My decision to close the Australian Valuation Office was a practical one, not an ideological one. Labor's Andrew Leigh ignores the fact that it was his party, when in government, that required departments to reduce their spending on AVO services, with the Department of Human Services alone reducing spending by more than 50 per cent. Work for DHS accounted for 80 per cent of AVO revenues.
Left with a loss-making government business and a bleeding government balance sheet, the incoming government had little choice but to consider a different future for the AVO. Australian valuers are skilled and professional; indeed, their work underpins Australia's property and banking systems. Why would we then question their ability to exercise diligence and probity when working for the government from the private sector?
The AVO was never expected to be profitable again. Keeping it open as a government business, simply for the sake of public sector jobs over private sector jobs, would have been the ideological decision.
Steven Ciobo MP, parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer
Overused? You bet
Please keep the Canberra Times free of betting language. Today was the third time in about as many days that this jargon has been used. For example, Heath Aston in ''Rudd bows out of byelection campaign'' p2, January 27, says ''Ms Butler is a clear favourite with bookmakers'' and then goes on to outline the interesting political reasons for this.
Bookmakers are irrelevant to this story. We are confronted with betting references in many other places, particularly in advertisements, and perhaps your young reporters think it is normal but I do not wish it to become normal for The Canberra Times.
Philida Sturgiss-Hoy, Downer
Myth of disadvantage
Australia is so much the better for the contributions made by the majority of indigenous Australians, but predictably January 26 brings out the usual black armbanders and those who seek to blame their own shortcomings on the events of 1788. It's time to challenge the myths about indigenous disadvantage.
The idea that if it hadn't been for the English in 1788, the indigenous inhabitants would be living in a land of milk and honey as hunter-gatherers is fanciful: if the English hadn't exploited this great land it would have been the Dutch, Portuguese or French.
And as for the claims of current persecution, I imagine that many refugees arriving on our shores would have been only too happy to have remained where they came from given a fraction of the welfare bounty that some in the business of being indigenous complain about. If new arrivals from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East etc can within a few years turn their lives around there can't be too much wrong with our fundamentals.
Much of the indigenous disadvantage complained about is self-inflicted, a consequence of their drug of choice - victimhood.
Roger Dace, Reid
Andrew Blyth (''Business of cost-cutting is overdue'', January 27, p5) is looking at health and education spending from the wrong perspective. Perhaps Victoria and NSW education is underfunded rather than the ACT being overfunded - a simple visit to a NSW or Victorian classroom might yield the answer. Mr Blyth seems to believe ACT schools are squandering resources because our NAPLAN performance is not significantly higher than that of other states.
He fails to see that schools are places where our children spend a significant amount of time and there is much more to education than NAPLAN results. I would argue that there are many schools in NSW that are so run-down and under-resourced that the classrooms are boiling in summer, freezing in winter and so dilapidated that they are not fit for human use.
Joanne Larkin, Wanniassa
The ACT Chamber of Commerce and Industry questions (January 27, p1) why the ACT government spends 30 per cent more per student than schools in neighbouring NSW. An alternative question is why does the ACT government spend less per student in government schools than is spent per student in the elite NSW private schools?
Kevin Cox, Ngunnawal
The article ''Public servants cashing in on jobs cull'' (January 21, p1) suggests the old public service excesses are still with us.
It is the pension benefits bestowed on members of the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme by redundancy provisions that should be a source of outrage. The after-tax pensions offered to those over 60 are multiples of their pay. There are no savings for the government and substantial ongoing commitments for the taxpayer.
Not only are the principles of redundancy compromised, but redundancy provisions applying to CSS members are being used to provide better retirement options. I don't believe this was intended by our legislators, and the inclusion of such people in redundancy rounds seems to amount to nepotism.
I applaud Prime Minister Tony Abbott in implementing his election promise to exclude prospective retirees from redundancy. But it is concerning when the article concludes with the department failing to respond to questions about redundancies. Does this signal the beginning of a broken election promise?
Luciano Lombardo, O'Malley
What a call
The leaves on deciduous trees are falling - and it is only January. Nothing is normal any more.
For instance, there is a ''Call for higher electricity prices'' (January 22, p1) to promote competition. Who in their right mind would want competition?
No wonder the leaves are falling: it is sheer lunacy to expect us to want to pay more just to be in a competition.
Tim Vanderkleij, Scullin
Is there wine on Mars?
Rod Matthews is right: the Opportunity rover has found on Mars evidence that could be taken to indicate the former presence of wine (Letters, January 27). This was, presumably, red wine. Some readers may, however, find the connection obscure, to say the least.
The rover detected the clay minerals kaolinite and montmorillonite, which form in the presence of water with a neutral or near-neutral pH - water that could support life.
The latter mineral is the main component of bentonite, which can help to clarify wine by absorbing proteins. One could conclude from this that Martians were prodigious wine drinkers, and perhaps this is what brought about their downfall.
Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin
Bias in awards or sheer obliviousness?
The list of Australia Day awards and the discreet honours process foster a perception of male-oriented bias.
This thesis is, however, debunked by the facts. In 2013 there was actually a slight bias the other way: 75 per cent of all women nominated were successful, compared with 70 per cent of male nominees.
The challenge is to lift community engagement and confidence in the nomination process. It is obvious to many of us, as it is to Anne Summers, that many women who have had a positive and lasting impact on our community have been largely unrecognised in award nominations.
Peter Chivers, Curtin
''Honours are still something of a boys' club'' (January 26, p10). Although there is an obvious gender imbalance in Australia Day honour recipients, this takes a back seat to offensive remarks made by Angus Houston, (chairman of the Council for the Order of Australia) about ''scope of their service''. ''You might have somebody who has performed a lot of voluntary work … but perhaps in their own local patch. And then you might have somebody who has set up an international charity … somebody like that is probably going to be worthy of a higher award.''
Well, good to know! I, for one am glad that Angus Houston will not be my judge at the end of my days. Rather, that the itinerant preacher who never travelled more than 200 miles from where he was born, should be my judge. I have taught my children to do what they believe to be right, not what will win them praise.
S. Redston, Chisholm
Keep politicians away from sentencing, the job of judges
Professor Mirko Bagaric has a go at judges for being soft on crime (''The next chapter for crime and punishment'', January 23, Times 2, p5). He reckons they are swayed by whimsy predilections and endowed with ''a judicial sympathy gland''. His call for legislatures to step in and impose ''proportionate mandatory penalties'' is an invitation populist politicians are likely to find hard to resist.
Courts are in a far better position than legislatures to balance the infinite range of considerations to achieve a just sentence. Empirical surveys show they are not out of touch with community expectations: ''When asked to provide a sentence in a specific case of burglary, members of the public favoured sentences that were on balance little different from, and if anything more lenient than, current sentencing practice''.
It is not easy to find the empirical data that Bagaric claims exists that shows that deterrence reduces crime. Studies show that imprisonment actually increases the risk of reoffending. A Canadian meta analysis of many studies of the effect of imprisonment revealed that ''more time served was positively correlated with higher recidivism rates'' and that ''prisons should not be used with the expectation of reducing future criminal activity''. Australia's Bureau of Statistics has found that 40 per cent of men released from prison can be expected to return there within 10 years.
Money would be better spent in implementation of the Pathways to Prevention project commissioned by Senator Amanda Vanstone when she was justice minister. Prisons are overwhelmingly filled with the disadvantaged who have a substance dependence, some other mental health problem, who suffer from an acquired brain injury or were children at risk. Tackle these conditions and you reduce offending.
Bill Bush, Turner
World's best juries
Mary Thompson (a pseudonym, we were informed) told Canberra Times readers on January 27 that juries were past their use by date. ''Her'' turn of phrase invites speculation that she's in cahoots with a Canberra journo, Crispin Hull, who has banged on for years about juries' limitations.
Let's be clear: our judges and magistrates are among the world's best. There are judges identified with snoring on the job, ratbaggery, venality and corruption, taking half a decade to write a decision, perjury, indulging in self-promotion and self-absorption, and writing impenetrably. The bar, all over Australia, should take note of what the plain- speaking late secretary of the department of defence, Sir Arthur Tange, would tell aspiring very senior military officers; namely that all professions display a trace of myopia.
Seems that Mary's jury experience was disappointing. Mine in late 2000 in Canberra was frankly enlightening, with sensible, conscientious and balanced people interacting efficiently. It coincided with Hull entertaining the illusion that juries were ''uneducated dross''.
A round table ''get to know you'' established that eight had post-secondary qualifications from trades schools or universities. One juror held sets of letters after his name from four universities, and three were postgraduate - not in peace studies, sociology or gender studies beloved of ABC selection committees. The other four jurors offered a bucket load of commonsense to deliberations. And one who was chosen as chairman performed superbly.
Patrick Jones, Griffith
Valuable jury insight
Barristers already know that a gut response to evidence carries far more weight with juries than complex legal argument. Jury trials are a real science and there has been much research and investigation into how juries work. The best barristers know how to appeal simply to jurors and how to read those signs Mary Thompson (Forum, page 1, January 27) speaks of and don't bother with the boring bits the judge is required by law to expound on.
Catching a juror and finding out how it went in the jury room is not permitted under the Jury Act and to hear from one first hand in this way adds to our overall knowledge.
Jennifer Saunders, Civic
Rights chief wronged
In Noel Towell's article headed ''Rights chief backs firing over tweets'' (Canberra Times, January 24, p4) my views were incorrectly paraphrased to imply I agreed public servants should be able to be sacked for tweeting and ''the right of freedom of speech is outweighed by their obligation to their employer''.
Such implications are not correct. I do not back the sacking of individual public servants, nor believe that there is a weighting of competing rights, or comment on specific cases. My comments were in the abstract.
Australians have a human right to free speech on all platforms. Conditions of employment, such as adhering to the public service code, are consistent with free speech. These conditions are voluntarily entered into by those wishing to work in the public service and they attach conditions to individual conduct with their employment. They are not unique.
Many workplaces require people to accept codes of conduct as a condition of employment. The conditions are normally not in dispute, such as requiring employees not to engage in sexist, racist and homophobic behaviour, reveal trade secrets or bring an organisation into disrepute.
It is not my place to comment on the validity and breadth of employment conditions, and my comments are neither an endorsement nor criticism of the public service code. At all times public servants have had their freedom of speech protected. If they find the burden of the code to onerous they can resign their employment for other opportunities. Alternatively if they choose to breach the code and continue in their employment they cannot be surprised when their employment is terminated.
Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commission
TO THE POINT
PULLING THE WOOL
Due to unforeseen circumstances, I forgot to get the lamb meat out of the freezer on the night before Australia Day, so I cooked the already defrosted chicken instead. But I had a lamb on the official Australia Day public holiday (the day after). Would this make me less Australian this year?
Mokhles K. Sidden, Strathfield, NSW
NEWS FROM HOME?
Did our non-resident, non-Australian Head of State send to her Australian people any message to mark Australia Day, or otherwise publicly acknowledge this occasion? Or has she done so at all in the last decade or thereabouts?
B. Cox, Bruce
WHO FOOTS THE BILL?
Did voters understand that ''Stop the boats'' meant ''at any cost''? Of millions of dollars, and to our international standing, our fragile relationship with our nearest neighbour, and to the RAN's reputation.
Susan M. Marshall, Chifley
On Sunday Prime Minister Tony Abbott (CT, 27 January, p1) said that ''Australia's first modern migrants'' arrived in 1788. He didn't mention that they were boat people.
Sankar Kumar Chatterjee, Evatt
CLEAN THIS UP
I'm sorry that a rude motorist endangered cyclist Matt Gately. But he wasn't sent ''careening'' across the road. The word is ''careering'':
''careening'' is to clean a ship's hull.
Peter Stanley, Dickson
FULL STOPS PLEASE
Marilyn Shepherd's submission (Letters, January 27) contains three paragraphs, totalling more than 160 words, with minimum punctuation. Did she never learn that skilful punctuation avoids ambiguity in expression and vastly improves comprehension by the reader?
Geoff Wood, Waramanga
The planned alliance between bikers and indigenous activists (January 27, p1) is old news. A profitable alliance between an OMCG and indigenous youth was already allegedly well established in Mildura until it was recently dissolved by Victoria Police.
T.J. Farquahar, Ainslie
UP WRONG POLE
''Delivering mail in a country as vast as Russia is never easy at the best of times'' says the caption of a photo in BusinessDay (January 27, p9). It looks like faulty postal route planning is compounding the challenges: the photo shows a Russian ship with an Adelie penguin in the foreground. That means it's in Antarctica!
Ron Walker, Campbell
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