Shorten long on hollow promises but light on substance

Long on vitriolic rhetoric and playing the man, Bill Shorten's budget reply speech was more a rallying call to boost his ALP membership drive than offering any practical or viable options for voters. No considered alternative policies to work on budget deficits or national debt, just promise after promise to restore all the old Labor spending programs, and more. An all-care-and-no-responsibility speech purposefully designed to pit Australian against Australian for cheap political gain. No attempt at debating points of disagreement, just a constant personal denigration of the Prime Minister, regularly branding him a liar.

Is it any wonder that the young Australians he vows to protect are turning away from politics in droves, fed up with insincerity and verbal abuse? He fulminated about higher education being priced out of the reach of many, but talked only about university education, ignoring the government's attempt to provide equality of financial support for trade and TAFE courses for the first time.

Then, when asked on 7.30 about how he would raise the money to pay for all his rhetorical promises, Shorten was left stranded with a weak response that Labor would come up with a plan.

Unless and until the opposition stops all of the tiresome, meaningless and repetitive rhetoric from its leaders, members and senators - and can show even a modicum of debating capacity - then it will remain at the bottom of the pack when it comes to voters' trust.

Len Goodman, Flynn

Paying for lunch

Many of my generation - the baby boomers - welcome the budget debate with bemused smiles. As products of ''middle-class aspiration'', we won a Commonwealth scholarship to attend university without the luxury of a gap year. We entered the workforce and paid 60 per cent tax rates. We contributed to our pension fund and paid 30 per cent tax on the earnings. We now live off those as ''self-funded retirees'' without any government-program support.


Gough Whitlam introduced the ''age of entitlement'' and, for 50 years, we have seen middle-class welfare grow to unsustainable levels.

The tactical brilliance of the Abbott-Hockey budget has ended the free lunch.

Scott Rashleigh, O'Malley

Taxing our sanity

So the Coalition proposes to increase the fuel tax, but get rid of the carbon tax. Meanwhile, the ALP opposes increasing the fuel tax, but supports the carbon tax. No wonder we are all confused.

Steve Anderson, Forrest

In their budget, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey seem to have embraced the dogma of their Jesuit teachers that if the end is lawful, the means are also lawful. The end might be lawful, but the means are awful.

Mark Westcott, Farrer

Nasty nanny state

The federal government's scheme for co-payments for all GP visits and pathology tests becomes more curious the more you think about it. First, it's nothing to do with the government's main theme, the alleged budget crisis, because it funds new medical research rather than paying down debt.

Also, it goes completely against current priority health needs, because it will directly undermine preventive health measures now, aiming instead at very long-term research to provide cures.

No one seems to have estimated the administrative costs for bulk-billing doctors of imposing the fee on every patient. This is essentially an industry assistance measure, involving picking research winners, an approach the government is supposed to abhor.

This industry assistance program is to be funded predominantly by those who visit the doctor more, often the elderly. The latter, of course, are unlikely ever to benefit from research results years in the future. There is no necessary reason that more research will lead to pharmaceutical manufacture in Australia.

It is so curious a proposal that there must be other agendas running. I suspect that what is intended is to undermine the universal, free element of Medicare, to begin to discredit a scheme which is incredibly popular, and successful, but contrary to right-wing ideology. The funding of medical research has been included, I believe, to try to split medical opinion and provide a plausible cover for fees.

Also, there is a right-wing moralistic element. ''People must take responsibility for their health,'' was Joe Hockey's preposterous and insulting justification, and they ''need to realise that nothing comes free''. This is genuine nanny-state: nasty nanny telling feckless sick people life wasn't meant to be easy.

Paul Pollard, O'Connor

It wouldn't matter how well Medicare worked, Tony Abbott is determined to dismantle it. Make no mistake, the introduction of the co-payment for a doctor's visit is the first stealthy step towards undermining this successful and popular universal healthcare system.

Bill O'Connor, Beechworth, Vic

Just think of the reaction in the Australian Taxation Office.

''There's this GP and he says that at $2 a pop, $25 a day, five days a week he'll be an ATO employee and will earn $250 a week. We'll get the tax on that, of course, but he says because he is an employee of the office, he is entitled to HR help and wants accommodation, staff and stationery to do the job. He says he will pay super into an industry fund and expects the ATO to pay the employer contribution. He says he is entitled to paid sick leave, and paid holiday leave and workers' compensation cover. What a nerve! He's just a GP. Who does he think he is?''

Tom Middlemiss, Deakin

Truth hurts

Amid the whirlwind of outrage directed against the government and overflowing from your letters pages, articles and cartoons rises the small, still voice of reason of Kate Booth (''Taxing times for our walking mums'', May 15, p1). Booth says: ''Cuts need to be made … everyone whinges about all this stuff that's been taken away … why should everything be provided to you in the first place?''

I hope she is bracing herself for an assault by your indignant correspondents who will be horrified by this unforgivable little dose of candour.

Dr Alan N. Cowan, Yarralumla

I don't get upset when politicians lie, simply because I don't expect them to do anything else (''Questions that had Hockey sweating'',, May 14).

I don't even get upset when they tell huge lies to corruptly conceal their crimes: after all, in our new ''age of enlightenment'' it seems that lying is totally acceptable, provided you don't get caught or, if you do, just keep lying until it goes away or claim that you're being victimised. Paraphrasing a once famous and long dead politician, the bigger the lie, the easier it seems that we will accept it.

While I would prefer not to pay to go to the doctor, at least I can afford to, and because I'm better off than many others who can't, I don't mind. In much the same way, if a politician told me that he had to break a promise made in good faith because circumstances had honestly changed, I would not be happy but I could accept it and I would respect the politician for being honest with me.

What really upsets me - and what I cannot and will not accept - is any politician who wants to take me for a fool. So when a politician lies to me and then pretends that I must have misunderstood or misheard, and that he or she didn't make the promise, I get really angry.

And everyone knows what happens when we finally get really, really angry.

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

Much has been made of political promises in the past few electoral cycles, and our expectations of those promises continually increase.

The question must be put: to what extent are our expectations to blame for this increasing prevalence of broken promises? In many ways, this is a chicken-and-egg scenario - what came first, the promise or the expectation of promises?

The nature of liberal democracy is such that our representatives are elected on what they intend to do. However, we increasingly need a level of assurance to ensure that our representatives are elected on what they disclose before an election.

It is the increasing fanaticism with which we pursue those who break promises that I believe is becoming problematic. If we only elect parties for the time that they can keep their promises, not much is going to be accomplished. I may be being somewhat optimistic here, but I find it hard to believe that the Coalition (or Julia Gillard for that matter) said: ''Let's make all these promises to get elected, and then shaft them when we get in.''

It may be time for us to collectively lower our expectations.

Edmund L. W. Handby, Lyneham

Monash's vision

''We have governments and parliaments composed of men of low intellectual fibre and of timorous and narrow vision.'' So said Sir John Monash in January 1929.

If that man of such breadth of vision and depth of intellect were with us still, there would be little if anything to cause him to change his opinion of Australia's parliaments.

Graham Downie, O'Connor

MPs' pay mystery

Can anybody help, please? I can't find anywhere in the budget papers the bit that says pensions for MPs will be indexed as the same rate as everyone else's.

John Donovan, Weston

Back on the rails

If Katy Gallagher is worried the ACT is ''the only state or territory to actually go backwards in funding from the Commonwealth'' (''Nothing but bad news in this budget for Canberra: Gallagher'', May 14, p2), perhaps she could consider cancelling Shane Rattenbury's $650 million bribe (sorry, guarantee of his support) for light rail, which most Canberrans don't want and don't need.

Steven Hurren, Macquarie


If there is a cut of 16,500 public servants under the budget proposals, surely there should be a proportional cut in the number of ministers and their staffers needed to supervise them?

Geof Murray, Nicholls


Well said, Jan Gulliver (Letters, May 14). This government has demonstrated in its budget a total lack of compassion, and cares naught for our environment. Its typical conservative values prop up the wealthy at the expense of families, the elderly and those seeking to better themselves through a university education. The so-called ''liberals'' should hang their heads in shame.

Margaret Burns, Phillip


It's all very well to change from how many beers and cigs pay for a doctor's visit, but could smokin' Joe tell us how many doctor's visits a Cuban cigar would buy us?

Maria Greene, Curtin


Perhaps we wouldn't need a GP co-payment if revenue from alcohol and tobacco (including Mr Hockey's cigars) was applied solely to funding Medicare.

Bea Evans, Kambah


Dare I suggest we now change the title of the ''leader'' of the cross benches from the Fat Controller to Captain Snooze (''Palmer hits the snooze button'', May 15, p3).

Linus Cole, Palmerston


I don't recall Colin Glover (Letters, May 15) bemoaning cartoonists' depiction of then prime minister Julia Gillard with a long and pointed nose, and calling that satirical caricature visual slander.

If he doesn't like Pope's satirical cartoons, he should avert his eyes or turn the page.

Don Sephton, Greenway

Email: letters.editor@ Send from the message field, not as an attached file. Fax: 6280 2282.Mail: Letters to the Editor, The Canberra Times, PO Box 7155, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT 2610.

Keep your letter to 250 words or less. References to Canberra Times reports should include date and page number. Letters may be edited. Provide phone number and full home address (suburb only published).