Mr Fluffy houses are time bombs

Attorney-General Simon Corbell says he won't demolish Mr Fluffy houses because, although government failed to clean them properly, and a succession of buyers/home-renovators justifiably assumed that they had, it would be too expensive (''No mass demolition of Mr Fluffy houses'', April 12, p3).

But will demolition, or at least serious stabilisation measures now, be more expensive than paying off dying Canberrans? People who relied on government remediation, renovated homes and found themselves or a family member with asbestos cancer decades later (soon). People who will sue.

Add to that, compensating the owners of a thousand-odd homes who also relied on government remediation and, after the first case of Mr Fluffy-linked asbestos cancer is reported, find their homes worthless. Serious economic losses there.

Belated letters to owners can't dodge liability. Slater and Gordon will have a field day, aided by the government's implicit admission of responsibility by demolishing that un-remediated house in Downer, rather than remediating it.

Cuthbert Douglas, Bonython

Proof in transcript

Peter Robinson (Letters, April 12) claims that I got it wrong suggesting that it was Justice Peter McClellan and not Cardinal George Pell who floated the wrong-headed idea of a paedophile priest being able to self-insure. Let the reader judge by reading the transcript. As Robinson notes, Maria Gerace, counsel for Mr Ellis (and not counsel assisting, as Robinson asserts), asked ''Does Catholic Church Insurances insure a priest for criminal conduct?''


Pell answered, ''No, and it's a moot point whether they can insure somebody for criminal conduct.''

Justice McClellan then took over, floating the possibility that it could be done.

Here's the transcript with McClellan asking the questions and Pell answering:

''Q. Cardinal, the criminal conduct we're talking about is a deliberate tort; you understand that?

A. That's a deliberate legal offence.

Q. No - well, it's that, but it's also a civil wrong. A. Yes.

Q. I mean, if you hit someone in the street, you may commit a criminal assault, but you will also be liable in the civil law for assault. Do you understand?

A. I understand that now.

Q. There's no reason why the insurer couldn't provide insurance for a civil wrong, could it?

A. I simply don't know, but if you say that they can, good.

Q. They often do. A. Good.''

As I said, McClellan floated the idea, not Pell.

Fr Frank Brennan, Australian Catholic University, Watson

Rape consent gap

Barrister Jack Pappas (''Rape case no breakthrough'', Times2, April 11, p1)misses the point for non-lawyers from ''Change to consent rule in rape cases'' (April 9, p1). It's important that experts in forensic medicine and trauma recovery can help jurors understand that physical resistance is impossible for many people experiencing sexual assault. Regrettably, Pappas' reiteration of past legislative changes distracts from the valuable precedent in recent ACT proceedings: Michael Inman's enlightening article, and the experts he quotes, had acknowledged that laws have progressed beyond requiring rape victims to prove they had resisted physically if they were to argue they had not consented.

Rather, the issue remains the reported ''huge gap'' between legislating for reforms and actually achieving better courtroom practice. While Pappas notes barristers' obligations to ask only legitimate questions and avoid inferences about consent in cases where resistance was not apparent, the reality is, notwithstanding legal safeguards, people who have been sexually assaulted still encounter needless courtroom challenges when jurors retain, or if lawyers exploit, misconceptions about resistance and consent.

Pappas' protest that the law already aligns with ''commonsense and everyday human experience'' ignores the growing research evidence about the complexities of trauma. That requires expert understanding, not just ''common sense'', so juries need access to expert witness evidence. I hope this precedent can help tackle common misunderstandings that adversely affect people who experience sexual assault as well as those who serve as jurors in their cases.

Helen Swift, Farrer

No-so-divine royals

We all should welcome Prince George, our future king, and his mum and dad. As we look at our young prince playing with other toddlers in a New Zealand child- care centre, we can muse on what distinguishes this baby of destiny from his lookalike companions. He carries the genes of the Saxe-Coburg Gotha-Windsor line and thereby inherits the divine right of kings and succession to the English throne. He is destined to be the head of state, monarch and nominal ruler of Australia - possibly around 2064. What talents and skills he will bring to this role we cannot know until he grows up, but the job is his by (divine?) right. This attractive young family will be welcomed by most Australians but gone is the aura enjoyed by earlier royals.

We think of the Windsors now as not unlike us, people coping with various challenges including divorces and errant children, although they live in grand palaces and enjoy celebrity status. They seem likeable enough but exhibit no obvious signs of being superior beings. We no longer believe in the divine right myth but cling, childlike, to the fairytale of princes and princesses, even though our royals live in another country and just drop in occasionally. Perhaps it is time to welcome Will and Kate, the next time they visit, as a proud republic.

Peter Dawson, Hughes

Boats hypocrisy

David Pope's editorial cartoon (April 13, p14) of asylum seekers with black boxes on their heads was a good comment on the situation. But it ignores some very, very important questions.

What is the difference between swapping boat people with Malaysia and paying to send them to PNG, Nauru or Cambodia? Why are the usual complainers so quiet? Since the Malaysia solution of Labor remains anathema, why is there no loudly self-righteous procession into the High Court to squelch the Coalition's Cambodia solution? Just what is it in the Australian soul which can tolerate such hypocrisy? A cartoonist can't answer questions like this, of course. So we await a revelation from Greens senator Christine Milne.

G. T. W. Agnew,

Coopers Plains, Qld

Rise in Chinese ownership unlikely to benefit Australia

I could not agree more with Richard Denniss that ''it's easy to get a free trade agreement if you don't care what you get or how much you pay'' (''Nothing free about Abbott's trade deals'', Forum, April 12, p9). Talking up his dream of a troika of free trade agreements at his April 11 press conference in China, Prime Minister Tony Abbott used the inept metaphor of a World Cup grand final.

Two down, with Japan and Korea, but Team Australia is now ''shooting for the third goal'' - with China. The heroic sporting image of competition was somewhat blunted by subsequent reference to ''our Chinese partners'', to whom ''we can give … food security''.

If a free trade agreement is a sporting trophy, has Abbott considered the asymmetrical power wielded by China, which could threaten our own food security, particularly given plans never before entertained to allow some of the plethora of Chinese state-owned enterprises to purchase Australian property. If, on the other hand, it is a form of aid and comfort, why are we providing that to a ''partner'' which is soon to become the world's No. 1 economy? Why are we considering lowering the bar so Chinese state-owned enterprises can qualify to buy $1 billion of Australian property and resources?

Does our PM realise these enterprises owned by the Chinese state are largely unreceptive to the rule of law? How can they bring a national benefit to Australia, or be fully competitive in a market sense?

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher argued on ABC 666 radio that we need not worry about problems arising from her quest for Chinese capital to fund projects such as City to the Lake because there were ''national'' controls in place.

This, just as national ''controls'' are in the process of being relaxed.

As someone who has studied, lived and taught in China, I shudder at the naivety and blithe ignorance of our politicians and their failure to consult Australian national interests.

Ann Kent, Forrest

Has there ever been a ''trade'' trip that was handled in such a naive manner. Tony Abbott, buoyed by his successes in Japan and Korea, blew it by his ''World Cup'' analogy, making it obvious to the Chinese that Australia was for sale for business investment in all categories. Their expectations will now include prime agricultural land, in short supply in our harsh country and needed for own own purposes, ownership of mining leases rather than being a buyer from Australia, and purchase of manufactured food products. This will require a minimum Australian workforce and Chinese labour, soon to be the norm if we do not curtail the selling off of our country, all in the name of foreign investment at any price.

Try to buy such land in Japan or China and one will be told in no uncertain terms where to go. Jobs are not as important as owning and seeing some long-term betterment from our own resources, not selling them off for a quick dollar.

Rex Williams, Ainslie

DMO ineffective

Steven Bradley (Letters, April 12) quite reasonably queried any plan to privatise the Defence Materiel Organisation on the basis that privatisation has not proved cost-effective in other OECD countries and has actually been reversed in Britain.

There is a possibility that the gambit is designed for just such a reversal after a defective collection of dinosaurs has been disbanded. Following a string of materiel scandals over the last decade or so, the best that can be said of the DMO is that its documentation ticks all the boxes.

The problem is to get the boxes right. The DMO has, on occasion, proved ineffective at evaluation and it has singularly failed to demonstrate development of a viable whole-of-life costing methodology.

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor

Whitewashing history

Sri Lankan ambassador Thisara Samarasinghe paints a rosy picture of life in his country since the civil war that ended in 2009 (''Schooled in diplomacy at sea'', Forum, April 12, p4). One wonders whether those still suffering the effects of that brutal conflict, and the Tamils who are subject to continuing severe human rights violations (including some returned after seeking asylum in Australia), would share the enthusiasm of this whitewashed version of Sri Lanka's recent history.

Just two weeks ago the UN Human Rights Council voted for international investigations into war crimes alleged to have been committed by government forces and Tamil fighters. There is evidence that government forces committed the majority of the crimes and have attempted to destroy evidence of mass civilian killings.

Australia opposed the UN move, co-operation in ''stopping the boats'' of course trumping all else, even accountability for large-scale attacks on civilians.

The ambassador states regret that Australian rules football is too rough and lacks rules. It would be more to the point if he showed interest in the rules of armed conflict, including the prohibition on attacks on civilians. The ambassador himself was chief of naval operations when Tamil civilians were shelled in a ''safe zone'' during the war. Sri Lanka's reputation will continue to be tarnished until it co-operates with independent investigations into the violent deaths of tens of thousands of its people.

Australia, by the crimes we are prepared to overlook, will yet again prove to be on the wrong side of history.

Dr Sue Wareham, Cook

Basic subject

The article ''Stop the boats: PM's smooth sailing with Asia'' by Mark Kenny (Times2, April 11, p5) contains the following sentence: ''Not that this trip was ever going to be easy, whomever led it.'' ''Whom'' is the object form. The subject form (the doer) is ''who''. The correct phrase is ''whoever led it''. It is a shame to see our national capital's beloved newspaper allowing such basic grammatical mistakes to slip through.

Pauline Westwood, Dickson

To the point


If Caroline Le Couteur (Letters, April 10) feels bad about the tax-free status of her superannuation pension, she can declare it as ''other income'' in her tax return. The Tax Office will have no problem assessing it.

P. Murphy, Gungahlin


Would that there were more like Bob Carr in the now marshmallow Australian Labor Party. And what a joy to see the commentariat's feathers so ruffled. At least Carr is unfettered by political correctness, is literate, intelligent and courageous enough to take on the Zionist lobby and entertaining to boot. What characterises the parliamentary ALP is opportunism and the absence of guts as it grasps for direction and relevance.

Peter Sesterka, Hawker

It is good to see that in the week of Sue Townsend's death, Bob Carr carries on the tradition with the release of his book The Not-So-Secret Diary of an American Mole aged 66¾.

John Passant, Kambah


Enough of the bleating by your journalists about which sporting code draws the largest crowd on any given day as if that's all that matters. What matters is that people attend these events and show their support for the sport and the teams in spite of the naysayers and often poor scheduling by the respective leagues.

Graeme Rankin, Holder


People on the left are beyond parody with their demonstrations against the asylum-seeker policy. Where were these sanctimonious hypocrites when people were dying at sea and detention centres were filling faster than they could be made?

H. Ronald, Jerrabomberra, NSW


Nice to read of the continued success of Canberra actor Ed Wightman (Question Time, Panorama, April 12, p3). My two sons, now 24 and 26, were among students in Weetangera Primary School's after-school care program in the 1990s who enjoyed drama classes under Wightman's able tutelage. While those students may have long forgotten their lines in the dramatic production of The Golden Goose, the personal confidence and teamwork skills they gained, thanks to his care and encouragement, would have had more lasting benefits.

M. Saunders, Weetangera


Fair enough, Noel Towell (''Face it, they're keeping watch'', Forum, April 12, p1). But you may as well have called the piece ''Face it, we're destroying our freedoms''.

S.W. Davey, Torrens

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