Free speech at a price

So the government is in the process of watering down its proposed changes to the Race Discrimination Act that would have provided exemption from prosecution for ''words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in … the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter'' (''Race Act changes back for revision'', May 28, p1).

It is just such provisions that have seen the Orwellian prosecution, bankrupting and imprisonment of revisionist academics and journalists here and oversees for challenging historical and political orthodoxies.

It appears now that artists and scientists are also to be more closely policed as well. No more discussion of Darwinian evolution as this will be challenged as hateful against the creator God.

No more Goya-esque art depicting political and ethnic violence - this will be hateful to the perpetrators. Perhaps this backdown will also encourage recent correspondents offended by Pope's cartoons to seek legal remedy for what they perceive as hate directed at our beloved Prime Minister.

Is there no one in the Labor Party who will stand with the now nervous government in the defence of academic and press freedom? Where are the howls of protest from our academics, artists and - dare I even say it - our journalists?

Chris Williams, Griffith


In a democracy, freedom of speech is everything. Anything less is on the slippery slide to absolutism and tyranny. If the only speech deemed acceptable is bland and politically correct, then it is not free speech.

Speech that may be offensive to some, as long as it does not slander or incite violence, is the essence of freedom. Attorney-General George Brandis and other weak Liberals should ignore the highly vocal sectional interests and stand firm on the repeal of 18c.

R. C. Warn, Griffith

Concerns with NDIS

I read with interest the excellent article by Tom McIlroy covering concerns expressed by young mum Tracey Trewhella, regarding early intervention services accessed by her daughter Hailey (''Fears of children left in limbo when services are phased out'', May 19, p2).

This must be an extremely worrying time for parents of special children in the ACT with the advent and planning process of the NDIS. Trewhalla has every reason to be concerned to ensure this process does not lose sight of the needs of those children.

Well done to Andrew Wall in acting swiftly to provide a forum for concerned parents. His criticism is well founded. As for Joy Burch, her handling of disability issues - for example, the closure of respite care houses last year - does pose questions about her management of her portfolio. In particular her closing statement causes great concern.

I fervently hope all does go well with the NDIS and it delivers what is promised. It is much needed for people with disabilities in our community.

Heather Ponting, Greenway

A billion off the rails

Emma Thomas, project manager of Capital Metro, has been quoted as stating that the $600 million (and counting) project would result in a tram running every 10 minutes from Gungahlin to Civic, and more often at peak times, and that the journey would take 25 minutes or less (''Frequency, speed 'key to light rail success'', May 22, p3). The service is to terminate in Civic.

The Action bus timetable shows that, at present, the 200 Red Rapid service departs every 10 minutes from the Gungahlin Marketplace during peak hours and arrives in Civic 26 minutes later, allowing for 10 stops. The service then continues on to the Russell Offices, through Barton and Kingston to Fyshwick.

Commuters will no doubt welcome the significant time saving to Civic and those who work further afield will appreciate the opportunity to change to a bus for their onward journey. A billion or so well spent.

Terry Brown, Kaleen

Tram tax old hat

Apparently there's considerable opposition to the ACT government considering a tax to appropriate the increase in value of land adjoining the proposed Gungahlin-Civic tramway, to finance its construction - called a ''value capture'' tax.

I'm not surprised at such opposition; the idea is a throwback to the discredited and impracticable 1879 Henry George theory of government approp-riating all increases in land value, as its only tax, to finance its responsibilities.

Isn't it time a present day government stopped trying to implement a 135-year-old economic theory that time has shown to be impracticable - mainly because its basic premise is wrong?

George's theory was based on the view that all land belongs to the community, not individuals. Really? Try telling that to individuals who've paid hundred of thousands, even millions, for their land - and therefore (naturally) regard the land as theirs, and are therefore entitled to any increase in its value.

And if (as is apparently the case) the government is also considering a ''city-wide'' levy to finance this unpopular, uneconomic get-Shane Rattenbury-on-side project, I can't imagine a better way to lose an election.

R. S. Gilbert, Braddon

Parking going nowhere

I note with some amusement the article relating to parking on streets around the Parliamentary Triangle (''New parking limits for streets around Triangle'', May 27, p1).

As a Barton resident, I have had the experience of time-limited parking for some months. The installation of time-limited signs has made absolutely no difference to those who have used the streets for all-day parking for as long as I have lived here.

Despite complaints to the ACT Roads Administration, the relevant minister's office and an on-air complaint to the (then) acting Chief Minister on the ABC's Chief Minister's Talkback, nothing has changed.

It is one thing to install the signs to limit parking; it is quite another to enforce it. The excuse proffered in response to every complaint is lack of resources.

The solution is simple: employ more staff.

I have even offered to issue tickets on behalf of the administration if it provides me with one of the gizmos to do so. It would regulate parking and raise revenue in one fell swoop. But of course that is a bridge too far.

In the absence of enforcement, perhaps the best option is to remove time-limited parking signs and allow it to revert to the free-for-all that it has been for years, and in reality remains in the face of the faux restrictions.

Philip Bewley, Barton

Why no royal commission into the Manus Island death?

Four employees of independent private firms die tragically in accidents while installing roof insulation under the previous Labor government's policy. That government, not the employers, bears the brunt of the blame. Despite previous internal government inquiries, the Coalition government sets up a royal commission which focuses on the former government's role with little or no reference to the responsibility of the employing companies (at goodness knows what expense when we are apparently in an ''economic emergency'').

An inmate of Manus Island detention centre, established by the current government, is killed horribly, and many others injured, in a night of violent mayhem by employees of contractors to the government. Will our government feel equally justified in a setting up a royal commission focusing on its role, not the contractors', in this tragedy?

Peter Howell, Curtin

Menzies right on schools

About 1970, I was fortunate to spend a couple of hours in conversation with Margaret Cameron, the widow of Archie Cameron (speaker of the House of Representatives 1950-56). I expressed a view that we should have a national education system. Mrs Cameron told me that she had once held forth along those lines while in the company of Sir Robert Menzies and that he politely but firmly disagreed.

As I recall her telling it, Menzies said that if we had a national system and a new method of teaching or some prescribed subject matter that turned out to be bad, then it would be detrimental to the whole nation. The alternative being that for fear of such failure, a national system would stagnate with different but equally detrimental effects. He considered that the state/territory and public/private systems should remain entirely separate and be encouraged to experiment and learn from one another: successes, failures and everything in between.

Since then I have put six children through Catholic and government schools, and observed the education of 11 grandchildren through a variety of Catholic, public and private schools and home education. With that experience I cannot but agree entirely with Menzies on this.

That being the case, I think that the federal government should get right out of the business of education, preschool, primary, secondary and tertiary. All the money it now spends on education, including grants to non-government schools and education providers, and all departmental costs should be given to the states/territories as untied grants, on a per capita basis. If any state/territory misuses the money then it is the responsibility of its constituents to hold that government to account, not a government in Canberra.

John F. Simmons, Kambah

Lighting a fire to learn

I just don't get the point of the education debate. We are told we need to raise standards, but standards of what exactly, and for what reasons? What constitutes a good education? Is education merely the preparation and training of an economically competitive workforce? Do we have a vision of the kind of young adults we desire our young people to become - and is it a shared vision? Do we seek to promote wisdom, physical/spiritual/moral health and the creation of a more harmonious society, or do we just want to count how many students have ''achieved'', i.e., climbed over their fellow students on the ladder to ''success''?

I recently applied for a job which demanded a ''good'' degree. I did not have the temerity to ask the employer what was considered to be a ''bad'' degree. And I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked where I was educated. (Does learning cease at the age of 20 or so?)

I used to think that education was the lighting of a fire, rather than the filling of a basket. It seems that Tony Abbott's ''firemen'' are determined to extinguish the flames.

Ken Fraser, Kambah

Pyne won't pay it forward

In his article ''My vision for higher education'' (, May 25) Christopher Pyne states that ''university graduates benefit from a significant personal advantage, earning about 75 per cent more than non-graduates'' and concludes that ''60 per cent of adult Austral-ians who will never hold a degree are subsidising the other 40 per cent. It goes without saying that people who benefit so greatly from their university education should be making a reasonable contribution to the cost of it.''

No, Mr Pyne, that is a self-interested non-sequitur. You and your cohort who paid nothing for your university education, and now earn 75 per cent more than non-graduates, should be paying the tax required to fund the next cohort of students. That is your investment in the future of the nation, just as your predecessors invested in you.

Adrian Gibbs, Yarralumla

Not happy, Jack

I have noted in many political articles penned by Jack Waterford that he rarely gives credit to the previous Labor government. We are only told what an effective opposition leader Tony Abbott proved to be (''Abbott's migraine down to too much, too little'', Forum, May 24, p1).

Is this a classic case of ''be careful what you wish for''. Given the enormous outcry since the launch of the budget and the unmistakeable ideological nature of the document, one would hope that Waterford might question some of his earlier dispatches. Are we to believe that these political delinquents (nay, barbarians) could possibly have any answers to the social and environmental issues facing us all? Not happy, Jack.

Rick Godfrey, Lyneham

Pain shared is pain halved

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister said it was not possible for the government to make this an easy budget. We get this. No one I know thought this budget would be easy. But everyone I know hoped the pain of it might be spread fairly. Silly us.

Annie Lang, Kambah

Dumbing down at Arc a loss for Canberrans

On Sunday, I saw Michael Haneke's unsettling US remake of Funny Games, part of a rich Arc Cinema program offering me a rare re-education on a great living film director. Funny games indeed, with 28 National Film and Sound Archive positions and the Arc Cinema soon to be deleted.

In just seven years, I've watched Quentin Turnour's unlikely program blossom into a national ornament, a magnet for the diplomatic community, and something I can show off proudly to any visitor. This can't last, I thought. The managerialists will dumb it down, as they did with Libraries ACT. And this is just what appears to be happening.

At first, the NFSA director linked the closure (The Canberra Times, April 11) to the nearby ''arrival on the market of Palace Cinemas''. As if! Arc's very own Blink and You'll Miss It program stood for movies shunned by Palace that would have run at Electric Shadows.

The Artist Film Workshop (May 2) related the shutdown to an increasing ''emphasis on a solution of digitisation for access to the NFSA''. Digitisation's fine, but as The Conversation (May 7) pointed out, ''some films need to be preserved and exhibited as such''.

In the very final Arc program, the NFSA director now claims that quaintly archaic flickering projections for flesh-and-blood audiences will continue, but the curation ''will be different''. Very different, one fears, with only digitised staff left to do it.

Rather than dropping his flagship program, the director should be seeking sponsors for its expansion. But I give up on him or his minister shedding any real light on the matter. And I urge non-Murdoch news outlets to dig deeper. Is this just your usual managerialist mugging, or are the cinema chains besties with the Liberal Party?

Stephen Saunders, O'Connor



It seems that the Abbott/Hockey budget is actually a very cunning plan to narrow the gap. Instead of increasing the health benefits and education to our first peoples, the budget aims to wind back these benefits for the general population. An impeccable, if somewhat perverse logic.

Mark Tolley, Narrabundah


Joe Hockey's attack on Medicare is transparently ideological: it's about punishing the poor for getting sick. Instead of depriving vulnerable people of the chance to see their GP, the government should follow the evidence. If it wants a healthier society, it should invest in preventive medicine - and maybe consider standing up to the big tobacco companies!

Joel Dignam, Ainslie


We don't have a spending problem, so much as a revenue problem. According to Dr Ken Henry, revenue now is 3 percentage points below where it was a little more than a decade ago and spending is 1 percentage point lower when compared to GDP. When will the government address the entitlement to avoid paying your fair share of taxes?

Kate Roediger, Melba


At a time when the ACT is to be drastically affected by the Abbott budget, and there is likely to be a serious blowout in the cost of the Majura Park project, the light rail project should be terminated.

If Jeremy Hanson could show some leadership and declare that the Liberals, if elected at the next ACT election, would cancel the project, we could well see its inevitable demise sooner rather than later.

Murray Upton, Belconnen


I have some sad news for Dr Rose (Letters, May 27). The belief that we are the clever country is a furphy. A quick web search will reveal that Australians are no better than 19th on the world IQ stage with an average of 98. Well beaten by the developed Asian countries such as Singapore (105), South Korea and Japan (103) followed by western Europe, the UK and New Zealand.

Education cuts and the decline in our technical and research institutions such as CSIRO will further erode our ability to compete on the world stage.

Robert Bruce, Fadden


The Pope says praying will bring peace to the Middle East. If it does, will he please give prayer another try, but this time to save us from global warming?

Olle Ziege, Kambah

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