Rudd and sleep:

Jim Ivins writes: Re. “Rudd only needs three hours sleep? Tell him he’s dreaming” (yesterday, item 3). I always thought claims about Margaret Thatcher’s indifference to sleep just made her seem even more like an unfeeling cyborg (the much feared T1979 model), what with her cold, dead eyes and sheer ruthlessness.

As for Kruddy, are we seriously expected to be reassured or impressed by claims that the Prime Minister of Australia regularly gets by on only a few hours sleep in these troubled times? Think about it! Would you board an aircraft if you knew the pilots had had just three hours to rest out of the previous 24? And what’s next?

Cue Lucy Turnbull with the Python-esque revelation that Malcolm actually gets up two hours before he goes to bed. Zzzzzz….

Andrew Haughton writes: Napoleon said “A man needs four hours, a woman five and a horse six.”

Newspaper deathwatch:

Lyle Allan writes: Re. “The Melbourne CBD’s newspaper black hole” (yesterday, item 4). The closure of McGills is a disgrace. So is the Fairfax failure to allow copies of its newspapers to be bought from The Age shop, for that has closed down.

McGills is owned by Campion Press, who see their core business as books and not newspapers. They were not really interested in distributing country, interstate, overseas and ethnic newspapers, and unfortunately they were the only place in Melbourne such newspapers could be obtained.

The Bendigo Advertiser told me I could buy their newspaper in Melbourne from Flinders City News, which is false. Flinders City News told me they distribute to corporate clients only, they do not have a retail outlet, they were sick of the Bendigo Advertiser sending people to them, and used an adjective I better not use in print.

It is a restrictive trade practice that newspapers are sold by their publishers in Victoria to newsagents, who then on-sell to sub-agents.

There are sub-agents like Mittys who would like to sell directly to the public, but are not sent copies by the newsagents they deal with.

Our city fathers also have a lot to answer for. In the United States most major cities have out of town news stands. Melbourne used to have such news stands at Flinders Street and Spencer Street (now Southern Cross) stations, but our city fathers seem to think news stands are unsightly. A throwback to the attitude of uneducated ALP local councillors in the 1960s who thought the only people who read books or quality newspapers were despised migrants, communists, or homosexuals.

The exact phrase will be rejected by email filters, but it has been published in several academic journals, not by myself.

We need an inquiry into newspaper distribution in the CBD. What does Robert Doyle think about this?

Thank you Andrew Crook for bringing this matter to public attention.

Robert Bromwich writes: Brisbane is faced with a similar problem. Not just interstate titles, but regional centre and international titles as well. Ever since the closure of the GPO News agency some time ago, the nearest location people can access regional, interstate and international titles is the State Library.

Warwick Sauer writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Interesting to see a mention that News Ltd are offering some bargain basement subscription deals. I got home last night and found Fairfax doing the exact opposite.

In the mail was notification that my SMH subscription — which had been at around 75% discount (Friday through Monday for $7 every four weeks) — has been “revised” to $20 for the same papers. And they have kindly offered to charge me that 180% increase without me having to call them to confirm. Needless to say I have called them — to cancel my subscription.

Diplomacy:

Shirley Colless writes: Re. “Hostility to China investment borders on racism” (yesterday, item 10). Malcolm Turnbull has been very forthcoming, even bullish, like in a China shop, regarding the detention of a Chinese/Australian national in Beijing. However, I understand from weekend news reports that a number of Australian citizens have been held without trial or even, possibly, a fair indication of their alleged crimes, in a Persian Gulf state (not Iran) for some considerable time.

I am not aware that either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition have been grandstanding, foot shuffling, ignoring or, heaven forbid, leaving it to the normal consular/ambassadorial processes to secure some form of legal rights to these people. Perhaps Australia does not have a Consular Agreement with that Gulf State?

Perhaps Big Oil is not as important as Big Coal? Who knows?

Lies, damn lies and the GFC:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Your editorial repeats the canard that “everyone” failed to predict the global financial crisis. This is nonsense — dangerous nonsense.

It is dangerous because it props up the legitimacy and competence of everyone who failed to predict the crisis — on the basis that they are no worse than anyone else. The alliance of politicians, vested interest boosters, bonus earners, growthists, Pollyannahs and snouts in the trough was broad and mutually reinforcing, but it was not universal.

In the US Meredith Whitney and Nouriel Roubini, in Australia Steve Keen and Satyajit Das for example had the timing, the causes and magnitude of the crisis in their sights years out.

The aforementioned alliance, if they said anything about these predictions, dismissed them with contempt. Honest objective analysis was “talking down the economy”.

One thing the GFC has taught us is that “don’t blame me — I was no worse than anyone else” is generally self-serving and dishonest and marks out the speaker for their intellectual timidity and “me-too-ism”.

Afghanistan:

Peter Lloyd writes: Re. “Terrorism in Indonesia has nothing to do with Afghanistan” (yesterday, item 14). Most of Jeff Sparrow’s criticism of Western involvement in the war in Afghanistan  amounts to “we won’t get quick results, so let’s not bother”. This sort of short-sightedness is the usual weakness attending US-British-Australian military efforts, a weakness affecting both pro- and anti-war parties.

However, Sparrow’s most insightful contribution was sitting at the bottom of his piece as a near-afterthought: “What would happen if the Australian resources being thrown into the Afghan crusade went to, say, helping Indonesia bolster its education system, so that impoverished families didn’t need to rely on the religious schools that indoctrinate kids into Islamism.”

Only by capturing the minds of children from an early age can extremism flourish and young men be made to commit acts we can barely understand. This was how the Japanese army produced, from a polite and outward-looking society, a military of incredible brutality and fanaticism. It’s why our own Christians work hard against Charles Darwin and secular education. It’s why progressive schools are the frequent scenes of massacre and bombing in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It’s why the military and civil aspects of the counter-terrorism effort must work hand-in-hand, and why we must defend our own secular school traditions at home.

Religion:

John Goldbaum writes: Re. “Does religion justify discrimination?” (Yesterday, item 16). Perhaps the test for allowing religions to discriminate should be that they are free to discriminate when using their own money but are not free to do so when using money derived from governments. Schools, hospitals and welfare services depend to a large extent on recurrent government funding whereas church services do not.

Therefore, let religions do what they want in the pulpits and in the pews, but not in the playground, the wards or the employment queues.

The battle of the books:

Zachary King writes: Re. “Literature? What’s that got to do with the price of books?” (Yesterday, item 18). Superb article from Stilgherrian, I cannot agree more. Yes, the author should be recompensed for their work. But wake up; the business model is shifting — driven by technology in this case. If you cannot see the parallels to the music industry then pray to whatever deity you happen to believe in.

I used to purchase three or four new books a week, but soon discovered second hand bookstores and from there moved onto these “library” things, which let you read books for free (why don’t authors picket libraries?)As soon as a decent electronic reader becomes available for a reasonable price then I will switch to electronic versions.

And for anyone who thinks that the same level of sharing is not going to happen with the sung word as it has with the written — tell ’em they’re dreamin’. It’s already happening. Which makes all this bleating about parallel imports, well, deck chair-titanic-rearrange really.

Verity Pravda writes: Stilgherrian and your readers might like to know that the parallel import restrictions in the Copyright Act apparently (according to the Productivity Commission report) only apply to printed books. The e-book versions are not covered by the restriction. The importation of e-book versions should also not bother authors as their principle concern seems to be about remaindered hard copies on which no royalty is paid.

So Stilgherrian is slightly wrong to suggest the Productivity Commission “ought to be looking at how we can get rid of [the book industry] entirely, and replace it with a storytelling-distribution industry that doesn’t soak up 90% of the price.” The system exists, and the law is no impediment to it. It is now up to consumers to start showing a preference with their purchasing dollars (and a campaign to at least get Sony to launch its reader in Australia — the Kindle might take longer).

Angus Sharpe writes: Dear, dear, novelists. I grew up in bookshops. My love of books was born in their many, tiny, oddly shaped, Narnia-esque rooms. Amidst the smell of paper, wood, and open fires.

But there is this thing called the Internet. It’s electric. Have you heard of it? These days, youngsters like me buy books (and ebooks) from Amazon, bypassing protectionist Australian laws (yes, we buy Australian books from Amazon too). Have you noticed that DVD rental stores are going out of business? That’s because you can now rent DVDs much cheaper and easier online (or from DVD kiosks). Won’t happen to bookshops? It’s happening to newspapers.

I want to buy books from comprehensive, competitively priced, Australian online bookshops. But there is no such thing. At least party because booksellers cannot buy inexpensive overseas content. I’ll even pay extra for faster (Australian) delivery. The music industry has found, and the movie industry is finding, that if you don’t let people access your content in the way that they want, then the people will bypass you. You’ll lose control of the process and the money.

As an artist, your greatest enemy is obscurity. Not dirty, dirty, foreign imports. Embrace the market or disappear.

Tony Kevin writes: I will frankly declare my bias: I’m an Australian non-fiction writer, published by Scribe. I would not have been able to publish my three books since 2004, were it not for a thriving independent Australian publishing industry to give them a lift into the marketplace of discerning Australian readers. I think they were all worth writing and publishing, and that each of them makes its unique contribution to Australian cultural life (and made me a little money on the way).

Having got that off my chest, no doubt leaving myself an easy target, I urge Crikey readers to look at Scribe publisher Henry Rosenbloom’s latest blog “Sociopaths in Suits: the Productivity Commission goes for broke” (what a great title!), and then write to your local Federal Member, Minister or whoever.

The Rudd government needs to hear that a lot of Australians do care about a healthy Australian publishing industry, and that the Productivity Commission has just not made a credible case (even in its own economic terms) for market rationalism in our book industry.

The Rudd Government should reject this report.

Bananarama:

Cathy Price writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Crikey published:

…The new money sections in the News Ltd tabloids (as evidenced by what was in the Telegraph in Sydney), is just more of the same old guff from the personal finance pages of countless other magazines and papers. It’s more about advertisers/cost controls and a common message across the tabloids, forgetting that readers in Queensland have very different requirements for personal finance that they do in Sydney or Melbourne.

Could yesterday’s tipster please clarify what they think are the “very different requirements for personal finance” up here in Queensland? Perhaps he thinks we pay for things with pineapples and bananas instead of money.

The public service:

Peter Bennett, Whistleblowers Australia, writes: Re. “The role of the public service: Crikey readers respond” (yesterday, item 15). The term Public Servant is self descriptive. Public Servants are servants of the public. Their principle purpose of employment, existence, objective and conduct is to serve the public to the best of their ability. Their first loyalty MUST be to the public interest and then to the Government secondly and to their agency lastly.

However Governments demand public servant’s loyalty as a premium, followed by bureaucrats who insist on loyalty to agencies as a fundamental requirement for promotion. In both cases the loyalty demanded is ‘blind’ loyalty. It is expected that such loyalty should blind the public servant to any wrongdoing of either the Government or the bureaucracy.

Both Governments and bureaucrats do not consider that public servants need to show any loyalty to the public in general.

But Governments are elected by the public to manage the public’s affairs. Governments are not elected to rule. Governments are public servants and must serve the public interest and not just the interests of their supporters.

Some Governments occasionally pervert their commission to manage public affairs. They do this because they have vested interests and self serving ways of managing and therefore sometimes they favour actions which do not serve the general public interest.

If a Government is perceived to be acting against the public’s interest then it is beholden on any public servant to disclose that conduct. This is a duty expected by the public. The person making the disclosure should be honoured for fulfilling their duty and protected against retaliation by the Government and bureaucrats.

It must be a constitutional right for information to be exposed for public debate if it serves the public interest and helps the public understand how the elected Government (and their appointed bureaucracy) are performing. That is a basic requirement of any democracy.

However to protect their vested interests, Governments have created laws which can protect Governments against disclosure of malpractice, maladministration or misfeasance. The misuse of such laws (including the Crimes Act s70 and the FOI Act) can and have been used to protect Governments and some of their bureaucrats from critical exposure.

Any law is a bad law if it can stop the disclosure of information which serves the public interest. The consequences of such disclosures are a simple part of the democratic process and whether a Government or its bureaucrats suffer embarrassment or worse as a consequence, is nothing but democracy at work.

It is essential that there is a National Public Interest Disclosure Act, binding on all governments, which encourages and protects the disclosure of any information which will serve the public interest. The obstructions to this objective are the vested interests of political parties and the fear of public accountability by Governments and their bureaucracies.

Lois Frederick writes: I wonder how top public servants felt when John Howard referred to “the advice I’ve received” when he sent Australian troops to war in Iraq to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Much the same way Defence officials felt when he lied about children being thrown overboard, I imagine.

It’s ridiculous to say that public servants are actually government servants because politicians are accountable to the public. John Howard and his colleagues were never held accountable for Iraq or their reprehensible treatment of refugees- they were held accountable for WorkChoices and everybody knows it. The people get to vote once every three years and how many individual policies are put into practice by governments in any three year period? Of course they aren’t held accountable for everything they do-not as long as people don’t vote on every policy.

The truth is that politicians will hold “the advice they received” up any time they are caught out in lies and, in effect, hide behind a public service that cannot speak out on it’s own behalf. In my view the executive government has more than enough power over the public service. I was, and am still, outraged that our country could be taken to war on the basis of fairly obvious lies without any discussion in parliament, much less a vote … it was a disgracefully underhand and deceitful process altogether and totally antithetical to “open, democratic government”.

Andrew Wilkie was brave, honest and principled and it was people like him who helped me keep faith in the people of this country when I was really wondering what had happened to our collective ideals and beliefs.

Everybody knows how unappreciated and unprotected whistleblowers in our society are … they pay a high price for their principles. And what happens to politicians who lose elections? They either stick around for a few years of opposition and hope for better when their party gets back or, if they’ve been a minister or simply around long enough, they retire with the best super in the country and the best contacts for future jobs. What does accountability mean in real life?

My view is that while we generally have good, hardworking politicians, trying to do their best, we still need good, honest people to be able to speak out when they know the facts of certain issues and see people with power misusing it. If a public servant goes to the media it’s because they can’t go anywhere else and heaven knows that politicians in power have more media pull than anyone other than celebrities, so it’s hardly an unfair situation.

Communist countries don’t allow their bureaucrats to speak out or to disagree and how much do we admire that?

Mirek Szychowski writes: In the modern age, and perhaps throughout history, public servants are and have been in fact, Government servants, ministers, “minister” to the State, and the politicians rarely serve the interests of the public, rather then their party. In other words, this is an exercise in euphemism, a political fog, designed to conceal the truth. The only way for ethical and courageous individuals to express contradictions between public interest and political interest of the ruling class is by “leaking”, i.e. anonymously, or “whistleblowing”, that is, publicly.

Both approaches spell danger to the intrepid, as Governments tend to launch dragnet inquiries in the first case, and target more easily “subversive” individuals, in the latter. In both counts, it requires a brave and principled individual, as in the case of Daniel Ellsberg, and the Pentagon Papers, and yet, public interest has been undoubted. At the heart of this is a conflict of interest: that of the public and that of the political élites, and, of course, is part and parcel of “parliamentary democracy”.

Julie Petersen writes: Isn’t the role of the PS set in the constitution as the Executive arm of government. Therefore the public service serves Executive government = Ministers etc advising Governor = PM/Premier + Cabinet, who then must answer to the public.

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