Tax reform and GST

Contrary to what Barry Naughten wrote (Letters, May 22) I am not arguing or advocating for a rise in GST. What I have repeatedly said is that if Australians are to have a serious discussion about tax reform, we have to look at GST as part of that analysis - just as every source of revenue should be examined.

If (and it's a big if at this stage) a national conversation on tax reform is held, then examination should also focus on social impacts of taxation, including how different taxes impact on low- and fixed-income households. If there is to be a serious discussion about the operation of the Federation, including the transfer of responsibility to the states and territories for health and education, it is in the interests of all that a fair share of tax dollars is used to fund these services. To do any less would entrench inequity and destroy the basis of what makes our country great.

Katy Gallagher, ACT Chief Minister

Where's the gain?

Doug Hynd (Letters, May 24) spins some well-known figures on South Australia and its wind industry. They say little for the end consumer of electricity or about the carbon dioxide emissions from coal energy plants.

Hynd neglected to mention the most important figures: that SA consumers pay the highest electricity prices in Australia, export their ''cheap'' surplus wind energy to other states (without denting coal consumption at Victoria's large coal energy plants), and import energy from those plants when the wind isn't blowing.

George Papadopoulos, Yass, NSW


Questionable benefit

In all the discussion about light rail for a small part of Canberra, I have heard nothing that encourages me to think the project could succeed. Capital Metro project manager Emma Thomas' predictions shed no more light (''Frequency, speed, 'key to light rails success''', May 22, p3).

She talks of trams at least every 10 minutes, a fast journey and easy access. She says stops would have to be further apart to maintain speed, seemingly contradicting talk of easy access.

Thomas expects the 11km trip from Gungahlin to Civic to take up to 25 minutes. I can take a bus from near my home in Curtin and be in Civic about 33 minutes later, a leisurely journey of about 14km through North Curtin, West Deakin, Yarralumla, back to Deakin, around Parliament House and across the Parliamentary Triangle before taking Commonwealth Avenue to Civic. The estimated time for the Gungahlin-Civic tram on an almost straight north-south route does not seem like a quantum leap in public transport justifying a cost of at least $600 million.

As well, Northbourne Avenue would be degraded, not just by rails and power lines, but by a proposal to cram up to 45,000 more people, who might be asked to help pay for the venture, in high-rise dwellings on either side. I suspect most would prefer to use their cars, rather than face a long walk for a short trip.

David Townsend, Curtin

Bryan Nye, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association, penned an eloquent appeal to keep an open mind on the light rail proposal for Canberra (Letters, May 23). In short, we should stop rubbishing it.

He tendered evidence of returns from the Jubilee Line Extension in Britain to support the premise that increases in property values and thus in rates along the rail corridor would finance the project.

His evidence is misrepresentation. The Jubilee Extension is not a tramway requiring pedestrian access across the major arterial road in the city. It runs through a dedicated corridor, much of it underground. It is in one of the largest, most-congested cities in the world with a captive patronage.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Stefaniak has form

Even if anyone had actually seen that obscure Hansard reference in which Bill Stefaniak admitted to being a recreational shooter of animals or heard the debate, that is not the reason for the widespread public perception that he is biased and should step down from the hearing on kangaroo culling. Rather it is his performance as president of the previous two ACAT hearings on the issue. It is a matter of public record that at both, Stefaniak preferred the opinions of an ACT government spokesman over the evidence of a genuinely independent ecology expert. It was also the impression of observers that he systematically ignored all the contradictions and inaccuracies in the government's evidence.

That is why Stefaniak is perceived as biased. It has nothing to do with anything he ever said under parliamentary privilege in the Legislative Assembly.

Most of us are far too busy to follow those Lilliputian debates.

Frankie Seymour, Queanbeyan, NSW

The right gearing

I don't agree with Ralph Sedgley's position on negative gearing (Letters, May 26). Labor's Paul Keating abolished negative gearing. But he reversed the decision when investment in housing collapsed and high rents loomed. Negative gearing subsidises tenants, not landlords.

If you can't beat the capitalists, join them. Do it while you're young. The saddest sight in Canberra is pensioners lining up to buy Lotto tickets (on pension day) and hoping that Lady Luck will save them from poverty.

But by saving like lunatics (in their youth) and reinvesting dividends and rents, workers can benefit from compound interest and avoid their savings losing buying power.

The perils of leaving it to the government (to take care of workers in their old age) is all too apparent in the Abbott budget.

Voting Labor to punish Tony Abbott feels good, but financial prudence brings home the bacon.

Graham Macafee, Latham

Human rights abuse

Michael Gordon's article ''Detainees suffering depression, anxiety'', May 26, p4) says half the asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru are ''suffering from significant depression, stress or anxiety''; that these people are in detention in the first instance is outrageous when a simple community custodial arrangement would suffice and meet a kind of human rights obligation for the nation.

The government is further undermining (destroying) our already-poor human rights record and contributing to massive individual suffering. This is slowly but surely eroding social cohesion (in the name of profit). I look forward to the day when the Greens can develop a strong enough electoral campaign to field both a prime minister and reasonable cabinet to steer the nation back to some kind of relative sanity.

David Jenkins, Greenway

Vanstone missing the mark on Whitlam's uni revolution

In claiming Gough Whitlam's introduction of free university education ''did not let more poor kids in to university, what it did was pay for all the so-called rich kids who were going to uni anyway'', Amanda Vanstone (''Uni protesters must end thuggery'', Times2, May 26, p4) is completely out of touch. In 1984 I became the first woman in my family to attend university. As the third child of a railway worker, that would never have been possible without Whitlam and Labor's changes. I am not unique. Many of my friends today and during university were not the sons and daughters of blue bloods, rather they were the offspring of families aspiring to give their children a better life than they experienced.

I would like to think our communities and the nation are richer for that investment.

Dani Cooper, Bundeena, NSW

Amanda Vanstone defends people's ''right to go about their business undisturbed'', and complains about ''thuggery'' on the part of university students. This is fairly rich coming from someone who was immigration minister when it was revealed that her department had seized and forcibly deported an Australian citizen, Vivian Solon, who presumably was also trying to exercise her right to go about her business undisturbed. A pretty fair example of thuggery, one might think. Given taxpayers ultimately had to fund substantial compensation to the victim of her officers' thuggery, it is also fairly rich of Ms Vanstone as a member of the commission of audit, to lecture the rest of us about the need for belt-tightening.

(Dr) William Maley, Reid

Amanda Vanstone colourfully addressed a scarcely known fact about tertiary education - that free tertiary education is a highly regressive social policy. Effectively, free tertiary education provides on average about $1 million of additional income over the lifetime of a graduate. The reason for regressive impact is that university students are from generally well-to-do backgrounds while all taxpayers contribute to their education.

The ALP introduced HECS to help redress this inequity it had created.

The uni protests are a good example of the squeaky wheel at work, generating plenty of media coverage for a vested interest. But I don't expect these students to complain too much later on (when they are earning). Their higher income trajectory will also see them benefit from the highly regressive impact of the concessional tax treatment of superannuation and also things such as gross feed-in tariffs for electricity. Over the lifetime of a university graduate they do pretty well, despite their current unjustified protestations.

M. Gordon, Flynn

There are enough middle-aged, conservative, white people with faces next to comment pieces in major newspapers, too many Amanda Vanstones with a platform to air their ''get off my lawn'' opinions to an audience that the young can't even reach. If there is to be a true debate on the deregulation of course fees, student voices must be given their space in the media to explain their opposition. We have just as much, if not more, of a right than Amanda Vanstone to have our opinions on eduction and course fee deregulation heard.

Samuel Guthrie, Acton

Menzies the answer

Other than retaining the mining and carbon taxes and abolishing the paid parental leave scheme, an obvious way the Abbott government could balance the books would be to have us return to the socialist economic policies of Robert Menzies, the man they worship. Menzies quite rightly saw no reason for our having the disastrous and indiscriminate GST we now have, but instead had a truly progressive income tax policy where the wealthy paid a maximum of 60¢ in the dollar as opposed to the 45¢ they pay today. He also had high tariffs, which raised revenue, protected our industries and kept what we spent within Australia simultaneously. He also raised revenue by way of profitable state-owned enterprises that have unfortunately been sold by the Coalition and its right-wing Labor colleagues for short-term political gain.

I am old enough to have worked in the 1960s and I can tell you that although it was not paradise we had job security, affordable housing and a far better overall quality of life. Free market ideology has failed us.

Paul Remington, Gordon

Joe Hockey seems to like to quote Sir Robert Menzies (''Treasurer treads on toes, but he is making apologies for no one'', Forum, May 24, p3), I recently came across another quote from Sir Robert ''A man may be a tough, concentrated, successful money-maker and never contribute to his country anything more than a horrible example''. No context was given, but the names of a number of individuals of the period do come to mind. Given other information in the article, I think the quote could apply to Joe himself. Perhaps it could apply to some of the members of the commission of audit.

Kerry Hannan, Hawker

Impractical idea

Eric Abetz has suggested the unemployed should come to Tasmania to be employed as fruit pickers. (''Young, jobless? Go fruit picking'',, May 26). Fair enough for Tasmanians living in the fruit-picking region with somewhere to live and no distance to travel. How does Abetz think the young unemployed can afford to travel to Tasmania and then find accommodation with the necessary bonds?

The backpackers from overseas he refers to are usually cashed up and can afford to travel. It is an adventure or working holiday. It is not that easy for the young unemployed to find jobs, let alone move hundreds of kilometres for seasonal work.

A better solution would be for the government to think of schemes to provide work. With many people losing benefits there will not be the money going back into the economy. This will not help the employment situation. Businesses need customers to provide the funds to create jobs.

Robyn Lewis, Raglan, NSW

Pension age of 70, a cunning budget ploy?

Years ago I worked in the life insurance industry. We were shown actuarial tables of life expectancy in the light of retirement age. The tables showed that people who retired at age 60 had a far higher life expectancy than than those who went on to 65. The actuary told us there were two reasons. One was that the stress of the extra five years in harness disproportionately undermined health. The other was that people who worked to the higher age were less able to adjust to retirement, with evident effects on health and longevity.

I can't help wondering if the government's intended increase of the retirement age to 70 is really a cynical plan to eliminate most people from the old age pension. If those actuarial predictions still apply, it might well be that only a very small proportion will survive to pension age. Wouldn't that be wonderful for the budget bottom line?

Ian Rae, Giralang

Intrepid in retirement

I think I can equal, if not top Crispin Hull's yachting adventure with a 77-year-old helmsman (''Elderly still have plenty of wind in their sales'', Forum, May 24, p2). I recently walked 420 kilometres from Balingup to Kalamunda, south of Perth, along the famed and challenging Bibbulmun Track in 22 days with a companion who turned 77 during our trek. This was done in temperatures in the mid-30s. My companion carried all his gear in a pack weighing at least 12 kilos. Since he retired, he has walked the 1000 kilometres from Perth to Albany five times, including three 'through walks'' - the whole distance in one go.

Timothy Walsh, Garran



Well, lucky Amanda Vanstone (''Uni protesters must end thuggery'', Times2, May 26, p4)! Get appointed to a Commission of Audit and you can perpetrate far more serious and widespread thuggery and fear than any number of motley groups of protesters. And you get paid for it too.

Mark Westcott, Farrer


In an unashamed attempt to downplay the impact of their co-payment for not only GP visits but also diagnostic tests etc, the government says ''it only affects 1 per cent of Australians''. Whilst that claim must surely be highly questionable, even if it's correct, that's ''only'' 230,000 Australians. It's enough to make you sick!

John Coleman, Monash


The Treasurer claims we need to make sacrifices because we have borrowed too much and are paying too much in interest for our children to carry. The Education Minister though says his education reforms are good because students can borrow their increasing fees under ''the best loan deal a student will ever get, especially given the interest rate … just matches the government's cost of borrowing''. So, loan debt is good for our children but a major problem for the country?

C. Brack, Evatt


Anyone viewing question time on Monday May 26 would be correct in thinking that we had no morals in this country, no vestige of decency and that we are very badly served in political quality. It is not the Australia we have predominantly seen in the past, not the Australia we deserve and certainly not the Australia we should have to tolerate. A disreputable rabble.

Rex Williams, Ainslie

Where's Guy Fawkes when he's wanted?

J.M. Tanton, Bruce


Driving around some parts of Canberra - particularly Woden - is reminiscent of arriving in Sydney by train: ugly graffiti abounds. What an eyesore.

B.J. Millar, Queanbeyan West, NSW


Fred Pilcher (Letters, May 23) thinks all religion should be dismissed. Not all believers are bad, and not all sceptics good. Observation alone cannot determine who is deluded - bad people may, or may not have some kind of faith.

Another way to look at truth is by personal participation. Is there a faith whereby we can become better people than we would be otherwise? This is not a trivial question. If there is such a faith, a better world awaits.

Arthur Connor, Weston

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