Fraction too much faction is one of Labor's undoings

I thought Andrew Leigh's remarks on Labor factions (''Attempt to break factional chains goes online'', December 11, p4) were uncharacteristically pusillanimous: ''Every grouping in the party makes its own decisions about how to get engaged.''

The trouble is, people who join factions are also making a decision about how, and whether, other people can ''get engaged'' with any hope of achieving anything. Members of factions are pledged to vote for their faction's candidates in elections within the party even if they think someone else would be better, to vote against others' proposals even when they really agree with them, to gag discussions their faction does not want. Good people do join factions, as Leigh says, but it would be better if they did not.

Institutionalised factionalism is one reason why the Labor Party is at a low point. The beginning of reform would be to abolish ''show and tell'' and enforce genuine secrecy in ballots. The groups should allow their members to vote always in accordance with their own judgments. Procedural motions should not be misused to gag discussion. These reforms would transform the party into an organisation able to make full use of the ideas, talents and energy of all its members.

Name withheld, Macquarie

Abuse clause unfair

Hats off to David Ellery for his timely article regarding the huge number of non combat-related physical or mental injuries being suffered by our ADF personnel in Afghanistan (''Non-combat blows soaring for our diggers'', December 3, p1). However, Ellery did not report on the likelihood that many of these personnel will be unable to claim compensation for the effects of stress-related alcohol or drug abuse on their health.

When the Howard government introduced the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004, purportedly to give veterans a ''better'' deal (some would argue to reduce actual benefits), it managed to sneak in a ban on compensation for any drug- or alcohol-related illnesses or injuries that veterans might suffer. This was affected by the definition of ''serious default or wilful acts'' (which debar any entitlement to compensation) in section 32 of the act to include cases in which a veteran consumed alcohol or took a drug or in which the injury or disease resulted from being under the influence of the alcohol or drug.


This was a significant extension to the concept of ''serious default or wilful act'' in section 9 of the old Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, which was undefined and was regarded as having been aimed at preventing claims from persons who suffered injury in the course of committing serious crimes.

It is time to put things right.

Robin Harris, Goulburn, NSW

Not so unified

Surely the simple point of John Bell's long letter (December 9) about the Vietnam era is that Australia at that time was deeply divided. It is not surprising Bell and Jack Waterford remember it differently. (My own memories are different again but then my marble was drawn out of the barrel.) Yet there are always some among us who wish to distort our past. Despite the divisions at the time, the Vietnam era, like Anzac, has become grist to the mill of those who wish to overstate the place of and support for military exploits in Australia's history.

We are made to seem much more united and patriotic than we were in 1914-18 and in the Vietnam years. Stand by for five years of this, as we commemorate the centenary of World War I. The only people who benefit from these distortions are the politicians, who seek to make future down payments on the US alliance insurance policy by sending our young men and women on new military adventures, and the arms manufacturers.

David Stephens, Bruce

Going off the rails?

I read with interest Richard Denniss' article (''Rethinking nation's needs'', Forum, December 8, p7) listing a wide range of convoluted arguments, apparently in support of the Very Fast Train (VFT) proposal. I doubt that the Snowy Mountains scheme, the fact that other countries are building high-speed rail, subsidies to the coal miners and Gina Rinehart's wealth have much to do with the current VFT proposal.

Suffice to say, the proposal is to connect Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne through terrain that is unsuitable for very fast trains. The target of three hours for Sydney to Brisbane and Sydney to Melbourne (in order to compete with air) implies average speeds of 274km/h and 278km/h respectively. Most existing high-speed rail journeys have an average speed between 150km/h to 250km/h.

I know of none that exceed that Australian proposal. The Chinese 922-kilometre Wuhan-Guangzhou service used to average 313km/h, but this was reduced to an average speed of 273km/h due to safety concerns and the significantly higher costs for maintenance of the track and rolling stock.

Richard warns us ''to stop funding the big infrastructure projects we don't need''. Do we really need an ambitious and very expensive high-speed rail network?

Alan Nelson, Bonython

A sinking strategy

Like Karen Hardy ''Equip the children for life, make them swim'' (Forum, December 8, p4), I come to this debate late. I agree with her and it is an issue that is too important to sweep under the carpet. I taught swimming for nearly 20 years as a volunteer with my local swimming club, at a time when amateur swimming clubs charter included teaching anyone to swim for free, child or adult.

Unfortunately, that system seems to have fallen by the wayside, and I blame that largely on the Royal Life Saving Society pushing all teachers to have their AUSTSWIM certificate. While there should be merit in this, it made the teaching professional in the money sense at least.

They have had their hand out for more government funding, as well as donations from the public, ever since.

I do not think the AUSTSWIM model has been effective in drown-proofing our children.

I had a Facebook argument with an official who quoted statistics about reduced drownings since the introduction of AUSTSWIM. The statistics looked good but the fall coincided with legislation making pool fencing compulsory.

The strategy needs review. This will be hard because like many worthy institutions, the Royal Life Saving Society has an empire to protect.

In the meantime, all parents should take their kids to the pool and teach them to enjoy being in the water. I learnt to swim by watching other kids.

David Groube, Guerilla Bay, NSW

Untenable impost

Sinhalese and Tamils have been fighting, on and off, for centuries. Bruce Haigh has fingered a critical change. He wrote that Tamil separatists were crushed with a Chinese bankroll, that the Chinese are ''turning Sri Lanka into a vassal state'' and that they demand ''internal stability as their price.'' (''People not the only casualty of a policy that aids genocide'', December 7, p19). Mr Haigh implies that law requires us to accept all the victims of China's ''internal stability'' who reach our waters.

The rate of arrivals from all such regimes is rapidly increasing. If this legal obligation exists it is an untenable legal impost. It is not just Good Samaritan legislation. It effectively proscribes private ownership, whether by a person, a corporation, a church or a nation.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Riding a fine line

Regarding Vivian Straw's comments on converting Canberra's bicycle lanes into ''byways for Segways, foldaway electric bicycles and electric scooters'' (''Planning chief: cycling plan blind to wheelie good ideas'', December 11, p3) I'm not sure where in the ACT Mr Straw begins his 20km commute to work, but in any case I'd sure like to see him do it on his Segway. If Mr Straw hopes Segways, Roboscooters and electric tricycle users will overtake numbers on conventional bikes, not only has he overlooked the fact that heath and exercise are a far greater national problem than traffic congestion, he has grossly underestimated Canberra commuters' sense of dignity.

Ben Henderson, Monash

War ignorance

Much nonsense has been written about the Vietnam War, but for sheer imbecility, I have seen little to approach the offering from John Bell (Letters, December 9). He has come up with the notion that it was a war between ''different tribes'' of northern and southern Vietnam, each bent on wiping out the other, and that Vietnamese refugees now living in Australia will attest to ''that fact''.

They most certainly will not, whatever else they might say. How does one even begin to confront such staggering ignorance? How does Bell account for the indigenous southern National Liberation Front (''Vietcong'' to their foreign enemies) or for the fact that the entire leadership of the rebel rump state called the Republic of Vietnam (''South Vietnam'') consisted of Northern Catholics?

Bell missed out on being conscripted, but it seems he was a supporter of the war in Vietnam. I wonder, did it ever occur to him that he might enlist as a volunteer ? I didn't think so.

Bernard Davis, O'Connor

More native fish

If eradicating carp is unachievable (''Futility of carp control policy'', December 10, p1), the Green's money would be better spent on enhancing native fish habitat and stocking more native Murray cod and golden perch in our lakes. Their $165,000 a year would be enough, over time, to create world-class recreational fisheries in our own backyard, with all the economic benefits that would bring to the ACT.

For example, the trout fishery in the Snowy Mountains is worth around $20 million a year. The potential return on investment is enormous. Add in the saved carbon emissions from not having to drive to the Snowies or the coast to go fishing and Canberra would be the winner, along with the environment.

Shane Jasprizza, president, Capital Region Fishing Alliance

More engineers are badly needed to correct the imbalance

The proposal by the ACT government to introduce a compulsory registration scheme for engineers (''ACT to move on shoddy engineers'', December 10, p1) is a good start. However, I warn the government that it is treating symptoms and not the disease. The problem is cultural and pervades all industries, not just the construction industry.

The problem is the progressive decline in influence, over a quarter of a century or more, of engineers in both the public sector and industry. They have been replaced by lawyers and ''generalist'' managers, and the necessary balance has been lost. Science is not engineering. Engineering is the application of science to everyday problems, and its implementation is very different. Scientists think they understand engineering, but they don't. Neither do lawyers and generalists.

The nation has a chief scientist, but no chief engineer. The Defence Department has a chief scientist and no chief engineer. How many engineers are there in the cabinet?

The only successful companies in technical services delivery in this country are those in which engineering influence still exists at the highest level.

The sorts of problems surfacing in the construction industry are the same as those which are sleepers in the road transport, aviation and maritime services industries. A bridge is most vulnerable to incompetent or marginalised engineering during construction, whereas ships, trucks and aircraft become vulnerable in service. There are more disasters in the pipeline. We have seen engineering disasters in the navy. Qantas seems destined to be next.

As an immediate example of the problem, and in deciding to register engineers, the ACT government will have to decide who will register engineers, and how they do it, and what influence they will have in decision-taking at the highest level. After the past quarter of a century, the top of the engineering pyramid has become too narrow. It will take time to replace it, even if there were to be national recognition of this problem.

We can all see that, unless we decline to become a Third World country, we will never compete with cheap oversees labour. We seem to dimly realise that our future lies in high-technology products. This future relies on both scientists and engineers. One half of the duumvirate is missing, but the lawyers and generalists who govern our lives don't seem to understand this.

Peter Rusbridge, Kambah

Regarding your article ''ACT to require engineer registry'' (December 10, p1), and slightly left field, how about a registry for traffic consultants/companies for the ACT. The current consultants always seem to be able to say that new developments with additional street parking have no impact on traffic and pedestrian movements in the inner suburbs when quite clearly they do.

Geoff Davidson, Braddon

Building the future

Two articles in the December 8 edition of The Canberra Times relate to Canberra's high and medium density residential market. The first, by David Ellery (''Builders pay high price to fix faults'', p8), highlights the high costs borne by builders and ''off the plan'' buyers. The other, by Noel Towell ('''Appalling' safety culture at Nishi worksite'', p10), covers building safety problems. Often these two problems are seen together and they relate to a dysfunctional business and investment model.

Developers and their builders who skimp on their processes, resources and effort often pay a high price to rectify the building defects they create or the safety issues they need to address. Buyers' willingness to buy off the plan continues to support the developers' profits. These buyers need to examine more closely the pretty pictures provided by the developers' concept architect and the marketing provided by the real estate agents.

The reputations of builders and developers to provide properties that still look good after three years needs to be considered. Housing affordability can be degraded significantly when owners need to contribute significant extra body corporate levies to address building defects, either to cover litigation and negotiation with the builders and developers to have them fix the problems or by needing to fix them out of their own pockets.

Gary Petherbridge, Barton

To the point


The death of the nurse who was unwittingly implicated in the ridicule of the royal family was tragic and lamentable. The ridicule itself was not.

Objections to this incident, taken to their logical conclusion, would spell the end of satire. Be careful what you wish for.

Peter Grabosky, Forrest


I am no lawyer but I thought that the basic elements of the criminal offence of fraud were using deceit (for instance, pretending to be the Queen) to obtain a pecuniary advantage (for instance, boosting the ratings of a radio show.)

Paul Pentony, Hackett


After a night at the theatre, we tried without success to find a cafe in Canberra City serving coffee after 10.30pm! Gus would be turning in his grave!

Edward Corbitt, Farrer


The near drowning of a 13-year-old school girl form a migrant family (''Heroes, miracles and survival'', December 9, p3) should be a strong warning to all new Australians. Swimming and water sports are part of the Australian culture - get with it, and get your children into swimming lessons.

C. Thomas, Deakin


Once, if a vehicle wobbled from side to side, it suggested a steering problem. These days it's more likely the driver is using a mobile. Hit these potential killers with a three-month licence suspension.

Gordon Nevin, O'Connor


Thanks for the great photos of our planet at night (''Twinkle, twinkle little Black Marble, December 8, p16). NASA calls these latest images ''unprecedented''. I'd agree, based on the fact that they seem to show vast areas of light in the Western Australian outback. Hitherto unknown cities? Huge congregations of Min-Min lights? Reflected light from Lasseter's Lost Reef? Explanation, anyone?

Dominic Stinziani, Higgins


If women and others understood the origin and circumstances of Julia Gillard's speech (''PM taken aback by impact of her misogyny speech'', December 11, p4), they would think twice about lauding her for it. She was attacking Mr Abbott for so-called misogyny while defending the Speaker of the House for his disgraceful misogynistic acts, for which he soon after was forced to resign - a blatant act of hypocrisy on her part.

M. Silex, Greenway


Ah, koels; the sound of summer.

Margaret Townley, Melba

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