Hiding behind gloss

The ACT government is in danger of getting a reputation for thinking that glossy artists' impressions of their latest project will make do, rather than providing hard facts, figures and analysis from independent experts.

Letters to the editor have bemoaned the streams of artists' impressions and video simulations of the proposed city to Gungahlin light rail project displayed to the community and published by The Canberra Times.

Unfortunately, the light rail project is not the first or last attempt at community consultation by pretty pictures. The latest of these has been foisted on Yarralumla and Deakin residents by the white shoe brigade at the Land Development Agency in a community consultation con called the Canberra Brickworks and Environs Planning and Development Strategy.

It all sounds like a relatively harmless and useful attempt to restore the historic Canberra brickworks, abandoned by previous governments to vandalism and decay.

The eight-page glossy ''Information Update'' mailed to households includes five pages of coloured sketches of the brickworks converted into a grassy public park. On page six, a tiny plan view of the real agenda - 4000 new residents crammed into 1600 flats up to eight storeys high (two storeys higher than Kingston foreshore) on 42 hectares between the brickworks and Cotter Road, more than doubling the existing suburb population. This future ghetto, with net residential densities almost six times those of existing suburb densities, is egregiously described as having ''building heights that are respectful of the existing scale of neighbouring suburbs''.

No further information has been provided to the community upon which to make an informed assessment of this massive infill development. No information on traffic, environmental, social, urban planning or infrastructure has been offered. Only pretty pictures and a highly misleading glossy leaflet.


Treating the community with contempt does not engender confidence that the ACT government is interested in genuine consultation. Let's hope that new Planning Minister Mick Gentleman takes a more civilised and genuinely consultative approach, and is able to rein in the more blatant excesses of the Land Development Agency.

Paul Ratcliffe, Yarralumla

School closure

Ruth Alsford (Letters, July 4) poses a number of relevant questions to Archbishop Christopher Prowse in relation to the pre-emptive closure of Mt Carmel secondary school in Yass that are deserving of answers.

His grace has been poorly advised in signing off on a recommendation from the ACT Catholic Education Office to close the secondary component of this much-valued school, with no consultation with the parish priest or school board, let alone affected teachers, students or parents. In a community where Catholic education has been a focal point for more than 160 years, this action sets a new low in the consultation process.

A proactive effort by the Catholic Education Office would have added the much yearned for years 11 and 12 to the school years ago. This would have galvanised enrolments and retention rates, as well as significantly reducing the traffic on the already overloaded and dangerous Barton Highway.

It is still not too late to reverse this damaging decision … the infrastructure is in place and a resourceful and committed steering committee has developed a viable business plan. It only remains for Archbishop Prowse to seize the moment and give it a fair trial.

Allan McGrath, Yass, NSW

Doth protest too much

David Smith (Letters, July 5) doth protest too much, methinks. Whatever the merits of the issues surrounding his stated 170 attempts by Labor to block money bills over 20 years, at least they were decided by political processes.

The outrageous event of 1975 was not the opposition's blocking of money bills but the inexcusable intervention of the governor-general.

David Townsend, Curtin

No sign of vandalism

As a Holt resident, I was disturbed by Phillip Harris' assertions (Letters, July 5) of vandalism on my surrounding streets. I went in search of this hideous act. Despite my best efforts, evidence of vandalism eluded me. All I could find were clear road markings and new chicanes. Perhaps it was the removal of some speed humps that should be regarded as vandalism?

None of these measures came as a surprise to me. I had attended community meetings and information sessions. I considered options and participated in surveys. It seems that sensible traffic management, addressing residents' legitimate concerns about excessive speed and road safety, applies to outlying Holt. I, for one, am grateful.

Michael Bakos, Holt

Smoke-free hospital

Michael Lucas' comments (Letters, July 7) regarding smoking at Canberra Hospital have some valid points. This issue is important to ACT Health, and citizen involvement and co-operation in achieving a smoke-free hospital is welcomed.

There is a program in place that will make both the Canberra and Calvary Hospital campus completely smoke-free from September 2014. In line with this, designated outdoor smoking areas will be removed.

ACT Health does not underestimate the significance of the challenge to achieve this goal, underscored perhaps by the non-compliance with the smoking restrictions currently in place, as Michael Lucas points out.

However, the primary aim is to foster a healthy environment that promotes healthy lifestyles for patients, visitors, staff and contractors.

One aspect of this program will be to ensure that smokers in contact with health services are encouraged and supported to manage their nicotine cravings and, if willing, supported to quit smoking.

To achieve this, a number of supporting strategies will be implemented, including the introduction of a smoking cessation clinic at Canberra Hospital.

Dr Peggy Brown, director-general, ACT Health

Climate policy working

Our climate legislation is working to reduce pollution. Energy-sector emissions have already been reduced 9 per cent since its introduction.

Why scrap an effective policy when the public has not even had the chance to look at the details, or submit contributions to an alternative?

Heather Bruer, Griffith

Echoes of shameful moment in Australian history

The federal government must be held accountable in the United Nations for its latest violation of international law. The excuse of ''national security'' to hide ill-treatment of asylum seekers from public scrutiny is dishonest.

While in opposition, Abbott and colleagues had no issue with national security as they sought to pillory the then government over refugees arriving by boat. This latest episode of seizing people in international waters and then handing them over to the very government the refugees fled is utterly indefensible. However, it is very much in the tradition of Australian conservative politics. In 1938 the Australian conservative government sent Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas White, Minister for Trade and Customs as its representative at the ''Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees'' conference in Evian, France, meeting on Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. He told delegates of the other 31 nations that Australia ''would not risk social unrest by allowing large-scale immigration of foreigners''.

No doubt the government is hoping news of the disappearance of those handed over will scare others from risking such a fate, as did the so-called SIEV X sinking during the Howard government's tenure. Sadly moral bankruptcy concerning refugees is as contagious in the ALP as it is in the Coalition.

Rod Olsen, Flynn

The government's decision to hand back Tamil asylum seekers to their persecutors has a historical precedent. In 1940, as a gesture of goodwill towards Hitler, his then ally Joseph Stalin handed back to the Nazis a group of German communists who had fled to the Soviet Union. As Shakespeare reminds us: ''The evil that men do lives after them.'' History is a stern judge and Stalin quite rightly has not escaped its verdict, something which Tony Abbott would do well to reflect upon.

Peter Ellett, Scullin

What does it take for the Australian Parliament to force Scott Morrison to resign? Surely his own actions reveal him to be unfit to hold his job. As minister, he deliberately orders the breaking of Australian law and international law by returning Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without opportunity to have their asylum seeker claims heard; he lies to the Parliament, the media and the Australian people about the fatal incident at the Australian-controlled asylum seeker detention centre on Manus Island; he consistently refuses to fulfil his obligations to account for his actions as minister by providing the public with routine information about incidents involving the apprehension of asylum seeker boats, on the spurious grounds that intercept operations would be jeopardised by ''on-water'' sensitivities; he personally authorises cruel and inhuman treatment of asylum seekers and their families. These actions have damaged Australia's international reputation.

Trevor Wilson, Holder

Canberra is lucky to have one of the world's most eminent maritime and human rights law experts. I speak of Thomas Mautner (Letters, July 7) Mr Mautner's dissertation on alleged recent events in the Indian Ocean regarding a boat that may or may not exist contained the investigation, trial and verdict in one neat paragraph. Breathtakingly brilliant. Even the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights in the same edition of The Canberra Times would only go so far as to say ''the transfer to Sri Lankan custody may breach Australia's obligations''.

Well, who is the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights to comment on such matters when we have our own resident expert?

May I suggest The Canberra Times refrain from publishing comments from UN Commissioners on these matters and source all comment from from Mr Mautner. After all, Canberra Times readers are seeking a balanced view, aren't they?

T.J. Farquahar, Ainslie

Enemy of the people

Most wage earners in this country are sick and tired of never-ending revelations about corruption within all forms of government, bloated bonuses to crooked company executives and multinational companies that pay no taxes.

We have a federal government that shows little ethical or moral principles and is sated in personal promotion and a Prime Minister who under the protection of parliamentary privilege systematically conducted the practised sexual gender discrimination against Australia's first female prime minister and his unethical behaviour is still reverberating around the world to such an extent that the American administration regard him with some disdain.

We have a federal government that behaves more like an occupying foreign force intent in subduing the inhabitants, with harsh and draconian regulations. We also find that for political reasons, heavy industry within Australia is slowly being dismantled to such a degree that in a time of war we will be unable to manufacture weapons to defend or protect our selves.

Ivor G. Williams, Pambula, NSW


What budget mess could Robert Willson (Letters, July 7) be talking about? Could it be the one which gave aged pensioners an increase, built cancer treatment centres in regional areas, saved Australia from the worst of the GFC, initiated the Disabilities Insurance Scheme and proposed funding for all children to have access to a good education?

And who are the Australians who ''must work harder''? The ones who now get no income support while they look for a job? The disabled who are judged capable of working despite unpredictable and debilitating bouts of illness?

I'd nominate the miners with their super profits or the wealthy using government-subsidised superannuation incentives to expand their wealth, or the diesel fuel industry using government subsidies to stay competitive. Cutting a few government subsidies would certainly encourage them to work harder.

Jill Greenwell, Ainslie

Chilling facts of life without the basics

One of the things I have always loved about living in Canberra is the definite changes in weather during the four distinct seasons.

That all changed with one simple letter this week. As my house was built in the 1970s, it is truly solar aggressive. I work hard with a very limited budget to sustain a comfortable lifestyle. To ensure I have enough money to pay the gas/electricity bills, I use EvenPay, which is updated every six months and is adjusted up or down according to usage. I only have the wall heater on gas so have to suck it up and pay supply charges every month even though I only use the heater for the three to four months during the bitterly cold winter. It has been a lifesaver (almost literally now, I realise).

I received my letter from ActewAGL and was shocked to find the increase is just this side of 32 per cent. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I pride myself on being able to stretch the dollar to incredible lengths, but I am not a magician. Obviously this is the price we pay in Canberra for having only one energy supplier.

I phoned ActewAGL the next day and reluctantly arranged to have the gas disconnected. I have always thought that having access to affordable heating was a basic human right and was prepared to keep up with the rising costs each year but this year, you have gone too far for me. I am under no illusions that I am alone in this battle of comfort versus income. Although I have an electric heater going, socks with my slippers, pj's, dressing gown, gloves and a blanket, my lounge only gets to a balmy 14 degrees. So it's now going to be more regular trips to my beloved local library to stock up on books to read while trying to maintain warmth in my bed rather than try to enjoy a cosy evening in front of the tele.

It seems that ActewAGL is literally trying to freeze us out.

L. Barr, Kambah



My nephew is keen to start an electrical apprenticeship next year. I find, however, that if he is required to crawl into the roof of a house in an older Canberra suburb the only way he will know if the house is contaminated by Mr Fluffy loose-fill asbestos is if the owner chooses to tell him. I will therefore do everything I can to encourage him to find a different career, as a single exposure could give him a painful and horrible death.

James Baker, Ainslie


Nationals Senator John Williams is absolutely correct in his demand as reported in the article ''Commission needed into white collar robbers: Nat'' (July 5, p5). A royal commission is the only way to force government to continue the re-regulation of the entire finance sector, the biggest industry of all. It must not be allowed to operate above the law.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor


The last one-third of Robert Willson's little lecture on economics (Letters, July 7) sounds suspiciously like a recital of lines learnt from the Abbott government's spin doctors. According to most real economists, including Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, Australia's economy is in a very sound position.

Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin


John Cashman (Letters, July 3) refers to experimental psychologist Thomas Suddendorf's ''overwhelming evidence'' that animals ''lack memory of past events, ability to imagine future events and sense of self''. It's quite obvious that neither has owned a cat, particularly with the sense of self bit.

Dallas Stow, O'Connor


Here's some free advice for the government from an old PR practitioner. It could easily save heaps of money and effort being spent on ''information activities'' (''$4m for Abbott's 37 spin doctors'', July 6, p6) if it stops being obsessively secretive and starts telling tell the truth. As a US pioneer of PR said: ''Organisations are usually judged by what they do, rather than by what they claim to do.''

Eric Hunter, Cook


Someone climbs aboard a Rattenbury bus and begins to read aloud from Mein Kampf or The Satanic Verses. Committing an offence are they, under race discrimination laws existing or proposed? Surely it is an offence to bore all the other passengers to tears, in any case. Hope I've not committed an offence against Salman Rushdie.

Roy Darling, Florey

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