Letters to the Editor


'Disturbing' assistance?

The March 21 South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, warning against the "spread of socialism" in Latin America, attacked the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia while speaking to a gathering of right-wing Cuban emigres. He said: "They inspire each other. They assist each other. They get ideas from each other … It's very disturbing."

In fact, it is McCain's comments that should be seen as "very disturbing", as well as a telling insight into the mentality of the US ruling elite. There is something wrong when collaboration for mutual benefit among poor nations is seen as "disturbing", rather than a constructive way to organise international relations. How dare they "assist" each other! Clearly, they should follow the lead of their betters in North America and start bombing each other instead.

The assistance between these three nations includes such "disturbing" things as provision of free medical care to those who have never enjoyed it before, literacy programs, free operations for the sight impaired, investment in key industries to assist in developing each other's economies in areas that are weak, and other measures whose aim is to eradicate poverty and solve people's needs.

The US ruling elite's worry is the worry of slave owners that the slaves are beginning to work together to help liberate each other.

Stuart Munckton

Summer Hill, NSW

Climate change

Your article "Stern avoids rocking the foundations" (GLW #693) is interesting. However, Australia, unlike other continents, is already in a state of runaway climate change. Melbourne's annual rainfall has declined by 25% since 1997 and based on figures so far this year could be headed for much steeper declines. Such a decline would make all the water restrictions governments have imposed useless for the simple reason that there would be no water ration!

At the same time, the north-west and central-west of the continent have had their seven wettest years since 1995, and not one year has had generally below normal rainfall since 1970.

With business-as-usual in Australia, we will probably reach within a decade a situation where the most arid regions of the continent are located on the south coast, right where Melbourne and Perth are situated. Huge increases in monsoon and cyclone rainfall over the north-west and interior would mean human and/or stock diseases spread rapidly with dangerous effects.

It is clear that unless the greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are reduced to pre-1997 levels (probably to a pre-1970 level), Australia faces unsustainable climate change.

Essentially, the amount of greenhouse gases Australia can safely emit is zero. At the very least, Australia should be given an allowance of no more than 0.007 tonne per person (0.1% of our present emissions).

Julien Peter Benney

Carlton, Vic [Abridged]

GE food

We are what we eat, but just what is it we are eating? The next time you are eating some corn and thinking you are eating healthy, are you in fact consuming a dangerous food?

The genetically engineered (GE) corn variety, MON863, approved for human consumption in Australia, has been found to cause toxic symptoms. A new study on the effects of MON863 on rats concludes it can't be considered a "safe product". However, the same variety was given a big tick by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), our government food safety regulator, declaring it safe for humans. FSANZ had access to the test data (on which the new study was based) back in 2004 and still gave this toxic corn the okay.

Who can we trust to make the right decisions about GE food? Organisations such as Greenpeace are demanding the immediate withdrawal of high-risk GE products and an extension of the Australian state moratoria on GE food crops. We the people must do more.

The study results mentioned above were published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. The study was headed by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini, a French government expert in GE technology. His team analysed the results of safety tests submitted by the world's largest GE company, Monsanto and found that "with the present data, it cannot be concluded that GM corn MON863 is a safe product".

With most of the state moratoria on GE food crops due to expire next year, we must call on the state governments to extend the moratoria until 2013. I am only one person who is concerned about the foods I and my family eat. Are you concerned too? Together we can make a difference.

Geoff Warren

Via email [Abridged]

MPs' rorts

Given the events of the past few weeks, you would think that all politicians would curb their culture of entitlement and act to avoid perceptions of greed, arrogance, self interest and contemp for the community they are elected and paid to represent.

Not so in Queensland. All parties voted in favour of the introduction of "Resettlement Allowance" for MPs who exit the parliament. The new package includes two months salary (around $18,000) and free flights to Brisbane.

A worker who loses their job has to "re-settle" on Newstart Allowance, a maximum of $240 a week ($12,450 p.a.), effective marginal tax rates up to 75% on casual earnings and harsh financial penalties for alleged breaches of draconian rules. Queensland is still the only Australian state or territory that does not provide public transport concessions to low-income health-care cardholders, who include the unemployed.

The "losers' bonus" cannot be justified as a "redundancy package" as asserted by some Queensland MPs. When an MP exits the parliament, their seat is later filled by a newly elected representative. A rort by any other name is still a rort.

Ron Baker

South Brisbane, Qld

Otways forest

I find the current new trial of opening up the Otways to new cleared firebreaks most disturbing. Last week's terrible north winds showed how valuable is the shade of trees if we get another Ash Wednesday. Apollo Bay people will not rely on the new firebreaks — the only safety is to go to the sea.

Nothing will stop an Otways bushfire. Rainforests are resilient to fires. Clearing and doing control burns actually dry out forests by introducing sunlight, grass, vehicles and careless people, producing fire risks that were not there before.

Otways regrowth is extremely thick even on drier sides of hills. There is nothing worse than tinder dry grass to ignite a flash fire. Grass thrives in power line clearings.

The National Park boundary is a dotted political line through the Otways. It's outrageous for nearby public state forest to be used as a fire break instead of a buffer zone against further intrusion. It should be part of the national reserve system as a precaution against the impacts of climate change.

The fire is the risk, not trumped-up fears of the forest. Is it just a scheme to provide access to the last source of timber?

Geelong is at stage 4 water restrictions and is greedily sucking up the Otway acquifers instead of using the damaged west Barwon dam. Woodchipping carnage persists in the Gellibrand catchment. How bad does this have to get before we recognise the value of our forests to the water supply?

Yvonne Francis

Apollo Bay, Vic [Abridged]

David Hicks

Even if we assume David Hicks really is guilty rather than just saying he is to escape Guantanamo Bay and reduce his sentence, this does nothing to justify the inhumane conditions under which has been held or the extremely long delay in bringing him to trial. Neither does it defuse criticisms of the military commission system of trials.

When people are mistreated, as Hicks has been, they should receive a discount on the standard sentence as compensation. In some circumstances this may even mean that no post-trial punishment is appropriate.

Such compensation is fair to offenders, and also provides an incentive to authorities to avoid future injustices. But I think the Australian and US governments will be more pleased the longer the prison sentence given to Mr Hicks.

Brent Howard

Rydalmere, NSW