A shocking lack of care and compassion

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A shocking lack of care and compassion

Have any of the ministers involved in this travesty experienced the distress and anguish of a family member, a friend, a colleague or a disadvantaged stranger in the street who needed to access government help, and tried as best they could to satisfy the system? The lack of creative thinking, informed by empathy, is breathtaking.

It is a difficult task to develop policies that are fiscally responsible, but choosing to go after people who are ideologically troubling to you – because you really have no idea of the social context – is a terribly misguided understanding of your power and responsibility to know and understand. Please do not further diminish the public service, nor allow advice from those who know better than you, to be ignored. Get it right.
Tania Hardy-Smith, Mitcham

Ministerial responsibility is not an abstract concept

Recently we have heard foreboding warnings of the insidious, robot-like advance of AI, operating with total disregard to societal norms with ruthless efficiency. Devastatingly, Commissioner Catherine Holmes, SC, has unveiled the existence of a parallel dimension where blinkered politicians operate with impunity (until now), and where compassion and ministerial responsibility are abstract concepts.
Paul Harkins, Middle Park

The Australian way: blame the ″⁣lazy dole bludgers”

The e royal commission’s report on robo-debt exposes failings in our government. But we, the people, also need to take some of the blame. The report states: “Anti-welfare rhetoric is easy populism, useful for campaign purposes.” However, it would not be populist if there was not a pervasive attitude that welfare recipients are dole bludgers, whereas minimising your tax is applauded as shrewd. This culture needs to change.
Stephanie Foott, Ferntree Gully

Our sympathy for some – but not for others

There is no arguing that robo-debt brought pain and death under the previous government. How strange the complicity between political parties when such disasters occur with put-away refugees.
Martin Hengeveld, Research

Coalition’s cruelty against the most vulnerable

Peter Dutton is right. Robo-debt was a witch-hunt. The witches being burned were not, however, the Coalition government or its members. They were the genuine recipients of Centrelink payments who did nothing wrong and who were pursued to the extreme for debts they did not owe. Some died through suicide. Prosecute the evildoers who knew what they were doing was wrong but continued with it nonetheless. What a disgraceful and deliberate cruelty the previous government imposed on the most vulnerable people.
Lynda Clarey, Woodend

Did proper consultation about robo-debt take place?

In a strange way, robo-debt provides strong evidence of the potential benefits of the Voice. As a former commonwealth public servant with more than 30years experience, including advising on the commonwealth budget, I simply cannot believe that senior public servants (or, for that matter, senior ministers) would have been knowingly party to the distress and injustice their policies inflicted on honest welfare recipients.

Thus, I believe robo-debt could not have happened if proper consultation had preceded its implementation. Also, in my experience, adequate Indigenous consultation rarely or never preceded Indigenous policy development. And, generally, the effectiveness of these policies was poor. The Voice gives us a chance to do better. It’s time.
Len Early, Fraser, ACT

A very accurate description of the Coalition years

Commissioner Catherine Holmes, SC, talked about “venality, incompetence, cowardice”. Too often these were characteristics of the whole sorry nine years of Coalition government, along with arrogance and entitlement.
Laurie McCormack, Flemington


How we got robo-debt

Scott Morrison has shown no contrition about his actions in the robo-debt scheme and how his views and actions enabled it to have devastating effects on thousands of innocent Australians who relied on the government in their time of need. And all of this to try to demonstrate that the Coalition was a great money manager.

Morrison is on record laying down how he expected the public service to operate. His speeches included a greater diversity of views and the “busting” of “regulatory congestion”.
His message to the bureaucrats was that they were ’on tap”, not “on top”, and he was not a fan of public service speaking truth to power in their advisory role. He told his ministers not to be a captive of their department. With a weakened public service, unable or unwilling to provide fearless advice, no wonder we ended up with robo-debt. A cruel and heartless scheme.
Julie Chandler, Blairgowrie

Putting the people first

How sad that a small but powerful minority of politicians and their advisers seem to think that the care of our most vulnerable is a discretionary item in the budget. Perhaps they could look in the mirror and say, out loud, every day: “First, do no harm”.
Angela Gill, Moonee Ponds

Why Morrison must quit

Scott Morrison was perfectly happy to stand up in the “bullies pulpit” and say a former Australia Post CEO “should go”, not because she had acted improperly in her role but because it served his short-term political interests. Now we have the spectacle of his disgraceful behaviour in the robo-debt scandal, but there is no contrition or acknowledgement of blame. He’s the one who should go.
Carmel Boyle, Alfredton

Need for wider spotlight

At its heart, robo-debt was based on a mathematical abstraction that neatly fulfilled the government’s desire to claw back claimed over-payments but it was ultimately shown to be both immoral and illegal.

Another piece of accounting sleight of hand used by Services Australia is “deeming”. It explains the concept as “a set of rules used to work out the income created from your financial assets. It assumes these assets earn a set rate of income, no matter what they really earn”.

Some time ago, my parents’ shareholdings in a botched financial trust were “deemed” to be generating a pre-defined income despite the stock’s value having been reduced to essentially zero and generating no actual income. I offered to provide Centrelink with documentary evidence to this effect but they were not interested, preferring instead to treat the shareholdings as an income-producing asset.

Once the robo-debt dust settles, a spotlight needs to be shone on all of Services Australia’s analytical methods and the assumptions on which they are based.
David Fox, Beaumaris

My love affair with Italy

I too was gobsmacked by Brian Johnston’s article on Italy (Comment, 7/7). Having just returned from three weeks in the Veneto region, visiting many popular towns – Verona, Padua, Bassano del Grappa and Venice, to name a few – I was struck by the incredible value of food and wine, and the friendliness of the service staff. Buy a drink and it comes with snacks, this at the quarter of what we pay here in Australia. The quality of the food and wine is outstanding. Sorry Brian, but join me and I’ll show you the real Italy.
Barry Buskens, Sandringham

Learning how to teach

Re teacher training (The Age, 7/7). I am a retired kindergarten teacher of many years and I have also been a supervisor of student teachers in the current system of university-based degrees. I have been appalled at their lack of classroom management and basic teaching skills. Bring back the old state colleges in education and plenty of practical teaching blocks.

Students need to be taught what to teach, how to teach literacy and numeracy, and they need experienced teachers discussing practical classroom management in tutorials where ideas can be exchanged. Added to this, more teaching practice in schools to observe experienced teachers and then finally, teach themselves under supervision.
Sue Bradshaw, Fitzroy

PR ‘roundness’ mantra

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell wants universities to produce “rounded graduates” (Comment, 7/7) yet makes no mention of the need for sufficient dedicated, tenured teachers. About half of undergraduate teaching at Melbourne is performed by lowly paid sessional staff. Their heavy teaching loads mean that only by going “over and above” can they do more than the minimum in discharging their teaching duties.

As for tenured academics, the career imperative is to win research grants to “buy out” their teaching. The Melbourne model, introduced in 2008, aimed to prioritise a broad undergraduate education before postgraduate career specialisation. Sadly, this was quickly diluted by a surrender to lobbying from private schools opposed to the model’s discounting of ENTER scores in favour of greater equity of student outcomes. Even within the university itself, some anticipatory specialisation has seeped back into the undergraduate degree. Sadly, apart from invoking the “roundedness” mantra in PR puff pieces, it’s goodbye to all that.
John Carmichael, Hawthorn

Lethal, cruel weapons

It does not seem to matter how many civilians are killed in the Russian/Ukraine war. Cluster bombs (World, 18/7) maim and kill for decades after they are deployed. According to the Cluster Munition Monitor 2022, 97per cent of victims have been civilians and 66per cent of those injured or killed were children.
Jane Desailly, Brunswick

Our Third World travel

Has Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll ever been on a V/Line train because his comment about standing commuters using using “the hand holds available” is laughable (Sunday Age, 9/7). On the carriages for the nearly four-hour trip to Warrnambool there are no overhead straps.

On a recent trip, more than 100 people were sitting on the floor and on toilet seats. People who had pre-booked seats could not sit in them because others had taken them. The poor conductor could not access the carriages. Surely V/Line’s ticketing system know how many seats are available. And where are the so-called roving inspectors to enforce the seating and check tickets? What happens if there is an incident with the train? Will the minister take responsibility? As one traveller commented, it was like travelling in a Third World country.
Peter Brown, Warrnambool

Drop the ‘big four’ banks

Recently when I had to pay a new person for work done on my house, my customer-owned bank called me to verify the transaction. In the evening. No passwords were asked for – just a suggestion to check my account about a transaction.

It is heartening news that NAB will employ more staff and get rid of text notifications that allow scammers to re-direct traffic to fake sites (The Age, 7/7). It will cost more – well, really? The public deserves much more customer protection from the “big four” banks whose shareholder profits are immense. Meanwhile, people could move to a fully customer-owned bank that has the usual government guarantee for deposits up to $250,000. The good service is built-in already.
Elaine Hopper, Blackburn

Heed umpire’s ruling

I emigrated from the US, so clearly I have a bit to learn about cricket, but it must be the only game in which the rule book/umpire is not considered to be the standard by which disputes are settled. Yes, by all means shout that sledging is “not cricket”, just as “taking a dive” in soccer is not in the proper spirit of the game, but it seems to me that the bad sportsmanship in the current issue is shown by those who do not accept the umpire’s decision. I think the fuss raised by the English team is mainly to cover the acute embarrassment of giving away a wicket so carelessly.
Bob Thomas, Aireys Inlet

Disaster when it rains

Given England’s predictable summer rain, perhaps thought should be given to not scheduling Wimbledon and the Ashes at the same time. My late-night viewing is restricted to the Tour de France, in a country where the sun shines more often. Does Paris have lawn tennis courts and cricket ovals?
Mark Herrmann, Bentleigh East

ALP’s miserable efforts

A week ago the surface air of planet Earth reached the highest mean temperatures on record and probably the highest in 125,000 years. Our 2023 world is being tortured by extreme weather events: wildfires (Canada, Chile); floods (Italy, South Sudan); cyclones (Myanmar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe); heat waves (China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh). The Canadian government is promising to end fossil fuel subsidies but ours roll on to the tune of $11 billion/annum and numerous new oil and gas fields are being opened up. Labor’s miserable, ineffective steps to tackle global heating are not much better than those of the Coalition. No wonder our dedicated climate scientists are in a state of despair.
Ian Bayly, Upwey

Living with our history

Independence Day is such a wonderful occasion – celebrating the Declaration of Independence where America’s original colonies separated from Great Britain (World, 7/7). From media reports, it appears there were no demonstrators baying for a change of date or doing away with this day. Having just returned from a visit to New York (my home for over 14 years), it was a pleasure to see Columbus Circle still a central part of Manhattan, no activists or defacing of buildings. A community living with its history. A shame we can’t do the same.
Helen Lord, Mount Eliza



Oh Humphrey, I hang my head in shame. Yes, Minister.
Daryl Ross, Armadale

Morrison and Robert were members of the parliamentary prayer group. What would Jesus have thought of robo-debt?
Ian Gardner, Northcote

As somebody remarked, Coalition ministers involved in this terrible affair have nothing left but their reputations. Exactly.
Margaret Ady, Avondale Heights

Re our ex-honourable members: I’m glad I voted independent.
Kerry Rieve, Brighton

Morrison should resign. And, dear god, can we please have no more “miracle” elections.
Robbert Veerman, Buxton

The people who signed off on robo-debt didn’t bother to know, or didn’t care, about the misery they would inflict on innocent people.
Peter Bear, Mitcham

Mr Dutton, you cannot “politicise” a political issue that is already politicised.
Teresa McIntosh, Keysborough

In politics, as in the armed services, the way to promotion is to say yes to your boss.
Howard Brownscombe, Brighton

Which part of ″⁣prosperity theology″⁣ excuses the outrageous abuse of those at the bottom of the economy?
Bryan Lewis, St Helena

Dutton offered plenty of support for ministers, not so much for victims.
Peter Meulan, Delacombe


La Bell’Italia the land of love, passion, art and sheer beauty. Brian Johnston (7/7) must have had his eyes closed.
Wilma Buccella, Hawthorn

Do the commentators know that not all Collingwood players are named Nick Daicos?
David Raymond, Doncaster East

Zelensky’s use of cluster munitions won’t win him or his compatriots any new friends.
John Walsh, Watsonia

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