Make it Merely Obligatory
Sir: Refreshing to read the reasoned opposition to compulsory voting by Peter Barry (September 2013). Why do we persist in compelling people to vote when some have no idea and no inclination to do so? An obvious reason given is that “most politicians find it difficult to believe there could be people out there who … take no interest in government”.
Without compulsory voting we could expect to follow the New Zealand voter turnout of 75 per cent, instead of our current 95 per cent. This 20 per cent of reluctant voters is not inclined to vote for a range of reasons such as being too young or too busy to care.
An easy first step to reform is to drop the fine for failing to vote. The voting system could then be re-described as “obligatory” rather than “compulsory”. The savings in administering the penalty-free system could be used to combat electoral fraud such as multiple voting, an easily achieved fraud which is evident but rarely discussed.
Sir: Michael Cook’s analysis of Australia’s approach to security (September 2013) focuses on the First World War probably because our experience in that conflict defined the Australian approach for the next century and continues to do so. The analysis flies in the face of views common in our education system but, marked as it is by experience and wisdom, it carries much conviction.
Yet I would suggest that a critical element is missing in the wider community, as in his analysis. In the years before 1914, at least from a British perspective, the German challenge was maritime. For more than a century, the Royal Navy had guaranteed the freedom of navigation for all peaceful trade. The Royal Australian Navy was established in part for fear that Germany’s naval ambitions drew the British away from their traditional defence of Australia’s maritime interests. Australia’s first military commitment in 1914 was to neutralise the German Navy’s communications facility in New Guinea.
Australia’s role in the First World War Palestine campaign, more so than the operations in France and Belgium, was critical to Australia’s security interest through its protection of the Suez Canal.
I find it astonishing that Australians persistently ignore the reality that this country depends utterly upon secure seaborne trade—and has done so since 1788. That trade and the economic sustenance it brings represent our fundamental security interest and we must ever support those allies who share that interest. As the communications revolution develops, electronic security against cyber-attack is added because much of the money trade is vulnerable. The fact remains though that millions of tonnes of imports and exports, more than 30 per cent of our GDP, are carried in ships. This reality will continue into the future to define our primary security interest.
Packer’s Petty Cash
SIR: Given some of my later experiences with Kerry Packer I don’t generally go rushing to his defence these days. The piece you published in the September issue, however, should not go unchallenged.
I appointed Peter Samuel as head of the Australian Consolidated Press New York bureau. I also let him go. He was not happy about that but it is regrettable that he has sought vengeance in such a fashion.
I doubt Kerry ever spoke to Peter during his period in the New York office. The office was administered by a very capable woman and Peter had little to do with administration, although I remember he assisted in the negotiations for some new premises.
That Packer sought to “thieve” $10,000 cash to pay off a hooker is outrageous. The notion that our auditors and accountants would all be party to such an exercise is ridiculous. The fact that Pat Wheatley (Peter could not even remember her surname) is accused of being party to this “crime” demeans another deceased person who was totally honest and a great servant of the company and its shareholders. As do the equally demeaning remarks about dear old George McGann.
Certainly unconventional things happened in the corporation but the administration always sorted these things out so that everything was done strictly by the rules. And remember that Packer never even took a salary from the public company over the last several years.
Peter’s claim that he was some sort of heroic defender of the shareholders’ interests is delusional.
The Hippocratic Oath
Sir: The behaviour of the geneticist towards Professor and Mrs Burcham and their daughter (September 2013) is outrageous; in fact, I wonder whether he is a registered medical practitioner at all. If he is, he has badly let down all the good will and respect which our profession has acquired since the time of Hippocrates. I shall quote in translation the relevant unabridged part of the Hippocratic oath:
“I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give a woman a pessary to produce abortion.”
Even though I am at the end of my career as a general surgeon, I still give tutorials to medical students twice or thrice a week, and always begin with a new group by taking them through the Hippocratic Oath unexpurgated, word by word, so that they know how to behave in all situations and what is expected of them. If we honour and bring distinction to our profession today, we honour our predecessors and have fulfilled our duty to our patients, so that that honour and duty will pass to our successors into the distant future.