The G20, the UN General Assembly and Rudd:

An Australian, living in the Congo, writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey wrote: “The G20 and the UN General Assembly. Only one of these two is making sense.” I am disappointed. Without in anyway defending what certain leaders said or how they acted at the General Assembly last week, Crikey is usually more balanced than to compare two such different beasts as the G20 and the UN General Assembly.

Of course it is easier to manage international crisis with fewer countries around the table. Of course it is MUCH easier when those are the world’s richest and most stable countries. Of course we are happy with the outcomes of G20 meetings: they conform to our priorities and our culture, and we are represented.

The UN is aiming to contribute to world governance, yes. And it sometimes manages that. That pesky consensus thing they have going, it can be pretty useful when speaking to officials from countries that are NOT wealthy stable members of the G20. But the UN GA is an unwieldy beast. It gives space to the views of many, even of the messy difficulty type. Because that is what democracy and free speech is about. Because the world is not made up of neatly packaged Australias.

We need fora with the capacity to respond quickly and with significant resources to emergencies. And we need fora for the whole and for the rest, for the fringe dwellers of the international community. Because like them or not, Libya and Iran, they live in our neighbourhood too. With their landmines and their anti-Semitism. And with their capacity to inflict real damage on international peace and security.

Just as the United States, she of periodic international economic crises, and the other members of the G20 live next to poorer, less powerful countries. We are neighbours to countries that are suffering and that will continue to suffer from our ongoing environmental selfish short-sightedness, from our economic protectionism, and from our distain for the needs of the weaker.

Strangely, I don’t see the G20 stepping in to fix the problems of the African continent, despite western countries’ contribution to the mineral-linked conflicts of the poor. They leave that to the UN, slow, cumbersome and flawed though it is.

By all means celebrate the quick actions of certain countries to clean up their messes and the messes of their powerful friends. When they want to. By all means trumpet the rich man’s club. Let the G20 do its work.

And let the United Nations do its work. Messy, slow, sometimes absurd though it is, the GA has a role. If we weaken it by dismissing it because of the theatre then we risk much more than sore ears from the rant of the loopy dictator. We risk what those people do when they have no voice at all…

Robert Johnson writes: Re. “Mungo: make no mistake, this is a new world order” (yesterday, item 8). Mungo MacCallum noted “And after the IMF, the United Nations itself: the Security Council like the G8, needs to be brought up to date; expanded and made more representative to reflect the modern world.”

He is far more understanding of the global character of that debate than your accompanying editorial, which is fixated on Colonel Gaddafi to the point of missing the important substance of his message, which was primarily focussed on the Security Council, which receives no reference in your editorial.

Perhaps it depends upon where one is: I’m in Africa (currently: Eritrea). Gaddafi’s address may have been way too long and overly full of distractions (for a single state, I prefer Palestine), but his warning of the need for Security Council reform is well understood and well received across African states, which have overwhelmingly suffered the consequences of Security Council inaction or worse.

Maybe leadership on major global reform is jointly in the hands of Rudd and Gaddafi, not that I want to invite a new variation of “great leader” references in The Australian.

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “G20 part 1: present at the Ruddation” (yesterday, item 3). Australia’s lobbying efforts to secure a seat on the UN Security Council for 2013-14 are obviously shifting into top gear. At the risk of looking transparent our new found interest in Africa looks obvious, our seven resident missions in Africa look poor by comparison with Finland’s 46 accredited ambassadors and Luxembourg’s 40.

One of the seven was reopened (Ghana) by the Howard Government, having been closed along with Ethiopia, Algeria and Tanzania by the Hawke Labor Government. As we have been on the Security Council four times, versus twice for smallish Finland and none for tiny Luxembourg. Perhaps we should pick on someone our own size?

Breaking news New Zealand has got in on the act. They want in as well, they have already been there three times, I suppose we could not be outdone by, that would just not do!

A parallel book universe:

Scot Mcphee writes: Whatever else Don Grover, the CEO of Dymocks, writes (yesterday, comments), and before he defends his plainly economic interest in the parallel importation laws being scrapped, can he please explain what happened to his bookshop chain franchise?

Dymocks once was a great bookshop chain; the “pocket and technical” down near Martin Place in Sydney was the holy grail of interesting software engineering tomes back in the day, and the upstairs section at the main shop in George St was a haven for lovers of Philosophy and Penguin Classics. But what’s happened in-between then and now?

Now a Dymocks store is the sort of bookshop that people who only buy two books a year buy their books from. Full of glossy lifestyle picture-books and vacuous Dan Brown novels and the like. Even their DVD collection is pitiful — the last time I was in their Brisbane city store the poor upstairs sales assistant was being slowly driven mad from the orgiastic and devoid-of-any-musical-value Andre Rieu DVD on endless repeat.

The bigger tragedy is that many of the smaller book stores have become this exact model of cookery — lifestyle — picture book — pop psychology — business title nonsense. Except for a ever-decreasing handful of tiny, off-the-beaten-path holdouts, long gone are the day when you can walk up to the counter of a general book store and ask if they have “Thucydides” and expect the assistant to know even what section this would be found in (let alone actually have any actual stock in such a section).

While I still do try to support the decreasing number of non-chain bookstores, I find increasingly that I am spending more and more of my monthly book budget at Amazon. This has nothing to do with price, and everything to do with selection.

“eBookworm” writes: With or without parallel importation of books, I think that bookstores in Australia have a bleak future, once electronic book readers are introduced into Australia and a sufficient number of titles become available.

I have been using a Kindle for about three months, and I can’t imagine that I will be buying hard copies in future, except of books that I really, really like. Amazon claims that they have 300,000 titles available as ebooks (I can’t imagine that there would be any bookstore around with that range in stock) and also that with titles that also have an ebook version available, 35% are sold in the Kindle version, in the short time that the Kindle has been on the market.

I don’t think that the publishers and authors are going to mind electronic books taking over the market. After all, every extra book sold as a download will be virtually without cost to them (they don’t have to publish unnecessary copies and ship them to the shops). Australian authors will be able to sell their books worldwide as ebooks. There mightn’t be enough interest in an Australian author sufficient to justify physically stocking an overseas market, but with electronic books available, anyone, anywhere can buy any book.

Publishers will probably also like ebooks, because with the Kindle, titles can only be passed on to people with Kindles registered under the same account, presumably close family members (which would eliminate second-hand book sales).

As a customer, I like ebooks, because they are cheaper, more convenient (easier to buy, carry, read and store), and I can get titles that would otherwise be difficult to find [a recent book I have read is Don Johanson’s book Lucy’s Legacy, the Quest for Human Origins, dealing with human evolution, and it was marvellous (admittedly, most of the photos I skipped over)]. I have Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth in both ebook and paperback form, and frankly, I prefer the ebook.

Lisa Bode writes: Please tell Don Grover that the reason why I now buy the majority of my books from Amazon rather than from Dymocks, or indeed most local book shops, is because of choice.

10 years ago Dymocks was a fabulous destination for non-fiction and academic books. And up to two years ago you could still buy a decent DVD there. Not anymore. Its range has narrowed. I can’t even buy a decent replacement dictionary at Dymocks now (I want an Oxford, but they only ever have Macquaries).

My father gave me a gift voucher for Dymocks last Christmas, and I’ve been into my local shop 4 times in the hope of finding something to spend it on. As I don’t want airport novels, motivational lit or cookbooks, I’m stuffed. The voucher sits languishing in my wallet.

Perhaps I’ll just have to buy $60 worth of moleskins, but knowing Dymocks, they’ll soon stop stocking those too.

Ian Macfarlane:

Ray Sanderson writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Ian Macfarlane is the member for the Federal seat of Groom, based on Toowoomba, population now 100,000 and growing. He has been copping a lot of flak in the local media in recent months over the non approval of the Toowoomba bypass road up and over the Range and out to the west.

This is a “shovel ready” project which will cost about 1.7 billion dollars but will assist with the huge amount of development on the Darling Downs out to the Surat Basin where gas powered energy projects are sprouting like flowers. It would create 1000s of jobs over the five years or so building it, not to mention getting hundreds (sometimes thousands) of trucks off Toowoomba’s inner city roads each day. Why this project wasn’t selected by Rudd for his economic stimulus defies logic.

Macfarlane says the approval of the bypass road is a Rudd government issue, but the public here are saying, “Hang on, this bloke was a senior minister in the Howard government, why didn’t he push for this project years ago?”

Most comments centre on Groom needing to become a marginal seat to liven up Macfarlane but the conservative nature of the region means he will probably stay around boosting his pension while being totally ineffective. But, with Rudd needing to boost his Queesland vote, Labor just might try to win Groom next election.

Macfarlane’s a waste of oxygen, basically.

Centrelink:

Austudy Survivor writes: Re. “Dealing with Centrelink is a full time job for some pensioners” (yesterday, item 14).Regarding Ava Hubble’s piece, I certainly sympathise with the plight of pensioners, but this group isn’t the only one who has to deal with this agency — and the hair loss that comes from tugging at your locks in frustration.

University students are another group which gets stuffed around in a big way and get caught out by lots of paperwork and sneaky rules and actions designed to strip you of money. (And I’m sure there are others). Years ago when I was at university (as a mature age student, recently divorced and paying off debts left by my ex-husband) I got Austudy for a time.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I — along with several classmates in the same boat — would get letters, often around November, just before the end of term, saying our payments were cancelled because they said our courses didn’t qualify as full-time. A phone call later and it was restored, but of course, we never got back the money cancelled in that one payment.

I remember having to skip meals or eat lots of baked beans as a result, a food I still can’t touch.

Displaced humans:

Keith Thomas writes: Nic Maclellan (yesterday, comments), like many Australians, is concerned about the local effects of climate change – sea level rises expected to affect Pacific Island nations late in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, there is a much bigger (in terms of humans displaced, thousands of times bigger) problem facing us within half that time — the melting of the Himalayan glaciers that water the great fertile alluvial plains from the Indus in the west to the Yellow in the east, with the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong and Yangtze Rivers in between, rivers on which some 2 billion humans depend directly for food and water.

Zen, seriously:

Dan Willis writes: Re.”Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 12). While I am always a fan of the venerable Richard Farmer, his poking fun at the Institute for Sustainable Futures (“Zen and the art of transdisciplinary studies”) was a bit lazy.

While I found the inclusion of the Zen article hilarious, if he’d just gone to the website of the WWV event itself (a mere two clicks from the ISF site) he would have found this which explains that the 100 people were chosen using a process which, while not ideal, was at least partially randomised.

No synthetic in the valley:

Richard Zachariah writes: Re. “Finding succor at the Valley by the freeway” (yesterday, item 18). Can I point out to T.P.Maher Moonee Valley is not a synthetic surface as he wrote in his piece. In fact the StrathAyr track at the Valley is natural turf and last Friday night’s Manikato Stakes may have been run on a Slow 6 but given the rain it had absorbed raced very truly and safely.

To say that it was “sloppy” is to be in denial of the wintry conditions that would have rendered most courses unraceable.

Respectember:

Mark Edmonds writes: Respectember might be daggy and awkward, but does it really deserve the contempt you guys are showing it? Would you rather the MD stand up at the AGM and mouth platitudes about respect for colleagues, and then model the complete opposite — somewhat ironically, like the ABC staff members who are hammering it so vociferously through your medium?

This is just one way a company can demonstrate the values it believes important and it might not be the best way, but I’m not convinced the ridicule and scorn that you demonstrate for these values, or the strategy for communicating them, are warranted.

Are we to conclude from this campaign that “F*offtober” represents the values that the Crikey Team is about?

Discrimination:

Kathleen Maltzahn, the Greens Candidate for the District of Richmond in the Victorian State Election, writes: On Sunday, in the wake of Grand Final, the Victorian Attorney General, Rob Hulls, announced that religious bodies can legitimately discriminate against unmarried women, gay men and lesbians.

At one level, the timing is curious. The State Parliament’s Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee wrote an Options Paper on Exceptions and Exemptions to the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 several months ago, and their final report is due out within weeks.

If that report follows the discussion in the options paper, it will argue that marital status should not be grounds for discrimination in church institutions. As the committee noted in its report:

Allowing these grounds would operate to the detriment of women, as men cannot get pregnant and therefore could not be penalised for unmarried pregnancy, although they could be for the combination of marital status and parental status. In practice, however, this judgment is mainly made against women.

We don’t know of course whether the committee will maintain this position, and the Attorney General hasn’t waited to find out.

The timing makes more sense when we consider where we are in the electoral cycle. Last year, despite the vote of the Attorney General, abortion was decriminalised in Victoria. Next year, the government goes to election. This year, the government is genuflecting in the direction of the Catholic Church.

If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, blame it on the Attorney General — he’s the one saying he did it for the church.

“These proposed changes follow consultation with religious bodies and have the support of the Catholic Church,” Hulls said in announcing his decision.

In case we’ve missed it, the 363 word media release has Mr Hulls saying it again: “These changes, which have the support of the Catholic Church, put paid to the doomsayers who suggested the Government was undermining religious freedom.”

The changes don’t, however, answer fears about the Government undermining democratic freedom. The Disability Discrimination Legal Service explained it to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee like this:

… the true test of democracy is not the traditional mathematical notion, but the extent of how the majority protects the minority.

The Victorian government just failed that test.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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