Letters to the editor

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I can't agree with Karen Hardy's take on the Abby Bishop brouhaha (''Welcome to parenthood, Abby Bishop'', canberratimes. com.au, April 9).

If we all all took the ''this is her lot now - get on with it'' approach, then people like Karen would not have been allowed to work when she was pregnant, let alone have paid maternity leave or indeed returned to work subsequently.

My mother had to resign from her job (in the public service) when she married. No such thing as maternity leave. Just because parenthood is tough it doesn't mean we need to keep it that way. I marvel that we now have a range of support mechanisms so women can continue to work if they wish. Except for elite female basketball players.

Australians also want the best team they have on the court for the world championships. Abby is part of that, but conditions have been placed on her: she must fund the childcare arrangements and a seat on the plane for baby Zala if she wishes to be in the team. Or presumably leave her home alone.

She can apply for Direct Athlete Support; however the guidelines on that fund do not cover circumstances such as this. And she might not be successful in getting the support.

Abby Bishop's circumstances are unique. Chuck Harmison's enthusiasm to keep the sanctity of high performance around the Australian Opals is offensive to a young woman who has actually done one of the bravest things - stepped up and taken responsibility for a family member's baby.

Basketball Australia and Chuck need to take a long hard look at themselves. This is 2014, not 1914. Abby's circumstances are a one off and her family circumstances should be supported and paid so that Australia also has the best chance of winning this championship.

I wish I had the money to fund this important event in Abby's, Zala's and Australia's development.

Anne Cahill Lambert, Lyneham

I disagree that any parent should have to accept being sidelined by caring responsibilities (''Welcome to parenthood, Abby Bishop'', canberratimes.com.au, April 9). It is to everyone's benefit that the best person for the job is able to progress. Abby Bishop asked Basketball Australia for the same thing as all working parents deserve. She asked for sufficient remuneration for childcare while she worked. Some people, women in particular, face discrimination in their work because of their parenting responsibilities.

It does not have to be this way.

For a long time women with young children were not seen as potential leaders in our parliaments. Their choice to spend time with their children rather than the 24/7 availability that is often the norm in politics resulted in their being sidelined. Here, in the ACT, that changed dramatically when the now Chief Minister chose to continue her career while prioritising time with her children. This led to cultural change that has made the assembly a much more child-friendly workplace. Parents should be able to choose to take a career break to spend more time with their children. But for those parents who choose to continue their careers while raising their children it is all of our responsibility to tackle such cultural problems. Whether you are a cleaner, a nurse or an elite athlete we should never accept that the person of greatest merit missed a career opportunity because of their children.

Abby Bishop's issue is magnified because a poor decision has denied her an opportunity to represent her country, and as a result, Australia has been denied a great player representing us on the world stage.

Yvette Berry, MLA Member for Ginninderra

Crime and postcodes

I puzzle at the conviction of the hard of heart such as Patrick Jones (Letters, April 4) who want revenge and suffering in response to crime. In my own modest experience of victimhood, at the top of my mind was that neither I nor anyone else should again be a victim. So I am upset t our current corrections system is not making me or the community safer and my taxes are diverted to sustain a failing system rather than addressing dire needs in education and health.

Failure is clear from commonwealth and state analysis: people sent to prison are more likely to reoffend. According to Howard Zehr, an American exponent of victim-offender mediation, or conferencing, our present system also denies victims closure by making it difficult ever to put the experience behind them. It also obstructs the offender ''facing up to what he has done or making things right''. Thankfully the ACT has a small conferencing system for young offenders which ''92 per cent of victims and 98 per cent of young people'' evaluated positively.

That should be expanded and the ACT should take to heart the findings of Jesuit Social Services research by Professor Tony Vinson, former head of NSW Corrections: there is a stark association between disadvantage and crime, concentrated in particular postcodes. The ACT has six postcodes, including my own, in the most disadvantaged category. If we want security and do not want to raise new generations of criminals, we must take heed of the interconnections the study identifies between ''unemployment and crime with limited education and limited work skills'' and not waste money on interventions that do not work.

Bill Bush, Turner

Super responsibility

I am flabbergasted that Caroline Le Couteur (Letters, April 10) is critical of those who have actually accepted responsibility for their own financial security, as requested by governments for more than 30 years.

In doing so those who have been thrifty have obviously elected to go without some things during their working life, in order to not be a burden on social security in retirement.

Is she suggesting that those Australians who have chosen not to save for retirement were ignorant of the need to do so, or that we should all just live for today and rely on the age pension in retirement? Caroline would be far better employed trying to convince other Australians to take responsibility for themselves, rather than attacking those who have.

Fred Barnes, Bruce

In response to Caroline Le Couteur's lament as to why should other taxpayers pay more so that privileged over 60-year-olds (such as herself) do not pay tax on their super, it is only fair to point out that all retired Commonwealth Public Servants (including Defence and Federal Police personnel) over 60 years continue to pay tax on their superannuation pensions and are not privileged 60-year-olds.

John Kenna, Ainslie

Debate over free speech stirs up questions of democracy

I find it shocking that Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson apparently has so little regard for the right of Australians to have perspectives other than his own that he can summarily dismiss those of us who are legitimately worried about issues such as the legal defence of bigotry and the limitations placed on public servants criticising the government of the day.

He says we ''seem to have no idea what human rights are'' and ''certainly do not understand what free speech is''.

His convoluted article (''Code of respectful conduct'', Times2, April 9, p1) masks two salient facts: 1) public servants are not the employees of the government of the day, they are employees of the Australian public; and 2) public servants are all citizens or permanent residents of Australia and therefore are entitled to freedom of speech.

J.R. Huggett, Bruce

In his article ''Code of respectful conduct'' (Times2, April 9, p1) Tim Wilson wrote ''many Australians seem to have no idea what human rights are, and many certainly do not understand what free speech is''.

The next day The Canberra Times quoted the president of Australia's Human Rights Commission, Dr Gillian Triggs, as stating that Mr Wilson ''thinks it reasonable that if you take a job then you have to accept that you have no private opinions and no right to speak. He accepts that. I don't.''

What constitutes free speech in Australia is clearly not universally agreed; the commissioner seems ready to accept more constraints on free speech than does the president.

In a democracy we accept that speech may be constrained by law; but any restriction must be consistent with our democratic values. Similarly, proposals to restrict free speech outside the law should be considered in terms of our democratic values.

Employment agreements may reasonably include provisions relating to ''commercial-in-confidence'' matters and ''national security''; but these provisions are open to abuse as they so obviously have been in the case of Operation Sovereign Borders. ''Codes of respectful conduct'' are all well and good as long as they do not impinge on political freedoms.

No employer, public or private, should be able to require employees to accept provisions which restrict the employees' ability to play a full role in the democratic process, a process based on respect for law.

Ken Brazel, Weston

Speech curbs are needed

H. Ronald's letter (April 10) is based on the libertarian premise that a society without unrestricted freedom of speech is totalitarian. Satisfyingly simple, but we actually live in a more ambiguous world.

Hate speech does cause people emotional damage. If it is allowed to become a legitimate part of our society's discourse it will harm us all in the end. When abuse happens, people of goodwill agree it is better to restrain the abuser than to require its victim to ''toughen up''.

Speech can be a simple exchange of information. But a large part of speech is an attempt to move others to action, often in the interests of the speaker. Advertisers like to argue that they merely provide consumers with information they can choose to act on or not, but we all know that ads set out to manipulate us.

Similarly, Mr Ronald's assertion of the right to speak, but not the right to an audience or the right to be unchallenged, sounds fine - but the neutral language carefully ignores a reality where some have media access, power, fame, and great resources where others do not. The true face of bigotry showed at the Cronulla riots, as did the inflammatory role some right-wing media figures played. Real and lasting harm was done there.

Public models matter, and they are not neutral. Judicious regulation of hate speech is like progressive taxation. We may not enjoy paying, but we understand that society and its benefits wouldn't exist otherwise.

As the current law recognises, a healthy society also needs to carefully but actively curb bigotry - not license it in the name of freedom.

Michael Williams, Curtin

Major party impediments

John Warhurst (''Tangled Senate agendas'', Times2, April 10, p1) shaves the tip of an iceberg: recommendations that arose from the ''A New Senate Voting System?'' workshop are unlikely to be implemented by either Coalition or ALP. These dominant majors' concerns are with their own ascendancy, not the democratic expression of voters' intention, nor the wellbeing of society. They are like lumberjacks in Eden (thanks Peter Hall) - assuming our electoral system once was a virtuous garden.

Our current ballot forms give three options: above the line, which will ensure an eligible vote for the least-objectionable major; informal; and numbering all candidates - in preferred order and without dual numbering. Distaste of the most objectionable party line would be more important to many voters than risking a slip to informal in the time-consuming process of the last choice.

Society currently has no post-election knowledge of voters' preferences. The reality of voters' intended preferences, as far as they wish to make them known, would be more democratic than their being masked, as in the present process.

If society's concerns could be genuinely assessed from the ballot box, there might be some loosening of the vote-buying capacity of those entities who do not vote directly.

Are puppeteers of politicians likely to permit a democratic step so hazardous to themselves?

Colin Samundsett, Farrer

Ticks and crosses

Robert Willson (Letters, April 11) compares the reintroduction of knighthoods and damehoods with the retention of the Australian Victoria Cross. A more appropriate comparison would be with the Australian Cross of Valour, which replaced the George Cross (named after the great-grandson of Willson's ''great Queen''). I imagine that the reintroduction of the George Cross would attract as much scorn as the PM's recent monarchical flourish.

Frank Marris, Forrest

Pistorius trial paints a disturbing picture

Detailed coverage from the trial of Oscar Pistorius has revealed odd and perhaps irksome insights into a monied, idle and dissolute lifestyle.

Lawless drives, gun toting, habitual gun and new-car shopping and life in a privileged enclave amid a populous, feared underclass are memorable parts of the picture.

Pistorius was an inspiration to able-bodied and disabled athletes. That the laundered public image of the dedicated and heroic ''blade runner'' is very much at odds with the rather warped reality is probably redolent of the self-referent lives of any number of young celebrities.

While Australians can relate to a lot of this, it is arguably the grotesque gap between rich and poor - and the background noise of ubiquitous danger that results from such a social tension - that paints this as something foreign to us.

It is a South African (or possibly an American) scene that warns us of the need to constantly strive

for a more egalitarian society.

Ross Kelly, Monash

Spending rigour

What a breath of fresh air: an article asserting defence spending should be based on an analysis of the threat to security, not on an arbitrary percentage of gross domestic product (''Time to torpedo defence spending-GDP link'', Forum, April 10, p5). The ''percentage of GDP'' approach is almost always acknowledged by those lamenting the state of Defence expenditure, including Nicholas Stuart, as lacking in rigour.

The usual justification is it is a useful ''shorthand'' for defence needs. The argument never proceeds beyond ''we're not spending enough!'' There is no attempt to say what force capability is deficient or missing, let alone why that might matter. We deserve better from Defence and from those claiming expertise as defence commentators. I doff my cap to the ANU's Andrew Carr and Peter Dean.

Bronis Dudek, Calwell

 

To the point

NO ROLE IN PRICES

Jack Kershaw (Letters, April 17) wrote ''I guess we can't sue those responsible, but we certainly don't deserve to pay the huge water prices demanded, and apparently thought reasonable, by the Auditor-General''.

I wish to clarify that the audit did not consider or make any findings or conclusions on the actual prices that have been set for the supply of water and sewerage within the ACT.

Dr Maxine Cooper, ACT Auditor-General

SHINING A LIGHT

Thanks to Robin Eckerman (Letters, April 9) for shining a new light on the light rail proposal. It seems the light has to come from somewhere, maybe some of Minister Simon Corbell's solar power.

Peter Baskett, Murrumbateman, NSW

CARR'S DISCLOSURES

Surely anyone seeking evidence of Bob Carr's claims about the pervasive influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Australia need look no further after hearing Michael Danby's dishonest and offensive allegation that the former foreign minister is a bigot (''Jewish leaders hit back at Bob Carr'', canberratimes.com.au, April 10).

Talk about a self-inflicted wound.

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

Bob Carr obviously does not support Qantas as it provides pyjamas in business class. Anyway, what is wrong with bringing your own or a tracksuit for sleeping?

Felicity Chivas, Scullin

As Bob Carr frequently pops his head above the parapet, it immediately springs to mind that exquisite acronym for positive self-assessment: FIGJAM !

Greg Simmons, Lyons

Nothing Bob Carr says in his book could change my estimation of him.

David Stephens, Bruce

CRAMPED FOR SPACE

I don't know the population along the 4.52-kilometre Northbourne Avenue, but another 45,000 people along, say, a two-kilometre strip either side would take the population density to more than twice that of Java. Who would think that is desirable?

Ed Highley, Kambah

MONEY NOT ANSWER

How nice that Frank Brennan (Letters April 9) can vindicate George Pell of one of his perfidies. It is important that we know the truth.

And, yes, he is right, money can help to rebuild the lives of the abused, but more is needed. The broken trust, the seemingly ''above the law'' attitude, and lack of compassion need to be addressed as well.

Mary Loft, Queanbeyan, NSW


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