Melbourne Press Club:

Michael Smith, Press Club Committee member, writes: Re. “Guthrie warns new Melbourne Press Club president of rocky road ahead” (yesterday, item 15). Andrew Crook’s use of the word “corrupt” when  reporting on Sushi Das’s  grievances about the Press Club was wrong and unfair to some of Melbourne’s leading media figures who sit on the club committee.

There is no evidence to support the allegation. It was not a word used by Sushi or anyone else except Andrew.

The presidential succession planning process, which has been explained to Sushi, was in fact good governance, the exact opposite of corruption. The process included consultation with the more active and engaged members of the committee, including the leadership group. The president is elected by the members, not the committee. All financial members get the chance to make nominations for the committee and leadership positions and all financial members may vote in person or by proxy on forms distributed in advance of the AGM.

All this is in accordance with the club’s Constitution.

The cost of the war on terror:

Alan Dudley writes: Re. “What has the war on terror cost taxpayers, and did they get value for money?” (yesterday, item 1). I applaud your editorial and Bernard Keane’s article. The “war on terror” costs are, as you both say, considerably more than just the money costs.  The number of lives lost on both sides is far more than would be justified by a completely successful campaign — whatever that might involve. This is in fact much the same position as, with hindsight, humans have been in with almost every war ever waged.

To my mind the most serious outcome is not the lives lost, everybody dies eventually, but the attitudes encouraged in order that the war should be supported.  A large number of young people, mostly men, have been enlisted in the armed services. Each of them, if mentally healthy, had a natural repugnance to killing another human. This had to be trained out of them.

They had to be trained to believe that their superior officers knew much better than they, so that orders would be obeyed without question. They, and the supporting population, also have to be trained to believe that a certain set of humans is intrinsically inferior to themselves. But this is my personal hobby-horse, which meets opposition whenever I propound it.

Now, could you do the same thing with the “war on drugs”?  Relatively few will be persuaded by your analysis, and Bernard Keane’s and others, of the cost/benefit of the war on terror. I suspect that even fewer will be persuaded that the war on drugs is not only not working, but is producing an exacerbation of the problems caused by the production, distribution and consumption of “illegal” drugs.

Not only would the drugs be cheaper and of more reliable quality if they were legal, but we would be able to use large numbers of police on more sociably helpful tasks.  The distribution of illegal drugs is highly profitable to those who produce them only because they are illegal.  Those who use them are encouraged to recruit more addicts in order to finance their habits.

Why do we not recognise the force driving the spiral?

I do not claim that there would be no problems in ending the war on drugs. Obviously, unless something of an international accord could be reached, the first movers would have a great deal of trouble. This is not really a very good excuse for ignoring the fact that the present methods do not work, and show no sign of ever working.  If something does not work, an intelligent and courageous government should try something else. Pity there is no sign of one.

James Burke writes: Thanks for the stats on the money spent on the “war on terror”. It made for humorous reading on the same day that Australian politicians have belatedly recognised that the airlines’ “e-ticket” policies have left our domestic airspace wide open to any wacko who has access to the internet and a credit card.

Common sense is cheap, which is why it has no lobby group. Maybe if old wives made more donations to political parties, we could start to save some dosh on national security.

Selling the farm:

Gavin R. Putland writes: Re. “Foreign ownership of Aussie land: the peril of selling the farm” (yesterday, item 3). The obvious way to neutralize foreign ownership of land is to stop taxing producers and start taxing land owners in proportion to the values of their holdings. Then if foreigners own x percent of the land, measured by value, they pay x percent of the tax bill. (Income tax and GST don’t have the same effect, except in so far as income and “value added” happen to be due to land ownership.)

The strategy works even better at State level because of the higher incidence of interstate ownership. The Commonwealth can limit ownership of Australian land by foreigners; but under s.92 of the Constitution, a State *can’t* limit acquisition of land in that State by residents of other States. But a State can certainly tax the value of its land, and thereby offload the tax bill onto non-residents in proportion to the value of land owned by non-residents.

In the case of land located within a State but owned by listed companies, the strategy works better still. Even if a company has its headquarters in that State, some (probably most) of the shareholders will be residents of other States, and some will be foreigners.

Of course the land owners will pretend that the tax is deterring “investment”. But the only thing it can deter is ownership of land; and in so doing, it reduces land prices. It can’t deter any productive activities carried out on the land — by owners or tenants, residents or absentees — because the returns to those activities are untouched by the tax. And no matter how heavily the land in one jurisdiction is taxed, not one square metre of it will flee across the border into a competing jurisdiction.

Foreign investment is beneficial if it represents *net* investment — that is, the creation of new assets, such as when a foreign company builds a factory in Australia. Unfortunately the term “foreign investment” is now applied not only to the creation of new assets but also to the foreign acquisition of existing, irreplaceable Australian assets, such as land. The tax system should encourage the former, not the latter.

Jackie French writes: Our farm has not had an offer from an overseas conglomerate, but like all the orchards of the Araluen valley NSW our orchard is threatened with destruction from a predominantly foreign owned mining company, who plan to use the water from an already stressed aquifer to process gold.

As far as I know no one has yet counted what proportion of our most productive farmland is under threat from mining, but a glance at the map of exploration licenses in farmland areas indicated it’s a hell of a lot.

Mining companies must produce Environmental Impact Statements, even if these are cursory or inadequate, but they don’t yet have to produce economic or social impact statements, to show what we lose for every mining dollar gained.

Equal opportunity:

Justin Pettizini writes: Re. “Unequal opportunities for discrimination in Victoria” (yesterday, item 13). Charles Richardson’s comments in relation to the Victorian government’s amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act misunderstand the position of those who support the right of religions to discriminate on grounds related to s-x, s-xual orientation, gender identity, parenthood and marital status.

Whether the non-religious think it reasonable or not, to adherents of many religions these are issues of significant religious importance, not issues only peripherally related to core religious beliefs.

For a catholic organisation not to be able to refuse to employ a pro-abortion activist would be as unreasonable to most Catholics as would the Greens not being able to refuse to employ someone who was publicly active as a climate change denier be to most members of the Greens.

Neither side appears able (or willing) to understand the other side’s position. Each side assumes and, at least implicitly, asserts that its rights are more important than the other’s.  Conventions and statutes relating to human rights however do not prioritise those rights into a hierarchy with the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of s-xual identity for example as a more important right than the right to freedom of religious belief and practice — or vice versa. Both rights exist and in some areas they clash.

The only solution, if amendment and re-amendment of the legislation with each change of government is to be avoided, is for people of good will from both sides to try to work together to find some middle way which will almost certainly only work if both cede some of their “rights” for the sake of workable compromise.


David Kalmund writes: The use of ridiculous censure motions by Tony Abbott and the Coalition is a blight on our political system.

The Parliament is supposed to be a place of debate, a place where democracy is served and where all sides of any argument are allowed to be heard. The censure tactics employed by Mr Abbott and the Coalition are an affront to the people of Australia who have the democratic right to expect legitimate debate and a legitimate question time … Mr Abbott and the Coalition are doing nothing more or less than corrupting our political system

Yesterday’s Parliament responded to just five questions before standing orders were suspended and the consequential closing of question time — this is a travesty within our Parliamentary system — it is both disgusting and disgraceful conduct within THE PEOPLES’ house of representation — It is OUR House of Representatives, NOT HIS nor that of the Coalition — WHEN will mainstream media take up the cudgel of democracy and report these disgusting tactics?

The ABC:

Simon Dodshon writes: Re. “Last night’s TV ratings” (yesterday, item 18). Glenn Dyer’s comment that last night the “ABC has very little at all” is mind numbing, and a sad reflection of his viewing tastes!

At 8.30pm there was At Trial, a great locally made series showing footage from criminal trials in our courts for the very first time, revealing the inner workings of our legal system warts and all. This was followed by Baker Boys, Inside the Surge, part 2 of a 4 part series by a documentary film maker travelling with US troops for six months during the surge in Iraq last year.

Sorry Glenn, but if you consider these two shows not noteworthy compared to the others you mention: MasterChef, Law and Order, and the NRL and AFL Footy shows, then your judgement has to be questioned.

The Decency Investigative Council:

Kate Olivieri writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Good one. So who really sent this one in? Or did you make it up yourselves? Whichever it was, it was a good laugh. Judging by the standards of my 7 years in the public service, the letter is quite good. For the record, ‘Well I Never’ is my favourite ‘clean’ alternative name for Crikey (oh the horror!).

Mark Berndt writes: Decency Investigative Council. The acronym is DIC which could be considered offensive!

Rob Brownbill writes: Did you guys make up this joke or did someone send it in for a laugh?

Ian Walshe writes: Re. The letter you received from the Decency Investigative Council — The latin motto on their coat of arms should be spelt as MATRIS FUTUOR.

I suggest you reply in these terms….

“Dear Members of the Inquisition,


Yours etc.


Steve Crilly writes: To answer Allan Croft’s question (yesterday, comments):

“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.”

The court has to issue a certificate of immunity to get around the privilege against self-incrimination. Have a look at section 128 of the NSW Evidence Act.

First Dog on the Moon:

John Goss writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (yesterday, item 6). First Dog is interfering with Australia’s productivity. His dinosaur cartoon today made me laugh so much it disturbed other people in the office and I have no motivation to work anymore as it’s all too surreal.

Peter Fray

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