Improving research and development a no-brainer

The skyscrapers in the debate on our budget and economy are health, welfare, education, defence, pensions, etc. In their shadow lies the cornerstone of our future - research and development.

We have a population dwarfed by nearly 3 billion neighbours. Sweden, which has a population of only 9.7 million compared to our 23 million, spends annually 3.4 per cent - $11.9 billion - of its GDP on research and development. Our stultified thinking means we spend 1.7 per cent - $15.9 billion. It must at least be doubled.

What should Australia research? The list is long, but as a standout example, if we don't soon develop new effective antibiotics, our morbidity and mortality rates will solve all government problems about a future retirement age and massive pension payouts.

Let's recall Hercule Poirot, who tapped his forehead and said: '''These little grey cells, it is up to them.''

Colliss Parrett, Barton

Swan sees red

I wonder if Wayne Swan (''Vindictive Abbott swinging the wrecking ball'', Times2, May 8, p5) and Jenna Price (''Auditing the auditors: debunking some of the myths'', Times2, May 8, p5) manage their own budgets as they suggest the government should manage the economy?


When in a position where they were just coping, would they really take the view that their neighbours are in more debt than they are and the bank is still willing to lend, so what's the problem?

Would they pay no attention to the future, or where necessary check their spending against income and make adjustments accordingly? Perhaps they might just keep borrowing in the hope that they will land a higher paid job, or maybe rely on an inheritance or a lotto win some time in the future to save the day. What if they were sacked in the meantime with no reserves, and debts beyond their means to pay? Would they borrow more to pay the debt they already own or would they, for example, sell their assets to improve the situation?

Would they worry that if they don't get a grip on their household finances, they will no longer be able to provide their family with the lifestyle they now enjoy, or do nothing and wait and see what comes up?

Swan and Price are not stupid, and politics aside, I don't believe they mean what they say.

H. Ronald, Jerrabomberra, NSW

Why would Tony Abbott, the politician, be concerned about inflicting fiscal pain on the Australian people in Tuesday's budget? He will almost certainly have two more budgets before the next election (double dissolutions aside). Plenty of time to offer budget sweeteners in the lead-up to the next election.

No doubt Abbott's plan is to get the pain in early while he doesn't have to worry about it electorally.

Don Sephton, Greenway

Don't pine for Ikea

I like Ikea. It has lots of great stuff. However, after a recent visit to the Tempe store in Sydney, I came away thinking that Canberrans should be careful what they wish for.

Sydney now has two stores to service a population of 4 million. Canberra has a population of less than 400,000, and Ikea doesn't usually establish an outlet in a city of its size.

To my mind, Canberra simply does not have the size of retail market to be able to absorb the impact of an Ikea store without serious impacts on existing businesses, so we should expect a slew of closures of otherwise sound businesses, particularly in Fyshwick.

I'm sure I will enjoy the convenience of having an Ikea store in Canberra.

I'm just not sure that it will be worth the cost.

David Jenkins, Casey

I fail to understand why the decision by the pre-fab chipboard furniture champion to cater to the petite bourgeoisie capitol of Australia merited such extravagant front-page treatment (''Ikea comes to Canberra thanks to cashed-up residents'', May 8, p1).

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Fit for a pension

Could the plan to introduce ''fit notes'' actually be counterproductive in trying to reduce the pension bill? Dame Carol Black, in discussing the fit note and the benefits of workforce participation (''Farewell sick note, welcome fit note'', May 7, p1) states that '' … people who are not in work are not as well mentally, are not as well physically and some of the results show that they die earlier.''

If so, then more mentally and physically invigorated older workers will live longer and so get the pension. Gotta love the way squeezing the productivity balloon just results in a costly bulge somewhere else.

Mark Boscawen, Calwell

Price is right

Rex Williams (Letters, May 8) joined the dopey chorus shaking fists at Coles and Woolworths. Why exactly is it anyone's business (including the ACCC's) that Coles and Woolworths push suppliers regularly and hard to reduce prices?

Surely outrage demands there be proof that the big, bad grocer-oligopoly is pocketing monopoly returns?

Instead, we see Coles' and Woolworths' return on assets remains acceptably moderate because cost reductions are routinely passed to customers. Us. That's why smaller, higher-priced grocers hate them. If Coles/Woolworths prices soar, IGA/Superbarn stop whining. It's all about consumer sovereignty. We flock to their supermarkets. Numbers of noisy, socialist zealots who actually shun ''The Man'' are trivial.

People in cosy businesses often get confused into thinking the market owes them a living: that it's all about them. A cranky newsagent once abused me for changing paper-deliverer. It's not about them. It's about us. Shape up or ship out.

Veronica Giles, Chifley

Polluted profits

Yes, Brian Hatch (Letters, May 7), those who have built careers in what you term the climate ''industry'' are indeed becoming nervous. They are nervous because the direct and catastrophic impact on the Earth's natural systems of the proliferation of humans and their economic development has been understood for a long time.

They can see that the tracks up ahead are damaged and they've told the passengers of the impending derailment, but nobody seems too fussed that the train isn't slowing down. The costs of prevention and mitigation are accruing with every passing day of inaction, but those who have gained the most from extracting and selling the raw materials that pollute our environment have bought another decade of profits with a lobbying and PR campaign that puts big tobacco to shame. The gravy is flowing freely, my gullible friend, and it smells of hydrocarbons.

James Allan, Narrabundah

Survival of the rich

Ross Gittins's view is that the National Commission of Audit will widen social inequalities, as did the discredited social Darwinism of the 19th century (The rationalist mask slips, Times2, May 7, p1).

There are historical comparisons, such as Britain's Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who declared ''there is no such thing as society, only collections of individuals'', willingly agreeing with US president Ronald Reagan that the key to progress is the market. The biblical injunction ''To him that hath shall be given, to him that hath not shall be taken away'' sounds like the discredited 19th-century social Darwinism, while Marx's Communist Manifesto -''From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs'' - seems to express Christian values.

''Progress'' in modern society is almost exclusively preoccupied with growth in GNP (gross national profligacy), rather than growth in wisdom, understanding, in caring for each other and the natural world, in social justice and human rights, in co-operation rather than competition, in global literacy and numeracy, in creativity rather than destruction, positives which receive scant attention in the media.

Oscar Wilde wrily summed up economic rationalism when he admitted that when he was a student he thought that the only thing that mattered was money, whereas when he reached the age of 40 he realised his mistake, for then he knew that the only thing that mattered was money.

Bryan Furnass, Hughes

Ross Gittins sees a bigger role for government. He says the neo-classical school of economic thought is wrong because it assumes each of us is ''rational (hard headed, with perfect self control)''. But it doesn't. It assumes that in aggregate enough of us respond rationally to things like price changes (albeit with differing sensitivities, or ''elasticities'') for this assumption to identify outcomes considerably more accurately than do alternative assumptions. Most public policy development involving government intervention is about identifying areas where the market fails; is imperfect; is distorted.

Note that the default economic system in real life, in the absence of the disciplines of evidence-based economic rationalism, is not some caring, equitable social nirvana. History clearly shows that it is corrupt, crony politics driven by the pork barrel. Worry that many opponents of economic rationalism see personal advantage in returning there.

Cuthbert Douglas, Bonython

Possum magic

In reply to the doubting Michael Mulvaney (Letters, May 8) I can confirm that possums do use greenery when nesting. I have to confess that the barrel of our roll-a-door has been the ''nursery'' for local possums, much to the amusement of our neighbours. Over a number of years, around this time of year, I have observed possums feeding on Photinia robusta and later found small branches, leaves, etc, on the garage floor, before a baby emerged with its mother.

Lorraine Ovington, Fisher

Two properties, two problems, one solution, but it is illegal. The woodland on Lake George above our winery is sick, being infested with mistletoe. Bird-watcher friends say it would benefit from more possums to eat the mistletoe and restore the balance. Our garden in Red Hill has a tree defoliated by possums. Surely relocation of possums to Lake George would benefit all. What is the purpose of the law banning relocation?

Jim Lumbers, Manuka


Demolition work is under way inside Parliament House again. Large 50mm thick office doors and their frames are being cut into lift-able short planks before going to the tip. The special doors were made for the life of the building (200 years nominal). Some still have bronze hardware fitted. The Treasurer should get his own house in order before cutting everything else into useless planks to solve his tax problem.

Howard Styles, Kingston


With all the comments concerning crowd numbers for the recent GWS game at Manuka, (''Where are you Canberra'', Sport, May 6, p24), nobody has remarked that the game was also shown live on free-to-air television.

Surely this must have had a bearing on crowd numbers on the day? On such a cold day, I know where I watched it.

Gordon Bezear, Gowrie


I heard Bob Carr tell Alex Sloane on Radio 666 that Migration Review Boards over the years were (my words, his meaning), too lazy to do an honest job. This would mean that Philip Ruddock, Amanda Vanstone, Kevin Andrews, Chris Bowen and Chris Burke were negligent. All because the people who looked at the evidence couldn't reach the conclusions that Carr's prejudices led him to.

Jim Jones, Charnwood


It is good to know the National Library is closed on Good Friday (Letters, May 6). But it was open during our Anzac Day services, which I feel was disrespectful.

Meredith Pettett, Richardson


A message to MLAs Simon Corbell and Yvette Berry: Employees are ''remunerated'' not ''compensated'' for working.

Edward Corbitt, Farrer

Email: letters.editor@ Send from the message field, not as an attached file. Fax: 6280 2282.Mail: Letters to the Editor, The Canberra Times, PO Box 7155, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT 2610.

Keep your letter to 250 words or less. References to Canberra Times reports should include date and page number. Letters may be edited. Provide phone number and full home address (suburb only published).