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Letters to the Editor

From time to time, a commentary on the world will bubble up inside of me to the extent that I'm forced to write a letter to my local, metropolitan, daily newspaper, The Age. This is where I blow of some steam. Feel like venting too? Add your own comment or visit my homepage.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

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Substance Abuse in the Military

In advancing a number of arguments against drug use by cadets, Defence Association executive director Neil James risks contradiction or even hypocrisy (20/12).

Having grown up in a military family, it's clear to me that the culture is steeped in widespread, frequent and excessive alcohol consumption. The attitude seems to be "work hard, play harder". However, given the stellar performance of our defence forces over the years, we can assume
that the impact of alcohol is at an acceptable or manageable level.

Mr James' arguments about drug users being necessarily mentally and physically unfit, lacking in self-discipline, dangerous to have around weapons and unreliable to their comrades may fit the image of the hopelessly addicted heroin user. But to what extent does this characterisation fit cadets who occasionally smoke cannabis or take ecstasy? I would argue that such infrequent usage could have less operational impact than the (tolerable) binge drinking that goes on.

Mr James may wish to assure parents that "their children won't be unduly exposed to drug abuse", but can he can say the same of alcohol? Let's deal with their behaviour as we would other 20 year olds in our community, and keep a sense of proportion on the consequent detriments.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

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Medical Justice

When is killing murder? This vexing issue has been in the public eye due to a number of reviews and high-profile cases. As barrister Douglas Potter points out (Letters, 8/12), the key is the perpetrator's mental state at the time. In comparing the provocation defence with infanticide, Mr Potter has drawn the ire of mental health professional Dr Patrick Kavanagh (Letters, 9/12).

Dr Kavanagh may be frightened by Mr Potter's understanding of mental health, but Dr Kavangh's assumptions frightens me. He maintains that while post-natal depression is a "serious mental illness" (no doubt), provocation is about "transferring responsibility to the victim" and there is a "clear distinction between such cases".

In other words the former is medically "real" (has an organic basis in brain chemistry) while the latter is not.

If a woman kills her child or her husband then, from a legal perspective, her mental state at the time will determine her degree of culpability.

Why should the medical fraternity have a stranglehold on the legal system's understanding of mental processes? Surely a broader view than genes and hormones is essential to just and compassionate decision-making.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

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Addressing the Real Issues

With the coming Coalition domination of the Senate and Abbott reigned in, the Liberal backbench can finally exert some influence on social policy. Inspiringly, they're going to tackle child-care by examining that most pressing social issue: the high price of nannies in today's world (The Sunday Age, 5/12). Their solution - subsidies through tax relief - is the kind of creative, bold and forwarding-thinking policy that we'd expect from such a famously diverse group of politicians.

I look forward to grants for gardeners, bursaries for butlers, concessions for chauffeurs, payments for pool-boys and please - while you're at it, bring back the tax-deductible working lunch! (The Age, 7,12).

John Howard's warnings against arrogance and contempt are now just a faint echo.