Letters to the Editor


Of course, governments should bring unions to book if they undermine the general good, but so also businesses pursuing harmful practices. And in recent days we're hearing lots of examples of that: flogging of infant formula (''Formula for woe … fears for breastfeeding future'', February 12, p1), the promotion of junk food at the expense of healthy eating (''Junk food chief's husband helped shut healthy eating website'', February 12, p4), opposition to tightened licensing regulation to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence, and the threat to road safety from the trucking industry practice of imposing impossibly tight schedules on drivers (Four Corners, February 6).

The common thread in all these cases is a market failure, with those standing to profit refusing to acknowledge the harmful consequences of their business.

The trucking industry takes the cake. It wants the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal abolished, leaving self-regulation that Four Corners showed has manifestly failed.

The head of the Australian Logistics Council has the effrontery to allege that we consumers place more value on cheaper products than on the life, limb and suffering of truckies, other road users and families.

So often now there is a refusal to engage with evidence, leaving public policy to be determined by beliefs, feelings and self-interest. We've wound back the clock 300 years to the dark times before the Enlightenment.

Bill Bush, Turner


Building a mess

The devastating and costly experience of innocent home owners, building suppliers and sub-contractors at the hands of unscrupulous builders (''Dream homes turn into nightmares'', February 13, p1) is unfortunately not an isolated experience.

Last year I had experience with a building company that left a similar trail of devastation as it proceeded to sign up and disappoint many would-be home improvers. Even more galling was the re-emergence of that operator under a different name and seemingly with little accountability for the debts and misery left behind.

It can only be hoped that the ACT government's mooted changes to ACT building licensing weeds out such operators and that we see the building associations more actively protecting the good reputation of the majority of their members.

Allan Spira, Lyneham


A sick government

The article ''Fiona Nash's chief of staff under pressure to resign'' (February 13, p2) quotes senior public health experts as questioning ''whether Senator Nash remains suitable for the preventive health portfolio''. The obvious response, based on the unfortunate wording quoted above, is that health prevention appears to be her strongest point.

The mere fact that an individual so clearly compromised as her chief of staff Mr Furnival was given his job in the first place shows that the assistant minister and her government have absolutely no interest in, or understanding of, the concept of public health. Once again this government shows itself to be a disgrace, a government that fails at every turn to look after the wellbeing of the Australian people. We, voters and their children, are left entirely unprotected against the damaging excesses of every powerful business and vested interest in the country.

The blatancy of this government's willingness to side with enterprises and their lobbyists against the public good beggars belief.

It doesn't matter whether Mr Furnival divests his shares or not. His views, allegiances and background make him completely unsuited to any position from which he might influence public health policy. The same appears true of Senator Nash.

Julian Robinson, Narrabundah

Tony Abbott, it's too good an opportunity to miss. Although lies and misinformation have quickly cemented themselves as the hallmarks of your leadership, Fiona Nash clearly isn't good enough at either. It's a perfect time to ask her to step down (''Nash 'hiding from the truth' and misled Parliament: Wong'', February 14, p4). Two immediate benefits must enter your mind. One less of those pesky sheilas in your ministry, and the prospect of redemption for one of your fervent Senate backbenchers - let's say Cory Bernardi. Divine.

Jill Peterson, Dunlop


Un-united UK

The forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence has serious implications for Australia. If Scotland becomes independent, the United Kingdom will be dissolved, and major parts, if not the whole, of the Australian constitution will be inoperative.

The constitution vests the executive power in the Queen (Queen Victoria in 1901), the Queen appoints the governor-general, who assents to legislation in the name of the Queen. The enacting clauses provide that references to the Queen extend to her heirs and successors ''in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom''. If the United Kingdom is dissolved there will be no such person as the successor of Queen Victoria ''in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom''.

No doubt any consideration of this point will lead us deep into the neogothic nooks and crannies of royalty, but perhaps we ought to think about it in advance in case it happens.

Harry Evans, Page


Dollar downer

Barry Naughten (Letters, February 7) claims that the mining sector has been ''well established'' as the major cause of Australia's high exchange rate. To the contrary, this has never been established; despite its unquestioned repetition, it is entirely without statistical support.

The figures are simple enough. The substantial increase in mineral receipts has been more than matched by ever-rising spending on imports and other payments abroad. The result has been an unbroken 40-year series of huge deficits in our current overseas balance of payments, averaging more than $50 billion a year over the past decade. Left to itself, this trend would have produced a heavy drain on our currency, causing a sharp decline in the exchange rate. That the reverse has occurred is the result of huge increases in the inflow of foreign capital in the form of borrowing, the sale of assets, direct investment and currency speculation.

If our government is interested in saving what little is left of our manufacturing industry and stemming the transfer of service jobs overseas, it must immediately follow the examples of Chifley (1949), Whitlam (1972-73) and Fraser (1979) and resume direct control of our exchange rate by cutting it back to US70¢ to US75¢. Further upward pressure on the rate should be discouraged by strict controls on capital inflow, e.g. bank borrowing, foreign takeovers, sales of real estate and the like.

Michael Game, Farrer


Vets need scrutiny

With the Abbott government attacking workers' remuneration, it is timely to better balance the debate by commenting on the sheltered vet industry.

A recent sobering experience has rekindled my long-term concern about vet fees. I suspect Canberrans pay a premium on all services because of our high average income, so there may be more competition in the vet industry elsewhere. How do workers in the rest of Australia cope with vet fees, without any safety net? I suspect a lot of animals miss out.

The industry is very much a de facto closed shop, with most vets charging exorbitant fees because they can in a long-term environment of a lack of transparency and accountability. Whether the relevant association sets the fees, I do not know. When a renegade vet bucks the system, he/she is sent to Coventry.

As with the medical profession, I understand the increasing cost of technology and drugs in treating animals, as well as the high costs of training vets. Nevertheless, when you look at other professions and service industries, you realise many of them are subject to more competition than in the past (e.g. some doctors have entered special relationships with health insurance companies to reduce their fees; dentists, accountants, lawyers and real estate agents are more willing to negotiate fees).

I challenge the community, including the media, to get behind me in asking the vet profession to enter a meaningful debate about the future of the industry. A good start would be strong data on costs and profitability of the industry across Australia.

Geoff Clark, Narrabundah


Time for boycott

Looks like there is a feeling of disgust around the nation that the Seven Network is paying multimillion dollars to the Corby bandwagon and that family members in Australia are being paid for interviews. Can The Canberra Times please organise a boycott of any program with a Corby interview? This seems the only way of making TV channels back off from rewarding criminals and their families.

Peter Baxter, Symonston


Eco's hot debate

Brian Hatch (Letters, February 14) misleadingly refers to a favourite talking point of the climate-change denier, ''no warming for 17 years''. Picture the graph you would expect for annual temperatures if there were no warming. Natural variations would cause the line to zig-zag up and down for short periods of warming and cooling but without any overall trend. Now, tip that line up so that a long-term warming trend is superimposed and how does it look? The short periods of warming are steeper and the short periods of cooling are horizontal. What the climate-change denier has to explain is how we have not had any sustained cooling periods since we started adding serious quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Peter Campbell, Cook


SPC a ripe issue

Gordon Williams (Letters, February 13) hits the SPC nail right on the head. I gave up in disgust at the poor quality of its canned fruit a decade or more ago. Perhaps if Sharman Stone was forced to eat a plate of SPC tinned peaches every morning for breakfast she would not be quite so gung-ho about committing Australian taxpayers to bailing out a non-Australian company. If the growers want to save their business, I'm sure taxpayers would not mind helping them form their own co-operative, thereby helping them to help themselves. They might even decide to preserve ripe fruit for a change.

Baden Williams, Lyneham



First we had ''a great big new tax'' and now from the same man ''a great big spotlight''. The source? A great big sloganeer - arguably already the lowest calibre PM we have ever had.

Dennis Hale, Beecroft, NSW


One of my favourite comic strips, Dilbert, had Pointy-haired Boss saying (Times2, February 13, p19) to Dilbert: ''The key to leadership is setting vague goals that are a combination of jargon and wishful thinking.'' Made me think our political leadership was being alluded to. I think l was right because Pointy-haired Boss then said ''my system is better than whatever you're doing over there''.

Geoff Barker, Flynn


So, Indonesia has gagged Schapelle Corby (''Indonesia bans Schapelle Corby from doing TV interview'', canberratimes.com.au, February 14).

What WILL we talk about?

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW


So our Greens minister has discovered that ''the quality of ACT waterways is unsatisfactory'' (''No butts about it: cigarette stubs are the pick of the litter'', February 13, p7). Waterways are like roadways. Both require cleaning and maintenance and are interconnected, Mr Rattenbury.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor


George Williams (Letters, February 13) asked critics of the demise of Australia's manufacturing industry: ''When was the last time you bought an Australian-made car?'' I have bought a Holden, a Valiant, three Falcons (one of which is my current drive) and an (Australian-made) Nissan Pintara - loved 'em all! A Falcon or Holden will be my first choice when I next need to replace a vehicle.

Gordon Fyfe, Kambah


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