Australia is ''the only country with whom the US has an FTA without ISDS [investor state dispute settlement] requirements'' (''Korean deal sorted, now big one looms'', BusinessDay, December 6, p11). Still, the US has its ISDS claws into Australian sovereignty.

Philip Morris is using ''provisions buried in an obscure investment agreement with Hong Kong … to challenge Australia's plain-packaging laws before the World Trade Organisation''.

Two years ago a short history of US use of such free-trade agreements to successfully sue countries for outlawing criminal practices that affected its profits appeared in Ann Darbyshire's letter (November 20, p8).

The proposed TPP [trans-Pacific partnership] would not just ''allow disputes to be settled through international arbitration'' by organisations such as the WTO or the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes at the World Bank Group. As Malcolm Maiden noted, it would commit ''the government to advise the US government if there are concerns about a US takeover bid for an Australian company, to give the US the option of opening up direct government-to-government talks, and to allow 'sufficient time' for it to do so'' (''Free-trade pact may muddy GrainCorp deal'', canberratimes.com.au, November 29).

That sounds very much like direct US control of Australia's foreign trade and investment.

Gary J. Wilson, Macgregor

Law of the sea

John Richardson's comments (Letters, December 9) about former foreign minister Alexander Downer's indignation over criticisms of his actions on bugging the East Timorese are understandable but he should catch up with Part VI of the United Nations' Law of the Sea Treaty to understand some of the difficulties confronting Australia in the Timor Sea.

The fact is that Australia's sovereignty extends over its continental shelf, which reaches to the Timor trench.

Hence the agreement with Indonesia simply reflects international law and did not ''rig the game'', as Mr Richardson states. Land, seabed, mountains, topography and geography are what we have; some countries are advantaged and some are not.

A legal system now exists to handle the difficulties arising from new resource extraction technologies and deciding who should benefit from them.

It is within this framework that government has to negotiate with the East Timorese while preserving its responsibilities to the Australian people.

Patrick Ryan, Turner

Guilt-easing gift

If you're feeling a tad bit guilty this year about Australia's treatment of Timor-Leste, Alola (alola.org.au) provides a vehicle for Christmas donations covering the areas of education, livelihood and maternity. We've been doing this within our family for several years now in lieu of mailing Christmas presents halfway around the world.

It's carbon-friendly too.

Mark Hartmann, Hawker

In defence of AEC

I wonder how much it cost the taxpayer for Mick Keelty to find that the mystery of the missing votes in WA is a mystery (''Fate of missing vote mystifies investigators'', December 7, p9). As for the comments of Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson, I think they ignore the otherwise fine work of the Australian Electoral Commission. The issue of the missing votes is a serious matter. However, it needs to be considered in the context of all the other excellent work the AEC does.

Gordon Fyfe, Kambah

Inclusive unions

Crispin Hull's article on the impending High Court ruling on the ACT's same-sex marriage legislation (''High drama surrounds gay marriage laws'', Times2, December 5, p5) has put me in a quandary.

Crispin highlighted the wording of the 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act, which reads '''marriage' means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others''.

In 1989 I entered into a common-law marriage with a woman (a most delightful one), and we're still together. The one quirk is that she's still married, and she's good friends with her husband, as am I. As the unions she has do not exclude all others (without going into what ''exclude'' would/could/might mean), this might lead one to think she's not married to either of us, a state of grace she might actually joyously embrace.

I look forward to the High Court's judgment, I think.

Dallas Stow, O'Connor

Bob unacknowledged

We rightly applaud the universal acknowledgment given to the many virtues displayed over years by the late Nelson Mandela. But former prime minister Bob Hawke has revealed a lesser-known dark side to the statesman - who, it seems, is something of a flintheart and an ingrate. Despite a previous detailed refutation by a New Zealand prime minister, Bob modestly outlined for us again last week his version of the lone role he played in Commonwealth forums in ending apartheid in South Africa, which also resulted in the end of Mr Mandela's long imprisonment.

He went further in coaching the statesman in ''moving on'' and in the art of forgiveness. Bob, it seems, had done a heap for the heroic South African.

For his part, however, Mr Mandela, in recording his life in 768 pages of his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, made no acknowledgment at all of the singular services provided by Bob.

In fact, not once in this weighty tome did the Hawke name even appear. Bob, again modestly, affects to be in no way unhorsed by these omissions.

Susie Carleton, Surry Hills, NSW

Wrongful conviction

I agree with Chris Smith (Letters, December 11) that David Eastman was wrongly convicted. Two bullets to the head of Police commissioner Winchester (at close quarters) is more likely to be a crime-gang execution than the work of a Treasury official. But to probe a gang execution would require probing Winchester's possible connection with that gang. Probing that connection was a step that police would not take. Eastman was an easier (but wrong) target.

Other examples of wrongful conviction include: Lindy Chamberlain; the Guildford Five, in Britain; more than 600 convicts on death row in the US who were released after DNA tests proved they didn't do it.

Sue Neill-Fraser got 26 years for murder in Tasmania. There was no body, no witness, no confession, no evidence. Evidence and DNA that proved she didn't murder her husband was withheld from the jury.

Graham Macafee, Latham

Car industry requires national plan to compete with imports

The manufacturing industries of small countries like ours cannot compete internationally without using cheap labour or without government assistance. That is the dilemma facing the Abbott government in its negotiations with Holden. Some countries with high living standards similar to ours import cheap labour to keep their industries competitive.

Singapore is an example, where under-paid foreign workers have been rioting this week. Our industrial laws and trade prevent that from happening here - openly at least. Therefore, the Abbott government is caught by the short and curlies. It has to continue assisting the Australian car industry or lose it. And if it does, it will also lose downstream subsidiary industries. The consequences will be disastrous, economically and politically.

Our politicians occasionally mention national planning at election time, but in vague terms and soon forget about it. More recent governments have not even had the commonsense to prevent foreign-owned gas drillers from destroying agricultural lands, or to force international mining corporations to pay a fair tax on the ore they are gouging out of the country. I wouldn't mind betting that the Abbott government will be silly enough to allow the entire Australian car industry to become redundant.

R. Aitchison, Waramanga

Just as well Don Sephton (Letters, December 10) isn't in charge of the national accounts. He states that the $150 million reportedly sought by General Motors to sustain and retain its manufacturing presence in Australia will amount to $150 per vehicle and should be borne by the purchaser. The figure is actually $1500 per vehicle. However, there are much broader issues. First, this $1500 per vehicle will be in addition to the implied or explicit subsidy that each ''made in Australia'' car presently carries of around $4000 per vehicle.

Across General Motors and Toyota, this is roughly a total of $1.1 billion a year (or $50 for every Australian per annum) in assistance of some sort to maintain an Australian car industry (note, mostly owned by US or Japanese companies).

But the merit of this investment needs to be considered in a much wider context, such as the fate of thousands of workers who may never again have permanent and satisfying employment, and the cost of their support through retraining programs and unemployment benefits. Let's say maybe 50,000 people by at least $500 per fortnight, that is a $650 million per annum cost to the budget, rather than a contribution to the economy.

Joe Hockey's disingenuous comment that ''the future of the car industry is in the hands of the car industry'' is contemptuous of many of the issues which fall directly to the government's responsibility. The willy-nilly entering of free trade agreements is partly responsible for making automotive manufacturing in Australia uncompetitive. The countries with which we have free trade agreements seem to bend the rules and apply national competitive advantages to their industrial investments at the direction of or with the explicit support of their governments. Similarly, our local manufacturing industry cannot be held accountable for the strength of the Australian dollar, and hence cheapness of imports, during a mining boom. It is more than high time for the federal government to determine if, as a major and fundamental part of Australian national industrial capability, we need an automotive industry.

When the decision is made that Australia does need the industrial capability provided by a robust automotive industry, the government must provide the framework of support to ensure that it is seen as fundamental to the Australia economy and national capacity. This means an unequivocal commitment and plan, not tip-toeing around the issues and drip-feeding piecemeal support to the present industrial players.

Over to you Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott, you have clawed your way to the driver's seat, now it's time to take responsibility, to be leaders and have a vision about sustaining and building the nation, not dismantling it or allowing significant national capability to atrophy on your watch.

John Henderson, Isaacs

Power behind the throne

Who is ruling Australia? Scott (stop the boats) Morrison and General (sovereign borders) Angus Campbell are obviously the first to be emasculated by the most forceful of the Liberal Party warriors, Peta (we-will-tell-you-what-you-can-say) Credlin, Tony Abbott's revered chief of staff. Abbott is apparently afraid to appoint anyone who has not received Credlin's personal seal of approval (420 new staff and counting), along with Christopher Pyne's incontinent slaver about education, indicates they too have had the snip.

Minister for Industry Ian MacFarlane, for his insistence that the car industry is worth saving, and Senator Ian McDonald for complaining about ''obsessive control by unelected advisers'', are now on the blacklist, next in line. Perhaps only Julie Bishop is immune, possibly for reasons of gender.

Dr Donald McMiken, Isaacs

Works both ways

Jenna Price (''Cut mansplaining: gender pay gap as wide as ever'' (Times2, December 10, p5) womansplained that the sisterhood being paid less than men to do similar jobs has nothing to do with them taking time off to have babies or knocking off early to pick up the kids.

Mmmm. I don't believe it. If I'm an employer and I need to make a decision about which good 20-35-year-old employee to pay more, to encourage them to stick around, who do I pay? The applicant who, by definition, has a high probability of disappearing for several large, random slabs of time, leaving me in the lurch and demanding reduced hours?

Or the one without any of those risks? Same dilemma with recruitment.

Make most men take periodic, extended sabbaticals to restore a car, read history, etc, and always knock off early to beat the rush at the gym, and we would see an end to this form of pay discrimination quick smart.

Manson Macgregor, Amaroo


A simple solution: lock up the drunks

Canberra is tying itself in knots trying to think of complex and intrusive interventions to reduce the problem of alcohol-fuelled violence (''Reward good bars, suggest hotels'', December 10, p5). In the process we risk losing some of the more enjoyable and pleasant pubs and bars. Not long ago, drunkenness was, if not illegal, close to it. Intoxicated people were on the wrong side of what was acceptable and so were sometimes locked up overnight by police who were still able to use discretion. Today we not only tolerate appalling drunkenness but reward and encourage it in ways far more effective than the pitiful offsetting tut-tuts by authorities and the occasional ''you're all very naughty'' advertising campaign.

What has changed? Advertising and the age of the majority of uncontrolled drinkers, together with a skewed implementation of political correctness in which drunkenness is heroic and a poor-taste joke a near-mortal sin. Each of these changes is destructive.

By far the simplest fix is to once again enforce laws against being drunk in public places. Then action can be taken straightforwardly against whoever may have contributed.

Julian Robinson, Narrabundah

Hard to fathom cut

I am deeply troubled by the Australian government's sudden decision to axe funding to the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia. I am at a loss as to why this has happened. Is it because of ADCA's sound research and provision of advice on the prevention and reduction of harm caused by alcohol and other drugs? Or is it a crude example of cutting costs without stopping to consider the consequences?

Dr John Falzon, chief executive officer of the St Vincent de Paul Society national council




If recent claims are true that as little as $150 million will keep GM-H as a local car maker, why doesn't Premier Jay Weatherill tip that in from South Australia's piggy bank? It's a decisive quick fix to break the policy jam here in Canberra.

Arguments about who should ultimately pick up the tab are something that can be hammered out months down the track.

Ross Kelly, Monash


The federal Government forked out millions to save Holden (not even Australian-owned) but it won't lift a finger to save Australian-owned Qantas. Shame on them.

Phylli Ives, Torrens


I know it has been said before but, really, all these politicians who opposed everything decent that Mandela stood and fought for are at his funeral celebrating his life. Satire is dead, buried and cremated.

John Passant, Kambah


Someone should tell David Osmond that the climate doesn't know where the CO2 emissions are coming from. Some $6 billion for a practically useless 0.1 per cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions does not sound like good value to me.

H. Ronald, Jerrabomberra, NSW


Perhaps H. Ronald (Letters, December) might be happier if all environmental controls and subsidies were removed so that polluters' profits could be maximised and we could all enjoy the benefits of a filthy, lifeless and denuded planet.

Dan Buchler, Waramanga


I was saddened to hear a cull of the majestic white shark is to take place this summer in Western Australia. Any shark more than three metres long sighted in the ''killing zone'' will automatically be hunted by professional fisherman with a licence to kill. Once again, senseless and shameful human intervention.

Chris Doyle, Gordon


As a retired road-safety auditor, I am saddened and constantly dismayed at driver or rider behaviour on the Kings Highway. Sure, the road is windy in places but it is more than adequately signed to assist drivers and riders. The problem is not the road as such if users would only slow down, be patient and drive or ride according to the conditions.

The real problem as I see it is between the ears of the individual users involved.

Bill Swan, Kaleen


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