Letters to
the editor

Universal solution

Heartwarming as it is to hear the compassion for victims of robo-debt, it is underwhelming to hear there is no strong support for alternatives to the punitive systems of income support we have in Australia (Rick Morton, “Exclusive: Morrison approved for legal aid over robo-debt”, July 15-21). If every adult needs a regular income to live a healthy life, then give some income to them, unconditionally. That is how you fix poverty and the stigma of unemployment. Universal basic income (UBI) is the policy. Vague wishes for unidentified people or agencies to “do better” are not good enough. A policy fix is there for you to support if you want to. It is affordable, people are not inherently lazy, inflation can be managed. Going after the “villains” of robo-debt will not fix poverty in Australia. Only a UBI can do that.

– Stephen Gale, North Avoca, NSW

Adding insult to injury

As if the entire robo-debt fiasco wasn’t scandalous enough, we, the taxpayers, are to pay Scott Morrison’s legal fees. I doubt many Australians approve of this decision, given the angst of those whose lives were torn apart by this cruel scheme, and more particularly in view of the lives lost. This decision adds insult to injury. 

– Vee Saunders, Weetangera, ACT

Media limitations

John Hewson’s point on the role of the mainstream media is very disturbing (“A robo-debt to society”, July 15-21). The robo-debt royal commission hearings were given lip-service by the Murdoch papers but also from the ABC, of which we should expect better. Once the commission delivered its findings, all the media were over it for a depressingly small number of days. Compare that with the near-fortnight of blanket coverage given to what Katy Gallagher said or didn’t say. Equally disturbing will be the consequences, or lack thereof. The politicians involved will sail off into the sunset with their pensions intact and no repercussions of any significance. The senior public servants will be shuffled around, although someone will be sacrificed in the name of being seen to do something. It also is now many weeks since the appalling misbehaviour at PwC was revealed. There have been many expressions of outrage from various members of the government, but what penalties have been delivered or even proposed? Given a little time it will be business as usual. 

– Ross Hudson, Mount Martha, Vic

Do better 

The referendum vote to alter our constitution is really a “no-brainer” on both questions posed (Fred Chaney, “Listening to the Voice”, July 15-21). First, Indigenous peoples of Australia should be acknowledged – we have come so far from the untruth of terra nullius. Second, a Voice to Parliament is nothing to fear, as it is an advisory body offering advice on the issues that affect First Nations people. Privileged white men have not succeeded in caring for First Nations peoples. Decisions made over the past 250 years have seen dislocation of both family and culture, poor educational and health outcomes, poor housing and loss of language and increased incarceration and death. Dutton and his colleagues continue to say they know best, when the “No” case appears to be a fear campaign so as not to relinquish control. Australia needs to do better by First Nations peoples. 

– Kate Thompson-Turco, Woodbridge, Tas

Sharp comparisons 

I was particularly encouraged that the former minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Fraser government, Fred Chaney, was moved to support the proposed Voice. His perspectives on the misinformation spread in the debate leading up to the land rights legislation reveals similarities with that being propagated by those opposing the Voice. The unanimity achieved between all Australia’s different levels of government, of differing political persuasions, in relation to the Closing the Gap initiatives, seems, in my view, to undermine the disingenuous and political nature of some of the specious arguments being advanced by those now opposing the Voice.

– Ian Houston, Longreach, Qld

Robot fears

I read Carla Wilshire’s analysis of AI with fascination (“Tipping point”, July 15-21). She is the director of the Centre for Digital Wellbeing, and appropriately therefore concerned about the development of intelligent robots. She argues the most important field of technology innovation, globally, is “AI alignment research”, which is, she explains, “technology designed to ensure an AGI maintains values corresponding to those of human beings”. This, rather weirdly, assumes human values are always good. AIs will not be deliberately malevolent, as in science fiction, she argues, as the harm they do will more likely come about “through pursuit of goals with radical indifference to all other consequences”. But isn’t that precisely what so many humans, in particular those in government, have been doing? Having become dupes of neoliberal philosophy, in which the primary value is the pursuit of money, haven’t they revealed a radical indifference to the harm their schemes produce? Doesn’t the robo-debt scandal show us that what humans have taken to doing is precisely what Wilshire fears intelligent robots will do? The same could be said of our various governments’ ongoing mistreatment of refugees, and the current government’s scandalous approval of multiple mining projects, both with supreme indifference for the destructive consequences. 

– Bronwyn Davies, Potts Point, NSW

Letters are welcome: [email protected]
Please include your full name and address and a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length and content, and may be published in print and online. Letters should not exceed 150 words.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 22, 2023.

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription