Comment

Letters to the Editor

Sentences inadequate

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The article "Nightmare of home invasion lingers" (January 11, p1) spoke of the devastating and long-lasting impact that a violent home invasion had on two young women. While in some ways their lives have been ruined, the perpetrator will be eligible for release in May this year, after being sentenced last month to three years and five months in prison.

Is it me, or does this example of "justice" at work seem manifestly inadequate? Almost every time I read of the sentence handed down for a crime (or crime spree, in this case), I am left bewildered.

An elderly aunt of mine lived alone and was very independent until she was 75, travelling overseas and around Sydney with no concerns. Then one night her unit was burgled. Although she immediately had bars installed on the windows and extra locks on the front door, she never recovered from the feelings of shock, insecurity and fear, and within two years was dead. I don't know if the offender in that instance was ever caught, but I do know that whether or not his crime shortened her life, it definitely ruined the rest of it.

So can we please drop the emphasis on prisoners' rights and have some real truth in sentencing? Victims deserve to know that the scum – often drug-fuelled these days – who attacked their right to a peaceful and secure life pay a realistic penalty equal to the impact oft heir crime.

Stuart Kennedy, Corunna, NSW

Equality of the sexes

In seeking to explain why men commit acts of violence against women, David Leser ("Curse of domestic violence", Times2, January 11, p4) mentions that many men felt threatened by women who symbolised a world over which men had little control. In trying to ascertain the underlying causes of misogyny worldwide, over time, one notes that the controlling role of men in society has been a key factor in human relationships.

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Men have occupied the leading positions in government, business, science, education, medicine and the law. Of course, in recent times, thanks to their sustained and strenuous efforts, women have advanced to leadership roles in all facets of life, although often on an unlevel playing field, with lower income and denied promotion.

Equality of the sexes is necessary to guide a young boy to love and respect his parents, both his mother and father, and his future female partner. There is no glory in exercising control – only misery for all.

Keith McEwan, Bonython

Abolish party boxes

Senator Nick Xenophon ("Let's empower Senate voters to make it fair", Times2, January 1, p5) had most of his Senate electoral history wrong and is dreaming if he thinks his revised convoluted proposal is "broadly based" on the ACT's Hare-Clark arrangements, under which the absence of party boxes is entrenched, and voters' wishes are respected even if they number fewer candidates than there are vacancies.

Compulsory indication of all Senate preferences was first enacted in 1934, replacing the previous arbitrary minimum of twice the number of vacancies plus one, under which informal rates usually exceeded 8 per cent. The 1983 changes complicating the ballot-paper did not have bipartisan support. The Coalition voted against party boxes. The Australian Democrats demanded being allowed to lodge two group voting tickets as part of their price for allowing Labor's proposals through. They also introduced the remarkable below-the-line dispensation that at least 90 per cent of the squares be marked with no more than three departures from sequential numbering.

While Senate informality dropped markedly in 1984, House of Representatives informality trebled at that election because many electors misunderstood advertising about new arrangements that applied only to Senate voting.

After the 2013 elections, Senator Xenophon introduced legislation to treat marking a single party box vote as formal, or six preferences below the line as enough. Now he suddenly wants a minimum of three party boxes or 12 first two or three during the scrutiny?

We could expect an explosion in the number of candidates if 12 preferences were demanded for a formal vote. As above-the-line and below-the-line requirements would have to be co-ordinated in some way, smaller groups and parties would endorse at least four candidates and perhaps even as many as 12, rather than the current usual two. Electoral officials would have to waste most of their advertising budget explaining the arbitrary new formality requirements, quite different from those applying for the House of Representatives, instead of concentrating on alerting electors that they are giving a simple instruction about the order in which continuing candidates can have access to any part of their vote that still hasn't been used.

The onus is on Senator Xenophon to explain why he wants to make an uncomplicated ballot paper more cluttered, rather than adopting the ACT's simple Hare-Clark approach to layout and formality or that of the Menzies opposition in 1948.

He has yet to advance any credible arguments about why his proposed additional complexity in formality requirements is in electors' interests when the abolition of party boxes would make their and electoral officials' jobs much more straightforward.

Bogey Musidlak, convener, Proportional Representation Society of Australia (ACT branch)

Pension changes

My understanding is that the recent changes to pensions (Ken Rivett, Letters, January 12) are not the result of the deal between the Greens and the government.

The changes from that deal do not take effect until January 1, 2017.

Rather, the recent changes appear to have slipped through in the 2015 Budget, either without Labor or the Greens noticing, or allowed through on the arcane convention that supply should not be blocked.

Perhaps both parties should be criticised for that, although primary responsibility lies with the government, of course.

Peter Marshall, Captains Flat

Dearth of talent

Poor Essendon. The proud club is bereft of talent in 2016. One columnist suggested that if you are supplement-free and can remain upright for 120 minutes, apply to Essendon Football Club, POBox17, Essendon, VIC 3040.

I applied and provided the name of my local publican as a referee.

Gerry Murphy, Braddon

Sports cheats will break the rules because the winner still takes all

Despite all the feel-good talk, the rags to riches stories and wonderful qualities that people like to associate with professional sport, when all is said and done, what really shapes and drives it are these three things: 1. Results; 2. Results; and 3. Results. Winning is everything, and self-interest, the "jockey". In such a hyper-competitive environment, gaining an advantage, any advantage, becomes the Holy Grail. Even a 1 per cent edge can be the difference between winning and losing, between keeping your job and looking for another. No wonder clubs aggressively pursue all sorts of human expertise – corporate heavyweights, nutritionists, scientists, dieticians, psychologists, lawyers, motivators, and so on.

It is a terribly costly exercise that demands a 24/7 focus and a whatever it takes mentality. Within this milieu, risk-taking becomes an essential requirement. The temptations are enormous as administrators and participants weigh up the pros and cons of pushing boundaries to the limit, of "tasting that forbidden fruit". For some, pushing boundaries means relegating athletes to the status of machines to be optimised. When this happens, all sorts of supplements – legal and illicit – are introduced in order to get the best out of a player's body, to enhance performance. Thus, sport is reduced to a kind of Machiavellian project where the ends justify the means. It is dehumanising. It is dangerous. It is likely to end in tears.

Peter Day, Queanbeyan

It's a super blooper

Bruce Cook (Letters, January 11) describes the anomalous tax treatment of defined benefit Commonwealth superannuation pensions, without explaining that other defined benefit pensions may be treated differently for tax purposes.

His description contains some errors. He has overlooked the new anomaly which has just arisen, due to the 10 per cent cap on the amount of a defined benefit pension that can be excluded from the age pension income test. The Howard government decided that the part of a defined benefit Commonwealth superannuation pension funded by the employer contribution should be subject to taxation because it had not been subject to tax at the point of contribution. The government could have decided to treat that part of the Commonwealth superannuation pension as a separate head of taxation, but chose not to do so, and instead gave a 10 per cent tax offset. Mr Cook mistakenly assumed the taxable income is reduced by 10 per cent, and failed to deduct the 10 per cent tax offset when calculating the tax payable.

Most older defined benefit Commonwealth superannuation pensioners have a CSS pension. The typical CSS pensioner has a pension funded only by the employer contribution, because most CSS pensioners have chosen to take their own contributions (paid out of after-tax income) as a lump sum, rather than using them to buy additional unindexed tax-free pension.

If such a person had a pension of $50,000, they would have to pay income tax of less than $3000, after subtracting the 10 per cent tax offset. The whole of their CSS pension would be counted in the income test for a Centrelink pension.

If they had additional income of $50,000, as in Mr Cook's example, they would have pay more than $17,000 tax on that additional income.

Suppose the CSS pensioner had instead purchased additional tax-free pension of $10,000, making their total pension $60,000. Before January 1, 2016, none of the tax-free part would have been included in the income test for the age pension. After that date, the amount that can be excluded from the income test is 10 per cent of the total pension, or $6000, so the amount included in the income test would be $54,000 rather than $50,000, and they would lose some of their age pension.

In other words, they would be taxed on the return of their own capital. That is the second anomaly. Instead of fixing an anomaly, as claimed by the government, they have created a new anomaly.

Annette Barbetti, Kaleen

Retiree still irate

This "irate retiree" noted two errors and two omissions in your article "Retirees irate at cuts to pensions" (January 12, p1). The first error is that the previously "exempt income" has not dropped from 50 per cent to 10 per cent, it has actually dropped from 100 per cent to 10 per cent! The second error is the Department of Human Services spokeswoman's statement that these cuts result from "changes to their income and assets". There have been no changes to income of these "irate retirees", it is a government rule change, and the assets changes don't operate until 2017. The article omits mentioning the impact on ACT government and utilities concessions for full and part-age pensioners. Treasurer Joe Hockey stated in his budget speech, in regard to these changes to income and assets assessments: "Importantly, anyone who currently has a Pensioner Concession Card will continue to receive a concession card that provides the same benefits, such as subsidised utilities and transport, bulk billing and cheaper PBS prescription medicines."

In reply to my correspondence querying the ACT government's position on continuing to receive these concessions, it has said that it will not do this. There are other implications, such as the cost of downsizing without the ACT government's stamp duty concession available for any age pensioner.

Philip Pellatt, Scullin

Too much stardust

I never thought I'd say this, but could the savage death by a thousand cuts that the ABC suffers at the hands of the Coalition be, after all, justified? The ABC spent the first 10minutes of the Monday evening TV news on an endless, breathless, "emergency situation" sorrow over David Bowie, even cutting to a London live street feed – in case, presumably, a revolution or the Apocalypse might break out there. And then, the following days, it devoted all its media to an ongoing hagiography of this evidently most significant human of the past half-century, patron saint of music impresarios and record shops. Of him and his apparent great contribution to the culture of today, let us proclaim: "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice."

Note to Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger: Kindly give 12months' notice of your intended demise, so the ABC (even more than the rest of what passes these days as electronic media) may put aside a week or two for public tribulation and tributes.

Alex Mattea, Kingston

Fine able-bodied users of disabled car parks

Why wasn't I surprised that aparaplegic woman was fined for legally parking in a disabled space at Woden ("Mobility parking permit-holder fined forparking in a disable space", January 11, p3)?

She had correctly displayed her ACT disabled parking permit in an Australian disability parking permit holder, provided by the federal government, but according to an ACT government parking inspector it wasn't in the white plastic ACT holder.

Why don't inspectors issue parking tickets to able-bodied people who park in disabled parking spaces, often using a relative's parking permit, even though the person whose permit is being used is not in the car?

Perhaps the ACT government should issue photo identification on its disability parking permits, like the NSW government does, and then fine drivers who park illegally.

Every week I see tradies, taxis, couriers and able-bodied drivers parking illegally with impunity in public and private disabled parking.

Yes, I am disabled, drive a hand-controlled car, and frequently struggle to find a disabled car park.

K.L. Chisholm, Tarago, NSW

Light rail needed

Sibylla Catt (Letters, January 12) appears confused. On the one hand she bemoans the lack of infrastructure proposed by the ACT government. She then goes on to criticise an infrastructure proposal that will bring the exact development she says is so needed. Civic is one area in particular that will benefit.

She is right in one aspect, however. The anti-light rail campaign, if successful, will deny Canberrans at least 10 years of infrastructure development that will make our city a far more liveable and pleasant place.

Patrick O'Hara, Isaacs

TO THE POINT

HOTTER IN 1939

The Bureau of Meteorology wants us all to know that the warming monster is out to get us ("Canberra weather: Heatwave hits capital with string of 35-plus degree days to come", canberrratimes.com.au, January 12). Despite the scary narrative, Canberra's hottest January day and hottest ever day was January 11, 1939, at 42.8 celsius. An inconvenient truth.

Brian Hatch, Red Hill

UNPROVEN THEORY

A.R. Taylor argues that "nobody seriously argues about the speed of light" in respect to climate alarmism (Letters, January 11).

Nobody intelligent argues about evolution or plate tectonics. However, to confer the same confidence to an unproven theory with many contradictions and unknowns demands faith typical of that practised by religionists. Sorry. The evidence is not now beyond doubt.

Gerry Murphy, Braddon

THIRST QUENCHER

A new cold drink to which I have become addicted and which is good for the summer heat: half fill a glass with vegetable juice (red), add 10 drops of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, and top with soda water. Stir gently.

Goes well with a lunchtime sandwich or meat pie.

Colin Glover, Canberra City

CONCESSION GONE

In addition to the reduction of seniors' and pensioner' benefits inflicted by the Abbott/Hockey budgets already ascertained by your correspondents, the spouse taxation rebate has ceased and the 30 per cent pensioner concession for travel on the Great Southern Rail trains has been eliminated.

William J. Fraser, Holder

MINISTERIAL CUTS

We have been led to believe that the changes recently brought in to age pension entitlements for former public servants have been necessary to bring their entitlements in line with the private sector. On that basis, I expect to see changes to the entitlements for our most powerful public servants – those who are in ministerial positions. After all, in Australia it is all about equality.

Nola Shoring, Nicholls

CHIDING HYPOCRITICAL

Former Liberal MLA Greg Cornwall should be careful about chiding Jon Stanhope as being "hoist on his own petard" over redacted material released under freedom of information law (Letters, January12). I'll bet his own side, when in government, was equally as diligent as Labor at blacking out FOI documents.

Eric Hunter, Cook

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