Both Rick Morton’s “Exclusive: Robo-debt findings delayed to allow NACC referrals” (May 20-26) and Denham Sadler’s “Torture sights” (May 20-26) catalogue reprehensible failures by government authorities to properly fulfil their legal obligations. But only the robo-debt piece outlines a punishment regime (National Anti-Corruption Commission referrals to prosecution agencies); neither canvasses a prevention mechanism. Section 27 of the Work Health and Safety Act – enacted by all jurisdictions but Victoria – offers a powerfully punitive prevention template. “Officers” (staff making significant decisions) must “exercise due diligence” to ensure their organisation complies with its duties. Under section 31 of the act, organisations found guilty of non-compliance involving recklessness as to potentially grave consequences can be fined up to $3 million, while similarly guilty officers can incur heavy fines and/or up to five years’ jail.
– Max Costello, North Melbourne
Outsourcing public services to the private sector became central to the playbook of bureaucracies after “new public management” theories took hold of Australian public services in the 1990s (Martin McKenzie-Murray, “Fox in the waterhouse”, May 20-26). An unspoken benefit was that it was an indirect way of breaking up unionised workforces within governments. New public management was the handmaiden of neoliberal economics. The idea was the private sector runs things more efficiently (and cheaply) than governments, and content-free management in general (and MBA holders in particular) were superior heads of departments. These generalist managers are apparently better placed to deal with government policies more efficiently and effectively than those with specialist knowledge. Frank and Fearless left the public service many years ago. We urgently need to bring them back.
– Sarah Russell, Mount Martha, Vic
Play it again, Peter
John Hewson is well placed to dissect the Coalition stance on immigration over the past few decades (“Immigration policy for grown-ups”, May 20-26). It is hard to argue with the well-presented and clear benefits of controlled immigration, unless of course you are Peter Dutton. His objections seem to waver between opposing immigration increases because Labor thought of it and some sort of race-based scaremongering. Dutton’s plan, it seems, is to isolate every minority group of our successful multicultural society, including First Nations peoples, so he can defeat the government. Scaremongering and dog whistles are counterproductive and Dutton seems to be using a playbook used by most Liberal leaders since John Howard. It is like continually doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Good luck with that, Mr Dutton.
– Geoff Nilon, Mascot, NSW
The prime minister says “it took courage” to decide against greater cost-of-living relief in the budget. The government was concerned about the inflationary impact on the poor (Paul Bongiorno, “The Albanese interview: ‘There is nothing timid’ ”, May 20-26). I suggest keeping JobSeeker well below the poverty line in a housing and rental crisis while refusing to step back from the stage three tax cuts – which will cost a mint, massively favour the wealthy and have an inflationary impact – could be described more aptly as cruel. It appears that the unemployed are collateral damage in the government’s determination to do whatever it takes to win the next election.
– Angela Smith, Clifton Hill, Vic
Nick Feik discusses the mysterious manoeuvrings in the carbon offsets market, saying “there’s not a single serious scientific organisation in the world that believes [carbon offsets] are a substitute for genuine emissions cuts” (“The grant king”, May 20-26). Yet the Albanese government, which won the May 2022 general election in large part thanks to the default support of new teal MPs who insisted on more meaningful action on climate change, is now grovelling at the feet of the Australian gas industry, asking “how low shall we go?”
– Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin, ACT
The loudest voices
Elizabeth Farrelly displays a number of unfortunate misunderstandings about yimbyism (“Houses are not bananas”, May 20-26). The strangest is her assertion that yimbyism suits governments that don’t want to take on the political challenge of enabling soft density. On the contrary, yimbys are the loudest voices calling for a shift from the spot rezoning strategy that she rightly calls out. In February, community-based yimby group Greater Canberra launched Missing Middle Canberra, a coalition of 15 private and community organisations calling for broad upzoning to enable the kind of mid-rise incremental urbanism Dr Farrelly espouses. While yimbys believe high-rise housing has its place, I hope Dr Farrelly can find common ground with us and call for aggressive large-scale action to enable medium-density development, rather than the half-measures that politicians have tried so far.
– Andrew Donnellan, secretary, Greater Canberra, Griffith, ACT
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 27, 2023.
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