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Tuesday, 3 October 2006
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Using Religion as an Excuse
Minneapolis-St Pauli airport boasts handling 37.6 million passengers in 2005 – some 103,000 every day. Presumably a lot of those arrivals and departures were by taxi so it would surely, as described by Geoff Elliott on page one of The Australian on Monday, create "chaos" if three quarters of the city's 900 cab drivers refused to pick up a passenger carrying duty free alcohol. Elliott, sitting in his Washington office 1758 kilometres away from MAS airport, produced a graphic rewrite of a newsagency abbreviation of a story that originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that described how about 775 of those 900 cab drivers are Somali and mostly Muslim whose religion prevented them from having alcohol in their cab.
What Elliott did not mention was that the one passenger quoted in the original story was referring to something that happened to her back in March. That's right - something that happened not last week or even last month but six months ago. Nor was the airport spokesman Patrick Hogan quoted in The Oz with the information that there were on average only about three occasions a day when a cab driver refused to carry a passenger carrying alcohol. Not that this concerned the editorial writer who pontificated on Monday that what was happening at Minneapolis-St Pauli airport was an indictment of multiculturalism everywhere.
That argument would have been stronger but for the fact that Mr Hogan suggested that there were perhaps other reasons than booze for cabbies not picking up passengers. He told USA Today of concern that taxi drivers might be citing religion to avoid short-distance fares. Now that's an argument that anyone who has tried to get a cab to take them from Sydney international to the domestic terminal can understand! Perhaps Sydney should introduce the Minneapolis solution where they now force drivers who refuse a fare to go to the end of the line for waiting taxis. It is not a popular decision among drivers, Hogan says.
Nor will those drivers trying to use religion as an excuse to avoid short trips like the next potential change. Anti-alcohol cabs will have to put a coloured light on their cabs and the airport staff who supervise taxi departures will not call forward a cab with a coloured light if the passenger in the queue has a bag of duty free in their arms.
There could, of course, be another reason for the emergence of Muslim taxi drivers as an issue in Minneapolis . The local city council is currently engaged in a serious debate about deregulating the taxi industry. What better way of advancing the argument for more licences than to create a little hysteria about good old ordinary drinkers not being able to get a cab under the existing system?
A Curious Tale
There are many intriguing aspects to the story of Julian Moti, the Australian lawyer who broke bail when his journey to take up duties in the Solomon Islands as Attorney General was interrupted by his arrest on an Australian extradition warrant but none is stranger than why he was not arrested before he left Australia . The scant information revealed so far suggests that the would-be attorney general is to face child sex charges in Australia . The offences are said to have taken place in Vanuatu where it has apparently already been determined that he has no case to answer.
It would be a remarkable coincidence if Mr Moti's allegedly illegal activities only came to the knowledge of Australian authorities after he left Australia to travel to the Solomon Islands via Singapore and Papua New Guinea . The timing of the arrest and the bully boy language of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer suggest that the hundreds of millions of Australian aid money spent in the name of improving governance have achieved very little in the South Pacific.
Try the Murdoch Solution
It is easy to ignore the views of a man who predicted that the wonderful result of the war in Iraq would be oil at $US20 a barrel. Rupert Murdoch got that one wrong but perhaps politicians should heed the sage advice he gave years ago in the United States about political fund raising.
Obviously bemused by the enormous amounts spent on political campaigning, Mr Murdoch suggested that the simple answer was to ban television advertising. Now that was years ago before the growth of the Fox Network to parity with the other three US networks and perhaps it ignored problems created by free speech provisions in that country's constitution.
In Australia where legislation governing what can and cannot be shown on television is clearly within the bailiwick of the Federal Government, prohibiting political commercials would quickly achieve what Liberal Senator Gary Humphries is seeking. Senator Humphries, writing in the Liberal Party journal The PartyRoom, says the time has come to put an end to donations to political parties. "Most Australians recognise these donations for what they often are – attempts to buy influence in the decisions of government," Senator Humphries writes.
His solution is for increased government funding of campaign expenditure but why bother with a policy that continues to enrich the television networks?
Australians with more money than sense
There are 7% of Australians with more money than sense if you can believe the poll now running on the website of savemysport.com.au . Free TV, an alliance of the three free to air networks, is asking people to vote on the question: Do you want to pay for sports you currently see on Free TV ? In a wonderful demonstration of the power of asking the right question to get the answer you want, of the 7,247 votes recorded when I looked this morning, 93% of people said they did not want to pay. The only surprise was that 537 people actually answered that they did want to!
If this is an example of the lobbying style of the networks then politicians will immediately cave in to the pressure from Foxtel and get rid of anti-siphoning laws immediately. When there are only 7,247 responses after a television advertising campaign running on Seven, Nine and Ten for several days there is not much to be frightened of.
Luckily for the networks the politicians that make decisions on such matters do not need a bodgy poll to tell them that the moment AFL football, rugby league and the Melbourne Cup disappeared from their ordinary television screen Australians would be upset. There is no way in the world that either Liberal or Labor are going to go in to bat for pay television on this one.
A Sleep Deprived Attorney General
Attorney General Philip Ruddock knows about sleep deprivation. With his impeccable straight man voice he told ABC radio in Adelaide this morning he was suffering from it when he got off a plane last night and appeared on Lateline!
If the comment had been ironic we all could have a laugh at this Ruddock reaction to a question about torture. Alas it was not. We actually have a first law officer who does not want to acknowledge that it is wrong to torture people by forcefully keeping them awake for days – an Attorney General who considers that sending someone mad is acceptable if it does not involve physical torture.
Philip Ruddock is a sick disgrace.