Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott:

John Richardson writes: Re. “Essential: only one leader more disliked than Gillard — Abbott” (yesterday, item 1). In reflecting on the dreadful popularity of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, Bernard Keane speculates as to whether the party that disposes of its particular burden first might succeed in breaking the current political deadlock, as reflected in the polls.

Of course, given that Kevin is currently the most likely to take out Julia and Malcolm is currently the most likely to take out Tony, this issue is not just about the personal leadership styles/attributes of the players. It is also about something much bigger, with Gillard and Abbott being “machine” politicians, while Rudd and Turnbull are machine “outsiders”.

In that sense, what we are arguably witnessing is an arrogant refusal by the Labor and Conservative parties to anoint a leader who they can’t control, even if it means denying the Australian people a popular choice and their own parties the spoils of office.

While Gillard and Abbott dance locked together in a desperate embrace that neither can escape, we are afforded another classic opportunity to appreciate Xavier Herbert’s wonderful turn of phrase — “poor fellow my country”.

Optus versus the AFL:

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Thinking of the kids as the net flattens information hierarchies” (yesterday, item 8). Bernard Keane is right to give rugby league commentator Roy Masters a touch up  for his ludicrous comments on  ABC’s Offsiders about the Optus/AFL ruling.

Roy claimed funding for the kiddies playing the great game of league was under threat by the court decision to allow Optus to stream, almost live, video of AFL games for its subscribers. Keane failed to mention that Masters’ co-panellists, including AFL writer Caroline Wilson, almost fell off their couches laughing at Roy’s preposterous claims. It was as though Roy was channelling the late and great Rex Mossop. But as they fussed and hissed about the Optus deal, they appear not to understand it.

The Optus decision is only for free-to-air material as I read it. As most of the AFL  games this season will be shown live and uninterrupted (thanks Eddie McGuire) on the new Fox footy dedicated channel, Foxfooty, it seems the impact on Telstra’s rights will be limited. The other problem would appear to be that FTA telecasts of AFL are generally only live in Melbourne (Friday night game and the Sunday game) and I suspect as Channel Seven has motor sport commitments it will be delaying telecasts on Sunday in Melbourne as well. So how can Optus stream vision to subscribers in states other than Victoria when it is not possible for  those subscribers to see the game on FTA until well into the evening?

The scope of the Optus deal would appear at this stage to be limited. I would applaud any decision by the government to shaft Optus for its piece of smart arsery whereby it uses laws designed to prevent an individual from being prosecuted for doing a bit of home-time shifting on his video. The judge had no alternative but to find for Optus because the law says it can do it.

The idea that Optus is performing a public service is ludicrous. Anyone silly enough to stream a footy match onto their phone or tablet will, once the monthly bill arrives, find there is no such thing as a free footy game. What Optus is attempting to do is straight out purloining of someone else’s’ creative efforts.

As a journalist I  have never been in favour of big corporations trying to nick my copyright especially when I was freelance. It is interesting that while the big media companies are bleating about their rights, their publishing arms are trying to coerce freelance journalists into signing extraordinarily harsh freelance deals that strip them of all their rights to their material. This includes no control over what use the companies can put their work to and also if legal problems arise after the story has been written, all legal responsibility will fall on the journalist and the companies will go scot free.

So while the government is touching up the law to help the big media companies it should also be writing some new laws to give freelance journalists protection.

Gina Rinehart, poet:

Sheldon Levis writes: Re. “Geoff Lemon: Gina, your poetic licence is revoked” (yesterday, item 4). For peace of mind/soul/conscience I have to confess: I truly was going to complain about Geoff Lemon’s ham-fisted, not-too-subtle parody of a truly silly, fictitious Gina Rinehart “poem”.

I sincerely thought it was a very crude attempt at satire.

I exhaled milk from my nose this morning when I realised the “poem” actually does exist! Does this all mean I’m a bad person?


Bruce Graham writes: Re. “Gottliebsen: Swan song for the RBA” (yesterday, item 18). There is, of course, a much more direct way the treasurer could change interest rates.  He could just lend money to the public. Given that the Australian government is providing a de facto bank  guarantee anyway, and that there is significant community support, it would not be a ridiculous move.

Selling banks might have been a good idea when it was done, but these days an internet banking presence can be bought off the shelf, so re-establishing a direct presence in the market would not be a huge undertaking. A tightly defined mandate, aimed at conservative borrowers in the lucrative, but politically sensitive owner-occupier home loan market would free the capital of large banks towards the more complex (and risky) commercial markets, where the great risk management skills we are told they posses, could be put to better use.

When Australia Post appointed an ex-banker to the position of manager, speculation was rife that this would be the beginning of a return to retail banking by the Commonwealth Government, and there was no detectable public backlash at the prospect. Alternately, Wayne Swan could explicitly act against the banking oligopoly in several market-distorting ways, designed to benefit smaller players (such as, for instance, providing wholesale funding preferentially).

Persistent extreme profits by large banks suggest that the market is failing to act competitively. Defending these large profits as a way to maintain foreign trust in our banking system is surely an expensively indirect way to benefit the Australian public. Supporting an oligopoly in the expectation of a trickle-down benefit seems an curious way to tackle the problem.

Renewable energy:

Katherine Stuart writes: Re. “Oakeshott, Windsor biomass burner scheme Pythonesque” (yesterday, item 3). Article 22(1)(k) of Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources requires EU member states to report biannually the estimated greenhouse gas emission savings due to their use of energy from renewable sources — itemised. It is not an easy sum to do and is dependent on what assumptions are made.

Good to see Andrew Macintosh’s article about renewables not always meaning the same thing as reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) — although they seem to be often lumped together, particularly in the media, giving them an environment-friendly label (in terms of being directly emissions-reducing) they may not always deserve.

Perhaps it’s time we coined new terms for renewable sources of energy that simply mean we are being more efficient with waste (such as the waste from forestry as described here) and thus simply making us less dependent on fossil sources of energy among other things; and renewable sources such as solar and wind power that could additionally result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (depending, I suppose, on whether the life-cycle perspective is employed). Clean just doesn’t seem to cut it. What about GHGE-positive and GHGE-negative?

Houston, we have a problem:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Video of the Day: Whitney’s 1991 Super Bowl anthem” (yesterday, item 7). While it is easy, and reasonable, to decry the focus on the death of Whitney Houston at the expense of the scores of deaths in [insert country of your choice] (yesterday, item 14), our so-called Western societies constitute the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful civilisation in world history, and their attitudes are worth analysing.

While other civilisations had heroes, we have celebrities, who are largely entertainers. And how do we celebrate them? By putting them on a roller-coaster from feverish adulation to feverish denigration. Until they destroy themselves. Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston — the roll call goes on.

Condemn them, pity them, ignore them — but what do the careers of these falling stars say about our society? Surely it’s a problem. Not just for us, but for the neglected rest of the world as well.

Australia Council:

Vincent Burke writes: Re. “Arts life after money: has the Australia Council ‘lost the plot’?” (February 10, item 3). As an Adelaide resident and avid supporter of the arts, I was appalled when it was announced that Leigh Warren and Dancers had lost its federal funding. If ever there was an arts company that fulfilled a local role, while also achieving a national and international profile, it was Leigh Warren’s.

While not wishing to detract from the quality and merits of Australian Dance Theatre, also based in Adelaide, the Leigh Warren case for funding is far stronger. For an established, award-winning company to suddenly lose its funding without warning is a travesty. This ought to be referred to Fair Work Australia, if only for the injustice inflicted on the dancers in the company, who would justifiably have anticipated continuing employment. It is also a terrible slap in the face for Leigh Warren himself, who has dedicated his life to providing top-quality contemporary dance.

Australia Council is full of bureaucratic process-driven people who couldn’t earn a living in the real world of artistic achievement. I say shame on them and on Simon Crean, the Arts Minister, for allowing this appalling decision to prevail.


Julian Berengut writes: Niall’s cute analogy (yesterday, comments) misses only perspective. A cyclist hitting a pedestrian might occasionally cause injury (and in very rare cases, death), but a motorist hitting a cyclist is serious far more often. As a cyclist and pedestrian, I have been hit by cars, bikes, and joggers, and been bitten by dogs. The only one that sent me to hospital was the car.