Letters to the Editor

A case of definitions?

The Canberra Times report on bullying, harassment, and sexual misbehaviour by senior medical staff towards their juniors ("Bullying rife in Canberra hospitals", January 2, p1) is, of course, deeply concerning. Has the new generation of senior medical staff changed for the worse from those of us in previous times? I suspect not.

The clues may lie in how you define "bullying", "harassment" and "sexual misconduct". Indeed, no one in the media or reporting on such occurrences in healthcare institutions seems willing to attempt definitions. Two generations ago, we medical students and junior residents felt our teachers so far superior to us that public reprimands or robust corrections of our mistakes and stupid or lazy thinking were not seen as undeserved. We might have felt humiliated, but not bullied or harassed . We picked ourselves up, learnt our lessons and tried to do better next time.

The culture of Australia was somewhat different then. Children were brought up by parents who believed that blame should be justly apportioned, but praise rationed out in small doses, lest the child become "big-headed". Judging by my grandchildren, the reverse is now true. Has this affected the perception of current junior staff, who have grown up with perceptions that life should be all about praise and not adverse criticism. One example from The Canberra Times seems to confirm this. Seventeen per cent of junior medical staff interviewed believed it represented harassment when told they might not get reappointed next year. Is it not better to be open with underperforming staff, so they can reform themselves and try harder?

Dr John Thompson, O'Connor

Out of touch

A single page of this newspaper's New Year's Day edition separated Ian Warden's column ("Gong and pong: it's judgment day", Gang-gang, January 1, p8) from the editorial ("Barr needs to clear the air", Times 2, p2), but the intellectual divide with respect to ACT government finances seemed unbridgeable.


While the editorial correctly observed that the territory's finances are under siege, Mr Warden opined that Canberra "deserves money spent on it with generous abandon". For decades before self-government, the Commonwealth generously provided the territory with lavish infrastructure, but those halcyon days are over. As the editorial also noted, ratepayers have grown weary of property rates hikes. So if Mr Warden wants to accuse anyone who opposes the ACT government's extravagant spending, ever-growing budget deficit and exorbitant rates (which are at least double what NSW-resident relatives, friends and acquaintances are paying for properties that are worth twice as much as ours in Aranda) as being un-Canberran then I'll gladly wear his ridiculously out-of-touch accusation as a badge of pride! If only I had a large photograph of him waggling his accusing finger, I'd convert it into a placard bearing the slogan, "This bloke wants the ACT government to hike your rates so it can keep spending with generous abandon!" An appropriate response to Mr Warden's age-wizened digit is the eight-metre, fibreglass artwork on Benjamin Way, Belconnen, for which the ACT government paid the extravagant sum of $400,000 and which, when viewed from a distance and from the right angle, looks like a derisively extended middle finger thinly disguised as an owl.

Bruce Taggart, Aranda

Get back on track

Your editorial "The next step in reducing our road toll" (Times2, December 30, p2) concerning road fatalities notes that highways are more expertly engineered than in 1970, but also that in future they are going to be busier, with the implication of increased long-distance travel.

You do not mention the commercial component of ever-increasing weight. Relevant also is the letter by Bill Gemmell (December 31), of the risks of older drivers.

Greater use of our rail network can reduce these, obviously with heavy goods, but also with more attractive passenger trains, which remove the fatigue factor of long distances.

It is time to make better use of our national rail network.

Jack Palmer, Watson

Pedantry unhelpful

This will be the last instalment in the utterly pointless pseudo-debate between Stan Marks and me, but I refuse to be told I need to study physics or am deliberately misunderstanding his point that electricity in the grid cannot be separated out – particularly when part of my job entails managing electricity supply arrangements for large organisations.

The second sentence in my original letter to Marks (December 22) read: "As he correctly pointed out, the electricity market and the electrons that flow through it are unpartitioned and undifferentiated." Which part of this statement does he not understand?

And, far more importantly, why is he wasting everyone's time with pointless pedantry?

Regardless of where or when it may be generated, the green electricity the ACT will purchase, in amounts to match actual usage by light rail and all other local power users, will produce a proportional reduction in emissions.

It does not matter whether or not it is literally true the light rail will run on green power (which it obviously won't, because of the undifferentiated nature of the electricity market). What matters is that, in practice, it will be just the same outcome and running electrified transport in the ACT will have exactly the same benefits as if it were directly powered by renewables.

Given the gravity of the climate-change problem we face and the centrality of green electricity to its solution, to obfuscate the debate with childish pedantry is shameful.

Felix MacNeill, Dickson

Losing the plot

I can't wait to hire a rotary hoe to dig up my front lawn, turn soil over and plant my tomatoes, lettuce, beans, onions and a few carrots for good measure. Then sprinkle around a few snail pellets, tomato dust, etc, and cover the whole patch with bird netting to keep the pests away. And, of course, help Icon Water's bank account by applying sufficient water to stop my newly sown vegies from wilting like my new-found market garden enthusiasm is most likely to be.

My neighbours will no doubt thank me when the vegies have done their job and the paddock turns back to dust, plying their front yards with topsoil as the wind blows down the street.

Quite frankly, Shane Rattenbury, I look forward to the day when you get on your tram and leave town!

Peter Toscan, Amaroo


Put customers' bank records to good use

If banks can use information about customers' expenditures and "key life milestones" to offer "contextually relevant" products and services ("Banks use personal data to stave off their competitors", BusinessDay, January 2, p7), why on earth don't they use it to identify problem gamblers and offer them financial counselling?

Banking records contain a wealth of information, including locations, dates and amounts of ATM and eftpos withdrawals. Many ATMs and eftpos locations associated with licensed clubs are clearly identified as such – extremely useful where gamblers patronise a number of venues.

Bank statements also show charges for excess transactions and balance inquiries and show when accounts run dangerously low or are overdrawn. Despite holding this information, and even when contacted by concerned family members, banks refuse to engage with customers whose transaction patterns indicate a serious gambling problem.

While "walking a fine line between being useful and creepy" may be a legitimate concern, I can see no greater definition of "useful" than contacting customers whose transaction patterns strongly suggest a need to confront and manage a difficult and destructive addiction. Bank managers may be more powerful than licensed clubs in helping problem gamblers to confront and deal with their addiction.

Karina Morris, Weetangera

'Polish' mischief

The article by James Thomson "Werdiger's life embodied the willing 'migrant's initiative"', BusinessDay, December 31, p12) about Australian billionaire Nathan Werdiger describes Gross-Rosen as "another Polish concentration camp". Gross-Rosen was certainly not "Polish". Until September 1945 it was in Prussian (German) territory, as it had been for the previous several centuries.

To call it "a Polish concentration camp" in this day and age demonstrates not only historical ignorance but reeks of ignominious mischief.

Adam Rustowski, Belconnen


Attack on trade union leadership warrants more critical scrutiny

The blatantly political nature of Justice Dyson Heydon's recent report into trade union governance and corruption would be amusing if it were not for the uncritical acceptance of it by the media, including the two recent editorials by The Canberra Times. ("The jig's up for trade unions", Times2, December 31, p2); "Tipping point for union power", Forum, January 2, p5).

Although The Canberra Times proclaims itself to be "independent always", these two editorials would suggest otherwise.

Recent reports by the media ignore the fact that Heydon's "findings" are not the result of evidence presented and examined by a court, but are, in fact, the learned judge's opinion of testimony presented to the commission by selected witnesses. The report does not state that any particular official or union has committed a breach of the law, but expresses a "suspicion" that certain union officials have been behaving badly.

It is surely a failing of the media to accept this report at face value and to ignore the fact that Justice Heydon decided on his own behalf that he was fit to sit in judgment, despite his clear links to the Liberal Party.

It is curious that The Canberra Times editorial believes "the uproar ... has not come from the public but from the unions themselves", as if the public was somehow different from the working people of Australia organised in their trade unions.

It is clear that the intention of the Abbott/Turnbull royal commission is to destroy the leadership of the union movement, justifying this attack by claiming to represent the interests of rank-and-file members.

Presumably, we are expected to believe that working people would be better off under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull and the business lobby.

John Hood, Hackett

Construction failings

I am disappointed by your editorial "The jig's up for trade unions" (Times2, December 31, p2). Certainly, violations of the law by construction sector trade unions should be punished, but we should not have needed a royal commission to achieve this. Besides, many of the construction sector breaches of the law, some of them life-threatening, happen at the hands of construction firms, big and small, who only occasionally face justice.

Lack of rigour by bureaucrats in enforcing construction sector regulations also seems to be a problem. Justice Dyson Heydon, following his narrow politically designed mandate, has only considered part of the problems. Re-establishing the Construction Industry Tribunal in another guise, but still only targeting trade unions, will be no more successful than the first incarnation.

Trevor Wilson, Holder

White-collar crime

The proposal for the federal government to go to the next election with a proposal to clean up union corruption is commendable. However, it would be nice to know how much this form of corruption is costing the economy compared with the cost of some white-collar crime.

In a Treasury Department paper a few years ago, it mentioned that the fraudulent phoenix activity was costing the taxation office $600million per year and that didn't include the costs to other creditors; those costs were considered significant.

Although ASIC, for the last few years, has achieved some success in bringing some perpetrators to justice, their attempts are frustrated by the failure of federal politicians to arrive at a legal definition of phoenix activity. It appears that every time this issue is raised, the business lobby has managed to stymie it.

It appears that the Liberal Party is determined to curb union corruption which, I suspect, costs very little to the general economy, but is quite prepared to turn a blind eye to its friends in the big end of town. I wonder when, or if, we are going to have a royal commission into this problem.

Norm Johnston, Monash

Demand fair tax

Reading John Passant's recent article ("Companies have tax questions to answer", Times2, December 28 p5), I wondered why Australian businesses have not got together like those in the Welsh town of Crickhowell to avoid paying tax until the government closes the loopholes that allow multinationals to reduce their burden to little or nothing (

Crickhowell has submitted a plan to the British tax authorities and has offered to share it with other towns in the hope that it will be taken up widely, forcing the UK government into stopping multinational tax avoidance.

Perhaps John, as a former assistant commissioner of taxation, could devise a workable scheme for businesses to use here.

John Rogers, Cook

Liberal links

In reply to Fred Pilcher (Letters, January 1), apologies for my failure of disclosure; I was, indeed, the Liberal Party candidate who ran against Kevin Rudd in 2007 (I came second). I was also the Liberal candidate in the 2006 Queensland election who ran against then premier Peter Beattie (also came second).

Finally, before I move away from the topic of politics, I will not be seeking LNP preselection for the Senate for next federal election.

I must have missed something with Mr Pilcher's letter; I fail to see what antibiotics has to do with questioning the former ATO assistant commissioner's actions when he was overseeing corporate tax compliance.

Craig Thomas, LNP member, Watson

Enough of Abetz

We are currently being subjected to almost daily pronouncements from Senator Eric Abetz, the former Minister for Misery (so aptly named by Mr Fluffy owners) in the Abbott government. It would seem he is unaware he is no longer on the frontbench.

I urge the Prime Minister to appropriately recognise the senator's talents and promote him to a new position as the Minister for Irrelevance and just let him continue as he has been doing. If he needs assistance in the portfolio from a junior minister, Malcolm Turnbull need look no further than promoting our own Senator Zed Seselja, who would seem well qualified.

Rob Ey, Weston




Is that Mal Brough I can hear singing "what a friend I have in Jamie (and Peter!)" ?

Maria Greene, Curtin


The heading "Sharks dangerously close to swimmers" (January 2, p1) should perhaps more accurately read "Swimmers dangerously close to sharks".

Susan Cowan, Yarralumla


I enjoyed the headline "Pretty good year apart from the Ashes" (Sport, December 31, p22). In 1812, Napoleon may have made a similar observation on return from Moscow.

Ken Brazel, Weston


Thank you, Jack Waterford and The Canberra Times for publishing "Refugees are not the seeds of the problem" (Forum, January 2, p1). Ihave a picture in my mind's eye of fingers hitting the keyboard hard and fast, with fury at the injustice of policies our political representatives and business leaders support. The article encapsulates the opinions within my large family.

John F. Simmons, Kambah


I've just seen the movie Suffragette; it's well worth a look. I was struck that many of the same old methods and arguments are still used today by those in power to hold people down. The powerful politicians, corporations and individuals who can prevent media access and reporting, spin stories, belittle, demonise, oppress and punish, all in order to maintain their ever-so-tight grip on power and or wealth.

Alison Coster, Jerrabomberra, NSW


Fortified by Harry Mount's article "Student emperors the toll of child-centred schooling" about the youthful disdain for grammar (Times2, January 1, p5), I address thesub-editor who produced the headline "Carillon changes hits wrong note" for the letter to the editor from Anne Willoughby (December 31) thus: "Yes, they does, doesn't they."

Bill Deane, Chapman


Over the years I have owned many chooks, including Australorps. I have never arranged to have any of them confirmed and have never checked any of their feet for white souls ("Breeder prepares layer stayers for show", December 31, p5). However, despite my failings, I am sure they have all still ended up in chook heaven.

K. Dyason, Campbell

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