Letters to the Editor

Defence: a new world

Hugh White's piece on a new Defence white paper (''Defence faces new reality'', Times2, February 4, p1) is timely and sobering. Nonetheless, while it is cogent and thoughtful, there is an irony in the approach.

Hugh tells us that ''more of the same'' thinking will not be enough. Quite. Yet his analysis shares that limit, because it stays inside a model of a realist geo-politics, looking at nation states, their allies and interests. Much as this has served us well as an analytic tool for centuries, it ignores many newer problems. Let me mention three briefly.

First, as many writers have been saying, nation state interests get fuzzier and fuzzier in a globalised economy. For example, as Robert Reich, a Clinton senior adviser pointed out, it makes little sense to defend the ''American car industry'' when an automobile assembled in Detroit has a gearbox made in Mexico, an engine made in Canada and electronic parts from Asia.

The more that global business integrates, the harder it is to sustain views about a nation state's interests.

Second, there are problems inherent in globalisation that could yet have remarkably problematic effects. Again, a single example: we are overdue a new influenza pandemic.

If we have one, will our system be a help or a hindrance to coping? In a world where we can see that the wide-bodied jet aircraft was the single biggest influence in spreading HIV internationally (promoting, as it did, cheap travel) this is all too possible.


Genghis Khan and his descendants created the largest contiguous empire ever known, stretching from the Danube to the Pacific, an empire that had massive effects on world history. It was held together by a web of trade and communication, the same web that carried the Black Death throughout Eurasia, destroying the Mongol Empire as it went.

Third, Hugh says nothing about climate change. This is a major shaper of the world to come. I think here not so much of the cataclysmic events it may produce through sudden events (hurricane Katrinas, etc) although these have huge impacts on the demand for Defence assets deployed for humanitarian assistance.

More subtly, as land becomes less (or more) productive for agriculture, as water supplies dry up (or flood) as land sinks beneath the waves, as fish stocks dwindle both from over fishing and sea-temperature alterations, new questions will arise about resources, survival and migration, all of which impacts on how a Defence force thinks of itself, and even more importantly, what a government thinks it can and should be doing.

So yes, let's not stay inside the old paradigm, difficult though it may be to try to imagine the full range of the new challenges ahead.

Dr Stephen Mugford, Weston

Diplomatic cringe

Julie Bishop, our Foreign Minister, has called on our ABC to apologise for reporting that refugees had their hands burnt when being returned to Indonesia by the Australian navy.

I'm still waiting for Ms Bishop to apologise to her Indonesian counterpart for her Liberal Party official saying that Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa looked like an ageing Filipino porn star. After this comment, an apology to the Philippines government would also be in order.

I was fortunate enough to meet Dr Natalegawa socially in 2003 when he was a more junior official in the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Department. I found him to be an intelligent and charming individual with an excellent knowledge of Australia and its politicians.

I cringe at the damage Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop have done in a few short months to Indonesia-Australia relations. It can only be hoped that the politicians who replace these two can repair the damage.

John Davenport, Farrer

The war on peace

Daniel Mandel (''Bishop's stance on the legality of Israeli settlements might be right'', Times2, February 3, p4), let me break it down for you: a fundamental principle of international law is ''the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war''. The logic behind this is the maintenance for international peace and security is based on the stability of borders between nations. However, in the event of war, the Fourth Geneva Convention protects the status quo, prior to the war, by outlawing transfer of populations. This includes settlements.

The creation of settlements (such as by Israel in land occupied since 1967) is such a prejudicial act because it changes the demography of the occupied region. In domestic law an injunction would be sought to stop such an act (for example, in a divorce, one party may injunct another party from disposing of the family assets to prevent a prejudicial outcome for the weaker party). In international law, we must rely on the moral impetus for nations (as communicated by the International Court of Justice or the United Nations General Assembly) to commit to the law.

Israel and Palestine's long-term future depends on a just resolution of the conflict. The US administration since the time of President Lyndon Johnson has understood that settlements may prejudice the search for a peaceful settlement. In the same way, Israel is effectively disposing of the assets of Palestinians by its acquisition of land conquered in 1967, with no third party using its powers effectively to stop this land grab. Mr Mandel's and Ms Bishop's comments in fact condone such a prejudicial act by Israel of acquiring land with impunity.

A just resolution for the conflict requires nothing be done in the occupied areas which might prejudice a peace settlement.

For a fairer approach, please see Israeli groups such as B'Tselem, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights or the New Israel Fund.

Stewart Mills, Balmain, NSW

Driven to abstraction

I'm all in favour of public art. But when used to adorn car parks, can it please also be functional? I recently ran into one of a row of concrete spheres used to mark out the exit to the car park of the Lena Karmel building in Civic. The spheres are about half a metre high and can't be seen from the driver's view, and as there is also no proper kerb, there is nothing for the wheel to bump against to warn a driver negotiating the turn-out of the car park that the car is too close to the objects.

As I got out of my car to view the damage, another woman approached me to say that she had just done the same thing and was waiting for a tow truck.

On returning to the car park this week I see that one of the spheres has been removed, but the next one in the row clearly bears the paint marks of multiple collisions. Very annoying and expensive.

Cathy Douglas, Jerrabomberra, NSW

Politicians missing the point as high dollar ruins industry

Too high a real exchange rate is well established as a major cause in the recent closure of our enterprises in agriculture, in food processing (SPC-Ardmona) and in manufacturing (motor vehicles). Legitimate concerns about the future of these industries are reinforced by expectations that the exchange rate will not decline sufficiently under current policies.

Second, high growth of investment in expansion and later in production from the mining sector is well established as the major cause of this high exchange rate in recent years and going forward. Third, the mining sector and especially some major sectors of it are both under-taxed and inadequately regulated.

Addressing both policy failures would retard their excessive growth and hence ease upward pressures on the real exchange rate.

As to ditching a well-researched and well-credentialled resource rent tax on the mining sector, the effectiveness of its lobby-based politics was dramatised for all to see in the run-up to the 2010 federal election. The coal industry's opposition to global pricing of carbon is a second such case involving effective under-taxation of the industry. The allied point about under-regulation is demonstrated by threats that sections of the coal-mining sector present ecologically, and notably to the Great Barrier Reef (and incidentally to the future tourist sector).

Yet neither side of mainstream politics wants to recognise these causal connections. Neither have the Greens effectively promoted understanding of the broad economic links and policy failures. It is time to focus the debate.

Barry Naughten, Farrer

The forgotten refugees

The very good article by our former chief minister Gary Humphries, ''Turn back to policy success'' (Times2, January 31, p1), raises issues rarely if at all mentioned in other media observations. Refugee advocates keep reminding us of the inhumane policy of turning around the boats and their cargo of asylum seekers fleeing war-torn countries, persecution and lives of misery, but give little voice to their fellow refugees, those without money, languishing in squalid camps, deprived of medical attention, proper food and shelter and any hope of a future.

The exorbitant expense in dealing with border protection issues and the costs associated with providing for the many thousands already in Australia who have jumped the queue, could go a long way in alleviating the misery of those seeking asylum through legitimate channels.

It would appear from the little we are privy to hear that the present policy is beginning to show results.

Perhaps efforts should be directed towards the diplomatic challenge of reaching a consensus on how to curtail the influx of asylum seekers reaching Indonesia in the first place. It is unbelievable that these queue jumpers on arrival can find their way unassisted into the hands of people smugglers and a place on a boat.

Tony May, Pearce

Doling out dignity

I fully agree with John Rodriguez's urge (Letters, January 30) to dignify receiving unemployment benefits by creating temporary work opportunities. There is so much talk about dealing with the global warming issue. Instead of penalising all Australians through the infamous carbon tax, why not create jobs in reforestation? There will be opportunities for a wide spectrum of skills. That way we may return to much more economical and effective management of our corporate pollution (and significantly reduce unemployment - with dignity).

Erwin Wegner, Giralang

History lesson for scribe

Malcolm Mackerras (''History in the wrong place'', Times2, February 3, p1) claims that ''the constitution is a system of government not a history lesson''. On the contrary, Australia's constitution is an important event in our legal and political development and forms part of our history. Just as the Magna Carta was an important part of the historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law by limiting arbitrary power and protecting individual rights.

Mr Mackerras is an expert in Australian politics and predicting elections. He is not a historian and we are not interested in his voting history on referendums. To say that historians have been re-writing Australian history over the past 50 years is a cheap shot at those who have brought truth and balance to our history. Of course we should amend our constitution if it does not reflect who we are.

Lorraine Ovington, Fisher

Economic realities

Chris Ansted (Letters, February 3) made some useful observations about the Australian economy.

But he did miss one important difference between Australia and the rest of the OECD, we do not have a contributory social security system, which means that the regime of superannuation for one is outside the GDP tax share that is attributed to government. If you adjust for this, Australia is much closer to OECD averages. Also Australia tends to hit income harder with taxes and goods and services less than many OECD nations.

M. Gordon, Flynn

Good service pays

Yes, Ian Boyd (Letters, February 3), it is not good practice to treat a customer poorly as they will be motivated to tell as many people as possible about that car dealer's bad reputation. What profits the dealership got from the initial car sale will soon be negated - several times over - by the loss of all those potential future customers.

Over the decades, one particular Japanese car dealer has missed out receiving any business from me (or friends and family) because of the way they treated my poor father.

They simply refused to fix an ongoing problem in the car they had sold him. I am more than happy to recommend the car dealer that made sure their after-sales service was first class.

Michael Crowe, Hawker

Car park conversion is best use of building

One of Canberra's current conundrums is what to do with the old Anzac Park East building. Located on the south-eastern corner of Anzac Parade and Constitution Avenue, it has been empty for 16 years. It cannot be torn down for that would destroy the symmetry of the vista between Mt Ainslie and Parliament House, the major axis of Canberra. So the building sits and decays; many of its windows are boarded up, its former lawn is now a parking lot.

There are several new developments starting nearby. On Constitution Avenue, Section Five is being cleared for apartments, shops and offices, the Creswell apartments are under way, and the RSL HQ is heading for replacement. The new ASIO building will soon be filled with 1800 people. Even if all these buildings have enough parking for all their occupants, more will be needed for visitors and for workers in Civic.

I suggest that the Anzac Park East building be turned into a multistorey car park. An imaginative architect could make it presentable. Check out the multistorey car parks at Kansas City's public library, US; Hilla, Babylon, Iraq; Amara City, Iraq; and Wood Green Shopping City, England.

Charge reasonable parking fees and it will earn money.

Consider it.

Alastair Stewart, Campbell

Woolies denies plans

Regarding the article, ''Concern over Kingston plan'' (February 5, p1), David Maxwell is a former employee and Woolworths does not have an ongoing relationship with him. Additionally, we have no plans to build a store in Kingston. Given we were not provided with the opportunity to comment for the story, we are happy to clear it up on this page.

Bianca Agius, media relations manager, Woolworths Limited



Where is George (''lying little rodent'') Brandis now that Sharman Stone needs him (''Liberal MP says Abbott lied about SPC'', February 5, p4)?

Bob Gardiner, Kambah

Just wondering if anyone has heard anything recently from the righteous Alan Jones on the subject of prime ministers who tell porkies.

Maria Greene, Curtin


Tony Abbott grew up when the catchcry ''When you're on a good thing stick to it'' was used to advertise pet flea control products. This advice to fleas has had a major influence on his style. First he applied the blowtorch of vilification to asylum seekers and now, treacherously, to fellow Australians working for SPC Ardmona.

J. Ellis, Weetangera


The Prime Minister and Treasurer warn us that the economy will crash if penalty rates are not abolished and wages cut. To show austerity leadership, Abbott and Hockey should ask the Remuneration Tribunal to cut their salaries by 10 per cent. Failing that, we can assume that workers and pensioners will bear the full weight of Liberal austerity, as usual.

Graham Macafee, Latham


Geoff Clark (Letters, February 5) should add to the list of long-haul trucking industry improvements the reopening of rail lines and construction of the Melbourne-Brisbane inland rail link, thus also reviving dying country towns. These initiatives could reduce dangerous long-haul but not destroy the industry.

Greg Cornwell, Yarralumla


Simon Corbell's article ''National capital energised about climate change'' (Times2, February 5, p5), listing all the ACT government's initiatives to shift the national capital to a low-carbon future, may give him a warm and fuzzy feeling, but the results are higher costs for the ACT consumer. Nothing the ACT government does will have any effect on global warming unless it is done as part of national and international initiatives.

Ed Dobson, Hughes


I presume the word ''spinner'' in the article ''Abbott's empty house returned to landlord''(February 6, p1) refers to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet spokesman mentioned in the previous paragraph. Isn't this disrespectful, and a beneath the dignity of The Canberra Times? How would Noel Towell feel if I referred to him as a ''hack''?

Jane Craig, Holt

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