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Mr Fluffy fiasco a state of emergency

Date

Letters to the editor

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In January 2003, Canberra was devastated by the worst bushfires in living memory. Four people died, 490 were injured and 470 homes were destroyed. The sense of loss, survival, despair and hope by those directly affected, was almost overwhelming, but the ACT government and the people of Canberra combined as a community to react swiftly and with purpose to deal with the consequences of this terrible tragedy. Devastating as the fires were, Canberra emerged as a stronger, closer and prouder community as a result.

We are now facing a tragedy of equal, if not greater, proportions with the discovery of residual Mr Fluffy asbestos in 1049 Canberra homes. Now is the time for all Canberrans to again demonstrate how we, as a community, can work together to deal with, and overcome, this awful disaster.

What we must do is learn from, and build on, the lessons from the 2003 bushfires and, as a matter of the utmost urgency:

  • Declare a state of emergency;
  • Establish a recovery taskforce (in-hand);
  • Provide an immediate cash grant to those required to vacate their homes or meet other urgent expenses;
  • Provide emergency rental accommodation (at government expense) until existing, affected houses are demolished as needed and rebuilt;
  • Cover the demolition and rebuilding costs, at least to the market value of the property before the discovery of the Mr Fluffy asbestos;
  • Carry out regular monitoring of houses not demolished; and
  • Initiate ongoing health checks for ''at risk'' past and present occupants.

Let's show what we can do as a caring, compassionate community in the face of great adversity. We have done it before and we can do it again.

Andy Millar, Weston

No one seems ready to bite the bullet to rescue Mr Fluffy's victims ("Stricken Families fear for future", June 23, p4) from misery and financial plight resulting from the corporate negligence of allowing an evil monster to sell a dangerous product and then sponsor unavailing methods to have it removed.

The affected blocks already have all service connections. Back-of-coaster calculations suggest that if each of 1050 homes could be demolished and replaced using one of the ''flatpack'' designs now on offer at a cost of, say, $50,000 each, the total cost would be $53.5 million, less than a 10th of the proposal to spend $615 million on Northbourne Trams, or the $62 million on a new legislative building.

Perhaps we should make such an act of corporate generosity and atonement. There is no desperate need for the Northbourne trams.

Colin P. Glover, Canberra City

Preventing roof leaks

Recent wet and windy weather has again caused grief for some Canberra households due to leaking roofs and resulted in many calls to the SES (''Weather bureau predicts a big weekend of snow'', canberratimes.com.au, June 24).

Tiled roofs are commonly the problem because of cracks or strong wind blowing water under tiles and into the roof space. However, there has been a solution to this problem for decades. It's called roof sarking and is simply a protective sheet placed beneath the battens on which roof tiles rest. Water that makes it past the tiles simply runs down the sarking and into the gutters. Sarking also insulates and reduces risk from ember attack in bushfire-prone areas.

I've been amazed to see many new tiled-roof homes still being built around Canberra with no roof sarking. While the cost of installing it at the time of construction is minimal, it can't be retrofitted without taking the roof off.

Most home owners don't seem to know about this issue until it's too late. Insurers don't seem to care - my home insurance is no lower because I have sarking. Regulators, building designers, builders and insurers need to do better to protect home owners.

Glenn Pure, Kambah

Buses better for elderly

I take issue with the Chief Minister stating that light rail is more accessible for the elderly and disabled (''Light rail a financial risk: report'', June 20, p1). The exact opposite is the case. I am in my 70s and when visiting Melbourne I often have to use the trams. I mostly have to walk long distances to them and then long distances from them to reach my hotel. These trams are designed for standing passengers and have few seats. They rapidly accelerate from the tram stops, a characteristic of electric motor vehicles. I am normally one of the few oldies on the tram and at times I have to hang on like grim death to stay upright. ACTION buses are so different. Plenty of seats, comfortable, with helpful drivers.

Where I live I am surrounded by easily accessible bus stops on routes that spread over the amazing road network we have in Canberra. It is almost door-to-door service. So let us build on the great public transport we have and focus on improvements and lowering its carbon emissions over time. As for the goal of dense development along light rail corridors, this would turn them into main roads like in Melbourne.

John Holland, Dickson

Wrong conclusions

''Light rail a 'financial risk': report'' (June 20, p1) provides a selective and imbalanced view of the report's findings.

The conclusions drawn are inconsistent with the report compiled by the Centre for International Economics.

The report, which is an analysis of the entire ACT budget and touches only briefly on Capital Metro, also points out that each project must be assessed on its merits in order to deliver ''a net gain to ACT residents in order to be justifiable and appropriate''. As the government has outlined previously, Capital Metro is a project that will provide a positive return on investment and it will act as a connector for other major developments such as the City to the Lake program and the many developments along the light rail corridor.

While the report focuses on population growth as a driver for the project, its wider rationale includes reducing Canberra's high reliance on cars, promoting smarter infill development, and reinvigorating the gateway to the nation's capital. It costs 130 per cent more to develop sprawling areas than for more compact or infill developments. This cost comes from needing to deliver more utilities, roads, nearby services and public transport. Light rail can play a significant role in supporting and driving more compact, high-density development.

Simon Corbell, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development

Nationality must not come a distant second to religion

What is it with these arrogant, self-serving religions? For the last decade or so we've endured a constant stream of stories detailing how the Catholic church allowed paedophile priests to keep raping children under their care essentially because the reputation of the church was much more important than the laws of the land. In effect, in terms of fundamental rights, those kids were Catholic first and Australian a distant second.

Now Shahram Akbarzadeh (''Australian jihadists fuel anti-Islamic sentiments'', Times2, June 27, p5) effectively confesses the same thing in relation to radicals in the Islamic church. He implies that the main reason the Muslim hierarchy in Australia consistently fails to roundly condemn the behaviour of Muslim terrorists at home and abroad is that they wish to avoid ''allegations of betraying Islam''. That Australian Muslims, even moderates, are Muslims first and Australian a very distant second is disturbing.

A pox on both their houses.

Cuthbert Douglas, Bonython

Promises worth nothing

Like Pauline Westwood (Letters, June 26), we are also appalled by the Abbott government's betrayal of the ABC and SBS. In the PM's much-quoted speech on the eve of the 2013 election, he promised, among other things, that there would be ''no cuts to the ABC or SBS''. Since then he has broken each of the promises he made that night.

What sort of a man is this who goes on the public record with promises in order to garner support prior to an election and then blatantly rescind those ''promises'' a few months later.

We are extremely fortunate in Australia to have two outstanding public broadcasters and they are not for sale or to be tampered with at the whim of a government that has shown itself to be dishonest and untrustworthy.

Barbara Godfrey, Lyneham

Occupied, not 'disputed'

Yet another article from one of the spin doctors in the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council ( ''Why terminology matters in pursuit of a peace deal'', Times2, June 25, p5), this time seeking to justify the recent statement by Attorney-General George Brandis that East Jerusalem should be described by the more neutral terminology of ''disputed'' rather than ''occupied''.

Or Avi-Guy appears to believe that Brandis' statement represents the views of the Australian government. But Australia's long-standing policy on the legal status of East Jerusalem was reaffirmed by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop a few days ago. In a letter to ambassadors of Arab and Muslim countries obviously intended to undo the damage caused by Brandis' ill-advised comments, she clarified that Australia had not changed its position on the status of East Jerusalem and ''was consistent with UN resolutions on this issue''.

Avi-Guy claims that there is an ongoing debate over the legal applicability of the term ''occupation'' in reference to Israel's control over East Jerusalem. To support this statement he argues that the Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1907 Hague regulations have no application to East Jerusalem as Israel is not an ''occupying power'' for the purposes of that convention and regulations. That is because, he asserts, those international laws apply only where a sovereign country controls the territory of another sovereign country.

Jordan could not be such a sovereign country as it renounced its claim to East Jerusalem in 1988. Nor could it be occupied Palestinian territory because the Palestinians have never had a state.

But this argument was decisively rejected by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 advisory opinion on the legality of the Israeli separation barrier. The court held that the Geneva Convention also applies where a sovereign state occupies territory the legal ownership of which is disputed.

The applicability of the Geneva Convention is important because of the prohibition in Article 49 against an occupying power transferring parts of its own civilian population into the occupied territory. In its advisory opinion the court held Israel had violated that article in encouraging its Jewish citizens to reside in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In so far as East Jerusalem is concerned, there has been a considerable expansion of the Jewish population with a concomitant reduction in the city's Palestinian population.

Justin McCarthy, Chapman

Frightbat, out and proud

It's time to confess my sins, but I do not seek the blessing of any priest, or indeed any man. Reading Elizabeth Farrelly (''Man-hysteria on overdrive'', Times2, June 26, p4) has prompted me to ''come out'' and admit that I'm a ''frightbat''. Not only that, as an ex-Tasmanian I danced with joy when UNESCO's World Heritage Committee scotched the government's ''feeble'' attempt to reduce protection of Tasmania's native forests.

I deplore the government's budget attack on middle Australia, older Australians and those needing welfare support. I encourage Prime Minister Abbott to seek a double dissolution if the opposition and minor parties prevent passage of the mean and retrogressive budget. Finally, I am still a strong supporter of former prime minister Julia Gillard, can't wait to read her book, and will continue to spruik my views about the deplorable bully-boy treatment of her that allowed our current Prime Minister to achieve office.

Dianne Peacock (formidable frightbat), Isaacs

Deal with the bullies first

I was both pleased and saddened to read the recent articles published in The Canberra Times about bullying at ANU: pleased to see it being publicly acknowledged, but saddened that it is so widespread. My question is, that at a time of ever-decreasing education and research funding, how much is ANU spending on mitigating the fallout from this bullying epidemic. Would it not be more ethical, prudent and cost effective to deal with the bullying staff members?

Clare Idriss, Weston

Many hands make light of taxing work

Mid-morning, Wednesday, June 25: Four trucks park in Diddams Close on the shores of Lake Ginninderra. Nine workmen tumble out; four wait around near the public toilet block while five walk down towards a large tree branch which has, some time in the previous day or so, fallen across and damaged the fence between the large- and small-dog parks.

They look, briefly, then walk back up to their colleagues by the toilet block, stand around for a few minutes, then climb into the trucks and depart.

Mid-morning, Thursday, June 26: The part of the branch that had been lying in the big-dog park has been removed; the top parts of the branch remain lying on the ground in the small-dog park.

Eleven workmen arrive in at least three trucks and one utility.

Seven mill around near the toilet block; four, one carrying a chainsaw, walk down to the remains of the fallen branch. He with the chainsaw makes two cuts through slim branches; then shuts the chainsaw down. He and his three colleagues in the dog park look at another broken branch, still hanging from a nearby tree.

They leave, walking back up to the milling colleagues near the toilet block. After a few minutes they head off in the three trucks and one utility. The remains of the branch stay lying in the dog park.

Could this be one of the reasons why ACT rates and taxes are so high?

Bruce Wright, Latham

Time to move on

Your news item ''Ukraine President offers more powers to regions'' (June 27, p10), mentions Ukraine as the ''ex-Soviet state''. Isn't it time to abandon this description?

The Soviet Union has been dead and buried for 22 years. Ukraine has been a free nation for 22 years. Will we also continue to call Russia an ''ex-Soviet state''? After all, Russia was part of the Soviet Union!

Marta Stachurski, Red Hill

To the point

TAKEN FOR A RIDE

Can hardly wait to have trams that will be able to shave three minutes off the journey from Gungahlin to Civic according to the report ''Gungahlin light rail: 10 stops, 25 minutes'' (June 26, p1). People of Gungahlin must be very excited. Oh bother! I forgot that I won't be using it, just paying for it.

Judith Ballard, Kaleen

ICAC LACKS TEETH

If we can assume that corruption is illegal even in NSW, why have ICAC's findings not resulted in a string of successful prosecutions and custodial sentences? You have to conclude the designers of ICAC never meant it to be more than a toothless tiger, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. If the feds set up a comparable body, let's hope it has real teeth and is encouraged to use them.

Graeme Moffatt, Mt Darragh, NSW

REPEAT OFFENDER

Frank Marris and Eric Hunter (Letters, June 26) should read my letter (June 24) more carefully. I made no judgment about Fraser's use of the Senate in 1975. I simply wanted those who were outraged by it to know that Labor and Whitlam had thought the tactic to be legitimate when they tried to use it 170 times over 20 years.

David Smith, Mawson

NO IDEA

I have learned that the Sydney Festival of Dangerous Ideas now has one less speaker - a defender of honour killings. The only sure way to engage with a controversial idea is to present better arguments. I would have thought that the festival was the ideal place to do this.

At a time when George Brandis says people have a right to be bigots, do I detect a whiff of the notion that it's okay as long as those bigots are one of us?

Bob Gardiner, Kambah

SWITCHED OFF

Recently, Graham Downie (Letters, June 18) disputed my comment in a letter that more renewable electricity generation pushes down electricity prices. I tried to explain the merit order effect in relatively few words but my response was not published. So, instead, I suggest readers read this article, tinyurl.com/mqjhnu9, which cites eight further articles showing that when ''renewable energy is encouraged into the market, household electricity prices … fall''.

Peter Campbell, Cook

UNSURPRISED

First surprise: the ISIL attack on Iraq. Second surprise: the fact that the intelligence agencies everywhere were taken by surprise. Third surprise: the fact that the news media have failed to note or comment on the failure of the intelligence agencies.

Thomas Mautner, Griffith

 

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