Letters to the Editor

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IT IS a serious concern that close to half of the prisoners released from Canberra jail return there within two years. (''Jail Fail'', June 22, p1).

If boredom and idleness are more prevalent than work and educational programs in prison, more rehabilitation measures must be undertaken.

While we have a proud record of caring for the environment, people in distress and animal welfare and we adopt hospitals, even roads, and we launch countless campaigns to advance the common good, prisons are treated as being out of sight, out of mind. Little is revealed about ''a day in the life'' of a present-day prison inmate.

It may be a daunting task to introduce mentors drawn from service associations, active and retired tradespeople and teachers, to associate with those prisoners needing and seeking training and skills. There is also a vital need to link achievers in sport, industry, agriculture and the arts with prisoners who come from backgrounds of entrenched disadvantage.

Prisons will fail the community if prison funding is advanced to focus disproportionately on containment, with limited funding for rehabilitation programs.

Keith McEwan, Bonython

HOWARD Brown, the vice-president of the NSW Victims of Crime League is reported to have said: ''Prison needs to be about punishment and rehabilitation.'' This is only 50 per cent correct. Jail IS the punishment and, once there, prisoners should NOT be further punished. Once there, it should all be about rehabilitation. Strachan's article correctly highlights the lack of money for the prison system, which unfortunately confirms the fact that prisoners - like the mentally ill - are very often just the forgotten part of society and money allocated to their wellbeing, such as rehabilitation programs, is often only there if some is left over, after spending millions on almost useless roads like the Majura bypass or allocating millions to spend on a tramway.

Geoff Barker, Flynn

 

Scrutiny for advisers

IT SEEMS to be a consensus among politicians that while politicians themselves are fair game for scrutiny and criticism, advisers are not. Yet as as the Sunday CT's recent feature on powerful pairings in Canberra brought out, Peta Credlin and Brian Loughnane wield a large degree of power. John Warhurst wrote: ''Both exercise considerable direct and indirect influence on the national government''. Credlin, in particular, is regularly heard and seen doing so. If she, unelected, directs and influences the government then voters and taxpayers are entitled to hold her to account.

Dallas Stow, O'Connor

 

Democracy for all

IT MAY be unfair to target Middle-Eastern democracy for criticism, as Michael McCarthy does (letters, July 28). I grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, where the concept of democracy was ''majority rule and stuff the minority''. Israel and many other countries probably still operate the same system, superficially democratic but patently unfair to minorities. Historically, genocides have been carried out ''democratically'' by governments with the support of the majority of their community. Arguably most Western democracies operate a variety of the same, what I term pendulum politics, with a parliamentary majority in effect conferring absolute power on a particular party. A change of government results in the pendulum inefficiently swinging the other way. Such governments disregard the number of people who voted for someone else, even if they were the majority of voters. Nor can one ignore the numbers who don't or can't vote, albeit a smaller problem in Australian than in many other developed countries. Australia is currently seeing the pendulum swing being dampened by a more representative Senate. But such a Senate is no panacea. No one could argue it is egalitarian to have the same number of senators from Tasmania as from NSW.

Ideally democracy, however it is structured, needs to be underpinned by strong human rights protections. These should preferably be enshrined in a modern constitution but one which is difficult to change (which I realise are potentially irreconcilable contradictions). Consensus should be the goal, not some narrow interpretation of democracy as majority rule.

Peter Marshall, Captains Flat NSW

 

What life?

THANK you David Walker, (Ainslie, CT, June 22) for a sensible discussion on suicide. Unfortunately Kevin Andrews and others seem to know what is best.

My father has Parkinson's and my question to the right-to-lifers is: why haven't you been to his house to change his incontinence pants, shower him, dress him, feed him and then hope he doesn't choke because of what Parkinson's is doing to his body? I hope we can get some sense into Parliament one day.

V Harris, Yass, NSW

 

Catch the bus

SHANE Rattenbury would like us to believe that only light rail can deliver the projected job and transit-oriented development benefits needed to support a modern, fast, reliable transport system (''Light rail has a strong foundation'', Forum, June 21, B9).

A recent analysis of 21 US and Canadian transit corridors by New York's Institute for Transportation & Development Policy shows that per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, bus rapid transit (BRT) leverages more transit-oriented development investment than other modes of rapid transit, including light rail.

For example, Cleveland, Ohio, leveraged more than $114 of new transit-oriented investment for every dollar it invested into its HealthLine BRT system while adding significant numbers of jobs and revitalising its city centre.

Denver had the best-performing light-rail system, leveraging nearly $15 per dollar invested. This contrasts with Portland's light-rail system that leveraged about $4 per dollar invested.

Curitiba, Guangzhou, Brisbane, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Ottawa and Eugene have all leveraged good to excellent returns from their investments in BRT while also gaining world-class transit systems.

The much lower construction, capital and operating costs of BRT mean that the benefit-leveraging ratio from BRT is much, much more than from light rail. With ACT government support and good planning, BRT will deliver to Canberra a world-class transit system and all of the jobs and development that the ACT government wants at a much lower cost to ratepayers.

Jeff Carl, Rivett

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