Letters

Letters to
the editor

Rohingya victims of heartless policies

A key principle for assessing whether a policy is ethical and humane is to ask what would happen if every country adopts the same policy. We are now seeing the denouement of the Australian policy of “turning back the boats” with Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia similarly using their navies to turn back boats of Rohingya asylum seekers fleeing violence, death and persecution in Myanmar (Hamish McDonald, “Bishop faces test over execution of aid cuts”, May 16-22). As a result, some 6000 to 20,000 refugees are now believed to be on boats and facing death at sea. Our own government justified its policy by saying it wanted to reduce such deaths, yet the very reverse is happening: a kind of slow-motion massacre of thousands by drowning or starvation. The Rohingya refugees are being forced to choose between dying in their homeland of some 1000 years, or, if they flee, dying at sea as a result of regional governments’ turn-back policies. These heartless policies make us all accomplices in Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing. If the Australian government is serious about saving lives, it should immediately dispatch rescue vessels and aircraft to help avert this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe, and work instead with the United Nations and regional bodies to apply immediate pressure on Myanmar.

– Michael Hamel-Green, Coburg, Vic

Time to act for humanity

We are told that morality has three pillars: instinct, culture (including religion) and reason. When fellow humans are in clear and present danger it surely is our instinct to rescue them. It should also surely be the message of any culture, based on the Golden Rule, that we should commit to rescuing them. If we apply a rational view we may do a cost-benefit analysis that might stay our hand. We may look at possible consequences such as the risk to our own comfort and even to our own life. We might even give thought to who else should be responsible for the rescue, and then back out so as to let them do it. We might ask what we will do with the rescued people once they are saved. Will they become a burden? Perhaps rescuing these people may even encourage others to take silly risks. The Rohingya now bereft at sea in our region are in immediate peril and we seem to be concerned about who should be responsible or about setting a precedent. They urgently need rescue and sanctuary. The rescuing nation will be proud of its courageous instincts, its caring culture and its brave reasoning. Should we not place the importance of saving lives above all else and sort out the consequences later?

– Paul Gilchrist, Abbotsford, NSW

Evaluation bypassed for Lomborg

As a pioneer of the development of research centres of excellence in Western Australia in the ’90s and early noughties, I watched with horror the unfolding of the saga of the proposed Lomborg “Australian Consensus Centre” at the University of Western Australia (Mike Seccombe, “Lomborg reboot”, May 16-22). It seemed, based on public information, a travesty of the processes of accountability, transparency and contestability of quality centres that our state government team fought so hard to establish. The state funding program started in 1994 with cabinet approval, with a few hundred thousand dollars of funds left over from another program, and had grown to $10 million a year by the time I retired from the WA public service in 2002. The state funds were invariably matched by university, CSIRO, industry and federal government funds. Over that period dozens of centres were established – about half related to resources and petroleum and others in biotechnology, renewable energy, health, computing and environment projects. To ensure the proposals were as detailed as possible, we co-funded the development of business plans by independent consultants. The complete process of evaluation included the business plan, the research program, consideration by a high-level independent committee, and finally approval by state cabinet. It was heartening to read Professor Tim Mazzarol’s views on the detailed evaluation now required for the establishment of research centres at UWA. One must bear in mind that the principal product of these centres is empirically based knowledge that must endure the test of time and peer review. The proposed Lomborg centre should be seen in the light of this brief history – secrecy, doubtful quality, lack of contestability and unclear accountability for a dubious outcome. It is little wonder there has been widespread and intensive outrage surrounding this ill-conceived proposal.

– John Barker, North Perth, WA

Coalition stays on message

Sophie Morris’s story (“Joe’s mother of contention”, May 16-22) states the budget risks leaving voters perplexed about what the Coalition stands for. It seems increasingly clear from your different articles what it stands for: undermining. Pitching parental leave as fraudulent seems to have been deliberate. Joe Hockey’s budget ideas on childcare were really Tony Abbott’s, leaving Hockey muzzled. Scott Morrison has a power struggle with Hockey, and canvasses the PM for Hockey’s job should his families package succeed. New medical schools are announced by Abbott in Perth, while he cuts state funding to the hospitals that should train the graduates. It doesn’t matter who gets undermined, the public, graduates, even politicians themselves, not to mention our international reputation. It’d be easy to say “it was ever thus”. But once we had much more independent media and fearless public servants who acted as buffers demanding accountability. They, too, are being undermined. The Coalition does not stand for much, other than undermining it seems.

– Gil Anaf, Norwood, SA

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 23, 2015. Subscribe here.