Chris Weavers writes: Living as I do overseas, I really enjoy the insight into Australia that Crikey gives. Now about the NBN — well I did read the letter by Carolyn Whybird (yesterday, comments).

The comments made seem to have as much depth and foresight as some of the following, based as they are, on that fact that her 29 year old son’s download speed needs were met today:

  1. Thomas J Watson, Chairman of the Board, IBM, when he saw the first PC, said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
  2. The Encyclopaedia Britannica sales team and management who refused Bill Gates when he asked to release a electronic version of their encyclopaedia and laughed when he introduced the Encarta software.

Hopefully like the government of Singapore who, despite criticism, always expands infrastructure before the limits of the previous iteration are reached, the Australian government for ONCE, will have the courage to drive through on something for the future of all of us, for both private and commercial use; studiously ignoring the narrow minded naysayers who seem to ignore the short-termism and greed of some commercial organisations.

H S Mackenzie writes: I can imagine Carolyn Whybird and Keith Thomas’s letters (yesterday, comments) to their metropolitan journal of record’s editor 150 years ago: “Why does the government need to waste so much money building a telegraph to every country town. It’ll only be used by young people to wish each other happy birthday for which the post is quite sufficient. If businesses need faster speeds than the post they’d pay for it themselves.”

I imagine another letter about the need for railways. 100 years ago I am sure they would have seen the whole idea of a government providing a telephone infrastructure that could service every household as equally wasteful and unnecessary. And later still they would have been against more than two lanes on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Even as recently as the Whitlam government I can see them fulminating against the need for governments to sewer the outer suburbs, well certainly against the need to link the new sewerage systems to houses who were quite content to retain a night cart service.

Daniel Nguyen writes: Why spend good money on expert consultants when we could outsource Australian broadband policy to the Whybird family? The Government is building a wholesale fibre network that provides equity between metropolitan and regional Australia, ensures equal access for all retail ISPs (unlike the current copper network where Telstra is both wholesaler and retailer), and leases bandwidth to private ISPs (they don’t get it for nothing).

Broadly, it is doing everything that Carolyn wants, and is incredibly scalable as technology improves and we make better use of the fibre that is laid down. She needs to get over the $43 billion sticker shock which is more than the NBN will actually cost, is split between public and private investment, and is spread over a almost a decade.

Zachary King writes: I continue to enjoy Carolyn Whybird’s comments immensely and would be hugely disappointed to find out it is actually John Clarke writing under a pseudonym. Can she please have her own weekly column to correct Crikey’s obvious bias?

Junk food advertising:

Boyd Swinburn, Director, WHO Collaborating Center for Obesity Prevention, Deakin University, writes: Re. “Banning junk-food advertising to kids? Take with a pinch of salt” (yesterday, item 17). I agree with Jennifer Doggett that policy must be as evidence-based as possible.  However, randomised controlled trials of the effects of bans on junk food marketing to children on their junk food consumption or their unhealthy weight gain will never be done — just as they were never done for bans on tobacco advertising on smoking.

Thus the evidence to be used must be the best available rather than the best possible and this is particularly the case for modelling the cost-effectiveness of interventions. If anyone has any better evidence to place in the models we used with their highly transparent assumptions we would welcome it — that is the beauty of the models.

However, having done many sensitivity analyses on the models, I can say that there are no plausible numbers that can be put into the models that would make the intervention cost-ineffective.

There is much direct evidence of the effect of food marketing on children’s food preferences and requests as any of the systematic reviews (that I was not involved with) demonstrate.  There is much parallel evidence of the effects of marketing and marketing bans on the purchases of other goods.

There is enormous indirect evidence of the effects of junk food marketing on junk food sales — the food industry continues to invest in such practices based on the empirical data they have on their own sales in response to promotions. These people are not stupid. They invest hundreds of millions of marketing dollars a year targeting children because they produce results.

One must look at the totality of the evidence rather dive in to nitpick over one small section of it.  It is a concern if public health people buy into the notion, now being heavily pushed by the industry, that all public health measures must have RCT-level empirical evidence of proof of effect before being enacted — that is not the meaning of evidence-informed public policy.

While I am happy to argue on the details of the evidence, Jennifer Doggett is correct that I also carry a view that marketing obesogenic food to children in the face of a childhood obesity epidemic is actually unethical and that society has a responsibility to protect children from commercial exploitation.

I suspect that the over 90% of the public who, in many opinion polls, support tougher regulations to restrict junk food marketing to children care less about the finer details of one corner of the pile of evidence on junk food marketing than they do about the straight ethics of the matter.

Clover Moore:

Scot Mcphee writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Your anonymous correspondent’s article in “tips and rumours” yesterday regarding a disruption to a Clover Moore political fundraiser motivates me to write this letter.

The correspondent seems to have a belief that it is OK for Clover Moore — as mayor of Sydney — to produce a policy which may directly harm people’s jobs, but then who apparently have no right to reply. While it is OK for a politician to make a policy that directly harms people, why is it out of order for those people so harmed to “berate” the person who has threatened their job security?

Your correspondent may well not be a “rusted-on” Moore supporter but he or she was certainly at an overtly political event with an overtly political purpose in having Moore re-elected. Indeed, did Crikey ever check this person’s bona fides before publishing this attempted smear against union members who dare confront politicians who attack their livelihoods?

The alleged link to the Kings Cross ALP branch, is just too cute by half. The branch is well known among long-term Cross residents for its vigorous activism in favour of Kings Cross and surrounding suburb’s poorest, and most disadvantaged people against the harmful NIMBYist mercantile policies of both Clover Moore as both state member and local mayor as well as the neglectful pandering to special interests that is usually exhibited by the parliamentary party in Macquarie St.

Masayoshi Son:

Michael Condon writes: Re. “Dump your copper network, says Japan IT mogul — the story you weren’t told” (yesterday, item 11). You should be careful when you’re writing about inaccuracies — I’m totally with you on the Masayoshi Son and The Australian piece but you should be aware that Masyoshi Son is not the richest man in Japan anymore, the CEO of Uniqlo, Tadashi Yanai is.

Peter Fray

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