Letters to the Editor


Leopards do not change their spots and Liberal governments will always try to reduce the pay and conditions of workers in an attempt to reduce costs for business. Where the Abbott government differs from some of its predecessors is in the implementation. Instead of taking its agenda to an election, it has chosen to undermine wages and conditions through a mean, sly process of ''reforms'' and responses to ''budget pressures''.

So, poorly paid childcare workers are denied a much-needed improvement in pay and conditions because of budget pressures and cleaners are denied the basic decent conditions in the Clean Start agreement because the government wants to remove red tape. People in those sectors are already struggling to make ends meet and their families are bearing the costs of the new flexible workplace through increasing casualisation and contracting. They are the people who are really making the sacrifices for the new flexible workplace.

I am not sure which is worse - the callous indifference to the people affected in describing a reduction of over $200 per week in a cleaner's wage as ''reducing red tape'' or the dishonesty of the government's sly nod-and-wink agenda of reducing wages and conditions under the cover of other measures.

Tony Judge, Belconnen

Michael Donovan of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (the union which represents retail workers) said ''paying younger workers less than the full adult rate is an outdated and discriminatory act that needs to be rectified'' (''Union wins case for young adults' pay rise'', March 22, p7).

On March 21, the Fair Work Commission ruled that from July 1, 20-year-old workers in the general retail industry must be paid at the same rate as workers aged 21 years and over (the ''adult pay rate''). However, 18- and 19-year-old retail workers will continue to be paid less than the ''adult pay rate''.

The ''age of majority'' in all Australian states changed from 21 years to 18 years in about 1980. If an 18-year-old does the same work as a worker aged 21 years or older, then why have a different pay rate?

Also, why hasn't the definition of ''adult pay rate'' been changed to apply to workers 18 years and over?

Robert Roach, Scullin


Aid for rich church

Catherine Armitage reports (''Payouts anger as church riches top $1b'', March 26, p5) that Sydney's Catholic archdiocese has been forced to open its books for the first time, revealing assets worth more than $1 billion and raising questions about why it has failed to spend more on sexual abuse compensation.

The bigger question for me, though, is why is the government hell-bent on bleeding the taxpayers to financially support a Catholic education system so laden with assets. I guess it's great to have a Catholic Prime Minister prepared to push a pet project. Frankly, I feel short-changed. It is interesting that Cardinal Pell's new Vatican job comes with a $30 million residence, which is being paid for by Australian Catholics. Nice to be that flush.

John Lawrence, Belconnen


Fair speech is best

Tony Abbott's proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act are not a refreshing affirmation of free speech but a dog whistle to bigotry, hate and prejudice, no doubt directed at a certain political audience.

Freedom in a democracy is not unfettered but comes with responsibility. Otherwise, it is merely anarchy. We do not allow people to do whatever they like because unrestrained actions are a threat to the physical freedom and the property of others. Why then would the government allow people to say whatever they wish ? The impact on the victim is just as significant.

Abbott's proposal must be rejected by Parliament in the name of democracy, not despite it.

Mark Slater, Melba

The proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 would be a disturbing step backwards for Australia, which now prides itself on its multiculturalism. I am a ''white'' Anglo-Saxon female in my mid 50s. I have never had to endure the offence, insults or humiliation of racial slurs. But I have witnessed racial vilification, particularly towards our indigenous first people. This was especially prevalent before the act was introduced in 1975.

The proposed changes will allow racial hatred to resurface and serve to support the federal government's campaign of fear-mongering against asylum seekers.

The argument that removing the words ''offend, insult, humiliate'' will allow robust debate ''insults'' my intelligence. There are no circumstances in which anyone is justified in using racially motivated offence or insults to progress a debate.

Jeanette Anderson, Calwell

Bigotry is something we see in other people. For instance, it seems to me that bigotry is alive and well in the letters pages of the The Canberra Times, not to mention your cartoons. It is manifested in obsessive hatred of Tony Abbott, for instance, or of the Catholic Church. Some people find such expressions equally as offensive as others do when being attacked for their ethnicity.

However, we should never try to suppress those opinions. That is free speech, and it is perhaps the most precious thing we have. The measure of the strength of our democracy is that we tolerate offensive opinions and not just those we agree with.

Dr Alan N. Cowan, Yarralumla


PM's knight vision

In announcing the resurrection of knighthoods and dames, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated this was the return of ''an important grace note in our national life''. A grace note is a musical notation that is printed in such a way as to denote it is ''melodically non-essential''.

His choice of words, therefore, seems highly appropriate. This is a bit of nonsense symbolism that matters little in the lives of ordinary Australians, most of whom understand that Mr Abbott is a traditionalist who looks back to earlier times with affection. However, the concern must be whether a man preoccupied with the trivia of the past can lead the country into a productive future.

Bart Meehan, Calwell


Blast from the past

All hail to Sir Robert Menzies' - sorry, the future Sir Anthony Abbott's - decision to name our first dame and knight in quarter of a century (and shame on anyone imagining a hint of vengeance on the outgoing representative of our monarch for the possibly seditious comment that the nation might one day be mature enough to appoint our own head of state, or for slighting imperial honours as a bunyip aristocracy).

Perhaps we can look forward to reintroduction of the White Australia Policy and the Aboriginal Protection Act now racist bigotry is sanctioned by our fearless leader and noble first law officer? How about a return of the death penalty and slavery to replace the contentious 457 visas? That would stick it to the unions.

Progressive-minded loggers and miners unfairly accused of pillaging and polluting what is left of the natural world are the real greenies. We are replacing exterminated sharks beneath our rising seas with financial sharks on our warming land. Ah, doesn't it make ye all proud to be citizens of New Holland and the Empire - God save the Queen!

L. Wishart, Hughes


Share titles around

One of the more inspired decisions of the Rudd government was the appointment of Quentin Bryce as governor-general. It was such an Australian appointment that most of us referred to her simply as ''Quentin''.

It is a pity that she has now accepted such a pompous title from the government. From now on I shall refer to her as Mrs Michael Bryce.

And while we're going back to the future, can we see similar titles awarded to other governors-general who missed out during the ''lean'' years? If so, we should start with Sir Michael Jeffery, followed perhaps by Sir Peter Hollingworth?

We must not forget the only other Australian governor-general without a knighthood: Sir Drover's Dog.

Rob Ewin, Campbell


Cover versions

Geoff Clark (Letters, March 26) laments the lack of differences between quotes for third-party insurance in the ACT. The explanations are quite simple. Firstly, all insurers are operating in the same market with the same risks and the same claim likelihood. Differences in quotes arise from differences in non-claims operational costs and income. (Insurance companies generate income from investing policyholders' premiums, hence premiums rise in poor economic conditions.)

It is unlikely that these differences will be large as they all operate in the same labour and investment markets.

His second complaint is answered in his own letter. A significant part of third-party claims consists of compensation for lost income; thus in the high-income ACT the dollar value of claims and therefore premiums will be higher than in NSW which has a lower average income per resident.

Michael Lane, St Ives, NSW


Divisive Speaker

The last day of the pre-budget session of Parliament ended with the Labor Party endeavouring to introduce a vote of no confidence in the Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop. In this highly political environment, rulings of the Speaker will inevitably be criticised by members of all persuasions.

The government is right in defending Ms Bishop against criticism which it considers unfair. But it is important for the effective functioning of the Westminster system that the Speaker retains the respect of all sides of the Parliament. This Speaker clearly does not have this respect.

Her demeanour in the chamber on Thursday suggested she was spoiling for a fight, a fight for which no doubt Labor had prepared. Naming someone for saying ''Madam Speaker'' was unique in the Australian Parliament, as was possibly her expulsion of a member for laughter.

The Australian Parliament would contribute better to Australian democracy with a Speaker who has the confidence of all sides of the House.

Ken Brazel, Weston

It's nice to see Bronwyn Bishop doing what the voters didn't quite manage: kicking out the rest of Labor.

Samuel Gordon-Stewart, Reid

To the point


Tony Wright (''Abbott's honours will reign supreme'', March 26, p1) is wrong about the exhumation of imperial honours. It will take only one or two refusals to send the new ''scheme'' into disrepute. I know nobody who ''laments'' the disappearance of the former imperial honours, and do know many proud recipients of Australian ones.

Trevor Wilson, Holder

Now that the Abbott and the Bishop have decided to create knights and dames, is it not time to honour the lower levels ? May I suggest squires, yeomen and serfs in descending Anglo-Norman order?

Dr James Jupp, Hughes

Now that we have knights and dames again, is the rumour true that we are going back to pounds, shillings and pence, so we can have sovereigns, crowns and half-crowns?

Campbell Macknight, Aranda

Now that Sir Tony is successfully turning back the boats, when is he going to start slaying the dragons? Those dragons are a real problem.

Phil Johnston, Ainslie


John Bury (Letters, March 25) wonders how Canberra will afford stage 1 of the proposed light rail. I wonder how we will be able to afford not to have light rail in Canberra and to continue with our fossil fuel-based transport reducing the liveability of our city and contributing to the wrecking of planet Earth's habitable climate.

G.M. King, Narrabundah


Lawyer Julian Burnside apparently thinks that Tania Hird did not need husband's permission to claim: ''We are not in the 1950s.'' Our government seems to disagree, as evidenced by its reintroduction of knighthoods and damehoods.

Frank Marris, Forrest

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