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Political pressure pushed robo-debt on vulnerable

Credit:Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

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Public service failures
While I accept the thrust of your editorial (“Bureaucrats deserve scrutiny on robo-debt”, 12/12), you have failed to convey the parlous situation of public servants working under a social services minister like Scott Morrison. You quote former deputy secretary of the social services department, Serena Wilson, as indicating she “lacked courage” to voice her concerns.

In this context, “courage” means not being prepared to tolerate unfair criticisms, perhaps in front of your colleagues, to face sacking or being blacklisted from other public service positions, or, as Christine Holgate exemplifies, being publicly castigated. But it is hardly surprising that public servants were guided by abject fear in their unwillingness to call out robo-debt policy as ill-judged. Maurie Trewhella, Hoppers Crossing

Fearful high-flyers
Former deputy secretary of DHS, Serena Wilson says she “lacked the courage” to express her concerns about the legality of robo-debt. What happened to frank and fearless advice? We, the taxpayers, pay these high-flyers massive salaries to ensure we get the services we expect.
The opposite appears to be true. I suppose she and many others will walk away with severance packages and pension entitlements.
Hans Pieterse, Narre Warren North

Yes, minister
The complicity of the public service in the robo-debt scandal would have shamed that wily and duplicitous old fox Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister infamy.
David Mitchell, Moe

Don’t blame the algorithm
The means used by robo-debt “to identify welfare cheats” is annoyingly referred to as a “computer algorithm”. A sequence comprising two instructions – divide by 26 and send a letter of demand – doesn’t in my book warrant the term algorithm.

Government representatives habitually used the word, attempting to dignify the system’s bogus processes with a spurious high-tech sounding label. We can all now drop the pretense.
Lawrie Bradly, Surrey Hills

Punishment of unemployed
Malcolm Knox’s summation of robo-debt (“Our middle-class bubble made robo-debt disgrace possible”, 10/12) is correct in his view that robo-debt could only occur because of public “hatred” of the unemployed. Robo-debt was the absolute exercise of cynicism and abuse of the unemployed. The public perception was that the unemployed were dole bludgers (i.e. work shy).

Robo-debt wasn’t about catching dole bludgers, because these aspirational souls actually did find work. We should be congratulating them. Instead, Scott Morrison invented a scheme to punish them for daring to work. Bureaucrats who knew what he was proposing was illegal pressed ahead to gain their approval from Scott Morrison.

No-one seemed to care about the suffering and pain caused to so many innocent Australians who just tried to improve their pretty dismal lives. Shame on this uncaring nation.
John Rome, Mt Lawley, WA

Pursuit of justice made little cents
I was accused of having a $10,000 debt and threatened with debt collectors. I had to accumulate payslips and a range of other documentation to prove that I did not have a debt despite all records having been provided to the ATO and Centrelink. My casual earnings during a few weeks had been incorrectly calculated by the ATO to be the same every fortnight across a full year.

My evidence was eventually accepted but no explanation or apology received. I registered for the class action and received 0.23 cents compensation. I suppose that is one way of the government being able to say that “everyone has been compensated” without breaking the bank.
Name withheld on request

THE FORUM

A cool $30 billion
Should Australia spend $30 billion on these “very cool-looking” (as described by Defence Minister Richard Marles) stealth bombers? “The case for new US stealth bombers in Australia”, (The Age, 12/11) highlights the fact that on top of the nuclear submarines we can never spend enough to guard against potential enemies. Australia would be better off ignoring this insatiable arms race and using the money saved to fight the real enemies, climate change, homelessness, healthcare etc.
Peter Carlin, Frankston South

Budget unrealistic
Which part of the word defence in “Australian Defence Force” does military analyst Marcus Hellyer not understand, in describing B-21s as a highly attractive asset for Australia? B-21s are an offensive weapon from Australia’s point of view. Anyway we can’t afford them. The estimate for 12 B-21s at $25-$28 billion is a classic American understatement, the final cost would probably be double that and the delivery would be late.
Adrian Tabor, Point Lonsdale

An attack force
Spending billions of dollars on bombers with the selling point of “potential to reach mainland China” seems rather antagonistic and a manoeuvre more appropriate for an Australian Attack Force. Niko Melaluka, Footscray

Missiles the answer
Do we want to start a war with China resulting in it launching ICBMs against us? We need to build up our own missile defence of short, intermediate and long-range missiles as a deterrent to attack. Not some pie in the sky scheme costing billions and likely to cost billions in upkeep. The defence minister and his departmental staff should be looking at deterrents, not wishful thinking likely to lead us into a major confrontation with a major military power.
Brett K. Osborn, Mornington

Locals first
The chief executive of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, has said that gas caps would “… destroy investor confidence in bringing on new supply, and that’s the key to bringing down prices” (“Energy industry rebels over Labor’s price caps”, The Age, 12/12).

The key to bringing down prices is locking in local pricing and mandating minimum local supply before it can be exported, which is where I suspect the majority of any new supply will end up unless the government intervenes. Investor confidence, and more importantly, profit expectations, needs to be managed by the supplier not the government. The government is managing the economy for the benefit of Australians not multinationals.
Stephen Farrelly, Donvale

Declaring war
Control of the gas price has been characterised as a “declaration of war” on the industry – I say bring it on while the annual tax they pay is so low. Or would they prefer a “windfall tax” like in the UK?
John Hughes, Mentone

Let the market fix it
So Anthony Albanese’s solution to escalating power prices requires the taxpayer to fork out a billion and a half dollars to power companies to reduce some consumers’ power bills. Gone is the promise of a natural fall in energy prices of $275 flowing from the government’s emissions policy.

Albonomics appears to rob Peter to pay some Pauls while power costs continue to escalate. Yet the solution to the PM’s problems are simple; increase supply by allowing new gas fields and temper the closure of coal-fired power stations. Socialist remedies of price capping and government intervention have a track record of failure.
Martin Newington, Aspendale

Not the same
Roshena Campbell is tireless in her efforts to paint Labor and the Liberals with the same brush, this time warning that Anthony Albanese could easily suffer the same fate as Scott Morrison (“Swing voters bruise Labor, Libs” 12/12). Like so many in her party, she seems to be in denial, choosing to ignore the electorate’s increasing respect for Anthony Albanese and his ministers for their more resolute but less aggressive efforts to right the wrongs and inertia of the previous nine years.
Jill Rosenberg, South Caulfield

A new coalition
With the impending loss of the minority Coalition government in NSW and Labor governing effectively across the nation, the time has come for non-Labor groups to realign. The outstanding and principled Bridget Archer should convene a meeting in Launceston as Menzies did in Albury. She undoubtedly appeals to real liberals, women and the young. She has an honest outlook on the First Nation Peoples and the Indigenous Voice. The guest list should include the teals, independents, the realistic moderates in the Coalition. The Australian people deserve an enlightened and credible opposition party.
George Reed, Wheelers Hill

Yes, there is vitriol
Sean Kelly (“No need to boost vitriolic voices”, 12/12) is right that there’s no need to boost vitriolic voices and that “the media must reconsider how it covers the nastiest, most foolish contributions”. Kelly seems to imply regarding the Indigenous Voice to parliament that it is those in the “no” camp who are the major vitriolic voices.

Surely he is aware of the condemnatory invective directed primarily toward Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine, mainly by their peers, including the very personal attacks from Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton.
Deborah Morrison, Malvern East

A great example
My instinct is to agree with the inference by your correspondent that having more female leaders is tending to have a civilising effect on world politics (Letters, 12/12). However his proposition that a female Russian leader would have been less likely to invade Ukraine presumes that leader would not be in the mould of Catherine the Great who achieved a massive expansion of the Russian Empire, largely by conquest of neighbouring countries.
Bill King, Camberwell

Champion defeated
How incredibly disappointing to read that Fiona Patten has lost her upper house seat (“Upper house dealmaker Fiona Patten concedes defeat”, 12/12). She has been a champion for so many people and groups over the past eight years. Her work for the voluntary assisted dying laws has been a truly heartening effort. She has worked tirelessly, to the detriment of her own health. Hopefully, Daniel Andrews will offer her a role equal to her talent, intelligence and diplomacy.
Wendy Daniels, Hawthorn

Common courtesy
I agree with your correspondent about the value of acknowledging courtesy. I always thank people for small acts of kindness, such as holding a door open for me or letting me out of a store before they enter. I feel common courtesy is disappearing, such as when I hold the door open and people stream through without thanking me as if I am the doorman.
Susan Munday, Bentleigh East

Toxic wellness
The wellness industry has a dark and toxic side (“Why our wellness obsession can be a bed of nails”, 12/12). It has been exploited by people peddling dubious health treatments without expertise. From unnecessary and expensive vitamin IV treatments to wacky colonic irrigations and vaginal steaming, wellness practices carry inherent dangers. The medical fraternity does not typically endorse these treatments. Further, wellness is elitist, feeds off our insecurities, and sells the lure of perfection and unattainable ideals. Consumers should proceed with caution.
Joel Feren, Caulfield

Decision referred
Your correspondent (Letters, 12/12) laments the waste of time and money associated with GPs having to produce referrals in certain circumstances. For a number of years now, I have been seeing an ophthalmologist for treatment every eight weeks for a serious eye problem. Every year I have to obtain a new referral letter. Why?
Bob Crozier, Malvern

Many paths
A refreshing and timely article on finding another way to your career dreams (“You can always write your own story”, 12/12). There is so much focus on the high achievers with VCE results. The feeling is prevalent that this is your one and only big chance at a career. When I was a school counsellor I constantly told senior students it was but one path. Dedicated teachers, of course, urge students to give year 12 their all and this is a good thing, however the other side of the story should also be told.
The alternative path can be harder (I was a mature age university student) but it is achievable.
Jan Marshall, Brighton

Smoky service
Our growing city certainly needs better bus services (The Age, 12/12), however, we certainly do not need more smoke-billowing diesel engines polluting the air. Along with better and more frequent timetabling in our bus system, we need to electrify our buses so that we are not exacerbating our pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.
Graeme Lechte, Brunswick West

Royal work
Your correspondent’s attempt to be clever re “working royals” (Letters, 12/12) falls flat simply by reference to the British royal family’s “professional” activities – opening this, planting that, meeting crowds of people, attending functions and events seven days a week, very little of which will be in line with their own tastes and interests. And that’s aside from King Charles’ very successful Duchy of Cornwall business.

In addition, consider the £1.4billion worth of assistance for youth by the Prince’s Trust, plus the other 419 charities Charles gave time to as patron before becoming king.
Victoria Watts, Brighton

And another thing

Fiona Patten
Now is the time for Daniel Andrews to keep his word and offer Fiona Patten a job, she is simply too valuable to miss out.
George Fernandez, Eltham North

Victorian voters seem to have lost all reason.
Rob Hocart, Tyabb

Energy politics
We shouldn’t have been so stupid in not protecting our energy interests in the first place.
Malcolm McDonald, Burwood

The Coalition needs to pick up a lot of votes to get back into power. Opposing government moves to reduce energy bills seems counterproductive.
John Walsh, Watsonia

Putin’s Russia
Putin said recently about the use of nuclear weapons “we are not mad”. Now he says Russia may be the first to use them. He knows how to terrify me. Mad? Definitely!
John Walsh, Watsonia

Putin is the worst human being since Adolf Hitler. Why he hasn’t been excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church is a mystery.
Roger Christiansz, Wheelers Hill

Furthermore
The Prince and the Showgirl? No point. I’ve seen the original 1957 Marilyn Monroe/Laurence Olivier version.
Nina Wellington Iser, Hawthorn

Winter, post-winter, post-post-winter, and pre-winter. Perfect if you enjoy cooler weather.
Claire Merry, Wantirna

A perfect double-bluff! Telstra has thwarted hackers by releasing user data itself, cutting out the middle-man, and avoiding the threat of blackmail.
Michael Shirrefs, Foster

The latest Medicare scandal shows the previous Liberal government to again be asleep at the wheel. Was it ever awake?
Barry Lizmore, Ocean Grove

Delighted to see Morocco make it to the soccer World Cup semi-finals. A wonderful morale boost for our African youth here.
Tris Raouf, Hadfield

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