Proponents of the light rail between Gungahlin and Civic will not convince sceptics of its merits until they publish a credible estimate of its likely patronage.

In any commercial venture, this would be the first step. But this project is motivated by ideology and political expedience.

The government seems locked into its commitment to a discrete light rail service while failing to address the financial inefficiency of its bus service.

In May 2010, then chief minister Jon Stanhope issued a consultant's report which said ACTION was losing more than 30 per cent of its then $100 million annual budget on waste and inefficiency. No realistic change has been made to address this. Meanwhile ACTION's operating budget is more than 20 per cent greater than four years ago with limited, if any, patronage growth.

Shiny new trams might have some appeal but not if they are managed in the way this government manages its buses. And if the estimated $830 million is needed just to build the light rail, where will the money come from to provide public transport to the rest of Canberra?

There are considerable advantages to dedicated public transport corridors but more than doubling the cost to run trams on such a corridor between Gungahlin to Civic with no estimate of likely patronage cannot be justified.

The promise of a fast, smooth ride, with few stops along the way given about 12 stops are proposed for the 12-kilometre trip. And the carriage of 300 passengers by tram instead of 100 by bus would mean less frequent services or a very inefficient operation.

Graham Downie, O'Connor

ACTION required

Ron Murray's coaches have provided superior service to Sydney - quicker, more frequent and efficient - than State Rail with no public subsidy for the past 30 years.

By contrast, ACTION buses were subsidised $110 million by ACT taxpayers last year. Surely Treasurer Andrew Barr's budget woes would be alleviated if ACTION was sold, or its services put out for public tender.

The ACT could then benefit from the Commonwealth's offer to share in public-private partnership road infrastructure - with a one-way bus lane down the middle of Northbourne Avenue, and completing the Belconnen to Civic bus lane onto the airport. This would greatly improve bus services for the whole of the Fraser electorate, especially during rush hour. Another $1 million per annum could be saved from Urban Services' budget if the handful of Metro agency ''spin doctors'' could be redeployed to generate interest in such a sale.

David Dickson, Kaleen

A matter of policy

I'm pleased Michael Lane (Letters, March 29) has responded to my letter (March 26). He probably knows more about the industry than me but, as an economist, I believe the answer is not as simple as his explanation for the following reasons.

While all insurers operate in the same (ACT) market, they do not face the same perceived risks. They make their own risk assessments, including claim likelihood. As a result, insurers decide the differing terms and conditions of their policies in order to maximise profits. Some insurers might, for example, give greater weight to mature clients with good driving records and their pricing will reflect this. Others might take a less differentiating client approach to pricing.

It would be most unusual if all insurers determined their policies on the basis of the exact same risks. I would have thought their differing strategies would drive performance. Differences in non-claim operational expenses and investment income would be secondary but important factors. These differences could be large depending on differing operational efficiencies.

While the average dollar value of claims for lost income might be higher in the ACT, I suspect we have less claims per head of population so I'm not convinced of this explanation.

Geoff Clark, Narrabundah

One size doesn't fit all

Bill Deane's letter (March 28) had, as usual, some interesting points of view. But your readers deserve more than Bill's anecdotes in dealing with a serious issue.

I have worked in youth justice and child protection for a number of years. When I read Bill's letter, I was a little shocked to see he was quoting research from the 1980s, a time when many people were thinking that nothing worked to prevent re-offending. Over the past 30 years people have done a whole lot more research and found out that there are ways of dealing with young people that do work. That research is now known as the ''What Works'' discourse.

The Australian Institute of Criminology website has a 2002 paper ''What works in reducing young people's involvement in crime''. What this paper, and a whole lot of other research, tells us is quite encouraging.

Breaking the rules is normal behaviour for adolescents, but most do not get caught up in the criminal justice system. Those that do, from my experience, are young people who are just a bit more outrageous than their peers, or not that bright or come from a background that has not been helpful in teaching them how to avoid the attention of the police.

The ''What Works'' literature shows us that proper assessment of each young person's criminogenic needs, at the time of their entry to the youth justice system, is essential. For young people with low criminogenic needs, intensive and even moderate intervention has been shown not to work. Forcing them to come into a government office every week and sit around with other young offenders is only going to increase their self-perception of being a young offender. The ''What Works'' literature tells us that after doing a very good assessment with every young person, we then need to tailor a program that will work for that young person and help them move away from a career in criminality.

It's hard work. The people that do it well are highly skilled and do a fantastic job for our community. We should thank them, and not be hoodwinked by outdated research.

Sarah Cowdery, Barton

Take a chill pill

Dave Rogers (''Painting a picture for lane hogs'', Gang-gang, April 2, p10) is a day late with his photo. If I am doing 80-83km/h in the right lane, should I move to the left lane, because Dave is behind me and wants to pass me doing a hundred in an 80km/h zone? Dave should take up yoga, tai chi or some form of meditation and not forget to take his calming pills every day.

Nick van Weelden, Mawson

Hockey's tough budget fails to tackle businesses' free ride

Ross Gittins (''Joe Hockey's budget will hurt your hip pocket'', canberratimes.com.au, April 2) succeeds in exposing the hypocrisy of Treasurer Joe Hockey's ''your country needs you'' call to arms to address the federal budget ''challenge''.

Whilst Hockey proclaims that ''everyone is going to have to make a contribution - big business, small business, all people from all demographics …'', the government's focus on cost-cutting conveniently ignores the free ride being enjoyed by the corporate sector on the revenue side.

Whilst it can't be denied there is ample opportunity to cut unjustified welfare, such as Tony Abbott's proposed parental leave scheme, negative gearing or pension entitlements for the wealthy, the fact that almost 60 per cent of Australian companies and 70 per cent of mining companies pay no income tax at all is surely just as reprehensible.

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

Medibank proposal

The disposal of Medibank Private by sale or float will provide the Abbott government with funds to which it has no entitlement. At a meeting at the request of the Health Insurance Commission, Ralph Hunt, then minister of health, said to me and another officer: ''The HIC can conduct a private health fund, provided no Commonwealth money is involved.'' The capital wealth of Medibank Private has come from members' contributions. These could have been much cheaper if Medibank Private had been allowed to strike a viable, competitive rate or offer an innovative policy. Such actions were not permitted by the Liberal government which allowed only a very narrow range of member rates between all funds and required all policies to be community rated. The current contribution rate for members does provide well for the management salaries.

Ken Doust, GP, Narooma, NSW

Legal aid shortage

The ABC reports ''asylum seekers currently in detention in Australia will have to rely on pro bono immigration advice after a federal government decision to cut taxpayer funding for assistance services''.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young is reported as saying, ''Refugees are now being treated by this government worse than mass murderers and rapists.''

However, there is another perspective. I am assisting, pro bono, a young single mum, born and raised in Australia, and abandoned by her husband who has seized custody of their child and removed her to another state. She is facing considerable expense for family law action, and also to defend unrelated criminal charges that might be brought against her. Both are in the federal legal sphere.

She is not entitled to legal aid, because she cannot meet the legal aid guidelines, recently tightened because of scarce legal funds. So asylum seekers are not being treated worse than this young woman.

A small amount of the reported saving of $100 million over four years by the federal government's decision would be welcomed by her, and many others who have become disentitled to legal aid because of the shortage of funding.

Fergus Thomson, barrister, Canberra City

Race law definitions

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 has long been referred to by academics, journalists and politicians as the ''racial vilification'' section. That's because it identifies the effects of actions known through the English dictionary definition of ''vilify'', and because, when it is done on the grounds of race, it is made illegal (the behaviours covered by the act and by the dictionary definition are those which are likely to cause offence, to insult, to humiliate or intimidate).

But Senator Brandis spotted that the section never actually uses the phrase ''to vilify''. Nor does the section's title actually refer to ''vilification'' in so many words.

That drafting decision has allowed Senator Brandis to achieve his piece de resistance. He has been able to claim there is no ''racial vilification'' provision and that we should repeal the only available and effective legislative prohibition on racial vilification. What's more, by suggesting the introduction of a new definition of vilification, narrower than the dictionary definition and likely to be less effective, he is able to claim to be promoting the introduction of the first ever racial vilification provision.

It's a breathtaking move. Truly Orwellian. They say that the big lie works best. But I say what really works is when a legally trained mind introduces a specialised definition to suit their purposes and then comes to believe the subsequent spurious semblance of the truth.

Marion Barker, O'Connor

Climate change urgency

Bravo George Browning (''We must all join together to fight climate change'', Times2, March 26, p5). There can be no serious doubt that Australia's current policy on climate change is being managed not on the basis of scientific evidence, nor in the public interest, but in the economic interest of the fossil fuel industry. The industry has run an extremely successful lobbying and misinformation campaign about the benign nature of coal, gas and fracking, and fantasised problems with renewable energy. Climate change sceptics Maurice Newman and Dick Warburton are leading the government's advisory structures on these matters.

In a presentation to a national conference of 400 doctors and medical students for the environment in Melbourne last week, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt was unequivocal in his support for climate science, but he also made it quite clear that he remains deeply committed to the Australian fossil fuel industry and is largely disinterested in making the completely feasible transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.

The Climate Authority, which the government now seeks to abolish, has recommended Australia lift its present 2020 emissions reduction target from 5 per cent to at least a 19 per cent reduction on 2000 levels. This means practically that we must turn away from fossil fuels and leave most of our coal in the ground.

Climate change is both a moral and a health problem and it will determine the future of our world. It is an appropriate time for doctors to join forces with religious and environmental groups to insist our government is embarked on a course that is insanely irresponsible.

Bob Douglas, Aranda

NCA clamps down on hovercraft fun for disabled children

The National Capital Authority (or as I prefer to call it, the No Can-do Authority) has ruled against the use of a hovercraft on our precious lake to provide an opportunity for disadvantaged children (''Canberra hovercraft rides rejected by National Capital Authority'', canberratimes.com.au, April 1). This national No Can-do Authority has a long history of saying no to so many things, using the lame excuse of their mysterious management plan.

I have been on the British Airways hovercraft out of the UK. I mention this as it was operated as an aircraft. Maybe the NCA needs to urgently get some clauses in place to deal with innovative and people-focused proposals such as hovercraft. Does their precious planning have secret squirrel clauses to exclude these low-flying vessels?

I wish to send a simple message to this archaic No Can-do Authority. Please get real! Let the children have some fun. Or is having fun also banned by the management plan?

Paul Costigan, Dickson

Unlikely hero

Based on the information supplied by Geoff Clarke (Letters, March 31), I estimate that if he spends enough for another 50 Woolies Heroes cards, he will have approximately a 0.02 per cent chance of collecting the remaining 20 cards.

The corresponding percentages based on acquiring another 75, 100, 150, 200 or 300 cards more than the ones he has already are approximately 1.9, 13.5, 57, 85 and 98.5 per cent respectively. At $20 a pop, I would suggest encouraging his granddaughter to play swapsies with the other kids.

Conrad Burden, Mathematical Sciences Institute, Australian National University




Your article ''Hockey warns of tougher budget'' (April 1, p8) reports that Treasurer Joe Hockey has stepped up his warnings of a tough federal budget, and said there would be ''hard decisions, unquestionably, but everyone has to help do the heavy lifting''. I'll note with great interest how much heavy lifting Mr Hockey and his fellow parliamentarians are asked to do.

Gordon Maher, Gilmore


It's refreshing to see Pru Goward and other local NSW parliamentarians showing concern for the aesthetic qualities of our landscape (''Wind farm fight crosses border'', April 2, p1). Does this mean they will be pressing the NSW government to remove the advertising billboards along the Federal Highway (aka ''Remembrance Driveway'')? Or is their concern simply a show of solidarity with those who have a hatred of renewable energy?

Ian McAuley, Yarralumla


Your editorial asks the question ''IPCC speaks, but is the world listening?'' (April 1, Times2, p2). On what page did The Canberra Times place details of its latest disturbing report? Page 6! You are not helping.

Rosemary Kovachevich, Hawker


Perhaps Peter Baxter (Letters, April 1) should note that David Pope's excellent cartoons are also free speech being championed by our illustrious A-G, George Brandis. A little consistency please, or were you just playing an April Fool joke. Go Pope!

D.J. Taylor, Kambah

As I read Peter Baxter's criticism of David Pope's work, I thought to myself, this man must be joking. I then looked at the date. Baxter needs to be congratulated - great April Fools' Day prank.

Jeff Bradley, Isaacs


Is it just ironic coincidence that the April 1 edition of The Canberra Times contains articles by Ian Warden on koels leaving their eggs in others' nests, as well as on Don Russell's lecture about departmental secretaries being summarily dismissed, and on Alexander Downer's resurrection as Australian high commissioner in London displacing incumbent (but wrong party) Mike Rann!

Trevor Wilson, Holder


Correspondence regarding security of The Lodge's walls (March 31) reminds me that The Lodge's boundary was never secure, as for many years during Bob Menzies' occupancy it was loose wire fence held up with star pickets, and Menzies was clearly visible attending his vegie garden in the mornings.

Dave White, Deakin


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