Carbon Tax:

Matthew Brennan writes: Re. “Garnaut details the potential of ‘green carbon’ — but we need a price” (yesterday, item 1). We have a Federal Government committed to introducing a carbon tax, but who is pretending that discouraging fossil fuel consumption by increasing fossil fuel prices is not how the policy will work.

On the other hand we have a Federal Opposition violently opposed to the implementation of a carbon tax for reasons that boil down to the fact that the tax will increase the price of fossil fuels and presumably therefore will work.

One is then left with the impression that if and when the policy gets through the parliament the compensatory measures written into the legislation will mean that the net tax raised will be lucky to cover the costs of administering it. And by then the combination of rising world demand, political instability in the Middle East and supply shortfalls will probably have combined to have driven the price of fossil fuels up so much that our economy will weaning off fossil fuel usage anyway.

Maybe we should have a tax on hot air.

David Hough writes:  BHP Billiton’s CEO, Marius Kloppers, is on the public record as favouring “policies that price the external cost of carbon-based fuels.”

Does this mean he supports a carbon tax? If so, I wonder if BHP will support the Government as vigorously on this as it attacked the Government on a super profits tax.

In Thompson and Macklin’s The Big Fella, the rise and rise of BHP Billiton , Kloppers says (at p. 404):

“The company’s policy [on climate change] is pretty clear — it goes out from the premise that the science is real, that CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is an issue and must be stabilised, so we favour policies that price the external cost of carbon-based fuels.”

Rundle on Gaddafi:

James Burke writes: Re. “Rundle: deconstructing Gaddafi from the left and right” (yesterday, item 3). Who is “left” and who is “right”, Guy? Is Gaddafi right-wing?

Might surprise those who still consider the IRA and the PLO to be left-wing causes … as did most left-wingers in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. What about the recent left-wing darling Hugo Chavez, a better friend to Gaddafi than those gangsters Berlusconi and Putin (my huh? moment of the week was waking to hear the news that Russia and China were supporting UN moves to prosecute Gaddafi — for using the military against his own citizens!) Is Tony Blair left or right wing? What, if anything, might any of this mean?

Leave this bullshit in the 20th century where it belongs. Democracy vs. its enemies is the real battle. Its enemies are right and left, nationalist and capitalist, puritan and criminal, and, above all, numerous, but democracy has a vitality which shines through even in a failed revolution (which may be the case in some of these Arab uprisings, sadly).

Let’s welcome and support any democratic movement. Let’s banish from the conversation any pathetic, dictator-fellating grub whose democratic credentials are obviously corrupted, whether that be Blair or Berlusconi or Chavez or the “foreign policy experts” wheeled out by Big Media to explain why freedom can be bad when it conflicts with their bosses’ financial and ideological priorities.

If any of these revolutions result in regimes hostile to democracy and human rights, let’s oppose them and try to remind their subjects of what might have been.

And let’s finally stop using those empty terms “left” and “right”.

Rundle on Churchill:

Ken Lambert writes: Re.”Rundle: Churchill’s Holocaust link to leave Winnie further in the poo” (yesterday, item 14). Guy Rundle’s piece on the Bengal famine of 1943 and Winston Churchill’s racist indifference to it — reminds me of the famous Life of Brian sketch — you know; “What did the Romans ever do for us?” .

As if Winston did not have other things on his plate in 1943. Europe and the Mediterranean, resisting Stalin’s brutal urging for a premature Normandy, juggling resources of Army, Navy and Air across several theatres of War and keeping the Americans, Australians and Free French focussed in a common effort — not to mention the neglected Army of General Slim who fought a masterful campaign against the Japanese on the frontier of India.

Of course Winston was racist — he was a child of his imperialist times. His contemporaries were notably worse. He was sympathetic to the Jews and Zionism at a time when most Western politicians were not. He was accused by others of liking Jews too much. Take a look at his adversaries — Hitler told Halifax to shoot Gandhi and the top Congress leaders until the civil disobedience stopped. Japan proved the most brutal and racist conqueror of its subjugated peoples — not the least being those in Burma and the frontier of India. Even Roosevelt joked with Stalin about shooting 20,000 German Officers at the end of the War. Did he really mean it or was it a nasty crack to suck up to Uncle Joe.

Something like 1.5million Indians volunteered to join the Indian Army and fight the enemies of the Empire. It was not conscripted. The largest volunteer Army in history. Hardly a sign of widespread hatred of the Empire in India by all Castes and religions.

Winston’s greatness in standing up in 1940 and through the War must be judged in the context the Nazi and Axis threat and the barbarity of the opposition.

It should also be remembered that the young Gandhi was an ardent Imperialist, the son of a minor Indian official, whose modest means nor Empire racism, prevented him sailing to England to study law and being admitted to the Bar. His time in South Africa included being decorated by the British for raising a volunteer stretcher bearers corp in the Boer War. His great battle with the Empire started mainly because of the prejudice suffered by South African Indians who wanted to be classed as Whites. Their main complaint was that the Empire treated them like their brother Blacks. Gandhi had no truck with the idea that Blacks were also his equal.

Gandhi railed about the physical weakness, poor hygiene and passivity of the Hindu Indian, and how emulating the White disciplines would strengthen them to grasp their destiny.  Winston saw Gandhi as a fraud, a fakir — one who adopted the trappings of the Indian peasant while really holding much tougher attitudes and prejudices and who really wanted the overthrow of Imperial power in order to replace it with Congress and the agrarian socialist Hindu Raj.

While the post-War sub-continent was consigned to the initial slaughter of partition; 50 years of Muslim-Hindu confrontation, famines and the brutalities of Caste under the Hindu Raj; would the story have been better if a Winston at peace had won the 1945 election and worked with Harry Truman to both de-colonize India and de-segregate the United States of America?

Niall Clugston writes: I question Guy Rundle’s expertise to “illuminate” the history of India.

Firstly, it’s Gandhi, not “Ghandi”.  I thought he was famous!

Secondly, I doubt  Rundle’s judgement that “one reason he was in the political wilderness” was that Churchill “had held onto the idea of retaining India well into the ’30s”.

Yes, Churchill was more hardline than others, but if the British establishment had already conceded on Indian independence, why did Gandhi feel the need to launch the Quit India campaign in 1942, and why was independence granted only in 1947?


Terry Grealy writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 10). I read Richard Farmer’s comment on teachers: “the entrenched conservatism of the teaching profession with its belief that smaller class sizes are best will mean his latest suggestion will not catch on in Australia.” I duly followed the link and read the article. I would like to make a couple of comments.

In the article Bill Gates compares education outcomes today to the 1960’s. This is not a fair comparison. I’m not familiar with the data, but society has changed, students have changed and the expectations on schools have changed over this period. The curriculum has expanded enormously along with student options and expectations.

Secondly, if seniority is no guide to performance, then there is scant justification for keeping beginning teachers on such low pay scales for so long, a factor in the growing shortage of teachers.

Thirdly, it has always been my experience that there is more time per student and therefore improved learning in a class of 16 than a class of 32.

Perhaps if we could return to the narrow, exam driven curriculum and the behaviour standards of 1960, a class of 32 would be OK. And remember, in 1960, if you didn’t fit in, you left and got an unskilled job, of which there were plenty.

From my viewpoint as a teacher, teaching and in particular public education, have been denigrated for the past 20 years. Conservative governments, ALP and Liberal/Coalition, have desperately sought to drive down the expanding cost of public education, supported by neoliberalism and economic rationalism. These assaults, coupled with constant changes in policy direction, often little more than faddism, have made a rewarding and demanding job increasingly difficult.

It’s just too easy to blame teachers for the shortcomings of society, misguided education bureaucrats and foolish, destructive governments. And I don’t see other workers being labelled with “entrenched conservatism” when they defend their work practices and fight against a massive increase in workload. Would standards of journalism improve if journalists posted twice as many stories?

Nick Xenophon:

John Richardson writes: Re. “Xenophon: Queensland’s no-insurance policy costs us all” (yesterday, item 12).Whilst Richard Farmer is doubtless capable of responding to Nick Xenophon’s fallacious claims himself, I for one would like my two bob’s worth along the way.

Xenophon’s claims are entirely disingenuous.

As any reasonably well informed reader would know, the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA) are long-standing & form part of the larger, more complex tax-sharing arrangements in-place between the commonwealth and the states. Under these arrangements, the commonwealth underwrites 75% of the cost of replacing public infrastructure lost through natural disasters. If Xenophon is unhappy about this arrangement, let him criticise successive commonwealth governments of all persuasions who have been party to them.

As far as the Queensland government is concerned, its responsibility is to manage the residual risk of disaster costs i.e.: the 25% of costs not covered under NDRRA. Xenophon claims that the Queensland government has failed to adequately insure against the risk of disaster costs, citing its refusal to take-up an insurance offer “a decade ago”, which would have only cost $50 million per annum. Xenophon fails to acknowledge that more recent attempts to underwrite the Queensland disaster risk in 2004, drew a premium quotation of $200 million, with damage to roads (estimated to be as much as 80% of any disaster cost) specifically excluded.

With the cost of the most recent disaster in Queensland estimated at $5.8 billion, the commonwealth will cover $4.35 billion of this amount, leaving Queensland to find $1.45 billion. The Queensland government specifically provided $700 million in its current budget for disaster relief. The Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal has already raised $230 million, leaving a shortfall for Queensland to find of $520 million, either through further revenue raising measures or by curtailing planned expenditures in other areas. Meanwhile, the commonwealth is left looking for $4.35 billion, which it presently plans to raise via its controversial Flood Levy.

Should the Queensland government have provided more than the $700 million included in this year’s budget? Would it have been smarter to have been spending at least $200 million every year since 2004, to a total of $1.4 billion in premiums, only to discover that it could only claim $290 million against this year’s disaster cost to it of $1.45 billion (based on 80% of the losses pertaining to roads not being covered by the policy)? How smart would we all think that the Queensland government had been if it had incurred a sunk cost of more than $1.1 billion in insurance premiums over the past 7 years, but was still trying to find the same amount again to pay for the cost of the current disaster?

Xenophon should vote for the Flood Levy and get lost. He could then claim to have performed at least one public service during his taxpayer funded holiday in the Senate.

Vanilla, king of ice cream:

Steve Pratt writes: I write to voice my concern at your denigration of vanilla.

ou suggest that vanilla is “no frills”.  Contrary to your implication, many of us choose vanilla ice-cream in preference to all other flavours.  In fact, a good vanilla ice-cream easily holds its own against all other flavours.

There are, I believe, numerous Facebook groups dedicated to vanilla ice-cream.  Please leave vanilla alone.