Peter Wilms writes: Re. “Only a Senate inquiry can sort out One.Tel mess” (yesterday, item 1). The caning handed out to ASIC in its flawed case against Jodee Rich is redolent of the corporate regulator’s attempt to bring down the founder of Pan Pharmaceuticals, Jim Selim, last year in what is probably its most recent previous bungled attempt to bring innocent people to what it regards as justice.

In the Pan case ASIC was operating on erroneous and vexatious information provided by the drugs regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, a powerful but loopy and mysterious organisation within the Department of Health and Ageing. In Rich’s case it was powerful individuals who thought their names could or should carry the day.

Just a month before ASIC ignominiously withdrew its case against Selim on charges of misleading the Pan board in the lead up to the massive product recall that led to the company’s collapse in 2003, Selim was awarded $50 million, the largest payout ever by the Federal Government in a civil matter, after the TGA consented to judgement on cross claims against its most senior executives of negligence and misfeasance of public office.

Once the TGA, which had vigorously but unsuccessfully pursued Selim on criminal charges for the five years following the Pan saga, caved in, ASIC had little option but to follow the example of its key informant.

Selim won significant costs against ASIC in the matter.

When will the corporate regulator ever learn!

Scientology and the tax status of religions:

David Gibbons writes: Re. “Xenophon didn’t go far enough, no religion should be tax free” (Wednesday, item 12). It must be silly season again. Jane Shaw does not raise any new observations in this ongoing not-for-profit tax debate, albeit the debate is healthy and valid. But many of the real facts continue to be ignored. In summary:

  1. Any, and all companies in Australia can donate all or some of their profits to charity, thus reducing their company tax liability;
  2. Businesses who provide 100% of their profits to churches and charities, do pay taxes including GST, payroll, employee income tax, and others. It is only the company tax which is exempted;

As Jane Shaw has noted, there are no “divine properties in Weet-Bix and So Good”. But it is not fair to say that the company who sells these products is “in the business of being in business” alone. The promotion of good health to the community has been at the heart of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s mission and activities which established the Sanitarium health food company more than 110 years ago.

The church also established hospitals and health clinics for the same purpose which are valued in the various communities in which they operate.

Shirley Colless writes: Gig Elliot (yesterday, comments) understands that clergy do not pay income tax on their stipends. While I cannot speak for any other part of the One Holy and Catholic Apostolic Church, I do know that the clergy of the Uniting Church in Australia do pay income tax on their stipends, and so they should. I, on the other hand, as one among many who taxes myself to support the clergy from an income on which I have already been taxed do not receive any tax deduction for so doing.

Were my church to be declared a commercial business there would be no further taxation benefit from the income of my clergy but there just might be a tax deduction for me, as the owner of the business, from my contribution to the clergy salaries.

Kevin McCready writes: So now Mark Edmonds (yesterday, comments) wants to define me out of existence. He claims that “genuine secularists” are not anti-religion. Well, news for you Mark – I’m still here, still secularist and still anti-religion and I object to the tax free status you and your god-bothering mates have in Australian society.

He then paints my opposition to state subsidies for religion as prejudice. Lovely how these religionists will resort to every trick of rhetoric to get their way.

Sports funding:

Frank Birchall writes: Re. “A compromise on Crawford: change the KPIs” (yesterday, item 18). In all the mudslinging at John Coates over the past couple of days, I keep reading about “minor elite sports” and “elite sportspeople”. There seems to be some category confusion here: what is “elite” about sports like cycling, tennis, diving, water polo, volleyball, table tennis, boxing, judo and weightlifting?

I have participated in several of these sports and have followed others; some are certainly “minor” in terms of public support, but “elite” is not a word I would apply to any. The great majority of people involved in these sports are ordinary, everyday Aussies across a broad spectrum of ethnic groups, enjoying a common activity together. They are not dilettantes and they are not wealthy.

The sad thing is of course that “elite” has become a term of scorn and abuse, tossed at anyone we don’t like. It’s pathetic that many Australians simply can’t abide people who not only engage in activities outside the mainstream but, even worse, may be good at them.

CPRS and climate change:

Michael R. James writes: Re. “How will the CPRS Carnival end?” (yesterday, item 9). John Connor wrote of many plausible and common-sense reasons as to why an ETS was chosen over a Carbon Tax.

The Carbon Tax model however, was not strongly “rejected” as a model but rather Cap and Trade, in the form of an “ETS with internationally tradeable credits”, was found politically more palatable, some might cynically say, more politically malleable. (And, ok, it worked for acid rain.) So we should not imply some huge exercise in pure logic and science has inexorably led to the choice of Cap and Trade, instead of all the usual suspect shabby political trade-offs.

Fair enough, that’s life. But this over-riding rationale — of international trading of carbon credits — which is very appealing in theory, is also its weak spot, and all the indications are that the Rudd government intends to fully use it to avoid doing anything serious locally.

As Bernard Keane has said, if all the developed world will be net importers of carbon credits where will these credits come from. And of course, is there anyone left in the world with faith that these credits would be worth the paper they are written on? Alas the weakness of Cap and Trade is all around for us to see, and it is fatally paralytic. With the political farce currently playing out in Australia I don’t know what more evidence anyone needs to see where Cap and Trade leads in the real world. It is a political sham and a practical nightmare.

In an informative review of the history of Cap and Trade, John Broder concluded with the following:

In 1971, W. David Montgomery, a Harvard graduate student in economics, fleshed out the idea of emissions trading in his doctoral thesis and has spent much of the last three decades trying to figure out how the marketplace can deal with environmental problems that are caused by relatively few actors but have consequences felt globally. He supported the acid rain trading program, but said it was based on “unique historical and economic circumstances” that did not apply to the much more difficult problem of carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr. Montgomery, now a vice president at Charles River Associates International, a consulting firm, said Mr. Waxman’s proposal would ultimately act like a tax on carbon-producing industries, disguised by a complex cap-and-trade system.

“It is a steel fist of regulation covered by a velvet glove of emission trading,” Mr. Montgomery said. “Why not just impose a carbon tax?”

Joe Boswell writes: The Climate Institute’s John Connor wrote: “The Climate Institute and others have backed an emissions cap and trading scheme over other methods of applying a carbon price because, well designed, it gives greatest certainty that emissions will actually be reduced.”

It’s equally true that lard can help you lose weight as part of a calorie-controlled diet.

Viv Forbes, chairman of the Carbon Sense Coalition, writes: In the global warming spectrum there are three groups — the realists, the alarmists, and those serving other agendas and interests. The realists are sceptical, the alarmists are gullible and the vested interests are devious. “Sceptical” is a more worthy position than “gullible” or “devious”.

Video games:

Will Fettes writes: In response to Randolph Ramsay (yesterday, comments) , the phrase “playing the man not the ball” refers to fallacious ad hominem personal attacks against the “man” as opposed to arguments of substance: “the ball”. This fallacy is about insulting or denigrating the person instead of addressing the meat of an argument. But that’s clearly not what Ramsay was alleging about Joel Vaughan’s singular focus on Atkinson.

Ad hominem doesn’t arise merely because you attribute personal responsibility for some particular policy outcome to a person, even if that attribution is exaggerated or flawed in some way. In this case, Atkinson has undeniably played a prominent role in ensuring the status quo of a lack of a R18+ classification for video games in Australia and thus his role is a proper locus of criticism.

As for whether it’s simplistic, if not fallacious, to focus on Atkinson, that’s certainly not clear to me. As far as I can tell, bemoaning Debus’ lack of activity in this regard is futile given that he is no longer Minister for Home Affairs, and anyway, the relevant Federal Attorney General is Robert McClelland. In terms of the other states, it seems likely only Western Australia’s Christian Porter would be ideologically unsympathetic.

Rob Hulls in Victoria, Kerry Shine in Queensland and Simon Corbell in the ACT have all been supportive; others have been more guarded in their approach. But whatever ambiguity exists, Atkinson can hardly be likened to a ringleader of a deeply divided SCAG. The truth is his vocal opposition and veto enables these other governments to stay out of sight, suffocating the little political oxygen that is available within SCAG to move on such a niche issue of uncertain political costs.

Given that even mildly passionate and motivated gamers will just import banned games or pirate them illegally to circumvent the current system, it’s not clear that the issue is capable of rousing a flurry of outraged letter writing to local MPs or raising public consciousness more broadly. At best, we can only hope the inability of Atkinson to coherently defend his position, when placed attack from sustained, reasoned criticism and ridicule, will help unseat him and his government if necessary.

If other SCAG members are identified who are similarly obstructionist, they can simply share his fate. Maybe in later years, when gamers constitute a bigger constituency, that approach can change. But until then, the issue will be fought and won in SCAG, not the broader political area.

The Melbourne Model:

Gavin Moodie writes: Christina Buckridge’s claim (yesterday, comments) that “the drivers for the Melbourne Model were not financial but the desire to offer students an outstanding education” is not consistent with this, from the university’s discussion paper that first raised the model:

More radically, a third strategy would be to change the balance between undergraduate and postgraduate students. This would involve concentrating HECS places in general science, arts and commerce degrees, while making professional qualifications available only at graduate level, and only to fee-paying students. In this Melbourne would break fundamentally from Australian tradition and expectations of a ‘”comprehensive” university, surrendering undergraduate teaching across many disciplines to other institutions.

The University of Melbourne currently offers substantial numbers of HECS places in its graduate level professional programs and the Melbourne model does not seem to have been much financial benefit to the university yet.

Nonetheless, it is fair to say that improving its financial position was one of the considerations that led the University of Melbourne to change its professional programs from undergraduate to graduate entry.

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