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Jul 15, 2009

Crikey Readers have plenty to fear from the Productivity Commission, apparently

Readers share their thoughts on parallel imports, Stern Hu, Big Sugar and more.

The Productivity Commission:

Michael Heyward, Publisher, The Text Publishing Company, writes: Re. “Readers have nothing to fear from the Productivity Commission” (yesterday, item 1). The Productivity Commission recommends that territorial copyright, the very thing that underpins one of the most successful cultural industries we have, be abolished. The Commission says that this should happen within three years of any government announcement.

Make no mistake; the Productivity Commission agrees that abolishing territorial copyright will hurt writers, publishers, printers and many booksellers. It will cause job losses, loss of income. The Commission knows that its recommendations will make it harder for Australians to be published and paid fairly, and will provide a big free-kick to foreign-based publishers and wholesalers.

And yet the Commission cannot quantify the effect of territorial copyright on the price of books. It hopes that kicking writers in the teeth will cause prices to fall. It asserts that territorial copyright causes ‘upward pressure’ on prices. But it cannot quantify the ‘downward pressure’ on price of removing territorial copyright.

So who pays for the damage? The taxpayer.

That’s right, according to the Productivity Commission, the government must immediately review the subsidies it provides for writing and publishing. In other words, it wants the government to massacre the industry and then assemble a fleet of ambulances to pick up the wounded.

If adopted these reforms will mean higher taxes to support an industry which currently puts tens of millions of dollars into government coffers.

Jim Hart writes: Bernard Keane is being a tad disingenuous in misinterpreting (wilfully I suspect) Tim Winton’s remarks about people who feel “excluded” by traditional booksellers.

No Bernard, it’s not that book readers are “just too damn sensitive”. Strange though it may seem, while a bookshop may be friendly and familiar territory to you and most Crikey readers, this ain’t necessarily true of the wider population which is why many people only ever buy books at a general retailer like a K-Mart or Target.

These outlets thus serve a valid role, but with corresponding limitations, mainly a very limited range of titles compared to say an independent bookseller. With their high volumes the chains can negotiate (read: dictate) favourable terms so they can retail books at “discount” prices, except that it’s usually the publishers and the authors who do the discounting not the retailer.

Meanwhile the traditional booksellers do their best to offer a vast range of titles including perhaps many future Tim Wintons for those of us who are fortunate enough not to feel excluded from entering…

Kevin, Hu?:

John Shailer writes: Re. “China will do whatever it likes. Hu knew” (Monday, item 1). Our Mandarin-speaking ex-diplomat PM trumpeted before the last election that he would have a special relationship with China. Well it’s not too special for Rio Tinto exec Stern Hu! — he’s been incarcerated for 30 days without any outside access.

This is apparently in retaliation for Kevin and Wayne Swan vacillating over the Chinalco investment in Rio Tinto. Why won’t Kevin (“the buck stops with me”) Rudd get on the phone with his Chinese counterparts and demand some fair treatment for our oppressed Australian citizen.

Perhaps he is concerned that the reply might be — ” Kevin who?”

Justin Templer writes: Alan Thomas (yesterday, comments) would like someone to explain the difference between Stern Hu and David Hicks. Err … let’s see. Stern Hu — someone who is trying to pay his mortgage. David Hicks — someone wishing to practice armed jihad as an enthusiastic member of an organisation responsible for killing thousands of innocent people. The difference can be confusing.

Give me some sugar:

Geoff Russell writes: Re. “Cake and Bindi Irwin? There are bigger gummi bears to fry” (yesterday, item 12). David Gillespie wants to know why nobody tackles the real problems in nutrition and offers us, as a sample real problem, the perplexing issue of why high sugar confectionary isn’t given a warning label. This is after he had already told us the sugar content of a wide variety of well known top selling foods which he presumably gleaned off the labels without actually noticing that accurate labelling doesn’t stop stratospheric sales.

Will adding a warning label trigger a sales slump? How many people stopped smoking at the addition of the “Smoking Kills” label? Labels are precisely the response of people who don’t want to solve the problem. They are what you offer humble petitioners to keep them off the streets. Solving the sugar problem isn’t rocket science. We know how to do it because we have done a pretty good job with tobacco. Slap on a tax proportional to added sugar and saturated fat content and stop the advertising, all the advertising.

When a tub of full fat high sugar ice cream is $30 a litre you won’t even need that label.

Justin McMurray writes: Greatly enjoying David Gillespie’s “sugary rants”. And unlike other Crikey cage matches, so far no one has managed to lay a glove on him. C’mon, spinners, lawyers and nanny state naysayers, surely you can do better. That is of course, unless he’s completely spot-on with his criticisms?

Food Standards Australia New Zealand:

Philippa Smith AM Chair FSANZ Board writes: Re. “Public health doesn’t cut it in Food Standards Board” (Monday, item 16). As Chair of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Board I dispute Rosemary Stanton’s view that public health professionals aren’t well represented on the FSANZ Board or in the food standards setting process.

Public health and safety is FSANZ’s number one priority and we will not compromise that. The FSANZ Act sets out our objectives of protecting public health and safety, providing the information consumers need to make informed choices, and preventing misleading and deceptive conduct. Our decisions are made using the best available evidence which includes not just the latest science but also social research to help us understand how people will respond to new products on the market.

The FSANZ Act also requires us to consult widely on any proposals to change food regulations. Our decisions are subject to scrutiny and final agreement by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council, which is chaired by the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and consists of food and health ministers from all the states and territories and New Zealand.

It is this Ministerial Council, and not FSANZ, that sets much of the broader public policy guidelines and parameters within which FSANZ operates. All new standards must also be subject to a cost benefit analysis required by the Office of Best Practice Regulation to determine if public benefit justifies the additional cost.

Under our legislation, the FSANZ Board is selected by the Food Regulation Ministerial Council and must include qualified people from all walks of life, including consumers, public health experts, food technologists, food industry representatives, nutritionists and the agricultural sector. We need the expertise of all these people to make effective food standards. Ms Stanton listed the qualifications of our Board members and several members have backgrounds as health and nutrition experts.

I believe that Ms Stanton has underestimated the depth and breadth of experience available on the FSANZ Board. As independent Chair I have found the Board to operate in a robust and collegiate manner.

In setting our standards we also consult widely with the public, health professionals and the food industry — public health professionals can, and do, regularly provide us with input into food standards setting. I would invite all such stakeholders to continue to engage with FSANZ and the other key parties involved in the food standards and public policy setting process.

Liberal leadership:

John Taylor writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Yesterday’s editorial was really childish and did you no credit. It did however contain a kernel of correctness. If you added John Howard to the poll he would be a shoo-in. But he’s gone and watching cricket. You’ve actually missed the next Coalition Prime Minister in all your stupidity: Andrew Robb.

Let’s get serious about the other contenders. Joe Hockey: a complete buffoon always carping. Tony Abbott: Anyone who’d suggest a return to “fault” divorce cannot be considered to lead anything but the Catholic Church. Peter Costello: What are we suggesting: “How can you believe me when I say I’m leaving when you know I’ve been a liar all my life”? No.

The only one with the intellect to lead the Party is Andrew Robb but like that hair stuff, it won’t happen overnight.

Goldman Sachs:

Niki Scevak writes: Re. “Profit for Goldman Sachs may not be good news for the rest of us” (yesterday, item 22). Does Glenn Dyer know how to use finance.google.com? If so, he could have looked up Goldman Sachs share price over the last 8 months in which executives sold nearly US$700m. In that time the shares have traded anywhere from $52 to nearly $150, at which they closed yesterday. Yes that’s right, if the executives had waited until yesterday they would have yielded a lot more than US$700m.

And poor old the US Government and legendary Warren Buffett who “helped steady the Goldman share price” and “allow more executives to bail out”. How’s that working out for poor Warren? Well his $5 billion investment is still yielding 10% a year and he has warrants to buy another $5 billion of shares at $115 a share, which if exercised and sold immediately would yield a $1.5 billion profit at yesterdays close. The US Government has a similar deal.

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

Stephen Morris writes: I don’t know about Tamas Calderwood’s plea (yesterday, comments) for the need to see some warming. He certainly warms the collective funny bone, with his humorous comments and attempts to understand scientific data.

There is a delightful and eccentric Australian bird called the Satin Bowerbird, which is totally obsessed by the colour blue. It will actively search through a wide variety of brightly coloured objects that might suitably decorate its bower, but the only colour that interests it and it wants to collect are those coloured blue.

Tamas in his scientific objectivity (and unfortunately often his logic) is very Satin bowerbird like. It doesn’t matter what large amounts of available data says about global warming, the only titbits of data of interest to Tamas, are those that can be seen to indicate cooling. Once a data set loses it’s blueness (or coolness), it seems interest in it is lost and other blue data sets are sought. In his comment on Tuesday, Tamas illustrates his bowerbird proclivities beautifully.

Firstly, Tamas shows attraction to “satellite temperature records”, which according to Tamas are “the most accurate instruments we have to measure global warming”. But it seems the satellite records he likes are the ones that measure the temperatures upwards through the atmosphere, which in the last few years do not show a warming trend, but a slight cooling (nice “blue” colour).

However, “satellite temperature records” that Tamas doesn’t like, are those used by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who produce the most widely used global temperature trend model. This model uses sea surface temperatures measured by satellites; this enables all of the world’s oceans to be used, rather than just the parts of the oceans covered by the world’s shipping lanes.

The Global trend of temperature trends produced by this model (presumably using “bad satellites” and not the other accurate ones anointed by Tamas) show continuous global warming over the last decade (definitely not a nice “blue colour”).

However, Tamas’ favourite “blue” global temperature trends are those produced by the UK Hadley Centre. This “good” model of global temperature, pointedly ignores satellite ocean measurements and instead relies solely on ship based (and some static buoy) temperature readings for ocean temperatures. This restriction means that a sizeable percentage of the world’s oceans, including most of the rapidly warming Arctic Ocean, are not included in their calculations of global warming.

This Hadley Centre model of global warming does however, show a very large peak in global temperatures in 1998 (due to an abnormally strong El Nino event), with no year’s warmer than this very high peak since. As this Hadley model supposedly shows “cooling” not warming, it is to be preferred for its “blueness”, even though the other model relies on satellite measurements for sea temperatures. (For an excellent discussion of the difference between these two global temperature models and an illustration of the large areas of the globe excluded from the Hadley data see here) and especially the figure “Surface Temperature Anomalies for December 2008”.)

The last “blue” piece of data that captured Tamas’s attention this week was the Argo Buoy program (not Argos), the program which started in 2000 (not 2003). Despite Tamas comments about this program using “the most accurate instruments we have to measure global warming” we find that 1) the final number of buoys were only deployed last year and 2) all the scientists involved in the program warn that several years of data for all the buoys used in the program is required to predict trends.

However, a small decline in temperature from the averages of the early very sparse data in 2000/2001 to the first full dataset in 2007/2008, has excited Tamas (despite warnings of all relevant scientific authorities not to jump to conclusions). Never mind, when sufficient of this data is in, and it no longer shows a very slight cooling, there will always be a morsel of data — with a carefully selected peak here, followed by a carefully trough there, to get Tamas excited.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to boss@crikey.com.au. 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.

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2 thoughts on “Crikey Readers have plenty to fear from the Productivity Commission, apparently

  1. Jackie French

    While I agree with almost all Stephen Morris’ letter, Bower bird’s’ fussiness does need defending. In descending order, they also love gold, yellow, silver, and pink. And you should see them try to steal a bar of yellow soap….or the piled up change on a windowsill.

  2. bakerboy

    Philippa Smith – I remember her way back (with ‘Choice’?) great body, fantastic legs. Hmmmm