A historic event took place in our Australian Parliament House on Wednesday. Historic for two reasons. One, it was a first national summit on drugs, and, two, for the first time it called for reform of our drug laws – not for a "get tougher on drugs" approach but rather for a more evidence-based approach based on health and social concerns.
Decriminalisation (which is not legalisation!) and more equitable distribution of government funds was high in the discussion. For families this brings hope. Under decriminalisation, families would no longer need to fear that their children would receive a criminal record for drug use. Decriminalisation would help reduce the stigma and isolation felt by so many families. And more funds in treatment would mean those in trouble receive the support they need.
As reported by Professor Caitlin Hughes at the summit, her research shows that present funding does not equate with what works.
Treatment, with the most positive impact, she allots 5 stars, then 3 stars to harm reduction, 2 stars to prevention and 1 star to supply reduction and law enforcement. And yet law enforcement gets the lion's share of the funding. This is not a problem for law enforcement but a problem that needs addressing by our policy makers.
Prohibition is now seen universally as causing more harm than it has ever solved. The elephant in the room can no longer be ignored. Let's give support to the politicians who organised this momentous event and to those politicians who attended. The website is drugpolicyreform.com.au.
M. McConnell, Giralang
I am firmly behind Dr David Caldicott and his team in their proposal for drug testing at gatherings of people inclined to take illicit drugs, thus risking their lives ("ACT doctor doesn't fear arrest over pill tests", March 3, p1). We want everyone alive, and drug testing is a small, smart price.
Wake up politicians – criminalisation of health and personal choice is achieving nothing. I have offered my unskilled help to Dr Caldicott to support any testing laboratory. I will not like the music but I will like helping save lives.
Warwick Davis, Isaacs
Methinks John Mason (Letters, March 3) doth protest too much about my letter attacking Mick Gentleman's tram spruiking junket. From my statement ("Tucson, Arizona's density is over two and half times that of Canberra") Mason infers the following vision as mine: "car-hating, environmentally conscious citizens of Tucson emerging from their cramped, densely packed dwellings to flock to light rail."
The tragic irony is that Mason's dystopian fantasy bears a frightening resemblance to the government's vision for the Civic/Gunghalin corridor.
Peter Robinson, Ainslie
Rail cost blow-out
Why does every Canberra light rail supporter look to the Gold Coast project for comparison? The project had significant cost blow-outs. Originally advertised with a $949 million dollar price tag, the 2012 Queensland budget papers show the project's final cost was $1.3 billion.
The federal government (via Infrastructure Australia) provided the Queensland government $365 million. Infrastructure Australia has continually criticised the Gungahlin to the City light rail project. The ACT government asked for a paltry $15million dollars and the request was rejected.
The Gold Coast project had a cost-benefit ratio of $2.30 for every dollar invested. The Gungahlin to the City Light Rail project has a cost-benefit ratio of $1.20 for every dollar invested.
The ACT government believes light rail from Gungahlin to the City will (possibly) transport 4500 commuters during peak periods. The Gold Coast project transports an average of 18,000 commuters daily.
The Gungahlin to the City light rail project will only be used southbound in the morning and northbound in the evening. In comparison, the Gold Coast light rail project links a hospital, a university, various workplaces and runs along a dense corridor that caters for tourists.
Joel McKay, Conder
Most encouraging to see the editorial "Is Barr railroading Canberrans?" (Forum, February 27, p6) in which The Canberra Times has, for the first time, come out and seriously questioned the strategy and motives behind the Barr government's plan for light rail. The leader-writer has hit the nail on the head by saying that the government's intentions "look increasingly like a plan whose overriding aim is to maximise returns from land sales and development deals".
Could this explain the government's stubborn persistence with the tram plan in the face of expert technical and economic advise that it is inappropriate, uneconomic and based on outdated technology?
Sandy Paine, Griffith
Dying with dignity
Contrary to Susan McDougall's view (Letters, March 3), it is precisely because politicians like Jeremy Hanson empathise with aged people that they oppose euthanasia, which is the logical end-point of a system that denies human rights to elderly and disabled people.
It would subject people further to doctors' power over life, health and death. I would introduce the need to prove one's eligibility for doctor-induced-death, forcing people to jump through bureaucratic hoops.
There is no dignity in this. If our elders and those of us with disabilities were able to attain real dignity in living, including quality palliative care at the end of life, there may well be fewer calls for euthanasia laws.
Daniel Pask, Ainslie
Right now, I am feeling sick and under stress. The stress is because it's time for my Health Fund Bupa to advise me of my new premium. Can I still afford the cover?
I get sick because every February I witness the same old pantomime from successive health ministers. Regardless of who it is, or what party they're from, the minister pretends to be outraged at the applications for approval of premium increases from the funds which have appeared on the minister's desk. Accusations of gouging are thrown around via the media, with threats that approval for the increases, which are always twice inflation, will be withheld.
It's all a farce. After three weeks the increases are waived through, and no minister to my knowledge has ever refused approval, particularly if they are part of a Liberal government.
W.A. Brown, Holt
Significant site needs serious attention
Tell me, please, that David Ellery is being merely tongue-in-cheek with his Gang-gang column about Mount Ainslie ("Our hilltop doesn't need a lift", Gang-gang, March 2, p10). I suspect not, which makes his assertions (that Mount Ainslie doesn't need a "lift", "that it 'aint broke, so don't fix it", and that it is in reasonable order) at best misguided, at worst a bizarre distortion of what all Mount Ainslie visitors actually see every time they visit.
Ellery is right about one thing: Mount Ainslie is "not over-egged". I'll say, it's grossly under-egged to the point of being an embarrassment.
Here is arguably the most symbolically and historically significant, gorgeous view in Canberra, the Marion Mahony View no less, and it desperately needs a bit of attention, some TLC. The native plantings that went in sometime in the early 1980s are tired; the infrastructure is chipped, or broken, or just plain sad; and the precinct needs a loo.
So I welcome this initiative of the NCA and ACT government. Some design sophistication that might cost the taxpayer a few bob will always be money well spent in a city that is still conspicuously short of artistic imagination.
Oh, and I reckon Walter and Marion would both be in favour of a serious freshen-up.
David Headon, Melba
Driverless cars here
Apparently we can look forward to seeing driverless cars on the road in future. Well, here in Canberra they are already commonplace.
I see them every day. You know, where someone in the driver's seat is happily texting or making a phone call, or doing hair and make-up, or knitting or reading a book.
I only hope the new technology includes improved features – such as the capacity to indicate, keep up with the traffic and stay in one lane.
Keith Young, Bungendore, NSW
Government's hard line on wages is putting our businesses in peril
The negative stance taken by the departmental secretary in discussing the rejection of a wage deal by Defence staff ("Close call but Defence staff reject wage deal", March 3, p3) and a similar approach taken by Employment Minister Michaelia Cash regarding planned PS strike action ("Planned PS strike action condemned", March 3, p5), makes me wonder why Canberra and national business and their professional associations, think tanks and unions aren't hammering on the government's door to reach a just solution to these problems.
It's all right to take a party political stance in good times about how the unions are destroying the country with excessive wages claims, which they are not. However, what is happening with the government's parsimonious approach to wage justice is not only inconveniencing workers, it is jeopardising the viability of many businesses across the country. Any business person who survived the financial and fiscal ignorance of recent coalition governments should realise that taking a partisan approach to the current problem is like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer – it is only good when you stop.
Les Brennan, Sunshine Bay, NSW
Where are the polls?
John Warhurst's opinion piece "Jury is still out on Turnbull" (Times2, March 3, p4) makes reference to the gloss wearing off the Turnbull leadership, whereas to an innocent bystander it appears that the Liberal Party is conducting a program bordering on internecine warfare. Warhurst's article also makes reference to a change in the polls indicating the decline in the fortunes of the Turnbull leadership and thus the Coalition's standing in the electorate.
However, the same innocent bystander with sufficient memory to remember the declines of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments will recall a plethora of opinion polls announcing and thus reinforcing the respective declines. "If an election were held today ... blah, blah, blah."
Even notice of an impending poll was served up to accentuate the decline, yet in the current maelstrom, the same polls and pollsters seem remarkably quiet. Perhaps the poll results have been buried somewhere on page 22 in one paragraph?
Or have the news corporations of the world decided to, in the immortal words of John Cleese, "give it a miss"? One thinks the ABC should be given the task of conducting an opinion poll, say once a month, similar to its presentation of Fact Check.
Steve O'Neill, Watson
As clear as mud
Bryce French (Letters, March 3) takes issue with Richard Denniss' claim that "almost no one understands how preferences work", but goes on to show that Denniss' claim is very accurate. Talk about self-defeating!
As Bryce explains, senate preferences involve distributing both the surplus votes of successful candidates, and all the votes of eliminated candidates. The more Bryce explains the complications of this process, the clearer it becomes that almost no one understands it.
To suggest that people must understand it because the AEC website has a "simple explanation" is a ludicrous claim.
Wikipedia has a "simple explanation" of integral calculus, but I would be reluctant to conclude that everyone understands that.
John Hutchison , Gunning, NSW
Gay data twisted
The hypocrisy of the sponsors of the "You Have a Choice" pamphlet ("Gay marriage could lead to drug use and disease, pamphlets say", March 1, p4) is breathtaking. They unfavourably compare various aspects of the behaviour and upbringing of children in homes with traditional marriages to those in gay/lesbian homes. Surely a more honest yardstick would have been to compare like with like – children in de facto/female/male marriage households with those in gay/lesbian households.
One group chooses not to marry; the other group is denied the opportunity to marry, whether they want to or not, by the very authors of this bigoted twisting of irrelevant data drawn from a US website.
Peter Burns, Murrumbateman, NSW
Pell falls short
I notice that His Eminence Cardinal George Pell AC wore his Companion of the Order of Australia lapel pin with honour while giving evidence to the Royal Commission in Rome.
Cardinal Pell's citation for his AC advises on the It's An Honour website that it was awarded "For service to the Catholic Church in Australia and internationally, to raising debate on matters of an ethical and spiritual nature, to education, and to social justice". His evidence in Rome confirms he exceeds all expectations for service to the Catholic Church in Australia, but lamentably falls well short when it comes to service for social justice.
John Gillies, Lyneham
Migration must slow
David Roth (Letters, February 25 and March 3) suggests that Geoff Davies ("People cost a lot of money", Times2, February 22, p4) and I neglected the benefits derived from additional infrastructure, when calculating that each 1 per cent of population increase "uses up" about 7 per cent of GDP. But simply maintaining the current provision per person does not improve average welfare, it merely prevents welfare from deteriorating. Without population growth, the same new hospitals that currently fail to keep pace would materially benefit the existing population.
We've never spent more on infrastructure, yet we've never had such shortfalls.
Migration adds a lot of cultural richness to society, and opens opportunities for individuals. But in both economic and environmental terms, population growth costs a lot.
It's great for property speculators and big employers, but only at everyone else's expense. If we end population growth, we could still have quite a bit of migration, especially if we have smaller families. We just need to retreat from the recent excesses: we can afford to welcome tens of thousands, but not the current hundreds of thousands per year.
Jane O'Sullivan, Chelmer, Qld
Would it be a trick?
I continue to be surprised that the American Bridge Association has not set up a "No Trump Campaign" in the US presidential election.
Geof Murray, Ngunnawal
TO THE POINT
Did the impeccably modest Malcolm Mackerras ("Senate voting changes contemptuous of constitution"; Times2, March 1, p5) need quite so many column centimetres and vertical pronouns to question whether indirect voting above the line meets
the constitutional requirement for senators to be "directly chosen" by electors?
Mike Hutchinson, Reid
KEEP THE VISION
Malcolm Turnbull needs to keep his vision for our country that he so clearly outlined to all Australia, and not be sidelined by those who have had their turn and have been rejected in the House and, I believe, by the electorate.
Johanna Owens, Kingston
Ask not how many people negatively gear properties. Ask how many do not negatively gear. That will tell who would benefit by increasing the tax on or completely abolishing negative gearing tax breaks. So what if the value of our homes decreases? Surely that will allow more people to afford to purchase their own homes. The politicians would be among the biggest losers. Let's discourage them from feathering their own nests.
Hugh McGowan, Holt
REGRETS BUT NO 'SORRY'
Sadly, George just couldn't bring himself to say the word. Four days of questions and answers and never one "sorry". Many a regret but never a sorry. What a pathetic performance. How can Catholics ever seriously take notice of any future sermons from him on true contrition and deep sorrow for offences committed. The old "Green Catechism" has innumerable references to sorrow but none to regrets.
John Mungoven, Stirling
David Long (Letters, March 2) notes that the average speed camera on Hindmarsh Drive is purely a revenue raiser. The cameras on Athlon Drive were presumably installed at a similar (significant) cost but would appear to have little, if any, chance of raising anything. These cameras are just over three kilometres apart, but have two roundabouts and six entry/exit roads in between.
T. Shiel, Monash
HARD TO PREDICT
On Thursday morning, there was prediction of a slight chance of afternoon showers and a possible storm.
I don't think the storms missed any suburb in the ACT. If weather can't be predicted within hours, what hope is there of long-term forward predictions. ?
Someone has to lift their game!
Louis Pretorius, Fisher
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