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Lesson in diplomacy: why not sell Foreign Affairs assets?

Date

Letters to the editor

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Pope's cartoon on the possible conflict of interest that Tony Shepherd may find himself in while conducting Tony Abbott's Commission of Audit is, as usual, brilliant and very much to the point (January 15).

However, whether we like it or not, the audit will undoubtedly lead to the sale of some Commonwealth assets.

This being the case, I would like to suggest that, in addition to the low-hanging fruit of Australia Post, Medibank and the like, the inquiry look at the now largely redundant assets of agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

For instance, in this age of instant communications, do we really need to maintain the costly edifice of Australia House in London?

Surely buildings of this type, belonging to a bygone age, could be sold off to an international chain of hotels.

A couple of floors in a modern office building could then be rented for diplomatic and consular use.

The savings would be enormous.

Before traditionalists choke on their toast at this suggestion, they should note that according to the latest edition of The Economist, more than a dozen foreign missions in London, including the Dutch and American, are undertaking or considering this action.

Our embassies in Paris and Tokyo would bring a few million, too.

Timothy Walsh, Garran

Communication fiasco

Eugene Holzapfel (Letters, January 14) was quite right to point out that privatising Telstra, a ''natural monopoly'' because of its ownership of Australia's basic communications network, has turned out to be a disaster.

This is partly because of the requirement that Telstra allow its so-called ''competitors'' to use Telstra's facilities at government-determined prices (how on earth can you call that situation ''competition''?), and partly because, having seen the mess this caused, the government has now virtually ''renationalised'' Australia's basic communications network, by building the national broadband network and forcing Telstra to gradually scrap its network.

The only thing Holzapfel could have added was the harm this has done to Telstra's shareholders: having been persuaded by the government to buy Telstra shares, they now see their company being reduced by the government to a mere retailer instead of the owner and operator of Australia's basic communications network, and their shares are at a lower price than they paid for them.

This mess resulted from over-enthusiastic competition advocates in government artificially splitting communication services into separate ''wholesale'' and ''retail'' markets, and trying to create competition in the latter - even though it's clear that a telephone call from point A to point B is one service, not involving separate ''markets''.

Telecommunication services would probably be cheaper if Telstra had been left as Australia's sole provider, and the extra costs involved in the so-called ''competition'' in the ''retail'' market (eg marketing, advertising, reduced economies of scale, etc) avoided.

R. S. Gilbert, Braddon

Indonesia sets example

Thomas Friedman says pluralism must occur in the Arab world in order to bring peace (''A fight for many voices'', Times2, January 9, p1).

He could preferably have used the term Islamic world, which has been torn by sectarian violence, especially between Sunni and Shiite sects, in contention since the death of the prophet Muhammad.

Australians are fortunate that our nearest neighbour Indonesia, with 247 million people, being nearly 90 per cent Muslim, has a stable and pluralistic society. The 1945 Indonesian constitution of Muslim president Sukarno provides religious freedom. It recognises Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Further, in 2011, the Indonesian Sunni-Shia Council was established providing another global model.

For the future security of Australians, let us hope the recent years of democracy in Indonesia will continue to strengthen its pluralism and show its constitution as a flagship for the Islamic and Arab world.

Keith Gray, Weetangera

Hot? It's been worse

While Canberrans do their best to make it through the latest heatwave (''Canberra swelters through heatwave as hot weather hits'', January 15, online), they should bear in mind things have been worse.

The heatwave of January 1939 included a run of nine days over 38 degrees, including five days over 40.

It also includes Canberra's record maximum temperature of 42.4 degrees measured at the old Bureau of Meteorology site at Acton. This is 0.2 degrees higher than the current record at the airport station.

Marc Hendrickx, Berowra Heights, NSW

They paved paradise

If the director-general of the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate is concerned to ensure that housing blocks are able to contain shade trees (''Trees re-leaf me … no canopy means hotter suburbs'', January 16, p1), then why did her staff allow the demolition of a house in Reid and the removal of all vegetation from the block?

A large house has now been built almost to the side and rear boundaries, and is currently being surrounded by concrete surfaces. There is no room for shade trees or any form of garden, for either the current or future owners.

No doubt the owners will cool the house with airconditioning and enjoy the leafy views of neighbouring gardens whose owners have not implemented a ''scorched earth'' policy.

That the previous owner - after whom a Gungahlin suburb was named - was an eminent town planner employed by the National Capital Development Commission, just adds to the incongruity.

Roy Jordan, Reid

Our growing pains must be addressed

The ACT government is committed to reducing its land release program in the June budget as the territory's population growth slows to about 1.5 per cent a year (''Slowing population to hit ACT land release'', January 14, p1).

While 1.5 per cent growth a year sounds insignificant and benign, it hides a great multiplication factor.

The rule of thumb is to divide the percentage growth into 70 to give the doubling period.

Using this rule, it means Canberra's population will double in nearly 47 years.

It means the number of schools, hospitals, water supply, energy, roads, public services and general infrastructure will also have to be doubled in the same period.

The costs of growth are enormous. Acting Chief Minister Andrew Barr said: ''The pressures in terms of population growth are going to come from an ageing population.''

Actually, net overseas immigration is responsible for at least 60 per cent of our population growth and, due to the growth momentum that developed over years of high rates, even without immigration, the number of births would outstrip the number of deaths.

The ideal that population growth ''slows an ageing population'' is also questionable as the effect is only temporary.

Over time, high rates of immigration actually increase the rates of ageing.

Nothing in nature can grow forever, and natural resources are finite.

There must come a time when we surpass the era of growth, and make the life-cycle transition to a mature nation with a stable population size.

A growth-based economy, based on housing and population growth, can't be sustained forever.

Vivienne Ortega, Heidelberg Heights, Vic

High rollers need to pay tax like the rest of us

Methuselah reputedly lived for 969 years.

But when ''Crown seeks 60-year casino extension'' (BusinessDay, January 15, p8), it might be speculated that someone is gambling on eternal life!

Melbourne looks set to ''sister'' with other ''sin cities'', such as Macau and Atlantic City, where so-called VIP high rollers' source of gambling funds is never questioned and where the destitute gaze at the chauffeured limousines that dash to and from the airport via casinos and bordellos.

Were ASIO and the federal police doing what they're paid to do (instead of listening to gossipy phone calls), they'd liaise with Interpol, track the big casino money to its origins and transfer the possessors from luxury penthouses to penitentiary.

Obscene suggestions that VIP players should pay less tax than ordinary mortals will test NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell.

If he grants the wishes of already grossly subsidised, non-voting high rollers, he may be turning his back on electors who depend on state revenue.

Albert M. White, Queanbeyan, NSW

Aim for containment

Dr Alan Stephens, historian and former air force pilot, has a problem with his colleagues.

It is ''that Western military staffs and academies have been fortresses of obsolete ideas'' (''Western vision of invasion an inversion of sanity'', Times2, January 15, p5).

He doubts the ''declaratory strategy in Afghanistan''.

He says: ''Four times American-led armies have invaded and … four times the model has failed, in Vietnam, Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan.''

Pundits have foretold that international police actions will replace old-fashioned territorial warfare.

The question is, ''What would be different if they did?''

Consider domestic policing. The cops go in, nab a criminal or two and go, and leave the same old mess behind.

Containment is another issue.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Hypocrites, all of them

We all remember the Malaysia solution: the deal set up by the former Labor government whereby boat people would be flown in well-maintained aircraft to a country that was prepared to accept them, in return for which we would take in other people whom we were prepared to accept.

At once, there were screeches of rage from the Liberal Party and the Greens, and from supporters of boat people.

They went to the High Court to have the deal declared illegal.

They smugly told the world that Australia had to take in the boat people whether Australia liked it or not.

Now that we have a Liberal government, boat people are being sent in unseaworthy boats back to Indonesia, a country unprepared to accept them.

Australia is not taking in the boat people as it is required to do.

This Liberal government has not stopped the boats; it is simply turning them around.

Yet there is no screeching and no procession to the High Court.

What has happened to all the self-righteousness indignation and smugness?

Where are the Greens and the self-appointed, so-called refugee advocates?

Having thwarted one government and then helped to bring it down on this important issue, why aren't they thwarting and bringing down another?

At first sight, they seem to be political hypocrites, like the Liberals.

But look closer and you'll see that they are simply expressing the maddest and most childish of Australian attitudes: ''If we can't have everything we want, right now, then we'll just make sure that we get nothing at all.''

G. T. W. Agnew, Coopers Plains, Qld

An open argument

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says Destroy the Joint supporters are ''juvenile'' for sending him tampons to protest against the lack of sanitary items for women in detention camps.

If he wants to prove they are wrong, if he wants to prove that they are wasting time and money, all he needs to do is open the detention camps to an independent inspection by a recognised international aid group so the aid group can assure us that refugees and asylum seekers are not being mistreated.

One of the problems of secrecy is, in the absence of good information, rumours will always start.

If you want to stop the rumours, open the flow of information to the Australian people.

As Tony Abbott said a month before he won office: ''The last thing we want to do is hide anything from the Australian people.''

Doug Steley, Heyfield, Vic

Corruption by degrees

Jack Waterford's commentary on Chris Christie's bridge affair (''Hirings hint at character'', Times2, January 15, p1) notes that Christie's image may have suffered some damage: ''… the innuendo being not so much corruption as partial treatment for political friends and allies.''

Perhaps he could explain the distinction in his next column.

Some of us, reading reports of Eddie Obeid's dealings, had naively imagined that politicians' partial treatment of their mates was itself a kind of political corruption.

Barry Hindess, Reid

Puritan view

C. Lendon (Letters, January 16) fails to note Oliver Cromwell's biggest failure.

Three centuries before the Uniting Church arose, Cromwell tried unsuccessfully to unite the Presbyterians and Congregationalists (the Methodists did not yet exist).

Had he succeeded, England, much to Robert Willson's chagrin no doubt, would have remained a highly successful Puritan republic.

Stephen Holt, Macquarie

France's side issue

Rather than stating his affair with an actress was a personal matter and no one else's concern (''Hollande's affair the elephant in the room'', January 16, p8), French President Francois Hollande should have pointed out he was simply following the tradition set by his predecessors.

It does make you wonder, however, how poor is the judgment of such people, who are risking losing France for a bit on the side!

Sam Nona, Burradoo, NSW

TO THE POINT

MEMORIAL CHICKEN

I cannot resist adding to the commentary on Australian-American Memorial nomenclature, which was known as ''chicken on a stick'' in American circles some years ago.

Des Walsh, McKellar

AMEN TO THAT

As well as being hypocrisy on the part of most of its mumblers, the Lord's Prayer in any parliament patently does not work, especially where it says ''Lead a snot …'' (''Scrap prayer move'', January 15, p2).

Barrie Smillie, Duffy

MP'S INS AND OUTS

In responding to allegations of fraud involving his wife, former federal Liberal MP Alex Somlyay says ''I've retired, mate … I'm out of it, OK'' (''Liberal MP accused of paying wife for no work'', January 14, p1). Sounds more like he's right in it?

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

WHERE'S THE SCIENCE?

How can Tom Switzer write an entire article on climate change without one serious mention of science (''The game is up - carboncrats have had their day'', Times2, January 14, p5)?

Allan Haines, Torrens

SOME LIKE IT HOT

To add to Elizabeth Thurbon's request to Sotiria Liangis (Letters, January 14), could she please update the air conditioning in Manuka's Capitol Theatre. Each time I have been there, the air conditioning is not working. It's very poor in this hot weather.

Deidre Woodger, Weston

EXTRAVAGANT PALACE

The straightening of nails for reuse, yet vast expenditure of natural and financial resources on an enormous monument to conspicuous consumption. How good is that, really, Sotiria Liangis (''How Sotiria Liangis left Greece with nothing and built a Canberra empire'', January 11, p1)?

Patricia Saunders, Chapman

ARGUMENT IN A VORTEX

Some have wondered whether the cold spell in the US is evidence that global warming is ''crap''. The freeze was caused by a ''polar vortex'', which caused polar air to move abnormally far south but, on the other side, sucked warm air from the south into Scandinavia causing an abnormal warm spell there.

Adrian Gibbs, Yarralumla

FEEDING AN ISSUE

There have been media reports that some illegal boat arrivals held in detention on Christmas Island are on a hunger strike, while others have sewn their lips together. I hope we will respect their human rights and not resort to giving them sustenance against their wishes.

Roger Dace, Reid

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