Letter to Local Members

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A letter I wrote to Mr Dominello and Mr Alexander back in 2012. It is a reflection of who I was back then and the life I was living, and a genuine attempt at the time to engage with the political system. I invited them to get back to me for further discussion, and I was talking about getting in touch. The replies did not mention that suggestion and I decided against pursuing it further. Then I spoke to Mr Dominello at a later stage about the letter I sent and he gave be a blank look. Oh well. Still, given there was no further communication from these letters and at least one member didn't know anything about it, I thought it would be appropriate to post it so people can have an idea about where I'm coming from, particularly now I'm standing for the seat of Bennelong on behalf of the Pirate Party of Australia

Hello Mr Dominello and Mr Alexander,

While I've not met you, hope it will be OK to call you "Victor" and "John" - the language gets a lot easier that way.

I'm writing this letter to both of you, my local members. I appreciate some issues will be State issues, and others Federal. Please read the references to "your" as one or both of you as appropriate.

This letter covers both letting you know where I'm coming from, separately to wanting particular things done, a part of democratic participation. I'll also assert that some things should be changed or otherwise supported, but that's not all this letter is about.

I'm mostly outlining where I'm coming from rather than trying to definitively prove what I'm asserting. The fact I feel a certain way should I hope for count for something, regardless of the details. I can't help but put forward some arguments too, but "proving" things is not the objective.

Please don't think that a set reply from the public service will replace face to face discussion - though perhaps it will help to inform the discussion.

I've been encouraged to write letters to members about several different issues. But, rather than write on just one, it seemed fairer to write on all of them.

I've taken the time to read your maiden speeches and gain a better understanding of where you're coming from. I'm also involved in political causes myself; I don't wish to deny that, but nor do I wish to dwell on it. You can look it up if you like, but I am writing this letter as a constituent to my local members. I realise that you would be in Government or Opposition as the case may be; I write regardless; I expect a lot of good non-controversial things can be done in a bipartisan fashion.

I will follow up with a meeting; whether that be at a travelling office or as an appointment. But this is the first step.

Secular Issues

I am very concerned about the effect of religion on laws. I would like to see religions have fewer tax exemptions, religious schools (and broadly speaking, private schools) have less taxpayer funding ( I've written an article in the Australian Humanist - and also accepting the whole issue is more complex with the recent release of the Gonski report). I'd like to see same sex marriage and legalised voluntary euthanasia (I am very supportive of the NSW Greens initiative here), the abolition of prayers in parliament, continued access for women to abortion, and also resist the recognition of Sharia law (except as the basis for negotiation between business equals) - or indeed Canon law.

I'm supportive of ethics education in schools, and against the school chaplains program - though appreciative that it has been opened up to Secular Counsellors.

NSW Drug Policy

I'd like to see drugs decriminalised, but at the same time see more regulation, perhaps licensing of tobacco. The issue is how much people affect each; public smoking does just that. There may be private smoking, but the public smoking is very apparent.

I'm pleased to see that the NSW State Liberal Government has banned smoking in public places. I would like to see things happen sooner, but perhaps the Liberal Government has done more that the previous Labor Government did; I don't know enough to analyse it.

It has been the case that people could smoke in areas that is 25% open. Regardless of recent progress, it was strange to have "25%" considered "open" - it seems an abuse of the English language for sectional interests. To be fair, maybe not something you are responsible for.

While Body Corporates can ban smoking through a by law, I would like to see laws permitting the banning of smoking in block of units with few legal and administrative hurdles.

I also support the Medically supervised Injection Centre. I previously lived near Kings Cross and was very comfortable with it. The past NSW Labor Government supported it, and I hope your Government continues to do so.

NSW Law and Order

I appreciate NSW Attorney General Greg Smith's enlightened approach to Law and Order, where he avoids pandering to the shock jocks. He showed an enlightened approach in opposition, and it is good to see that continuing. The "law and order auction" between opposing political parties was disheartening and it is good to see it end.

I am concerned about the increase in drive by shootings and similar. However, apart from saying that you should avoid pandering to the shock jocks, I don't have any particular ideas on how to solve it. Certainly, do your best here and I hope there will be progress.

Blame Shifting, Health Funding and the States

The sharing of health funding between the states and Commonwealth results in perverse incentives for one level of Government to shift problems to the other level, rather than thinking of health problems as a common issue.

Health Regulation of Dubious Merchandise

The different Government departments ought to take more initiative in investigating weight loss products with unverified claims, such as weight loss products. I would like to see a greater emphasis on "truth in advertising", perhaps being legally enforceable.

The law has several problems here.

The first is the opportunity for companies to put on SLAPP ( Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ) orders to try to stop people from pursing these challenges. The legal system needs to be reformed. At worst, a legal aid fund should be provided for dealing with SLAPP orders, so individuals' finances are not pressured. At present, private individuals are taking the initiative to correct injustices which the Government is not; they should be given. The legal system is being abused to hide an injustice, rather than facilitate justice. Also, one Government department is obliged to cease its investigations while a matter is before the courts. This invites people to initiate legal cases just to muzzle that department.

There is a public interest separate to the commercial interest. We can be harmed and deceived, quite apart from any damage done to commercial assets. Governments need to Govern - and stride forth. Some damage might be done to business as a side effect, but this is a necessary side effect, given the public interest. The risk of such events must be considered a business risk. Such risks can be mitigated by being open and maintaining the necessary information so that any department concerns can be addressed early.

Vaccination and other health groups

Groups such as the AVN need to have their activities curtailed because of their undermining public heath. A reduction in vaccination has resulted in the deaths of children.

My view - shared by many others - that the AVN abuse free speech. They claim to provide balanced information however in fact it is a long litany of lies and distortions. Freedom of speech has been abused and harm is being caused, even though within reasonable limits people can say falsehoods in the public domain. The problem is that the AVN take advantage of this ambiguity. This harm needs to be demonstrated in court, and Government needs to be able to initiate legal action. If it cannot, the necessary legislation

should be enacted. The courts would be the ones to find out what the facts are, and what response is justified - but they should have the laws to act on.

The AVN's activities have been recently limited. However, they represent a deeper problem, one that should have been fixed sooner, and action against similar groups needs to be enabled.

Intellectual Property

I'm concerned about the way these laws are developing, on the request from corporate interests, without considering the public interest in intellectual property. Corporate entities want to devalue what the word "own" means, and only rent/license something without it ever losing ownership.

I observe that while (mostly) US movie firms advocate for better copyright protection of their financial interests, they have no problems about denying other contributors of their financial interests, using what has become known as "Hollywood Accounting", another variant of "Creative Accounting". A US judge has described such accounting practices as "awful". And yet such firms continue to assert their legal rights with very little acknowledgement of other issues - which seems very hypocritical.

There is the overseas legislation which is planned to be introduced - as noted by AFTINET. This will limit the availability of drugs, with control of IP being based on a spurious legal concept.

We have the US based law which has caused Wikipedia to protest. While US based, it is important that Australia distance itself from this law, and any corporate pressure in support of it.

I am strongly opposed to ACTA, or the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. It seems to me a corporately defined attempt to marginalise individual rights. It is interesting that after scolding other nations for trying to control the internet, this is what the US Government is pushing for.

At the Australian Commonwealth level, I welcome the "Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2011". I understand that your Liberal colleagues Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Heffernan have been supporting it. I'm not sure of where it is in Parliament at present - but I do encourage you, John, to support and vote for it as applicable.

Yes, this Bill is controversial, and I know that some claim it will limit the development and availability of medical technology. I believe that the integrity of the legal concept of patentability amongst other issues are more important. I could outline my position in detail, but I do not think now is the time. But I hope you consider it carefully.

Legal Cases and Voluntary Bodies

There are voluntary bodies with assets, and hostile groups can try to take them over. This needs to be better recognised. It is also possible for defamation cases to result which are a result of the group trying to defend itself from a hostile takeover. This needs to be considered in the way the law is put together; asset rich voluntary organisations are very vulnerable in the current legal system.

I'm not going into details at this point, but I can report I have personal experience of this sort of thing. It is very disheartening to be in the middle of it.

An important reform would be to have a defence against litigation that the case the result of a takeover or other dubious activity on the part of the litigant.

This sort of activity needs to be recognised, and the relevant Government departments, like Consumer Affairs, need to be given the power to recognise and intervene where this is taking place.

Foreign Affairs

I'm concerned at the large number of dubious tin-pot dictatorships the Australian Government encourages dealing with; we know that the Australian Government previous wanted to encourage trade with the former Egyptian and Libyan regimes.

Animal Treatment

We should make illegal halal and other means of slaughtering animals in Australia, and should ensure that the slaughtering of live animals is properly monitored. It could have been - it is a travesty that it was not.

Further, we should ban live exports of animals. A market will remain to employ pastoral workers and there will be increased employment for abattoir workers, and animal welfare will increase into the bargain.

Experience is, however, that Australian abattoirs need better monitoring. We're not pristine ourselves.

People Trafficking

It is good to see this coming to the forefront. I am very concerned about the death of the gentleman put forward in a recent episode of Four Corners.

Traffic Fines

Whenever a court finds that someone is not guilty of a given traffic offence, they should make that council or certifying authority review all such similar cases.

There is a great deal of minor injustice built into this system - where the cost of defending yourself against an injustice is more than that injustice is worth.

Carers, Mental Health and Perverse incentives

I would like more taxation slack to be given to carers, together with reform of the welfare system to avoid poverty traps. Providing a staged payment system, where below the tax free threshold your money is "topped up" to varying degrees would help.

Refugees

I think we should be a lot more generous with refugees, and fill up the quota, at the same time as we should limit overall migration - I have concerns about Australia's ability to host a growing population, and endorse the sentiments of Sustainable Population Australia.

Rather than shipping refugees back to Malaysia, a better approach might be to accept more refugees from Indonesia and other locations, and put those refugees at the head of the queue who provide information leading to the conviction of people smugglers.

Taxation

While I don't want the Government to waste money, I'm not outrageously tight fisted about my money either, which I earn in private industry. I do not resent the tax I pay. Within reason, I'd be willing to pay more tax, to get more done. I'm certainly not in the category of person who resents every dollar. I do believe in spending money on science - not just cancer research or radio astronomy, but space more generally.

Competing Interests

Being a little sympathetic for a moment - I know how different vested interests all put out their hands for more money for a particular area.

However, if we put more money into some area, either taxes have to go up or money has to be taken from elsewhere. In one sense, those vested interests are selfish, in only asking for more resources, but not in fact providing any suggestions on how that funding might be obtained. I sure find it frustrating.

I really don't want to be in this category. Partly, I'm covering a whole lot of different issues rather than just one, but also I'm "letting you know for the sakes of feedback and that there are people out here that feel as I do", rather than demanding or expecting these resources.

I can only hope that continued good government releases an "efficiency dividend" permitting more resources to be provided for more things, without other particular services being reduced. However, as priorities get revised, perhaps money needs to be cut back on some things. I only hope that is done in a finessed way for good reasons.

Tax Reform and Business

I'm keen to get rid of the petty taxes that pollute our state tax system - including payroll tax and stamp duty. Victor, I know of your enthusiasm for this from your maiden speech. While I'm sure many outsiders can see the merits of this, it seems to be a great challenge when you're actually in Government trying to balance the budget.

You can see from my letter that I see a great many injustices in the world. Victor, I note from your maiden speech that you see the many obstacles in the way of business as a major injustice. I've certainly nothing against businesses being able to operate productively, but in terms of injustices I do see other matters unrelated to the ability of businesses to perform to be equal if not more significant injustices.

As you've hopefully have noted, some things unduly emphasise the corporate interest over the public interest; that's something I'm very concerned about.

Global Warming

I endorse the idea of Global Warming, and endorse any changes towards that, be that Carbon Tax or Carbon Trading or whatever. I do not mind us taking the lead on Global Warming action, any more than I would mind us taking the lead on foreign aid. Yes, we don't want to wreck the economy - but I'm sure we could spare a few fractions of a percent of GDP.

I endorse the ideas of Beyond Zero Emissions of replacing our power stations with molten salt solar power stations. Such a transition would cost us a lot more than a few fractions of a percent of GDP, but it is something I would nevertheless endorse.

Population

I see population as a definite concern. The costs of it are apparent to me in the increased difficulty in parking, light pollution and the fact that we can no longer enjoy vacant land.

The assessments from the CSIRO are in terms of our carrying capacity for Australia; we need have a limit on this, and not just assume that we can grow forever

The local costs need to be distinguished from the global costs. We need to support overseas nations who take an initiative in population control.

Urban Form, Cycleways and the Treatment of People by Alan Jones

Similarly, I'd like to see more support of low carbon progressive transport - cycles, trains and buses - along with urban planning to support that. We build roads when we really should be building public transport infrastructure. I'd like to see money taken away from roads in support of that. I very much support Clover Moore's cycleways.

Together with my girlfriend, we often ride our tandem cycle along Ms. Moore's cycleways. It is something we can do together, exercise which helps to keep us fit and healthy. John, I hope you can see the worth in this. I believe the cycleways to be positive - they help the population to be fitter and healthier. They do not slow the traffic. Yes, they have replaced parking spaces, but I think the positive impact is much greater. There are analyses which show that cycling spaces inject a lot more into the shop economy than car spaces. Further, cycleways actually increase land values.

I am appreciative of the support Alan Jones has shown you and how you must get along. However, I can only say that I find his rants against Ms. More - and Ms. Gillard for that matter - quite offensive.

Perhaps you will think that Ms. Gillard lacks competency. That's your prerogative. By all means identify those problems and point them out - without being abusive.

For the record, I was disappointed at personal nature of the attacks that were made against John Howard while he was in Government. This is something I feel strongly about - regardless of who is the target.

I'm concerned about Light Pollution - and worry about the large number of advertising signs on the road which are lit from below. I worry about the difficulties concerned with light trespass - with stories of people losing their sleep as a result.

Epping-Macquarie Rail Link

I see this as a very positive initiative. Some time ago, the M2 was built, but this rail link was not analysed as an alternative. I appreciate there's not much money to go around, and don't wish to be selfish for my region. Nevertheless, there's a great deal of public benefit released by this link - having a loop linked between Chatswood and Carlingford benefits the rest of Sydney, and I see it as worth doing.

Victor, I note your concerns about how the link was announced in your maiden speech, and share some of your surprise. Nevertheless, I believe it was always a worthwhile thing to do, but was "buried" in previous analyses for budgetary and political reasons rather than reasons of worth.

Cycling

I'd like to see more support for cycling - as noted above. However, I personally have had my bicycle stolen, and it is my suspicion that organised gangs do operate around cycling. I appreciate there are many pressing criminal issues - for example the escalation of drive by shootings. Nevertheless, I would at least like to see some analysis of the economic extent of bicycle theft and also, of course, some strategic initiatives on the part of police to reduce this from happening.

I look forward to further correspondence and also meeting up.

Yours sincerely,

John August