I'm puzzled that in a city full of public sector employees, no one seems to understand the principles - based in legislation, policy and good practice - that govern public servants and free speech, despite the fact they are quite straightforward and much the same as 113 years ago, despite the rise of social media.

Basically, public servants have the same rights as other citizens to comment on issues and get involved in political or social movements but they also have to ensure that their actions or comments don't compromise perceptions of their ability to carry out their particular duties in an impartial and apolitical manner. There are no hard and fast rules for the application of this principle, rather it has to be managed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account such factors as the employee's personal concerns and issues and whether these might have an impact on their duties as a public servant.

In my experience, agencies in the past have been pretty relaxed on the issue and managers and employees have mostly been able to agree on an appropriate balance between personal views and activities and professional responsibilities. Let us hope this level of common sense prevails in a climate of government paranoia and people running off at the mouth via Twitter.

And by the way, J. R. Huggett (Letters, April 14), public servants are not employees of the Australian people, whatever that means. They serve the government of the day that's been elected by the Australian people and when that government is chucked out, they serve the next one with the same level of professionalism and integrity. I don't have time to detail the legislative basis for this but it's called the Westminster system and any public servant who went through an at least adequate induction course should be across it.

Christopher Oates, Stirling

Don't be so naive

In the editorial ''Moral panic plagues the bureaucracy'' (Times2, April 14, p2), it is asserted the Australian Public Service has forbidden its employees from criticising or commenting on government policy, or the government itself, even in a private capacity or under a pseudonym.

If this is the case, one may wonder why the issue has taken so long to surface. One good reason may well be that APS management, being highly risk averse, diligently obeys its masters' (the various ministers) every instruction. In some circumstances, being eager to please, management may anticipate and even over-read a minister's wishes. This is particularly the case if there is a link other than the ''chain of command'' between a manager and his minister.

It is at best naive to accept that there has been no instruction, or implicit instruction, from the present government to APS management to put a tighter lid on adverse comment.

Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin

Listen up, Raiders

Memo coaching staff at the Raiders: Jack Wighton is not a five-eighth and Anthony Milford is not a full-back; put them in their correct positions and find someone decent who can play five-eighth and full-back.

Memo coach: if you like cooking so much and are so desperate to get another wooden spoon then I will, as I am sure will many other Raiders supporters, happily buy you one.

Memo Raiders board: where is this much-hyped team we have been hearing so much about over the past three seasons? Nothing less than a top-four finish will be acceptable this year.

And finally, why are the Raiders board and the NRL wondering why they aren't getting supporters to the game when they unexpectedly increase the price for season tickets and drop seniors and other discounts. Has the quality of the game and the team improved so much that they feel justified in their actions and are happy alienating team supporters? Many of us are long-term supporters and getting tired of being let down year after year. I am Raiders' family; are they?

Mark Clayton, Kaleen

Rights don't apply

Anne Cahill Lambert and Yvette Berry (Letters, April 14) have no idea what's going on in the real world. What Karen Hardy's excellent insightful article was about was the realities of having a small child. I worked for the UN and, as a single parent with a small child, I had three options for my overseas travel: arrange 24-hour childcare while I was away, take a nanny with me (at my own expense) or not go. I could not expect my employer to pay for the first and second options - that was my choice.

It has nothing to do with human rights or women's rights and everything to do with practicalities. Being a parent has nothing to do with ''rights'' either - you do what works for you at the time. I worked with a man at the UN who was in a similar position and he had exactly the same issues, so it has nothing to do with gender either.

I challenge Anne Cahill Lambert and Yvette Berry to tell me (and others) what your employer would say if you were in a similar position and demanded payment for childcare/nanny expenses for your child/ren while you went overseas. Does the ACT government (your employer) have a policy allowing this that the public doesn't know about? Basketball Australia is just Abby Bishop's employer, nothing else.

Janet Fletcher, Narrabundah

Time for reflection

Bill Bush (Letters, April 14) appears to question my motives for seeking more rigorous sentencing regimes for career criminals. These are people who have demonstrably ignored prior attempts at their rehabilitation.

They have pursued their criminality almost immediately upon release from ludicrously easy incarceration. Interventions directed at these career criminals involve tax expenditure that even Mr Bush acknowledges can be wasteful.

My position on sentencing policies in this jurisdiction has been clearly stated, for example, in letters to the editor dated May 11, 2012; May 31, 2012; September 2, 2013; December 17, 2013; and April 4 this year. Young offenders witnessing deprivation, abuse and/or violence in the home are certainly worth the kind of support Mr Bush appears to advocate. But assessments by judges and sociologists, none of whom is omnipotent or infallible, in sync with credible community members who are less susceptible to myopia and who have a grip on reality, must come to terms with the fact that even some young offenders can exhibit tendencies that point to a life of violence and other criminality.

Career criminals need to be kept from society for long periods in thoroughly unpalatable surrounds. Lengthy reflection would advance their understanding of the fact that it's better to be out than in.

Patrick Jones, Griffith

Means test pension, rather than lift the retirement age

The Grattan Institute is reported as wanting to accelerate and extend a target of achieving a pension access age of 70 by 2015. However, what it didn't suggest was how it would change employers' attitudes to include the non-existent management qualities of kindness, tolerance, generosity (for required time off for medical treatment) and understanding to ensure that jobs were available for a 70-year-old when 25-year-olds were available in large numbers.

Get on with it, Mr Hockey, and cease the rumours, press leaks, innuendo and TV waffle, and bring in the means test. There is no other fair way of pension determination. While you are at it, analyse and act on parliamentarians' packages, seen as a disgrace but hardly ever getting a mention by anyone in Parliament.

Rhys Stanley via Hall, NSW

What are the odds that the current federal LNP Coalition government is merely priming us by discussing the raising of the pension age and some of its accessibility provisions, the reduction in real terms of funding for the ABC, and a multitude of various other so-called cost-cutting measures? Remember prime minister John Howard going to his second election on implementing the GST? That's how the Coalition would distinguish itself from the election promises of the Gillard regime - that is, win government, and bring in changes after a second election.

Greg Simmons, Lyons

The federal government is proposing to raise the retirement age to 70. I hope that it has factored in the increase in unemployment, as with workers not retiring at 65, or 67, fewer jobs will become available; increased funding of childcare, to substitute for the free childcare older Australians provide for their children; and paying people for the volunteer work that many older people undertake. Or is it another superficial knee-jerk reaction? We can't afford to pay pensions: solution? Make them work longer. Do they think that retired people sit around at home watching the footy on telly all day? How does the government propose to find the extra money to pay for these services that older Australians now perform for free?

David Hicks, Holt

I am a 72-year-old part-pensioner, still working part-time because I can and I enjoy it. A worker who has had to do hard physical labour all his or her life should not be expected to do the same.

Also, people should remember that the Coalition always bitterly opposed the Keating superannuation scheme. It ensured that the scheduled increase to 15 per cent was killed after its 1996 election victory and has even tried to delay by two years the modest catch-up provisions brought in by the Gillard government.

The Commonwealth's pension liabilities are and will be substantially reduced by the $1.7 trillion in our super schemes, but that is estimated to be half a trillion dollars less than it would have been had the Keating scheme been put into full effect. These are big numbers, apparently beyond the ken of our so-called leaders. All they can do is to fabricate a false budget emergency to justify pension and other welfare cuts, and blame everybody but themselves.

Jim Gralton, Garran

Those devilish details

Much has been made of the success of the Prime Minister's Asian tour, and in particular the completing of arrangements for free trade agreements with Japan and South Korea and with hopes of progressing one with China. The benefits to a raft of agricultural and beef breeding industries, bringing increased employment opportunities, as well as benefits to the general population in regard to the purchase of electrical and motor cars have been spelt out.

As an FTA implies benefits to all parties, I am waiting to learn just what Australia will contribute in return for all the largesse to flow through as a result of the negotiations. Mention has been made of investment opportunities but I read a media comment earlier in the week that ''the devil is in the detail''. Let us hope that the ''devil'' is not too tricky.

Bryan Docherty, Garran

Waving the red flag

Rick Kuhn (''ALP no friend of the unions'', Times2, April 10, p4) must live in some sort of time-warp fantasy land: his unreconstructed Trotskyist effusions take us back a century.

Trade unions are apparently the vanguard of the industrial proletariat and it is they, rather than the wimps in the constituency branches of the Labor Party, who will lead the workers' revolution. To that end, he calls for more strikes, especially illegal ones, more militancy, and more class struggle. Unions' power in the party should be strengthened, not reduced. Only then would we see Labor regain power.

Of course, he sees some bad elements in need of a good old purge: not of corrupt officials (he doesn't mention them), but of right-wing leaders (especially Catholics) who are bigoted and collaborate with the bosses.

He throws the expression ''neoliberal'' around as a term of abuse. I think Irving Kristol defined this term as meaning a liberal (we would say socialist) who has been mugged by reality. That is dangerously like a compliment in my book.

Dr Alan N. Cowan, Yarralumla

On medals and titles

Robert Willson overlooks a couple of important points in his letter (April 11) on the reintroduction of knights and dames by the Prime Minister. First, the ''daming'' of former governor-general Quentin Bryce, who dared to imagine that a ''young girl or boy'' could become an Australian head of state. Second, the surprise decision, apparently without cabinet approval. This undemocratic act has shocked many Australians.

It is confusing the issue of Australian honours to cite the care taken in retaining the VC for heroic acts on the battlefield, given that Australia has been dragged into wars to support our allies, including imperial Britain, that have not always been in our best interests. Historic links should not cloud our thinking when forging our own identity.

Lorraine Ovington, Fisher

Sensible solution to save film screenings

In the article ''Film archive calls cut on staff and screenings'' (April 12, p4), The Canberra Times reports that the National Film and Sound Archive is shutting down its film-screening program. As many of the screenings that I go to are well attended, I presume there are others that are losing money. Rather than killing the whole program surely it would make more sense to trim some costs, raise ticket prices a few bucks to commercial levels, and cull the well-meaning but self-indulgent special-interest screenings.

Stephen Frost, Flynn

Just for the record

I am sure that I am in the majority who have either read Bob Carr's literary offering or excerpts from it and wondered if his mum ever gave him those famous words of advice: ''Stop it Bob or you'll go blind''. Clearly his foray into the role of author and the minute detail he regales us with is ego-driven and boring. Amanda Vanstone takes exception with Bob's work from a different perspective. She points out that confidence and trust are the essence of politics (Times2, April 14, p5) and labels Carr a ''telltale'' whose penchant for keeping records is a threat to good governance.

Vanstone asserts readers of the diary will make the amazing discovery that some pollies are so self-obsessed they note down just about everything they do. She laments that this conclusion may be drawn by the public about all politicians. While I agree with her that confidence and trust are important factors in political decision-making I must also point out that so is record-keeping.

Perhaps Bob has taken this concept a bit far. Important discussions, especially when it comes to the spending of public monies, need to be fully and accurately recorded and preferably not on whiteboards. Public confidence and trust in our politicians depends on it.

T.J. Farquahar, Ainslie




Treasurer Joe Hockey avers that the age of entitlement is over. Cuts to funding for scientific research, environment and nature conservation, climate change and renewable energy agencies, the national broadcaster, health and welfare, and public good activities in general, seem equally likely to herald the end of the age of enlightenment, at least in Oz.

Ed Highley, Kambah

So Joe Hockey has proclaimed that the age of entitlement is over and that we all have to share the burden. Does that mean entitlements to politicians will also be curtailed? A cold day in hell when that happens I imagine.

J.E. Smith, Nicholls


Well said, Fred Barnes (Letters, April 14). The government's age-pension expenditure problem won't be solved by punitive action against those who have practised thrift to provide for themselves in retirement.

That would merely reduce the incentive for personal responsibility and make matters even worse.

Phil Teece, Sunshine Bay, NSW


Perhaps fair-minded Australian public servants, including ''whistleblowers'', could regain their right to freedom of speech by claiming they are just exercising their Brandis-given right to practise bigotry. Just a thought!

Ted Tregillgas, Flynn


With regard to plans to redevelop sites along Northbourne Avenue to provide more housing, where else will the Metro Folly get its passengers outside the morning and evening peak hours between Gungahlin and Civic?

Colin Whittaker, Torrens


And where has H. Ronald (Letters, April 15) been all those years when thousands of people have protested against inhumane actions towards asylum seekers by the previous Coalition and Labor governments? The anguish started in 2001 with Tampa and the children overboard tragedy! The moral mire is even deeper now.

Marguerite Castello, Griffith


Jake Mitchell (''Ten seeks Super Rugby deal in battle for ratings'', BusinessDay, April 14, p9) says ''Super Rugby has never been broadcast on free-to-air television''. Not so. In the early days, I could routinely attend home games at Bruce Stadium and get home in time to watch the replay on a local free-to-air channel (Prime or Capital 7). In 1997 they broadcast every Brumbies game. They gave it up because they couldn't get enough viewers for replays only.

Ian Douglas, Jerrabomberra, NSW


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