Letters to the editor


Thank you, George Tafe (Letters, May 8), for raising the possibility of replacing all other sources of government revenue - state and federal - with a tiny electronic transfers tax. I wonder if Ken Henry or other experts have examined its feasibility. It sounds too good to be true.

But, if the maths add up and if the daunting transition was manageable (think, for instance, of the inflationary effect of an enormous surge in the purchasing power of individuals!), the long-term consequences would be dramatic.

Our economy would be freed of the enormous cost of compliance and tax minimisation. And managers would be freer to focus on productivity.

Governments would have to keep punitive taxes on things we want to repress, such as tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and, depending on your values, petrol. But they would no longer need the revenue and would be free to take other corrective measures against these evils.

But, best of all, our politicians would no longer be able to argue we can't afford this or that.

Ron Walker, Campbell


George Tafe's suggestion of an electronic transfer tax (Letters, May 8) is a good idea as long as it includes share transactions so as to rein in the distortion of the stock market by high-frequency trading (HFT). A transaction tax of 0.05 per cent on every share transaction would reap $5 on a $10,000 buy/sale. This would not affect long-term holders of shares in super funds who trade only a few times per year.

As well, it is less than the difference between the brokerage of some of the major online brokers. It would, however, collect a lot of money from HFT traders who trade hundreds of times a minute. The book by Michael Lewis, Flash Boys, outlines the problem with HFT, although the ASX will not admit it exists here.

One only has to look at some of the huge spikes in share trades and the minute number of shares traded so as to trigger stop-loss sales to know that the market is being rigged. A transactions tax would help fix this by slowing down HFT.

Dave Roberts, Dickson


Transport black hole

My wife and I recently needed to travel to Canberra airport, leaving our car at home. As it costs $40 or more to go there by taxi from Hughes, a 15-20-minute trip, we explored alternatives.

This is what the internet told us: ''There is no direct ACTION service to the Canberra Airport, however there are multiple buses that service stops close by on weekdays. Routes 10, 28 and Xpresso peak-hour routes 737, 757 and 786 all service stops in Fairbairn Park - within a 15-minute walk (approximately 500 metres) from the terminals. There are no weekend services to or from Fairbairn Park.''

Big deal! Who wants to haul luggage half a kilometre with children in tow? Or in inclement weather? Or with a disability? And only on weekdays, as there are no services at weekends.

It is ridiculous the national capital has no public transport service to its airport. Why not? Is ACTION beholden in some way to the taxi industry?

Fred Roberts, Hughes


Take Tuggeranong west

University of Canberra town planning academic Hamish Sinclair (Letters, May 1) disagrees with the expansion of Tuggeranong across the Murrumbidgee close to the town centre. It is on the western edge of Tuggeranong, suiting that expansion. Showing his bias for urban consolidation, (mostly intrusive, expensive, cramped, noisy, poorly built flats), he claims the expansion would have environmental problems. They would be readily and sustainedly solvable, however.

Indeed, the development would be more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, and properly balanced in the overall ACT context, than other large, government-supported greenfield residential developments being mooted for elsewhere in the ACT and its hinterland.

Sinclair has been mute on them, to my knowledge. One is the private-sector ''Riverview'' complex on environmentally sensitive ACT and NSW land, centred on the privately owned Ginninderra Falls, miles from the nearest town centre, Belconnen. Another is on similarly sensitive rural ACT land, labelled ''future urban'' on a recent ACT planning map contained in a 2013 paper by Sinclair and colleague Barbara Norman. It's at remote peninsula-like East Kowen on the extreme eastern edge of the territory.

Those sorts of developments, and further growth of the isolated Lower Molonglo region, should be shelved in favour of the restorative, affordable westward expansion of Tuggeranong.

Jack Kershaw, Kambah


Coles case examined

Two comments about the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Federal Court action against Coles for ''unconscionable conduct''. First, it's intriguing that the action is being taken under the consumer section of the Competition and Consumer Act, yet the alleged conduct is in relation to Coles' suppliers - who are obviously not consumers.

Second, even if the case is not ruled out for that reason, ''unconscionable conduct'' is an extremely vague term, and it will be interesting to see how the court interprets it. The ACCC has put out a public document giving its interpretation, but it is really a matter for the Court.

The ACCC's interpretation is not very helpful; for example, it says unconscionable conduct is ''more than simply unfair or harsh - it must have an element of 'bad conscience''' (whatever that means); and it must be something ''beyond hard commercial bargaining'' (again, whatever that means; given Coles' need to compete with Woolworths and other supermarkets, I would have thought that whatever Coles negotiates with its suppliers to reduce the price it pays for supplies is ''hard commercial bargaining'').

I await the court's decision with interest.

R.S. Gilbert, Braddon


When nature visits

I have a possum that visits occasionally and sleeps during the day in my garage carport. He/she loves to chomp on a piece of banana and, unlike many humans, he/she never causes any damage to the environment, my garden or my property.

As to breeding, when I first took up residence in Canberra in 1980 the human population was about 200,000. Thirty-four years later the human population has more than doubled, causing the removal of thousands of trees and hundreds of hectares of grasslands and pollution levels have almost tripled.

So, I suggest we should all install bird wire in our chimneys, peel a banana and enjoy nature.

P.J. Carthy, McKellar

Onward Christian curriculum until public review goes public

The ironically named Students First website tells me that submissions to the ''independent'' Donnelly-Wiltshire review of the Australian curriculum closed mid-March for a report mid-year.

But where are the submissions? Surely this secretive government isn't suppressing submissions to a public inquiry? Not even the commission of audit did that.

I asked the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority if submissions are to be public. At first, it professed not to follow my question. After a week, it claimed it was not ''privy'' to submissions and say I should ask the Department of Education.

No sooner said than done. The department refers my brain-busting yes-no question to a ''specialist'' staffer for reply in ''10 business days''. That was four weeks ago - no reply yet.

Relax,department, I wasn't really ''Pyning'' to see those submissions. Neither, I suspect, is Kevin Donnelly. He already knows the answer, having told us that the ''cultural left has enforced its world view on schools'' and therefore ''the Bible should be taught in state schools''.

Which is why I'm expecting our national curriculum to become a lot more ''Judeo-Christian'' and ANZAC but don't mention the Frontier Wars (the topic of my submission).

Oh well, if you can't beat them, join them. May I suggest curriculum modules for ''Our Kings and Queens: Offa to George VII'', ''Chivalry for Christian Gentlemen'' and ''Deportment for Christian Ladies''?

Stephen Saunders, O'Connor


How to lobby a lobbyist

Having always believed that people are elected to Parliament to represent their constituents first and any party second, recent ICAC reporting about corrupt behaviour and selling time to lobbyists is concerning.

As an advocate for changes to certain social policies, I appear to need to change into a lobbyist so I can buy my way into the ears of the self-interested because they do not show any public commitment at present. Can they please let me know beforehand what kind of present their advisers prefer: I only ask it not be alcohol.

Finally, can Gary Humphries (''Until elections publicly funded, money talks'', Times2, May 9, p5) to stop peddling his biased pro-liberal agenda in The Canberra Times. After all he is a paid lobbyist clearly in that position because of his time in politics and now paid to push agendas of less transparent parties.

Paul Cubitt, president, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition


Defence myopia

By ignoring that Paul Ronalds' claim that F-35 funding supposedly outweighs foreign aid is actually the exact opposite of the annual budgeting really involved, Sue Wareham (Letters, May 8) seems to prove my point about ideological myopia's ability to mar informed public debate.

Moreover, using Sue's odd reasoning, any budget funds spent on higher priorities than foreign aid - such as the 60 per cent share expended in social security, health and education or the 6 per cent on defence - wrongly detract from such aid.

Finally, when trying to answer my point about synergies between Australia's military and development aid efforts in helping establish the overall conditions necessary for socio-economic progress, Sue may have been confused by The Canberra Times unfortunately editing out the full list of: ''South Korea, Malaysia, Namibia, Somalia, Cambodia, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Tonga and Afghanistan, and in a long-term context, even less successful attempts to help in South Vietnam and perhaps Iraq.''

And despite their many continuing problems, and mistakes undoubtedly made during the UN-endorsed multinational military efforts to help them, even in Iraq and Afghanistan independent opinion-polling regularly confirms that, on balance, substantial majorities remain thankful for such assistance.

Neil James, executive director, Australia Defence Association


Stop rich tax dodgers

Greg Cornwell's disparaging catch-all insinuation (Letters, May 8) that correspondents concerned with tax concessions and evasion by mega-rich individuals and companies ought to do more themselves ignores the fact that not only do the less wealthy give a greater proportion of their income to charity, but they also do most of the day-to-day heavy lifting with the poor and the less able - either in their vocations or in a voluntary capacity (as do many wealthy people and businesses, of course).

No doubt one or two of those correspondents referred to were simply returning serve - thinking Australians don't take kindly being told to ''work harder for less'' by to-the-manor-born mining billionaires in particular. But the real issue is about government concessions to the rich and their use of offshore tax havens, trusts and other instruments to avoid tax - not to mention obscene runaway executive remuneration.

These are legitimate concerns at any time, more so when we have the nation's primary bean counter holding forth about the end of the age of entitlement - which interestingly he helped create under the Howard government.

Australians mostly acknowledge the importance of ''hard work'' and business and individual entrepreneurial success and accept the rewards it brings to others and, indirectly, to themselves. They are, however, smart enough to know that many wealthy individuals and companies take advantage of every opportunity to reward themselves excessively and avoid tax.

It seems to me that raising concerns about government inaction in reining in trusts and the transfer of profits to offshore tax havens is both legitimate and timely, although given the quality of leadership among our legislators, calls for change will likely fall on deaf ears yet again. Here's hoping Joe Hockey proves to be a man of action rather than the regurgitator of conservative rhetoric he has been to date.

Jon Stirzaker, Latham




Stanford is first elite American university to declare it will divest from fossil fuels, banning investments in companies that dig up coal. Stanford rules out investments that cause ''substantial social injury'', and the Australian National University used this language in its responsible investment policy, announced last year. Chancellor Gareth Evans said it was the ''gold standard''.

So is it ready to become Australia's first university to divest from fossil fuels?

Tom Swann, Campbell


There is a disturbing tendency in the ACT for major government construction projects to send contractors bankrupt. Think ASIO, Majura.

Gary J. Wilson, Macgregor


Winston Churchill once said: ''I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is just like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.'' True.

Rhys Stanley, Hall


While new powers that enable NRL boss Dave Smith to lure rugby union stars to rugby league (''Smith given power to tempt Folau'', May 8, p24) will hurt rugby in the short term, what is more worrying is the long-term effects on Australian rugby that its cashed-up cousin can do through investment in the grassroots as the ARU pulls money out of local rugby. The best and most talented young players will flock to league.

A. Chan, Chisholm


Small native animals also exist quietly in some backyards in Canberra (''Animals at risk in extinction whodunit'', May 8, p4). But freewheeling domestic cats create havoc among these magnificent tiny furry creatures. Why aren't some cat owners more aware that their pets wander into neighbours' yards day and night like feral predators?

Michael Dwyer, Melba


I thank Jack Wiles (Letters, May 9) for educating us on the difference between a tax and a levy. When I asked a friend of mine to comment on it, he said that if I were run over by an 11-tonne truck it would be a levy. On the other hand, if I were to be run over by a 12-tonne truck it would certainly be called a tax.

Sankar Kumar Chatterjee, Evatt


The Abbott government's ''budget emergency'' appears to be a confected smokescreen for the imposition of a neoconservative political agenda.

Patricia Saunders, Chapman


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