Letters to the Editor
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Seek parents' consent

Education Minister Shane Rattenbury said schools "should not need to seek individual permission to have access to an anti-bullying program" ("ACT likely to stand firm on Safe Schools", March 21, p3). This is ignoring the potentially contentious nature of the Safe Schools Coalition program, as accepted by Professor Bill Louden in his review.

This program is more than an anti-bullying program, and promotes particular beliefs about sexuality and gender. It would not hurt for parents to be asked to provide permission for their children to attend, as is required for other beliefs-based programs in schools.

It would also not hurt parent bodies to consult parents before adopting the program, so their decision takes into account the view of parents who consider that, under the program, all students would be less free to be themselves.

Anti-bullying programs are, very rightly, already extensive in schools, and I notice the government has directed that the rights of all students to seek counselling services be maintained.

Perhaps this will help to calm parents concerned about their gender-questioning children, given the program should remain optional.

Arthur Connor, Weston


Fed-up but not phobic

I refer to Heather Nash's bemoaning (Letters, March 22) the proliferation of "phobias" in our society. I, too, am a little tired of the misuse of this psychiatric term to describe those who simply may have a point of view different to others. They have a different opinion, not a psychiatric disorder.

Those who wish to use the term correctly might be enlightened by reference to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.

In this august volume, eight diagnostic criteria are set out, the first being "marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation".

One should only be labelled phobic if these criteria are satisfied. Most of those labelled as phobic by social commentators and others equally poorly informed would not satisfy even the first criterion. Therefore, in to answer Anne's specific question, no, there isn't a phobia to cover people who are tired of phobias – being tired of something does not satisfy the diagnostic criteria.

Kieran Edward Fallon, MD , Hawker

Unions proud of deal

Unions are proud of the memorandum of understanding on procurement with the ACT government.

Over the past 11 years, it has helped establish a level playing field for local small businesses to compete fairly and create local jobs. The memorandum ensures reputable businesses need not fear unsafe, disreputable and rogue contractors can undercut them. The ACT is a better place to work for employees of contractors because of agreements like this.

Despite the partisan attitude of M.Silex (Letters, March 21) and the Canberra Liberals, the MOU has helped provide for improved workplace safety for thousands of employees of ACT government contractors.

The ACT, despite recent improvements, remains the least safe jurisdiction in Australia, with 42 construction workers injured every month. UnionsACT will never take a backward step when it comes to your safety at work, or your rights at work, and agreements like the MOU are a small part of ensuring the Americanisation of work rights never comes to Canberra.

Alex White, secretary, UnionsACT

Given the details of the memorandum of understanding between the ACT government and UnionsACT, as outlined in The Canberra Times editorial ("Government MOU puts union first", Times2, March 18, p2) are accurate, it is surprising that, to date, there have been no demands for Andrew Barr to be stood down from the Chief Minister office, if not from the Assembly.

Politicians are elected to serve the people, not union officials.

Ed Dobson, Hughes

Bravo Zulu

On Tuesday about 7.40am, a window in our house was broken by a grass cutter hurling a stone through it. A call was made to TAMS and, unbelievably, the broken window had been repaired by 12.30pm. We often complain about lack of service from government agencies, but this was an outstanding effort by all concerned. In naval terms, "bravo zulu".

Norman Lee, Weston

Elderly ripped off

Congratulations, Jenni Warren (Letters, March 22), with regard to the costs and fees charged by retirement villages. I believe there should be a government inquiry into retirement villages both here in the ACT and NSW. One of the charges levied by these facilities are "departure fees", which are either "capped" or "uncapped" at a rate of 3per cent a year or more, depending on where the village is.

Say a person has bought a three-bedroom villa at a village for $535,000. If uncapped, they will lose $16,000 a year and if they live 10 years they will lose $160,000, 20 years they will lose $320,000 or 60per cent of their initial outlay, and at 30 years there would be effectively no value left at all. If that person was to then enter care, the family would have to find additional funds like $450,000 to cover the bond, plus other costs associated with that care.

Bring on the inquiry, please, for the sake of all village residents, as they are being ripped off.

Ken Barrs, Stirling

I agree with Jenni Warren about the cost of aged accommodation. A shame a developer couldn't get together with Jenni and others in her situation to build small group aged developments in the suburbs privately, along the lines of those already built by the ACT government (Lyons is one I know of), except privately owned.

I'll bet it can be done a lot cheaper than the rip-offs of aged-care homes. And residents tend to support each other.

Make it your home and keep its value in your own hands. And you'll have money left over to pay for in-home care.

Roseanne Byrne, St Georges Basin, NSW

Magnetic Manuka

The degentrification of Manuka may be just over the horizon. The trouble with this little pocket of overt affluence and devil-may-care al fresco dining and wining is that it's become a magnet for the hoi polloi and nouveau not-so riche.

There's a message here: if you tart yourself up too much, you'll eventually attract unwanted suitors.

Ed Highley, Kambah

Feral animals a threat to our native species

I am in strong disagreement with Dr Mike Brayshaw's views on feral animals ("Why dealing with feral animals is so complex", March 18, p6).

I'd suggest there is little real value in the feral pigs, horses, camels, etc, that plague Australia, but enormous costs, including severe damage to free ecological goods and services, such as water supply.

I'd further suggest these feral animals were mostly brought in not because of their value but because of cultural cringe – the nasty belief that Australian animals and plants were grossly inferior to those of the old world.

Suppressing feral animal numbers is essential in some areas, even if it is never-ending. Adopting Dr Brayshaw's seeming prescription of abandoning feral animal control would condemn many unique native plants, animals and environs to eventual destruction/extinction by feral animals.

Dr Brayshaw also states that carp thrive because our Murray-Darling rivers are degraded.

We should be very clear that carp are not just a symptom, but an active driver of poor river health (albeit one of several). Their invasiveness is frightening, and they will readily invade any lowland or midland stream, even if it is in pristine condition.

Dr Brayshaw also states that in the lower Murray River "native fish can't survive, but carp can survive in 50per cent sea water".

However, numerous reference books will attest that some native fish species, such as the important golden perch, also survive such salinities.

Simon Kaminskas, Palmerston

Share any profit

If the government is about to make a bonanza from the sale of Mr Fluffy blocks ("Mr Fluffy block sales will be a pot of gold", March 20, p14), doesn't that mean it paid Mr Fluffy homeowners less than the market value of their homes – and should, therefore, now pass on any profit it makes to them?

R. S. Gilbert, Braddon

Chance for voters to show pollies we need the Senate review system

What a contrast between the articles by Peter Reith ("Turnbull steals a march", Times2, March 22, p1) and Nicholas Stuart ("Inequality at root of the rage", Times2, March 22, p4). Peter Reith's is a blatant political pitch full of the usual incorrect and unsubstantiated political spiel, while Nicholas Stuart's article is about the truth (sadly lacking from the LNP and ALP) and the dangerous rage that conservative governments face when inequality is their unstated policy.

The May 3 budget will undoubtedly be another example of this policy.

With the Senate voting system change comes a chance for the people of Australia to tell the politicians that we need the Senate review system. We should all vote below the line, voting first for independents then followed by parties ensuring we number 12 squares. Senate voting reform, supposedly for democratic reasons, did not include extra Senators for the ACT and NT. The current low rate of representation is clearly undemocratic, so why was it not considered for reform? A Senate dominated by independents will be a true democracy.

Max Jensen, Chifley

Re-read Karl Marx

Nicholas Stuart's article, "Inequality at root of the rage" (Times2, March 22, p4), pinpoints inequality as being the main cause of social discord and deep uncertainty among people throughout the world.

Such is the case in Australia as our once egalitarian society fades. The polarisation of wealth is revealed by millionaires pay no tax ("Taxman collects next to nothing from 56 millionaires", March 22, p6), wealthy individuals who control our natural resources, and investors in established housing who deprive the government of billions of dollars by way of negative gearing, while hiding behind the "mum and dad" investors.

This at a time when working-people face uncertainty in securing fair wages, available jobs and affordable housing.

Such a disparity in the distribution of the nation's wealth violates social harmony and the well-being of all. Perhaps it is time for social thinkers and activists to re-read Karl Marx and ponder the very nature of the capitalist system wherein maximum profit, above all else, is the main goal, and consider another social system of a socialist nature with inbuilt democratic features.

Keith McEwan, Bonython

Support for lockout

Ross Fitzgerald ("Why Sydneysiders should be grateful for the lockout", Times2, March 22, 2016) is right. It is outrageous that the liquor industry wants to bring back their mess again and for us to pay to clean it up for them with young lives and precious taxpayer funded hospital, ambulance and police service resources.

Dr Peter Smith, Lake Illawarra, NSW

Dead can't pay fines

A government with a long-range plan and looking to the future is to be commended ("Even the dead may have to pay HECS",, March 23).

However, the Turnbull government's recent thought bubble on collecting unpaid HECS fees from graduates who have died is really looking to the future. HECS was introduced in 1989 which means a majority of graduates will be living another 30 to 40 years on current life expectancy statistics. It would be far more sensible to concentrate on collecting HECS fees from graduates who leave Australia to take up highly paid jobs in other countries.

Robyn Lewis, Raglan, NSW

Lack of protections

For most of the past century, federal governments and their employees were able to settle differences over pay and conditions without resort to strikes or lockouts.

Back then, all parties recognised the special responsibilities of government in guaranteeing important and essential services. Direct industrial action was rarely contemplated. The quid pro quo was ready access to an independent industrial umpire.

Politicians kept their distance. APS pay and conditions more or less moved in line with community standards. It wasn't always "scientific" or "pure" but mostly, it worked.

The APS now has a set of arrangements that are supposed to promote enterprise and productivity bargaining but rarely do either. Instead government takes a "hands-on" approach that affords none of the protections to the community or the less industrially powerful of the old model. There is no easy or early access to an independent tribunal, and those in dispute are left to fight it out until either one surrenders or the community's pain threshold is breached.

Government itself clearly states that general pay increases can and should flow only from productivity gains identified and implemented at individual workplaces.

In reality though, federal government agencies and their employees are straight-jacketed. Agency bargaining in the APS is stunted by a rigid service-wide cap on pay settlements and strict controls on the detailed content of agreements. Disputes are frequently more protracted and bitter than needs be.

It all may save a little money in the short run but simply stores up trouble for the future. Minister Michaelia Cash should drop the sound bites about a lack of "good faith bargaining" – the bargainers on either side for the most part aren't the problem. The real problem is a set of bargaining arrangements that don't even live up to the government's own sales pitch.

Bob Bennett, Wanniassa

Ahok unlike Trump

In an otherwise informative article, Maher Mughrabi makes the astonishing statement that the Governor of Jakarta, widely known as "Ahok", is "the Donald Trump of Indonesian politics" ("High hopes, old fears in push for growth", Forum, March 19, p4). Really? Has Governor Ahok threatened to build a wall to keep out "undesirables"? Has he attacked religious minorities, or engaged in belligerent, divisive politics?

The Governor Ahok that I've observed is a charismatic, reforming leader who is working hard to improve the everyday lives of ordinary citizens in one of the world's largest, and most difficult to govern, cities in the world. And, unlike Donald Trump, he has runs on the board in delivering better governance.

Hal Hill, Aranda



As Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues are so keen to raise money, I suggest the government make sure all millionaires pay tax at a reasonable rate, rather than being able to drive their taxable incomes down below the $18,200 tax-free threshold ("Taxman collects next to nothing from 56 millionaires", March 22, p6).

Gay von Ess, Aranda


I stumbled around in the dark between exhibits at Enlighten and cursed the government for not spending money on a little solar pathway lighting. However, such criticism pales when compared with the illumination about the non-payment of artists ("Lack of value put on artists the dark side of Enlighten", Times2, March 21, p5). Ah, yes, they should do it for love and be grateful!

Mary Beneforti, Hackett


If Apple's Tim Cook genuinely believes that assisting the FBI in a limited, circumscribed way in a mass murder terrorism case is at odds with Apple's ethical principles, and his company ultimately prevails, then survival of the richest will be the new order of natural selection in the United States.

A. Whiddett, Yarralumla


If the umpire was worthy of respect, he would get it, Christopher Budd (Letters, March 22). An independent review concluded the Safe Schools program was consistent with the goals of the national curriculum. It is Education Minister Simon Birmingham who should have respected the umpire's call.

David Grills, Kambah


The GWS/Grocon development proposal announced in mid-February appears to have been under discussion with the ACT government for 18 months. Not a word from the government, despite requests for information and consultation. And GWS/Grocon are currently conducting online public consultations (enough said). This is coming on top of the light-rail fiasco. I have lost confidence in the government; I'm sure I am not alone.

Geoff Clark, Narrabundah

According to the Australian Taxation Office, Grocon, the company currently lobbying for the "Manuka Green" development paid zero tax on a total income of $441,079,259 in 2013-14. I cannot believe any serious politician putting Canberra's best interests and reputation foremost would wish to have any project in Canberra associated with such a company.

Doug Foskett, Griffith

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