There is no doubt that a ''secure mental health prison unit'' is needed in the ACT (''Unanimous go-ahead for mental health unit'', August 5, p3), but the proposed location of this prison unit in Symonston would exacerbate the staffing problems anticipated by the Chief Minister (''Warning on mental health unit challenges'', August 8, p3).
The site selected by the ACT government is on the rocky outcrop on the side of Mount Mugga Mugga.
The area was previously occupied by the Quamby Youth Justice Centre and rejected for further development because of prohibitive costs due to the terrain; the inability to establish a secure clear area around the perimeter for the protection of staff and residents in the suburbs of Symonston, O'Malley, Garran, Red Hill, Griffith and Narrabundah; and the lack of space for expansion.
In short, the selection of this site is flawed. The site would incur unacceptable costs, pose workplace risks and create safety risks for residents in surrounding suburbs.
It should be replaced by an alternative site to better meet community and user needs.
I can't help asking an obvious question, particularly as both parties are in agreement: What will the building of such a unit solve (''Unanimous go-ahead for mental health unit'', August 5, p3)?
I have seen no figures which justify the cost of building a 25-bed secure mental health unit in the ACT. I foresee that it would be mostly empty most of the time or, alternatively, patients who should not be in such a restrictive environment would be put there because it might be ''easier'' to manage them.
The overriding principle these days in most enlightened cities is that people with mental illness should be treated in the least restrictive way, with consideration for their safety and the safety of others. Indeed the ACT's own legislation enshrines this in the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act 1994, which speaks of treating mentally ill and mentally dysfunctional persons with freedom, dignity and self-respect, in the least restrictive environment. (See sections seven and eight in particular.)
It seems to me that our legislators are confusing two issues: first, the need to house securely those found not guilty of serious crimes such as murder on the grounds of mental illness, and those serving a jail sentence who are mentally ill or become mentally ill, for as long as necessary and until legally discharged; and second, how to deal with those who are violent or become violent or engage in unacceptable behaviour while in the unit but, importantly, have not been found guilty of any crime and mostly have not even been charged with one - they are just ill.
In my experience (admittedly as a magistrate and not as a doctor) these episodes are usually transitory, and while alarming, they are short-lived and can be dealt with by appropriately trained staff and medication.
So the question remains: who would occupy those beds?
Sue Schreiner, Red Hill
Fixed-line is fine
Of course Mark Boscawen and Laurence Young (Letters, August 9) are correct in their reference to ''naked DSL'', which is only part of what the industry refers to as ''fixed-line broadband''. This market sector also includes the national broadband network fibre lines.
For most users, the existing technology of fixed-line broadband (including naked DSL) is adequate. It should be upgraded only when the need justifies the expenditure.
Telstra financial reports give several representative numbers. Mobile revenue is up 6 per cent, fixed-line earnings are down 6.1 per cent (voice is down 9.5 per cent). Data is cheap these days.
Revenue and profits drive business, and that includes the national broadband network. By the way, many apartments in Hong Kong are built without kitchens.
Scott Rashleigh, Red Hill
Low-income tax shock
Low-income earners are in for a shock when they do their tax return. After doing a friend's tax return, I was shocked to find that she is slightly worse off this year, despite the increase of the tax-free threshold from $6000 to $18,000. It seems that the low-income tax offset has been significantly reduced (from $1500 to $445); I guess to ''pay for'' the increase in the threshold.
Doubting my figures, I contacted the Tax Office, which confirmed these details and advised that it had been receiving several calls from people in similar situations. Seems that the increase of the tax-free threshold has benefited only those on middle or high incomes who had no chance of getting a low-income tax offset in the first place. What a disgrace - and slap in the face - for our low-income earners!
Maree Uren, Isaacs
Your report ''Chickenpox now blamed for Aboriginal deaths'' (August 8, p9) did not mention the fact that the chickenpox theory has a long tradition in the literature and has never gained credibility. It was most recently refuted in F.B. Smith's 2011 book, Illness in Colonial Australia.
Recent invocations of chickenpox theory appear related to the destruction of another theory for the infamous outbreak of smallpox near Sydney in 1789. Several authors have claimed that the Sydney outbreak originated from the Celebes Islands, which are hundreds of miles north of Australia. This hypothesis was refuted by Craig Mear in the journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society in 2008.
There are no reports of chickenpox on the First Fleet and, as there were so many diarists and medical staff, this appears conclusive. For most of the 18th century, chickenpox would have been recorded as a form of mild or modified smallpox.
First Fleeters may have carried chickenpox in the form of shingles but most cases of shingles occur in adults over 60. Few First Fleeters were in this category. There are no reports of outbreaks.
The aspersions carried in your article against ''academics, including Noel Butlin'' were inexpert and distasteful.
Christopher Warren, Aranda
No choice for those who want to vote for none of the above
I received a phone call last night from a polling company anxious to ask me the question: ''If there was a federal election tomorrow, whom would you vote for? Would you vote for the Labor Party?'' I answered: ''No.'' ''Would you vote for the Liberal Party?'' I answered: ''No.'' ''Would you vote for the Greens?'' I answered: ''No.'' ''Would you vote for an independent?'' I answered: ''No.'' There was a little silence and then I was thanked.
I asked: ''You do not intend to register my responses, do you?'' The pollster said: ''No, I am sorry, but there is nowhere on the questionnaire for your response.'' Seems to sum up the way I feel about the choice I face in September.
Kathryn Spurling, Chifley
David Stephens (Letters, August 7) asked for a cogent economic reason why achieving a surplus should be a goal of fiscal policy. A simple explanation is that deficits push the responsibility for meeting our debts into the future. The Business Council was not peddling a false analogy when comparing it with households. It is the equivalent of me buying a Ferrari for enjoyment today but expecting my children and grandchildren to pay it off when they start work, and at the same time pay for my hospital and retirement home costs as I have enjoyed spending all my assets.
There is truth in the philosophy of Dickens' Mr Micawber: ''Annual income £20, annual expenditure £19 nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income £20, annual expenditure £20 ought and six, result misery.'' The fiscal equivalent is 'Five-year national income $20 trillion, five-year national expenditure $21 trillion, misery.''
This is the misery now being faced by Greece and Portugal. Deficits are justified as a short-term measure to tide over a temporary slump, or if it's a worthwhile investment for future income. However, Australia is not a developing economy like China, India or Indonesia. We have an ageing population, thus in the future a greater proportion of national revenue will be spent on the substantial medical costs of old age.
Whichever party wins the election needs to implement a policy of having surpluses for the next five years. I want my grandchildren to enjoy the same standard of living I did before the recent global financial crisis. To propose a Ferrari-like swag of new spending proposals and needing a deficit to pay for it is just intergenerational selfishness.
Paul Fitzwarryne, Yarralumla
The result of the last election was evenly split and as we all know both Labor and Liberal had to negotiate with the independents. Tony Abbott was willingly involved in this process until three of the four independents decided to give their votes to Labor. The negotiations and the process was democratic but Mr Abbott would not accept the decision, and for three years has been asking for an election calling the government among other things ''a disaster''.
Well, if the last three years was a disaster with all the positive legislation that was passed and we are now the envy of the world, I would say that is a good thing. If we vote that way again we have been told by Abbott that he will not accept our vote (''I will not do deals''). What is he saying? He would not accept my vote?
Fran Harris, Hall
Professor Andrew Blakers (Letters, August 8) is mistaken. Rather than denigrating solar or wind electricity, I questioned his assertion of an easy transition to an all-renewable electricity system and, in particular, that the ACT's ability to achieve a 90 per cent renewable electricity target was evidence supporting this view. The target only advances renewables penetration in Australia by a fraction of a per cent. None will be renewable electricity that has been stored as pumped-hydro. Any boast about the target should, and probably will, bring a fleet of Skywhales of derision.
John Bromhead, Rivett
My son-in-law is a serving member of the navy and, when he is overseas, my wife sometimes sends him a care package of cake, confectionery, nuts etc. We have just learnt that the package we sent recently ($37 postage to Perth) is being held there because the navy has decided not to forward parcels.
My son-in-law can wait until he returns home to receive his parcel, but my heart goes out to other serving personnel whose children may have sent drawings, photos, treats to a parent away from home.
To save a tiny amount of money in this way seems to me to be petty in the extreme.
Dr David McCarthy, Nicholls
Left well and truly behind
Dave Roberts (Letters, August 6) makes an excellent point about the unfairly detrimental effect which changes to the CPI have had on the indexation of CSS pensions.
But some of the details he mentioned are inaccurate. The changes he referred to occurred in 1998, not 1990, and the method of measuring consumers' costs during a given period was not changed to an ''input cost to business'', but to the cost of ''all goods and services acquired [by consumers] … regardless of the period in which payment or use occurs'' (ABS information paper, cat no 6461.0, p5).
One of the biggest changes, though, was the replacement of the expenditure patterns of metropolitan wage and salary-earning households with those of all metropolitan households in the data used for calculating the CPI. Since these changes, the CPI has risen by only 52.5 per cent (ABS, cat no 640102, Data1 table), while the ABS's living cost indices for employees, age pensioners and other government-transfer recipients have risen by 55.1 per cent, 57.8 per cent, and 60 per cent respectively (ABS cat no 646701, Data1 table).
The ABS does not publish a separate living-cost index for military or public service superannuants, but for those whose post-tax income is roughly similar to that of age pensioners, a cost-of-living index should be similar to theirs as well.
David Wilson, Braddon
Billboards a danger to pedestrian safety
It has started already in Hibberson Street, Gungahlin - prospective candidates are setting up their tables and sign-boards right on the approaches to the pedestrian crossings, creating a bottleneck.
I believe this to be illegal as the traffic do not have a clear sight of people (especially children) who are about to cross. Buses, trucks and cars are very nervous about proceeding over the crossing, including yours truly.
Some families are avoiding the hassle of being accosted by taking a chance and crossing elsewhere between the vehicles. Can we not stop this very dangerous practice of electioneering methods and move them on?
Peter Burrows, Franklin
I find it hard to understand how a group claiming to be concerned about the environment can pollute our roadsides with ugly billboards. I thought such advertising boards were illegal in the ACT? If I am right they are also law-breakers.
Roll on the election when we can have our roadsides back again, assuming they bother to remove them.
Audrey Guy, Ngunnawal
End of life decisions
I generally disagree with the concept of ''lies, damned lies and statistics'', as it is the understanding and use of statistics and research that is usually at fault, not the data itself.
So it is with Clara Curtis (Letters, August 10). Ms Curtis fails to report that of the 66 Belgian patients in the research whose explicit consent was not obtained for the decision to end their life, 70 per cent were in a coma. Forty per cent had previously discussed the issue with their doctor, so presumably the decision was in line with that previous discussion. It is normal for decisions about people to be made by family or formally appointed public officials, when they are unable to make decisions themselves. An end of life decision is irreversible, and the researchers argued strongly for the use of advance directives.
Peter Marshall, Captains Flat, NSW
TO THE POINT
A leaders debate? I don't think so. The person with the clearest leadership credentials in terms of a positive policy platform, Christine Milne, wasn't there. And by extension the organisers are happy to exclude a large proportion of the Australian electorate from this process.
Kathryn Kelly, Chifley
What a fiasco. A weak moderator unable to stop any of the two party leaders from criticising the other rather than answering the questions asked. Nothing new was heard and no question was answered. The only thing we can be sure of is that neither of them is ready to be a leader.
G. Coquillette, Spence
It is staggering that with the looming and massive issue of how we deal with our ageing population, it is not even on the radar of either party in the forthcoming election. Is it too hot to handle, or just too big to face? Gay marriage gets much more coverage.
C. McKew, Forrest
Kevin Rudd ''takes the hard decision'' to disendorse a Labor candidate who abused a female co-worker 10 years ago. Is this the pot - who so abused a female RAAF steward on a prime-ministerial flight that she was reduced to tears - calling the kettle black?
Roger Dace, Reid
AXE MEN COMETH
If the Libs get in, then Mad Monk, Concrete Blonde and Fatboy Slim will take the axe to the public service to rival Thunderclap Newman up north. Canberra won't be the place to live for a lot of people.
Mike Dalton, Gowrie
DESUGAR THE FUTURE
A frightening medical future was described in your article ''The diabetes time bomb'' (Pulse, August 8, p16). Growing up in the Netherlands before World War II, I remember my mother and my aunts refer to the malady as ''sugar sickness''. Might be a good idea to frighten modern people into refraining from a sugary diet.
Johannes Esman, Braidwood, NSW
AFP COMPUTER SYSTEM
The Canberra police sourcing their new computer system from Israel (''New AFP system developed in Israel'', August 10, p3) is highly objectionable. Not only would the AFP be giving tacit approval of a government that is non-compliant in human rights and international law, it would be benefiting directly from the testing of the computer program on the oppressed and suffering people of Palestine.
David Bastin, Nicholls