Stephen Mayne writes: ClubsNSW CEO David Costello (yesterday, comments) can’t be left unchallenged in his retort to Margot Saville’s original piece on the rather modest community contributions by the Balmain Tigers Rugby League club. And his  final flourish that “the people of NSW are in fact the best part of $1 billion better off each and every year courtesy of registered clubs” is worthy of a good belly laugh.

For the year to October 31, 2008, the Tigers had pokies revenue of $9.1 million — that’s what they took out of the community. Costello then started spouting tax stats but failed to mention that the highest tax rate paid by a NSW hotel that year was 44.5% compared with 33.5% for the highest taxed club. On $9 million of losses, that’s a $1 million annual benefit. Oh, and don’t forget these clubs pay no income tax to the Feds whatsoever. One for the Henry Review, perhaps, given hotels pay income tax.

Sure, giving $1.18 million to the associated rugby league club sounds great, but coming back the other way was revenue of $466,606 drawn from sponsorship and football trading operations. Therefore, the net contribution to rugby league was only $714,000.

Now for those much spruiked community donations. The Clubs get a tax deduction of up to 1.5 per cent, provided they contribute 1.5% of gaming machine profits over $1 million to eligible community projects. However, up to 20% of those claims can be in-kind.

Costello then claims that “thousands of kids play the sport every weekend and it is the Tigers that pay to make it happen”.

Truth be known, registered clubs may be a negative when it comes to sporting participation rates in NSW. Check out this extract from a Federal Parliamentary committee report showing NSW lags behind Western Australia where there are no pokies. These WA numbers suggest the true sense of volunteerism in non-pokie clubs is the better way.

And don’t forget that problem gambling prevalence is high amongst young males — if there were not on the pokies, maybe they’d be playing more sport.

And last but not least we have the wonderful IPART report and this claimed $811 million of annual social benefits from registered clubs.

Maybe it should be mentioned that IPART used figures from an earlier Allen Consulting Group report that was commissioned by, err, Clubs NSW.

Justin Templer writes: “Thousands of kids play (rugby league) every weekend and it is the Tigers that pay to make it happen”, writes Clubs NSW CEO David Costello.  He later continues “That means the people of NSW are in fact the best part of $1 billion better off each and every year courtesy of registered clubs.”

David, as a NSW taxpayer I should be appropriately grateful, but only if your argument made any sense. The fact that clubs get a huge tax break and put some of this money back into the community does not constitute a net creation of money, unless you believe in magic puddings. I would rather that your clubs paid the same taxes as anyone else and allowed the democratically elected government to decide where to spend the proceeds. Possibly not even on rugby league.

Also, David, you refer to Margot Saville’s “humble opinion”.  You should know that this term is normally used self-deprecatingly about oneself, not as an insult to another correspondent — as example, I might write “In my humble opinion Mr Costello is either unfamiliar with common English usage or has no manners or both.”

Breaker Morant:

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Re. “War criminal to hero … a dangerous precedent” (Monday, item 19). Jeff Sparrow used a popular-front agitprop technique, redolent of the Communist Party of Australia in its 1930-1970 heyday period, in tacking on some incorrect claims about current ADF operations in Afghanistan to his supposed conclusion of an historical piece on the execution of Harry “Breaker” Morant in the 1899-1902 Boer War.

Sparrow wrongly (in both moral and factual terms) claimed “… in Afghanistan at the moment Australia has authorised elite counterinsurgent forces to carry out targeted killings, in a strategy modelled upon the notorious Phoenix Program of the Vietnam War. A campaign of assassination of local leaders thought to be loyal to the Taliban contains an obvious potential for human rights abuses, especially since it’s almost impossible for the media to monitor what undercover troops actually do.”

Crikey word-limits prevent further discussion of the false and somewhat arrogant assumption that only “the media” can or should act as a constraint on the operations of our defence force.

As to the law and the context applying, under the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) as they are now known — either with Breaker Morant in the Boer War or now in Afghanistan — the deliberate and pre-meditated killing of enemy combatants outside the authorised rules-of-engagement (ROE) and subordinate orders-for-opening fire (OOF) is usually plain murder — as is the same killing of non-combatants.

But as our Chief-of-Defence-Force has explained on several occasions when similar sensationalist and factually incorrect media reporting has occurred, the ADF does not undertake “targeted killings” or “assassinations” of either enemy combatants or other Afghans. Nor, incidentally, is our Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) in Afghanistan an “undercover” unit.

The sloppy terminology of Sparrow and others incorrectly and immorally implies that civilian Afghan community leaders have been murdered by the ADF when even the Taliban leaders killed by our troops have been killed legitimately as enemy combatants in conformity to the ROE applying and in open combat with our troops (who openly wear Australian uniforms).

Moreover, in moral and practical terms as a fellow Australian talking about Australian soldiers, Sparrow and others are guilty of more than sloppy terminology. These incorrect claims in the Australian press undoubtedly assist the Taliban and their apologists by providing propaganda quotes of supposed “evidence” that the ADF is somehow acting illegally rather than in full compliance with LOAC. The danger of such actions in a complex and nuanced counter-insurgency war, and one with broader international implications for Islamist terrorism outside Afghanistan, cannot be under-estimated.

Whether knowingly or unknowingly Sparrow and other claimants are unfairly adding to the dangers facing the lives of our diggers by, at best,  recklessly providing assistance to the enemy they are fighting. Our diggers are fighting in Afghanistan as part of a UN-endorsed international force and consequent to a lawful decision by the democratically-elected Australian government. Any reckless or worse assistance to the enemy our troops are fighting, by any Australian citizen, is an active act of disloyalty and well beyond the exercise of legitimate dissent from the Australian government decision to deploy them.

Intentional assistance to an enemy our defence force is fighting on behalf of all of us is, of course, rightly punishable under Australian law (since the Burchett loophole was finally closed in 2002).

Under the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002, an Australian citizen anywhere in the world commits treason if he or she (among other things):

  • intentionally assists, by any means whatsoever, an enemy, at war with the Commonwealth;
  • intentionally assists, by ‘any means whatsoever’, another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force (ADF); or
  • forms an intention to do any of the above acts and manifests that intention by an overt act.

Given continued false claims about supposed ADF “assassinations”, etc, it would now seem high time that this law was tightened to ensure even reckless assistance to an enemy was punishable, as already applies with several terrorist offences.

Finally, getting back to Sparrow’s ostensible purpose for his article, no serious Australian military historian that I know of believes that Breaker Morant was innocent in the murder of the German missionary Hess by his co-defendant, Hancock. Both of them contravened the laws of war (as then applied) to the shooting of Boer prisoners after capture although some summary shootings might have been then justifiable for those captured illegally wearing British uniforms (depending on the extent of the items of uniform worn and their motive and actions in doing so).

There were also deficiencies in how the charges against Morant, Hancock and Witton were preferred and in their court martial and sentencing. Senior British commanders were also at fault, even if only indirectly, and were not punished.

But several enduring lessons were learnt and have been implemented down to the present day, especially as Australia has fought all its wars as a junior member of an international coalition.

Although Morant and Hancock were not serving in an Australian unit at the time of the offences, after their execution without the Australian government being consulted legislative and policy steps were taken to prevent a reoccurrence. The executions also led to the continuing successful practice from World War I onwards where Australian contingents contributed to international coalitions always remain under Australian command, are placed only under the operational control of allied commanders (where applicable), and are never under foreign command. It also led to the Australian policy not to execute a single soldier for cowardice in either World War.


Tom Richman writes: Re. “Possum: Labor better off net in primary vote stakes” (yesterday, item 14). While The Australian can usually be expected to support the Coalition editorially and in its Newspoll interpretations, today’s imbalance was particularly blatant … almost in Monty Python territory.

What also surprised me was that there was no Crikey commentary on this point, or have you guys forgotten how to show outrage?

Afghanistan and Vietnam:

Bruce Graham writes: Guy Rundle’s ongoing war (yesterday, comments) with Neil James continues to make interesting reading, and for all I know he is right about the will of the Vietnamese people,  but it is worth noting that a large majority of the Vietnamese people I have met in Australia do not remember history quite that way.  They are émigrés, of course, and some may have been American collaborators, so in all likelihood Mr Rundle will dismiss their (somewhat different) recollections about the “will of the Vietnamese people”.

There is also another, more objective error Mr Rundle makes.  It does not take majority support to win an insurgency.  It does not even strictly require that you start with a majority among those people willing to die, although that certainly helps.  Victory in a prolonged insurgency requires only a replacement rate in excess of the death rate.  The replacement rate is governed by the propensity of the war itself to create new combatants, and ( in prolonged wars) by the birth rate — which was high in Vietnam.

Young men are more willing to die for a cause, than old men. Young men who have grown up surrounded by war regard dying at war as normal.  There are many ways of analysing the American war (as it is referred to in Vietnam) and  not all analysis are mutually exclusive. One way to describe the American failure is that the Viet Cong replacement rate was higher than the American and South Vietnamese combined.

In this context, the USA, and the South Vietnamese  ceased to be able to supply young men who were willing to fight. The collapse of public support in the USA was driven by the draft, which was necessitated by the lack of volunteers.  The failure of support within Vietnam may as well imply pragmatism from people who did not see (in South Vietnam) a cause worth dying for.

Some on the right of politics extrapolate this to blame the media for the loss of the war, while those on the left feel that in this the media was only belatedly presented the truth.  Neither viewpoint changes the calculus. This abject failure to “win the hearts and minds” of the civilian population in Vietnam informed the thinking of a generation of American strategists, up to and including Colin Powell.   Sadly, it left George W Bush completely untouched.

It is entirely possible that the vast majority of Vietnamese cared mostly about staying alive, and wisely perceived a greater chance of that by keeping their heads down while daft foreigners fought homicidal nationalists. This view would ( in my opinion) gel well with the character of  many of the hard working, peaceful, and intelligent “boat people” who have so benefited Australia by their immigration after the war.

All Mr Rundle can truly say about the will of the Vietnamese people, is that they displayed little enthusiasm for fighting on the same side as the Americans.  Whether this was conviction or pragmatism, he cannot know.

Charles Richardson writes: OK, one more go at this. Since he doesn’t argue the point, I assume Guy Rundle accepts that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were in reality fighting to establish a dictatorship. His response to me amounts to pointing out, quite correctly, that they enjoyed considerable popular support because they represented the cause of national independence against the foreign occupiers. So how is that supposed to not be analogous to the Taliban and other fundamentalists in Afghanistan?

Joint Strike Fighter:

Gavin E. Greenoak writes: Re. “Russian jet adds to Joint Strike Fighter already-on-the-nose dilemma” (yesterday, item 12). Couldn’t we make a just a little effort to get over this “my missile is bigger than your missile” thing. It is pretty silly, if not downright adolescent, in a grown-up global world.  It is a choice whether to act from fear, and move imaginary threats ever closer to reality, or act from something else.

Whichever way is chosen on whatever basis, consciousness will have been engaged rather than the reactive habit which ridiculously wants a bigger one too. We have a choice, to either reflect or infect.  And be mindful that “seriousness” has for all too long enjoyed a misalliance with the paranoia inherent to that will to dominion over others, which defines a dying ethos.

And we should all grant it the whimper it deserves.


Shirley Colless writes: Re. “Daily Proposition: a wine that’s good in its own write” (yesterday, item 6). This one raised a memory and a giggle for me.  Back in my wilder and younger days North Shore days I sat in on a group wine tasting session organised by friends, all amateurs at the game, though from some of the comments you’d hardly know!

As a rank wine amateur, I was sipping a red and listening to the usual “sweaty saddles” guff (would any of these people ever have come into intimate contact with a sweaty saddle — as I had?) and when asked my opinion I said, simply, “black ants”.  I’ve never tasted a sweaty saddle but in my on-the farm and defective-cake-tin days I have certainly hit a vein of black ants when chomping into a nice slab of butter cake  and believe me, it’s a taste that you never forget.

I’ve never worked out how those ants actually got into the wine.


Alan Kennedy writes: Apologies to all and sundry regarding my barely literate comments on the Dante’s Cove matter (yesterday, comments). At the time of sending my screen was doing the Watusi prior to moving to blue screen and so an unedited  letter disappeared into the ether. After getting the computer back to working order I forgot to finish editing and sendin  the letter ( I went to the beach if you must know)  and so was surprised to see  my comments hiding at the bottom of the letters section.

Instead of hiding them it would have been better if some kind soul had put a bullet put in them.  I know this sounds as bad as Dan Barrett’s excuse for watching soft porn “I just nodded off and when I woke up it was there” but it’s true.