Letters to the Editor

Light rail misstated

The opponents of light rail make the false assertion that we need to choose between rail and other modes of transport.

It is not a question of rail versus bus, versus cars, versus self-driving cars. Light rail is only one part of an integrated transport system for Canberra.

A light-rail service has the same capacity as six lanes of road transport for about 20per cent of the land.

It requires 80 per cent of the land required for bus transit.

It is superior to buses because the running costs are lower and it is hard to change rail lines into car lanes.

Driverless vehicles strengthen the case for light rail.


The vehicles will integrate into the system and act as feeders to the tram. Driverless vehicles are best suited for local, short-distance travel along non-congested roads.

They will increase the catchment size of a light-rail system from 400 metres to at least two kilometres. This makes light rail a viable alternative for connecting lower-density suburban areas.

Low-density Tuggeranong, Weston Creek, Woden and Belconnen all become light-rail viable.

The opposition to light rail comes from those who see political advantage, from those who oppose densification of Canberra, and from those opposed to providing public infrastructure that they will not personally use.

It does not come from those who want to see a low-cost, high-value, integrated transport system for all of Canberra.

Kevin Cox, Ngunnawal

In 2011, the public transport share of ACT trips to work was 7.8 per cent.

Labor's policy statement on October 15, 2012, "committed to increasing the public transport share of all work trips to 10.5per cent by 2016".

By 2014, that share had fallen to 7.1per cent and the policy statement had disappeared from Labor's website.

It recently reappeared in response to questions about a different Labor election commitment. But it soon disappeared again after it was used to remind Labor of its commitment to 10.5per cent by 2016.

Leon Arundell, Downer

Alan Wilson (Letters, February 5) suggests the light-rail project be put on hold until after the Assembly election later this year. I would go one further and suggest a referendum be held on light rail in conjunction with the election.

Light rail is looming as the major election issue.

While Labor's Simon Corbell says there is majority community support for the ACT government's light-rail proposal, there are many who doubt this.

There are some who think Labor is likely to lose the election over this issue.

Labor voters opposed to light rail face a dilemma in that their normal alternative would be to vote for the Greens.

However, it was Labor's need to obtain the support of the Greens after the last election that has led to the light-rail proposal being promoted.

A referendum at the time of the next election would make light rail a non-party-political issue and permit people to cast their vote based on policies other than light rail.

Dick Roe, Cook

It might come as a surprise to Dennis O'Brien (Letters, February 6) but George Beaton wasn't the only Labor voter to miscalculate or misinterpret Labor's light-rail intentions 40-plus months ago. A few naive souls may have been misled by Labor's farcical suggestions that the private sector might fund the proposal, while others no doubt expected a responsible incoming government to prioritise its commitments according to the prevailing economic conditions – as has been done for decades.

Unfortunately, in 2012, then Labor leader Katy Gallagher didn't expect to have to prostrate herself before the lone Green member in the Assembly in order to form government, so intelligent decision-making was quickly trumped by expediency.

Interestingly, the vote for the Greens, who had light rail as their major platform in 2012, went from 15.6per cent of the vote to 10.7per cent.

No doubt the reduced quota numbers due to the expanded Assembly will make a difference to its make-up but, equally, some Labor voters, myself included, will be extremely keen to ensure that grovelling to Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury is not part of the formation of the next government – one way or the other.

Jon Stirzaker, Latham

Impact on bus services

In criticising suggested selected-grade separated intersections for express buses (as an alternative to the likely $1billion Civic-Gungahlin tram system), David Flannery (Letters, February 4) forgets that you get a lot of change out of a billion for a few flyovers or underpasses.

Projecting that $1billion over the proposed Canberra-wide fixed-route tram system, existing bus services will most certainly be slashed to help pay for it, thus proliferating urban blight and inequitable land values.

Jack Kershaw, Kambah

Submarines doomed

The navy concedes it can't crew even the few submarines that it can keep at sea now ("Navy digs deep to keep submariners down below", February 5, p1).

Yet it persists in advising the government to waste more than $40billion on a larger number of these outdated craft because it can't bring itself to accept the bleeding obvious: that by the time the new boats are in service, the sea in which they operate will be heavily patrolled by relatively cheap submersible drones that render the submarines' supposed stealth and effectiveness an illusion.

If we must spend so much money on defence, could we at least spend it on hardware that has some prospect of survival in the battle space?

Better still, spend it on a very-fast, east-coast rail link instead – something genuinely useful to Australia.

Chris Whyte, Higgins

What did he expect?

Quelle horreur: Labor senator Sam Dastyari has just discovered that Australian politics is dominated by a corporate oligopoly, including our major banks, miners, grocers and telcos ("Labor senator Sam Dastyari claims that 10 companies have taken control of Australian politics", February 5, online).

Given that Dastyari is still catching up with the rest of us, perhaps one of his colleagues might educate him on the central role played by his party in enabling that to happen?

John Richardson,

Wallagoot, NSW

New depths for Pell

How sad to see Cardinal George Pell employing the Christopher Skase defence ("Pell 'too ill to fly' for abuse inquiry", February 6, p9).

John Daly, Lyons

It's no illusion, fossil fuels are not needed

The claim by political scientist Don Aitkin ("Feeling good about illusions", February 7, Times2, p1) – that regions with 100per cent renewable electricity need back-up from fossil fuels – has been refuted by both practical experience and detailed computer simulations.

Two German states already operate on 100per cent net renewable energy, mostly wind.

The "net" indicates trading electricity with each other and their neighbours.

South Australia generates 40per cent of its electricity from wind and solar and, as a result, is retiring its two coal-fired power stations.

The quantity of traded electricity is relatively small.

University of NSW researchers have been conducting computer simulations of 100per cent renewable electricity for the national electricity market, which includes the ACT.

The simulations are based on real hourly data on demand, wind and sunshine spanning eight years.

The technologies are all commercially available and could be scaled up rapidly.

The studies show that 100per cent renewable electricity would be reliable and affordable.

Base-load power stations are not needed and the amount of storage in the system is quite small.

Similar results, with different mixes of renewable energy technologies, have been obtained by the Australian Energy Market Operator and by overseas studies for European countries and the US.

The barriers to renewable energy are no longer technological or economic.

Associate Professor Mark Diesendorf,

University of NSW

Raising GST regressive, time to focus on taxing the wealthy

It appears the Turnbull government has seen the light and decided against raising the GST, a regressive tax.

One would hope that good economic sense has now been focused on tax breaks that benefit the wealthy, such as multi-national tax avoidance, overly generous superannuation concessions, or negative gearing coupled with discounted capital gains provisions.

Unfortunately, it seems more likely that the Coalition Government has imagined a light rather than seen one. The imagined light is the one in danger of being switched off in marginal Coalition-held electorate offices after a "GST election". The light of political expediency has trumped that of sound economic management yet again.

When will we be able to see good government rather than having to imagine it?

Harry Samios O'Connor

Need to be fair

Mikayla Novak's reporting of the confusion in Oxfam's arguments on addressing wealth inequality ("Not all people are equal", February 6, Opinion, p7) seems to me somewhat confused also.

She says the Oxfam proposition is that tax havens should cease and desist and that tax avoiders (individuals and firms) should be more severely punished.

She then goes on to explain at length why higher taxes are counterproductive to fairer wealth distribution.

True, but que? How is cracking down on tax evasion (particularly by the uber-rich) the same as raising tax rates?

Recent reporting on the payment of taxes by individuals and firms around the globe, while complicated by the need to encourage opportunity and growth and to have even playing fields, makes for some pretty ugly reading.

As Bob Dylan once said, "steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and the make you a king".

David Barratt, Yarralumla

Mikayla Novak suggests less regulation, and less tax for big companies, not more, is the solution to growing inequality.

The reality is that a largely lawless global system of taxation has seen the poorest countries lose at least $100 billion a year due to tax dodging and profit shifting.

Take the example of Sierra Leone, where low tax "breaks", argued for by large companies, were equivalent to 59per cent of the country's national budget in 2012.

Companies should pay their fair share of tax and not seek such tax breaks, especially in the poorest countries in the world, and governments should not offer them.

Transparent, working tax systems fund the things that people need: health, education, and infrastructure.

The IMF agrees that funding these things properly will not only boost equality, but also boost growth.

Suggesting transparent laws and fair tax systems are not needed is not only wrong, for many poor people it is downright dangerous.

Regarding the inclusion of people in debt in Oxfam's calculations, when negative wealth is included the top 1per cent have 50.1per cent of global wealth — when it is excluded, their share is 49.8per cent.

This minute difference does not change the story of extreme inequality.

Helen Szoke,

chief executive, Oxfam

Flagging respect

I checked the meaning of "revere", just to be safe, and I think anyone who reveres a flag possibly needs a bit of fun poked at them (P.S.Wilkins' letter, February 6).

Flags are symbols, and it is what they represent that deserves respect, or opprobrium, or even sometimes ridicule, not necessarily the piece of cloth itself.

I look forward to the day when "vexillophiles" loudly object to the wearing of the Australian flag image on thongs, boxer shorts and bikinis, to choose just a few rather disrespectful examples.

Then perhaps their outrage may be taken more seriously.

Peter Marshall,

Captains Flat, NSW

Priorities revealed

Now we can be certain of where editorial priorities lie.

Colour photos on pages 1 and 4, with a sympathetic reporting of a racist gathering ("Rally reclaims the stage", February 7). Did anyone see any report of Thursday's largest-ever gathering in support of the 237 refugees now in danger of deportation after the High Court's decision?

Bob Gardiner, Isabella Plains

Statements of intent

As president of VoteCanberra, I wish to provide some further information following Kirsten Lawson's article ("Independents prepare no-policy party", February 6, p2).

While VoteCanberra as an organisation will not stipulate policies that its candidates must support, our pre-selection process will require candidates to provide a public, written statement about why they wish to represent VoteCanberra and a commitment not to form a coalition (as anticipated by Michael Moore).

All of VoteCanberra's eligible members will then be able to consider those statements before selecting VoteCanberra's candidates, and Canberra's voters can of course consider them and other public statements by VoteCanberra candidates before voting for the Assembly.

In addition, the fact that any voter can join VoteCanberra, stand for preselection if they wish, and have an equal say in the preselection process, should improve diversity and independence in the Assembly.

Currently, the traditional political parties select nearly all of the candidates, and the only role for the vast majority of voters is to select between the people – nearly always party insiders, former political staffers, etc – picked by the parties.

VoteCanberra doubts the parties will necessarily include the best 25 people to take decisions for Canberra in the Assembly. But to secure a positive change, the community must stand up – VoteCanberra is an opportunity.

Bruce Paine, president,



One person's confected and hysterical outrage at coloured dolls being displayed for sale, and the dolls are removed from the hospital kiosk ("Hospital golliwogs taken off the shelves after online outcry", February 5, p2). Can the complainant, Emma Woolley, explain how these dolls "increase the barriers Aboriginals face"? And what are the barriers in the ACT that Aborigines encounter when accessing healthcare?

Owen Reid, Dunlop


If golliwogs promoted or encouraged racial hatred or ridicule the stance taken by Canberra Hospital in banning them would be laudable. But they do not. For decades, gollies have been much loved by and a source of comfort to children, comparable only to teddies. To ban them seems to send some sort of twisted, reverse-racist message that being black is so awful and embarrassing that we must never acknowledge it. On the contrary, black is beautiful. Leave golliwogs alone!

Judith Erskine, Belconnen


As a lawyer, surely the Prime Minister concedes it is not lawful to lock up people without trial ("Detention ruling pressures PM", February4, p1). It is far worse that under his care and control they can be mentally and physically abused.

Gerry Gillespie, Queanbeyan, NSW


It's been mooted that Stan Grant should enter Parliament. I think he would be a real asset. So, too, would Waleed Aly – confirmed for me by his latest superb commentary ("Nauru tests our integrity", February 5, Times2, p1). But their real value would be as independents, unshackled to either of the effete major parties. That I would really like to see.

Eric Hunter, Cook


The country expected a sea change from Abbott government to Turnbull government, as promised by Malcolm Turnbull when he wrested the captaincy from Abbott. Captain Turnbull has made only one change so far: the discontinuation of the imperial honour system. Nothing else.

Sankar Kumar Chatterjee, Evatt


Is there a reason why some bus stops in Tuggeranong are being moved a few metres down the road? I recently noticed that a bus stop on Longmore Crescent in Wanniassa was being moved. Now another, this time on Castleton Crescent in Gowrie, is also being relocated. This comes shortly after the renaming of the Erindale bus stop as a "station".

Margaret Curran, Gowrie

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