Letters to the Editor

Grubby CBD a disgrace

Canberra businesses might well lament the state of Civic ("Call to clean up city centre", January 8, p1), but it's not just those in trade concerned about the state of our CBD. It is, in a word, disgraceful. Dirty, grubby and in disrepair; an embarrassing business centre of the nation's capital.

As well, the ACT Barr government may point to an amorphous strategy to improve the city and its scape. Without meaningful funding to implement its recommendations, it will remain just another thought piece in the phalanx of this government's grand designs. Yet, this is but symptomatic of a broader problem. Canberra's infrastructure is crumbling, with scarce budget directed to funding a new train line no one really wants.

The tragedy will be, however, that by the time the Canberra community can put an end to the train folly, we will have lost a decade's infrastructure investment – and the opportunity it creates. So very sad.

Sibylla Catt, Braddon

As a resident near Civic, I can offer some observations on solicitation in the city centre.

My son commented during his first visit to Canberra from Melbourne in 2011. He was amazed. "Even your beggars are polite." What he didn't realise was that the behaviour was learnt. The AFP is intolerant of any anti-social behaviour in the national capital.


When I deal with bums in the street, two thoughts cross my mind. I think "that could be me on our competitive journey to the bottom". Then, I pinch myself and ask the beggar, "Do I look like Centrelink to you?" As for those young uni students who spruik for donations to NGOs, I ask them how much is their commission, which 1per cent actually makes it to their avowed target rather than a Swiss bank account and, lastly, does the CEO make six figures or seven.

Gerry Murphy, Braddon

In need of foresight

The ACT government should set up a Foresight Unit, as the politicians currently at the helm don't seem to be aware of the shallows and rocks ahead.

Billionaire investor George Soros and economists such as Andrew Charlton consider there are difficult times ahead for the Chinese economy, and the consequences for the Australian economy could easily be quite negative ("Calm prevails but fears of a crisis remain", Forum, January 9, p6).

The Foresight Unit could address questions such as: Is now a good time to build the expensive and problematic Gungahlin stage of a light rail system, particularly as a viable light system would be much more expensive still, as it would need to go south to Woden and beyond?

Is the ACT budgetary situation sufficiently robust to cope with future economic shocks beyond Mr Fluffy?

How can ACT politicians apply appropriate foresight in their decision-making?

Murray May, Cook

Fair play off the fairway

R.S.Gilbert (Letters, January 8) questions how lease variation charges, when applied to the land-development activities of a golf club, can be said to diminish community benefit, if they are set at less than the development value of the land. The point is that the ACT's many golf clubs already benefit inordinately from being allowed to occupy large tracts of prime land at concessional lease rates, then enclose it, guzzle water, and restrict access to those prepared to pay substantial amounts of money to play golf. They may be located in the community, but they do not provide community benefit on a scale that justifies their occupation of the land.

If the ACT's golf clubs are to be allowed to develop unused bits of their land as real estate, they should pay the full amount of the development value of the land. For the ACT government to forgo any portion of this amount would diminish community benefit, as there are better public uses for that money.

Mr Gilbert seems to think I share his fixation on the Federal Golf Club. Neither of my letters mention it, and this argument applies to the ACT's golf clubs generally. Having responded (Letters, December 20) to Geoff Pryor's letter of December 16 regarding the development intentions of the Murrumbidgee Golf Club, Mr Gilbert should see the sense of addressing the general issue.

Paul Feldman, Macquarie

Artwork a favourite

I very much enjoyed John McDonald's informative article ("Bailed Up: the anatomy of a masterpiece", Arts, January 9, p15) about my favourite painting. I owned a print for many years until I presented it to an American friend; I am looking forward to meeting an "old" friend at the Tom Roberts exhibition next week.

The only small criticism I have is that although the frames of the robbery were discussed, the lines of the painting have been omitted. Eyes, rifles and coach horse traces all travel to Silent Bob. Even the bushranger's pistol and the young man at the luggage bay are pointed that way. Oversight or no, this was a timely reminder of the treats in store.

Bob Gardiner, Isabella Plains

Service should be free

I recently returned to Canberra after a few years of living in NSW. As part of re-establishing myself in Canberra, I needed to have a copy of a document witnessed as a certified copy. My first instinct was to visit my local pharmacist.

I visited my local pharmacist with the original document and the copy, and was astonished to find that the pharmacist required payment of $2 to certify the document. I had not previously experienced a pharmacist charging for these types of services, so after having the service provided, I decided to inquire at other pharmacists to see if it is common practice in the ACT. I now know that it is and that the fees quoted range from $2 to $4 per document.

I can see both sides of the argument on this issue, but believe the community service side of the argument should prevail, with these types of services being provided free of charge.

Bill Waller, Barton

Summernats nuisance

Whatever else "SummerGnatters" may have been doing this year, some were occupied on Friday evening turning the Lonsdale Street, Braddon, precinct into a cross between a public tip and toilet.

The former wasn't helped by the continuing lack of rubbish bins there, and the latter by the apparent lack of planning that's seen portable toilets deployed in the past.

It would be nice to see some of the purported economic benefit from Summernats being invested in keeping Canberra habitable during this festival of Australian male behaviour.

Peter James, Turner

Inexcusable greed behind growing inequality

Nelson D. Schwartz ("Economists warn free markets can't solve income inequality", BusinessDay, January 5, p11) refers to a study by Professor Nicholas Bloom and four colleagues from Stanford University and other economic academics. The study showed that over the last decade pay inequality had grown such that the highest-paid people's income had increased by 140per cent while the typical employee's pay had decreased in real terms by 5per cent.

Why, you may ask? Simple answer: unconstrained greed. Let's be fair. If a CEO thinks he or she is worth $2000/hour or more, they are delusional, not greedy. The free market that allows this inequality is ruled by the very people who benefit from the largesse.

The greed could be constrained by changes to the company constitutions. Important parts of company constitutions are controlled by governments and the various stock exchanges and they could insist the constitution ensures an equitable distribution of company remuneration.

Perhaps an independent pay arbitration system for all levels of a company organisation is warranted, instead of the present ridiculous board-run remuneration committees.

Greed will remain as long as we keep voting for political parties that take donations from corporations. Trade union donations present a different, but equally damaging, problem.

Max Jensen, Chifley

Rorts of a worse kind

Having read Jack Waterford's op-ed piece "Labor needs to clean up its act", Forum, January 9, p1), I'd say, yes, it's obvious that there have been numerous instances of rorting and criminality within the union movement. It follows that this, in turn, taints the Labor Party. But it's only small change compared with the silky-smooth corruption at the big end of town. And guess which party they support?

If we're serious about lifting the lid on corruption, then let's go after the companies and individuals that rort the tax system. These would be much richer pickings than the petty cash picked up from the unions.

And as for plumping for a Liberal Party led by Malcolm Turnbull, has Waterford taken a long hard look at the paucity of talent within its ranks? Leaving Malcolm aside, there is precious little to get excited about. I would argue that if voters turn their collective backs on the Labor Party and vote for a one-trick pony, then they can repent at their leisure.

Rick Godfrey, Lyneham

Blow for pensioners

I note that this government has introduced, at short notice, a change that will significantly lower the age pension entitlement for many older Australians, who are in no position to replace this loss. Interestingly, in the publication Pensions at a Glance, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Australia is ranked second-last of 33 countries in providing economic security for its older people ("Australia near last in pension report", January 8, p7), just above South Korea.

According to these figures, 36per cent of older Australians are living beneath the poverty line. Apparently, we spend a much lower proportion of our GDP on aged pensions than the OECD average. Of course, that table was produced before this latest reduction in pension payments.

The government claims it is just trying to bring ex-public servants' entitlements in line with the private sector.

I look forward to the next step: salary increases for parliamentarians being tied to rises in average weekly earning, subject, of course, to performance monitoring and fulfilment of key performance indicators. All in the interest of consistency.

Pauline Westwood, Dickson

Before I retired from the Australian Public Service, my wife and I consulted a financial adviser to plan our retirement income. We now find that the rules regarding the "defined benefit income stream" have changed, reducing our annual income by $2432. These same rules now say that our income for pension assessment has increased.

While this seems to be a smoke-and-mirrors trick, there are some serious consequences for some APS retirees.

Take the example of those who retired on combined incomes between $30,000 and $40,000 a year with a then tax-free component of their super greater than 10per cent. The new reduction of this component to 10per cent means many (actual calculations vary) will lose about $3000 a year from their age pension. This can be nearly 10per cent of their income. The ATO claims it is not taking more from pensioners, but this is clearly not so. However, at least I know I am doing my bit to pay for the government's subsidies to multimillionaire mining companies, Australian and foreign.

Gordon Herbert, Latham

Greens to blame

John Hotson (Letters, January 8) has had his age pension reduced by $369 a fortnight because the Turnbull/Abbott government changed the way defined benefit superannuation pensions are assessed. Mr Hotson asks where the opposition, the Greens and the independents were to allow this back-door measure to get through the Senate.

Well, Mr Hotson, Labor and the Greens were adamantly opposed to this measure and, with some independents, had held off the cuts in the Senate. Then came a change in the leadership of the Greens and they voted for the changes to the law. That is how it happened. Look at Hansard.

Ken Rivett, Ferntree Gully, Vic

Not another 'glitch'

Once again, the term "computer glitch" has raised its head ("Centrelink sorry for jingle bills glitch", January 8, p1). In my career, I was only aware of two genuine computer glitches, and believe me, they were as obvious as canine testicles. For years, several contractor colleagues and I drummed it into public service staff that at every stage system design and coding would have to be subjected to rigorous and, if possible, destructive testing. From what I hear through the grapevine, this is no longer the case.

Public service IT has relapsed into its old state of never having enough budget to do it properly, but can always find the money to do it over.

Fredrik Limacher, Kambah

Kyrgios' teammate also deserves credit

Nick Kyrgios, recently the great shame of Australian tennis, is now being hailed the hero: "Kyrgios leads Australia in Hopman Cup win" rage the headlines. Strange, I thought the Hopman Cup was a mixed team game, in which the female player "leads" the contest.

So who was the real lead? A little-known Daria Gavrilova played and won her match in the final against a much higher-ranked female opponent from Ukraine. Please give credit where credit is due.

L. Christie, Canberra City

I find it refreshing that you can so heartily agree with someone on one issue and then find yourself in total disagreement on another. Not a week ago, I wrote to applaud the observations of your correspondent Joan Millner (Letters , December 31) about the self-indulgent ramblings of Malcolm Mackerras. But I'll bet I'm not alone in disagreeing with the same correspondent when she chastises The Canberra Times for labelling Nick Kyrgios as the "Australian bad boy" of tennis (Letters, January 9). Beyond dispute is that Nick is Australian and a boy – so it comes down to whether the term "bad" is deserved.

Sorry, Joan, but I don't think we need the umpire to overrule the linesman on this one. Few would disagree that Nick has truly earned himself the "bad" label. But the ball is in his court as to whether he might change his approach and put an end to the antics and the behaviour that cause the public and the media to use the labels you see as so undeserving.

Ian Duckworth, Griffith

Not a grand slam

We're about to get under way with the Australian Open and again there's talk of "grand slams". Can we please remind all sports commentators that a single event is not a grand slam. The Australian, French and US opens and Wimbledon are simply "majors" in the tennis world. A grand slam is the winning of the singles in all these tournaments in the same calendar year.

Eric Hunter, Cook



Hoisted on your own petard, I fear, Jon ("Stanhope fuming over 'outrageous' response to Fraser-Fenner inquiry," January 8, p1). Some ACT government FOI responses I saw in your time had more blackouts than the London blitz.

Greg Cornwell, Yarralumla


In these times where excess wealth is increasingly being held by so few, maybe it would be better had the $70million Powerball payout been divided amongst 70 winners – $1million to each of 70 families would make them quite comfortable, rather than obscene wealth to just a single winner.

Ian Morison, Forrest


Think what it would be like to be five years old and too scared to go to school each day for fear of being urinated on by other children ("Tooscared to go to school in Nauru", January 9, p2). Yet the Australian government allows this to happen to refugee children on Nauru in order to be kind to other asylum seekers.

Dr Anne Cawsey, Hackett


It is gratifying to learn the Western Australian Nationals won't be going ahead with their plan to commandeer HMAS Perth for a $1000-a-plate-per-mate lunch ("Political fundraiser plans torpedoed", January 8, p1). However, I trust their federal Nationals colleagueswill resist reintroducing the sale of officers' commissions in the defence forces.

Nigel Thompson, Queanbeyan, NSW


Ian Warden, who I think is the best writer The Canberra Times has had in 70 years, thinks letters to the editor "often fall below the otherwise high standards of the remainder of the newspaper, written by journalists" ("Wild about public art", Gang-gang, January 7, p8). That reminds me that P.G.Wodehouse once said that journalists and authors are people whose work is not good enough to get into the letters page in a newspaper.

R. S. Gilbert, Braddon

Ian Warden should heed the advice of the Pope (or was it Max Gillies?) Stop it or you'll go blind.

Sinead O'Neil, Waramanga


Congratulations to The Canberra Times. All those pictures and articles on women in your sports coverage (January 11). Does this indicate a New Year's resolution on your part? Long may it continue.

Robyn D'Arcy, Carwoola, NSW

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