Paul O’Callaghan, Executive Director of the Australian Council for International Development, writes: Re. “Are NGOs becoming charity cases” (yesterday, item 12). Crikey’s reference to NGOs losing credibility yesterday was interesting. I agree with the Edelman PR finding that confidence in all Australian institutions has been falling. That is part of the reason that the Australian Non-profit Roundtable has actively tried to engage with Commonwealth and State Governments to put in place a coherent national regulatory framework for NGOs. Alas, to date only Victoria has shown leadership from the government sector, commissioning some promising work earlier this year. This is a task long overdue and one on which collaboration between the national government and NGO peaks is crucial. The hip pocket also tells us something about public confidence in NGOs. In the post 9/11 period, Australia’s aid NGOs have experienced an average annual growth in private donations of around 11.4%(excluding the $350 million tsunami donations). I am pleased to say that Australians are the second highest per capita donors among the 22 OECD countries and show real confidence in the integrity of those aid NGOs which are signatories to the world’s only industry code of conduct of its kind. Apart from the hip pocket, Roy Morgan Research found in 2005 that Australians have greater confidence in the effectiveness of Australian NGOs in aid delivery than in government agencies. An IMF research paper last year provided global evidence of that effectiveness and an AusAID report on NGOs in Cambodia last year reinforced the point.

Social research director at The Centre for Independent Studies Peter Saunders writes: It has been a fruitful interchange on Club Troppo. My view is that means tested benefits are the curse of the Australian welfare system because they undermine work incentives (high effective marginal tax rates are unavoidable if you insist on withdrawing payments as soon as people work harder). In an attempt to lessen these disincentive effects, the government has made the taper shallower (e.g. FTB is now withdrawn at only 20 cents in the dollar at the lower end), but this extends the range of incomes at which people become eligible for assistance (creating so-called “middle class welfare”) and increases the number of people who are paying tax and receiving benefits simultaneously (the problem of “churning”). Churning is a bad thing for a number of reasons – not just economic inefficiency, but more especially the way it encourages working people to believe they need the government to help them even though what they earn means they could and should be self-reliant. In the interchange on Club Troppo, I have outlined my alternative – increase Tax Free Thresholds for single people and couples opting for joint taxation up to what the welfare system would give them, and allow parents to claim an additional, non means-tested, flat rate tax credit for each dependent child (this would only be paid as a benefit for those whose earnings fall below the value of the TFT plus child credit). Then, having ensured nobody pays tax until they earn above a subsistence income, scrap all the other in-work benefits. This would eliminate middle class welfare, reduce churning and lower EMTRs (thereby increasing rewards to work). Because it would leave people with more of their own money, and make them less reliant on government handouts, it would also represent a transfer of power from the politicians and bureaucrats back to working people (which is probably why it won’t happen).

Willem Schultink writes: Ruth Davies asks (yesterday, comments), “why should households without children subsidise those with”. The reason is quite simple. Raising the next generation of Australians is both time consuming and expensive, and it’s very hard work. The only way that anyone can repay their parents for raising them is by raising the next generation. Those individuals and couples who do not have that responsibility, either by choice or for some other reason, contribute to raising the next generation of Australians through their taxes. This is quite fair. I believe that this was also the thinking of Brian Howe, the Minister for Social Security in the Hawke government, who introduced the predecessor to Family Payments.

Vivien Kluger writes: Ruth Davies hit a nerve with me in yesterday’s comments. I agree wholeheartedly with her question of why childless singles/couples should subsidise people who choose to have children! The age-old question springs to mind of why people don’t take responsibility for their own actions. Where’s my $3000 for being a good world citizen and NOT adding to the population burden of this planet?

John Richardson writes: Re. “But what’s in it for Geoffrey?” (yesterday, item 3). Geoff Cousins says that he has been described as “the most independent director in Australia” … so independent it seems, from Michael Pascoe’s review, that he’s effectively unemployed. John Howard claims that Cousins’s “outstanding qualifications” are the only reason the government has nominated him for the Telstra board, although it’s not clear if his reputation as a “brawler” or performance at Optus Vision are integral to these “qualifications”. In suggesting that Sol Trujillo is responsible for the collapse in the Telstra share price, Peter Costello dishonestly ignores his government’s ongoing culpability in the misfortune of the telco and its shareholders. Seems T3 is destined to be as big a success as the invasion of Iraq.

John Parkes writes: With all the fuss this week about the Telstra board, why don’t both sides take the obvious and honest steps for a change? The Government holds enough shares to demand a shareholders’ meeting and remove any or all of the current board on a vote, so why don’t they do it if as quoted they are not happy with the Board’s and Management’s current behaviour? The Treasurer’s comments on share price today suggest this. On the Board’s part they have issued a hollow request for shareholders to refrain from voting for the new candidate. As the Government holds enough votes to withstand a total vote of the balance against its proposal, what a waste of time such a vote would be. But if the Board has the courage of its convictions, why not indicate that as soon as T3 takes place and the Government no longer holds an absolute majority the Board would sponsor a vote to remove Mr Cousins. While unlikely to succeed, such a vote would at least have the chance of succeeding, and would allow all shareholders to have a true say, and put the Board on notice as to the the wishes of the majority of shareholders. But neither side will do it because they might have to take action they actually have to live with.

Tony Thompson writes: The Howard government appointed Sol Trujillo to Telstra. Does the Government still support its decision? Did their due diligence on Mr Trujillo identify the nature of the man? If so, did they think they were buying a “yes” man who would commercialise Telstra so that it could be privatised? How wrong could they be? Let them now reap what they sow. Unfortunately it is the taxpayers (revenue from privatisation) and Telstra shareholders who are paying the price for a truly terrible decision by the Government.

Rosemary Pridmore writes: I agree with your submission re the proposed changes to the media laws (yesterday, editorial). Am I cynical, or will they make it easier for a Government to moderate the presentation of material media (via the reduction in effective outlets)? I think it is a dangerous move. All Governments need to be held accountable.

Tom Cowen writes: Re. “Time to reform capital gains tax” (25 September, item 7). Has Charles Richardson taken complete leave of his senses in the last words of his item on Capital Gains Tax (Monday’s edition of Crikey)? He says: “it’s (i.e. capital gain tax) only imposed on sale: if the tax applied to all capital gains, whether realised or not, that distortion would disappear, with no loss in either revenue or fairness.” And pray tell, what sort of bureaucracy would evolve to determine all the capital gain, not realised, for all the capital assets for all the people in the Commonwealth? And how does the ordinary person find the funds to pay the unrealised capital gain? And is there a refund if the estimated capital gain is not achieved when the asset is finally sold? Are you mad, man? This is a lunatic fringe suggestion that warrants scathing derision but I am too gentle a soul to do that.

David Mendelssohn writes: Various politicians and commentators, including John Howard, have stated that the likes of Greg Smith QC and Pru Goward do not have to resign from their public service jobs until they nominate formally as candidates or until the writs are issued (depending on who is saying it). This is just plain wrong. We are not talking here about a Federal election but a NSW State election. The Australian Constitution (s44) says, in effect, that a person is disqualified from nominating for or being elected to the Commonwealth Parliament if, inter alia, he/she holds an office of profit under the Crown. Therefore, Smith and Goward would have to resign before nominating if they were running in a Federal election. But they are not. They are running in a NSW election. The NSW Constitution (s13B) says, in effect, that a person does not have to resign an office of profit under the Crown until after he/she is elected.

Sue Harrison writes: Re. “Cricket tackles racism, by phone” (yesterday, item 27). Providing an SMS hotline for reporting racial taunts by spectators at cricket matches is unlikely to be effective because it fails to address the cause of the problem, which is not racism but attention-seeking. Spectators hurling racial taunts are motivated by an immature, alcohol-fuelled desire to show off: the more taboo the behaviour and the more publicity it receives, the greater the attention and the higher the gratification. 30 years ago the strongest taboo was public nakedness and the result was streaking; today it is racial vilification and the result is racial sledging. The solution is the same as it was for streaking: TV, radio and newspaper commentators – and spectators – should deny the ratbags the attention they crave.

Harold Thornton writes: Re. Who won the war?. Tamas Calderwood (yesterday, comments) clearly watched too many episodes of Combat as a child, wherein Vic Morrow dispatched legions of Germans with his tommy-gun and the US won the war single-handedly. Forced to concede the Soviet Union might have played a role, he fights a rearguard action with his claim it was all down to US war production – responsible for equipping 2000 divisions, apparently. Since this represents more forces than fought in all the belligerent armies put together, my suspicions were aroused. The figures actually show that the Soviet Union led the world in production of armaments – tanks and guns, which were notably superior to the US models of the era. Where the US excelled was in truck, ship and aircraft production. Some trucks, a few largely obsolete aircraft and no ships were sent to aid the Red Army. The claim that the US production effort was responsible for allowing the Soviet Union to defeat Germany is a bit of a stretch, and probably says more about Calderwood’s politics than about WWII history.

Tom McLoughlin writes: Joe Stalin, I believe, accused the USA of winning WWII “with Russian Blood”. I think this was a reference to refusing a certain quota of American cannon fodder in strategic preference to staffing US military industrial production, especially the air force bombers. The bombers that won the war. At least that was according to an excellent Radio National Background Briefing. Further, I recall the excellent Fog of War documentary reporting in first person Robert McNamara‘s role as a young public servant in systemising that air superiority in the 40s, Mac being the infamous Secretary of Defence (I think) later during the Vietnam War and hated by his own protester son. Yet Mac claims in his moral defence to have stood against Nixon’s wish to nuke Vietnam. Conclusion? It’s a grey world.

Jim Johnson writes: Re. Diesel and the Brownlow (yesterday, item 28). Nick Place has got it wrong. The Charles Brownlow Medal is awarded to the “Fairest and Best” player as judged by the umpires. So even if Diesel had had 100 possessions and mouthed off at anyone, he failed the first criterion. Mind you, I do not see how any umpire should be put in the position of awarding anything except free kicks. They have enough on their plates just concentrating on the game.

Steven McKiernan writes: Myles Tehan (yesterday, comments) advocates having the Brownlow after the AFL Grand Final “as a post-season celebration where all players could attend, and enjoy themselves, without the spectre of looming finals matches.” Having watched Michael Slater’s performance at the Alan Border medal count in 2001, do we really need to see footy players “enjoying themselves” on TV? 16 teams in one room on a end of season footy trip? Could be a new reality TV show.

Terry Maher writes: I love it when people find mistakes in other people’s letters and write long boring letters to Crikey to show what a cleverd-ck they are. I’m not like that but last Thursday’s letter from Neil Patterson mentioned the Beach “enquiry” when he surely meant “inquiry”. I also think that letters to Crikey should be no longer than the number of words used to write this one.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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