Letters to the editor

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Peter Hughes (''Malaysia plan was way to go'', Times2, December 12, p1) is right to mourn the lost opportunity of the Gillard government's Malaysia plan. If the pious Greens and the Christian Coalition had been able to put their political point scoring aside we would now have begun to build a regional plan to deal with the influx of asylum seekers to our part of the world. Instead we have a very ugly, ignoble way of treating our fellow humans, with the saintly excuse that we are saving their lives.

It should never have come to this and politicians should not sleep with clear consciences.

Meanwhile there is a louder public outcry about the mistreatment of export sheep and cattle than about the incarceration of innocent human beings in subhuman conditions.

I can only hope that Clive Palmer will use his political leverage to redeem Australia's tarnished reputation and restore some decency to the processing of refugee claims.

K.L. Calvert, Downer

Let's hope some courageous politician reads Peter Hughes' article. He was, after all, a former deputy secretary in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. He criticises the government's shuffling of asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus island and its ''inability'' to create a collective responsibility with south-east Asian transit countries. He repeats the criticisms that the UNHCR has made about the living conditions, isolation and uncertainty of detainees on Nauru and Manus island.

A courageous politician might also find out how much this government spends to keep 33,000 maritime asylum seekers on bridging visas or in detention.

Is there any politician out there who has read the article?

Patricia Varga, Holt

Between triathlons

John Warhurst's analysis of the first 100 days of the Coalition government (''Abbott plagued by own goals'', Times2, December 12, p4) identifies several factors that have contributed to its fall in opinion polls.

He could have added that, so far, it has been a lazy government. It surfed into power largely through the relentless repetition of three-word slogans (''stop the boats'', ''scrap the tax'') to which the divided and increasingly dysfunctional Gillard administration was vulnerable. It never presented a coherent, alternative strategy. The fact that it took so long to reconvene Parliament indicated that it did not have a legislative program ready to go as other incoming governments have had.

Some of the Coalition's frontbench, notably Christopher Pyne, seem to think that governing is just like opposition but with new slogans such as ''Electricity Bill'', ''Shorten Shambles'' and ''Operation Sovereign Borders''.

The unfortunate reality for Messrs Pyne, Hockey and Joyce is that governing is hard work. Balancing the books means making cuts that upset powerful lobby groups. Maintaining a manufacturing industry in a low-tariff, high-dollar world requires many hours of policy work and ministers who are prepared to read their briefs.

Keeping state governments reasonably happy on education funding needs a minister with the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon, not just a well-tailored suit and a smirk. Maintaining good relations with neighbours demands tact and an understanding of cultural differences, not flag-waving nationalism.

Tony Abbott may be discovering that government is not just something you do to fill in time between triathlons.

Mike Reddy, Lyons

Liberal by no means

I concur with the view of Matt Meyer (Letters, December 9) of the great deception directed at the Australian body politic and concealed in the name of the ''Liberal'' Party of Australia. There is nothing liberal in the programs, pronouncements or day-to-day running of its foreign policy, educational reforms, border protection and a score of other policy areas.

The word ''liberal'' cannot, and indeed must not, be used to describe the philosophical and political foundations of the present (and past, I might add) governments of that persuasion. Its use only adds to the terminological confusion.

This governing political party cannot even lay any claim to the term ''neo-liberal'' in the sense of advocating or practically supporting the full autonomy of the so-called ''market place'' of the fashionable ''neo-liberal'' economic push in the US.

If it is to regain a modicum of credibility in the electorate, the ''Liberal'' Party will obviously need to consider seriously the proposal of Mr Meyer by changing its name to the Conservative Party of Australia to reflect fully its exclusively conservative political agenda ever since the first days of the Howard government began looking to the 1950s and 1960s for inspiration.

This will free the name ''Liberal'' to be taken by a new force that will, no doubt, appear soon to allow all Australians to reconnect with the political processes and create a free and democratic nation caring for all individuals and communities.

Adam M. Rustowski, Belconnen

When rules are rules

Mark Raymond (Letters, December 4) introduces legal sophistry into what is a very simple matter - quite hilarious really, the notion of an exception in search of a rule. The "No Sunday Parking" example is misleading. It's not an exception, but a rule in itself. In general, a rule is a reliable, useful principle like "Drive on the left side of the carriageway". It is intolerant of exceptions. I propose that the consistently misused version is changed to "the exception that disproves the rule" (to avoid the prove versus test of conflict) on the basis that if there is an exception to a rule, the rule is no longer reliable. Alternatively, we could attach a caveat to the general statement of the rule listing the known exceptions, but I fear that would encourage agile, legal minds to deploy the kind of hair-splitting argument that constipates our courts.

Colin P. Glover, Canberra City

Just a starting point

Let us hope that the just announced royal commission into the home insulation scheme, devised and drooled-over by the Coalition as an ideological vendetta against the ALP, will quickly turn instead into something useful and desperately overdue, namely a fearless examination of how every industry in contemporary Australia, no matter how unscrupulous and driven by easy bucks it may be, has come to be granted the liberties of a disinhibited self-regulation, without scrutiny into its practices and essentially no penalties for even glaring and recurrent lack of all standards.

It's not just the media industry we are talking about, but several others, foremost among them the building industry and its specialty trades. Could we, for example, in decades to come be able again to buy new apartments that are not built to the non-standards that only in-house, corrupt, self-regulatory inspection and certification could ever allow?

That the Coalition should seem to want to focus on the funding program rather than the industry, on one building service alone among so many that are up for scathing audit, and on anything but the process by which self-regulation has come to cripple Australia, given the ethical and operational unsuitability of so many local industries to it, must give us hope at least that this royal commission will recommend a further one, this time into any politicians who feign comfort with or blindness to how self-regulation is operating in this country.

Alex Mattea, Kingston

Holden's poor vision

I am sorry for the Holden workers who will loose their jobs, but the company has only itself to blame. Two examples out of many: when I started taking an interest in vehicle safety, Holden didn't produce a car anywhere near as safe as the European cars I choose for my family. It took Holden decades to catch up.

Secondly: with the help of Howard government grants, tradesmen switched from their traditional Holden utility to the more aggressive-looking four-wheel-drives. Useful for work and fishing and hunting trips, these Korean, Japanese and later Indian and Chinese models are now de rigueur. Why did Holden not see this change coming, along with the demand for smaller, more economical cars?

Timothy Walsh, Garran

It must be a mug's game

I understand the multiple free trade agreements that Australia has signed mean we are importing cars (and many other items), without import duties being levied. But countries we have these agreements with are still levying duties on products we export to them. Can anybody explain how this works? It seems these free trade agreements are not beneficial, but rather detrimental to Australia. Are our negotiators mugs? Or are our politicians mugs for approving them? Maybe both?

M. Pietersen, Kambah

Wake-up call

We now know Holden is going, Ford before it, Kellogg is moving offshore, along with many companies before and probably Toyota and others to follow. While opportunist Bill Shorten may think that throwing dollars at these industries will solve the problem, methinks not. Unfortunately all these companies are moving because of high production costs, as well as the high value of the dollar that reduces the price of competitors' imported products.

While we as a society persist in expecting others to pick up the tab for our lifestyle choices and standard of living, we will continue to be a high-cost nation.

We all need to accept the fact that we can't have it all for nothing. Overtime rates don't count for much when you don't have a job, nor does 12 per cent of a gross wage of zero add much to your retirement fund.

Perhaps we need to start again with a clean sheet of paper!

Peter Toscan, Amaroo

Trucking on subsidies

Last week on ABC's 7.30, the Coalition trotted out trucking magnate Lindsay Fox to support the government's desertion of Holden. He argued it was time for the feds to stop subsidising industries such as car manufacturing. Where does it stop, he asked, adding that he does not get government subsidies in his trucking business.

Rubbish. Lindsay Fox is indeed subsidised. His giant trucks use our roads, at great expense to taxpayers. We foot the bill for the damage his trucks do to our roads. And he harasses governments at all levels to make it easier for his trucks to be ''efficient''. Here's an example. Four years ago, the road from Oberon to Goulburn had a very rough section of dirt between Oberon and Taralga, as it descended into the Abercrombie River gorge. Then, after years of neglect, the road was tarred, and overnight Mr Fox's trucks appeared in volume, taking the ''straight line route'' to Goulburn from Bathurst.

Recently the local council and the NSW government combined to widen two hairpin bends so Mr Fox's trucks could move easier down the slope. Less time, less fuel, more Fox profit.

No government subsidies for Mr Fox? What a joke, and it's at my expense as a taxpayer. Everyone's got a snout in the government trough, even Lindsay.

W.A.Brown, Holt

No need to interfere

We all saw Attorney-General George Brandis trumpeting about the importance of ''consistency'' in marriage laws. He is predictable, if not intellectually or socially inspired.

The important question is: why should governments interfere at all in personal and private matters between consenting adults? One pre-mediaeval purpose of marriage was to give certainty of lineage and inheritance to offspring. You didn't want anyone but the certified offspring of a king with his legally certified wife making claims on title or wealth, did you? Another purpose was to stop people from joining with those who were not of the ''Faith''. Both purposes are now only part of a long-ago past.

Most civil legal issues of marriage are covered by other laws, leaving many provisions of the Marriage Act redundant. That leaves only sentimentalists and religious enforcers opposing same-sex marriage. I don't go to St Christopher's preaching rationalism, so why should they have a voice in the lives of people outside their community?

In other words, why talk about ''legalising'' same-sex marriage when it would make more sense to remove personal relationships from legal purview? Issues such as property, inheritance and spousal pension rights can be otherwise covered quite satisfactorily. That would free people to indulge in whatever ceremonies and declarations they wanted without the law interfering in private affairs.

Ian Rae, Giralang

Growing demand for gardens requires fees

When is private food production economically as well as environmentally sustainable? People who don't have access to land may rent a small plot in a community garden to grow food. This is, in principal, a sensible solution unless they need to drive to get there.

But what if they have chosen not to have a backyard because they want a huge house that almost covers their block? Or they live in a high-rise city apartment? How much should a person pay for a garden plot if it is located on valuable land in a city area such as Acton or Braddon or O'Connor? If growing food for our own use is to be economically sustainable, the annual fees for use of land in community gardens must reflect the value of the land. For example, a community garden plot in an unused suburban area may attract an annual fee of $20 whereas the fee for a plot in an area such as Acton or Braddon might be as much as $200 or $400. If annual fees for community garden plots do not reflect the value of the land, what we have is not sustainability but a government subsidy to wealthy people who wish to play at growing their own food. Such a subsidy would perpetuate the myth, not supported by research, that high rise city living is sustainable.

And it would discriminate against suburban food producers who pay full rates for all their land.

Shirley Pipitone, Flynn

Murdoch media

I note with interest the recent allegations of bias against the ABC by conservative critics and by Liberal government figures. On the other hand, there has been complete silence by the Liberals against the disgraceful bias and conduct of the Murdoch press against the former Labor government, not only in the lead-up to and during the last election campaign but since then.

Jack Wiles, Gilmore

To the point

ABBOTT'S TRUE COLOURS

In one fell swoop, Tony Abbott cuts out promised pay rises to childcare workers, then to aged-care workers, all the while muttering about ''union perks''. These Tories are showing their true colours, even to those who voted them in. The Coalition gives not a toss for ordinary people.

Hugh Jorgahan, Lyons

What's the bet Katy Gallagher doesn't have to strike for her pay rise?

Bob Gardiner, Kambah

CUT MIGRATION

While sceptical that up to 50,000 jobs could be lost by Holden's closure, the fallout will be significant. In seeking to provide alternative employment options, consideration should be given to reducing migration numbers into Australia so we can first look after our own.

Greg Cornwell, Yarralumla

RICH COULD SAVE JOBS

Now is the time for Australia's billionaires, such as Clive Palmer, to cough up a few million to save the jobs of thousands in the automotive industry (''End of the road'', December 12, p1).

Ken McPhan, Spence

NO ADULTS IN CHARGE

First we had the ''great big new tax'' (sic). Now we've heard about it being a ''sad, bad'' day. I thought the supposed adults were back in charge. It sounds more like the kindergarten kids have taken charge of the playground, with predictable results.

David Jenkins, Turner

REVIVE OLD LAWS

Indeed a simple and acceptable solution suggested by Julian Robinson (Letters, December 12) - bring back the old drunk and disorderly law.

Evelyn Bean, Ainslie

MORAL LIES A DUTY

The Jesuit art of mental reservation seems to be presented as a moral alternative to, or excuse for, lying. But there are times when lying is a moral duty. If the Gestapo came to my door and asked me if I was harbouring Jews, and I was, my only moral course would be to lie to them.

Michael McCarthy, Deakin

ASYLUM-SEEKER RIGHTS

It might come as a shock to Peter Hughes (''Malaysia plan was way to go'', Times2, December 12, p1) and others like him, but people are allowed to come here on boats without being punished.

Marilyn Shepherd, Angaston, SA

SKYWHALE HOT AIR

If the skywhale was Robyn Archer's greatest commission in 25 years (''Skywhale the new van Gogh'', December 12, p5), then I would hate to see the worst.

Steven Hurren, Macquarie


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