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Australia’s human rights: Nation-building more than symbolic acts

Profit before black rights

Unbridled greed and capitalism have set the scene for today’s chaos in the US. The belief in white supremacy, the power of the dollar and the big companies’ manipulation of politicians have caused great inequalities in living standards, the rights to health services and to justice.

What is happening in the US and the wanton destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves by Rio Tinto in Australia emphasise that profit always comes before the rights of black peoples, the underemployed and the unemployed. The US no longer welcomes the tired and the poor and, to our great shame, neither does Australia. We do not even treat our First Peoples with respect and fairness.

Meg Paul, Camberwell

Australia’s ‘shameful’ record

The rallies convened by families of Aboriginal people who have died in police custody in Australia, to stand in solidarity with George Floyd’s family, are sending an important message to Australia’s leadership. Namely, “Look at what’s happening on your own back door”. Australia’s record of human rights abuses of our First Nations peoples is shameful. We need only to listen closely to the families of Indigenous women and men who have died in custody to understand how the system doesn’t work for Indigenous people.

Jelena Rosic, Mornington

Time to own up to inequality

The unrest occurring in the US in response to the death of an African American man after a white police officer knelt on his neck should not distract us from an uncomfortable truth here in Australia – racism is alive and well in this country, profoundly impacting on First Nations peoples. This must spark not only a conversation about systemic racism, it must lead to action to address it. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have an experience of dispossession, criminalisation and deaths in custody that is rooted in history but exists today. Australians have inherited systemic inequality and it is time that we own up to it.

Kristina Hoel-Turner, Diamond Creek

Legacy of systemic exploitation

While it is true we do not have the same legacy of slavery as the US (“Australia not immune from racial tensions”, 3/6), we must not forget that Indigenous children were systematically placed in homes run by state governments to learn how to be servants. These children were exploited, often received no wage, had no freedom to leave and were often abused. By any definition, that is slavery.

Between 1863 and 1904 an estimated 55,000 to 62,500 South Sea Islanders were either coerced or kidnapped to come to NSW or Queensland to work on farms. They too were poorly paid, worked long and hard, were mistreated and had little or no freedom in a land separated from their families. The owners of the sugarcane farms made big money, and two of those most prominent in “blackbirding” had cities named after them. It is true we do not have the same history of slavery as the US, but is equally true that we cannot claim to have no history. It is a confronting reality in our history.

Graeme Riviere, Warranwood

THE FORUM

Judging onerous work

While judges are trained to be objective, they are human (“Robbery accused first to face judge-only trial”, 3/6). Research in Israel of parole hearings showed judges granted parole 65 per cent of the time in the morning or after food breaks but almost never at the end of the day or before food breaks. Relevant factors such as time served and severity of the crime became almost irrelevant compared with the time of day. Judgment is an onerous and tiring job.

Neil Lennie, Box Hill North

Save our universities

Scott Morrison, if you’re so proud of Australia, do something about saving our universities. Years of funding cuts have forced our universities to rely on funding from the overseas student market. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted this reliance. Universities are not businesses, they are a vital contributor to our economy through producing educated, tax-paying citizens. Start by extending funding to those universities most at risk (“Race to save La Trobe Uni as cash crisis bites”, 3/6).If you are serious about saving jobs, then extend the JobKeeper offer to our universities and do it quickly, before you have thousands more lining up at Centrelink.

Brenda McKinty, Oakleigh East

Shonky building

The money being offered by the federal government for new home building and/or home renovations sounds ideal. What isn’t ideal though is the lack of money being spent on social housing, bushfire families needing new homes built and a guarantee that shonky fly-by-night companies don’t flourish through fraudulent offers of carrying out building work due to the demand being made on registered builders.

Mary Biggs, Kew East

Superpowered future

When a bushfire burns down your asbestos house, you do not rebuild with asbestos. Similarly, when we rebuild our economy, we should not rebuild with gas, because gas can be as bad as coal at stoking global warming. We have an opportunity to invest in renewable energy and spark the green

re-industrialisation of Australia. We could leap towards becoming a renewable energy exporting superpower, more secure, sustainable, and prosperous.

Andrew Gunner, Brunswick West

Dining lanes

Many restaurants and pubs will need more space to survive. It’s a great idea for them to take over space allocated for on-street parking and build parklets to accommodate more tables. I live between two roads that are popular dining precincts and are also clearways during peak times. So commuter traffic is encouraged to drive through these precincts, rather than use the nearby toll road. Imagine if our government was to decree no clearways in dining precincts, and let the footpaths be expanded so there is enough room for walking and dining. It would be a big win for businesses and residents.

Andrea Bunting, Brunswick

Short-term thinking

The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry showed that there are warts on the superannuation industry. Andrew Bragg (“Senator pushes for super revamp”, 3/6) extrapolates from this finding to conclude that workers should be able to choose – super for retirement or the capacity to use super to buy a first home.

When universal super was introduced in the late 1980s, its advocates were mindful of demographics. That is, they could foresee an ageing population and fewer taxpayers to support the affordability of pensions. Since then, the demographic concerns have been exacerbated by other threats to revenue – for example, new tax shelters and the rise of the gig economy and related tax evasion. Taken together, these developments mean that future governments will be even less able to afford the continuation of meaningful age pensions. If future low-income retirees are to enjoy even a basic retirement, our superannuation system must not be compromised by short-term considerations.

Darryl Pyrke, Blackmans Bay, Tas.

End the sycophancy

Even the most ardent supporter of Donald Trump in our government ranks must admit that his call for the military to quell protests has more than a whiff of a dictatorial act. The frightening prospect of his latest clumsy and unpredictable behaviour, as the leader of the world’s most powerful liberal democratic nuclear-based country, is that we are a part of his cohort. To date, we have been a willing participant of US foreign policy. While our position in this global dilemma is tenuous, for our sake our sycophantic relationship with Trump has to be seriously reviewed. To do otherwise may spell a dismal future for us and our children’s children.

Alex Njoo, St Kilda

Enslaved by history

I am an American living in Melbourne. No white Australians or white Americans will ever understand the legacy of slavery and the institutionalised racism that followed: the American economic system, employment practices, prison system, voting/zoning system, lack of universal healthcare, inequities in education, entertainment, advertising and every conceivable category of life. Like white Americans, black Americans pay taxes. Taxes pay the salaries of the institutions whose job it is to protect them. Couple that with COVID-19, a disproportionate percentage of victims are of colour; add in the Trump era of permissive, encouraged racism, and on top of that 14 per cent unemployment.

My country will be lucky to survive this moment without a civil war. As I relearn every year during Passover: when one person is enslaved, and enslaved by the aftermath of slavery, we are all – the whole nation – enslaved.

Shira Levine, Caulfield North

MSO board off key

I add my voice to calling for the MSO board to step aside. Extraordinary times make for extraordinary measures but standing down players in this world-class orchestra is shameful. The chair has been in his role for more than 14 years; no matter how good he may be, that is deemed to be bad governance. Having paid membership for more than 50 years, subscribers should have a say. Keeping administrative staff on is superfluous. It’s time for the board to go and do the right thing and treasure the orchestra.

Barbara Rozenes, Southbank

End the sprawl

One of the “economic recovery” drivers touted to help Australia recover is more housing. Implicit in this is more immigration to stimulate dwelling construction. Yes, new housing will provide jobs in construction and flow into the retail sector.

So, where will this housing be and, more importantly, where will the immigrants and other new house owners find employment so they can pay for their houses? The capital cities are already congested and not coping with services and infrastructure. They continue their ongoing outward sprawl with more loss of green spaces, more vehicle movement/pollution and so on.

Maybe, some growth could happen in regional cities, but then the building industry and governments would need to move their focus from the capital cities to service regional growth. At some stage, the building of ever more dwellings has to cease or become sustainable – if there is to be any environment and quality of life left in Australia.

Jim Tutt, Anglesea

Live export shame

We should feel ashamed as Australians that we are complicit in the live export of Australian animals to the Middle East and Indonesia. Every year, about 3million live animals are exported from Australia for slaughter overseas. We all know it’s a cruel trade that causes great suffering to the animals. We have turned a blind eye because it makes money for rural Australia. But it’s so unnecessary because the animals could be humanely killed in Australia and frozen meat exported – as we do to China. Few other Western developed countries allow live exports. New Zealand phased out live exports on moral grounds in 2007.

Clive Williams, Forrest, ACT

G7 substitution

It is with great concern Trump mentions Russia to be one of the possibilities to replace China as a G7 Nation (“PM accepts G7 invitation amid row over Russia”, 3/6). Trump considers Putin a good friend for reasons best known to himself but more likely than not for helping him become President. Irrespective, not everyone has cause to be grateful to Putin. On December 5, 1994, the Budapest Memorandum was signed between the UK, the US and Russia. It guaranteed Ukraine territorial integrity and security in exchange for its nuclear arsenal. Since then, Russia has annexed Crimea and invaded Eastern Ukraine. The six-year war has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions and made a joke of the memorandum.

George Jaworsky, Wollert

Gas reading

The ongoing issue of pumping up our gas use as a road to recovery must surely be tempered by how to flick the switch to reducing demand (“Electric incentives ‘could cut need for more gas”‘, 3/6). The logic of looking for levers to alter the use of domestic gas, replacing it with electricity, which can then be generated from renewable sources, seems obvious. That some gas may be needed to back up renewable electricity is not the big issue. It is rather the assumption that homes and businesses should continue to use gas with impunity, when pro-electric regulation could ensure the better option of all-electric. It doesn’t raise reliance on brown coal, as suggested by Andrew McConville, as we continue to build our base of renewables. It is no surprise that the head of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association would want to see more gas. But it is now clear there is another way for us to go.

Carolyn Ingvarson, Canterbury

AND ANOTHER THING …

Policing

Kicking the legs from under the teenager, causing a face-down fall, was a dangerous act of violence. No amount of sugar-coating by the NSW police and other apologists can alter that.

Tony Delaney, Warrnambool

Trump

Instead of meddling in other nations’ affairs, the US would do better having a dialogue with itself. Though with a President who can only read scripted remarks, one doesn’t hold much hope.

Ron Reynolds, Templestowe

A power-crazed demagogue holding a religious text in the air. Where have we seen this before?

Don Stokes, Heidelberg

The cynical photo-op, Bible in hand, deployed by Donald Trump was chilling but pictures of some police officers sharing compassion with protesters were powerful, offering a thread of hope.

Mary Cole, Richmond

Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, is the misguided experiment with transgressing and self-worshiping populist leaders over yet?

Paul Miller, Box Hill South

Surely even evangelical Christians won’t fall for that one.

Bryan Fraser, St Kilda

Government

Memo to ScoMo at Marketing on the Hill – forget about working hard, concentrate on working effectively.

Ralph Tabor, Pakenham

They trampled without apology on robo-debt victims, now talk of rewarding home owners with reno-grants. Why not invest in public housing? The Coalition’s “aspirational” mantra is a poor excuse for a divided society.

Mary Mack, Box Hill

Is Senator Andrew Bragg’s (“Senator pushes for super revamp”, 3/6) new “semi-government” default fund the latest idea for the government to get its hands on the trillions in super funds?

Marie Nash, Balwyn

Finally

Live sheep exports to remain. I say baa to that.

Paul Murchison, Kingsbury

*Sign up to editor Alex Lavelle’s exclusive newsletter at: www.theage.com.au/editornote.

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