Correction:

CRIKEY: In yesterday’s sealed section, (Item 2, “No mercy: Fairfax errs in sticking with sub sack plan“) we initially wrote that 100 people had signed a petition calling for rejecting Fairfax management’s decision to sack 82 subeditors. In fact, 1000 people had signed the petition.

Middle Class Welfare:

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. “Why Labor now owns middle class welfare” (yesterday, item 1). I’d just like to point out a logical flaw in some of Bernard’s commentary on the “middle class welfare”, this phrase now having reached saturation point equivalent to Paul Keating’s comment about the pet shop parrot squawking about, was it “micro-economic reform”?

In any case, I digress, but Bernard makes the strange comment referencing family tax benefits as “still, it’s only borrowing from our kids.” It’s a strange complaint to make that providing welfare for children is silly because it is borrowing from our kids. Surely that would represent the high point in inter-generational equity. If only it were so.

But my larger complaint is that it’s all too simple, all too pet shop parrot-like. There is an argument that high earning families should not be getting payments to help cover the expense/investment of having children.

In the past I have contributed strongly to those discussions, but the idea that government should not provide any support for having children is absurd, and suggesting that middle income families should not be receiving a fair whack of offsets from government tax/benefit policy is a damned difficult argument to make. Bernard alludes to it with what are really no more than snarky references to ‘middle class welfare’, but in fact always links this to family tax benefits. Well Bernard, an allusion does not make an argument?

There is clearly some “blowback” going on in society from the young non-child producing mainly gen Y’s that they are doing it tough because families are getting all the breaks. My comment back to them is “suck it up baby”. If you think life is tough getting round as a single or worse still, as a childless couple, I urge you strongly to never enter the world of parenthood, you aren’t sufficiently equipped to deal with what may be ahead.

And children are not a tax deduction, they are an investment for the future, and today’s community absolutely relies on them both for today’s and future prosperity. An extremely strong argument can be made that everyone regardless of income should get a tax rebate of a specific amount per child, as used to be the case. Back in those days you didn’t have to be a tax genius to submit a PAYE tax return either, and there is much to be said for that.

Successive governments have tinkered with the formulas, and with some reason as tax rebates only help those who pay tax, but increasingly the good intent behind the family tax benefits was politicised and now it is just a confusing maze of deductions and benefits without rhyme or reason.

So my plea to Bernard is to take up the argument, but stop with the “middle class welfare/family tax benefits” nexus. Some of those benefits are absolutely within reason and only Scrooge himself would argue against them, and deductions/benefits for earners up to around $150k are not outrageous given other measures in society.

Family benefits for non-working spouses regardless of the husbands income — pointless largesse. Baby Bonus? — a ridiculous idea when it was introduced that now looks mortifyingly stupid. Education expenses for family incomes below $150K — reasonable, whereas tax deductions for private school fees would be ridiculous policy.

So  Bernard, there is a huge gamut of different purpose within the all encompassing “family tax benefits” regime. At a guess I would say at least half are essential good policy, and half are in the pile of marginal to profligate waste, but your lumping together under the one banner just make you look like, you guessed it, the pet shop parrot.

Ross McOmish writes: I have to say that I mostly agree  with the general thrust of this article. Indeed it touches on one of my frequently voiced views to my friends on the changes to our Society in recent years.

In the mid 1970’s I went to work as a solicitor in a very conservative legal firm in rural Australia (or at least it was then). Many of the clients were  from the farming community. In those days people who received Government financial assistance were regarded as “Dole bludgers”.

By the time I left that firm 25 years later I understood that too many of these old families gaining a pension was like the Holy Grail! Working around tax and stamp duty hazards to transfer assets to children so parents could get a pension was very much part of my work. It was truly sad (for me anyway) to witness this degradation in social outlook and responsibility. It turned generous families into mean hearted families and robbed them of their self respect.

During the 1990’s my firm developed close relationships with some financial planning firms. One large one in particular. It took a while for it to dawn on me that the primary purpose of these firms was to show clients how to invest/hide their assets so they could claim a pension. And yet the government invented this industry. Hard to understand unless you remember H.L. Mencken’s line that an “election is an auction in advance of stole goods”. The key issues for the voters being who gets robbed and who gets the goods!

The desire/obsession  of political parties to win and stay in power has driven them to create this Cargo Cult mentality. No price is too high for them to pay to gain power. As the last election so clearly demonstrated they have no conviction. Only policies driven by consensus. A consensus of citizens increasingly dependent on handouts.

Politics in this fine country of ours has sunk to its lowest level I can recall over nearly 62 years of life. It is tragic that the country that  rejoices in the Anzac tradition/memory  has now had its values so tarnished by its political leaders. And in that regard I see little difference between either party, although I am prepared to reconsider that opinion in the light of your article. Good on you for writing it. Governments who deliberately rob their community of its self respect for personal gain only have no reason to be proud of themselves.

Bob Perry writes: Bernard Keane wrote:

“Forgive the nostalgia, but Australia has, clearly, changed, and not for the better. In the Australia I grew up in, in the 1970s, the middle class was proud of its self-reliance, proud that it received no handouts, from government or anyone else.”

When Bernard talks about nostalgia, I would like to point out that when I joined the Department of Labour and National Service in 1972, in the Commonwealth Employment Service, the term DOLE (an acronym for Department Of Labour Entitlement) was never used as it was deemed offensive.

It always struck me that it was indicative of the character of John Howard that he would formally reintroduce this term in one of his programmes.

Most read:

John Band writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 11). Richard Farmer’s “front page” vs. “most read” comparison is very interesting.

One note of caution, though: the fact that Australia has 22 million people, but shares a first language with 400 million people (not to mention the billion or so people who have English as a second language) means that Aussie papers’ online readers are very different from their print readers, with a lot more Americans, Brits and Indians finding stories via Google, Facebook and other aggregators.

It’d be interesting to see the domestic/overseas breakdown for News and Fairfax, but as an indicator, most UK newspaper websites get over half their traffic from overseas.

It’s not altogether surprising that people overseas are more interested in Oprah, Princess Diana and Facebook than they are in the Wayne and Julia show…

Osama:

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Niall Clugston (Wednesday, comments) provides a good example of how the ideologically extreme too often react to detailed refutation of their mythologies or pet prejudices.  Such as the Americans somehow creating al-Qaeda.

First, there is the resort to misquotation and/or selective quotation. When I pointed out that “al-Qaeda was not founded, even nominally, until at least mid 1989after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in February that year …” (underlining now added for emphasis), Niall misquotes this by entirely ignoring the point about the earlier Soviet withdrawal and also the important qualifiers “even nominally” and  “at least”.

Niall also ignores that most histories of Islamism and al-Qaeda (which he appears not to have read) put the organisation’s foundation to mid to late 1990 or even later in the decade. Niall also ignores the even more germane point that the organisation was not really active until the late 1990s, long after, for example, the Soviets had left Afghanistan (and indeed the USSR itself had collapsed), when Najibullah (see below) was long out of power in even Kabul, and at a time when al-Qaeda was not then active in Afghanistan anyway.

Second, is Niall’s introduction of a red herring. Here he ignores the Soviet withdrawal — after which Western (including US) support for the anti-Soviet mujahidin effectively ceased because it was no longer needed for that purpose — and he implies (incorrectly) that such support was continued until the Najibullah regime finally collapsed in April 1992. The numerous histories of the Afghan war against the Soviets, or of the Afghan mujahidin movement, do not support his view.

In fact, most bewail the sudden cessation of Western support in early to mid 1989 as a short-sighted move, as continued financial and technical assistance to the rebuilding of Afghan civil society might have prevented the later rise of the Taliban, two decades of devastating civil war and detrimental Pakistani strategic meddling, the subsequent UN-endorsed and much more expensive intervention since 2001 to clear up the mess — and perhaps even al-Qaeda’s major terrorist attacks internationally.

Third, is outright misrepresentation. My point that al-Qaeda emerged, after the Afghan War was over, “from the fringes of non-Afghan veterans of that war” was misrepresented by Niall’s claim that “rather than being on the ‘fringes’, the pan-Islamic jihad was a key part of the US-Pakistan strategy against the USSR. This absurd proposition twists the chronology of the point I had made (al-Qaeda was founded after the war not during it).

He twists my use of fringes (it was not formed from mainstream mujahidin, Afghan or otherwise ) to somehow mean that it was the product of a “pan-Islamic jihad”. He then further twists my point about the organisation emerging, after the Soviets had left, and among only some non-Afghan  veterans of the anti-Soviet struggle, as somehow being a discussion of “a key part of the US-Pakistan strategy against the USSR” (when al-Qaeda clearly emerged after the Soviets had left).

Fourth is the unsubstantiated claim, often using glib ploys such as suggesting or exaggerating some connection between the general and the particular, or basing either a tortuous or simplistic argument on chain-link propositions (without supporting evidence) where the whole argument requires every link to be true even if unverifiable. Niall claims “and it was fostering this movement [the pan-Islamic jihad] that was the most significant assistance that America gave to him [meaning Osama bin Laden]. Niall’s claim presumes his earlier claim about the US fostering “pan-Islamic jihad” rather than supporting an anti-Soviet resistance movement to be absolutely true.

He also makes this claim without, for example, any allowance for the issue perhaps involving complexity, context or nuance. He further assumes that such assistance was furnished directly to bin Laden but offers no proof, not even generally, or even any qualification as to the timing of such supposed assistance and its relevance.

Fifth, there is the irrelevant and snide personal dig rather than engage in proper debate using facts, reasoning or the commonly accepted polite conventions of informed public debate. Of course no-one outside those involved has read the CIA files, but is Niall claiming that all the histories of Islamism, al-Qaeda or the Afghan War written by reputable academics are therefore meaningless because they have not read them either? Or is he claiming, as many conspiracy theorists tend to do, that the very absence of evidence or access to it somehow “proves” the conspiracy on its own?

The only things Niall missed including this time round was a straw-man argument, accusations that the ADA was or is somehow sustained by “CIA gold”, or an attempt at the types of personal insult popular among those congregating at the extremes of public debate. Objective readers of Crikey, or indeed anyone with sense of humour or a sense of irony, will no doubt be disappointed by such omissions and the amusement they invariably add to daily life.

Finally, what Niall and some others seem to miss is what the discussion was and should be all about in the first place. The specialist part of international humanitarian law applying to the death of Osama bin Laden and, even more importantly, his contempt for both wider international humanitarian law and the people of the world who believe in it.

Peter Fray

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