Acting on climate:

Australian playwright David Williamson writes: Re. “David Williamson: actors aren’t stupid — and Cate was brave” (Wednesday, item 6). My piece defending Cate Blanchett asserted that very few actors I have worked with are stupid. It was just a brief argument reduced to its rudiments so I’d like to expand that a little to defend myself against charges of glibness.

Anyone who has listened to actors discussing a play in the first days or rehearsals would, I think, realise how much thinking they do about character and social forces. The insight into the motives of their characters and other characters in the play is usually at a very high level of perception and the discussion of the social and psychological forces operating at the time and place the play was written is also usually very well informed. Actors research the characters they play, often very thoroughly, and in so doing research the social conditions and often the inequities of various societies at various points of time.

Far from their vain, chattering stereotype, most actors I know, as a result of their continuing research about character and society, have a deeper knowledge of human motivation and the power of social forces than the general population. And much great writing draws its power from a sympathy for those who are treated badly by other human beings and by their social order.

The left-liberal stance is focussed on fairness and justice and seeks to redress and draw to attention the stark differences in wealth and power that allow a minority of the globe to live very well and enjoy human and legal rights, but ignore those who live in poverty and have negligible social or legal protection. Without genuine empathy for the latter, actors would find it hard to give convincing performances in many of the great roles in dramatic literature.

The live cattle trade:

Andrew Bartlett writes: Guy Rundle (yesterday, comments) says “it’s a little dispiriting that the pro-animal rights lobby can’t make an argument for their case, except to expostulate at mine.”

Perhaps he didn’t notice that the contributions “expostulating” at his case were provided in a section of Crikey called “Comments”, not in a section called “Make your own case on an issue”.  I’m also not surprised he chose not “to respond in kind” — it would have made the thinness of his own case even more obvious.

Guy also states, in rebuttal to assertions made by myself and others, that “there is no evidence that brutality towards animals is twinned with brutality towards humans.”

At the risk of once again being accused of merely “expostulating”, here are just a couple of examples which highlight the very substantial amount of such evidence.

Geoff Russell, Animal Liberation SA, writes: Re. “Live export industry’s solution to ‘animal activists’? More PR” (yesterday, item 1). Thanks to Bernard Keane for painting us a financial picture of Meat and Livestock Australia and its connections with Government. The obvious question is why is the Government involved with the meat industry at all? This isn’t a public service industry. Any Government involvement should be to keeping the bastards honest.

There was a key report back in January 2011 that Bernard didn’t deal with that goes to the heart of how MLA operates. It’s a report on welfare in the Indonesian trade by veterinary Professor Ivan Caple et al and makes interesting reading. I read the report just prior to seeing the Four Corners program and it was revelatory to compare its descriptions of restraint boxes with video images of these torture machines in action.

Here’s a part of a description from the report of how the restraint boxes work:

“The length of the front rope arrests forward movement of the leg and the momentum of the animal initiates a roll out towards the slope of the plinth.”

I particularly like the use of the word “roll”.

What a wondrous description of the way cattle crash down onto concrete, sometimes head first. The brilliance of having the slope of the floor going DOWN allows the animal to fall much further than on a flat surface. The added genius of the slope is that it makes sure the animal is unstable and in total terror. Hence the thrashing of the head into the concrete in a vain effort to balance and perhaps stand up. I haven’t seen such genius in animal welfare since Australian sheep farmers in the 1980s took to sticking angle grinders in the mouths of their sheep to sharpen their teeth … and yes, section 9.8 of the “Code of Practice for the Welfare of Sheep” still allows this barbarity.

Clearly MLA know how to commission academics, and they know how to find the people who will write the right kind of reports. I imagine finding a veterinary Professor who was happy to tell Four Corners he didn’t know if cattle felt pain when they smashed their heads into a concrete floor was a challenge, but MLA are clearly tireless in their attempts to mislead anybody interested in how their industry works.

MLA must be abolished. But first ACCC should prosecute them for misleading advertising via their promotional video that was also featured in the Four Corners program. Perhaps time in an Indonesian prison would be appropriate.

Niall Clugston writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. Your editorial attacks hypocrisy in the cattle industry, but I think there’s hypocrisy all round.

The fact is the cattle were going to die anyway. Yes, some of the treatment was horrible, but I think if people were being killed, I don’t think there’d be much concern that they were tripped over first. And I suspect the live transportation itself inflicts more suffering on the cattle than the killing. (And I suspect the live trade proclaims its respect for Islam while secretly genuflecting before the altar of cost minimisation.)

There is an unhealthy dose of xenophobia in the controversy when the slaughterers are foreign, and to make matters worse, Muslim. I’m not a vegetarian, but the fact is we are breeding fellow creatures to kill and eat. Perhaps the tender treatment and the concern that they die a painless, ignorant death is cruellest thing of all. This is a deep-seated hypocrisy that goes back to the time we stopped talking about “slaughterhouses” and started talking about “abattoirs”.

And I suspect this current concern will build and build – until some gutsy animal rights activists exposes the plight of battery hens etc, and the whole self-justifying juggernaut stops dead in its tracks, and everyone forgets the issue.


Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Terry Moran: the challenges of federalism” (yesterday, item 12). Your coverage of the speech by Mr Terry Moran AO, Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Eidos Institute, in  Brisbane, fell into the category of worthy but boring as batshit. Is anyone arguing federation did not help Australia develop? The point about federation is that it should never have been seen as the end of a process but rather a transition whereby the states would wither away and we would have just one Government.

The biggest impediment to our future are the hicktown state governments. They have at best two or three good pollies who would be better off in Canberra. The rest of them are party hacks snuffling away at well stocked troughs and for what end?

States should only exist as entities for the running of the Sheffield Shield, State of origin and state inspired dick measuring contests among drunks in pubs. The state bureaucracies could become streamlined service deliverers. The old state regions are supposed to have their interests protected by the Senate.

Perhaps under a streamlined State government-free system the senate will become a state house and not, with some notable exceptions, a sheltered workshop for party hacks unable to get a job in the real world.

TV ratings:

Vinko Ravlich writes: Re. “Last night’s TV ratings” (yesterday, item 17). Could Glenn Dyer be fair and balanced in his TV rating  blurb? He has rudely dismissed Domestic Blitz for the year, based on the fact that its rating on Sunday night was not prominent due it only being shown in Melbourne and Sydney.

Dyer is again using the Fox News definition of “Fair and Balanced” — as Sydney and  Melbourne are the two major viewing areas then Dyer should have shown the comparative figures for the two 6.30 shows — as they were not shown, I  suspect the Domestic Blitz would have won the battle

The Australia Defence Association:

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Peter Wildblood-Stumm (yesterday, comments), if he actually exists with such an apposite name for his claims, accuses the Australia Defence Association of potentially being bogus institutionally without appearing to realise that his own suspicions and lack of research help prove why public groups like the ADA are so necessary to informed national debate.

First, as an independent, community-based, public-interest watchdog group the ADA is obviously not an industry, profession or other sectoral representative organisation as Peter incorrectly thinks.

Second, our role, structure, accountability, finances, processes and policies are necessarily public and transparent to demonstrate our institutional integrity and objectivity safeguards. Particularly in comparison to most sectoral organisations in Australian society — and indeed to the subjective views that often come from them.

Third, the media seek our views because over nearly four decades we have a proven record of providing informed explanations and assessments from long-term, independent and staunchly non-partisan perspectives.

Fourth, our media work in public debate (what Peter sees) constitutes only a small part of our wider efforts at ensuring Australia is adequately defended and strategically secure.

Finally, if Peter has wrongly come to believe that the ADA might somehow be apologists for anyone he needs to get out more. Any passing interest in current affairs surely shows our longstanding and balanced criticism, where necessary, of governments of both political persuasions, the federal bureaucracy, our defence force (institutionally, collectively and individually), defence industry, armchair strategists, indifferent media coverage and the unfortunate strategic complacency of many Australians that often means we neglect our common defence responsibilities.

The ADA also tries to acknowledge that there are usually two sides to every story (although only one might be described by or in the media), and that effective discussion of any issue needs to include its long-term and immediate causes before analysing consequences and deciding viable solutions.

This approach may prick the complacent — or annoy the biased — but we are sticking with it.

Peter Fray

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