Stimulus and employment:

John Goldbaum writes: Re. Friday’s editorial. Ken Henry was within his rights to ask the economics committee’s senators if they thought that 7% unemployment was too low but the corollary which should have been asked of him was whether each job saved, created or supported was worth $150,000 of debt to be repaid by future taxpayers when unemployment benefits would have only cost taxpayers $12,000 per job lost per annum.

Like Glenn Stevens, I don’t wish to sound heartless, but were the jobs saved, created or supported the most productive jobs for the next decade or two? Do we really want to keep borrowing from overseas to buy stuff we don’t really need to fill up oversized houses we can’t really afford?

Recessions are supposed to be used to restructure economies for the better, not freeze them in time. New entrants to the workforce are supposed to go to where the jobs are, namely minerals, oil and gas projects. Some of the newly unemployed could have relocated also.

Unlike fiscal stimulus, monetary stimulus, a falling dollar and continuing demand for Australian resources didn’t and won’t cost taxpayers a penny. If a Labor government thinks it is worth $150,000 to save, create or support a job, can I ask them if they think it is worth a million dollars to save, create or support a job? How much is too much? Like selling sex, our dilemma is not about prostitution, just price.

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Unemployment more than just a number” (Friday, item 2). The simplest explanation for Sinclair Davidson and Ashton de Silva’s graph is not labour markets “liberalisation” but the long-term decline in full-time jobs. Simple mathematics dictates that, with a given amount of work-hours, official unemployment rate will always be lower with more casuals and part-timers in the workforce. This doesn’t mean, however, that a decline in aggregate hours doesn’t hurt part-timers and casuals. Nor that all those part-timers and casuals should be classed as unemployed (or even under-employed). The point is that the official figure is more suited to a full-timer-dominated workforce.

Davidson and de Silva provide no evidence for their theory of “flexibility”. I’m sure some businesses are putting their workers on reduced hours. But the statistics also fit the scenario, which is probably more common, where full-time jobs are axed and new part-time/casual jobs are created in entirely different businesses. And these new jobs might well be filled by new entrants to the workforce rather than laid-off full-timers.

Nor do Davidson and de Silva explain what they mean by the “labour market liberalisation of the past 15 years or so”. After all, Howard’s AWAs never took off and WorkChoices was defeated. Ironically, the “substantial costs associated with sacking staff” that they cite indicates a lack of “flexibility” (in their terms). No “reform” was necessary to introduce more part-time and casual jobs. And the policy of reducing hours rather than sacking workers is nothing new: my grandfather benefited from such an arrangement in the Great Depression.

The Liberal Party:

David Hand writes: Re. “Looking back, this will not be the Liberals’ finest hour” (Friday, item 12). Occasionally, Crikey publishes a left wing rant that adds nothing to any informed debate apart from taking a gratuitous feel-good slap at people with alternative views. Such a piece was dished up by Norman Abjorensen on Friday. His piece was particularly destructive because of his enthusiasm to lay the blame for climate change at the feet of that oh so evil blight of society — Capitalism.

The ideological extremism in his article gives comfort to climate change sceptics because they can point to it as an indication that the climate change lobby is in the hands of a bunch of communist anti-capitalist academics in a ghetto where all the socialists of the 70s and 80s retreated when the Berlin Wall came down. It trivialises the vital debate that is going on today. Climate change is so important and difficult that red herrings that divert attention from the science and future policy is very damaging. Norman’s anti-capitalist rant is a perfect example.

Memo to Norman Abjorensen: Capitalism is the most successful mechanism yet seen by humanity for widespread health, prosperity and wellbeing. It beats the misery and destructive impact of communism any day. It’s not perfect but it’s getting better. Even social democrats are capitalists. All the major political parties, Labor, Liberal, National but probably not the Greens, are capitalists. Were the Greens to actually win political power, they would morph into capitalists in the 24 hours it would take them to realise that they have to run things now.

Capitalism needs the moderating influence of law and government to deliver its bounty. In the next two decades, governments and courts will implement regulations, such as changing the price of carbon and regulating industry, to enable Capitalism to continue to deliver for humanity into the next century. Green jobs and the carbon free economy is coming and it will be delivered by a Capitalist vehicle.


Matthew Abbott, media adviser to Joe Hockey from 1999 to 2002, writes: Re. “Hockey would be a disaster as Opposition Leader” (8 October, item 2). Bernard Keane’s jealously is palpable. He really cannot face the fact that for many in the Liberal Party room and in wider Australia, more generally, Joe Hockey is a popular and effective politician.

Bernard loves calling Joe names — now he is giving him pointers on how to be a shadow minister. Bernard, Joe does not need your advice on handling media interviews, especially when you say he should have lied to Neil Mitchell. Even big-shots like you know lying to the public is a no-no. On that point, perhaps you and Joe are simply different men.

Mark Heydon writes: Bernard Keane wrote that “Hockey has shown a disposition to open his mouth first and think later”. Evidently much later … I struggle to remember any evidence of Hockey thinking.


Tom Richman writes: Re. “Paul Barry and the Packer punch up” (Friday, item 19). Could James Packer be the new Warwick Fairfax?

Dining out:

Kate Hannon writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (Friday, item 11). I don’t know how much money Richard Farmer makes but many Canberrans wouldn’t exactly put Portia’s Place into the everyday eating category — maybe those rich pollies and SES level public servants would but not mere mortals. Timmy’s yes but Portia’s no.

Also, with Adelaide you have the venerable Jasmin in Hindmarsh Sq in both categories … not much imagination there. I’m sure anyone connected to the arts would give Amalfi a ringing endorsement in the everyday category.

Red Symons:

Gabriella Haynes writes: Re. “Red Symons: and then nobody laughed” (Friday, item 3). I do realise that when Red Symons listed “we never had slaves” as one of the standard defences of those outraged by the outrage surrounding the Hey Hey It’s Saturday skit, he wasn’t saying that.

But I thought I should point out in case anyone believes that claim; we did have slaves, around 61,000 of them over about 60 years when South Sea Islanders powered the country’s sugar industry (not to mention the various forms of coercive indigenous labour).

We deported almost all of them at Federation so their pesky relatives aren’t around to infer cultural significance on our skits. Phew.


Nick Maclachlan writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Friday, item 7). Who described the Colac Extra and Corangamite Extra as “the best paper that Colac has ever had” and “a true community publication”? The Extra’s competition is The Colac Herald which has been publishing for over 140 years and remains privately and locally owned.

I’m looking at the Herald’s masthead which proudly announces that it won the Victorian Country Press Association’s “Best Local Reporting” award for the last four years and in 2007 it won the VCPA’s overall newspaper excellence award.

It’s nice when a local family owned company has a win over a big media company.

The Simpsons:

Mitchell Holmes writes: It is no secret that Channel Ten has The Simpsons on high rotation. However, Friday night in regional Queensland, The Simpsons was as ubiquitous during prime time as the test pattern used to be when a TV station closed for the night.

From 6pm to 10.30pm there was three x 30 minute Simpsons episodes PLUS two hours for The Simpsons Movie. Three and a half hours of the Simpsons, in four and a half hours of prime time! Not sure what proportion are repeats.

It must be true — the TV networks estimate that no one watches Friday night TV after the end of the football season!

Dangerous ideas:

Michael O’Hara writes: Mark Byrne (Friday, comments) has piqued my interest just a tad further on this issue of “the line in the sand” over civic dissent (with the potential for violence).

If a Professor of Public Ethics makes a call for civil dissent over a single issue, is this right? Is it a poor argument cloaked by a call to authority? What if we clarify the question and move away from climate change as the trigger event? What if a figure of authority suggests that further debate on immigration is pointless as it is controlled by “plutocratic influence” and the time has come for radical activism? Am I justified in vandalising a Chinese Restaurant?

The broader question is whether a single issue cause is sufficient to lead to a call for radical activism, something that has a slippery slope to violence. If it is, can that precedent be applied to issues other than global warming? At what stage has the democratic process been exhausted in a fair and open tussle of ideas, facts and influence? Aren’t there other avenues for action within our current system? Have all non-violent means truly been pursued?

Let’s concede the point and narrow my question down to climate change (although that is not the key issue here). Let’s say my name is Michael Bakunin and I agree that a tipping point has been reached, diplomacy is a waste and “the rich” won’t give up control to allow change. I break into a power plant and somehow manage to decommission it. I feel justified and discount the three deaths attributed to the temporary power failure as “collateral damage” in the great scheme of things. Am I justified? Knowing that this is a potential outcome of radical activism, are we at the point where this is “ok”?

Agitating for change often needs more action but at what stage does it justify violence? Both Emma Goldman and Proudhon reflected on the use of violence differently as their thinking evolved, and I would argue that causes potentially justifying violence in their times were more immediate and more intimately personal than climate change. Given that the world “we” live in (Australia) has less obvious forms of oppression and injustice, at what stage would each of us be prepared to actively encourage or participate in acts of violence?

As far as ethics are concerned, my attempt at a humourous disclosure of my occupation as indicating a lack of formal qualifications in politics may have been ill-considered but it was there. As Crikey readers we do not usually know the background of most contributors or letter-writers so it seemed appropriate to disclose my venture into a foreign discipline such as politics, especially when being so ridiculously postmodern as to question a Professor of Public Ethics on ethics.

Ad Hominem and emotive commentary are fun but don’t really help delineate personal positions on my proposal for a Dangerous Idea.

Matthew Brennan writes: Re. “Rundle: you want dangerous ideas? These are dangerous ideas” (6 October, item 5). It is worth making the observation to your various correspondents (and Guy Rundle for that matter as well) that Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov and his successor Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili both felt they had a case for political violence and terror. The unfortunate thing is that once their political organisation attained political power, they (particularly the latter) didn’t know when to stop.

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.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.