Correction:

Pastor Basil Schild writes: Re. “Anti-gay doctor falls on sword as religious links mount” (yesterday, item 3). Andrew Crook’s piece on the anti- gay doctors petition states that Pastor Basil Schild signed the petition. That is not true. I have not signed the petition, and have never seen it.

Crikey says: We have acknowledged this mistake and apologise to the Pastor for the error.

Uhlmann v Media Watch:

Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes writes: Re. “Media briefs: Ten’s true colours … Uhlmann v Media Watch … Shorten on Mammamia …” (yesterday, item 17). On Monday night I deliberately refrained from entering into an unedifying Twitter war with Chris Uhlmann, a journalist for whom I have a lot of respect (as indeed I have for his executive producer Sally Neighbour).

But since you have chosen to reprint all his tweets from Monday night in Crikey, perhaps I had better make clear that in my opinion they entirely missed the point (which wasn’t that hard to grasp).

Curious readers are urged to go to the Media Watch website where they can find our item and 7.30‘s very comprehensive response, and make up their own minds.

Beer (and public relations):

Gabriel McDowell, managing director of Res Publica, writes: Re. “Come in Spinner: PR agencies in a spin over sense of belonging ” (yesterday, item 15). I wouldn’t dispute the thrust of Noel Turnbull’s article about the machinations within the PR industry but his characterisation of a beer industry campaign with which I was involved as not “smart” and needing a lot of “grovelling” to fix the relationship with the Howard government is simply wrong. Our PR and lobbying campaign was successful on every meaningful level.

It came about because of a Coalition election pledge that beer prices would remain virtually unchanged as a consequence of the new tax system. But subsequently Costello, as treasurer, introduced a significant hike in the excise rate, driving up beer prices.

Our campaign — which was sustained for over a year — eventually led to a reduction in the draught beer excise rate. The consequence was that the price of beer fell in pubs and clubs throughout Australia (how often have you seen the headline “beer prices down”?), reversing a decline in beer consumption and substantially restoring the beer industry’s profit pool to pre-GST levels.

Inevitably, it was Costello who bore the brunt of our very public campaign. I think it is fair to say he was pretty grumpy as a result. It was Howard who made the peace with industry and initiated the discussions with the Democrats to facilitate the passage of a suitably amended excise bill through the Senate. If anything, the PM’s personal political capital was enhanced.

The beer industry and its lobbyists continued to enjoy a good working relationship with the PM’s office and with other Howard ministers with whom we engaged, with the understandable exception of the treasurer. I certainly don’t recall any of us doing any “grovelling”.

A code of conduct:

Chris Johnson writes: Re. “Commonwealth lags badly on MP code of conduct” (Monday, item 2).” Note that it’s taken a hung parliament to lift the lid on political integrity. So desperate for outright power, the two majors have gone hammer and tongs to lay each other bare. But the bad news is that Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson are just blow-ins to a loyal-to-loser parliamentary brotherhood of zipped lips and smothers for mates that wreaks of footy and bikie culture.

Law-breaking, civil and human rights violations all documented in parliamentary lore are the inevitable wash-up of handing ordinary people extraordinary powers. The media coverage of “complex characters in the tradition of the Australian larrikin MP” is tip of the iceberg. Those who can’t run their own lives or behave like decent human beings also arbitrarily manage workplaces in electorates across Australia. And in these hippie-style outposts, sick leave, sackings, counselling, termination and compensation packages hide the statistics and degree of workplace and other exploitation.

There’s relatively minor stuff like repaying staff for electorate costs with a bounced cheque and threatening dismissal for refusing to drink on the job. And then there’s HREOC intervention over discrimination and, in Gillian Sneddon’s case, outright blackballing for being an innocent bystander of Milton Orkopoulos’ wretched activities. Why parties and parliaments didn’t address Orkopoulos’ use of his Swansea bolt-hole as a den of iniquity under the NSW Coat of Arms beggars belief.

If the permissive nature of his workplace abetted his jail sentence for crimes against young local boys in return for drugs and money, it should have been the subject of an inquiry. So too Sneddon’s ghastly predicament of being no one’s workplace responsibility. Civil, criminal and protracted legal stoushes with confidential million-dollar-plus settlements don’t deal with corrupt behaviour — they encourage it. Yes, of course MP conduct and unfettered powers need to be reassessed because right now our parliamentary system rivals certain religious institutions on scandal and abuse cover-up.

Barack Obama:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. In your editorial yesterday you complained that “even Barack Obama can’t make people believe he stands on principle”. But have you considered that you may be looking at the wrong principle?

Is it not possible that Obama has a principle that where a sufficiently large proportion of the population want a certain change, and that change does not cut across his other principles, he will condone that change, regardless of his personal principles, beliefs, preferences or prejudices?

Chris O’ Regan writes: Your editorial made an interesting pragmatic signal when it said “Even Barack Obama can’t make people believe he stands on principle”. Perhaps he’d have an easier  job of it if he’d introduced a public option and closed Guantanamo Bay. I’m just sayin’ …

Peter Fray

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