Papua New Guinea:

Jo Chandler, Senior Writer, The Age, writes: Re. “Journalists in bed with Exxon — it’s a marriage that needs a divorce” (30 July, item 16). I believe Wendy Bacon’s article misrepresents the circumstances of my trip to PNG and to the Oilsearch facility in the Southern Highlands.

The Age paid for me to go to PNG, where at my initiative I researched a half-dozen stories on health and social issues. One of those issues was the social impact of the then-pending $US16 billion PNG LNG (liquid natural gas) project. Because the only way to access the secured, remote LNG site and the communities within its boundaries was with the company’s cooperation, I approached Oilsearch chief Peter Botten requesting the company allow entry to explore the impact of the project on the ground. The company agreed, with no constraints.

As a result I flew, with photographer Jason South, from Port Moresby to Kutubu on the company’s regular charter flight, and then accessed the LNG site via a company helicopter. At the time the roads to the site were insecure. This assistance was declared in the published story.

In relation to the allegation that I “missed the ecological disaster” caused by oil drilling in Kutubu — the subject of a later report in the SMH — I would point out that my investigation was into the social effects of the LNG (gas) operation. My time was spent largely in communities around the Nogoli gas site, which is located a long way from the lake and the oil operations. The concerns and fears local people raised in regard to the impact of the LNG project were fully reflected in the published report.

At the time of my visit, to the best of my knowledge, the concerns about the lake later reported by the SMH had not been flagged in any public forum. I agree with Wendy Bacon that the allegations regarding Lake Kutubu are worrying and merit investigation on the ground. As she points out, access to the site is expensive and difficult.

In an age of shrinking editorial budgets, financial constraints are a deeply concerning impediment to coverage of many important issues, in particular in this nation on our doorstep.

The (ongoing) election:

Roger  Davenport writes: Re. “Essential: voters expect another poll … and expect the Coalition to win” (yesterday, item 8). Several opinion polls have found that there is strong opposition to the power of the independents and are calling for a fresh election. It sounds simple, just print a few ballot papers and hey presto off we go to the ballot box. Not so.

Firstly the parties will have to have new pre selections (no doubt with much blood letting). The outcome of the seat of O’Connor at this last election will be the cause of much heated debate between Liberal and Nationals. The Party Machines would no doubt revise their policies (more pork barrelling and disagreements over the costing).

A new poll would cause a feeding frenzy by the legal sharks arguing constitutional issues. More independents might put their hat in the ring and who knows we might end up with a similar outcome. Let’s hope our elected representatives make “The will of the people” work.

Iraq and hung parliaments:

Bruce Graham writes: Re. “Crikey Clarifier: hung parliaments around the world” (yesterday, item 14). The ultimate denouement  of the Iraq war will be de facto or formal cantonisation. Legal separation into independent nations would be more sensible, but intolerable to many other countries including most Arabic states. This is an inevitable result of a culturally irrelevant colonially  imposed national boundary.

Each of the major political parties exert de facto government within their controlled territories, and have no obvious reason to dilute this by assenting to a functioning national government (unless that government was controlled by themselves). The present Iraqi impasse is internally rational, predictable, and less deadly than the civil war which will return if a majority government actually forms and attempts to impose its will on the ‘opposition’ territories.

It may eventually evolve into a working federal state, with very limited central power.

Paul Hogan:

Peter Wilms writes: Re. “How Hoges used PR to beat the taxman” (yesterday, item 3). Rather than trying to spruik his own credentials, Mike Smith of Inside PR, should have kept his mouth shut in making his tendentious comments about the ATO’s treatment of Paul Hogan.

The only relevant bit was his closing comment that we do not yet know what went on nor what the ATO knows about Hogan’s affairs. For Smith to claim that we owe Hogan a lot is absolute nonsense particularly if the tax office can prove its case, in which event he will owe us a lot!.

Let’s not be fooled by the drooping and the slick one liners. That was just vaudeville at which Hogan is a dab hand.


John Band writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). Crikey published:

“…in that vein, what will Australian insurer IAG do (it’s Insurance Australia Group) now that the merging British Airways-Iberia (of Spain) plan to call the combined group International Airlines Group, or IAG?”

It’s not very likely that the IAG name will be used for marketing to customers. From a customer-grouping point of view, BA and Iberia are both part of the OneWorld alliance, which is a much more useful brand to promote, as it covers the whole world rather than just the UK and Spain.

Especially as the long-term plan for OneWorld is to bring as many of the member companies under the same ownership as possible, if debt, pension and regulatory issues ever get resolved (notably JAL and – of course – Qantas).

IAG is just about coming up with a new name that satisfies the Spanish it’s not a BA takeover of Iberia (even though it is).

Malcolm Fraser:

Keith Binns writes: Like Marcus Vernon (yesterday, comments) I also would not have extinguished a burning Malcolm Fraser in the time honoured manner when he was in power. But Marcus forgets Fraser has always been something of a social progressive. Gary Foley once told me, when a passenger in my cab, that Fraser was the best Prime Minister the aboriginal people ever had because he did what he said he was going to do.

Then along came Howard, using race as a political tool and giving tacit permission for people to be racist. Fraser started Australians All, a website to monitor Howard’s use of race. It had the best information on David Hicks, for example, that was available at the time, with articles by QCs. I joined the website and wrote to Fraser, noting how the times had changed and received a most courteous reply from him.

Fraser is part of an honourable band who have done much more good out of office than in it, along with people like Jimmy Carter and Jeff Kennett. To me, he has far for credibility than say Bob Carr, who fancies himself as a spokesperson on the environment. I’m sure the people of Sydney are really enjoying buzzing around on all the public transport infrastructure he built…