Brendan Nelson:

Michael Robertson, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney, writes: Re. “The Nelson diagnosis: does Turnbull suffer from narcissistic personality disorder?” (yesterday, item 12). Dr Nelson’s use of the diagnosis of Personality Disorder as a means of attacking his political nemesis reflects more on Nelson than Turnbull. Using psychiatric labels to discredit foes has a rich tradition dating to the Soviet Union era and is a reminder of medicine’s darker days.

In the medical profession, rivals often take pleasure in denouncing each other as “narcissists” or “psychopaths” but seldom in public. In the US, the so-called “Goldwater Rule” (derived from the gratuitous psychiatric deconstruction of Presidential aspirant Barry Goldwater in the media by some American psychiatrists) virtually proscribes physicians from abusing psychiatric knowledge to comment on public figures.

This begs the question, should Dr Nelson be held to the same ethical standards as other medical practitioners? If he wants to use his medical skills for self-advancement, yes.

Tony Burke:

Andrew Elder writes: Re. “Burke’s backflip on timber an ETS fail” (yesterday, item 3). Tony Burke is wrong about timber classification. We don’t import meat if it hasn’t been formally inspected and stamped as such, and to use the minister’s sarcasm against him: a tree is bigger than a chop. Internationally recognised protocols for classifying legally sourced timber such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) already exist: minister, the legal ones are labelled in accordance with the protocol by recognised classifiers.

Tony Burke is Labor’s answer to Chris Pyne, or Downer in his younger days: a little too excitable when he thinks his opponents are down for the count, and tends to dissipate any sympathy he might earn by overdoing the self-satisfaction.

One can have too much success at debating. This isn’t to say Burke is finished, but best to keep an eye on him when things seem to be going a bit too well.

Geoff Russell writes: Bernard Keane’s observation that Tony Burke was loath to trust timber provenance tags while everybody is happy to trust foreign emission permits is one of those nice little gems that exposes the sham that is political hand wringing over climate change. Great work.


Angus Sharpe writes: Re. “It’s a Smaland after all” (yesterday, item 15). Sometimes we see buildings that are so beautiful, that the joy of them, the sheer joy, transcends mere bricks and mortar. Or these days, carbon fibre and glass. Gattaca (the movie) is mainly set in a Frank Lloyd Wright building that is truly, magnificently, beautiful.

On the flip side, we sometimes see things that grate. That diminish our lives and our days. Flashing pop-up ads on websites. Starbucks on Lygon street. Bad, grating, fonts. Verdana is a very very ugly print font, and IKEA should not use it in their catalogues. But we wouldn’t know that from Helen Razer’s article.

For example, she says “All those awaiting the Rapture might claim, of course, that nobody actually reads the Good Book of interiors. The wall of Billy Bookshelves behind you begs to differ. As does an act of mass hermeneutics this past weekend.”

Just what is she saying? Is she functionally illiterate? On crack? What? Crikey! This is not Helen’s first offence. Copy edit this crap, or delete the article completely. Please.

Gabriel McGrath writes: Like Helen Razer, I used to think Ikea was some big friendly giant. Until I read a recent post on Boing Boing telling me Ikea uses some pretty sneaky structures to pay only 3.5% tax on the billions they make each year. Disgusting. “Smaland”? More like Stingeland. Bastards.

Keith Binns writes: I’m aghast when I discover that Rudd is distributing his educational largesse using Howard’s old corrupt formula. Others are aghast when IKEA changes its font. I suppose it’s all in your theology. Being an amillenialist I’m not all that keen on the Rapture.

Melbourne Uni:

Christina Buckridge, Corporate Affairs Manager, University of Melbourne writes: Re. “Melbourne Uni’s $265m slush fund won’t save job cuts” (yesterday, item 2). Despite Andrew Crook’s claims about a $265 million fund — slush or otherwise — it does not exist. What does exist are plans for a five-year Capital Campaign with a target of $250 million — with the big line item $80 million for student financial aid and scholarships. This is no secret and it isn’t particularly American — at least one other Victorian university is currently running such a campaign.

Other corrections/clarifications needed are:

  • The “philanthropy push” does not contain $50 million but, at this early stage, is mainly pledges by donors.
  • Andrew Crook confuses fund-raising targets for faculties with additional accessible income. As this money doesn’t yet exist — and will not for some years — it would be difficult to attach it “to faculties’ bottom lines”.
  • While the campaign will employ 50 full-time staff, these are not new positions; they are current alumni relations staff across the University.
  • The University cannot “tap into” endowments funds for whatever it likes. Endowment funds are given for specific purposes and can only be used for those purposes. The University would breach the terms of these donor-driven gifts — for scholarships, chairs, or new positions, cancer research, etc — if they were used for salaries. For instance, a recent $4.7 million gift is specifically for a new Chair in Cattle and Sheep Production Medicine in the Faculty of Veterinary Science.
  • The University’s investment portfolio is around $1.2 billion not $800 million as claimed in Crikey.
  • The effects of the GFC were not the only external economic factors contributing to the University’s need to reduce costs. Also identified — some weeks ago in Crikey — were:
  • The cumulative impact of inadequate indexation of Commonwealth funding which has, since 1996, resulted in a decline in the real rate of funding for the University of around $6 million a year.
  • The loss of domestic undergraduate fee-paying places which will cost Melbourne around $30 million a year in revenue forgone from 2010.
  • The previous government’s VSU legislation which reduced revenue by $13 million a year and requires the University to redirect around $6m a year from other activities to keep student services alive and viable.

And how a good-natured University staffer popping her head into the Farrago office to ask when Farrago would be available gets reported as “confront[ing] Farrago staff over the source of the leak” is not just a mystery, it is totally untrue — and unkind.

Zachary King writes: Andrew Crook might be interested to read the recent Vanity Fair article “Rich Harvard, Poor Harvard” which outlines the dire financial position of Harvard University. Harvard lost in excess of $8B from their endowments through the GFC and as earnings on the endowment fund had come to represent the majority of its operating budget, this created a serious liquidity issue.

Of course, being an elite university they couldn’t react the way in which a company would — by making drastic cuts to expenditure — so they issued $2.5B worth bonds to raise money to cover the shortfall. They are now paying an estimated $500M per year just to service their debts. I am sure that this has not gone unnoticed at University of Melbourne.

Disclosure: I work in a University environment and spend my days banging my head ahead against a brick wall trying to get academics to understand commercial realities.

James Murdoch:

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. James Murdoch is as up himself as the editors of the Oz. What pompous twaddle. It read like a Hartigan speech or a Chris Mitchell editorial. When he and his dad can explain how they bent over for the Chinese and agreed not to carry BBC on Star , their satellite feed into China maybe we could have a serious chat. Funny thing was that they were rat fucked by the Chinese who proved even more unscrupulous than the News Ltd. Sooking on about the BBC was unbecoming but at the same time amusing.

The ABC:

Les Heimann writes: Re. 28 August editorial. So Auntie’s slip is showing! Peter Costello now feels obliged to speak unshackled; unafraid of what those socialist ABC ogres might revenge themselves upon him as a fine upstanding politician serving the public.

In my family I listen to the ABC and my wife loves Melbourne’s 3AW. This is interesting because both of us are not stupid nor carry overly idealistic baggage when it comes to attitudes. Both of us are in furious agreement though that, when it comes to radio at least, the ABC does not carry to many conservative flags. Equally radio 3AW is proudly and stridently conservative — virtually all the time.

Having a point of difference is good marketing. Yes the ABC is not pro business, it is not into user pays, free markets, Friedmansim, neoliberalism and all that stuff. However, does that mean the ABC is wrong? Does that mean that because you are not pro something you are against it? No. What the ABC does, in my view, is to report, objectively comment, and allow points of view.

Peter Costello suffers from the same delusional attitude that many, nay most, conservative types do; that is if you are not of the same ideological bent as them you must of course be wrong. Most of us, on the other hand, are open to argument.

Flagpoles and schools:

Mary Walker writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 10). The Rudd/Gilliard government is not the first to insist that insist that schools receiving federal funds put up signs saying so. During the Howard government years, schools were invited to procure federal funding from the state governments so as to erect flag poles in the school yard. As well, a small plaque acknowledging the generosity of the government was placed near the new pole. This initiative, the Flag Funding Intitative, was part of the schools funding quadrennium 2005-08.

Schools were expected to promote their new flagpole to the local school community. Australian Government assistance was acknowledged not only with a plaque but also through the school newsletter to the local school community. Schools were also expected to provide an opportunity for an Australian Government parliamentarian to attend a flag raising ceremony at the school. Generally, only Liberal Party parliamentarians elected to do this.


Paul Dwerryhouse writes: Re. “Last night’s TV ratings” (yesterday, item 19). Glenn Dyer, your assessment that 224,000 viewers for Wipeout drained audience from Domestic Blitz and that viewers of The Nanny would have helped Nine’s news, is tenuous at best. Those shows are all aimed at completely different markets. If Go didn’t exist, then those viewers would have been unlikely to watch Nine’s news or Domestic Blitz — they would have been watching Australian Idol on Channel 10 instead, or maybe they’d be off using the internet.

It’s not cannibalisation, it’s niche multichannelling, and it works perfectly well in countries such as the Netherlands and Germany where the main players all have multiple outlets (three or four, in some cases). You can’t simply look at both channels and say that if Go wasn’t there then people would be watching Nine instead — it’s not like viewers are rusted on to Nine as an organisation.

Multichannelling is the best thing to happen to Australian free-to-air television in decades; ABC2 alone has made television here far more interesting. If Seven had any brains at all, they’d target their new digital channel at some market that they don’t already cover on their main channel, such as music, movies or dare I say, maybe even serious news.

Nuclear energy:

Nic Maclellan writes: Peter Kemp (yesterday, comments) asserts: “The problem of so-called nuclear waste (including existing stockpiles) may recede in 15-20 years if new reactor designs live up to promise.” If nuclear promises were rolled in gold, we’d all be rich. But as governments make complex investment decisions on energy systems to replace coal and other fossil fuels, let’s look at results on the ground, rather than spin from the nuclear industry.

Kemp seems to be suggesting that reprocessing nuclear waste for use as reactor fuel is the way forward, and that any problems of using plutonium or a mixed oxide of plutonium and uranium (MOX) will be easily overcome. But where’s the real world evidence for this assertion?

Take Japan’s efforts to get a reprocessing plant working at Rokkasho in Aomori prefecture — an expensive and dismal failure. When the plant was first approved, it was supposed to be completed by December 1997. In January this year, the completion date was postponed again – for the 16th time! At the same time, Japan’s Monju fast breeder reactor, which began construction in 1985, has been out of action since a sodium leak caused a fire in the plant in 1995.

Even the target date for commercialisation of Japan’s fast-breeder reactors is 2050 (a bit longer than the 15-20 years Mr. Kemp promises).

The other problem is the cost and safety of transporting plutonium and MOX across the world’s oceans. Japan has over 38 tonnes of plutonium stored in Europe after its commercial nuclear wastes were reprocessed in France and the UK. But developing countries around the world — including our Pacific island neighbours — are deeply opposed to shipments of plutonium and MOX fuel through their waters and fishing grounds.

Long-term storage of plutonium is a major economic, environmental and security problem, and labelling it “so-called nuclear waste” is a childish attempt to avoid a serious challenge. What are future generations going to do with tonnes of toxic material, which lingers for tens of thousands of years?

Michael R. James writes: Intermittency of wind power is not an insuperable problem, though it would benefit from a, dare I say it, holistic approach — i.e. if the overall grid and power sources (say, for the east coast) were fully integrated. Snowy Hydro could feasibly be used to store excess power from Wind and Solar. But it will be a long time before that would be required. The newest wind turbine designs use blades whose angle to the wind is adjustable allowing operation at wind speeds well below the point at which older designs simply stop producing any power. This achieves Capacity Factors of 36% (US Depart. of Energy report on “20% of energy by 2020”).

No, Peter Kemp I would not approve of Carbon Capture and Storage (see my earlier article). CCS is wholly a political distraction because several laws of thermodynamics make it impossible to be economic.

But the most important point, that was unfortunately lost from my article last week, is just how horrendously expensive the nuclear option is. The most evolved advanced model in production is the current French Areva EPR under construction in Finland, though a 50% blowout in costs so far and doubling in construction time (from 3.5 years to at least seven years) is typical of nuclear projects over the decades.

Today Areva concede construction of a similar reactor would be US$8B (A$10B) for the world’s largest capacity reactor of 1.6GW. So to obtain 10GW would cost at least A$62.5B. Note also that although Areva is French, the last completed nuclear power installation in France was in 1999. Also note that all power sources have to go offline at times so those who worry about wind intermittency, just imagine the impact of a 1.6 Gigawatt source going offline!

Never mind distracting issues in the arguments over nuclear power like waste, safety, site location etc., the sheer cost should be the decisive factor for Australia and indicates to anyone with an open mind that the renewable energy industry is the one worth supporting.


Rosemary Swift writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Crikey published: “More on the Qantas lack of IT systems. The online check-in was down all day last Thursday and Friday.”

The Qantas on-line check in certainly wasn’t down all last Thursday — I checked in on-line mid morning on Thursday for my Friday Sydney-Canberra flight with no difficulty or delay at all.