Independent advice required
Anne Summers makes an important observation in stating “it is easy to forget just how recently policy and politics became unhitched – if not unhinged” (The dead policy scrolls”, December 15–21). Summers provides a long list of policy-free areas of government where only politics reigns, but it is unclear why policy has become unhinged from politics. There is the opportunistic decision about the Israeli embassy; ignoring the renewable energy sector; encryption laws giving police more power without there being any increased threat; obstructing treatment of detained sick children; or slashing immigration that then exacerbates economic downturn, to name a few. It would seem that what has been lost (or deliberately unhitched) is a non-partisan public service with its expert institutional memory that provided realistic advice without fear or favour – that is, fear of losing their job. Revitalising a truly independent public service seems to be a much-needed national interest policy.
– Gil Anaf, Norwood, SA
Not all the way with the Donald
Thank you, Anne Summers. One aspect not mentioned, perhaps because there is a semblance of policy around, is the area of so-called defence. Bipartisan support for the United States alliance has been a troubling reality for many years, highlighted by the long-running toadying at Pine Gap, and more recently reinforced by the 2011 announcement that US marines would be in and out of Darwin, by the foolish purchase of the F-35 fighter jets and then the submarines – even more expense, and they’ll be obsolete before they’re built. What all this represents is interoperability with US forces and, sadly, Australia has form in blindly following the US into wars that are not in its interests. With The Donald in the White House, this is a perfect time to recalibrate Australia’s commitments to an unsound military alliance and to acknowledge that our foreign policy would be vastly improved by building good relationships with our neighbours. Bearing all that in mind, it is highly encouraging that at the ALP conference, Labor has agreed to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and to hold an inquiry into how Australia goes to war. Civil society in Australia has been calling for these sensible steps forward – being heard on these really important issues bodes well for our future.
– Jo Vallentine, Maylands, WA
Some Hydro history
Sophie Boot’s article and photo (“The plan from Snowy River”, December 15–21) almost brought a tear to my eye. As a young geophysicist, my first job with Snowy Hydro in 1966 was to seismically determine what needed blasting and what could be ripped with a D9 bulldozer at Tumut 3 dam site in Talbingo, NSW. This was critical, as blasting was seven times more expensive than ripping. I also surveyed the foundations for the Liddell coal-fired power station. I recently turned 80 and am not at all unhappy to see Tumut 3 dam standing proudly as a prescient monument to the inevitable renewable-energy juggernaut, nor that Liddell is in its final days.
– Ian Nowak, Subiaco, WA
Praise for musical Guru
As usual The Saturday Paper has been the media outlet that has consistently provided Australian readers with the most comprehensive news items during 2018. But it’s not just the news items that are of interest. Dave Faulkner’s articles on music are also noteworthy, and last week’s story about the lack of Australian artists played on commercial radio (“Australian trawl”, December 15–21) reminded me that nothing seems to have changed on these stations during the past 50 years since I was a child listening to music on my trannie. And he is spot on when he writes “Australian music is a huge driver of our economy and is a matter of national interest”. No other journalist has noted this worthwhile point before. Thank you, Dave.
– Con Vaitsas, Ashbury, NSW
Reducing the harm caused by drugs
Hamish McDonald’s article (“Peace on drugs”, December 15–21) contained some important points. Portuguese policy is clearly not “harsh on drug” users, which helps to be harsh on drug suppliers through better co-operation of personal users. It is astonishing to read Mick Palmer’s comment – the response should surely be better education of the young (education has diminished smoking and risky sexual behaviour), though the major problem may be the inherent risk-taking of the young. It is important to note that decriminalisation has had little effect on drug usage in Portugal. The most important comment by Nuno Capaz was the final one – that regulation of the supply of drugs was the most relevant measure to consider. Most of these illegal drugs are not expensive to produce. Government control over cost, quality and availability cuts out the illicit market, allows possible tax revenue (think alcohol), and allows a possible avenue for referral to treatment. The war on drugs has failed. It is a social issue needing regulation and control to provide for harm minimisation. Don’t be fooled into thinking this problem will go away. Let us manage it with the least harm to society.
– Rodney Syme, Yandoit Hills, Vic
A year of inhumanity
The smorgasbord of letters last week shows that under the so-called Christian stewardship of our Christian prime minister we continue to deny medical treatment to refugees in our offshore gulags and we allow the Catholic Church to avoid payment under the redress scheme to victims of sexual abuse while Scott Morrison blunders along with his obsession that Bill Shorten may actually provide some Christian remedy to those affected during this our country’s most shameful period.
– John Bennett, Dingabledinga, SA
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 22, 2018. Subscribe here.