There has recently been considerable, and much-deserved, interest in privatisation of government functions. The finance minister has initiated an inquiry into how Medibank Private can be privatised. We have considerable evidence from recent actions on what works well, and what does not. The privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Serum Laboratory have both been remarkable successes.
As a result of a loyal client base, sound public service including good procedures and training in depth, and good management, both have prospered as private companies. Profits have grown substantially, and the government take of company tax would now considerably exceed what they previously extracted as dividends. Investors have seen the value of their shares increase by much more than 10 times, and dividends have grown handsomely.
Both success stories resulted from the then Labor governments simply enabling public participation in share floats for functions that were highly competitive. The privatisation of Telstra shows what can happen when you privatise an essential monopoly function, which needs government regulation for minimum service and to prevent monopoly profits. Telstra privatisation also included requirements to ensure competitors had access to its facilities. Telstra offered to provide an NBN, if it had control of access to it.
However, access by competitors was enforced, at rates externally determined. Telstra decided not to proceed in providing an advantage to competitors, so now the government is installing an NBN at public cost. As a result of this privatisation the government has less income from dividends, infrastructure development reduced and profits have stagnated for the past 10 years.
The lessons are clear: privatise competitive functions with a simple share sale to the public and let competitive forces flow, and be careful about privatising any function that would transfer a natural monopoly from government control to control under a profit-based environment.
Eugene Holzapfel, Campbell
No plastic grass
If the Kingston traders want children to play in Green Square then they'd best avoid advice to use artificial grass. The stuff is hot enough even on warm, not hot, days to burn the skin of young children. It gives off as much heat as concrete and smells of melting vinyl on very hot days. Its use would never induce me to coffee in the once lovely Green Square.
Roseanne Byrne, Jerrabomberra
A man of insight
Gad, sir, congratulations to Bob Carr for his review of Wilson by A.Scott Berg! (Panorama, January 11, p17).
Carr points out that the chief villain, US President Woodrow Wilson, committed the US to World War I, sided with the British and went on to crush Germany, thereby causing the rise of Hitler, World War II, 60 million deaths and Russian occupation of Eastern and Central Europe. In a similar vein, one could add President F.D. Roosevelt who, by declaring war on Japan, prolonged World War II, caused untold death and destruction and fomented the rise of Stalin and Mao Zedong.
With insights like the above, it is surely a great pity Bob is no longer minister for foreign affairs.
Peter Edgar, Garran
G-G has no useful role
Jack Waterford's article on possible candidates for Governor-General (''Umpire cannot be anyone'', January 8, Times2 p2) missed the points that the office of Governor-General is unnecessary, has no useful role and is potentially dangerous.
So long as the Constitution requires the presence of a Governor-General the best precedent for a vice-regal appointment would be that of the last Governor-General of the Irish Free State, Donal Buckley in 1932. Mr Buckley was a loyal party nonentity and follower of the then Prime Minister Eamon de Valera. Mr Buckley did not live in the vice-regal mansion in Dublin but in a suburban house.
He made no public speeches, cut no ribbons and laid no foundation stones. Instead he stayed at home armed with a bottle of ink, fountain pen, ink pad and rubber stamp and confined his vice-regal duties to signing those documents he was told to sign. Not many noticed when his office was abolished in 1936.
Tony Abbott should follow a similar course by appointing a compliant nonentity and not some prominent lawyer, judge or soldier who may have too much of a mind of his own. Such an appointee, like Mr Buckley, would live in a suburban house, make no public appearances or speeches and confine his vice-regal activities to signing documents when required.
If a change of government were to occur, the incoming Prime Minister could replace the Governor-General with his own loyal nonentity.
Adam Browne, Lyons
Sticking with Fairfax
My disappointment with some sections of the media took a huge leap on Friday when The Daily Telegraph was delivered to my home by mistake instead of The Canberra Times. I was astounded by the Telegraph's uncritical and slavish endorsement of every Abbott government policy and action, with pompous and arrogant ridicule of any and every opposing view or statement, especially by Piers Akerman.
Free press indeed! On the evidence of the Friday, January 10, edition, the Telegraph is little more than a tool to advance the politics of its owner - that great Australian patriot who gave up his Australian citizenship to advance his business interests.
Now I think I understand why free copies of the Telegraph were available at a popular ''Scottish'' hamburger chain before the election. The Fairfax press may not be perfect but at least it is capable of critical and independent analysis; I think I might have a badge made which reads ''Don't blame me, I read Fairfax!''
D.J. Taylor, Kambah
Cyclists not at fault in this scenario
I trust that the ACT Registrar of Motor Vehicles is hurrying to send a letter to Cuthbert Douglas (Letters, January 13, p2) demanding that he return his driver's licence for cancellation. No one who pays so little attention to what is going on on the roads around them - to the point where they are unable to anticipate their interactions with other traffic well in advance - should be allowed to drive a 2-tonne murder weapon on them.
Mark Raymond, Manton
If the circumstances described by Cuthbert Douglas are correct, maybe he should have been aware of the cyclists long before he arrived at a collision point with them. Most cyclists I have observed (I am not a cyclist) do not travel at
90km/h, therefore he would have been well behind them as he approached the intersection and should have been able to gradually slow down, allowing following drivers to take appropriate action in plenty of time.
Tim Hoskins, Karabar
I'm a bit perplexed by Cuthbert Douglas' email about cyclists riding on roads. He says he wanted to exit in his car on an off ramp but was confronted by a line of cyclists who were riding on the green strip and so had right of way. Mr Douglas was apparently faced with a quandary, speed up and cut across the path of the first cyclist - and hopefully not injure the person - or brake hard and wait until the last cyclist in the line passed.
Apparently Mr Douglas' hard braking caused a chain reaction of cars braking hard behind him and nearly resulted in an accident. (I thought car drivers were supposed to stay a safe distance behind each other to avoid such problems.)
My question is: Why did Mr Douglas have to brake hard in the first place? Surely he saw the line of cyclists in front of him. Why didn't he just do the right thing and slow down as he approached them.
Car drivers cutting in front of cyclists to turn left is a major problem and one that I, like most cyclists, am heartily sick of.
I don't know why so many cars drivers do it. Some kind of macho thing? It probably saves five seconds of the car driver's time, but can cause considerable suffering if the cyclist doesn't brake hard to avoid a crash.
Christine Fernon, Ainslie
Dangers of ideology creeping into our school curriculum
Kevin Donnelly, now responsible for reviewing the national curriculum, has previously argued that the Australian education system has gone too far towards tolerating same-sex relationships, examining non-white and non-Christian perspectives and accepting diversity in our community.
While he is considering what our children are to be taught, I have a few questions for him: Firstly, when questioning whether the diversity of Australian society is really a good thing, should a teacher get the immigrant students in their class to defend their presence in this country, or should they sit in silence while learning that some conservatives believe they and their families are fostering ''social division''?
Further, when a gay student asks about their sexuality, does the teacher have to actively condemn them, or should they merely carefully avoid saying or implying that the ''lifestyle'' of that child is acceptable?
And, in either case, what would make a student sitting in either class believe they would be wrong to bully those children for being different?
Curriculum should not be based on ideology, especially where that ideology is one which excludes people and fosters a culture which regards some kids as ''outsiders'', fostering bullying in classrooms and divisions in our society.
Joshua Smith, Gordon
Mentally ill in jail
Geoff Barker (Letters, January 3) responded to David Biles' article (''Reforms put fairness at risk'', January 2, p1) insisting that, under current institutional/procedural arrangements, jail is where disproportionately large numbers of the mentally ill must inevitably wind up.
Barker is, of course, correct.
There is, for example, a large and burgeoning suite of mental illnesses which involve intense paranoia. Crystal meth and high-strength hydroponic marijuana have substantially boosted numbers of people with such illnesses.
Seriously paranoid people will not seek help from strangers and strongly reject attempts by others to push them towards help. Because they can't be helped and often flee intervention, they are essentially unemployable. Their self-medication and/or efforts to escape destitution via criminal activity (no medical professionals to have them declared incapable and paid the relevant allowance) mean they are usually arrested and wind up in jail.
Simple. Seen it many times. It's wrong.
Michael Jordan, Gowrie
Recently, a precedent-setting approval was granted for a lease variation on a block of raw land in Wright, permitting the developer's request for a whopping 27 per cent increase in the number of flats from a maximum of 212 stipulated in the original lease, to 270. The ACT Treasury will receive a hefty Lease Variation Charge. So much for the professional integrity of the government planners who, with reference to the Territory Plan, nominated the 212.
And what about the public, which was given expectations of suitable building height and bulk etc for this new mainly single-dwelling-per-block suburb, a well integrated local community, and high standards of living re privacy, amenity, solar access, etc?
Instead, the community will get a grosser built result (up to six storeys), and will have to pay for the ongoing social and infrastructure problems associated with the increased density and social division.
Jack Kershaw, Kambah
If it can be properly understood and developed, the ACT Land Rent Scheme has enormous potential to improve access to land and housing affordability. In describing the recent changes to the income threshold eligibility for the ACT Land Rent scheme, Noel Towell (''Land-rent leeway for the great ACT dream'', January 9, p1) refers to the scheme as ''taxpayer assisted''. This is a common misunderstanding. In fact, under our system, it is the private accrual of land rent, not its public collection, that is taxpayer assisted.
Taking into account other taxes and charges, land renters more than pay their way by incrementally returning to the community the unimproved value of their location. This value is a direct reflection of the public services surrounding their chosen site. Conversely, by privately capitalising rising land values, land owners, or more often their mortgagees, effectively receive a windfall tax rebate.
Fairness requires that all land-renters, regardless of when they entered the scheme, should be charged the same percentage of the unimproved value of their site. Further, there is no real need for any income threshold to dissuade wealthier people from using the scheme.
For now, a better alternative may simply be to allow only one residential land rent block per family to build and live upon.
Over time, hopefully more people will realise that justice also requires that no citizen should be obliged to make any contribution to Treasury coffers beyond the annual market worth of the land that they hold for exclusive use.
Ronald Johnson, Secretary ACT Association for Good Government
Sharon a war criminal
Why on earth is the foreign minister of Australia going to attend the funeral of ex-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon? I mean, quite apart from the fact that he is one of the greatest war criminals of the past 60 years, will Israel be sending their foreign minister to Australia when the next of our former prime ministers expires?
If this is not a case of showing exceptional deference to Israel, the foreign minister is going to be spending a lot of time flying to the funerals of former political leaders! And did I mention he was a war criminal?
Chris Williams, Griffith
TO THE POINT
A CAPITOL TREAT
Reading the article about Mrs Liangis (January 11, p1), one can only admire her hard work and determination. But please, Mrs Liangis, give us back our original Manuka Theatre. Its architecture and brickwork complemented the style and feel of Manuka. Now that you have built your dream, please rebuild for our community what you took away from us.
Elizabeth Thurbon, Narrabundah
ALWAYS BUGS BUNNY
I have lived in Canberra since 1952 and, unlike Ken Maher (January 13), we always called the Australian-American Memorial ''Bugs Bunny''. I cannot remember it being called anything else.
Ian Reynolds, Chifley
Your review of the SBS program The Burrowers (January 12, p22) ridicules a minor speech defect on the part of the program's narrator. While amusing, it is unkind.
M.L. Willheim, Forrest
NOT ALL GOOD
I hope Christopher Pyne also wants Australian students to learn about the disadvantages of Western civilisation: firearms, alcohol, pollution, environmental degradation, climate change, arrogant politicians …
Clare Conway, Ainslie
OFF TO BOOT CAMP
For all those causing trouble in public places because they are drinking too much, there's a simple solution: pack them off to boot camp.
Phylli Ives, Torrens
When did ''acquisitioned'' become a word in the English language? (''Experts seek to stop export'', January 13). Surely it is ''acquired''.
Bernard McMinn, Mawson
NOT FOR TOURISTS
I was wondering if someone in the ACT government can explain why the coffee shop adjoining the Regatta Point exhibition, one of our major tourist attractions, is ''closed for the holidays'' - until the end of January?
Lyndal Thorburn, Greenleigh, NSW
ONE FOR ALL
I join Anne Prendergast and Gillian Phillpot in being equally proud of Australia's British, indigenous and multicultural heritage.
Marguerite Castello, Griffith
WARMING TO IT
Rather than sweltering through the heatwave this week, we should sit back and enjoy it in the knowledge and reassurance that climate change is crap.
Dan Buchler, Waramanga
Email: email@example.com. 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).