Clarification: After yesterday’s Crikey Clarifier on How To Clean Up an Oil Spill, the CSIRO’s Dr Ian Poiner wanted to point out that: “The normal oil-spill management practices require use of approved chemical dispersants, whose toxicity has been tested to meet particular standards. In deeper water it may be effective to use dispersants to help mix the oil into the water column and facilitate breakdown by microbes. However, in shallow waters this might be something you wish to avoid to help keep any oil away from sensitive organisms attached to the seabed.”

Nuclear power:

Geoff Russell writes: Michael James “Crunching the numbers on nuclear energy versus renewables” might like to consider the South Australian experience before being blown away with wind power.

The 2007 State Greenhouse Gas Inventory for South Australia gives stationary energy emissions for SA as just over 14Mt CO2, up about 16% from 1990 (12Mt) with just a 6% population increase and with wind providing about 20% of the State’s power (Wikipedia), this is the largest fraction of any state’s energy generation. Overall in Australia, emissions from stationary energy generation since 1990 are up about by over 40% with a population increase of about half that, so either South Australians are way more profligate energy wasters than anybody else in Australia or wind power is causing an increase in per-capita energy emissions. As someone who has been paying a premium for “green” power for quite a few years, I reckon I’ve been seriously scammed.

Peter Rosier writes: Michael James’ article points people in the right direction (away from Andrew Bolt and his constant silliness) about nuclear versus wind but ignores the fact that wind and solar have been calculated to produce about one half to one quarter respectively the carbon emissions of nuclear over a producing lifetime. Nuclear is thought to have a carbon price of about 66g/kW hour by the time you take into account the carbon cost of construction, mining and refining with the last becoming increasingly more expensive as the quality of the uranium ore deteriorates. And that doesn’t consider the long term cost and dangers of storing the glowing, rather dangerous, detritus.

John Howard and the High court:

John Goldbaum writes: John Howard’s conceit towards the High Court was probably born of its roll-over in the Defence of Government Schools case in 1981. Judging by Howard’s SMH contribution on Thursday, his government was more interested in stopping abortion and gay marriage than in running the country properly.

Alan Kennedy writes: There was some exquisite timing in the publication of John Howard’s thoughts on a bill of rights. Only hours before he spoke, the judges of the High Court ruled that legislation his Government enacted so ineptly to cover military law was unconstitutional.

In doing so they demolished his argument about the supremacy of parliament. Sometimes Governments get it wrong.

Our system provides the necessary checks and balances and from time to time as in the High Court this week, the courts have a role to play,. Since Federation the High Court has been interpreting the constitution and has steadily ceded powers to the central Government over the States. This has been an effective way of handling the evolution of our country from six independent colonies into a Federation. It can be controversial as in Mabo and Wik decision opposed by Mr Howard. But he was happy when it ruled he could use the corporations power to enforce his Work Choices Bill. In retrospect, maybe the court would have done him a favour if it had said he couldn’t.

Our constitution is a mercantile document designed to set out the regulation of commerce between the colonies. As the constitutional conventions reveal attempts by any participants to have rights enshrined in it were sternly rebuffed. Let’s not forget that Queensland was a hold out on Federation over its claim to retain the right to bring in kanakas (slave labor) from the Pacific Islands. In South Australia Aboriginal people could vote but lost that right under the Commonwealth constitution. Women could vote in South Australia too but didn’t get that right under the Commonwealth Constitution until 1902. So it is silent on all rights except freedom of religion. It is amusing at times to see Australians quoting their constitutional rights, from free speech to the right to bear arms not knowing they are quoting the US bill of rights. Let’s not forget that the current High Court was happy to give a big tick to the previous government’s laws (and not repealed) that it could hold asylum seekers in detention indefinitely.

The bill of rights under consideration at the moment is not a constitutional one such as in the US. It would merely be similar to those operating in Victoria and the ACT. They give courts the power to look at proposed legislation and point out where it breaches the bill of rights. But its power ends there. If the parliament wishes to go ahead it can. Rather than being an elitist matter the bills of rights in other parts of the world have proven to be a godsend for the voiceless in our society; the impoverished and the disabled for example who are often victims of mindless bureaucracy. Victoria and the ACT have not ground to a halt because they have a bill of rights.

In the UK, the Conservative Opposition has pledged to strengthen the bill of rights should it come to power and the Canadians are very happy with their bill of rights. We remain one of the few developed countries without any charter of rights.  The argument put forward by John Howard about faceless judges was a nonsense.

Gordon Pears writes: There is no need to go beyond the first paragraph of John Howard’s lecture on a Bill of Rights to discover the dishonesty that pervades the whole speech. He begins with a deliberate misrepresentation of what a Bill of Rights is all about. It is not about who “resolves great issues of public policy”: it is about establishing clear principles that should govern such resolution: principles that are largely absent from our Constitution (the word “democracy” and human rights” do not appear anywhere in it). Howard also claims a Bill would represent “the final triumph of elitism” over “typical citizens”! Well, we can’t have that sort of thing, can we?

A few pars further on we read that a Bill would “further weaken the role of Parliament”. The present status of Parliament was well defined by Carmen Lawrence, one of its most distinguished former members: “The domination of the Parliament by a disciplined bipolar party system means that the House of Representatives comes to be seen at worst as a theatre of meaningless ritual and at best as an institution under the foot of the Executive”. Almost any change must be an improvement on that. Another example of Howard’s deceit is his choice of abortion and gay marriage as sinful activities that a Bill of Rights would permit. There are far more important issues at stake than these.

Teddy Kennedy

Bob Ellis writes: It’s hard to see what else took place that night once you examine what is known. The autopsy showed she was not pregnant, died a virgin, and was in an air bubble for five hours and might have been rescued. It’s hard to imagine Teddy got out of the car and the air bubble stayed in it. It’s not likely he without motive drugged her, pushed the car off the bridge, walked back to the hotel and told no-one. It’s preposterous to think he made no phone call in the nine hours after her death and came down to breakfast apparently unaware of it. If he wanted to kill her there were less Agatha Christie ways to do it, like hiring a Boston hit-man to shoot her, burn her corpse and throw the ashes in the Mystic River while he was in Cape Kennedy posing with Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins or at Woodstock hugging Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and smiling guiltily.

Once you look at it only one other theory fits the facts as they are known: that she was in the back seat of the car asleep and he didn’t know she was there, and he escaped unaware of her presence and she wound up the window and waited for a rescue, and he staggered up the bank and fell asleep…But that doesn’t work either, because she would have eventually, after three hours, wound down the window and got out, or tried to. And his security men would have gone looking for him, found him, heard what happened and called the police.

What is really troubling is the Teddy-murderer theorists never, in forty years, proposed a scenario of what happened, a plausible sequence of actions that made emotional sense. But they didn’t have to, I guess; like the JFK-Monroe-murderer theory all that was needed back then was the headline, the smear, the nod and the wink, the two-word vilification (like ‘death panels’) which the twentieth century perfected and the Murdoch Method continues today.

I’m sorry I mistyped ’19-year-old virgin’ for ’29-year-old virgin’ but I was racing for a noon deadline and my usual proof-reader and fact-checker Anne Brooksbank was out of the house. I’m glad the BBC heard the same story and published it, and I will seek a copy of the programme.

I ask anyone with any other explanation to supply it.

Derryn Hinch writes: Bob Ellis’s ‘true story’ about Teddy Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne is so full of holes if it were Swiss you wouldn’t find the cheese. I don’t have time to dismantle it all but I covered that story when Kennedy drove his Caddy off Dike Bridge into Pucha Pond at Chappaquiddick (not Lake Chappaquiddick Mr. Rundle), covered Kennedy’s court appearance when he appeared in that neck brace from Central Casting, covered Mary Jo’s inquest and interviewed her mother in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. She told me ‘tell the world my daughter died a virgin’. About the only thing the Ellis story got right. And Mary Jo was 29 not 20. Kennedy couldn’t have walked to any hotel. There were none on Chappaquiddick. They were staying at different places on Martha’s Vineyard –Mary Jo in a motel, Kennedy at the Shiretown Inn in Edgartown. In the middle of the night after the accident he contrived an alibi with the hotel night manager named Russell Peachey.

Incidentally, even a sober person could have driven off that angled bridge. I was in a car with the late Peter Costigan (Melbourne Herald, Lord Mayor) and even though he was a former Herald Motoring Editor he nearly put us into the drink when we tried to reconstruct the accident.

Pamela Papadopoulos writes: This family is the epitome of class. As Americans have no aristocracy, the Kennedy family was the equivalent of the royals. I also admired John F Kennedy Junior who sadly died in a plane crash. Some-one who invites Prince to play at their wedding is pretty cool!

Sadly missed and revered by both the republicans and democratics, this man,despite his flaws like every man, is a testament to his families legacy that dignity can prevail in politics.

M. Gordon writes: I probably should not be surprised by the tidal wave of global media coverage eulogising the passing of Edward Kennedy. But it is largely unjustified; Kennedy is merely one of 100 Senators.

I hope that the false prestige attached to Kennedy’s fades away. Already one of Kennedy’s sons is a Republican MP. I can only hope that he was merely talk rather than the old more Irish than the Irish mentality that his father (as US Ambassador to Britain) exhibited in opposing support for Britain in the face of the Nazis, and support for the IRA is passé?

Occasionally Kennedy did work in a bipartisan way. But he failed to take up the offer of a universal health system from then President Richard Nixon and then his party a guaranteed minimum income, so 40 years of missed opportunity. He was one of the most partisan Senators and whilst he had a few wins, he is remembered for his speeches and words he achieved much less by way of action.

Queensland politics

David Lowe writes: I have been in the workforce for more than 35 years and I have listened to and read a lot of ‘bosses bullsh*t’, but the article by the anonymous author “machinations in Queensland politics” is the winner.

The QCU and ALL of its affiliated unions are unanimous in their ongoing campaign to oppose the privatisation of taxpayer-owned assets. The campaign will continue until privatisation is stopped. I do not believe that any affiliated union would do what was suggested as these unions are built on solidarity.

You have to understand there is a significant difference between Unions which are affiliated to the QCU and the ALP and those associations which are affiliated to the ALP only. Many people use the term associations to describe extreme right wing ‘bosses unions’ such as the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDAE). The AWU and the SDAE should become members of the Chamber of Commerce.

At the recent Queensland ALP conference unions affiliated to both QCU and ALP recorded around 100 votes against privatisation while associations affiliated to the ALP could only gather around 60 votes in favour.

Bligh may try to stop the campaign but she will not stop it by the method suggested. This article was obviously written by someone, perhaps from the extreme right wing, with the aim to destabilise the QCU campaign.

The QCU affiliated unions are the only unions dedicated to looking after the interests of their members unlike the management of the AWU and the SDAE which only look after their personal interests and their desires to shine some parliamentary leather.

It is only the parliamentary wing of the ALP and the AWU and SDAE that are supporting the privatisation of our assets. These people are built of something else and are intent on ruining the “Labour” brand for their personal gain.

Branch politics

Andrew Owens writes: I noted with interest Andrew Crook’s conclusions that “in some safe federal Liberal seats … the number of ALP members dwarf those in Labor-held marginals”. My general experience is that this would be entirely consistent — branches in WA based in safe Liberal areas have healthy attendances and a strong social element while some of the branches in safe Labor areas struggle to survive at all. A friend of mine was phoned up once and asked to help with doorknocking 60km from his home in a safe seat because there were few local branch members under 70. In contrast, turn up at any booth in Curtin on polling day and you’re greeted by enthusiastic youngsters who happily give a day of their time to the cause of Labor. One such at the 2007 election (18 at the time) told me he was thrilled he could have a part in reducing his booth’s Liberal majority from 76% to 75%. The marginals are somewhere in between in terms of both activity and membership, although have few problems filling booths as aforementioned enthusiastic members from safe Liberal seats are often quite happy to travel to marginal seats to help.

This does not reflect any sort of sinister plot or anything to do with “pre-selection power grabs”. My guess is there’s not as much motivation to fight when the battle being won by one’s own ideological friends is a foregone conclusion, and the culture around such branches may be quite different. Mucky stuff may well exist, but this particular evidence isn’t a solid pointer to it.