The Australian Literary Review:

Nick Cater, editor of The Weekend Australian, writes: Re. “Australian Literary Review shuts up shop” (Tuesday, item 2). The facts about the closure of The Australian Literary Review’s print edition as reported by Crikey are broadly correct, but it is misleading to suggest that those of us connected with the project are indifferent to its demise.

The Australian Literary Review has been a labour of love for Chris Mitchell, Paul Kelly, Luke Slattery, Stephen Romei, Stephen Matchett, myself and many others staff at The Australian who have contributed their time to publish a widely circulated literary journal for the nation since 2006, and for those who worked on its previous incarnation before 2001.

ALR has tried the patience of our accountants for the past five years, despite the generous assistance of Melbourne University, Melbourne University Publishing, The Australia Council, the Group of Eight and the Pratt Foundation. Printing and distributing a monthly section on the scale required for an insert in the weekday edition of The Australian is expensive. Paying writers the going rate for some 500,000 words a year also punishes The Australian’s bottom line. ALR had a dedicated and loyal following, but it was small compared to the print run making it difficult for our advertising sales team to attract business.

Many of us felt, however, that the national conversation would be enriched by creating a forum for long-form literary writing and were prepared to push the friendship with our colleagues in News Limited’s commercial divisions to keep ALR alive. It survived the first stage of the financial crisis but the withdrawal of the Group of Eight’s sponsorship, and the gathering of a new formation of dark economic clouds, obliges us to close the print edition.

One of our proudest achievements was to widen the circle of national discourse beyond Australia’s small cohort of public intellectuals adding fresh thinking to the contest of ideas. To my mind, the term “public intellectual”, like the term “investigative journalist”, is tautological. Every intellectual has a duty to share his or her knowledge with the rest of us, just as every journalist has a duty to interrogate. It is an indictment against Australian academia that there are too few intellectuals such as Robert Manne who are prepared to venture into the public square and whose work can be found without resorting to Google Scholar.

If I might be allowed to make a further oblique reference to Rob’s recent Quarterly Essay, it disappoints me that Crikey’s contributors struggle to rise above their distrust of Rupert Murdoch and The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, and refuse to acknowledge The Australian’s considerable contribution to public life since 1964. The two-dimensional caricature painted by Murdoch’s detractors of a man motivated by only money and power does not explain the scale of his investment in the national broadsheet through thick and thin. The inescapable conclusion to Manne’s 40,000-word study of Murdoch’s Australian flagship should have been that a successful entrepreneur can also be public spirited.

I am heartened, however, that even Bob Brown has now admitted under interrogation by Tony Jones that Australia would be a poorer place without The Australian. I would encourage Bob and other loyal readers to secure their order for ALR’s final edition on October 5. He will be consoled to learn that we are hoping to publish ALR online for a modest subscription fee from 2012.

Airservices Australia:

Jason Harfield, general manager, Air Traffic Control, Airservices Australia, writes: Re. “Bid to hush-up report on serious near miss between jets” (Tuesday, item 7). The article in Crikey contains several unfounded allegations about Airservices Australia and air traffic control safety in this country.

It is important to note Australia has a very low rate of breakdowns of separation incidents comparable to other air navigation service providers around the world. In fact our rate of incidents between flights is substantially less than in Germany, the UK and the US, generally countries recognised as leaders in aviation safety.

In relation to specific allegations made in the report:

1. Transparency

There is no “hush-up” or attempt to “bury” the incident as claimed. Airservices co-operated fully with the ATSB, the independent safety investigator, in its investigation. The resulting ATSB report, published in full by the ATSB, is the basis of the story and is accessible by all on the ATSB website. This hardly constitutes an attempted cover-up.

Airservices’ safety record is also transparent and openly available. We report our performance in our annual report and in quarterly reports against our customer services charter.  These reports are available our website.

We are required to report all breakdowns of separation incidents to the ATSB and these reports are also provided to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

The fact that any such incidents are required to be reported and the results of investigations are made publicly available is a strong demonstration of the robustness of the industry’s safety reporting culture.  It is this culture which is the foundation of Australia’s great aviation safety record.

2. Fatigue

In relation to claims that fatigue is a risk within Airservices, we operate within a highly regulated environment. Our operations are regularly audited by the CASA to ensure all procedures including fatigue management are in accordance with CASA standards.

We have a robust fatigue management system that limits the potential for fatigue through attention to roster and work patterns. This includes fatigue risk assessments for any change in roster patterns including the working of overtime.

3. Training

Air traffic controllers undertake rigorous initial training at our world standard and CASA regulated training academy in Melbourne. This is followed by on-the-job training before being certified as a qualified air traffic controller through a CASA endorsed licensing regime. Air traffic controllers are then subjected to six-monthly certification checks and an annual refresher training program all of which is again, oversighted by the independent safety regulator, CASA.

The over-arching priority of Airservices is to ensure our systems and procedures are as safe as possible. As well as being subject to ATSB investigations, any incidents are thoroughly internally investigated to look for improvements.  We continually review our training and procedures with this goal in mind.

This is why, independent of the ATSB investigation, we scheduled additional recurrent refresher training in compromised separation recovery for all en route air traffic controllers.  This year’s cycle of training will be completed by  October 31, 2011 and will continue annually for all our controllers.

We have adequate numbers of air traffic controllers, trained to a high standard, and the travelling public can be confident their safety is our highest priority.

Mrs Carey’s Concert:

Alan Erson, Head of ABC TV Documentaries, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Tuesday, item 5). Crikey’s “Tips and rumours”, channelling an anonymous ABC source, has its facts wrong about the commissioning of Mrs Carey’s Concert, the excellent ABC arts documentary that plays this Sunday at 8.30pm on ABC1.

Far from rejecting the concept when it was pitched in 2007, then ABC documentary commissioning editor Dasha Ross loved the idea. At that stage of development the film was very focused on musical performance (its working title was The Opera House Project) so the head of documentaries (then Stuart Menzies) passed the proposal to Amanda Duthie, head of arts who retains responsibility for arts documentaries.

She loved it and commissioned the film.

Manne and The Oz:

David Hand writes: Re. “The Oz playing the Manne: why it’s a barracker and a bully” (yesterday, item 5). If ever there was an issue that Crikey might use to rise above the partisan spiteful rhetoric that has invaded our political discourse, it is the issue of Manne’s essay about The Australian. It was as inevitable as the sun rising that your contributors would line up behind Manne’s essay to assail the right-wing daily for its partisanship, merely confirming, if anybody doubted the matter, your own partisanship in virtually every contribution that now comes through your organ.

It is a matter of record that virtually every contributor and commentator in Crikey ascribes the Vader-like influence of Murdoch to the troubles of the current  government. When Gillard or Brown bang on about the “hate press” which is code for the Telegraph and The Australian and Conroy complains loudly about the Murdoch empire persecuting him, surely someone in a forgotten desk in the musty corner of Crikey’s office devoted to balanced comment might ask if they are trying to blame their critics for their own incompetence?

But no. Gillard’s government is unpopular because of the mind control exercised on the dumb masses by the Murdoch media empire. Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not against left elite political activists expressing their views and I’m no fan of Murdoch though I am a regular reader of The Australian. Crikey contributors and readers are entitled to their own view and have the right to express it. What disturbs me is the totalitarian streak that has begun to emerge through the items in your organ. If the public are too dumb to understand the situation and are merely pawns in Murdoch’s mind games, you are uncomfortably close to rationalising that the voting public do not deserve to elect a government and it would be better if it were done for them.

I sometimes despair of the left. Do you have any capability at all of looking at the facts — the Gillard government has completely lost the support of the electorate — and explore any possible causes of this other than the “evil” influences of Bolt, Jones, Murdoch and The Australian? Surely Julia has made a small contribution?  But all we get is Hamilton whining that Manne’s essay should have had the same impact on Murdoch that Millie Dowler did. That sort of delusion only deserves derisive laughter.

Kim Lockwood writes: Can someone please explain to me the obsessive fixation of the commentariat on The Australian? It has a national circulation, for gorsake, of 130,000 (Mon-Fri). Let’s see, 22 million divided by 130,000…

Gillard, Abbott and walking out of Parliament:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “The opposition was right to walk out on Gillard” (yesterday, item 1). Occasionally some politicians argue positions that are simply absurd and so it was with being on the being right side of history with carbon tax. Given the many and varied positions Gillard has personally had on carbon tax and emissions trading to boldly claim that she is on the right side of history is beyond belief. If she is so fervent a supporter why did she oppose it when Rudd was leader and solemnly oppose a carbon tax last year?

Her selective use of ALP measures as a barometer of “historic” measures such as Medicare overstates that it is a mere insurance scheme and does not cover many services. As for superannuation from an economic perspective it funds workers retirements from foregone wages, and only the employers have delivered whereas worker and government contributions have been tardy. Super was set up as a three-stage source of tax revenue by Labor, and it’s the Coalition that introduced tax free super for the over 60s and the co-contribution.

Gillard seems to be a be keen to stress “popular” initiatives, I notice she left out a long history of many embarrassing foreign policy actions, all the taxes that Labor introduced, left out the means testing, and changes they have made for short-term political benefit and that they had to reverse later such ending assets testing and lower women’s retirement age for the age pension.

When you selectively cite history, others may point out the myths you are trying on.

Ben Perez writes: Tony Abbott certainly has a turn of phrase. His ability to use the spoken word to punish an opponent has often been as sweetly timed as his fabled pugilistic abilities. Tony’s sharp and asymmetric head gives menace as you believe he could back it up. Abbott’s attack on Julia Gillard yesterday was surely one of the more aggressive of his tenure and is understandable given the debate. Abbott has had Gillard on the ropes and was no doubt looking to land the knockout punch.

As someone who has recently experienced the absolutely gut-wrenching dismay families feel when effected by suicide, I couldn’t help but feel that his “suicide note” remarks were just another example of where this man who aspires to lead my country is not like me.

Suicide is all too often an action that is not a last resort but made by people who are so alone they are unable to comprehend all their options. It is a tragedy that anyone feels that their life is worthless but perhaps when a capitalist culture puts a price on most things it is understandable that (bankable) emotional assets can reach zero.

The pain which is felt by the victim is often matched or exceeded by those they leave behind. A son who leaves his family to try to understand why and to question what they could have done differently can only be unwitting to the  hole they leave in those lives, a hole which is paradoxically so large that light can no longer shine in. These people are often shell-shocked by memories of their baby in a crib being slowly eroded by visions of that child-as-adult doing indescribable things to themselves. For those who find the victim after the fact, this memory is eternally linked to any good memories they had previously held.

Today, the carbon tax debate will continue and the evocation of death will likely never be too far from the hyperbole of our political discourse. But as millions of Australian’s embrace RU OK? Day to attempt to prevent anyone we know experiencing the unspeakable pain of suicide, we will connect with each other and may share something else, something unspoken … a knowingness that someone who can draw parallels between suicide and a debate on tax will never lead our country.

Aram Hosie writes: Bernard Keane wrote:

“So if parliamentary debates are so important, what exactly do we get from them, apart from volumes and volumes of Hansard? Has an MP ever talked an opponent into changing their vote? … No, certainly not in the past couple of decades.”

Not true. I encourage you to go back to the Senate Hansard at the time that same-s-x law reforms were being debated. I distinctly remember Senator Louise Pratt on her feet arguing a point around recognition of same-s-x parents. In response, Senator Xenophon was convinced of the argument, changed his vote, and the amendment passed.

That’s a sketchy account of the details, but it definitely happened, and is recounted by Senator Pratt as one of her prouder moments. I’d encourage you to contact her directly if you want the details, but my point is that minds have been changed, on the floor, during debate, at least once (maybe only once?) in the last decade.

Xenophon and parliamentary privilege:

H S Mackenzie writes: Re. “In naming a priest accused, Xenophon has gone too far” (yesterday, item 11). Senator Xenophon’s naming of the South Australian priest is an outrageous abuse of parliamentary privilege. The alleged r-pe(s) occurred after the now archbishop Hepworth was aged 18, and it is clear that Xenophon must know that the alleged r-pist was not at the time a priest or a person of any power in the church but a fellow seminarian of the same age and status as Hepworth.

There are no known other allegations of s-xual abuse against this person and no allegations at all of child s-xual abuse. Yet Xenophon in the Senate quoted section 11 of South Australia’s Children’s Protection Act 1993 which requires ministers of religion to report to police any physical, s-xual, psychological or emotional abuse or neglect of a child as one of the reasons why he had to act.

The only conclusion to be drawn from his quoting this, and his earlier statement quoted in The Age that, “We have to act in the interests of parents and children in the parish first and foremost,” is that Xenophon wanted to give the impression that this was yet another case of the Catholic Church covering up a priest’s s-xual abuse of a child, and that he had to act as the Church had done nothing to protect vulnerable children in the priest’s parish. It isn’t.

Presumably a priest found guilty of r-pe would be unfit to run a parish but why is Xenophon the person to decide that an allegation alone, an allegation that is vehemently denied and that the complainant refuses to take to the police, means that the priest must be stood aside and named, especially when there is absolutely no reason to consider him a risk of any kind to anyone.

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