Get to grips on trips

I find it unbelievable that when approached by The Canberra Times for her opinion regarding MLAs travelling overseas on the public purse - in defiance of advice from the Clerk of the Assembly - Chief Minister Katy Gallagher declined to comment (''MLAs silent on adviser's study travel perk'', May 20, p6).

I'm sure the citizens of Canberra have an opinion regarding MLAs trotting off around the world on trips, on the public purse, accompanied by a member of their staff, and I think we are entitled to know what the Chief Minister thinks about it.

Gordon Maher, Gilmore

Kangaroo courtship

Paul Ratcliffe (Letters, May 20) misrepresents the kangaroos situation in Canberra almost as well as if he were a spokesperson for TAMS. The role of kangaroos in the Australian ecosystem is to maintain the diversity of grasslands and woodland understorey in a way that benefits all the other species with which they share the land. TAMS has admitted its assertion that culling kangaroos will protect threatened species is PR with no evidence to support it. TAMS has also admitted its kangaroo counts on the reserves last year were impossible due to reproduction alone, and that some of those counted must have been kangaroos from elsewhere.

That blows Mr Ratcliffe's theory about roads preventing the free movement of kangaroos. It is true kangaroo populations have risen since the end of the drought, but not nearly enough to replace those slaughtered in five years of culling. It is also true their population will reduce dramatically when the drought returns, but mainly because they will reduce breeding. This is the cycle kangaroos were maintaining for about 5 million years before TAMS took to trying to manage them.


If kangaroos or other animals in the reserves are at risk of more suffering if not shot, why is it the animal protection and welfare organisations are so determined to stop this cull?

Frances Kennedy, Red Hill

Twitter's dubious role

It is laudable that the CSIRO and the Black Dog Institute are trying to figure out the best way to use social media data to help people in crisis (''Mapping the world's emotions with Twitter'',, May 19).

Twitter apparently counts nearly 3 per cent of the entire global population among its active users. However, even if social researchers had access to the whole Twitterverse it wouldn't actually tell them very much. According to research, published in May last year, ''Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter'' ( just a tiny number of core users drive the majority of the traffic; 85 per cent of all tweets come from just 15 per cent of users, while the top 5 per cent of users account for 48 per cent. The same research also indicates that, due to privacy concerns, just over 2 per cent of all tweets include geographic metadata. Of these, 66 per cent comes from just 1 per cent of all users. Therefore trying to use this data to detect poor mental health and shifts according to location will prove problematic.

Which makes you wonder why Twitter is one of the most popular data sources for studying social communication - apparently more than 3.2 million papers mention the service!

Michael Crowe, Hawker

Behold the light (rail)

Rather than divide politics and the public alike (''Opposition grows to rail-associated 'tax''', May 21, p2), we should embrace Capital Metro as the beginning of a transformational project for Canberra.

The wide median strips down Northbourne, Adelaide and Wentworth avenues are reminders that part of Walter Burley Griffin's vision is missing. Rail was always part of the plan. I realise people are cautious about change and the price tag but this is about a long-term investment for the future of this city.

Naysayers will forever find negatives to throw around but you don't need to look far to find success stories. After ripping up tracks decades ago, cities across the globe are reinvesting in light rail. Sydney is just one example of this, while other areas such as Newcastle and Hobart work hard to make light rail a reality.

Light rail is proven to regenerate cities and regions. It complements buses, cyclists and active lifestyles, takes pressure off congested roads and provides a more environmentally friendly and safer way to travel. The argument should not be bus versus light rail but how the two can complement each other to provide a better transport system for Canberra, a city growing in population and urban sprawl.

Rather than scream blue murder at the whisper of different funding options, let's wait and see what the actual funding proposal is. Evidence shows that proximity to public transport increases property and land prices. A contained value capture that recoups part of the uplift light rail would provide for nearby properties won't see those property owners out of pocket. The £3.5 billion UK-government-funded Jubilee Line Extension is an example where value capture could have contributed to or paid for the project with property owners still ahead. Ten years after the extension opening, properties within a 1000-yard radius increased in value by about £13 billion collectively. Capturing less than a third of this could have funded the expansion in full. After relying on roads for 100 years, Canberra is ready for light rail.

Bryan Nye, chief executive officer, Australasian Railway Association

Once upon a time

Elizabeth Wise Dixon (Letters, May 21) points out that it's ''quite popular these days to denigrate or dismiss Christian symbols and festivals as the natterings of god-bothering nutjobs. And yet we carefully remember to show respect to other religions.'' She has a point. A fairytale is a fairytale and belief in any of them is equally deserving of disdain.

It's understandable that the historically dominant mythology should attract the lion's share of criticism. It's also understandable that people would be reticent to criticise any religion whose adherents undertake, and regularly demonstrate willingness, to slaughter anyone who criticises it (something most Christians, to their credit, do far less often now than they used to). Although that, of course, is abject terror, not respect.

But Elizabeth is right: fair's fair. It's religion per se, not any specific brand, which should be the object of our dismissal.

Fred Pilcher, Kaleen

Sorry, Elizabeth Wise Dixon, but I am not under the slightest obligation to respect anyone's beliefs. I am only required to respect their right to hold them.

Bill Deane, Chapman

A nod's as good as a wink to the electorate, Mr Abbott

Tony Abbott acknowledges that winking at interviewer Jon Faine in response to a distressed elderly woman's revelation that, in order to supplement her inadequate pension she is obliged to work on an online sex service is absolutely typical. Blame someone else.

He does not say it was an inappropriate response: he says it was all Faine's fault for smiling at him.

He goes on to tell her that in responding to an emergency, a fire truck may ''knock down a few fences''. Fire trucks may legitimately knock down fences, but if they crush human beings, those driving them are held liable.

You're the driver of this fire truck, Prime Minister, and there are a few elderly ''fence-posts'' who will remember it come the next election.

Dr Juliet Flesch, Kew, Vic

I believe the Prime Minister is confused when he compares his budget with a fire brigade. It would be more appropriate to compare it with an arsonist.

Les Brennan, Sunshine Bay, NSW

Anyone who saw Tony Abbott's patronising wink when he was talking with Gloria, a pensioner, about her difficulties in making ends meet, would surely agree that this highlights and truly captures Mr Abbott's attitude to women in general and disadvantaged women in particular. I was appalled and am now very angry. I hope women will join me in condemning this very telling moment. It speaks volumes.

Elizabeth Mamchak, Weston

Wrong tack on refugees

George Williams (''Indefinite detention without reason must end'', Times2, May 20, p5) considers that asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, whom ASIO has deemed to be a danger to the Australian community, should be given priority for entry to that community (effectively Australian citizenship) over thousands of other asylum seekers not deemed dangerous. He claims that a refusal to do this ''is an injustice and an affront to the rule of law''; I disagree, as do both major political parties.

Importantly, these asylum seekers are not detained. They are free to leave whenever they want to. Most Australians want them to leave. Williams cannot differentiate between being ''locked up'' and ''locked out''.

He claims that the UN Human Rights Committee regards the refusal to accept these people as Australians ''constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment … unlawful under international law''. When did the UN give itself the right to decide who Australia should accept as refugees? Accepting these people would mean the rejection of others; wouldn't such rejection also be cruel and inhuman?

Bob Salmond, Melba

ALP needs to stand up

So now asylum seekers are to be sent not only to Papua New Guinea, but to Cambodia, never to be settled in Australia.

One of the wealthiest countries in the world is offloading its obligations to those fleeing persecution by sending them to another of the poorest countries in the world. What a shameful, selfish, disgraceful policy.

The challenge is now for the Labor Party to redefine itself. It is easy for them to stand up forcefully against a budget that targets the weakest and most vulnerable, and scarcely touches those with plenty. It is time for the ALP to be a real opposition and alternative government, which values social justice, fairness and equity, encouragement and opportunity and protection for those in our society who need it. Traditional ALP values.

And this should extend also to asylum seekers. Our moral responsibility does not stop at our borders.

Judy Aulich, Giralang

Get rid of the perks

P.M. Button (Letters, May 20) rightly states that national debt needs to be addressed, and that ''the days and nights of wine and roses have to end in the cold hard light of day''. But why should genuine pensioners, the unemployed, the disabled and students be forced, as he says, '' to swallow the bitter pill'' while the wealthy continue to benefit from $35 billion of superannuation concessions, up to $6 billion in concessions for buying up negatively geared houses and apartments, and untold billions of dollars in dubious family trusts. Let's get rid of these perks first, to see what the real debt situation is, before launching into measures that, according to Abbott and Hockey supposedly ''share the load'' and are ''in the national interest''.

Bill Bowron, Farrer

What price culture?

One of the supposed minor ''savings'' outlined in the budget will allegedly be obtained by merging the ''back-end'' functions of some cultural institutions.

Unifying, say, finance and personnel functions may be economical: though it's doubtful. But merging other functions, such as IT, conservation and registration will almost certainly produce inefficiencies and less effective institutions.

For example, IT is not just a ''service'' function. As the National Library's IT folk have shown, the library's IT effort has vitally supported its mission as a knowledge-based agency.

Likewise the National Museum's world-class conservation and registration sections, and the National Archives' success in making its collection accessible through the internet all reflect the crucial contribution ''back-end'' functions make to cultural institutions' effectiveness.

It seems obvious that with a smaller resource base - the object of the merging - users of these institutions will be the poorer.

As a former senior member of staff of two cultural institutions and a sustained user of others, I know very well that the supposed ''efficiencies'' the government hopes for will be illusory.

We may never know the true cost of the government's penny-pinching attitude to culture and collections, but it is doubtful that its retrenchment will be conducive to the kind of vision that has given us Trove, Museum Workshop or Recordsearch, to name just a few examples from the agencies threatened.

Professor Peter Stanley, Dickson

Some needed changes to rescue Raiders game plan

Ricky Stuart should not resort to blaming the refs for the Raiders' current woes. Yes, the referring standard is as poor as one can remember, but they are sharing it around to all teams! No, our problems are a little more basic and simple from where I sit (in the bleachers every other week) and these problems have gone on for a number of painful years now. Given the talent in the team, we thought it was a coaching issue, but having changed that and we continue to see the same old, same old, I am not so sure.

Can I be so bold as to suggest to him a few minor changes to this week's training regime?

1. Concentrate on catching, and then holding the ball, under all circumstances.

2. Eliminate the attempted offloading of passes in impossible positions. There are no Artie Beetsons in this team, I assure you.

3. If the same players week after week persist in giving away penalties (normally on the fourth or fifth tackle) for laying on the tackled player too long, or putting their hands on the ball in the play the ball, threaten to pull them off straight away. Unfortunately, they are not smart enough to get the timing right, so just don't do it.

4. Keep concentrating on defence, a much improved effort last week on the previous two weeks' ''open door'' policy.

5. And, finally, Ricky, please ask the wingers to stay on their wings.

Could be that a severely depleted Cowboys side (with assistant coach David Furner in tow) might see firsthand what a reasonably talented side can do when they get the fundamentals down pat.

John Dunn, Gowrie

Fined $10,000 for stating exactly what any reasonable person saw as fact (''Stuart hit with $10,000 fine'', Sport, May 22, p31)? Jack Gibson's quote ''They'd boo Santa Claus, this mob'' comes to mind.

Phil O'Brien, Flynn



How very droll to hear Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey claim that Labor is somehow responsible for Standard and Poor's warning that Australia's AAA credit rating is now at risk. S&P issuing this warning a week after a budget which has completely smashed national confidence would be more of a judgment on our new economic direction under this government rather than anything to do with historical events from a year or more ago.

John Moulis, Pearce


''Governments don't employ people per se,'' Joe Hockey asserted 46 minutes into this week's Q&A. He followed up with: ''The private sector employs people.''

Governments employ people! Government employees provide essential goods and services and guaranteed tax revenue via PAYE - revenue which will fall with the government's public service cuts.

Dan Barton, Cook

In Budget Paper 2, the Treasurer reduced the future value of age pensions by changing their indexation basis from average earnings to the less-generous consumer price index. At the same time, he changed indexation of military pensions from CPI to the same average earnings-based formula he was taking away from age pensioners. Is this a deliberate value judgment about different categories of pensioner, or do we have a government in which the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing?

Phil Teece, Sunshine Bay, NSW

When are the real Liberal parliamentarians going to leave Tony and his Tea Party followers and move to the crossbenches to form a genuine Liberal Party, before all their traditional supporters desert them.

Grahame Hellyer, Belconnen


Ian Macdonald (''Put GST on fresh food: Lib MP'', May 20, p1) spruiks broadening the GST base. Silence, however, over the GST exemption for financial services. Special assistance for a struggling financial industry? Or another case of the paymaster calling the tune?

Michael Barry, Torrens


If the boats have stopped coming, if we are processing those in detention centres as quickly as possible, and if we are now able to close some Australian detention centres, why do we need to seek to have Cambodia agree to take asylum seekers? And why can we not close the centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea and return those held there to Australia for processing?

Alan Wilson, Yarralumla

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