Nick Xenophon, the Independent Senator for South Australia, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). In yesterday’s edition there was an item titled “Appeals to Canberra by air traffic cops” in the “Tips and Rumours” section. The article quoted verbatim an email sent to my office by a concerned air traffic controller, which I subsequently asked questions about at Estimate Hearings on May 26th.

The article stated that “Crikey intercepted this letter from Melbourne controllers to Senator Xenophon.” This gives the impression that the original email which was meant to be sent directly to me, was first seen by Crikey.

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I would hate for anyone to think their private correspondence to me was not secure and I can assure Crikey readers the original email was not provided to Crikey by myself or anyone in my staff.  My best guess is that a copy of the email which was sent to me was also sent to Crikey by a third party, as opposed to any interception of the original email.

I totally respect the right of Crikey and all journalists to actively seek out any information they believe is in the public interest. But I also want to make it clear to people wishing to contact me that correspondence is treated on a strictly confidential basis and never provided to the media by myself or my office without prior approval from the correspondent.

That said Crikey, keep up the great work.

Hanson and Rattner:

Allan Croft writes: Re. “Hanson hoax: how did the Rattner case ever get to court?” (yesterday, item 2). With some personal experience of reporting up to Supreme Court level, I ask the even bigger question which  is why this man was granted immunity from prosecution.

What happened to the Court’s power to demand an answer or spend some time in the dungeons?

Even if the Court agreed to the proposal, there is usually some quid pro quo or leverage in the hands of the applications — what did he have to offer and why I have not heard these questions asked in other public fora.

Politics and politicians:

Don Wormald writes: Re. “Drag0nista: political private lives CAN be a public issue” (6 June, item 12). Way back when I was contributing to Crikey a (very attractive female) Canberra Press Gallery member made an observation to me about reporting pollies’ private lives far more succinctly than Drag0nista’s piece:

“We can’t report on who a politician is f-ckingg because it is likely he is f-cking one of us.”

Something about the interdependence between pollies and the press makes this throw-away line ring true.

John Goldbaum writes: I admired the risk taken by Mr Speaker in naming the Member for Cowper (Mr Hartsuyker) for continuing to interject after having been warned during Question Time yesterday (Wednesday).

I am pleased the slow learner Rob Oakeshott has finally worked out the rules of the House and that Tony Windsor was punctual today.  I’m afraid the Mad Hatter is still a recalcitrant truant.

Although the Member for Denison (Mr Wilkie) may not approve of high rollers, they appear to have his continuing support.


Ewan Coffey writes: I wonder if Cameron Brat (yesterday, comments) would recommend changing “agenda” (the things to be done/discussed) to agendum (the thing to be done/discussed).

In my day, Latin gerunds and gerundives very definitely had plural forms. But I support “referendums” as opposed to “referenda” for the third reason given.

Having a lend:

Rosemary Swift writes: Re. “Bank deposit guarantee puts the squeeze on loaners” (yesterday, item 22). “Loaners”? What’s wrong with “lenders”? Crikey has never been particularly renowned for spelling and grammar (and much is forgiven or ignored because of the speed of production) but this is truly dreadful.

Climate change, solar electricity etc:

Bruce Graham writes: Re. George Crisp (yesterday, comments). The cost of grid connected industrial scale solar power is now approximately 16.11c US per KWH. That’s about 15.2c Australian at current exchange rates. Unsubsidised, for a sunny climate.

So, unless  the medium industries of inland Northern Australia are currently being sold electricity cheaper than that, it already cost competitive to the end user. Of course, such users would be free-loading off the installed grid for any electricity used at night. The cost of maintaining the grid is about 40% of the total cost — a number which makes all shareholders of spark infrastructure happy every time we think of it.

The first set of industries which changed over to solar were isolated systems. There are now no longer jobs for the blokes who used to live in isolated places just to ensure that the diesel generator kept the transmission station on-line. Farmers have generally gone solar, because it is cheaper than diesel, but of course, in volume terms those are trivial applications. It is only in the past 24 months that industrial scale grid connected solar power has dropped below the retail cost of grid power.

Electricity costs money to ship long distances. The more you ship, the more it costs.  that means you — the urban cynic — are cross subsidising every man and dog west of the mountains. (or east, if you are in Perth). Your electricity would be cheaper if they did not need such big power lines.

If you are Victorian, you are especially subsidising the cost of ensuring that those pesky power lines do not start another bushfire (thank you, Australian Competition Tribunal, for the price determination. Thank you, Victorian government, for a ‘cost plus’ contract).

Secondly, a lot of large businesses could manufacture electricity cheaper themselves anyway — but not at night. So uptake of solar cells (Photovolatics, PV) will depend on how pricing of grid connections evolve to match this new reality.

Of course, you interject, if it was that damn good, why isn’t every warehouse and shopping mall from Bathurst to Kalgoorlie jumping on the bandwagon? In the past 2 years the return on investment (from installing PV) would have been less than the capital depreciation (from falling costs of PV) The boom in installations was entirely in government subsidised home retrofitting, which is a grossly inefficient way to install P.V. It has made commercial sense to sit on the sideline, and that may still be true.

So here some unanswered questions: As PV progressively becomes cheaper (as it has without fail in every one of the last 40 years, and as it will continue to for the same reasons that every other solid state semiconductor does and has), and, as uptake inevitably rises (as it has for every one of the last 40 years, and at an annualised average rate of around 20%), how will distribution authorities and governments respond to the challenge of maintaining a stable, reliable network? Who will pay for what, increasingly, will become a backup and night-time facility? How will heavy industry survive, if  consumers no longer need to cross subsidise coal powered electricity, in return for their own requirements? Will smaller, local gas fired co-generation fit the challenge for nocturnal supply in an electricity market which — like every other part of our society — has fragmented?

Electricity pricing is a morass of such unanswered questions. Industry behemoths understand that change is coming, but are not so stupid as to embrace their own death. Rear guard actions will continue — both politically, and in the market place. Change will  be so slow that casual observers will not notice it until it hits them. Government policy may favour, or hinder evolution, but at a price of 15c/kwh, and falling, change will come. And the coal industry will blame any suspect they can find, in pursuit of a handout.

Simon Cox writes: Why don’t we call the proposed carbon tax by its real name: a waste-disposal charge.

Burning stuff so the gases go into the atmosphere, and pouring stuff down the drains so it goes into the ocean worked as long as the vessel we were putting it into was effectively “infinite”, and successfully diluted the waste product to an acceptable level. But now we are putting so much stuff into the atmosphere/oceans we can no longer pretend it is going away.

The people who are disposing of their waste in this way (that’s all of us) need to understand that garbage disposal has costs.

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Peter Fray
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