It must be a leap year ("Right time for a VFT", February 29, p5). On the one day in four years that women can ask men to marry, we have a government luminary asking the private sector to engage with a Very Fast Train. So unfortunate for Mr Robb's hosts that the current version of he VFT, known as High-Speed Rail, is supposed to finish in Civic after tunnelling through Mount Ainslie. Nowhere near the Canberra International Airport.
Door to door, a car to Sydney will thrash a VFT, and an aircraft to Melbourne or Brisbane will thrash a VFT via Gunning. It is light rail all over again. Build the 25-storey residential towers within 250 metres of each of the two stations between Civic and Sydney and the project will pay for itself. Give me a break! Memo to Mr Snow: stand up for the natural advantage that aircraft have in a big, sparsely populated country like Australia, and promote a MFT (moderately fast train) down the existing track alignment through Bungendore, Molonglo Gorge, Fyshwick and then on to your fabulous airport terminal.
Such a MFT line to and from the Big Smoke for your international passengers and your international freight should be a boon, and the payback period will definitely be so much shorter than any version of the VFT proposed to date. Is the Molonglo Gorge too steep and too slow? Well, shift the money proposed for the Mount Ainslie tunnel to an engineering solution that bypasses that natural feature.
David James, Gordon
Rail system out of date
Dave Roberts and Evelyn Ashton (Letters, February 26 ) are absolutely right in calling for a complete refurbishment of Canberra's rail system, which is well below European standards. Infrastructure Australia needs to make the following investments: 1. A reliable, fast (not very fast) and punctual train service to Sydney, calling at Sydney Airport, and links to surrounding towns, with passengers provided with a good restaurant car.
2. A regular bus service to Civic Centre and beyond, co-ordinating with train arrivals and departures.
3. Reconstruction of the station waiting room, which is a disgrace for a national capital terminus.
4. Replacement of diesel by the less-polluting electric traction.
5. Although this is far beyond the imagination of present administrators, eventual replacement of electric traction by ammonia combustion, with virtual elimination of greenhouse gas emissions, which is now technically possible, and established for Canadian freight engines.
For local transport, rail is far superior to flying for carrying large numbers of passengers, and can easily be faster, by avoiding the need for airport checks. There is no reason why a rail trip from Canberra to Sydney Central should take more than two hours.
Bryan Furnass, Hughes
On the wrong track
The suggestion in your editorial "Is Barr railroading Canberrans?" (Forum, February 27, p6) that "the government has embraced the light-rail concept not because it believes it to be the best public transport option for Canberra but because it thinks this will help justify and enable its Northbourne Avenue plans" can be largely substantiated.
The attitudes towards land use and public transport that have prevailed in the Barr government are that the only good form of public transport is light rail; light rail requires high-density development to succeed; developers stand to make huge profits from high-density development, and the Barr government could get its cut.
The problem now confronting the Barr government is that light rail, particularly in the form being proposed, is not only poorly suited to the Gungahlin-Civic transport requirements of the future, but it will very likely be overtaken by new technology soon after it becomes operational.
The admission that the Barr government now realises these prospects comes in the Infrastructure Australia Priority List of February 2016. There we see a submission by the ACT government to develop two bus transit ways, one connecting Belconnen to central Canberra and the other connecting Queanbeyan through south Canberra to central Canberra. Just two months earlier, in December 2015, Canberrans were being asked to comment on the document "Transport Canberra: light-rail network; Delivering a modern transport system for a growing city".
The question now is whether the Barr government will inform Canberra Metro that it wants to redesign the Gungahlin-Civic transport connection.
A. Smith, Farrer
Thank-you for putting the spotlight on the real reason for light rail, namely real estate development. Both Messrs Barr and Rattenbury are railroading all ACT taxpayers for the benefit of a few, like developers. The Gungahlin-Civic tram alone would cost taxpayers about $90million a year for 20 years.
It has never been about trams as such, only money from real estate development that a corridor may offer.
M. Silex, Erindale
Leading by example
We can hardly criticise property development giant Grocon for making an ambit bid for Manuka Circle for virtually free-rein very dense high-rise development there, in return for an unspecified upgrade of Manuka Oval, when our own government is ruinously selling off large tracts of nationally and territorial significant City Hill, Commonwealth Place (the twin cloverleafs just south of City Hill), and West Basin land for similarly uncontrolled commercial and residential development, in return for a narrow malleable West Basin foreshore upgrade, and no new public open space or facilities at City Hill. The two parties are simply copying each others' sordid contemporary behaviour.
Commercial property development is not an appropriate vehicle for the delivery of national capital and ACT civic planning and development.
Jack Kershaw, Kambah
I would vote David Eastman for chief minister if he offered to rid us of that ridiculous average speed camera on Hindmarsh Drive (and no, I haven't been a victim of its revenue raising).
What Einstein would put such a device on a road with two rather steepish descents either way so that law-abiding motorists would have to ride their brakes all the way down the hill for fear of rolling 5km/h over the limit. It is probably the same Einstein this useless ACT government will need to help it raise revenue by whatever means it can to fund the light rail.
David Long, Chapman
Negative gearing encourages tax avoidance and should be ditched
If I were to establish a business – say, a restaurant or landscaping – I would be expected to make enough profit to generate an income I could live off. This would also enable me to pay taxes, thereby contributing to the common good. Without net income generation, the alternative would be for me to starve.
However, if the business I chose to establish were a property rental, I would find I could run it at a loss, and still profit – all at the expense of other Australians. Our negative-gearing taxation laws would encourage me to make real and paper losses, and reduce or even wipe out my taxation obligations.
I say "paper losses", because the system also allows me generous "depreciation" allowances on items within the property, despite the fact the overall value of the property inexorably increases. I would be encouraged to generate losses because the laws allow me to offset my rental losses against income from other sources. If we are to reform this state of affairs, it is the offsetting element we need to remove. This would require me to run my rental property business on the same basis as my restaurant – that is, stand or fall on its own economic merits.
Were the playing field to be levelled in this way, I predict a dramatic fall in property rental "losses", a shift to income generation, and a welcome increase to income tax receipts to pay for health, education and defence.
Paul Varsanyi, Kambah
Keep things simple
Senate electoral history since proportional representation was introduced in 1948 to end lopsided farces is littered with politicians' incorrect assessments of self-interest ("Big players call time on the upstarts", Times2, February 24, p2) amid a continuing failure to keep things simple and based on voter-oriented principles.
After foolishly opposing partial optional preferential marking at the outset, Labor didn't get another chance to influence changes until 1983. By then its platform was for optional preferential voting, but the Australian Democrats insisted on party boxes and group voting tickets in a system slanted against individuals making their own below-the-line assessments. As more voters placed first preferences outside established parties, shrewd operators knew they could often raffle off a Senate spot among themselves through lodging tightly interlocking group voting ticket numberings, leaving non-participants till last. That strategy worked only because of how onerous most voters found it to contemplate numbering nearly all the squares below the line. Now, instead of doing away with party boxes altogether because group-voting tickets are being abolished, it is proposed that party-box markings will almost always be accepted as formal, but the equivalent numberings below the line rejected, because most times fewer than 90per cent of the individual squares will have been filled in. Such absurdity illustrates what can happen when additional complexity is forced upon unsound foundations. The working simplicity of ballot-paper layout and formal voting in our Hare-Clark system is a reminder of what an advantage it is to put voters' wishes at the heart of the electoral system and leave the onus on parties and candidates to attract individuals' support.
Bogey Musidlak, convener, Proportional Representation Society of Australia (ACT Branch)
Voting system flawed
Amanda Vanstone's whinge about Senate voting reform ("Shorten's miscalculation", Times2, February 29, p1) shows that after 75 years of ALP and LNP being in power, we still have problems with our voting system. These incompetent governments thought they were setting up a voting system gerrymander that would favour their parties over smaller parties and independents and when it didn't, they cry foul and want to change the system.
The above-the-line voting system is undemocratic, with parties trading off preferences, therefore it should be consigned to the rubbish bin. Numbering the boxes for the number of Senate seats available in the state seems fair. Could a statistician please comment. What isn't democratic is that Tasmania has 50per cent more senators than the ACT and NT combined and with 20per cent less population. The Senate is our house of review and has saved us from much ideological-based bad legislation. Ideally, only independents should sit in the Senate.
Max Jensen, Chifley
People power needed
Thanks, Sam Daley-Harris, for raising the two issues close to my heart: ongoing poverty and climate change. ("Best to come off sidelines and make democracy work", canberra times.com.au, February 29). But I wonder: is democracy a solution? Lobbyists of Australian politicians are often encouraged by enthusiastic promises, which are so often not acted upon by those in power.
To be effective, many more people than at present need to be knocking on MPs' doors. Without a threat to their re-election, 16,000 children dying each day from preventable diseases won't matter. Neither will people worst hit by climate change, the socially, economically and culturally marginalised.
In poor countries' rural areas, as droughts become more frequent and severe, people will experience food scarcity and higher food prices. Farmers and livestock herders will have more conflicts over land and water. And these are people who least contributed to climate change.
So, unless Australians "come off the sidelines" by the thousands, the poorest will continue having their lives threatened – and "democracy" will be just a word, rather than a hoped-for solution.
Sue Packham, Woolamai, Vic
Anything but a failure
I do not know what criteria E.R.Moffat ( Letters, March 1) uses to rate failure amongst our ex-prime ministers, but they must obviously be diametrically opposite to mine.
After 13 consecutive years of a very stable government, and a prosperous economy under John Howard, I would have thought it would make him one of our most successful PMs , not a failed one.
The real failures have been Gough Whitlam, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard for leading the country into economic chaos and disrepute.
Mario Stivala, Spence
Vehicle owners made yearly trip to Dickson
Younger Canberrans would not appreciate the significant place the soon-to-close Dickson Motor Registry once played in our lives ("Developer sought for Dickson site", February 27, p5).
Until more recent years, renewing your car's registration entailed an annual pilgrimage to either the Dickson or Philip vehicle-inspection stations (whereas now you can go to your local garage).
No bookings, just join the queue. Radio stations would update citizens on the length of the queue (along with the weather) and public servants would theorise around the tea trolley about the best time to go.
This did wonders for the resale values of Canberra-owned cars, but was an annual hit to my flextime balance.
Ian Douglas, Jerrabomberra, NSW
The cost of fitness
A great initiative from the ACT government to get more Canberrans (the pedalling kind) outdoors and active ("Mountain bikers get two new trails at Isaacs Ridge", February 24, p3), and what's even more appealing – at no cost to the participant.
Pity the same philosophy is not applied to the urban green space we usually refer to as "unenclosed sports fields", where hundreds of volunteers facilitate healthy activities for thousands of junior Canberrans each weekend whilst paying exorbitant "hire charges" for the privilege of getting our community active.
Not only do community clubs (run by volunteers) pay for match-day ground-hire fees, change rooms and antiquated canteen facilities, but the government also charges ground-hire fees for training, as well as lights on those cold training evenings in winter. Then there are the usual conversations with our fellow citizens regarding their golf practice and dog "walking".
I can tell you now there are a lot of sausages sold to cover these costs.
Sean Heelan, Monash
TO THE POINT
I have only two words in response to your editorial "Is Mr Turnbull becoming Mr Timid?" (Times2, February 29, p2) on the disappointment that the Prime Minister is: Tony Turnbull.
John Passant, Kambah
BUILD IN THE NORTH
To maximise use of the light-rail system, I propose that all future public housing be built in the northern suburbs of Canberra.
Jeff Day, Greenway
Chris Williams (Letters, February 26) has misused the term "snafu" in his final paragraph. Sorry Chris, good letter, but "snafu" stands for "Situation Normal All F----- Up". I think, given the context, you meant to advise Malcom Turnbull should "snaffle" (meaning "steal/purloin/appropriate") Nicholas Stuart's services.
Janet Thomas, Kaleen
The Safe Schools Framework to combat bullying of all kinds is fine, but why the particular focus of the Commonwealth-funded Safe Schools Coalition program? And why is it necessary in that program to confront children in their formative years with complex gender issues? Combatting bullying is one thing, but creating doubt and increasing anxiety in children's minds about their gender is another. The Prime Minister has good reason to order a review.
Arthur Connor, Weston
As I recall my teenage years, they were difficult enough anyway, without somebody further upsetting me by filling my head with "official" doubts about who I was.
Ned Ovolny, Duffy
Spending multibillions of dollars on conventionally powered submarines? Yes. Do we have any fuel-refining capacity in Australia? No. Are we dependent on sea lanes from where all our perceived threats are located? Yes. Do our allies (and "perceived threat" countries) have nuclear-powered submarines capable of remaining at sea for long periods? Yes. Are we in the 21st century? Apparently not.
Alan McNeil, Weetangera
Can someone please explain to me why we are desperately trying to fertility-control at great expense our most sustainable source of healthy meat ("Grappling with the dart of population control", February 27, p1) that in addition can be harvested more humanely than beef, pork, lamb, chicken and fish?
Jochen Zeil, Hackett
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