ABC News:

Kate Torney, Director, ABC News, writes: Re. “ABC’s 24-hour news dream drives penny-pinching” (yesterday, item 17). The ABC is aiming to expand its overseas coverage and has no plans to reduce it.

ABC News is carrying out a review of its international operations, but this is a quality review aimed at further building a strong and sustainable overseas news gathering network, providing independent coverage of world events for audiences in Australia and Asia and the Pacific.

The review is yet to be finalised and the staff consultation process is ongoing. To suggest there is a $4 million dollar black hole in the budget is completely false and misleading.

At a time when other Australian media organisations are closing bureaux, the ABC has remained firmly committed to international reporting in recent years and the review seeks to strengthen that commitment.

There is no basis to suggestions that the ABC is considering moving Foreign Correspondent or Australian Story from the News Division to the Television Division.

Dennis Ferguson:

James McDonald writes: Re. “Justice Action: Why we’re standing up for Dennis Ferguson” (yesterday, item 3). Brett Collins, of the Justice Action group (yesterday, item 3), is correct to defend Dennis Ferguson’s right to his home. But for all the wrong reasons.

Dennis Ferguson’s right to continue living in his home has nothing to do with the reasons Mr Collins gives:

  • Not because other offenders are worse than him;
  • Not because children are more at risk from incest abuse than from roving predators;
  • Not because Ferguson’s last conviction was his sixth conviction for child molesting;
  • Not because rehabilitation of p-edophiles has any more chance of success than the “rehabilitation” of more benign s-xual preference minorities like homos-xuality;
  • Not because Ferguson, despite Mr Collins’ digression on the subject of rehabilitation, actually never did participate in the S-x Offenders Programs;

Ferguson has a right to live in his home because, like it or not, he is protected by the same law as the rest of us. And that law entitles me, Mr Collins, or Mr Ferguson to live somewhere.

Even if the neighbours don’t like it. Even if they have excellent reasons for not liking it. Mr Collins has completely missed that point.

Should the law have allowed the release of a person convicted six times of raping children? That’s a whole different question. My own feeling is that once a person is convicted beyond all reasonable doubt of an act of s-xual predation upon children (as opposed to paedophiles who dream about it but never do it), that person should permanently lose the benefit of the doubt, and must never be given the chance to harm children again.

I wouldn’t care how this is achieved; give them mandatory life exile to a tropical island resort with ten golf courses, for all I care. But to rape a child is to steal childhood itself and potentially shatter a life that’s barely begun. The benefit of the doubt, once lost in a fair trial, should pass to the children who have still got their childhood.

But that’s a question for the future and a proper review of the Crimes Act in relation to child molesters still to be convicted. It’s too late now to change the law for Dennis Ferguson, after his sentence has been served. If the neighbours or the government want to separate him now, they are going to have to either try bribing him or move themselves.

Warwick Sauer writes: To succinctly summarise Brett Collins’ argument about Dennis Ferguson: “Statistically the majority of paedophiles are related to their victims. So, you should leave Dennis Ferguson alone, because he only molests randoms.” Is this guy for real?


Professor Mike Daube, President, Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH), writes: Fresh from a $US2.3 billion dollar fine in the US for fraudulent marketing, Pfizer’s defence (yesterday, comments) against Simon Chapman’s criticisms of their approach to promoting smoking cessation products must surely offend against any marketing codes of ethics.

Amy O’Hara from Pfizer argues that, “We have based our references to the long term success of unaided quitters (“only 3-5% of people who try to outsmart cigarettes without treatment succeed”) on published, peer reviewed publications by another renowned expert in smoking cessation: (Hughes JR, Keely J, Naud S. Shape of the relapse curve and long-term abstinence among untreated smokers. Addiction. 2004 Jan;99(1):29-38).”

This surely implies very clearly to anyone other than a drug company rep that the 3-5% figure and the focus on promoting cessation products rather than cold-turkey quitting is based on the cited paper by Hughes et al.

The Hughes paper was a call for more research on unaided quitters, noting that, “The large majority of people who change their drug use do so without treatment”, and “quitting smoking without treatment is one of the most prevalent and most important attempts to change drug use in the United States”.

The 3-5% figure? What Hughes et al actually write is that “3–5% of self-quitters achieve prolonged abstinence for 6-12 months after a given quit attempt” — even then with a caveat that “our results may underestimate the rate of success in self-quitting”.

Tobacco control campaigners want smokers to quit, as they are doing in droves in Australia. A very small proportion will need help and support, and we should provide that, particularly in disadvantaged communities. But the vast majority of smokers who give up do so by quitting cold turkey, whether on the first, second or seventh attempt. It is downright unhelpful for companies such as Pfizer to keep promoting messages about the Sisyphean difficulties of quitting, even if that helps them sell more products.

Climate change, Wong et al:

Ian Lowe, School of Science, Griffith University, writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Your editorial was correct: the race to the bottom between the Government’s grossly inadequate CPRS and the divided Opposition urging even greater generosity to big polluters is a total failure of our political system to engage with the most important issue of our time. I have recently been in Europe, seeing firsthand the devastating effects of climate change and hearing the increasing level of concern in the community.

Most of our politicians still see climate change as a political problem which they approach by seeking a compromise between what the science demands and the short term financial interests of the polluters. Policy should be guided by the science; the appropriate place for politics is in determining how the burden is shared. I don’t think many in the community share the view of the politicians, that the highest priority is cushioning the worst polluters so they have no incentive to change.

I was struck by one other point in your editorial: “We’re also a healthier, fairer and more just society than a generation ago.” Where is the evidence for this claim? The income distribution has steadily widened and the systematic run-down of public provision of essential services [health, education, transport etc] is surely making us a less fair society. The data show that the impressive overall economic gains of recent decades have not translated into a more content society.

We need to revise the assumption that we will all be better off if we simply make the Gross Domestic Product more gross — as even enlightened economists now recognise. We should be having a public debate about the basics of population and broad economic strategy, rather than engaging in simple cheer-mongering about the benefits of pre-Keynesian economics.

Niall Clugston writes: So Crikey thinks “the simple truth is that Australia, especially compared to other countries, has been well-served by its federal politicians and senior public servants in the last two decades”.

Well, the simple truth is that the Federal Government doesn’t do much. It has a laissez-faire economic policy and an independent, conservative Reserve Bank. It runs a health system but no hospitals, a justice system but no jails, and international trade but no ports.

Oh, and a tax/welfare system that takes money with one hand and gives it out with the other (often to the same people). It’s hard to foul any of that up.

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Wong’s letter a bizarre intervention in Libs’ internal processes” (yesterday, item 1). Bernard Keane adopts his prissie hat and calls Penny Wong’s letter to the Libs thus: “the government’s grating and relentless political opportunism”. Well that’s as may be but gee it got a great reaction, like poking a bag of snakes with a stick. Turnbull resurfaces from a (privately funded) trip to UK to comment and the ABC tracked down the Andrew Robb replacement Ian McDonald? The man with a voice like 40 miles of bad road to comment.

They all running round like chooks without heads highlighting yet again they don’t have a coherent policy. And any hour now we can expect some straw covered Nat to bob up to confirm all this. Yeah yeah I know the beds are burning the planet is headed down the toilet. But you gotta see the funny side. And this was funny. And relentless political opportunism was an art form perfected by the previous PM who never saw an opportunity he could not  be politically relentless on.

Keith Binns writes: The inconsistency of the climate change debate never ceases to amaze me. If you need a medical procedure to save your life you usually go to the best scientists available (we generally call them “Doctors”) and act on their advice. When it comes to saving the ecosystems on which all our lives depend many people go to the best scientists, ignore their clear consensus, and turn to others for advice. Go figure.

I make two prophesies about the climate change future:

  1. Nothing meaningful will be done to stop it. Denial and greed will win.
  2. There will be more social upheaval due to climate change in this century than from the wars of the last century. God help the poor who have no buffer against that.

If I’m wrong, I’ll be very happy and any Christian fundamentalists who can catch me can cheerfully stone me (cf Deuteronomy 18). The way the effects of climate change have been speeding up lately I will still be around to find.

Michael James writes: Re. “Ferguson urges ‘science, not green faith’ in letter to Batman residents” (Tuesday, item 1). With the replacement of the ill Andrew Robb by Ian McFarlane as Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Infrastructure, we have the somewhat spooky situation of astral twins on both sides of the House. As Crikey reported on Tuesday Martin Ferguson, like McFarlane, is an out-of-the-closet sceptic when it comes to all things climate and especially the ETS. Both have deep backgrounds and associations with the mining industry and lobbies. To this observer they both seem politicians of a different era, and are not just out of place in the modern political landscape but their presence is counterproductive to genuine progress in the areas their portfolios impinge upon.

While admitting it involves a certain amount of wishful thinking, one knows that, by contrast, Penny Wong, sophist and pure political operative that she is, also has the smarts to eventually modify her position on some of the disastrous aspects of her CPRS scheme. (Note to Ed.: that last sentence reads as utter fantasy but please leave it in and let us retain a scintilla of hope.) Is there anyone out there who could possibly think the same of McFarlane or Ferguson?

In a recent ABC Four Corners program Ferguson ventured that if we abandoned coal as our primary energy source it was a “lights out scenario”. The ABC program was déjà vu all over again for Crikey readers (see Crikey articles of April and May) as it confirmed the poor prognosis for Clean Coal, and drew upon a wide selection of experts in the field.

Of particular local relevance was the comment of Professor Mark Diesendorf (UNSW) that it was “an Australian delusion” to think that this fantastically expensive process could be seriously addressed by Australian efforts, even if $2.4B was thrown at it, when the US Department of Energy (budget A$30B) pulled out of the $1.8B FutureGen (NeverGen) demonstration project. Dr Kelly Thambinuthu (U. Qld) estimated one full scale CCS plant could cost $4B which is consistent with the 70 million Euro cost of the only operational CCS producing power, the 20MW Schwarze Pumpe plant in Germany.

As the minister responsible for the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute in Canberra we might soon hear some positive spin as the Mountaineer CCS pilot project (in West Virginia USA) is due to come on line as early as this week as the world’s second CCS on a fully operating coal-fired generation plant (though the Americans claim it as the world’s first, possibly ignoring the German plant on some operational or technical grounds).

The Mountaineer CCS project, like Schwarze Pumpe, is small and will capture only 1.5% of the carbon emitted by the 1.3GW plant. The project is funded in part by the US DoE, to the tune of US$70M, with some subsidy by Alstom (the French company that constructed both Mountaineer and Schwarze Pumpe), probably bringing the budget to about US$100M as reported in Monday’s New York Times. The plan is for the next phase to ramp up to capture of carbon from 250MW however the cost would appear to be about US$1.2B which would still only capture 19% of the Mountaineer power plant’s output.

Since CCS relies upon conventional physico-chemical processes, and several fundamental laws of thermodynamics that no amount of cleverness or research can overcome, one wonders exactly what “faith based” rationale Martin Ferguson conjures up to convince himself that “Clean Coal” is the clean energy of the future.

Brendan Nelson:

Chris Johnson writes: Re. “Allo, Allo! Brendan Nelson’s postcard from Luxembourg” (Tuesday, item 12). Brendan’s a splendid example of someone who wants to be important because he thinks he is. Not a shred of ethics just an addiction to appearances and the trappings of public life. He’ll be euphoric driving around Brussels in the bullet-proof glass of the sleek black limo and it’s WHO ensign flapping in the breeze. WHO indeed!

The Dirt Storm We Had To Have:

Zachary King writes: Re. “Dust storm 2: a health hazard beyond comparison” (yesterday, item 6). I think Ben Sandilands has been listening to uncle Kyle too much. The breathless headline “a health hazard beyond comparison” is complete and utter rubbish, better suited to the tabloids and I expect far better from Crikey.

I realise that Ben gets very excited about almost anything in the aviation world and every day/week is a near disaster averted as food tray fails to stay fastened during Qantas flight, but really can we not do without contributing to Dustmania 2009?

Any “health authority” who is uncertain about whether dirt particles are as dangerous as vehicle/industrial emissions (as Ben dramatically tells us) should immediately quit their job and seek work elsewhere. It’s dirt. End ‘o story. Spectacular, surreal, transitory and utterly, utterly harmless. Except of course for the widespread eye irritation that Ben gravely informs us of.

So what is the Government to do about this latest deadly threat against the populace? Standby for the War on Dirt. Or perhaps the Dirt Storm We Had To Have. Or simply Operation Desert Storm II.

Crikey: Thanks Zachary. But we wrote the headline, not Ben. There’s a little Kyle in all of us.

Keith Perkins writes: On the subject of dust-storms, (is there any other subject?) I intended buying a property out Back-o-Bourke. No need to now. It’s come to me.

Double dissolution:

David Havyatt writes: Peter Burns (yesterday, comments) wonders whether the PM can “keep his finger off the trigger until the normal election time”. The simple answer is no.

The last sentence of the first paragraph of s57 of the constitution reads “But such dissolution shall not take place within six months before the date of the expiry of the House of Representatives by effluxion of time.” The “effluxion of time” is three years from the first meeting of the HoR after the 2007 election — that is three years after 12 February 2008.

So by my calculations the last date at which a double dissolution may occur is 12 August 2010.


Peter Rosier writes: Has Fairfax management been listening to Rupe? Is the absence online of Column 8 a little experiment in seeing how many people will buy the SMH every day now that the quirky writings of Granny are to be found only in the printed page?

Certainly, all those readers who contribute from afar – can’t say with precision, but I’m guessing at 30% — 50% of all contributions — will not be buying the rag and of those closer to home, not many would surely buy just to read a few items totalling, what, 500 words? Letters may be next.

This would make the challenge of getting published quite a bit easier given the propensity of the Letters Editor to print the ramblings of those who have little connection with Sydney, or for that matter Australia.


John Smith writes: What I would like is some “Julia Gillard Hot Chicks Rule” stickers so I can sneak round schools and stick them on the new halls before the official opening.

The final word:

Tony Barrell writes: Now I realise that we are stuck with this Tamas Calderwood character (yesterday, comments) — having once been published, and then again and again he can complain that if he’s dropped it’s censorship and we can’t have that, can we? But maybe we could have a little typographical adjustment to his contributions.

I suggest you print his comments about climate change in a 5 pt font. Anyone who wants to read him can work for it. The rest can breeze on through. After all, we subscribers are paying for this piffle.

It’ll take up less of your valuable space and probably look quite arty.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey