Letters to the Editor

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On reported rises to health insurance premiums (''Big rise in health insurance premiums'' (December 24, p1), Health Minister Peter Dutton said ''There is no doubt this increase could have been lower had it not been for the pressures placed on the sector by Labor'', but he ''declined a request for an interview to explain those pressures''.

Could someone please ask Mr Dutton why he is not prepared to ''explain those pressures'' and perhaps also he could be asked about the number of questions he posed in question time during his period as opposition health spokesman?

My last lazy $10 says that no answer will be forthcoming to either question. In Mr Dutton's case one has trouble separating the impression of ignorance from that of arrogance.

Roger Terry, Kingston

No doubt the health insurance funds are happy the Coalition has given them their biggest Christmas present since they were last in government. Too bad about the poor old punters who will need to pay up or be forced into the under-resourced public health system.

It must have been tempting, ideologically, for the Coalition to abolish price controls on health insurance altogether - look for that perhaps after the ''commission of audit'' report is used as an excuse to make sweeping cuts to services and living standards.

Keith Croker, Kambah

Don't sideline science

Bill Shorten was quite right to stress the urgent need for our federal government to pay more attention to the funding of science in our community (''Shorten urges focus on science'', December 20, p1). A survey of Australian housing clearly shows that our house buyers and most of the ''designers'' have not understood how science underlies our daily lives.

Most of these houses were built when electricity was significantly cheaper and the science of internal thermal comfort was rarely considered. Ineffective structures resulted and remedial air conditioning was the easy answer from the 1970s onward, and is now mistakenly continued as an essential element by developers. An effective use of science, however, indicates a thermally efficient structure and the use of free natural renewable energies would significantly reduce running costs - and atmospheric pollution. The science is readily available but it is not being applied effectively.

The insulation scandal of about two years ago was a result of this ignorance - the insulation should never have been laid (as seen on TV) with the foil on top.

Retrofitting houses can be effective, even in Canberra's climate, yet there is no integrated national incentive to stimulate this. Several piecemeal ''low-hanging fruit'' incentives are available in various states to save energy or water but no comprehensive program which addresses the real urgency of reducing our carbon impact.

Encouraging more effective new housing (good as it is) is of little immediate value in mitigating global warming because it represents less than 5 per cent of the total stock.

What is urgently needed is a minister for science who understands the economic importance of applying science to our daily lives.

As I write this in a retrofitted house it is 37 degrees outside and 26 degrees inside (at 3pm) with no airconditioning or pollution.

Derek F. Wrigley, Mawson

US judicial greed

The US arrested India's deputy consul-general, alleging she falsified statements on her maid's visa application.

Ramesh Thakur wrote, ''According to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consular officials may enjoy diplomatic immunity solely when performing official duties'' (''India stands tall after arrest'', Times2, December 19, p4).

The Times of India rejects this distinction between diplomats and consular officials in ''Harsh US treatment of Indian consular official violates Vienna Convention'' (timesofindia.indiatimes.com, December 18).

An issue of longer standing is the discovery that in 2005 the US withdrew from the optional protocol to the convention giving the International Court of Justice jurisdiction over disputes.

While the US usurps the judicial sovereignty of its allies with leveraged treaties it is withdrawing from even those commitments to international law which it previously made. Much as its reticence to cede judicial sovereignty often seems wise, the US is inconsistent, greedy.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Progress lies with Pyne

Glenn Fowler (Letters, December 11) responded to my view on Chris Pyne's strategy to improve education services. He is an excellent sophist in arguing Pyne despises the principles of Gonski ''for the same reasons most of us like them; genuine student need is addressed, disadvantage is targeted, equity is at the core, the playing field is levelled''. These three are motherhood principles which everyone would agree to regardless of their personal and political view of the Gonski report.

There is a wide range of views of the report, from Kevin Donnelly of the Education Standards Institute who argues that with its misguided emphasis on students' socioeconomic backgrounds and its discrimination against private schools, it needs to be reviewed, to left-wing unions which support every word.

The report is not the Bible, Koran or Torah of educational reform handed down by divine enlightenment, but a collection of personal views. This is why the Labor government did not attempt to implement it in full.

One reason was the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth showed decisions on education policy should not be based on the premise that the bulk of inequalities in educational performance can be attributed to different socioeconomic backgrounds, but should take account of a range of issues including different cultural values of education.

Certainly, as the recent survey showed, there is an urgent need to improve the educational system. A range of options include significantly improving teacher training and giving the profession more status. However, it is difficult to ascertain the most efficient and effective solution in the complex federal/state, public/private system that exists. The solution, like my view, lies somewhere in the middle of the two opposing views on Gonski.

However, as I stated, it must be a national system, and hopefully Pyne will come up with a solution which will advance Australian education and which the country can afford. The Coalition is now in power and for the sake of our children, the unions such as Glenn Fowler's Australian Education Union should work with it to find a good compromise rather than indulge in personal attacks and name calling.

Paul Fitzwarryne, Yarralumla

Our national autonomy being eroded in secret trade talks

As ably pointed out by Karina Morris (Letters, December 23), various environmental advocacy and information bodies have indeed either been abolished or had their funding cut. However, as we shall discover, their usefulness may soon be at an end anyway. The federal government is well aware of this.

That's why it is clearing the decks in anticipation of changes being secretly negotiated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Trade Minister Andrew Robb has said he will consider accepting controversial ''investor-state dispute settlement provisions'' in exchange for access to North American markets for commodities such as beef and sugar. These provisions would allow multinational corporations to sue our governments for damages whenever their profits are threatened by our laws and policies. If this goes ahead, foreign corporations will be able to rewrite Australian legislation on matters such as the environment, water supply, biodiversity, pesticide use, quarantine safeguards, pollution, affordable pharmaceuticals, food safety, renewable energy, genetically modified foods, working conditions and minimum wages. There will no longer be any point in giving information to the public or lobbying Australian governments, because the corporations will take care of all this for us.

Pauline Westwood, Dickson

Life sweet in the '70s

Roger Quarterman (Letters, December 18) quite rightly bemoans the passing of high tariffs and regulation. It meant we all began competing with cheap overseas labour, which led to a decline in living standards for most workers, despite our mineral boom.

While labouring in 1970, I netted $65 for a straight week and, although the Australian Bureau of Statistics CPI figures tell me $65 has $704 in buying power today, it is misleading. In 1970, a basic three-bedroom house could be bought in Canberra for $15,000, which would have used about 230 of my 1970 pays. Today the same house in outer Canberra costs about $450,000, costing a worker netting $750 a week 600 pays.

Although manufactured items were more expensive in 1970, most people were concerned mainly with acquiring the basics, and if we compare 1970 and 2013 prices after combining each year's costs for basic houses, basic cars, water, petrol, electricity, gas and land rates, life was far easier in 1970. We also had job security. Manufacturing within Australia meant close proximity to the local market, which meant less carbon dioxide was produced. It also meant the many Australians who were incapable of acquiring skills were employed. Today there are few jobs for the unskilled and their unemployment has led to increased crime and drug addiction, which are costly both socially and economically.

Economic ideologies/memes can flourish until time proves them ridiculous. This has occurred with laissez faire economics. The public know it; when will economists and politicians catch on?

Rodney Campbell, Calwell

Club Catholic rules

Many Catholics, in particular the Jesuits, may be cringing with shame at the unChristian-like behaviour of our Catholic Prime Minister. However, there is a difference between a Catholic who is trying to follow Christ and members of Club Catholic. Club Catholic (at least this version of it) is clearly about harshness.

Cruel harshness to asylum seekers, careless harshness to the environment and those affected by its changes, calculated harshness as increased unemployment drives wages down, creating an intimidated, casualised workforce, and pointless harshness in abolishing the price mechanism that creates new green jobs and brings in income the government needs.

Despite our having an economy so healthy it has survived a worldwide financial crisis, this government is using the excuse of debt to make harsh cuts, not to the privileges of the wealthy, but to the wellbeing of the poorer members of the community. Nations suffer from having divided communities, but this government isn't wise, just cunning.

Scrooge learnt kindness but this government will use the manipulative ''kindness'' of pre-election bribes. Meanwhile, we are not living in a Christmas Carol but in Bleak House. The Coalition, steered by this ugly edition of Club Catholic, loves the 19th century where an upstairs/downstairs culture is pleasantly comfortable for their friends.

Australians are living in an extra long version of ''eternity'' - that is, the wait for the next election.

How many people will be out of work, how low will wages be, how much will racism have increased and how much environmental degradation will have occurred by then?

Rosemary Walters, Palmerston

ABC bias apparent

H. Ronald's perception (Letters, December 22) of the increasing bias of the ABC is only because of the huge swing to the right engendered by Tony Abbott voting himself into the leadership of the increasingly illiberal party, so beloved of H. Ronald.

The ABC is biased, but only against those gullible enough to think that calling asylum seekers illegal immigrants is anything but a disgusting political ploy; against those who think that not telling the public about boat arrivals is a policy; against those who think that GMH does not deserve to be subsidised by the taxpayer but Gina Rinehart does; against those who think that marriage equality is evil; against those gullible enough to believe the fossil fuel industry spruikers who tell them that climate change is a conspiracy; against those who think that celebrity is interesting; and against those who think that television is there to flog you stuff you don't need and not to inform you. In short, the ABC is for me. Everyone has the right to say what they think, even H. Ronald. However, arrant nonsense doesn't have the right to be taken seriously.

John Laurie, Weston

Canberra Times letters to the editor December 27, 2013

I see the ACT government and the directorate of Territory and Municipal Services seem determined to inflict commuter pain on the residents of Weston Creek for as long as possible.

I noticed on Monday morning there were no workers on the Cotter Road-Streeton Drive intersection upgrade.

Surely the lower traffic volumes at this time of year would make it the ideal to continue roadworks that have a serious disruptive effect on commuters.

No doubt the workers will return in mid-January, just as the traffic volumes increase. Also, a question.

Why, if roadworks are suspended, are the roadwork speed restrictions still in place? Perhaps it was to protect the only two government workers who were on site on Monday morning, the two members of the local constabulary completing speed checks.

Martin Kenseley, Rivett

Policy review?

In the absence of Ashes cricket this past week, I watched, with interest, much of the first Test between South Africa and India on Foxtel. The games (between the two top cricketing nations) was a good spectacle and ended in a draw (possibly a fair result). However, the result may well have been different had one of the leading South African batsman not been given out leg-before wicket when it appeared he snicked the ball onto his pad.

Why did the decision-review system not pick this up? Answer: there apparently was no DRS in play. Had there been, the review would most likely have reversed the decision.

I fully endorse the concept of DRS, ie, to provide a fair means of reviewing contentious cricket umpiring decisions. Surely it should be adopted in all first-class matches anywhere in the world. The ICB should consider this matter urgently.

Andrew Rowe, Florey

To the point

MORE EVILS OF SUPER

Michael West's article (''Regulator should 'get tough' on super funds'', December 23, p6) and a related, earlier piece published by your paper reinforce my exposé´ of ''the evils of superannuation''. While banks, bankers and fund managers are making a killing, the ordinary wage earner will soon lose the government's meagre $500 co-contribution.

John Rodriguez, Florey

PRIVATE BLOOMS

I would like to thank Kit Huang for her comments (Letters, December 23) on the pots of ''brightly coloured flowers'' she saw on Northbourne Avenue. As the contractor who supplies and maintains these (as well as those throughout the rest of Civic), I must correct her assumption that it is an ACT government initiative.

It is actually privately funded by Canberra CBD Ltd, a non-government organisation sponsored by Civic property owners.

Byam Wight, Jerrabomberra, NSW

PENALTY FOR PORKIES

When I was young and told a lie, I was punished. Companies and business people who lie and/or mislead the public are punished under appropriate laws. Why, therefore, can't politicians of all parties who lie or mislead the electorate be taken to court and punished under common law, such as suspension or ejection from Parliament?

G. Spence, Bruce

NOT A PATCH ON SBS

Guy Davis (''The best and worst of TV in 2013'', The Guide, December 23) seems to be unaware we have multicultural TV channels in Australia. The shows I know of in his review (except for Luther) pale to insignificance when compared with The Killing, Borgen (both Danish), Prisoners of War (Israeli) and Masters of Sex (US) on SBS.

Perhaps Mr Davis points at words and moves his lips while reading - a disadvantage for watching TV shows with subtitles.

Keith Penhallow, Nicholls

HURT BY OWN WORDS

I wonder if L. Christie (Letters, December 23) realises the only one who is demeaned when writers stoop to sarcasm, spite and personal abuse, are the writers themselves? Perhaps not!

Rowley Tompsett, Nicholls

THE GREAT UNKNOWN

So, Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, claims to ''know Christ'' (''Religious leaders invoke 'selfies' and new Pope in Christmas messages'', canberratimes.com.au, December 24).

The Christ I know would not recognise Cardinal Pell.

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

 

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