The economy:

Tim Longwill writes: Re. “Ask the economists: we’re seriously going gangbusters” (2 September, item 2). “…there are two types of economists. Those who don’t know, and those who don’t know that they don’t know…”

The economy grew again this quarter by 0.6%. Economists were predicting growth rates of between -0.2% and +0.2%. Hmmmmmm…. In the last quarter there were no “serious’ economists” (whatever that might mean) who thought Australia would record positive growth. Concerns were that the negative growth would be of the order of -0.2 to -1.0%. It was +0.4%. I can’t predict how I am going to feel tomorrow.

Economists apparently can however predict the preponderant sentiment of millions of people across an entire country. No really. Just ask. Before Harrison invented his famous clocks, navigators were using “dead reckoning” to determine how far east or west they had travelled. I don’t know the detail of the dead reckoning strategy but it was responsible for sinking the entire English merchant fleet in the late 18th century. (I understand that it survives and remains in use by pensioners playing the pokies).

Incidentally Navigators were also regarded as receivers of God’s word and challenging them was to sign a death warrant. It seems that currently we are all on the “green shoots bandwagon” (including now the good ol’ POTUS). The reason we are on the “green shoots bandwagon” is because we are all on the green shoots bandwagon. Understand? It was not that long ago that we were all gnashing our teeth and howling like Palestinian widows. Because, yep, you guessed it, everyone had jerseys and we were fashionable.

Now that we are bored with toast and videos, we have decided to go all happy clappy.

Predicting crowd moods is impossible, just ask a pub band. Economics is great for explaining what happened. Predicting future trends, not so much. In fact not at all.

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “If you think Australia’s working, ask someone who isn’t … much” (Friday, item 1). The images of Rudd in a hard hats and Swan claiming credit for some mythical turnaround in our economic fortunes are getting a bit tedious. We are doing better than much of the world but there are many quite negative figures and trends in the national account figures. Capital spending has contracted as has national disposable income, eight out of 18 industry sectors have contracted in the last three months, and the biggest growth sector is the “statistical discrepancy” again!

Underemployment is a serious issue; with obviously many people dropping out of the workforce all together, total hours worked has dropped in the last quarter and the last year. Businesses are reducing inventories, including in the manufacturing, wholesale and retail sectors.

The stimulus package is not an economic strategy but a re-election strategy which may explain the “excessive” spin rather than the “normal” spin we have come to expect!

Campbell Newman:

Allan Sutherland, Mayor, Moreton Bay Regional Council, writes: Lord Mayor Campbell Newman I thank you for the interesting remarks made to Crikey readers by your senior media advisor Michael Corkill (3 September, comments).

Unfortunately, the commentary on my political affiliations is incorrect. I am not a “Labor Mayor”, nor do I have membership of any political party. I’m an independent Mayor who, incidentally, has strongly supported and vigorously opposed initiatives of both Labor and the Liberal National Party from time to time.

With respect, Lord Mayor, it is you who launched a state political campaign last year. My council’s withdrawal from the SEQ Council of Mayors had nothing to do with your staff member’s suggestion of politics or alleged personal grudges but everything to do with responsibly cutting costs for the benefit of our ratepayers in tough economic times. As a result of this sound economic management we’ve been able to hand down one of the lowest rate rises in SEQ for a second consecutive year, while still maintaining unprecedented investment in infrastructure and capital works programs.

The decision to exit the Council of Mayors, which you chair, was unanimously endorsed by all 12 councillors at Moreton Bay Regional Council, who represent a broad spectrum of political views.

As always, I’m only too happy to take a call from you at any time.


Lori Weightman, Media Adviser to Peter Lindsay, the Federal Member for Herbert, writes: Re. “NSW voters: get your form letters ready” (Friday, item 10). I write in response to comments made in by Charles Richardson in his article about the AEC’s proposed changes to the federal electoral boundaries. I work for Peter Lindsay in the Herbert electorate office and I can tell you first hand that the objections lodged by the people of Townsville were not “orchestrated” by the Federal Member.

If you cared to read any of the objections posted on the AEC website you would see that each response is handwritten — not a template rant written by Peter and signed by a nonchalant member of the electorate.

Peter became involved in response to the influx of angry constituent calls and enquiries our electorate office received following the announcement that their suburb was going to be shoved into an electorate with their Federal Member residing 400 kilometres away. He simply facilitated the chance for the people of Townsville to have their own voice, as opposed to signing a petition to be pinned on the back of his submission to the AEC.

You underestimate the intelligence and autonomy of the constituents of Herbert, while disparaging those who live in regional areas by assuming they must have too much time on their hands to bother kicking up a fuss over such issues.

James Murdoch:

Ignaz Amrein writes: Re. “And the Wankley goes to … James ‘independent media’ Murdoch” (Friday, item 19). I very much agree with Jane Nethercote, James Murdoch really deserves the Wankley but I’m also very grateful to him to answer a question that has been bugging me ever since I subscribed to Crikey.

Over the years I’ve wondered why certain stories only appeared on Crikey, finally James provided me with the answer … Crikey is charging for full access to its news service and can therefore afford to employ journalists who are able to write and deliver quality news, fearlessly.

I guess, it is true, you get what you pay for, that should explain why the Murdoch papers are the cheapest!

Cigarettes and alcohol:

Michael Livingston, Research Fellow, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, writes: Re. “Taxing fags an unhealthy obsession” (yesterday, item 24). “It is not clear that increasing the monetary cost of alcohol has a large impact on consumption” and “Increased taxation of alcohol itself, and by implication increased health spending, may benefit the medical profession but it is not clear it will solve the social problems associated with alcohol abuse”.

There is a wealth of published research indicating that both these statements are wrong.

Firstly, more than a hundred studies have demonstrated that alcohol consumption changes with price — on average a 10% price increase will reduce total consumption by around 5% (it’s worth noting that, when people have looked, this reduction occurs among heavy drinkers as well as moderate drinkers and among young people). The impact on heavy drinkers has been further emphasised by showing sharp drops in cirrhosis mortality following alcohol tax increases.

Secondly, there is increasingly good evidence that alcohol taxation can influence rates of acute harms (like violence). For example, an excise reduction of 33% in Finland in 2004 lead to a 17% increase in alcohol-related sudden deaths (from accidents, homicide and suicide).

Similarly, a study from the UK demonstrates a relationship between beer prices and hospitalisations due to violence and an international study from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US demonstrates the higher alcohol prices result in lower rates of violence.

Professor Davidson may have ideological issues with using a blunt tool like taxation to reduce problems associated with alcohol, but to claim that all increasing alcohol taxation will do is line the pockets of the medical profession is ignoring the research evidence that exists.

Della Bosca:

David Adler writes: Re. “Della Bosca joins a long list of upstanding members” (2 September, item 2). Q: Why is John Della-Bosca like IKEA? A: One loose screw and the Cabinet falls to pieces.

Bob Ellis:

Brigid Tancred writes: In response to your correspondent Andrew Elder (Friday, comments) on Bob Ellis, I graduated from both 2nd and 3rd year Arts, not to mention picking up a Law degree on the way through, and still find Bob Ellis good value. My mother, when she too was in her seventies, said “I’ve heard it all before” when I complained that she’d cancelled her SMH subscription. Now, although a politics junkie, I’m inclined to agree with her. As a result, although Bob Ellis is, of course, a joke, I’d rather read his salacious gossip and Charles Waterstreet’s musings than the sententious claims of their critics.

The directors’ club:

Peter Wotton writes: Re. “Elite directors form conga line to defend their pals at Hardie” (Friday, item 23). That anyone, let alone the large number of the members of the “directors’ club” who gave character references for the disgraced directors of James Hardy certainly raised a number of very disturbing questions .

It would appear that those referees have little understanding of the ethical and legal obligations of directors. Should potential directors be required to take ethics training before being selected for board positions?

The evidence seems to suggest yes!

Transport concessions:

Maurie Farrell writes: Re. “A small concession in the scheme of things” (Friday, item 15). Greg Foyster puts a good case for international students obtaining transport concessions, but glossed over the need for domestic postgrad students to get the same benefit. The fact that these people elect to improve their qualifications surely improves their value to Victoria over undergrads.

As an example no law students at Melbourne Uni who started in 08 or 09 are eligible to get concessions, as law is now strictly post grad there! Yet these students are obviously older than undergrads, with family responsibilities in many cases.

Their work load does not permit many hours of paid work, and , in fact, many are poorer than their undergrad mates!

The New Yorker:

Paul Cheever writes: Re. “Media briefs: New Yorker worth the wait? Obama’s health cover” (Friday, item 21). Re. Andrew Crook’s media brief on waiting six months for his gift subscription of the New Yorker to start. We have had a similar problem with other US magazines, however, as a New Yorker subscriber, I can report the magazine arrives here promptly each week. The 31 August edition has been on my desk for several days.

Cynicism and respect:

James Matthews in Malaysia writes: Re. “Respectember at the ABC: it’s only just begun …” (Friday, item 3). Is it my imagination or is there a predominance of cynicism creeping into the Crikey missive so beloved of expats like me?

It’s true I wouldn’t have called the ABC’s attempt to encourage respect amongst its employees “Respectember”, but there is definitely an unwarranted scent of ridicule in the coverage of such a sensible and necessary initiative. Were that there more employers acted in a way to encourage appropriate and respectful behaviour but this becomes much harder when the hard-bitten cynics hold sway in the media.

The same might be said for the piece by Guy Rundle which followed “Respectember” on Friday (“‘I thought about pizza’: a poem by Tim Holding, on the occasion of his rescue“. Friday, item 4). Ridicule of a public figure for poor performance is commonplace however regrettable but when a person is ridiculed for speaking plainly and honestly about a life-threatening experience, I for one feel that a line has been crossed unnecessarily.

By way of balance, it’s nice to see there are still “public defenders” like Sophie Cunningham out there (“The black and white of the Australian literary canon“, Friday, item 5) and still getting “column inches” or whatever the electronic equivalent might be.

Call me romantic if you will but the world, the media, our workplaces and homes would be all be better places if we all took personal responsibility for treating each other with respect.

Brian Mitchell writes: Like you I sneered at the very thought of Respectember and then read the three emails you published and thought, you know, this may not be a bad idea after all. And there’s certainly no harm in asking people — especially the nasty, elitist, careerist hacks at the ABC — to be nice to each other. Respectember may actually have eaten through my hide of cynicism, much like acid through an eyeball.

However, I think my hide will grow back and, like any healed wound, be more scarred and gnarly than before.

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