with a motor cyclist and I seem to recall the motorcyclist may have been killed. The RCMP officer’s small children were also in the vehicle at the time. Stress of the incident and work related issues have been offered up in the initial response.

The SMH:

Diana Simmonds writes: Michael James (yesterday, comments) writes that he wants to read Peter Hartcher AND Michelle Grattan. Indeed, but actually I also want to read Kerry-Anne Walsh — surely the only reason to buy that otherwise god-awful rag the Sun-Herald. She’s on the ball and on the money week after week and breaking stories more often than the MasterChefs break eggs. But I noticed a small announcement a few issues ago that they’re letting her take redundancy. They must be mad. M

y cat died six months ago so I now no longer need a nice fat Sunday paper to line the litter tray. And if Kerry-Anne Walsh goes, the last reason to buy that sad excuse for a paper goes too. Yep, they must be mad.

The Governor General:

Marcus L’Estrange writes: Re. “Preferential treatment, proper and appropriate for elected representatives” (yesterday, item 2). Bernard Keane may be a Republican like me but he makes a major mistake in claiming that the Governor General “is an appointee, a glorified public servant”.

S/he is the Head of State in the absence of the Queen, the Commander-in Chief of the armed forces and finally can rule Australia, with or without the Parliament, if they so desired. S/he has three key roles: constitutional referee, constitutional auditor and may exercise the reserve powers, with or without advice.

Not bad for a “glorified public servant” as Bernard Keane delights in showing off his complete and utter ignorance of the Constitution.

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