East Timor:

Robert Johnson writes: Re. “Is that all you’ve got Paul Kelly?” (yesterday, item 8). It is surely extraordinary that the notion of John Howard and Alexander Downer seeking to support East Timor’s independence can still be seriously claimed, even by Paul Kelly. Howard needed to get rid of this issue, especially as ALP policy on East Timor was about to undergo a long overdue change to a position overwhelmingly domestically popular.

Howard’s 19 December 1998 “Matignon Accords” letter to Indonesia’s President Habibie amply demonstrates the Australian Government’s desire to permanently undermine any prospect of Timorese sovereignty. Howard had wedged himself on the issue and had to mount a military presence after the so-called but not quite “act of self-determination’”in 1999, the outcome of which was obviously a genuine shock to the hubristic Indonesian government, and especially its military (thus its reaction to Timorese ‘ingratitude’ to the benefits of 24 years of ruthless military occupation).

PM Howard’s Timorese interests (especially of keeping it within Indonesian hands) were made clear on the day of East Timor’s independence. On 20 May 2002, no sooner had flags been lowered and raised and formal ceremonial duties completed, than Howard required just one non-ceremonial duty to be performed by new Timorese Prime Minister Alkatiri: the signing of Australia’s “Timor Sea Arrangement” to extend the Australian/Indonesian Timor Gap Treaty that had been invalidated by East Timor’s unanticipated and unwanted independence, and to do so before the new government had a chance to properly consider the (in)equity of the deal.

It’s all on the public record; it’s rather silly to keep pretending otherwise.

Psychiatric care:

Dr Michael Robertson, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney writes: Re. “Tired? Eat too much? Irritable? Congrats, you’re depressed.” (yesterday, item 14). While Helen Razer appears to grasp the ludicrousness that prospective developments in psychiatric diagnosis promise in the DSM-V, I think she is beating up on the wrong people.

The majority of folk attending for psychiatric care do experience what most reasonable people would consider intense psychological distress and impairment in their lives as a consequence of it. The fringe diagnoses (such as internet or shopping addiction) that many people criticise the DSM for seldom figure in the clinical setting. She is right to highlight the DSM’s waning influence in Australia — the document was banned in medical student teaching in Psychological Medicine at the University of Sydney in the 1990s.

The DSM serves many groups not least lawyers, insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. In some cases, the patients themselves benefit from specious diagnoses offered as mitigation in all manner of bad behaviour.

It is these groups who continue to drive the DSM enterprise, not the drug company bank-rolled American academics who confect such ersatz disorders.

Mungo killed Michael Jackson?:

Angus Sharpe writes: Re. “Mungo: it’s time for Turnbull to lighten up and celebrate the great escape” (yesterday, item 9). I very much doubt that Malcolm Turnbull will respond to Mungo’s suggestion to “lighten up”. So, as a very third or fourth best, I’ll have a go … Mungo says that: “Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues appear to be unable to come to terms with the single most pertinent fact about the government’s stimulus measures, which is quite simply that they have worked.” First some simple logic:

  • Mungo wrote articles prior to Michael Jackson’s death. Michael Jackson died. Therefore, Mungo killed Michael Jackson!
  • Kevin Rudd stimulated the economy. We are doing better than many other “western” countries. Therefore, the stimulus saved Australia (and was worth saddling our children with massive debt)!

Err … in each case the former did not necessarily cause (or lead to) the latter. Our problem is this. Kevin and Wayne are spending our money (taxes). And … even worse … they are going into massive debt on our behalf. There is a spectrum of things that they are spending our money on (let’s assume for a second that we should only spend money on things that make our country better – i.e. “investments”)  For example:

  • Roads, schools and other “pure” infrastructure that directly increase productivity and/or skills (Yay!);
  • Broadband (Yay!);
  • The bank guarantee — $0 payout so far, but if things go bad, very very expensive (a difficult one — it has killed the second tier lenders, but I think that this was ultimately a good and necessary call — Provisional Yay!);
  • First home buyers grants — just upping the price of property by the grant amount and setting us up for a big property crash down the line (Pork-barrel alert! Massive Boo!); and
  • Flat screen TV and pokies payouts (Pork-barrel alert! Massive Boo!).

The US will run out of money at some point (the trillions are really beginning to add up …). The UK has already run out of money (don’t take my word for it — the Governor of the Bank of England says so).  We, or our children (Oh … God … won’t somebody … anybody … think of the children!) will pay for this. Oh yes. So let’s be very very very careful how much we spend.

That’s all I’m saying…

Walter Slurry:

Chris Johnson writes: Re. “Slurry: I write to apply for the position of ACT ALP Secretary” (yesterday, item 15). On a lick I’d say Walter Slurry well deserves an interview. The essential criteria branch stacking, electoral rorting and hints of brown paper bags are all there although you’re a bit thin on experience outside the Capital.

Suggest you allude to vagaries in NSW and Queensland (big plus these days) such as resigning as acting-COS to someone in the Iemma or Beattie governments specifying dates to denote you left prior to well-documented inquiries (demonstrates inside networks are operative) with a clean nose.

Now don’t forget you interview in a shiny suit dressed down with unbuttoned white shirt, pop on fashionable-framed glasses and carry an underarm leather clutch brief. During interview drop the name, Mike Kaiser. It’s the abracadabra-open-sesame to a life career in the ALP. That’s if you want to stay that long.

PS Walt, good luck and well done with the faux spelling of Karl’s surname. Common touch goes a long way in the ALP.

Bank executives’ bonuses:

John Goldbaum writes: Re. “G20, Swan and so-called puffed-up punditry” (yesterday, item 3). There is a simple way to align the interests of bank executives and shareholders with respect to the payment of bonuses for short-term outperformance and the avoidance of excessive long-term risks.

Pay the bonuses in their own fully-paid bank shares which must remain in escrow for five or ten years during which period the bank executives will be entitled to the dividends, just like other shareholders. They will also share the long-term capital risks of imprudent lending, just like other shareholders.

In fact, this way of placing bonuses in escrow would work just as well in protecting against reckless risk taking in all companies, not just banks.

Verity Firth:

Kevin McCready writes: Re. “The smell of McGurk is turning a bit green” (yesterday, item 2). I don’t know how Margot Saville comes to the conclusion that Verity Firth is an “excellent local member”. Firth’s appalling behaviour as Minister impacts on her own electorate and NSW. Firth’s disinformation campaign on school ranking, sell out in Hurlstone, sell off of school land, leaving special needs kids hung out to dry, TAFE teacher conditions etc etc has been shocking, particularly from someone who is meant to be ALP left.


Axle the Council Worker writes: Alan Sutherland, Mayor of Moreton Regional Council (yesterday, comments) has more to worry about than Brisbane Mayor Mr “Can Do” Campbell. Sutherland’s major worry is that he has nearly twice as many staff in Moreton Council as is needed. The amalgamation of Redcliffe, Pine Rivers and Caboolture councils produced Moreton Regional Council which has about 2500 staff on its books as a result of that change.

The problem is that only about 1500 staff are required to run the combined activities of Moreton. Sutherland put a motion to the recent Local Government Association meeting to ask the State Minister, Desley Boyle to change the terms of amalgamation to allow staff to be made redundant or redeployed to different tasks. The motion didn’t get up as Boyle had already said “over my dead body”.

This problem is not unique to Moreton, many of the amalgamated Queensland councils have too many staff but they have to keep them until after March 2011 as per the terms of amalgamation. This is costing ratepayers a fortune to pay staff to sit on their hands but Anna Bligh and her government don’t want a few thousand council staff going on the dole at present.


A filly watcher writes: Re. “Horse&Jockey with T.P. Maher: Flemington on fire” (yesterday, item 19). Looks like T.P Maher should be spelled indefinitely. He says that he doesn’t “know much about the owners of Vigor”. He actually knows less than he thinks. Contrary to his report, Justin Mathie did not collect the statue of Makybe Diva presented to the owners on Saturday. That honour was bestowed on Timothy Rourke (introduced as such to all in attendance).

Further, according to the racebook and Racing Victoria’s website, Titan Thoroughbred Charlie Syndicate is merely one of a number of part-owners of the horse (the balance of which include owners of a number of high profile runners, including Melbourne Cup starters, in recent years).

Minor details perhaps but readily available for a would-be racing scribe.

If T.P. Maher was a runner, his current form comment would read: “Unimpressive on debut. Prefer others.”

Sharon Hutchings writes: Terry Maher wrote: “Happily, horses have no knowledge of human expectations because they are dumb, dumb animals.” Mmmm … dumb or recalcitrant? No doubt most horses understand what humans expect from the whip. Conversely, many humans have no knowledge of equine expectations because they are greedy, greedy brutes.

Good work:

Peter Lloyd writes: Three stand-out items yesterday:

Margot Saville (“The smell of McGurk is turning a bit green“, yesterday, item 2) viewing the potential exposure of one of Australia’s worst-ever corruption scandals purely in terms of how that might affect the ALP’s ability to hold — *gasp* — Balmain. This determination of some journalists to reduce important issues to a question of “how will this will affect the polls?” sickens me, and many others.

Jeff Sparrow (“How the pundits got it oh so wrong on Afghanistan“, yesterday, item 10) noting that, yes, the Australian media has nobody with the ability to interpret military issues, and we are thus left with morons like Piers Akerman who struggle to accurately interpret any issues. Mr Sparrow’s own “Afghanistan is a bloody mess” is hardly more constructive, though credit to him for at least seeking answers.

Richard Farmer’s “A strange pair of allies” (“Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks“, yesterday, item 12). Everything one needs to know about the current situation can be gleaned by re-reading John Keneth Galbraith’s 1952 work American Capitalism. Given how often corporate types like to bang on about “not re-inventing the wheel,” it’s amazing how often I have re-read Galbraith’s argument even though nobody seems to ever mention the great man’s name.