Correction:

Rail-Corp Public Affairs Media Manager Paul Rea: I want to correct the record following a tip (June 24, Tips and Rumours) about the upgraded CityRail website which went live on June 21.

Claims that $4.3 million was spent on the new website are incorrect. The total budget which successfully delivered the new CityRail website was $1.3 million. Claims that we are spending $10.3 million on the CityRail web-presence are also wrong.

However, I was pleased to read a couple of readers’ comments that, even at the inflated figures, the site is money well-spent. Around 40,000 people a day rely on the site to provide up-to-date information on timetables, train service disruptions, and station details.

Utegate:

John Kotsopoulos writes: Alan Kennedy (Yesterday, comments) asks “So why, as the forensic cleaners were trawling the treasury computers didn’t the deleted dodgy email turn up?” He then goes on to bag the AFP and others. If Mr. Kennedy had been keeping up he would be aware that the original search was for an email from Charlton in the PM’s Office to Grech. The actual allegedly forged email was later found by the AFP on Grech’s home computer and traced back to a Treasury computer from which it was sent and then deleted.

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. “Rundle: Grech, Dickensian, Dostoyevsky-like, or, erm, something out of John Grisham” (yesterday, item 14). I have followed the Grech email and Ozcar affair only loosely, as surely many more words have been written about it than could ever be reasonably justified. Turnbull has been reported as having warned Andrew Charlton at the mid-winter ball to ‘tell the truth’. Whatever else, only a demented fool would try to convince someone to tell the truth if he knew for himself that the email was fake. The point of my email? Guy Rundle was reaching for his literary metaphors for Godwin Grech, but seems to have forgotten one that possibly fits better than all, one Walter Mitty.

First dog on the Moon:

Marcus Vernon writes: Michael Byrne (Monday, comments) was correct, and not alone, in seeing the First Dog cartoon “Steve Fielding does not believe in climate change” as offensive and hypocritical. Believe it or not, practicing Christians are also potential Crikey subscribers; and some existing Crikey subscribers are also Christians. These positions are not mutually exclusive. Likewise, many non-Christians who are paid-up Crikey readers respect those who do happen to follow the faith of their choice. And please, spare me any nonsense about editorial independence; you know that there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed if we are to live together in a multicultural, multi-faith society. But somehow, you seem to think that Christians are fair game for insults or bullying, perhaps because we tend to quietly write letters like this one, rather than riot in the streets or trash magazine offices.

Greg Williams (Yesterday, comments) predicted that First Dog might soon feature a joke or two about the Islamic faith, just to prove his bravery. But you shouldn’t hold your breath Greg — I issued a similar challenge to the brave hearts at Crikey in March. Still waiting.

Michael Byrne writes: I wish Greg Williams would not misrepresent my contributions to push his own narrow barrow. I did not “observe” — I criticised. I took offence at an outrageous comment in the cartoon and directed criticism at the “commentators” on all things social that abound in the Crikey ecosystem for being silent on it. It is worth noting that Williams used the Easter cartoon (9th April) to push his anti Islam barrow when he should have enjoyed the wit of it.

Dr Jim Ivins writes: The First Dog on the Moon cartoon last Thursday was a gem, a surreal demolition of a fool and his questionable beliefs. Today, Greg Williams attempts to muddy the waters, branding First Dog a hypocrite because he took the p-ss out of Fielding’s religion without also having a go at the Muslim faith. Give me a break, Greg. If you want to defend Jesus and/or Fielding then please do so based on their intrinsic merits (if any), not by invoking memories of what happened to Salman Rushdie, or the aftermath of the publication of those infamous Danish cartoons.

Among its many crimes against humanity, one flavour of the Christian religion persecuted Galileo Galilei for years simply because he tried to point out that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa.

Christianity a ‘soft target’? A-sehats! As for Fielding, there’s another entry for Rundle’s list of people who should drop dead sooner rather than later.

Asylum seekers:

Chris Pearce writes: Re. “’Queue jumpers’ tell: we came for Skippy, not visa softening” (yesterday, item 2). Let’s for a moment accept the premise that refugees or asylum seekers do not, in the main, know enough about Australia for our immigration policy to affect their decision about whether to come or, more appropriately, where to come. Surely then, there are people (that is, the “traffickers”) who do make decisions about where they go. From a purely intuitive point of view (I have not conducted studies or tested this with primary research) it seems unlikely that asylum seekers turn up to these people and point to a map like one might at a travel agency. Someone, somewhere, is saying “let’s send them to Australia” or at least “let’s suggest to them that they pay us to send them to one of a small number of countries we have selected to traffic people to, one of those countries being Australia”. It probably makes economic sense or something. So be it.

The real issues are these:

  • Should our policy be to deter them from coming in the first place?
  • How might a deterrence policy best be implemented?

On the first question, a quick read of Andrew Bartlett’s piece ([today], item 1) is instructive. Obviously views differ but I simply don’t see why Australia cannot handle more refugees. That said, in any case there are valid reasons to deter the method of travel that some of these asylum seekers use. It might be said, for example, that the risk to life on these dodgy boats travelling out of Indonesia is bad enough that we should be doing our best to convince people not to use that method of travel (or perhaps even that we should provide alternative options for getting here).

On the second question, again, if we accept the premise that the asylum seekers themselves are not substantially influenced by our policies, and assuming we answer the first question “yes”, then we should target those who make the real decisions (the traffickers). There has certainly been a lot of rhetoric about that.

Here’s my point: this issue is clearly more complex than “they know nothing about Australia so our policy doesn’t make a difference anyway.”

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not the same Chris Pearce as the one who recently announced his retirement from politics.

Marilyn Shepherd writes: The department of immigration’s Sandi Logan (Monday, comments) loves jargon and gobbledegook but seems to have a total lack of understanding of the law regarding refugees. Refugees seeking asylum have authority to arrive in Australia or any part of the world where the refugee convention is enshrined in law, as it is here.

It was finally exposed in the Al Masri case when the judge stated:

62 The Refugees Convention implicitly requires that, generally, the signatory countries process applications for refugee status of on-shore applicants irrespective of the legality of their arrival, or continued presence, in that country: see Art 31. That right is not only conferred upon them under international law but is also recognised by the Act (see s 36) and the Migration Regulations 1994 (Cth) which do not require lawful arrival or presence as a criterion for a protection visa. If the position were otherwise many of the protection obligations undertaken by signatories to the Refugees Convention, including Australia, would be undermined and ultimately rendered nugatory.

63 Notwithstanding that the applicant is an “unlawful non-citizen” under the Act who entered Australia unlawfully and has had his application for a protection visa refused, in making that application he was exercising a “right” conferred upon him under Australian law.”

In case Logan can’t read, it says RIGHT conferred by law. Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum and Logan and the department are just spouting mumbo jumbo to make people think refugees have broken the law.

Medicare:

Alan Lander writes: Re. “$600 million later, why have surgery waiting times gone up?” (Yesterday, item 3). Jennifer Doggett says the service is free. WTF? We pay something called a Medicare levy. It seems most people seem to think the only way to reduce public health services is by making private health sexy (fat chance). Why not just raise the Medicare levy? Are governments so paranoid now about “raising taxes” they can’t even put half a percent on the rate, which would barely register when average wages are around $1000 a week.

Are we now paying the price for the long-ago decision to change the idea of an insurance contribution (which it’s still called in the UK I believe) to a “levy”?

I put it to Kevin and Nicola that whacking a small percentage rise on Medicare would not create riots in the streets, only wailing and gnashing of teeth in opposition quarters, which means sod-all in the current electoral cycle. Most thinking people would welcome it, to be honest, as a direct and understandable way of helping cut surgery queues.

Guy Rundle:

Julian Zytnik writes: Re. “Rundle: Grech, Dickensian, Dostoyevsky-like, or, erm, something out of John Grisham” (yesterday, item 14). How many pieces has Guy Rundle written this year trumpeting the lows reached by conservatives and pop stars in Australia and the US? And how many times, when he’s bored doing that, does he just kick down any sh*t to pass the time? It must be most of the the time. Whatever the figure, it’s become serious overkill.

It’s not whether he’s right or not. In many cases he’s bullseyed the hypocrisy, hokeyness and sheer ineptitude of certain public figures. And yes he can be really funny. But reading Guy recently: “If he [Sanford] has spent money that should have gone to kidney machines, then that is all the more magnificent”…”Abbott — a turkey lovingly stuffed and basted by Christopher Pearson and George Pell”… “the shoddy crowd of silvertails, sinisters and third-rate real estate agents…” Then about Jackson’s death: “deep down, one also breathes a sigh of relief”. C’mon Crikey is this a news site trying to be at the rational centre, or just another opinionfest teasing that “Chaser line” between hilarity and heartlessness?

Memo to Guy: yes there are plenty of points to score as divided oppositions struggle to regroup. But eventually the worm turns. In the Bush and Howard years it was common to hear progressive commentators bemoan the triumphalism, namecalling and point-scoring of some conservative opinionmakers. You were in that crowd Guy. So why, after the tables turned in 2007 and 08, have you been indulging in the same brand of triumphalism? Guy you’re a great writer, but let’s have a bit more of the Kerry O’Brien and a bit less of the Hunter S Thompson!

Climate change cage match, now with its own blog:

Mick Callinan writes: It’s funny what you read, or read into, things. Ken Lambert (Yesterday, comments) reads Prof Karoly as having an each way bet, but I read him as catching Ian Plimer telling a fib. I don’t know for certain what will happen regarding climate change, but if disaster is 4 to 1 on, I’ll punt on prevention. It seems to me that most climate change sceptics can have holes punched in their arguments much easier than can climate change believers. Typically, as in Prof Karoly’s example, they render “few” into “none”, “seldom” into “never”, “unlikely” into “impossible”, and cling to the 1998 temperature spike. And the argument that doing something about climate change will wreak havoc on the economy is a crock. It’s as if “there is no anthro-whatever climate change” equates to “oil will last forever”. If they are BOTH true, then the earth is flat and 1=2. So we ought to work on making our economies and lifestyles carbon neutral for the simple reason that we have to anyway, and we need the oil we still have to do it with. Now, where’s the mercury, I’ve got a hat to finish (oblique reference to occupations long since obsolete due to economic and scientific progress and change).

Kieren Diment writes: I can’t let you publish Ken Lambert’s nonsense in the newsletter without a rebuttal. This stuff is stuck in a moderation queue on the cage match blog, but you should copy edit it into something useful by way of response:

You’d need a sophisticated understanding of what the models are measuring, their sensitivity and the variables that they predict other than mean global termperature to understand why 80% of them predict warming and 20% of them predict cooling. This kind of thing can be really useful in a bootstrap/model selection analysis, especially if you can run the different models with cross-model comparable permutations to further eke out the signal to noise ratio. Here, a decidedly non-technical forum is not the place for such advanced statistical technique. What we can do is look at the observed data, which shows what appears to be a warming trend since 1998 despite that data starting at an extremely strong El Niño event.

All this means is that El Niño can have confounding effects on the observed data, and we have to treat unsophisticated (intuitive if you
like) examination of the data with extreme caution. Here’s the source for the small warming trend.  Jennifer Mahorasy, a moderately well known climate fossil concurs that this is a correct reading of the data. On the other hand, we have a bunch of physical scientists in her blog’s comments, who clearly are only experienced at reading clean datasets (i.e. the “you have discard data points that need statistical correction in our field” crowd) decrying the statistical corrections.

Did you know most physicists lack training in complexity theory? This is partly because it’s very hard with physics undergrads are already overwhelmed, and partly because it’s an area of rapidly advancing knowledge, thanks in part to the climate model crowd.

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