Media regulation

News Limited CEO Kim Williams writes: Re. “Minimalist media reform that only starts the job” (Wednesday). Margaret Simons couldn’t be more wrong when she writes that Senator Conroy’s proposed media reforms are “about as minimalist a response as it is possible to get”. It appears that Margaret and many observers do not understand what, as part of over 200 pages of legislative materials, the government is trying to ram into law without due process, scrutiny or public accountability in under a week.

In relation to regulation of the print media, the proposed Public Interest Media Advocate — appointed by, and beholden to, government — will decide whether the Australian Press Council (or similar bodies) is operating to its satisfaction.

We are told that if the advocate has reasonable grounds to believe that there has been a significant change in “relevant circumstances” or “community standards” (whatever that means), then he or she has the power to revoke the exemption afforded to journalists to Australia’s Privacy laws.

It’s worth understanding what the Privacy Act — and ours is one of the most stringent in the world — does. It prevents the identification of individuals. Without exemption, journalists would simply not be able to operate.

We are talking about basic, fundamental rights of journalists to operate in a free, modern, democracy. We should not underestimate how outrageous these proposals are.

The Green truth

John Newton writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (Tuesday). Richard Farmer probably never found time to visit any of the Greens websites to learn their four principles. They are: social equality and economic justice; ecological sustainability; grassroots democracy; peace, disarmament and non-violence. But whether they like it or not, the party is still seen as a single-issue party: the environment being the issue. Greens (or even worse, “greenies”) are seen as somewhat feral tree-huggers, whose only interest, sometimes fanatical, is to save forests and ring-tailed possums. The truth is that the environment isn’t a single issue, it is the only issue.  The Greens Party is the only political party that has always recognised  people and their institutions are a part of the environment. Why was Kermit wrong? Those of you who deign to watch television might remember Kermit said, “it’s not easy being green”. Well, he’s wrong, because it really is — you just have to run every decision, personal and political, through the four principles, which are, to remind you: social equality and economic justice; ecological sustainability; grassroots democracy; peace, disarmament and non-violence.

Wait, there’s gambling at a casino?

Maurie Farrell writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday). It may well be true The Star is not permitted to mention its poker machines in advertising, but it is rather ridiculous when the casino’s lavish TV ads show dining rooms and conference facilities without a mention of any form of gambling or of gaming rooms  — not a whisper! Poker machines are a small part of their gambling operation. Their maitre’d ponces around the screen smugly selling everything except the joint’s raison d’etre!

The good old days of the ATO

Les Heimann writes: Re. “ATO promises independent appeals process — but will it be fair?” (yesterday).

I worked in the ATO for 36 years and loved it. Yes, that’s right, I was actually proud to know I was involved in a highly professional, objective and useful pursuit on behalf of the people of Australia. In the days before computers we learnt the law; most of us were either qualified accountants or lawyers, and sometimes both. Things changed with the advent of computerisation, as inevitably the “nursery of learning” physically assessing taxation returns disappeared. This saved money but created a sink-or-swim environment for new tax officers, and most can’t swim.

Worse, though, was the advent of Commissioner Michael Carmody. Carmody swept the ATO bare. The government gave him $1 billion to “modernise” the ATO, and he attacked the place with relish. Mostly the Carmody “MBA approach” was disastrous. Believing in the Tom Peters maxim of universal managers — train people to manage and then they can manage anyone doing anything — simply doesn’t work when you are confronted with a highly skilled and highly motivated workforce in a highly complicated job with legislation so massive no one person can ever understand it all.

The “Harry S, Truman” section of the ATO was the review and litigation division. Why that name? Because the buck stopped with us (I was part of this group). Truly independent, truly disliked both within and without the ATO because we acted without fear or favour. If the ATO was right in law and could prove it this division fought on. If the ATO was right and couldn’t prove it or just plain wrong we favoured the taxpayer. Only the best and brightest worked in this area, and we were afraid of no one.