Letters to
the editor

Howard and Downer got it wrong

John Martinkus’s reference to “John Howard and Alexander Downer’s Srebrenica moment” (“The truth about Howard’s Timor ‘liberation’ ”, December 19, 2015-January 22, 2016) is consistent with Downer’s dismissal of alarm about the Indonesian military’s planned violent reaction to the East Timorese vote for independence in 1999. I met Downer a day or two before the referendum and he was adamant that the predictions of violence were unfounded and wrong. No doubt prime minister Howard made the same naive assumption and was unprepared for the bloodshed. The Greens was the first Australian party to call for military intervention. 

– Bob Brown, former leader of the Australian Greens, Cygnet, Tas

A new take on Timor-Leste

Another interesting take on Howard’s “liberation” of East Timor: While working as a self-funded volunteer in East Timor in 2005-2006, I had an interesting discussion with a representative of the East Timorese Ministry of Culture. After patiently listening to my mouthing off about how laudable it was that the Australian government had interceded in the situation there, the official politely asked why I thought the Howard government had waited so long to intervene when, as he put it, the Australian embassy (among others) had ample prior intelligence that the Indonesian rampage was going to take place. His analysis was chilling: John Howard and Alexander Downer were happy to let the “scorched earth” action proceed, since the wholesale destruction of East Timor’s infrastructure would significantly weaken the bargaining position of the East Timorese government in relation to the Greater Sunrise gas fields in the Timor Gap. If the causes of events can be surmised from their consequences, there can be little doubt he was right. Hmmm... 

– Rob Simpson, Urunga, NSW

The pain of growth

What a pleasure it was to read Max Opray’s article (“Carbon admissions”, December 12-18, 2015) regarding William Bourke’s advocacy on the critical issue of Australia’s population growth. Bourke appears to be the only political advocate in Australia who sees the causative link between our exploding 200,000-plus annual immigration intake and virtually every problem that we are failing on – traffic congestion, hospital waiting lists, overcrowded schools, overcrowded jails, inappropriate high-rise development in our suburbs, and environmental degradation everywhere. The eminent biologist E. O. Wilson once said, “The raging monster loose upon the land is overpopulation, and in its unrestrained presence, sustainability is but a fragile, intellectual construct.” Bourke and his party, Sustainable Australia, are right on the money. We need an Australia that is better, not bigger. 

– Andrew McNamara, former Queensland minister for sustainability, climate change and innovation, Maroubra, NSW

A time of confusion

Martin McKenzie-Murray’s year in review (“2015: A carnival of cognitive dissonance”, December 19, 2015-January 22, 2016) suggested that cognitive dissonance was a defining feature of 2015. Indeed, it was so prevalent in federal politics that neither the government’s highly confused budget narrative, nor its peculiar stance on coal, warranted a mention. So to recap: the Coalition blamed its failure to immediately balance the budget on falling revenues, identifying the diving iron ore price as the chief culprit. Yet the remedy was simply to constrain spending. As a strict matter of principle, new or renovated revenue streams would not be countenanced. Meanwhile, the agile, innovative Turnbull government continued boosting the Adani coalmine, which no sane financial analyst expects to ever be commercially viable. This made a mockery of its stated position of adhering to market logics and its effusive rhetorical support for global efforts to address climate change. 

– Dave Lisle, Mullumbimby, NSW

Media culpable in Abbott obsession

In contrast to most Australians who have moved on from the failed Abbott experiment in pugnacious politics, the media appear to be spending an inordinate amount of newsprint on what Tony Abbott is doing (Sophie Morris, “What is Abbott actually doing?”, December 19, 2015-January 22, 2016). The only issue worthy of close media scrutiny is the potential role of Abbott, and his small cabal of reactionary elements within the Liberal Party, in vindictively sabotaging the popularly led Malcolm Turnbull Coalition government from advancing Australia into the 21st century. Parliament is no place for rancorous former prime ministers. With a few exceptions, such as the egregious Billy Hughes and Kevin Rudd, most former prime ministers have had the personal strength and dignity to know when to eventually bow out. For the positive future of this nation and the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott should follow suit, and the media could stop supplying him oxygen. 

– Bob Barnes, Wedderburn, NSW

Comedy gold

Thank you, The Saturday Paper. I was so much in need of a good laugh and never in my wildest dreams did I think that Eric Abetz would be the source: “Kevin Rudd was all about Kevin Rudd. Tony Abbott is all about service to the community” (Sophie Morris, “What is Abbott actually doing?”, December 19, 2015-January 22, 2016). 

– Di Roche, Leichhardt, NSW

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 23, 2016. Subscribe here.