Federal Politics


Private schools' buying power worsens inequities

Emma Macdonald's articles on ACT private schools' wealth and fee rises since 2001 (''Push to open up schools' books'', October 6, p1, and ''Independent schools in move to defend fee rises'', p8) can be better understood when read alongside teachers' salary agreements, which can be accessed through Fair Work Australia.

Now and going back years, the two grammar schools and Radford, Burgmann, Marist, St Edmund's and Daramalan colleges have had significantly higher teacher salaries than their government and systemic Catholic school counterparts: about $10,000 a year higher at the top of the classroom-teacher scales, with Canberra Grammar School teachers the highest paid in the ACT (curiously, they're paid more than Canberra Girls' Grammar teachers).

We'll know Australia's school funding levels are about right when governments enable public and systemic Catholic school teachers to be paid about as much as their wealthy independent counterparts.

As things stand, there are massive failures in teacher labour markets, with the salaries offered to public and systemic Catholic school teachers vastly below the levels needed to ensure properly qualified teachers in every ACT classroom - especially in mathematics, but also English, science and other subjects - giving rise to chronic shortages that could be addressed by paying teachers what the market demands.

The $10,000 a year or so salary advantage of wealthier independent schools adds a market distortion, bias and social inequity to existing teacher labour market failures, grossly to the detriment of public and systemic Catholic schools.

Dr Mark Drummond, Kaleen


Any ''Push to open up schools' books'' is doomed to disappear, without trace, into the vortex of Darwinian social privilege and caste maintenance.

This article reinforces plutocracy's ''born-to-rule'' philosophy, where honesty, mutual obligation, morality and decency are optional syllabus subjects.

Private education treats noblesse oblige with contempt.

Albert M. White, Queanbeyan, NSW

Stability can hurt us

Barnaby Joyce explained that he believes that conservatism is ''the preference for stability over desire''; that is, if we recklessly desire things, then we cause change, thus destabilising our world (''Where will guilt by conversation strike next'', October 4, p15).

A difficulty arises when we desire conflicting things.

For instance, we want our Great Barrier Reef to be full of colourful coral, fish and tourists. However, we also desire the industrial activities which incidentally warm our oceans and atmosphere, thus helping to destroy our beautiful reef.

Joyce refers to a ''ubiquitous, formerly free, colourless, odourless gas'', echoing the language of Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones. However, as the percentage of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere increases, so does our planet's temperature.

Australia, like many nations, is choosing to tackle rather than ignore this problem.

But both tackling and ignoring the problem involves change.

We have also needed to decide if we desired to avoid debt and let many people become unemployed and probably unemployable - or if we preferred to use economic stimulus to keep them in work.

Australia chose the latter path and has had a dream run past the economic nightmares of other nations.

So politics is not a conflict between desire and stability.

Change is always happening. It is the role of government to choose goals and pathways as sensibly as possible.

It's a difficult task, but at least our present federal government understands that it has this responsibility.

Rosemary Walters, Palmerston

Whistleblower risks

The header asked: ''Everyone backs whistleblowing laws. So why are we still waiting for them?'' (The Public Sector Informant, October 2, p6).

Government hesitates to debate this proposed bill because it extinguishes even the most tenuous protections.

Professor A. J. Brown continues to support federal whistleblower suppression in this sequel to his earlier article, ''Historic day for ACT: whistleblower legislation'' (August 24, p15).

The professor's opening claim is that ''Australia's federal public sector'' still awaits whistleblower protection. Section 16 of the Public Service Act gives that protection in principle. The proposed bill would repeal even this slim protection.

This bill is outlined in the Report of the Inquiry into Whistleblowing, delivered by Mark Dreyfus MP in February 2009, which Brown extols. It recommends in-house management and prohibits escalation beyond a single instance.

Recommendation No.21 only allows media disclosure of a matter that ''threatens immediate serious harm to public health and safety'' and then only if it ''has been disclosed internally and externally'' first.

''External'' means ''external agency'' of the public service.

External disclosure is currently banned without internal review. Such review would use the proposed single escalation allowed and so ban both external review and media disclosure.

Further, anything discounted by previous disclosure is deemed of no immediate threat. Free access to the Federal Court would be blocked.

The proposed bill would exclude from protection every public disclosure ever made and silence internal disclosures. Brown, a director of Transparency International, displays a similar disregard for human rights as its late chairman, Frank Costigan, who introduced retrospective legislation in the Taxation (Unpaid Company Tax) Assessment Act.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Civic station, please

Debate continues on the very fast train project (''Sydney snubs fast train to Canberra'', October 4, p2).

Apparently misunderstanding the characteristics and roles of the two transport modes, the opportunistic owners of Canberra's airport want the VFT station next to their terminal building.

Already, because of its relative proximity to Civic, the airport's extensive but ad hoc commercial growth has significantly usurped Civic's role, and caused massive public expenditure on associated roadworks.

Locating Canberra's VFT station at the airport would exacerbate the problem, and significantly diminish passengers' opportunities to enjoy the national capital. (In any case, the airport is small, sometimes fog-bound, topographically compromised and noisy, and will very likely need to move in the future.)

A central Civic location for our VFT station would allow positive experiences of the national capital, and generate beneficial synergies with hotels, local transport links, shopping, offices, convention centres, cultural facilities, the Australian National University, etc.

Various routes and locations exist for inner-city VFT infrastructure.

Including the station, it could be elevated and plexiglas-cocooned for quietness and to give users great views, while making the station and tracks safe and practical, and give them ''presence''.

Jack Kershaw, Kambah

Under-mining tax

BHP Billiton's notice of its forthcoming annual general meeting seems to confirm that Prime Minister Julia Gillard was so generous in watering down Kevin Rudd's mining tax that the industry will pay very little or no tax for many years.

That's because Gillard's mining tax doesn't cut in until profit exceeds about 12 per cent of the market value of net assets; and figures in the notice indicate that BHP Billiton's profit for 2011-12 was only 13.01 per cent of capital. Moreover, that capital would almost certainly reflect the book value of assets, which would be very much lower than market value, so that the percentage return the company earned would be nowhere near the ''about 12 per cent'' that's the starting point for the tax.

Of course, the figures are for BHP Billiton as a whole, not only for the operations that attract the mining tax.

But they are such that it will be very interesting indeed to see what mining tax (if any) the company pays on its 2012-13 profits.

R. S. Gilbert, Braddon

No-frills Parliament

While dribbling over my morning muesli, I reflected on the federal government's austerity program as it now affects most Australians, to say nothing of the enthusiasm of the Coalition to slash and burn.

I asked myself what restraints federal or state politicians impose on themselves and their (sly smile) valued advisers. I concluded I could not recall reading anything much about economies in the precincts of parliaments.

Perhaps the media could do some serious investigating and report what rorting continues to be available to politicians.

Do they fly economy class, for example? Is their superannuation (amazingly generous in difficult times, surely) subject to the current spending review? Are they free to journey hither and yon when phone and internet links are available? To what extent are the food and drink at Parliament House still subsidised by taxpayers?

Dr Ian Welch, Mawson

Kind health staff

Last week, we finally laid to rest Nives, our daughter-in-law, after a long and debilitating illness. This letter is not about her and her young family but to address the wonderful and caring support she and her family received from the medical staff: doctors, nurses, social workers and administration staff in both the Canberra Hospital and Clare Holland House.

The staff in the hospital's intensive care ward and the hospice were a credit to their profession and deserve praise and public recognition.

We are not from the Canberra region but the warm and sympathetic support we received made us realise there is still a lot of good and kindness in humanity.

Peter and Lynda Leslie, Maclean, NSW

Don't waste our money on a third green bin we don't need

At Mugga Lane last week, I saw seven vehicles owned by small landscaping businesses dumping garden waste for free at Corkhills' depot.

Will the Liberals' proposal to introduce a third, green-bin collection severely harm these small businesses?

There were also three householders with trailers full of tree and shrub prunings and two cars with boots full of garden waste.

None of the loads would fit into a green wheelie bin without significant effort to cut it up, and even then most of it would need to be stockpiled in backyards for disposal over a couple of bin collections. I can't imagine householders will want to do this.

So where is the push for green bins coming from? If it's to cater for a fortnightly bag of lawn clippings or other small amounts of garden waste, then surely the cheapest way is to permit garden waste to be included in the existing green garbage bin.

And how will the Liberals fund this extra service without increasing our rates? This proposal smacks of policy formulation on the run in order to give the Liberals a ''green tinge''.

Bill Bowron, Farrer 

Time for policies

Yes, the ACT Labor government is far from perfect; it's not hard to find things to criticise.

But the Liberal alternative has neither said nor done anything at all to convince us they could do things better.

The opposition hasn't come up with any real policies (costed or otherwise) on any important issues, and despite its repeated advertisements trying to convince us that it's ready, one can only ask ready for what?

Which Liberal candidates are equipped for ministerial portfolios? From what we've seen, their ''talents'' lie elsewhere.

Voters must think carefully. Do we want Zed Seselja's mob in the ACT, almost wall-to-wall Liberal states and Tony Abbott as prime minister?

Crikey, what a terrifying thought!

Merrill Moore, Macgregor

I note that pre-poll voting for the ACT Legislative Assembly election began last week on October 2.

I understand how this procedure helps many people who wish to vote but may be unable to do so on polling day, October 20.

However, I also note that only a small number of the costings of the policy announcements made by the major parties have been submitted to ACT Treasury for independent analysis.

In other words, electors are able to cast their vote for the next couple of weeks in complete ignorance of the veracity of the costings submitted by the political parties. What a farce this makes of the whole process!

E. L. Fisher, Kambah 

School of music

Is the Australian National University determined to destroy the school of music (''Elite teachers told to reapply'', October 5, p1)?

It is almost beyond belief that the staff (many world-renowned musicians) have had their applications for positions within the ''new structure'' rejected.

Are these wonderful teachers to be even further demoralised?

Any of us who have connections with the school know that there are likely to be almost no applicants for the 2013 intake.

To Professor Ian Young: for goodness sake, stop this farce now.

And to the National Tertiary Education Union's Stephen Darwin: get this to Fair Work Australia immediately.

In the meantime, what on earth are the students supposed to do? I am aware that school of music students are leaving in droves.

Janet Berger, Weston 

End live exports

At last, something I can agree on from the very green Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young. It's high time the government moves the livestock industry away from live export trade.

Surely the government, the industry and its associated bodies can see the writing on the wall and accelerate the process of restructuring.

I certainly wouldn't like my in-laws' live Angus cattle going to countries like those in the Middle East and Asia, no matter what promises they make.

Ric Hingee, Duffy

To the point


Watching the coverage of Bathurst on the weekend, I noticed that historical footage of previous races had been digitally altered to remove the Marlboro logo from cars. Nobody should have the right to blur out 13 years of Australian motor-racing history by doing this. History should not be altered to please some people's sensibilities.

J. Percival, Macarthur


What is the point of the ACT Greens making pre-election financial promises that they will never be in a position to keep?

Beryl Richards, Curtin


Light rail, buses, trams, donkeys or camels. It doesn't matter what you install: if it's public transport, you must either succeed in enticing people to use it and leave their cars at home, or force them to. Although neither donkey nor camel, light rail will cost a lot. What animal will it be? A white elephant.

Barrie Smillie, Duffy


The Prime Minister rightly refused to comment on Michael Williamson's charges until they were dealt with by the courts. Will she now instruct her Attorney-General to follow the same rule in relation to James Ashby?

Ed Dobson, Hughes


I write in response to the polite words of V. Harris (Letters, October 5). ''Smokeless flues'', or rather smokeless fuels, and efficient wood-burning devices are part of the solution to an existing air-pollution problem. While I don't in the town of Yass, I have driven through it on many winter evenings. A quick push on my car's recirculated air button is necessary to prevent my sensitive lungs ''burning'' in irritation. I hope this same smoke didn't prevent Harris from understanding the point of my previous letter.

George Papadopoulos, Yass, NSW


Such joy it brings to my old Democrat heart to see candidates' election signs on the sides of the streets. I rejoice to see the variety and ingenuity of candidates' attempts to catch the vote while staying within the boundaries of our splendid and fair Hare-Clark Robson rotation electoral regulations. There seems to be a regular new crop of signs every few days. Is this because the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate is a bit overzealous in cleaning up, or because rival candidates or their supporters are removing them? If the latter is the case, I'd love to see candid camera shots of the culprits. If it's the former, can we please have a moratorium on the removal of the signs between now and the election in two weeks.

Julie McCarron-Benson, Charnwood