Labor stays true

Labor stays true

LINDSAY Tanner is, as always, thought-provoking ("A 'revolt of the engaged' just might save our politics", Forum, 3/12). But I find one aspect puzzling and disappointing. He writes that "identifiably Labor initiatives are still launched but usually in response to immediate political pressures rather than any strong sense of inner purpose". He has written to similar effect on other occasions.

I'm not certain which of the plethora of initiatives introduced since 2007 fail the "inner-purpose" test. When David Gonski was commissioned to start work on education reforms was this for crass political purpose? How about the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco, which led to a risky and costly High Court challenge? Or the initiatives to reduce middle-class welfare to provide better for those truly in need? Electorally hazardous, I should have thought. And there are others.

But the National Disability Insurance Scheme stands as the starkest example that rebuts Tanner's charge. We are told it now has bipartisan support. Terrific, but I never heard a word about it during the 11 years of the previous government. Kevin Rudd is to be commended for allocating Bill Shorten to work on it. The government is to be congratulated for adopting it. If this is not an embodiment of the very purpose that has driven the Labor Party I don't understand what could be so described.

Ian Dunn, North Fitzroy

Giving, not taking

HOORAY for common sense. The tough-on-crime approach is strong on politics and short on logic (Editorial, 3/12). Rather than locking up all and sundry at great expense - a lot more than the $250 per day - we should be dealing with the major issues underlying most offending. Mental health is the big one. It is almost always associated with low self-esteem, poor socio-economic circumstances and chronic substance abuse. Homelessness, histories of abuse and intellectual impairment also dominate the statistics.

A clever government would ensure there were the resources necessary to tackle these issues in a court-supervised environment that would place these offenders on orders in the community. Offenders would learn essential life skills, with their efforts being subject to judicial oversight. They give back to the community rather than taking tax dollars from it. This already happens successfully at the Collingwood Neighbourhood Justice Centre. Why isn't it being done everywhere?

Kaz Gurney, Shepparton

Same old system

PLANNING Minister Matthew Guy has announced a "new" Victorian Building Authority to oversee building industry regulation ("Shake-up in building industry", The Age, 3/12). But it's just a rebranding to disguise the lack of real reform.

The Building Commission, as the Auditor-General highlighted in his 2011 report on building permits, already has "extensive and significant powers" to enforce compliance; no new names or powers are required. But as the regulator, the commission lacked the will. And the VBA will be no different.

Despite the pleas for consultation from many of the 256,000 consumers whose lives are seriously damaged by recalcitrant building practitioners every year, all have been refused. The registration process, the conduct of practitioners and disciplinary action and the renewal of licences are all key issues for consumer protection. But the government has refused to discuss any of these critical issues with those who have been most negatively affected.

While consumers are ignored, the vested interests - builders, surveyors and their associations, such as the Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Association - are consulted and will continue to be in the future. Consumers will never receive justice.

Anne Paten, Strathmore

Minister for what?

LAST week I had to take my wife to Casey Hospital's emergency department. As is usual in many EDs, the scene was chaotic. There was an expected wait of three to four hours for a bed. Although the staff were professional and tireless in their efforts, my experience highlighted the enormous problems that confront the state as we continue down the path of "expand at all costs". As our population grows at breakneck speed, the essential services (health, education, transport, law and order) continue to be treated as afterthoughts.

Casey Hospital cannot cope with current demands, let alone those that will follow as Berwick, Pakenham and Cranbourne continue their massive sprawl into farmland. And this experience is not unique to the south-east growth corridor.

There is a distinct lack of planning around the expansion of housing estates. Railway stations are inadequate before they are even completed and road infrastructure continues to play catch-up. Until such time as the future needs of all Victorians are taken into account the Minister for Planning should be renamed the Minister for Building.

David Glover, Berwick

Unlovable area

ENTERING and exiting Lorimer Street, the only city-side entrance to Fishermans Bend, now takes four changes of lights in peak hour ("Sky's the limit for Fishermans Bend", The Age, 3/12). The unstoppable drive of the growth-growth-growthers and the populate-populate-populaters to fill every space will make this whole area unlovable and unliveable.

Dally Messenger, Docklands

Poor use of taxes

I WILL be highly indignant if my taxes are spent on subsidies to the weight loss industry (The Saturday Age, 1/12). Surely the issue is what causes obesity. There is compelling evidence that it is our ever-increasing consumption of sugar.

I know two people who have lost weight simply through avoiding sugar and products containing added sugar. Not through dieting but through a lifestyle change. The weight-loss industry has no interest in promoting lifestyle change that would reduce its potential customer base.

The British study reportedly found that people on a 12-month Weight Watchers program lost more weight than those on a general practitioner program - but hey, the study was funded by Weight Watchers. And how many of those people maintained the weight loss once the Weight Watchers 12-month membership was over? Further, most GPs are surprisingly ignorant on the subject of diet (i.e. the relation between food and health), as many will readily admit.

Catharine Errey, Fern Tree, Tasmania

Not a transaction

THE commodification of everything, from children to the education they receive, has gained momentum since the early 1960s, and is unlikely to stop soon. Katharine Murphy's implicit view of education as something that can be bought and sold, requiring the "transparency" expected of a company board, is difficult to counter in such a climate (Comment, 3/12).

This "stakeholder" view of education is offensive to teachers because they have always been interested in more than simply filling young minds with information. Teaching, perhaps uniquely, is underpinned by an ethical and philosophical belief in principles of value. Needless to say, this has nothing to do with "measurable outcomes".

Oliver Dennis, Caulfield North

Take hard line, AFL

MATT Rendell is deemed an unsuitable person to be associated with the Adelaide Football Club for a misinterpreted statement made in a private conversation ("Trigg incompetence led club into abyss", Sport, 15/11), yet the chief executive has the full support of the board after knowingly misleading the club and the AFL ("Crows back Trigg, plan for a return", theage.com. au, 2/12). In my opinion Rendell has shown a much higher degree of morality. The Crows board leadership is very questionable. Why isn't the AFL taking the same hard line?

Steve Treadwell, Warranwood

Frailties revealed

"WE WANT all our big units to be animals," says the coach ("Buckley confident Pies ruckman can play on", Sport, 29/11) referring to a level of aggressive behaviour expected during matches but that is unacceptable, if not illegal, at all other times ("Pies must tackle bad behaviour", Sport, 29/11).

The "units" must be able to switch off "the animal" on demand and keep their ties straight out of hours. As "units" they are dehumanised - a former coach referred to them as "cattle" - while the public treats them like gods. How confusing!

The contradictions they have to negotiate almost certainly arise from the corporatisation of the clubs. Their squeaky-clean public images obscure behaviour - such as revenue raising by gambling - that too often disregards community ethical standards and interests. Yet this is rarely scrutinised; that's reserved for the easy targets - the "units" who fail to control the animal within and so reveal their human frailties.

David Champion, Ivanhoe

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