Paul Barry writes: Re. “Packer ‘hedging his bets’ … but what of Ten’s news upgrade?” (yesterday, item 2). I am quoted extensively in Crikey yesterday by Margaret Simons in an article on James Packer.

In the first place, I believed the conversation was for background purposes and not for quotation.

Secondly, I did not say I found James Packer “impressive”, I said I thought him “impulsive”.

Third, and most important, I did not describe John Alexander as a “rolled gold c***”. I was drawing Margaret Simons’ attention to Peter Meakin’s widely-reported description of Alexander as a “24-carat c***” in the context of his management style at Channel Nine. Peter Meakin was Head of News & Current Affairs until he decided he could no longer work with John Alexander and told Kerry Packer to choose between them. This is something I have written about in my book Who Wants to be a Billionaire, but in the proper context.

Margaret Simons adds: The error concerning the word “impulsive” being replaced with “impressed” was made in sub editing, and was not my mistake. I rang Barry to ask him if he would like to write for Crikey on the Packer issue, or as an alternative be interviewed. The interview proceeded after he had declined to write an article. I believed we were on the record.


James Burke writes: Re. “Abbott delivered a more effective case on Afghanistan” (yesterday, item 9). The recent Afghanistan debates in Parliament and in the media, including Crikey, have offered little in the way of new arguments from either the “troops out now” or “stay the course” camps. Apart from a smattering  of insights (a couple of pieces from Amin Saikal, and Andrew Riddle’s Crikey Tuesday effort), it’s still largely stuck in the mouthing of slogans which add up to Terrorism Central vs. Pointless War.

The Parliamentary debate hasn’t contributed much. Julia Gillard has no personal interest in the subject (as appears to be the case with many other topics) and is happy to follow her talking points. Tony Abbott demonstrated a much better grasp of the fundamental issues and made a forceful case for the international coalition not withdrawing from Afghanistan, though he added a few distasteful flourishes which doubtless appealed to his base. Neither leader addressed the issue of the current negotiations between Karzai and the Taliban, or what this could mean for the future.

I am generally sympathetic with the Greens and Andrew Wilkie, but on this issue they have nothing new to say. Actually, that’s not strictly true: Adam Bandt thinks “a withdrawal of Australian military forces from Afghanistan could enable additional aid to be directed to the country, targeted in particular to civil society institutions that foster democracy, sustainable development and human rights.” Presumably for the interim months before the Americans pull out, after which the usual decapitation treatment awaits any foreign aid workers and their local colleagues.

Like so much else, the Afghanistan debate is coloured by past ideological and political disagreements, personal obsessions and blinkered views. In a democracy these things are inevitable, so if we end up merely treading water, I suppose we can be grateful not to have drowned.

Oh, by the way, after this little kerfuffle we have to try and figure out how to stop the global environment from collapsing. I look forward to our efforts on that one.

Bill Castleden, Member, Medical Association for the Prevention of War, writes: Bernard Keane is correct, if most Labor and Coalition politicians in Australia really think the war in Afghanistan should go on for at least another decade and that the war is “winnable” or reducing the risk of terrorism, they are in a bubble and way out of connection with the mainstream Australian community. Of course people want to support our troops and wish to avoid a repeat of the odium that fell upon our Vietnam vets. This is why people want the troops out of Afghanistan and back to safety.

No foreign force has ever “won” a war in Afghanistan; why would this one be any different? As the Australian parliament debates another decade of maiming and killing, the UK government under David Cameron, a Conservative politician, has just announced an 8% cut in military spending (although the UK commitment to NATO in Afghanistan is preserved) while bumping up spending on peace. Peace, says David Cameron, is always less messy and less expensive than war.

I have long maintained that a portion of Australia’s Defence Budget should be spent on working out how best to maintain peace. What about that Ms Gillard? What about that Mr Abbott? Would we dare to reduce our Defence Budget and spend money on Peace?

John Taylor writes: Back in 2001, surely the only reason the Bush Administration should have had anything to do with Afghanistan was to find and assassinate Osama Bin Laden. If they didn’t know where he was they should have stayed their hand until they did, gone in and completed the mission in three weeks. Any longer was folly. The USSR had tried invasion and it sent them broke. Why would the Yanks fare any better in a long campaign?

The “War on terror” was a stupid concept from the start. Al Queda were a small force who could be wiped out with some good intelligence. Unfortunately the Yanks think they are better than they are at the “intelligence” caper. Osama has probably been living the high life in Paris for the last ten years while the “Coalition” of war on terrorists sent themselves broke looking for him.

For our Prime Minister to suggest we should stay there for the next ten years would seem to be the height of folly. Come on, it doesn’t matter how long we stay, the day after we leave whoever wants to run the joint will do so. Meanwhile, the loss of even one more good young Australian will be one too many, and in ten years the number will be more than one.

They can debate it all they like, but can’t  somebody see that Afghanistan is a bunch of rock not worth fighting for and get out now.

Insulation scheme:

Jim Hanna writes: Re. Judy Oborn (yesterday, comments) who asked:

“How do the deaths related to insulation installation stack up before and during the scheme?”

Rod Tiffen took a rational look at the insulation program in March, and provided some much-needed context. Had most journalists or the government itself bothered to do the same research, the insulation program would not have been perceived so poorly.

Prior to the government’s scheme, 3.18 million Australian homes (or 61 per cent) had insulation, and 67,000 homes were being insulated each year with little regulation and no licensing. Many were installed by home owners themselves. On average, there were 80-85 fires per year because of faulty insulation — before the government’s scheme, which insulated 1.1 million more homes in two and a half years, mostly in older (and therefore riskier) homes.

The number of homes insulated annually therefore grew more than sixfold – but the number of insulation-related fires grew by about half to 120 — or one-twelfth the rate of growth in insulated homes, thanks to better licensing and training as a result of the program. However, insulation-related fires, which were previously ignored in the media, had become newsworthy and the program was seen as the cause.

As Tiffen says, the most tragic aspect was the death of four young workers. One apparently died from heat exhaustion on his first day in the job and two others from cutting through live electrical wires. Tiffen couldn’t find any figures on deaths from home insulation before the program began, but says there are around 50 fatalities from construction work nationally each year from 300 work-related deaths.

The Murray-Darling:

Keith Perkins writes: Re. “Murray Murmurings: a reasonable and rational national discussion, please” (yesterday, item 13). May I suggest to all the “doom and gloom” dwellers of the Murray-Darling river system, and particularly to the ones claiming it will mean the complete demise of many river towns and cities if water extractions are reduced, that they pause and reflect a little on the many mining towns in Australia, in particular Cobar and Broken Hill in NSW, towns which periodically experience massive reductions to mineral and ore extractions.

Without a doubt these towns suffer economic downturns but the last time I drove through that way they were still there.

Climate change:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Nigel Brunel’s “gotcha” point (yesterday, comments) was that US Republicans believe in God but not the SCIENCE of climate change. How stupid are they!

This is pretty funny given that climate change is basically a religion, complete with human sin (CO2 emissions), damnation (warming driven giga-death), redemption through hardship (CO2 cuts, “sustainability”) and finally salvation (a return to the wonders of the pre-industrial world for the billion or so that environmentalists will allow to remain).

Meanwhile the Royal Society admits there is actually great uncertainty with much of the science (clouds, the carbon cycle, temperature projections) as more and more scientists revolt, to say nothing of the general public’s growing skepticism.  And then there’s mother nature, with her cruel refusal to surpass the 1998 temperature peak.

So it’s no wonder climate scientists need to use “tricks” to “hide the decline”, but thank god this mass hysteria has started to collapse. As for religion, well, it’s been very careful to rely on faith rather than evidence (so it can’t be disproved by a thermometer), thus I suspect it’ll be around a while yet.

Peter Fray

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