Prime Ministerial atheism:

Justin Pettizini writes: Re. “Of 12 prime ministers before this atheist, only Rudd got on his knees” (yesterday, item 4). Rob Chalmers wrote:

“Bureau of Statistics figures show that in 2001 barely 10% named a Christian religion to which they adhered. Between 1996 and 2001 (a mere five years), the number of adherents dropped by 7%. The biggest denomination, Catholic was a mere 764,800 in 2001, amounting to a dismaying drop (for the church) of 13%. Anglican/Protestant, the next biggest denomination at 759,000, was steady.”

A moment’s reflection would make any reasonable person think “that can’t be right” even if the same person hoped that it might be.  The 2001 ABS Year Book of Australia actually records the number of Catholics as 5,001,600, the number of Anglicans as 3,881,200 and the total number of Christians as 12,455,100 or 66% of the then population.

The number of Anglicans declined by only 0.6% from 1996 and the number of Catholics rose by over 4%.  The number of those specifying that they had no religion and the number of those who did not answer that question in the census totalled 27.2% of the population although the number who declared no religion actually declined by 1.5% from 1996.

Australians by and large, even the most of the 12 million who identify as Christians,  want politics and religion kept separate. But let’s not make up figures and claim false sources to support our arguments in relation to that. If  Chalmers didn’t try to mislead and just misread something let’s hope in future he applies a bit of rigorous questioning to what he thinks he reads and double checks it before publication.

James Ferguson writes: While I tend to agree with Rob Chalmers argument in yesterday’s Crikey that Gillard’s atheism is unlikely to hurt her politically, that religious adherence is falling and Australians generally regard it as a private matter, the ABS statistics he cites seem way off base.

He says in 2001 only 10% “named a Christian religion to which they adhered” and that attendance was around 8%. But the ABS link below appears to show adherence to a religion in 2001 at 73% with only about 5% of that being non-Christian. It indicates about 20% are specifically Anglican and about 26% are specifically Catholic. It also shows participation in religious activities (attendance?) standing around 16% for men and 22% for women.

Can you clarify this apparent discrepancy with Rob’s statistics?

Jon Fraser writes: My Grandfather (Fredrick McLaughlin) was John Curtin and Ben Chifley’s private secretary and I can assure you that my grandfather spoke many times of he and Curtin in the darkest hours of WW2 kneeling in prayer for the Australian troops as they headed back from the Middle East to Australia.

How deep was Rob Chalmers research into the faith of Prime Ministers considering prayer is often a private thing. He obviously has a very negative view of the Christian faith. We’ll see how the alternative pans out.

Denis Lenihan writes: Rob Chalmers is wrong about at least one Prime Minister:  despite being excommunicated for marrying outside the Catholic Church, Ben Chifley went down on his knees every Sunday at either St Philomena’s in South Bathurst, or at St Christopher’s in Canberra.


David Epstein, Group Executive -Government and Corporate Affairs, Qantas, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Yesterday’s piece, “Management changes at Qantas”, is wrong.  Olivia Wirth is Qantas’ Head of Corporate Communication and was not a candidate for the role formerly occupied by Ms Jane McKeon.

Qantas has had a succession plan for Ms McKeon’s role in place since she was appointed last year, as we do for all such roles.  The succession plan is underway and candidates for Ms Mckeon’s replacement have been shortlisted.

Had you bothered to check, you would have established that your snide comments about Ms Wirth were incorrect and a correction is warranted.

Mining, RSPT and Gillard:

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Gottliebsen: fear and loathing in falling global markets” (yesterday, item 3). While  welcoming the rolling of Kev and the elevation of Julia as something that should have happened a while ago I am worried that the mining industry is getting the idea it was all their work that did it. The industry’s increasingly offensive tone led at the moment by the Twiggy Forrest should alarm us all.

A massive back down to the industry means we can kiss goodbye any idea that the Government is in command of the economy. The RSPT remains an eminently sensible idea and it should be implemented. The claims the industry has made over the past few months have been shown to be totally without foundation. They have been helped by a hopelessly compromised media.

Then we have comments from people like Robert Gottliebsen only yesterday, “And of course Gillard’s mining tax dithering is rekindling global doubts about the sovereign risk of this country which threatens to put Australia and our high house prices in the eye of the storm.”

This statement is nonsense on a whole lot of levels and typical of the breathless hyperbole that Gottliebsen peddles in the  absence of sensible analysis.

Let’s pause a while and wonder about the draining aquifer in the Pilbara courtesy of Rio, the poisonous Niger Delta the enormous Gulf of Mexico spill  OK Tedi’s pollution, BHP’s treatment of workers in Chile  and so on and so on. If Gottliebsen is seriously claiming the RSPT puts us at sovereign risk I suggest he take a lie down and start doing a gardening column.

Our economy is the strongest in the world. Greece, Italy, Ireland, England and the US have sovereign risk problems  when you look at their  debt as a percentage of GDP. We don’t. I will be most alarmed if the miners walk out of Canberra with  a win. The day they do is the day we become a banana republic. We already have the Liberal Party as the fully bought  political wing of the mining industry. We don’t need  the Labor Party doing the same.

Nicholas Chenu writes: The Government has been roundly criticised for not adequately explaining the RSPT to the public. This is not surprising given the complex nature of the tax and the campaign of misinformation from the mining industry. What is surprising though is the media’s failure to properly explain the tax, with many explanations I have read being incorrect.

The key misconception is that the RSPT applies to profits in excess of the “uplift rate” which is the long term government bond rate. This is incorrect. All profits are taxed at the 40% rate.

Similarly to income tax, any losses in excess of income can be used to offset profits on other projects, effectively resulting in a refund of 40% of the losses in net terms. Unlike income tax deductions, if the company is unable to deduct those losses against income in a financial year, those undeducted losses are credited at the uplift rate, effectively compensating the company for the delay in realising this tax benefit.

Accordingly, it is equivalent to the Government agreeing to pay for 40% of the costs of the project which it effectively borrows from the mining company. Accordingly, the appropriate uplift rate is the long term government bond rate as it is effectively a government loan. If the uplift rate were any greater, it would lead to a distortion in the government bond market and enable arbitrage profits at the expense of the taxpayer.

The RSPT is a sophisticated tax that ensures a consistent proportional return of mining profits to the Australian people by avoiding the fluctuations associated with the royalties system and encourages marginal projects by reducing the risk of the project by reducing the effective cost of initial outlays.

If a compromise is to be reached, as seems likely, it could take the form of a lower headline rate, a restriction to profits above a certain return on investment (potentially a complex option given the difficulty of defining investment), allowing deductions for interest expense or a combination of these.  However, it is vital that the uplift rate is not increased.

John Howard:

Mitchell Holmes writes: Re. “Can’t bat, can’t bowl: Howard ICC failure as ‘gang of six’ blocks post” (yesterday, item 5). Six test playing nations have overturned a convention not to oppose a nomination for ICC Vice President, who would after two years become ICC President. The alleged reason is that John Howard as PM opposed the Mugabe led Zimbabwean government. Wow! For a supposedly apolitical role, Howard’s detractors have taken a very political stance.

Let’s see. If Australia, New Zealand and England similarly opposed a nomination for an ICC position from Africa or Asia for unrelated and irrelevant political reasons, would this be quietly accepted? I suspect, if that were to happen, there would be immediate outcries of racism. Why is blocking Howard’s nomination not so described? Double standards.

Kevin Rudd:

Geoff Boxer writes: Kevin was too sophisticated for Australia. Fancy using words with more than five letters and having the cheek to speak Chinese. He did try to come down to our level but every time he spoke strine the media berated him. It’s a pity. He was so nice.

Chuck Berger & Dick Smith:

Rachel Dixon  writes: Chuck Berger wrote (yesterday, comments):

“Asking the question ‘what would a sustainable population for Australia be?’ cannot be answered in the abstract. The question invites us to consider what kind of lifestyle we will be leading, and what impact our economy will have on the environment.”

This is a good point, but there’s a larger moral one to be made. What impact will the world’s economy have on the world’s environment, and should we care about people who have less effective governments or substantial disadvantage, and would benefit by moving from one part of the world where both economy and environment are worse off than ours?

It’s a genuine question. The immigration debate is being framed in the context of economics and ecology, but not of morality.

While it’s not a popular view, and certainly not one that’s likely to gain hold in a self-interested democracy like Australia, this is not our country. It’s not anyone’s country.  We had the good fortune to be born here, or to move here. That fact doesn’t accord us any inherent moral authority to say to the rest of the planet “You can’t come here.”

It’s worth remembering that in the later part of the nineteenth century — when many countries like Australia were becoming nations, and other countries such as the US were growing strongly, passports and visas were not in widespread use. Restriction on travel movements is not an eternal, universal trend, and it’s not the natural order of the world to stop people from bettering their lives by locking them out. It just seems that way to those with short memories.

The Repugnant Conclusion aside, do we have a right to say “The ecology of this country is more important than the well being of millions of people who may benefit from living here?”.

Christine Black writes: Dick Smith (yesterday, comments) stridently objects to being labelled “anti-immigration”, yet in the next sentence says he wants immigration slashed to “around 70,000 per year” (and also falsely states that this number is close to the historic average).  Dick Smith’s blinkered inability to see the blatant contradiction between claiming not to be anti-immigration whilst arguing for migration numbers to be cut to less than a third of their current levels seems to have also infected the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Sadly, in recent years the ACF have also become louder in pushing for big cuts to migration. Whilst reasonably skilled in trying to hide his dog whistle, the comments from the ACF’s Chuck Berger gives the game away. His (and the ACF’s) call for “population stability”, combined with his statement that our current population levels is already “not sustainable” add together to create a policy of zero net migration, which has long been pushed by the anti-migrant fringe of the environment movement.

Those people have always insisted they aren’t anti-migrant either — they just don’t want any of them coming here. Trying to hide behind calls for an increase in refugee intake, which is politically difficult now and would be completely untenable in a seriously constricted migration regime, is just a cop out.

It is sad to see a greenwash approach being applied to anti-migrant policies, especially from previously credible organisations like the ACF and particularly at a time when there is such a need for a progressive voice against the growing anti-migration push within the major parties and many unions.


Diana Shogren writes: While I understand Andrew Dempster’s resentment (yesterday, comments)  about cracks at redheads, he’s wrong to say that only whites are red headed. There are people with red hair among some small and isolated groups of indigenous Australians and red hair is not unknown among ethnic Fijians (I’ve personally know two from the Rewa area)  nor among some Asian peoples, people from North India and the Berber people of Morocco, to give just a few examples.

Peter Fray

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