Utegate:

Marion Barker writes: Re. Re. “Turnbull’s ego is at the heart of ute-gate backfire” (Wednesday, item 10). The Utegate materials released by Turnbull demonstrate not just Mr Grech’s obsessive desire to trip up Rudd and Swan but also an embarrassingly obvious grandiose desire to feature in their undoing (quote me, he kept suggesting). Maybe it’s because my mother suffers from a psychiatric condition, but I think it should have been obvious to the meanest intelligence that Grech was deeply disturbed. Ironically enough my current view is not formed “in hindsight” but is based on the materials available to Turnbull and Abetz at the time. Material that reeked of something off.

The fact Turnbull and Abetz couldn’t pick this up has me worried. Of course they shared Grech’s obsessions, but the idea they were his ‘victim’ is profoundly misconceived. Grech will hopefully be invalided out of the public service, but what worries me is that the other members of this sad cabal (it’s near concocted in the dictionary) continue to be held out by the Liberals as an example of the best they have to offer. Their failure to identify the disturbed nature of this sad Public Servant has contributed to his (probable) permanent destruction.

What was it about Turnbull, Abetz and the staffer that stopped them from realising something was wrong? No sane member of the Senior Executive Service, whether a card carrying Liberal or not, would carry on as Grech did.

Vaulting ambition may blind the best of us, but the Liberals should not let this sad display continue. There’s something gross about the whole situation and it’s not Grech.

Doug Foskett writes: Surely it is time to stop using the inane suffix “-gate” to describe various scandals — alleged or otherwise — in Australia. Given that so many of these scandals involve people using their political contacts, I suggest it would be more appropriate to use the suffix “-mate””, so Ute-gate becomes Ute-mate. Sounds so much more dinkum.

Jobs:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Just 800 more jobless for July” (yesterday, item 1). So sayeth the ABS. Statistics don’t lie do they? The fact that part time jobs have grown each month by simply gargantuan amounts is of no concern because the ABS says the total number of hours worked is about the same.

Frankly all this is rubbish.

Who amongst us knows of no one who hasn’t lost a job or at least had their hours reduced? Who amongst us is unaware of tanking retail prices – bargains galore (excluding food)? Who amongst us is spending like a sailor, enjoying champagne and eating out much much more? Who amongst us doesn’t know – at least anecdotally — that this country is in a financial sh-t fight?

Spin, glorious spin.

Digital radio:

Mark Wallace writes: Re. “Radio pulls its finger out, talks digital” (yesterday, item 18). I’m not much of a fan of Helen Razer, but have to admit she had a point about Digital Radio. I am stuck on the ground floor of a large unit block at home and at the top of a large office building at work. If I enjoyed FM radio I’d have no problem, but as an AM junkie, I get virtually no analogue AM reception. So I’ve bought three DAB+ receivers, ranging in price from $240 to $300. These things cost way more than the sum of their individual parts.

For example, I’ve got a digital set-top box that cost less than $50 which I use for my spare-room TV. It works fine and is yet to break down. Is there really 500 to 600 per cent more technological value in the radio receiver than there is in the TV receiver? As an early adopter of the technology, I knew I was taking a risk, but went ahead simply because the static of the existing analogue broadcasts drove me around the bend.

There are all sorts of claims about the new technology, including the ability to rewind. What they don’t tell you is that you’ll be spending upwards of $700 to find a receiver with such capabilities. On-screen displays? Big deal. None of the three radios I’ve bought have displays that can be read from any more than a metre or so away, and who wants to spend their time reading their radio anyway? Don’t get me wrong — the reception is fantastic when it’s working. Trouble is, it’s extremely temperamental. Some days it’s great, and then on others it cuts in and out like a disco strobe light on mogadon.

Now if I’d had to pay only $50 or $100 or so for a bedside clock-radio, I’d feel a little less ripped off. But at twice to three times that amount, is it really so unreasonable to expect that the damn things would work? Which reminds me, the alarm function on one of the radios has already stopped working and it’s been barely a month since it was purchased. Oh, and I had to take another one back to the shop because it just didn’t work at all!

Religion:

Paul Gilchrist writes: Ray Cassin (yesterday, comments) makes a very valid point about Guy Rundle’s lack of understanding of the difference between Lutheran and Roman Catholic theology. However, what point is Guy Rundle trying to make anyway?

According to the transcript of the Australian Story this week, Malcolm Turnbull said: “I don’t imagine that the Catholic tradition has all the answers, or more answers than any other Christian, or indeed any religious tradition … I’ve been comfortable not completely comfortable but reasonably comfortable in that Catholic tradition.”

I happen to be a Catholic myself and disagree strongly with Turnbull, but I think this example shows how futile it is making glib points about theology (even if you get the theology correct) and then applying it to a particular politician. One reason for keeping sectarian arguments and generalisations out of politics is that they are often completely wrong and misleading.

Paying for content:

Ben Davidson writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey wrote: “‘Making our content better and differentiated from other people’ is such an attractive homespun recipe to induce people to pay for content to fund quality journalism. If only it were so simple.” Worked for Crikey, didn’t it?

Not funny:

Crispin Harris writes: Re. Monday’s editorial. As witty, funny and (some-how) strangely elegant as hacking Chinese websites is as a response to the attacks on MIFF. I am sad to say that the last four paragraphs of your Monday editorial would have felt better coming from the likes of Chas Licciardello or the Chaser team, not the (usually more robust) Crikey editorial panel.

This is, of course, apart from the point of it being an Incitement to Commit a Criminal Act under the Australian Federal Cyber-Crime Act.

I am sorry — I expect better from Crikey than a juvenile, Chaser-like descent into the depths of tabloid sensationalist dog-whistle editorialising.

ACA:

Nick Coe, Supervising Producer, A Current Affair, writes: Re. “Last night’s TV ratings” (yesterday, item 20). Without wishing to be pedantic … but Today Tonight did not win every market on Wednesday night. A Current Affair Melbourne got up 386,000 to 362,000.

The University of Melbourne:

Christina Buckridge, Corporate Affairs Manager, University of Melbourne writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Your correspondent has been mischievously misinformed. The University of Melbourne indeed did not apply to EOWA for 2009 because the criteria for the award had changed from previous years. I know this because on 23 February — well before the awards were announced in March — I received an email from a journalist at The Australian asking “Why the uni hasn’t applied for employer of choice status”.

Tea:

Rosemary Stanton writes: Unilever’s spokesperson (yesterday, comments) says that globally, they expect to be paying €2M more for their tea in 2010. He also notes that Unilever sources 300,000 tonnes of tea per year. That means Unilever will be forking out an extra payment of €6.7/tonne of tea. With more than 400,000 small growers in Kenya alone, these hard-working people shouldn’t be expecting too much of a bonus! Would Fair Trade think this is fair?

Climate change:

Kieren Diment writes: I take Tamas Calderwood’s graph (yesterday, comments) from a single source of data and raise is with a plot of temperature anomaly using the multi-source 1100 year data set published by the IPCC. This data encompasses the little ice age and the medieval warm period. From this graph we see we’re warmer than the medieval warming period in the present day, and the degree of change is greater than that during the little ice age.

If you do the gory statistics you’ll see that the only thing that predicts the increase in temperature between 1800 and 2000 properly is the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Worse, there’s evidence from the same statistics that we’re now starting to see positive feedback effects. Don’t believe me? Look at the data yourself.

I’ve looked at Tamas favourite NIH satellite data, and there is something odd about it — I can’t quite put my finger on it. However, it does broadly agree with the trend in the attached graph, and does not invalidate the anthropogenic global warming theory in the least.

Marrickville:

Dermot Browne writes: Regarding Mike Ticher (Wednesday, comments). As a parent with two kids in the Marrickville Devils soccer club I thoroughly support any move to improve the clubhouse and fix the turf. But why is it so hard for Marrickville Council to come up with a refurbishment plan that does not require the destruction of two beautiful, much loved and healthy trees? If they can’t crack that simple design challenge, they may be in the wrong game.

Questionable claims:

Warwick Sauer writes: Re. “KFC could’ve settled over Twister but instead spent $35 mil on advertising” (yesterday, item 15). David Gillespie wrote: “Sometimes the best option in litigation is to quietly settle, no matter how right you think you are. This is even more the case when the plaintiff is a severely disabled child and the defendant is a corporate monolith.” Unquestionably, the costs of litigation are huge. The financial costs are part of that, but oftentimes (and as highlighted by Mr Gillespie), the cost in reputational terms can be higher. That is so, regardless of the merits of the case:mud sticks, as they say.

Thus complete legal exoneration of Yum! in the Samaan case will still leave Yum! with an ugly PR mess to clean up. Doubtless, Yum! will be alive to that fact. And yet they fight on. They endure a media circus, they endure their lawyers’ hourly rates, they endure daily water-cooler gossip over tabloid sensationalism, they endure the damage to their reputation (however warranted or unwarranted it may be). One might well ask — are they insane?

Assuming the answer to that is “no”, there’s only one conclusion to reasonably be drawn. And that is: Yum! think the plaintiff’s claim is so baseless and undeserving, that these costs are worth incurring. Plaintiff lawyers are well versed in the issues faced by large, well known corporations. They know that Mr Gillespie’s recommended course of paying out questionable claims is often followed by Big Business- because if they don’t do so, a victory in Court (against an impecunious, media-savvy plaintiff) might be worse than Pyrrhic.

The problem is, “commercial” settlements are a short-term fix, with a substantial long-term cost. Pavlov’s dog could easily be renamed Pavlov’s plaintiff: corporations with a history of paying out dubious claims cause spontaneous salivation in any plaintiff lawyer. And so in turn, more dubious claims are filed, more lawyers charge 6-minute units to gnash their teeth at each other, and more “commercial” settlements make the cycle spin forever faster.

It’s London to a brick that if Yum! considered Samaan’s case at all meritorious, they would have tried to settle. And yet they have refused to back down despite the enormous costs of doing so. It doesn’t sell papers, so you won’t see the Tele congratulating Yum! on this approach. But, perhaps they should be. It’s the only way we might make headway into the public’s tendency to blame unfortunate incidents on anyone but themselves.

Internet security:

Stilgherrian writes: I can reassure Sam Varghese (yesterday, comments) that not mentioning Windows in the context of the internet security problems I wrote about on Tuesday has nothing to do with Microsoft advertising in Crikey. Yes, Windows has whole classes of security vulnerabilities that Apple’s OS X and Linux don’t possess. No argument there. But security is mostly about human behaviour, not technology.

No matter how “secure” the operating system, if the user can be persuaded through social engineering tricks to install the bad guys’ software then it’s still game over. Even if the weak link of Windows were removed from the internet entirely (not that that’s going to happen) attackers would just move along to the next-weakest link. If the attackers choose to exploit a vulnerability in Flash or Quicktime or through a Firefox plug-in or whatever else further up in the stack, the choice of operating system becomes irrelevant. Smug but naive Mac or Linux users could actually be more vulnerable, because so many run without anti-virus protection at all.

Reducing the discussion of internet security to simplistic “Windows is bad, m’kay” sloganeering is unhelpful in addressing the real issue, which is human gullibility.

Patents:

Dr Luigi Palombi, director of the Genetic Sequence Right project at the ANU and the author of Gene Cartels Biotech Patents in the Age of Free Trade, writes: Re. “Patenting “mungbeanium” will never prevent research on mung beans” (Wednesday, item 15). You claim that Cancer Council Australia’s CEO Prof Ian Olver does not understand the process of patenting genes.

The primary claims of most of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 breast cancer gene patents are primarily directed to patenting human genes, because these gene mutations have been isolated and are identical or substantially identical to those in the human body. Although the gene mutations are outside the human body, it doesn’t change their form or function. The same is true for genes or proteins in a ‘substantially pure’ form.

Your distinctions are examples of the kinds of legal semantics devised by patent attorneys which have created the explosion of patents with respect to natural phenomena.

I, and many respected leaders in the scientific and bio-ethics community, believe these patent claims should be banned. These are claims concerning things invented by no one.

Our proposal is merely an application of the law. Yet, the Australian Patent Office has ignored the law and granted thousands of patents over isolated biological materials, and it is now necessary for Parliament to expressly ban the patenting of isolated biological materials that are identical or substantially identical to those that exist in nature regardless of their ‘isolation’ or ‘purification’.

I agree that there are other claims in the BRCA 1 and 2 patents that are different to claims over the gene mutations, and apply to things that have the potential to be patentable inventions. If these claims are valid, they may stand in the way of public laboratories performing diagnostic testing for these gene mutations.

The key word is ‘valid’, however. Unless the use of these gene mutations in a diagnostic test is new, involves an inventive step and is useful, the patent monopoly is invalid. Applying genetic or protein materials in a diagnostic test does not involve an inventive step. If the diagnostic claims are invalid, then the patent monopolies granted in relation to them are equally unenforceable.

It is possible that someone will develop a gene therapy to treat breast and ovarian cancer. If it is new, inventive and effective on humans, then a patent on that treatment would be appropriate.

However, patent monopolies over genetic and protein materials extend a patent monopoly over all actual and speculative uses of these materials. Researchers must pass the gatekeepers and either pay a toll to the patent owner and comply with their demands – which may include sharing ownership of research results – or face the prospect of refusal.

Your contention that gene patents are not restricting ‘pure’ research is wrong. Evidence was given to the Senate Inquiry on Tuesday by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute that the BRCA 1 and 2 patents had delayed essential research for two years.

There are many problems with Australia’s patent system. It is time for a wholesale and multi-disciplinary review of its operation. We are against its inappropriate use, especially when the negative consequences on medical and scientific research are significant, such as has been amply demonstrated through the evidence to the Senate Inquiry.

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