In his excellent article "Saving water Down Under" (Times2, March 17, p4), Professor Craig Simmons focuses on the crucial importance of groundwater as a major element supporting both Australia's economy and natural environment. He makes the disturbing observation that there has been a steady decline in public investment in research, and at the same time a drastic reduction in the expertise needed to manage this essential resource.

This at a time when an El Nino and associated drought are a real possibility.

Simmons goes on to stress the necessity of wise water management – especially in the "banking" of stored underground water resources through aquifer recharge.

A national system of water banking would surely be one of the wisest investments for Australia's future.

It is notable that the Australian Academy of Science has welcomed the fact that both the Coalition and Labor have indicated ongoing support for Australian science and scientific research in building a more productive Australia. The academy noted the commitment made by the Coalition during last year's election campaign that there "will be no reduction in research funding", and made a plea for a longer-term strategy and increased funding.

Surely then, the area of water research – notably groundwater research – should be in the forefront of such a commitment.

Elizabeth Truswell, Campbell

It is mums that matter

A woman's relationship with maternity-care providers during pregnancy and childbirth is vitally important ("Doctors hold the key to growth in caesareans", March 20, p6).

Most women, when they decide to have a child, are capable with appropriate support and education of making informed choices that influence the outcomes of their birth, the effect on their mothering career and on the long-term wellness of their child and themselves.

Lucy Carroll's article tells us the research shows almost one in 10 women are not consulted about the risks and consequences of surgery and interventions in child birth.

How is this happening in Australia? Where is the regard for the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards that require patient rights and engagement in their care, including partnership with patients in decisions about their care and informed consent to treatment? This research highlights a significant breach of these standards.

Why is this happening? I suggest the present healthcare standards fail women.

A new approach is needed. One option is to consider adopting the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood Respectful Maternity Care Charter – the Universal Rights of Childbearing Women, which focuses specifically on the interpersonal aspects of care received by women seeking maternity services, delineating how human rights are implicated in the childbearing process and affirming their application to childbearing women as basic, inalienable rights.

The charter provides a platform for change.

Adopting it for all Australian women would be a good starting point to achieving the national standards in maternity care.

Ellen O'Keeffe, Wanniassa

Politics rules over truth

Mark Kenny has made me think differently about our parliamentary system ("Few celebrate this success", Times2, March 21, p4): Tony Abbott leaves the decision to step aside to Arthur Sinodinos, rather than taking this decision himself – not exactly the act of a leader.

Parliament is a poisonous discourse on both sides that sounds like a rehearsed series of bowdlerised accusations and defences on the major issues (real and concocted) of the day.

For example, the government touts a totally stupid royal commission into the pink batts affair, which will most probably accuse all parties of fault, but few will be listening by then; it just gives the ruling party something to say to cover its own rising tide of cons and blunders, as these build over time (see the government's pathetic stance on climate change, its obnoxious hubris on the refugee situation, the self-serving "regulatory reform" and so on).

So don't expect to hear the real truth on Australia's major issues any time soon: the government will continue talking about things it is doing nothing good about, while the opposition will continue to try to weasel away from its own failures, instead of building a real political strategy. It's so sad.

Jim Douglas, Kingston

A union takeover

The union is corralled now, if not completely broken.

The bureaucracy, the executive component of the tripartite Australian government structure, is following suit according to the cautious phrasing: "The Treasury plans to cut one in three of its public service positions by 2017" ("Parkinson reveals Treasury slashing one in three positions, March 21, p1).

One-third of staff is an insignificant percentage of Treasury's workforce.

There is no disclosure of the percentage of full-time-equivalent positions occupied by professional service persons, contractors, temporary or functionally outsourced staff. There is negligible security of tenure.

The entire public service, from the non-permanent secretaries down, is all but completely politicised.

So who's afraid of politicisation? Isn't a democratically elected government entitled to seize the reins of power?

The "now" culture is biting deep. Volatility rules.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Doored and floored

So "dooring" gets added to the many ways cyclists crash ("Kerbside doors open to a new vernacular", March 22, p2).

And off to hospital they go, in droves. Last time I checked the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's stats, cyclists made up a wildly disproportionate one-third of road accident victims entering hospital.

But apparently it's an offence for a car passenger to open a door that hits a cyclist emerging from a blind spot.

Even when there's no bike lane there; even when the cyclist is speeding up the inside of vehicles stopped at lights; even when no mirror assists passenger rear vision?

So more (surviving) cyclists get to cry "I was in the right!", propped up in their hospital bed.

How long will it be until they understand that their alarming rate of maiming is an inevitable consequence of them being small, slow and unprotected in traffic?

Cuthbert Douglas, Bonython

That "dooring" incident invites comment: first, the taxi driver was remiss in not warning the passenger to not open the door until he (the driver) checked that the process would not impede the progress of a pedestrian or a cyclist; and, second, the cyclist was remiss in not anticipating that a door might open in her path.

Ken McPhan, Spence


Cynical old fossils could ruin our grandchildren's future

The comments of the fossil fuel industry's leaders ("Rio Tinto touts coal future over climate 'idealism' ", BusinessDay, March 21, p11) are breathtaking in their cynicism.

The coal industry has known for more than a decade that carbon capture and storage needs to work for coal to be part of our energy future, but none of its leaders has the courage to be explicit that it requires a carbon price.

Meanwhile, renewables have taken off under the renewable energy target and Martin Ferguson has the nerve to complain it is disrupting the electricity market. Surprise, surprise!

If the fossil fuel industry isn't prepared to change, then it deserves its business model to be undermined. That's what free enterprise does.

As a former minister on the Council of the International Energy Agency, Ferguson knows that meeting the 2-degree scenario by 2050 requires a significant increase in renewables and CCS – all to be under way by 2020.

The task for our leaders is to make the RET work for the utilities as well; the US state of Minnesota is perhaps showing the way.

But what is most depressing is the lack of integrity. For Rio Tinto to blame the RET for higher electricity prices is simply wrong – it is largely due to investment in poles and wires, but then they need a carbon price for CCS to work.

Ferguson has changed his views on the RET now he works for the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association – where you sit is where you stand.

As I look at the photos of my grandchildren on my desk and think of their future, I despair at the vacillation, shifting and lack of integrity in our political and corporate elite. They should hardly be surprised that people resort to climate "idealism".

Trevor Powell, Bruce

Stick to wind farm facts

Frank Ross's letter (March 21) is riddled with misinformation.

First, the objectives of the government's wind auction are to deliver emissions-free electricity for the ACT and to promote investment in local renewable energy industries.

Second, the government has provided no indication that a proposal from any particular wind farm will be accepted.

Third, power bills will not triple. The cost increase was estimated in the ACT's Climate Change Action Plan 2 as being about 16 per cent. However, more recent data indicates the actual amount could be substantially less. The cost to ACT households is expected to peak at $4 a week per household in 2020.

The ACT government has also implemented a range of initiatives to deliver considerable energy efficiency savings for households.

These savings will, on average, cover the costs associated with achieving the renewable energy target. Modelling presented in the Action Plan 2 indicates that not only will impacts on economic growth be negligible but the ACT will retain the lowest electricity prices in Australia.

Also, the action plan and the renewable energy targets were based on extensive community consultation and expert modelling of the cost and economic impacts.

As for the matters related to the specific wind farms at Collector, these have not been examined by the government as the ACT's targets are not dependent on the progress of any specific wind energy development.

Rather, the developments will be selected through a robust competitive process on price, risk, community engagement and local investment benefits.

Simon Corbell, ACT Environment Minister

Public pays for excess

I've been trying to get my head around where the money was coming from for the obscene salaries that the directors of the discredited Australian Water Holdings were paying themselves.

Then I realised: it was from the good ol' taxpayers of NSW, courtesy of a bizarre contract with Sydney Water.

So, the neat $200,000 that Arthur Sinodinos was pocketing for "a couple of weeks' work" doing goodness-knows-what was coming directly from supposedly poverty-stricken government coffers.

Coincidentally, Sinodinos is now overseeing the abolition of protections for the public from financial advisers surreptitiously and relentlessly pick-pocketing individuals by way of ongoing, unconsented commissions as well as even the requirement that they act in clients' best interests. It is a recipe to give free rein to deception, fraud and corruption in the industry again.

Does anyone detect a theme here?

David Jenkins, Casey

Nazi slur insult to victims

How can Richard Keys (Letters, March 21) seriously compare Australian-controlled detention centres with Nazi Germany's organised network of extermination camps in World War II?

One asylum seeker was killed tragically at the Manus island facility recently.

In contrast, over a six-year period, conservatively more than 6 million Jews, gypsies, Slavs, Russian POWs, homosexuals and many other minority groups were systematically murdered.

Is the letter writer seriously suggesting, as he claims, that we as Australians may need to endure the same legacy as that of postwar German generations?

It is a huge insult to the victims of Nazism and their families and ancestors to so flippantly and heartlessly compare the two examples.

Peter Kramaric, Jerrabomberra, NSW


Signs of Ulster in Crimea annexation

Ulster unionists everywhere must want the British government and Tony Abbott to have done with the hypocrisy of their sanctions against Russia for stealing Crimea from Ukraine.

They could only want to remind Abbott and those he follows that the rest of the world is quite content with the existence of Northern Ireland.

The rest of the world is therefore quite content to see an old imperial power pandering to a hysterical minority and carving off part of a nation.

The existence of Northern Ireland is dressed up as an expression of continuing loyalty to the Crown, regardless of what Ireland as a whole might think about it - just as the ethnic Russians in Crimea say they want to belong to the country they used to belong to, regardless of what Ukraine as a whole might think.

So from the Ulster unionist point of view, what Russia has done in Ukraine is absolutely the right thing. Protesting about it and slapping sanctions on Russia could turn out to be embarrassing.

Vladimir Putin is bound to think of the Ulster precedent sooner or later. He might even offer to withdraw from Crimea when the British stop dividing Ireland.

Provided, of course, that the Russian naval bases in Crimea become sovereign Russian territory like the sovereign British bases on Cyprus.

G.T.W. Agnew, Coopers Plains, Qld


To the point


Frank Ross (Letters, March 21) is to be commended. Power prices will surge under nonsense renewable schemes. If wind was really as cheap as Simon Corbell claims, it would not need subsidies. Same for solar.

Brian Hatch, Red Hill


When "Rio touts coal future over climate 'idealism' " (BusinessDay, March 21, p11) and bewails its paltry, fruitless, $100 million investment in clean coal technology, Rio's energy head, Harry Kenyon-Slaney, in harmony with a recycled Martin Ferguson, underlines that, like their fossilised product, their beliefs belong to a geological era long gone.

Albert M. White, Queanbeyan, NSW


When I visit Canberra, I often sit at my favourite spot, the 2003 bushfire memorial. I mentioned to some young people that a pay-in-the-slot music box with soothing guitar music would be nice. Shows how old I am: they said "use your phone"!

Phil E. Lambley, Hinckley, Leicestershire, Britain


This letter is written during a time Warren Truss is acting prime minister. "Prime minister Truss" – I feel somehow better when I repeat it. I believe Truss is such a thoroughly decent, straightforward man that it scarcely bothers me that his politics and mine differ. Australia is a better place with this man leading.

Ross Kelly, Monash


Recent ABC TV reports reveal that Australian sport is being artificially inoculated with a virus called "baseballity". An early outbreak was detected a few years ago in a suburb of Canberra, Narrabundah. The present strand, however, is far more infectious and it could ultimately prove lethal for the local sport.

John Rodriguez, Florey


If the ACT Liberals' spokeswoman for women, Giulia Jones, is going to tour Europe and Asia investigating how sex workers are treated, she could start by not denoting them as objects: "the women that have come out of the industry" ("Severe prostitution regime mooted", March 21, p2). We use "who" to denote humans.

Katherine Beauchamp, Ainslie


Perhaps, M. Pietersen (Letters, March 22), when MH370's passengers tried to phone home, the flight was at a location where there were no ground stations within range to receive and transmit callers' signals.

Athol Morris, Forde


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