Climate change:

Zachary King writes: Re. “The science of climate change is only a small part of the discussion” (yesterday, item 4). While I was nodding in agreement with Mr. Sinclair in that Clive Hamilton had gone a wee bit too far off the hyperbole end, that came to a thudding halt at the statement “perhaps it would be cheaper to do nothing and adapt. Perhaps not…” and then the furphy that this has not been modelled.

I find it incredibly hard to believe that a professor in economics no less would be unaware of the Stern Review, the in-depth economic modelling of the effect of global warming on the world economy performed by the Chief Economist for the UK, Nicholas Stern. Essentially Stern concluded that the world should invest 1% of GDP to avoid a 20% hit due to warming. Even when this was upgraded in a later release to a required spend rate of 2% of GDP, this demonstrates quite clearly that taking action early is the pro-growth strategy in the long term.

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I would be more than happy for the learned Mr Sinclair to disagree with the modelling, the approach or whatever sort of economical witchcraft that Stern had used, but saying that the economics haven’t been modelled is quite simply poppycock.

Peter Lloyd writes: The challenge for Sinclair Davidson is to explain why in his article in Crikey he so quickly submits on the science of climate change. As a standardbearer of that most endangered of species, the conservative intellectual, he shows his anti-intellectualism by dismissing Clive Hamilton’s “fancy pants arguments”.

He would not defend the standard conservative position of refusing to accept the reality of climate change, but he’s full of insinuation… “even if we assume the IPCC version is correct…” or “imagine we know with more than 90 per cent confidence that warming is occurring”.

Yes Mr Davidson, it is a tough challenge, but denying its existence as the evidence has mounted over years and years is about as cowardly as you can get.

Andrew Ballem writes: Where to begin! I can’t believe Sinclair Davidson is trying to argue that developing nations, being the “beneficiary” of action on climate change, should pay for it. That’s like saying that the people living on Prince William Sound, being the beneficiary of the cleanup of the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, should pay for the cleanup instead of Exxon!

He also brings up the question of whether or not it will be cheaper to adapt than prevent it. Even if this is the case, what sort of world will that “cheaper” alternative give us? In my experience, you get what you pay for.

Call me easily hoodwinked by the eggheads, but I can answer Sinclair’s three questions right now.

Q: “Should we do anything?”
A: Yes, as there is a good chance (according to the scientists) that we can make a difference if we make some hard decisions.

Q: “What should we do?”
A: That has been answered in numerous studies. Severely reduce carbon emissions and try and eliminate them by 2050, and, science tells us, we have a fighting chance.

Q: “How should we do it?”
A: By investing heavily in technologies that we know are viable (wind, geothermal and solar). We found trillions of dollars to bail out the banks, so don’t tell me it’s impossible.

And if it’s all a hoax what will we be left with? Just an energy infrastructure that will provide for us in the future without all the pollution of today’s heavy industry. What’s to lose?

Niall Clugston writes: I think Australia probably is a “de facto plutocracy”, but Joe Boswell (yesterday, comments) doesn’t exactly make a good argument.

His analysis of our electoral system includes statements such as, “Ordinary voters are mostly in safe seats, are easily manipulated and are irrelevant”. In fact, the outer suburban marginals have a greater claim to contain “ordinary voters” than safe seats which tend to include extremes of wealth or poverty. And I doubt the major parties would consider their safe seats “irrelevant”.

I also doubt many plutocrats in their waterfront mansions believe their “wealth and power” protects them from rising sea-levels! Beyond any personal issue, I think the fundamental obstacle presented by capitalism is getting a system geared to short-term individual profit to respond to a long-term global problem.

But the immediate motive behind the CPRS, like the Oceanic Viking saga, is usual one for Rudd: politics over principle.

Marcus Ogden writes: What is Simon Mansfield’s point (yesterday, comments)? Clive Hamilton’s position is that climate change deniers are endangering the lives of hundreds of millions, and that if they are acting in bad faith then from a whole range of ethical perspectives this is a Bad Thing. What Clive’s race, lifestyle, etc. has to do with the validity of this argument escapes me.

Boat people:

Margaret Dingle writes: Re. “When it comes to the boat people issue, Rudd is drowning” (yesterday, item 1). Yes, I admit that the passengers on the Oceanic Viking, if found to be refugees, will benefit from their journey. But what else could the Government do? If their boat had reached Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef the outcome would have been similar.

A return to TPVs would have more women and children taking the perilous journey to try to reach their husbands and fathers.

The real solution is to speed up processing of the asylum seekers already I Indonesia, for Australia to take more refugees and also to address the push factor. This last was what I presume Kevin Rudd was doing in Sri Lanka. To take charitable view, he was trying to help Sri Lanka improve conditions in the camps and accelerate resettlement in Sri Lanka of internally displaced persons. More cynically, one could assume he was trying to make the Sri Lankan navy turn back the boats. Perhaps both.

Maybe the Prime Minister should explain himself what he was doing.

John Goldbaum writes: Maybe Kevin should change the logo at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to read: “people smuggling our business”.

Prison reform:

James McDonald writes: Re. “Prisoners take drugs and have s-x. Shock” (yesterday, item 14). Greg Barns wrote: “The problems at Dame Phyllis Frost, and all Australian prisons for that matter, will not go away until we adopt a more enlightened and effective approach to prison life.”

But you don’t need to go to New York for ideas on prison reform. Prison reform is already here, in the same Territory where you can stick a flagpole over a zoo and call it Parliament House. Australia’s first prison built for human rights compliance has received underwhelming acclaim from the human rights lobby. Make that … no acclaim at all. Most of the public outside Canberra have never heard of it. But the Alexander Machonochie Centre, opened last year in the ACT to bring Canberra’s prisoners home from NSW, is a bold step forward in offering criminals of all security levels the chance to live like humans.

Prisoner rights advocate Brett Collins of Justice Action condemned the project as a step backwards for justice. “Prisons are a bad institution which cause crime and more damage to the community around them,” Collins said in 2006. “Any government that portrays them as a benefit to public safety or even for the convenience of prisoners is misleading the public.”

Advocates of the “just deserts” approach to punishment argue that only harsh treatment can make a clear moral distinction between the consequences of law-breaking and law-abiding. This argument does have a strong basis in liberal jurisprudence theory.

But the utilitarian problem remains. Just deserts are all very well while convicts are securely contained; but we still have to live with most of them in the outside world — psychological damage and all — when their sentences are done.

Deprivation of liberty is a severe punishment in itself, without adding multiple layers of degradation and turning a blind eye to systemic rape under state care. As Geoffrey Robertson says, “You do not uphold human rights by denying them to those you believe have abused them.” Even the United States is getting serious about eliminating r-pe from prisons.

The human-rights prison is named after Scottish-born Alexander Machonochie, who served as Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land and later as Commandant of Norfolk Island, the end of the road for the hardest repeat offenders. Machonochie’s reforms of Norfolk Island were an enlightened but short-lived respite in a black stain on Australia’s penal history, where convicts groaned that they would rather be dead than serve another day.

The Alexander Machonochie Centre project came under sustained fire from the ACT Opposition throughout its planning and construction for ballooning capital cost — not unusual in a first-of-its-kind project. We might expect the next prison modelled after it to be cheaper.

Depriving convicts of their liberty now costs the ACT between $219 and $336 per prisoner per day, depending on capacity usage. Outsourcing prisoners to NSW Corrective Services was costing $239 per day.

The Melbourne Model:

Adam Schwab writes: Pity poor Christina Buckridge, Melbourne University’s Manager of Corporate Affairs (Monday, comments) for she appears to have a job more difficult than the former Iraqi Information Minister — defending the Melbourne Model. It appears that it is the delightful Ms Buckridge’s job to reply to any missive in Crikey which dares criticise Melbourne University or its beloved fee-generating Model. Sadly, this usually results in near incomprehensible retorts which completely fail to address the points originally made.

In her response to Crikey, Buckridge alleged the Melbourne Model really has been a success, heavens, “for many it is a second chance at law” (which pretty much confirms the arguments made — that the model is allowing wealthier, but less elite students to undertake a Melbourne University law degree). Buckridge also claimed that the “6 Melbourne Model undergraduate courses which account for 13 per cent of all CSPs in the VTAC system” — this is utterly irrelevant as no one suggested Melbourne has lost all its students, but rather, the elite ones.

Buckridge completely ignored the critical point that while Melbourne law enrolments are barely holding steady, its great rival, Monash, has seen preferences leap by 153 percent since the Model was introduced. Simply put, many elite students who would have previously opted for Melbourne University are now choosing other institutions — due to inconvenience and cost of the Melbourne Model.

Buckridge also ignored the critical point made regarding revenue — the implicit basis for the Melbourne Model, or the fact that while fees for students have skyrocketed, so too has the remuneration of the father of the Model, Buckridge’s boss, Glyn Davis.

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Peter Fray
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