Letters to the editor

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Treasurer Joe Hockey has just revealed, with great fanfare, that the budget deficit over the next four years is estimated at $123 billion, and the total government gross debt $460 billion. Had we been talking about one of those ''southern-European countries'' we would probably be referring to them as ''having been living beyond their means''. But, because we are talking about Australia we just refer to those figures as the result of the reckless policies of the previous government.

Some will say that Joe Hockey was just politicking. But don't be fooled, aside from the utterly misleading way of presenting the figures, there is a much more sinister aspect to the Treasurer's presentation that should be worrying us. Joe Hockey is hiding a terrible plan, a plan that can be summarised in three words: slash and burn. This is what his conservative counterparts in southern Europe have been doing for the past few years. Look at Spain, Greece, Italy. That will be Australia by the time Joe Hockey has finished with it. They have run out of ''family silver'' to sell and the only thing left is cut, cut, cut.

John Rodriguez, Florey

Here we go again. The post-election ritual of the new government bemoaning the bare cupboard, blaming the profligacy of the previous tenant, and laying the groundwork for a ''horror budget'' (''Depth of Labor's spending damage will be seen: Hockey'', December 17, p1).

It happens every time; the differences are only in the degree of deception. Joe Hockey and his Coalition mates have suddenly ''discovered'' that the Labor government had been on a secret spending spree, and not only emptied the bank account but also overshot the limit on the credit card. Big savings will have to be found in the budget and, alas, this time they will have to come from that great, uncomplaining amorphous mass, working Australians: including low-paid care workers and public servants; from low-income superannuation recipients; from public education and health; from anywhere but the ''big end of town''.

The carbon price and the ''mining tax'' must go, but executive mums must be suitably rewarded for producing more offspring and lots of money must be spent on those great emissions enablers, roads, rather than on far cleaner and more efficient fast rail. Expect lots of ''necessary economies'' (if you're one of the lower-paid majority) in the midyear budget. The ''nasties'' must be got out of the way early, so that they're forgotten (if not forgiven), and there's plenty of cash on hand, in time for the next lot of pre-election bribes. Whoops, I mean promises.

Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin

The Coalition in opposition banged on a lot about debt. As individuals, most of us are prepared to carry personal debts for half a lifetime or more so that we can own a house. I don't see why, as a nation, we should be worried about going into debt to invest in valuable infrastructure such as a broadband network. The government's continuing negativity and lack of a positive and constructive vision for a future which presents huge challenges, particularly environmental ones, can only continue to turn voters off. At this rate Bill Hayden's ''drover's dog'' should be in with a fair chance in 2016.

Heather Crawford, Evatt

Environmental vandals

It would appear that the Australian electorate has either knowingly or unwittingly delivered the stewardship of our fragile environment into the hands of the barbarians.

We can only look on in horror at decisions that have been made in the first 100 days of this Coalition government, for example the dismantling of the Climate Commission, the proposed dumping of sea-bed dredging on the Great Barrier Reef and the handing over of power to the states to approve major projects such as mines and ports currently under national environmental law. This is supposed to streamline the process; to create a ''one-stop shop,'' as Environment Minister Greg Hunt calls it. One stop to destruction. You can't keep on digging it up or chopping it down forever. But what can you expect from a government that is only interested in the bottom line.

Have we descended into such a state of apathy that we will just sit back and allow these vandals to apply their special brand of scorched earth policy, or will we let them know that they have gone too far? I encourage all concerned Australians to contact their local member and express outrage at the so-called environmental policies of this government.

Rick Godfrey, Lyneham

A matter of trust

How much trust can the Australian public put in Tony Abbott? On December 4, Mr Abbott referred to the national disability insurance scheme launch sites as ''trial sites'', and on Tuesday Joe Hockey told us that the country's finances are in a parlous state. He has clearly stated that federal expenditure will have to be overhauled.

In view of both these statements I would like to ask the federal and ACT governments: ''Why go ahead with the introduction of the NDIS in the ACT in July 2014?'' A trial implies that the program may not go ahead and as the NDIS already has trial sites in the Hunter, the Barwon area, Tasmania and South Australia, why subject the ACT to the enormous upheaval and cost in both government and the not-for-profit sectors for something that may not continue?

People are worried about their jobs and how not-for-profit associations will have to alter their services to qualify for NDIS funding. With only the minimum of information being available, anxiety is evident in many associations.

I am fully behind the introduction of the NDIS, but would hate to see money, time and energy being expended when I, for one, do not trust Tony Abbott and the government not to pull the plug on it. I am happy to be proved wrong!

Addendum: As I prepare to send this letter, Joe Hockey is on the television announcing financial cuts to the NDIS - this only strengthens my case. Why proceed in the act when the future is so unclear?

Gay von Ess, Aranda

First, review the FTA

It is almost 10 years since the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement was signed. Although that was done while US relations were at a particular high, many thought the deal was surprisingly poor for Australia, and some of its provisions still have not come into effect. There is little talk about any ''improvements'' to the Australian economy this agreement produced, but our trade deficit seems to have only worsened.

It is unclear, then, what additional ''benefits'' the government could hope to get through the current Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

While this is supposed to be a larger agreement among many countries, it is clear US corporate interests are the largest presence. Virtually all the countries involved have expressed concerns at how the US has approached negotiations. As we already have the ''best deal'' we can get with the US, perhaps it would be better to deal with the other countries without US interests competing with our own.

In any case, surely the government should conduct a complete review of the free trade agreement and its effect on the economy before considering any further treaties with the US.

Arved von Brasch, Bruce

Marriage cause is costly

Christine Ellis and Vincent Zankin (Letters, December 17) show no real knowledge of economics when they support the various attempts by the ACT government to introduce same-sex marriage. Putting aside the question of whether it is a commendable issue or not, the fact is that the gross state product of the ACT is almost exclusively dependent on our tax and ratepayers. The cost of pursuing broader social justice issues cannot be offset against receipts from big business, industry, natural resources, manufacturing and the like.

ACT taxpayers should not take leading roles and should leave the running to financially stronger states and/or the federal government. Ms Ellis and Dr Zankin might have the financial resources to help pay for such extravagances, but many others do not and as far as I know, Sarah Hanson-Young, Louise Pratt and Sue Boyce (named by Ms Ellis) are not ACT taxpayers and therefore have the luxury of promoting causes at our expense. It is time that the ACT community concentrated on basic issues such as the homeless, the elderly and the unemployed, where our dollar has an immediate effect.

Ric Hingee, Duffy

Fair reporting possible

Having recorded and watched ABC chairman Jim Spigelman speak at the National Press Club recently, my eye was drawn to Nicholas Stuart's article ''ABC needs fast forward key'' (Times2, December 17, p4) - only to be disappointed. What I took away from the speech was certainly not what Stuart did.

Firstly, he labels the idea ''news can ever exist without bias'' as ''ridiculous''. That might be true in relation to New Newscorp's offerings but while it might not be easy or widespread, unbiased reporting is certainly not impossible. All it needs is some sensible observation, critical thinking and an intention to not mislead. Unless you become so precious about what ''bias'' means it becomes meaningless.

Then Stuart decides the new external audit of the ABC ''does not suggest that there's much likelihood of any evidence of systematic impartiality occurring''. Really? From what I have seen and heard of the ABC over many years, I would expect quite the opposite: that an audit would find there is systematic impartiality. What it's unlikely to show is systematic bias.

And, finally, among all his confusion over impartiality and bias, he lambastes the ABC chairman for giving a speech that was ''a justification of the present rather than a vision for the future''. Given the braying of the Coalition and of New Newscorp (talk about the pots calling the kettle black!) I would have thought Spigelman's focus was exactly what was needed.

Bronis Dudek, Calwell

Iran overtures ignored

Peter Wertheim and Alex Ryvchin (Letters, December 9) took Amin Saikal to task for welcoming the stage one agreement between the P5+1 states and Iran. Professor Saikal had noted Israel's public and diplomatic efforts against these negotiations. Despite these correspondents' rhetoric, no one disputes that Iran has indeed been advancing its nuclear technology since 2003, and in the face of increasingly harsh economic sanctions by the US and other powers at US behest.

Like other states before it, Iran has reasoned that in the future its possession of nuclear technology (if not actual nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities similar to those of Israel) could act as a deterrent against powerful states prepared to strike it ''preventively''.

However, during this same recent period, Iran has several times indicated its preparedness to enter into a ''grand bargain'' with the US in particular, only to be harshly rebuffed. Iran used this term to indicate its preparedness to negotiate a range of issues, not excluding its ongoing support to Israel's adversaries. Instead, egged on by Israel, the US has until recently confined its response to military threats and so-called ''coercive diplomacy''.

The long-term interests of all states, including Israel and despite its ultra nationalist leadership, would be better served by the current negotiations. Their purpose is to normalise Iran's links with the rest of the world.

Normalisation of Israel's links, however, will require both addressing Palestinian rights and also openly acknowledging, in front of the world, Israel's own nuclear weapons capabilities.

Barry Naughten, Farrer

Preserve lake's beauty

Almost every two years I visit Canberra with my husband, Kenneth. This city holds a very special place in our hearts.

We were both privileged to be postgraduate students at the ANU during the years 1966-69, meeting each other at University House soon after Lake Burley Griffin was established. In those days the lake was central to our recreation and social life, and on all our visits over the last 43 years, we always walk around its shore and marvel at Canberra's beauty.

I was most unhappy to learn about a boat maintenance facility proposed for Black Mountain Peninsula, a place where we and countless others have enjoyed wonderful times. On our recent visit this November we once again enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of this lovely park and its spectacular views. We urge Canberra's management authorities to safeguard and preserve the beauty of the lake's peripheral parks, as they are unique and will provide pleasure for future generations to come.

Dr Angela Coop (nee Walker), Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA

Afghanistan women need more assistance

After ''Australian Troops Leave Tarin Kowt'' (December 17, p4), we need to remember Afghanistan's civilians, even if there are ''more children at school and a better role for women''.

Afghanistan remains one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. Girls' schools are frequently attacked and high-profile women's rights activists have been killed. Eighty-seven per cent of women in Afghanistan have experienced at least one form of domestic violence, including physical, sexual, or psychological violence or forced marriage. Afghanistan faces immense development challenges. Life expectancy is 49 years for men and women. The majority of the population live without sustainable access to clean water and sanitation.

After the withdrawal of allied military forces next year, a long-term legacy of our fallen would be judicious aid to improve the futures of Afghanistan's people. For example, Australia has cleared 2,640,000 square metres of mined and explosive remnants of war-contaminated land for productive use, with benefits to more than 15,000 people.

Australia's foreign aid has helped Afghans walk their land in safety. Australia's aid is a hand up, not a hand out. Afghanistan's future safety should be Australia's present priority.

Peter Graves, Curtin

Staying under cover

I regularly walk my dogs past St Thomas Aquinas School, Charnwood, and lately have been dismayed at seeing the children happily at play without hats on. There has been only one boy wearing a broad-brimmed hat. The attending teachers are no better. Surely the ''sun smart'' lessons are best learnt in the schoolyard - or are these kids condemned to future sun damage and misery?

My generation is paying for mistakes made out of ignorance. Have we learnt nothing?

Warren Durdin, Latham

TO THE POINT

WINSTON LIGHT

Joe Hockey, Treasurer, to Leigh Sales, 7.30 host: ''We'll turn the ship around.''

Positively Churchillian!

Barrie Smillie, Duffy

IN WITH THE OLD

With the car manufacturing industry closing down in this country, to save valuable environmental and economic resources, some of the redundant automotive expertise that is not needed in new car sales and service should be channelled into restoring and recycling older cars at a fraction of the cost to the environment and the economy of manufacturing and selling new cars.

Claude Wiltshire, Queanbeyan, NSW

AMERICA'S BLIND SPOT

Timothy Walsh (Letters, December 16) asks why Holden did not see the change to four-wheel-drives coming and states that these vehicles are now ''de rigueur''.

De answer is De Troit.

Peter Baskett, Murrumbateman, NSW

IT'S COLD OUTSIDE

Must one assume that the wire services to Australia are faulty? No mention of the record low temperatures in North America, snow in Cairo for the first time in 112 years. We need more carbon dioxide.

Brian Hatch, Red Hill

THE INVENTION OF LYING

The problem of mental reservation or lying arises at an early age. What course should a disappointed child follow when asked by grandma if her present were liked? The path of kindness or the path of honesty?

Eric French, Higgins

SELFIE INTEREST

I share Allison Pearson's view that President Barack Obama's and the British PM David Cameron's acts of resorting to their iPhones during Nelson Mandela's memorial service were nothing short of an insult to a decent man (''Show some selfie-control'', Times2, December 16, p1).

Then again, hardly anyone believed these leaders travelled to Johannesburg to express their emotion and shed the odd tear. Rather, their sole purpose was simply to be seen there.

Sam Nona, Burradoo, NSW

WRONGING THE RIGHTS

Just when you think the Abbott government couldn't sink any lower, we are now told that Tim Wilson from the Institute of Public Affairs has been appointed to the Australian Human Rights Commission. Talk about putting a square peg in a round hole. And no doubt there are many more of these gross appointments to come.

D.J. Fraser, Mudgeeraba, Qld


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