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Scandal highlights need for effective watchdog

Kevin Burke, Sandringham

The wrong ‘right stuff’

The truly sad thing about the Somyurek scandal is that it shows why we have so many mediocre and substandard performers in our political ranks. Both Labor and Liberal are like big, dysfunctional, enmeshed, extended families whose members have lost any ability to relate to each other and remain united only by a vestigial, sustained hatred of those outside their party.

Clearly, to gain political candidacy or a political advisory position, you have to have the “right stuff”. But the “right stuff” is not appropriate qualifications, attributes or experience. The “right stuff” is whether you are in the “right” faction, have the “right” patronage – or even a mummy or daddy with the “right” political clout.

It’s because of our truly flawed system that we have a Prime Minister who is so ill-informed and ignorant that he commits massive historical bloopers. It’s because of this system that we can have Victorian cabinet ministers and advisers who prioritise factional antics rather than focusing on their portfolios.

Indra Liepins, Glenroy

Too many politicians for our own good

Victorian Labor is showing the trouble within the problematic marriage of the Right and the Left. Is it a repeat of the Jets and the Sharks and further back the Capulets and the Montagues. We elect them to govern us not pay them to fight among each other for positions of power.

It looks like the last thing Adem Somyurek was interested in was actually representing his constituents. Now we have the Right faction arguing that in any review the Left be found guilty too.

Maybe, just maybe, we have too many politicians for our own good. Let’s abolish one-third of the seats, including the upper house. That should keep the rest a bit busier.

John Rome, Mount Lawley, WA

This is the stark reality

Adem Somyurek’s very public pink slip issues us with another stark reality, the failure of our elected representatives to act in our interests.

Voter representation is one of the key tenets of democracy. We vote for representatives of a party, but we leave the employment of our given representatives up to the discretion of the given parties, which are proven to have exploitable power dynamics.

We cannot let individual bravado overcome a sector of government interest again, we must ensure our representatives are more accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. Otherwise we will have another Somyurek leading us who, “without any policy bone in his body”, according to a federal Labor MP, was in a position that demanded good policymaking ability.

We are in dire need of real leaders in times like these. Let us make our votes matter.

Leonardo Balsamo, Blackburn South

What’s to stop someone filling his shoes?

What is there to stop a parliamentary associate of Adem Somyurek taking over control of all the strings Somyurek was pulling?

John Walsh, Watsonia

THE FORUM

A valuable resource

We have a long way to go yet in safeguarding our world so that it’s as fair and equitable as possible – but removing parts of history, in the arts/cinema or otherwise, isn’t the answer.

There is so much content from decades ago that could be viewed as redundant or indeed upsetting and offensive now. Yet the discourse, and learning, that comes from viewing old content is a valuable educational resource in itself.

Creating real change and moving forth to a better, more respectful future, while being mindful of our erroneous past, produces growth and understanding.

So, where shall we go, what shall we do?

Stephanie Ashworth, Pascoe Vale South

Missing the point

So many readers complaining about the $25,000 grant available to renovators who carry out $150,000 or more renovations are missing the point.

The purpose is not to reward the renovators but rather to entice them into spending at least $125,000 of their personal funds, injecting them into the economy to stimulate it by flowing through the building trade to their suppliers and workers.

That puts money into the economy when the offer is taken up. Sure the renovator gets the benefit of a discounted renovation but at the cost of freeing up a considerable amount of their own funds to the economy, which moves forward a fraction as a result.

Noel Mavric, Moonlight Flat

Honour the victims

Amanda Vanstone (“It’s an insult to censor our viewing”, 15/6) relies on a reference to German Holocaust memorials to support her argument that controversial statues should be kept to “remind us of things that were offensive”.

Never in all my trips to Germany have I seen a statue of Hitler, Goebbels or Mengele in any town square, park or traffic circle.

If we really want to keep the history of Australian atrocities alive in the collective memory, we must do it by honouring the victims, not by elevating the perpetrators.

Courtney Langton, Northcote

Use your powers

Societies have always used statues and other monuments as ways of recognising power and eminence. Civic symbols matter.

In Australia, as everywhere else, there is public debate over whether and which statues should be removed, who should make the decision, and what should be the fate of the statues themselves. Should they be preserved in museums or simply removed?

But there should be no public disagreement about the protection of Indigenous heritage sites, such as Juukan Caves, in the Pilbara, which scandalously were recently destroyed by Rio Tinto.

Last Thursday Federal Parliament undertook to investigate what happened in the Pilbara. But this is not just a retrospective issue. Now we know that there are scores of other vulnerable sites in Western Australia, already approved under section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Nor is the issue confined to WA.

Commonwealth legislation gives the federal environment minister extensive powers to enact emergency protection provisions in such cases. Why is it not being used?

The Prime Minister could and should use his national cabinet to ensure national and state alignment of Indigenous heritage legislation at this time of heightened historical debate and current controversy.

Peter McPhee, chairman History Council of Victoria

They welcome this

The talk in the media recently has been all about protest over the vandalising, destruction or removal of European statues and artworks. They represent historical wrongs and still today obscure the institutionalised racism against Indigenous people.

But if I was a conservative politician, I would be delighted.

It’s an opportunity to replay the culture wars, their favourite tactic of division. But even better for them, it diverts attention from asking them to account for present injustices, including the vandalising, destruction or removal of Aboriginal sacred places.

They can evade saying what they actually plan to do now about institutionalised racism and incarceration rates that is different from everything they have done in the past that didn’t work. And they don’t have to say what their goals are, and when they will be achieved. Until these questions are answered, everything else is just feeding the chooks, as that expert in protest suppression, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, used to say.

Julia Thornton, Surrey Hills

An obligation to learn

Tom Switzer and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price (“Censored history is a false reality”, Comment, The Age, 16/6) ask: “How would eliminating Cook from our history reduce the rates of family violence, youth suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, welfare dependence and incarceration in Indigenous communities?

Does this question simply beg another question: Why are so many people (and they’re not all “anarchists”) outraged and protesting? Maybe if all previous, therefore “historical” attempts (e.g. the royal commission into deaths in custody 30 years ago) to respond to the problems of First Nations peoples had been listened to there would not be outrage that there is today.

Switzer and Nampijinpa Price also say that “history cannot be undone” but surely we have a moral obligation to learn from history. Maybe the removal or defacing of statues is akin to the collateral damage of civilians being killed that some say is inevitable in war zones.

Allan Havelock, Surrey Hills

Language lets them down

Tom Switzer and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price make a sound case for the importance of retaining historic artefacts as instructive testimony of a less enlightened era.

That said, their language lets them down: the white mistreatment of Indigenous people in the 19th century especially is characterised by them as “distasteful episodes”. The University of Newcastle’s historical documentation of hundreds of confirmed massacre sites from 1788 through to 1928 provides evidence of systemic slaughter by white colonists acting against tribal “nations” in a quasi-military capacity.

History can be deployed as a weapon when it underplays historical realities, too. “Distasteful” is not the word for activities bordering on the genocidal.

Jon McMillan, Mount Eliza

It’s nonsense

It’s nonsense to accuse statue-destroying protesters of wanting to rewrite history. Those who erect statues while forgetting to mention that these “heroes” ordered massacres of Aboriginal people, or stole their land, or organised for their children to be taken from them, are surely the ones trying to alter historical facts.

Jenny Zimmerman, Woodend

This is our challenge

It is surely ridiculous to suggest we just focus on the facts of history as a solution to current debates about our history. This just ignores, even denies outright, insights from the discipline of historiography.

A crucial issue is, which facts do we choose to highlight and how we interpret them? So our understanding of the history of our civilisation evolves.

We may rail against newer interpretations. However, that will not stop their emerging and challenging us in understanding who we are and how we arrived at this time, in this place.

Ian Higgins, Mornington

Which is it, Premier?

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews acted swiftly on Monday to dismiss Adem Somyurek following the revelations of branch stacking and abusive behaviour.

Andrews denies any knowledge of the activities of Somyurek, which belies belief. Here we have a state premier, who has been in his position for six years, some 18 years in politics, and yet he would have us believe that his internal network within the Victorian Labor Party is so lacking that no minister, colleague or staff member had informed him of these activities.

In a role that relies on networking for support, for understanding of the electorate and to ensure the team is pulling in the same direction, he would have us believe he was blind to the events, when at least two other ministers were involved along with numerous government staff members.

It would seem our Premier has either lost complete touch with the daily goings-on in his team, with his cabinet, as well as with grassroots Labor members, or does he just have his head buried in the sand?

We need to ask ourselves, how is it possible the Premier wasn’t aware.

Peter Stephens, Mordialloc

The faction problem

The Age and 60 Minutes expose of the activities of Adem Somyurek and his factional mates is not only an IBAC and police matter but requires a far-reaching response from the Labor Party.

The first question I would ask as an ALP member is why he was reinstated to the ministry in 2018, enabling him to again wield extraordinary power after being forced out of the ministry over serious issues earlier.

It’s clear that competing and divisive factions promote branch stacking and other undemocratic behaviours. They should be the major focus of the party review. Their prohibition through rule changes would be a far-reaching and modern reform for a party that has tolerated them and their self-serving warlords and cronies for too long.

Tony Delaney, Warrnambool

‘None of the above’

Here we go again. Considering the apparent dearth of men and women of principle, ethics, honour and honesty “representing” us in government, imagine an election being called and no one turning up to vote. Imagine all those crushed egos. Nations with non-compulsory voting woke up long ago, or saw compulsion as wrong from the outset.

Voting – or not – should be seen as the real right in this nation. It will, more often than not, be not, I think. The public purse is plundered by too many politicians, present and past.

Turn up. Rule off. Write “none of the above”. Enjoy the sausage. Works for me, whenever they all look a bit dodgy.

Despair does that to you after more than half a century.

David Allen, Bayswater North

AND ANOTHER THING

Adem Somyurek

The ALP’s gift of relevance to Michael O’Brien; Messrs Somyurek, Scott and Kairouz (et al).

Max Nankervis, Middle Park

And they wonder why more people don’t go into politics.

Gail Greatorex, Ormond

I hope that the political advisers of Adem Somyurek, Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz follow them out the door.

Peter Randles, Pascoe Vale South

When Labor continues to appoint factional hacks to Parliament and the ministry, bad behaviour inevitably follows.

Phil Lipshut, Elsternwick

Isn’t this a case of a group who were not clever enough to do what other parties do secretly? I’m thinking of Malcolm Turnbull’s memoirs (“ALP veterans urge probe into scandal’s root causes”, The Age, 16/6). The whole political system needs cleansing.

Doris Leroy, Altona

Politics

We might not have completely beaten the pandemic, but with revelations of branch stacking, travel shenanigans, abusive language and apologies that aren’t really apologies, Australian politics is quickly plunging to its pre-COVID-19 standards.

John McCulloch, Cheltenham

Coronavirus

One of the most terrifying leaps of logic at the moment is the argument that our relatively low rates of death and infection to COVID-19 are evidence that we have over-reacted to the threat and should drop all restrictions immediately.

Stephen Dinham, Metung

Furthermore

After considering all the flawed characters through history, I hope whoever develops the COVID-19 vaccine is of pure heart so we can laud them with a clear conscience.

Ross Tanner, Clifton Hill

Finally

I know things are getting back to normal because my paper has started being nicked off the top of my driveway again. It didn’t happen for a good 10 weeks, but the thieves have returned.

Michael Helman, South Yarra

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

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