Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr deserves to be roundly slapped for his lack of concern for hundreds of Hewatt Earthworks staff. According to the article ''Majura Parkway grinds to a halt'' (May 8, p1), Minister Barr assures us, the public, that this $288 million project is still on track, that the Hewatt work is 95 per cent complete and that the contractor has provided assurances this hiccup will not cause undue delay. Minister Barr, a Canberra company employing hundreds of Canberrans looks to be going into receivership and you are concerned about a road. Sort out your priorities and display a bit of empathy for your fellow Canberrans.

Joe Murphy, Bonython

Fair on witnesses

Justice can be a long time coming, but in the saga of the Eastman conviction for the murder of the hapless Colin Winchester, it is better late than never.

The seven witnesses given written notices that the inquiry commissioner intends to be critical of what they did or did not do during the investigative and trial proceedings are very fortunate (''Witnesses can expect criticism'', May 7, p1). They have a chance to persuade the commissioner that his preliminary views are wrong. And even if they don't change his mind their counter position will be included in the inquiry report. That is about as fair as can be.

Such fairness should not be taken for granted. In NSW another inquiry into a murder conviction pilloried two witnesses and even a non-witness (all of whom live in Canberra) in an orchestrated ambush in mid-2009. They were given no notice of proposed criticism: their first knowledge that their reputations had been slashed and burned was from that part of the media that likes to hunt the wounded.

We are fortunate that our ACT laws empower witnesses at inquiries to be given the chance to put their viewpoint on the record. Some would argue that the law passed by our Legislative Assembly wasn't necessary, that inquiry commissioners would follow the principles that were laid out in a High Court decision. Not so, as a NSW judge and his counsel assisting (appointed to be a judge in the same 2009 week as their protected libels were published) so sadly proved.

Hugh Selby, Lyneham

Negative energy

In his article ''Energy poverty demands we call on all our resources'' (Times 2, May 5, p5), Vic Svec of coal giant Peabody Energy paints a picture of the subsistence farmers of the developing world having to burn biomass, and how they would benefit from plentiful energy from coal. But later in his article he deplores how expensive coal-fired power has lately become in Australia. The obvious question is: if centralised, large-scale coal-fired power is so expensive to Australians, how on earth are farmers in poor countries, with incomes a hundred times smaller, ever going to afford it?

Clearly this contradiction completely escapes Mr Svec.

The answer for the poor farmers is more likely to be local energy systems, distributed power - using, among other things, solar, wind and mini-hydro - and new, energy-efficient technology. And even in Australia, Mr Svec's preferred model of energy production is shrinking.

Paul Pollard, O'Connor

The overriding purpose of coal companies is to provide short-term dividends for their shareholders. This explains why Vic Svec dismisses the concerns of the world's scientific community while spruiking coal as the means to providing electrical energy for the world's poor.

Lobbyists for coal companies wield undue influence. But more people are realising that the barrows they push lead to a dead end. Four-fifths of the world's fossil fuel reserves are destined to stay in the ground.

David Teather, Reid

Might Peabody Energy's appeal to Nelson Mandela's ethics be generated by a growing fear that this mighty polluter will be left bankrupt and stranded because wise investors are already shunning it and its unusable coal assets (http://www.carbontracker.org/wastedcapital)?

Nick Abel, Spence

Carr in war of words

In his review of Bob Carr's Diary of a Foreign Minister (''Jet lag, jokes and ab ambition'', Panorama, May 3, pp22-23) Philip Flood tells us that at a dinner Carr was asked by an eminent historian and authority on World War I what had caused ''the breakdown of 1914''. It would seem Carr replied that it was the Kaiser's hatred of his mother plus his withered arm.

One can only surmise that our then foreign minister spoke tongue-in-cheek. Victoria, Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, who had become Empress of Germany through her marriage to Emperor Frederick III, had been dead since 1901.

Thirteen years is rather a long time to hold a grudge against one's mother. While it is true that Kaiser Wilhelm II's bellicose attitudes did not help the situation in 1914, there were several much more complex reasons for the outbreak of World War I. It was very unfortunate that Emperor Frederick III reigned for only 99 days due to his cancer. Unlike his son, Wilhelm II, Frederick III was very pro-British. He is likely to have opposed a war with Britain and he also wanted to strengthen democratic institutions in Germany.

C.H. Ducker, Bruce

Ill wind farms

Normally I am not a supporter of Liberal Party policies, but Joe Hockey's comments about wind farms being a ''blight on the landscape'' are apt (''Treasurer challenged to a showdown, no bull'', May 7, p1).

Ironically, there is support for Hockey's position from some environmental groups, and angst about the number of wind farms overseas is becoming apparent.

In England, Prime Minister David Cameron has been under pressure from a hundred backbench MPs who wrote to him demanding action against wind farms spoiling rural landscapes. Other concerns relate to the high subsidies paid to the wind farm industry, which are then reflected in people's electricity bills.

In Vermont in the US, environmental groups wanting to protect pristine ridge lines from pylons and concrete battle it out with environmental interests that are zealous about renewable energy.

In the ACT region, Aboriginal elder Shane Mortimer says that reinstating indigenous perennial grasses is a far better way of reducing atmospheric carbon. In contrast, wind turbines draw on rare earth minerals from China, with significant negative consequences for the Chinese and their environment.

The renewable energy v coal dichotomy that is constantly parroted is way too simplistic.

Murray May, Cook

Federal politicians protest hypocritically about retirement packages

I am always amused at the way politicians shift and manoeuvre to accommodate the situation of being in government or in opposition. I am especially intrigued by the grab bag of one-line policy statements that are seldom applied when the rubber hits the road and ideas are put to the test.

Take for instance two recent hints at what might be in the upcoming federal budget. The government's proposed temporary tax levy on high income earners to ensure that ''the heavy lifting'' is fairly shared. Who objects loudly? Peter Costello and John Hewson, both of whom will clearly be saddled with that levy.

I have to say that I am a little unconvinced by the arguments that bringing more tax dollars into the system to help with the apparent budget nightmare is economically threatening. Do we have a crisis or not?

The second item is the hint that perhaps politicians' retirement entitlements might be wound back. Note the shrill and panic-stricken reaction of Amanda Vanstone who asserts that when one retires, having worked hard and one has a retirement package, it must be honoured - threats of the High Court were even mentioned! No concern apparently on her behalf that the retirement packages of all people on the pension are to be wound back or that future recipients will have to work another five years before they even qualify.

It seems to me that the government's current mantra that ''the age of entitlement is over'' applies only to those who are not the rich, mining companies, banks, international tax avoiders or retired politicians, and those contemplating that retirement in the next few years.

Wayne Stuart, Yass, NSW

The Pocket Oxford Dictionary definition of a levy and a tax. Levy: Collecting of tax or compulsory payment. Raise or impose compulsorily … tax. Tax: Legally levied contribution to state revenue … whose burden actually falls on those they are levied from, as income …

Aren't a levy and a tax the same thing or am I missing something with Prime Minster Abbott's claim that a levy is not a tax?

Jack Wiles, Gilmore

Budgeting for three years

A three-year election strategy for a first-term government might run like this. Year 1: Bring down an extremely harsh budget as evidence that the other lot left an unmitigated catastrophe. Proof also that only they can see the full extent of said catastrophe even where world economic peak groups fail to see.

Year 2: Bring down a marginally less harsh budget as evidence that Year 1's assessment was indeed correct, the other lot's disaster still exists though Year 1's measures are beginning to work.

Year 3: Bring down a remarkably generous budget as evidence that the strict disciplines of the first 2 years have been immeasurably successful. Oh, and sit back waiting to be re-elected.

David Grant, Murrumbateman, NSW

The emergency is a myth

A response to the ''budget emergency'' that leaves in place $35 billion in superannuation tax concessions that benefit the wealthiest the most, allows a further $14 billion to be lost from the tax base without producing any extra housing, continues to hand out billions each year in fossil fuel subsidies, does nothing about the cost of childcare, attacks the young and the poor, and worst of all does not even contemplate some kind of death duty to collect part of the massive wealth transfer from the baby boomers that is due to commence shortly is manifestly inadequate, and leaves me wondering just how ''grown up'' this government is.

Allison Barnes, O'Connor

Politician corruption

Congratulations to the ACTU's Dave Oliver for seeking the terms of reference of the royal commission into trade union corruption to be broadened to include political parties.

Federal provisions under the Electoral Act providing for the accountability of party members are scant when compared with Fair Work provisions that deal with federal union registration and accountability. It has been these provisions, partly modelled on corporations law provisions, which HSU members relied on to have investigations conducted into the management of finances by their federal officials.

For the (senior) members of the federal Liberal Party who complained to party president Alan Stockdale about the state of party finances in 2011 and inadequate information, no comparable statutory provisions were available to members to commence a process of investigation and prosecution. Michael Yabsley, former Liberal Party treasurer and fund-raiser, complained that the Liberal Party was ''a secretive organisation, devoid of any organisational rigour or sense of governance''. And he suggested that if ASIC had the opportunity to scrutinise Liberal Party accounts, there could be ''serious questions''.

Nor are there statutory provisions requiring political parties to be democratic along the lines of Clyde Cameron's 1975 trade union reforms.

It is time for political parties to adopt the same statutory standards of financial and governance administration that are applicable to trade unions and broadening the terms of reference of the trade union royal commission would be a useful starting point. As it is, for Liberal Party officials to accuse trade unions of corruption is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.

Steve O'Neill, Watson

Australia Post regulation

Before they get too carried away with either reducing current delivery schedules or imposing a ''user pays'' regime, perhaps the board and CEO of Australia Post should acquaint themselves with Part 3, Obligations, Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989, and Part 2, Regulation 5, Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Regulations 1998.

Paul E. Bowler, Holder

Case for smallpox storage is nonsense

Nicky Phillips (''Scientists say smallpox virus shouldn't be destroyed'', canberratimes.

com.au, May 1) reports three ''world-leading virologists'' oppose the destruction of the last stocks of smallpox virus (PLoS Pathogens, May 1, 2014).

This opinion piece would have caught the eye of the late Frank Fenner, who led the WHO campaign to eradicate the virus, and who consistently opposed its storage. The late Bede Morris opposed the importation of the foot and mouth virus to Geelong's Australian Animal Health Laboratory on the same grounds: ''If you don't have it, then it cannot get out.''

Both recognised the poor record of ''high-security'' laboratories in containing viruses. The reasons given by the virus promoters in both campaigns are/were nonsense. The only experiments that would require the live virus are those also involving live hosts, for example tests of whether or not a particular treatment makes people more or less susceptible to the virus.

This involves the use of live human beings, or populations of them! ALL other experiments can be done equally well or better using surrogates.

It should be realised also that if smallpox did re-emerge from an unknown host reservoir, or a smallpox-like virus re-evolved from populations of its closest relatives, it would probably be different from the isolates of smallpox virus stored, as these were collected during past pandemics, and viruses evolve. Therefore, live experiments with current stocks are probably irrelevant.

Adrian Gibbs, virologist,


To the point: Canberra letters in brief May 9, 2014.


Before I rush out and pay my $4000 donation to attend Mr Hockey's budget-day event (''Hockey's budget day do for donors'', May 7, p4), can someone advise whether or not this donation is tax deductable?

C.J. Johnston, Duffy


May we remind aspirants that the road to leadership is littered with the political corpses of those whose misguided arrogance and hypocrisy stretched beyond the expectations and long memories of the people who put them in power in the first place. Think of our federal and state leaders over the past four decades or so.

Greg Simmons, Lyons


Why is it that barely a day passes without US Secretary of State John Kerry or President Barack Obama handing out advice to some nation or other? Is there something in the water in Washington?

Barrie Smillie, Duffy


Has anyone thought to ask George what he thinks about the wind-farm turbines he is forced to live amongst (''Treasurer challenged to a showdown, no bull'', May 7, p1)? He looks decidedly cross to me . Perhaps he agrees with Joe Hockey.

Zillah Williams, Latham

Go George the bull!

Jenny Goldie, Michelago, NSW


I agree 100 per cent with Douglas Mackenzie (Letters, May 7) when he says, ''In the end, war is simply good for business.''

I would add, though, that the business is American, and not much help to Australia. But that seems to be the case in many industries!

Geoff Barker, Flynn


Re Ted Riesz's views (Letters, May 7) on possums; perhaps the corollary should apply - that is, there are few places that man has not occupied (think lights at night as we fly across the planet). If we can't share the planet with its wildlife, perhaps we should be removing the human pests.

Elaine Staples, Yass, NSW


Dave White (Letters, May 7) suggests that the poor crowd at the GWS v Port Adelaide AFL game last Saturday was because of bad weather and lack of cover. I suggest that nobody is interested in matches ( including cricket matches) that have no relevance to Canberra, and for which the ratepayers of Canberra pay millions of dollars a year - thanks to Andrew Barr.

Steven Hurren, Macquarie