ACT government consultation needs review

The quality and style of community consultation in the ACT is in urgent need of a serious rethink. (W.A. Brown, August 2).

The consultation-related issues which government agencies typically have to consider include: when to consult (too early, too late), how much to say (too generalised, too detailed), who to talk with to obtain a representative view, how much time should be given to consultation, and what to do with the results.

The issues of importance to the community include: the timing of consultation, the real difficulty in getting past the pretty pictures to the detail, the invariably insufficient time to respond, the effort required to prepare a considered response, the inherent distrust that government is not being upfront (especially those agencies with planning and development responsibilities), the huge power and resource imbalance between community and government, and the ever-present feeling of disempowerment that comes from a perception of being repeatedly ignored.

Having observed the process from both sides of this high fence, it is clear that there can be contempt displayed by some agencies for residents' action groups (unrepresentative, ignorant, nimbys, etc) and even greater contempt for individuals (irrational, eccentric, cranks), who need to be ''managed'' because of their annoying habit of involving their elected representatives. On the other hand, consultation could involve fronting a community hall filled with angry, noisy residents, uninterested in debate and explanations, and only willing to shout down and abuse speakers.

Little wonder agencies prefer ''information days'' and ''pop-up shopfronts'' to genuine consultation.

Until the government can demonstrate a genuine interest in engaging in informed dialogue with the community and a willingness to explain its actions, without hiding behind spin, marketing and public relations, then it is unlikely the community will feel able to respond in ways less attractive to media headlines and more conducive to quiet advocacy and debate.


Paul Ratcliffe, Yarralumla

Women's super too low

The Australia Institute's 2013 report, What's Choice Got To Do With It?, states that ''on average, women have just over half the superannuation of men at retirement age''. It mentions discrimination and undervaluation of women's skills and contributing factors, such as Australia's gender pay gap, persistently stuck at around 17.6 per cent for two decades, and the gendered nature of caring for children, aged parents and family members with disabilities.

If we are concerned about the ageing of our workforce and declining participation, and if employers see value in the birth of future employees, these unjust realities need to be faced and fixed, so that women are not significantly poorer during their working lives and retirement simply because they are female.

M. Aken, Holder

Access denied

Just what is going on in this, my country, when a senator in the Australian Parliament is denied access to an immigration detention centre while representatives of a foreign government are invited in?

Ed Highley, Kambah

Tax watch

Jack Waterford's, ''How evasions could be avoided'' (July 27, p17), represents a neat segue to Paul Malone's, ''Global approach needed for taxation'' (July 20, p18), and will be applauded by decent Australians who strive for an ethical, moral, equitable society. Both deplore powerful, recalcitrant, resistive local and global forces, which employ Byzantine tax-avoidance schemes, ably assisted by self-enriching professionals. It is possible even some parliamentarians may be resistive to paying tax!

Waterford's words are borne out in ''It pays to be rich if you take on the Tax Office'' (July 18, p2), which records that $477 million was handed back to high-wealth individuals. Similarly, ''Quitting staff fear rise of tax cheats'' (July 16, p1), foresees those so inclined avoiding audit.

The ATO's avowed intent to apply a ''light touch'' and encourage companies to engage their own auditors, presents real threats to tax revenue. Ostentatious displays of public-mindedness and occasional displays of philanthropy elevate some personas to an unassailable celebrity status, where challenges regarding tax liabilities would be impolite, even crass. Some would regard Kerry Packer's 1991 retort: ''If anybody in the country doesn't minimise their tax, they need their head's read'', not as a facetious comment but an adjuration!

His fellow news baron Rupert Murdoch had no qualms having Australian taxpayers' $882 million of beneficence delivered to his taxation-opaque Delaware address! ASIO should earn its keep and share its global money-tracking data with the ATO.

Albert M. White, Queanbeyan

Avoiding tragedies

The shooting of NSW environmental officer Glen Turner while simply doing his job is a tragedy, but with the point of extra protection for environmental officers having been raised, it should also be raised that the easiest way to avoid tragedies like this is for the government to stop interfering with how private landholders manage their land. After all, government clearly does not know best in this regard, when the restrictions on clearing land have made the spread of bushfires much easier.

Samuel Gordon-Stewart, Reid

Survey cynicism

Why did the ACT government launch a survey last month into whether Canberrans supported its light rail program, years after it had committed to it?

Many market surveys load their questions to get the results the organisation funding the survey wants, and the ''sample'' of people surveyed weighted to contain people likely to favour the desired result.

To obviate a cynical view of the light rail survey, the government should publish the survey questions, how those surveyed were selected and how much was paid for the survey.

Ed Dobson, Hughes

Cycling advantages

On the subject of cyclists, cycle paths/lanes and user pays, I remind R.S. Gilbert (Letters, August 2) that cyclists pay rates and other ACT taxes. They also pay petrol excise when they use their cars.

A major part of the rationale for building cycle paths and providing bicycle lanes is to encourage people out of their cars and onto bicycles. In my experience, having driven around Canberra for over 50 years, 80 to 90 per cent of vehicles on our roads contain only one person.

Cycling is good for the environment, good for individual health, and good for the bank balance as you save on car use. It is also good for the government in savings on healthcare costs and, in the long term, on road and parking infrastructure costs.

Why, do you suppose, Mr Gilbert, is Amsterdam, for example, such a bicycle-friendly city?

Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin

Email: letters.editor@ Send from the message field, not as an attached file. Fax: 6280 2282.Mail: Letters to the Editor, The Canberra Times, PO Box 7155, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT 2610.

Keep your letter to 250 words or less. References to Canberra Times reports should include date and page number. Letters may be edited. Provide phone number and full home address (suburb only published).