I would respectfully suggest that David Biles (''Improving access to justice'', Times2, February 24, p1) sit in with a defence lawyer in the ACT Magistrates Court cells, taking instructions from persons who have spent a night or two in the watch house. If he were to do so, he would find that even in the ACT, there are many people in police custody who are vulnerable, poor, weak, ill-educated, distressed, confused, mentally dysfunctional and unaware of their legal rights.
The right to liberty is one of the most fundamental and treasured concepts in our society and cannot be dismissed lightly. Entrusting the legal representation of persons in custody to unqualified persons is hardly conducive to equitable access to justice when the prosecution, with all of the resources of the state behind it, uses qualified lawyers to advance its case, and in the ACT, has done so in various models, since 1973.
One issue that appears not to have been canvassed by Mr Biles is the staffing/costs overhead that Legal Aid carries by virtue of its public-sector reporting and compliance obligations. It's my understanding that to comply with these obligations, Legal Aid has to employ more support staff than a private legal practice. This increased ''tail to teeth'' ratio results in less funds being available to support ''front end'' operations and should be reviewed.
Don Malcolmson, Bywong, NSW
The opposite of caring
Mary Porter's focus on euthanasia and assisted suicide as alternatives to palliative care (''Time to discuss how we die, says MP with a plan', February 22, p6) is misguided.
How could the deliberate ending of a patient's life by doctors (even at the patient's request - voluntary euthanasia) or assisted suicide be considered ''dying with dignity''?
Isn't killing the opposite of caring? The Hippocratic oath requires doctors to ''do no harm'' to their patients, not kill them!
Locally (the Australian Medical Association) and overseas (Royal College of General Practitioners in Britain), most doctors have condemned euthanasia as unethical particularly because it ''poison(s)'' the patient-doctor relationship. This was evidenced overseas where fearful elderly in the Netherlands (with legalised euthanasia) carried anti-euthanasia cards, for fear of being involuntarily euthanised.
Recent legalisation of child euthanasia in Belgium is a chilling wake-up call for anyone who believes that euthanasia is about options and the ability to give consent.
Clara Curtis, Tuggeranong
Brian Hatch (Letters, February 25) couldn't be further off the mark. Striving to end the abhorrent cruelty inflicted on caged hens is a positive step and long overdue. It means a more tolerable future for defenceless creatures who have been subjected to the most appalling conditions for far too long,. I wonder if Mr Hatch would feel the same if he had to endure living in a small cage where he couldn't stand up, be force-fed hormones and have to live in his own faeces, all without having a voice? Legislating against this cruelty has nothing to do with a ''party of workers clinging on to power with the loony greens''. Any industry that profits off the back of animal cruelty should not be in business. We can do better as a country and we should. Purchasing eggs produced in humane conditions is still a cheap and healthy meal for all people.
Alison Chapple, Macquarie
Brian Hatch thinks we should continue to lock hens in cramped cages just so we can buy cheap eggs. What a selfish attitude! This ''cheap and healthy food'' he refers to is not intended to be food for anybody. Birds' eggs are simply part of a bird's reproductive process. Subjecting hens to such enormous suffering just because we have acquired a taste for their ovum is inexcusable.
Jenny Moxham, Monbulk, Vic
Counting on cash
Congratulations to the ACT government for enacting legislation that limits cash withdrawals from ATMs in clubs to $250 per day - the aim being to restrict the amount that can be withdrawn by poker-machine gamblers. The same cannot be said of the clubs that have subsequently installed Eftpos machines as well as ATMs, which will allow gamblers access to at least an extra $1000 per day. I thought clubs had a responsibility regarding gambling, but it seems they don't even have a conscience. Guess the government didn't see this loophole coming.
Steven Hurren, Macquarie
Still dismissing the significance for Australia of Scottish independence, J.R. Nethercote (Letters, February 22) cites Singapore/Malaysia and Bangladesh/Pakistan; neither remotely comparable. We have a written constitution, unchangeable except by referendum, conferring formal powers on the monarch of a specified political entity which, as the British PM has said, will be broken up if Scotland leaves (''Great Britain'' includes Scotland). Australian republicans would love to throw that into the High Court. How galling if an Australian republic were forced upon us by a vote of the Scots!
Harry Evans, Page
I hesitate to correct Harry Evans (Letters, February 21) but neither the passage of the 1986 Australia Act in Britain and here, nor the potential secession of Scotland from the UK, affects monarchical succession in Australia or anywhere else.
The Australian Crown, institutionally and in terms of the succession of each sovereign, is grounded in the constitution and was modernised by subsequent conventions stemming from the 1926 Balfour Report.
As the 1936 abdication crisis shows, each of our shared monarch's 16 realms must agree on the succession to their constitutionally separate crowns and they all have their own Royal Styles and Titles Acts.
Moreover, as Professor Anne Twomey's ''The Chamelon Crown'' ( 2006) discusses, our Australia Act further reinforced the constitutional position of the Crown. An independent Scotland would become the 17th realm and not affect any others.
Neil James, Burra, NSW
In having a go at David Dawes, Byam Wight (Letters, February 25) failed to do any research. Dawes came to the ACT government from nine years as the executive director of the Master Builders' Association, so it seems that the arrogance that Wight seems to think only resides in public servants must also be present in those who reside, or have resided in, private enterprise, where I assume Wight hangs out! Bazinga!
A. Brown, Fadden
Clowning around in Parliament House
So taxpayers are going to foot the bill for an official portrait of Julia and Kevin (''Rudd goes silent over official House portrait'', February 25, p3).
I suppose the $30,000 to be paid to the artist who is selected is a pittance compared with the profligate spending undertaken by each of them in their lacklustre performances as PM. Anyhow, the money will be spent and I suggest we get an internationally renowned, modern artist such as Banksy.
His style of work would be a refreshing twist in the hallowed halls of Parliament House. To those of you who may say Banksy is just a talented graffiti artist who has no skill in painting a suitable portrait of either Julia or Kevin, I suggest you look up one of his famous works titled ''Insane Clown''.
T.J. Farquahar, Ainslie
Roo-ing our lost fauna
Given the government's approach to the management of kangaroos in the ACT over the past five years, I like the idea of memorialising ''Gary'' somewhere in our bush capital, (Gang-gang, February 24, p10). Unless the government changes its policies, Gary could well be one of the last strikingly beautiful male kangaroos to grace the gardens of Ainslie, or indeed anywhere else.
A bronzed Gary would be a lasting reminder of what we have allowed our pollies to throw away.
Philip Machin, Wamboin, NSW
Closing the gap
So, as Mr Abbott says, we need to do more to close the gap on indigenous outcomes.
So, here are some ideas, Mr Abbott: implement in full the Gonski reforms; keep access to basic health services open and accessible; perhaps even restore some of the preventative health measures that your minister Senator Fiona Nash (or perhaps her adviser) has ditched.
Just guess, Mr Abbott, which group of Australians will benefit the most from these worthy initiatives.
Tim Field, Barton
Government should lead by example: spend funds wisely
We are constantly being told that, given the national deficit, we all have to make sacrifices in the national interest and that the government has to make some hard decisions. Well, could I suggest that instead of spending, shall we say, $100 million or $150 million-plus on a royal commission into the building industry and an equally large sum on the insulation batts royal commission, given that there have already been two inquiries, the government may like to spend taxpayers' money on actually assisting the Australian taxpayers. Could I suggest the government spend the money instead on training and skilling displaced workers of Geelong and other places where local economies have been hardest hit.
After all, if we have limited funds in the national coffers and we have to make hard economic decisions, we should be spending our limited resources where they can achieve ''the greatest good''. Does, therefore, the opportunity cost of these royal commissions mean that we must forgo providing Australians with the additional skills and competencies all of us will require in the new industries of the 21st century?
I am sure that the federal and state police are more than capable of investigating national corporate and union corruption given appropriate resources. I think we are all getting a bit weary of the sanctimonious hypocrisy and humbug from Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Eric Abetz and George Brandis on this matter. Do something positive for a change to assist Australian working families.
Mike Flanagan, Farrer
Union demise untimely
Ross Gittins (''Abbott's anti-union push: the truth'', BusinessDay, February 24, p8) may be right in predicting the death of trade unions in the foreseeable future. With his ''great big light'' slogan and his royal commission, Tony Abbott is clearly keen to hasten the process.
But we should be careful what we wish for. A major social problem now in developed countries is the widening income gap between the wealthy and the rest. Australia - along with the US and Britain - is particularly affected. Here, union membership peaked in the mid-1970s, fell steadily over the next decade and then collapsed rapidly from 1990.
It is no coincidence that Australian industry's profit share surged and income inequality widened along precisely the same timeline.
As hysteria around the royal commission into unions gathers pace, we should not forget what Martin Luther King said: ''It is a mark of our intellectual backwardness that the achievements of unions are still dimly seen. There have been and still are wrongs in the trade unions but they were the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of their struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment benefits, old-age pensions and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it.''
Phil Teece, Sunshine Bay, NSW
Cabinet papers may help
Comments in your columns, and in some other sections of the media, shout about the risk to our democracy that will arise if the royal commission into the pink batts affair has access to the cabinet papers covering the period when this government program was under consideration. Given the frequent lapses of memory which some politicians suffer from if their motives or intentions are questioned, I think that allowing the commissioner access to the relevant cabinet papers might assist ministers to give accurate answers.
Roger Dace, Reid
Is anybody home?
The Finance Department responded to Fairfax inquiries on parliamentary travel by stating, ''The entitlements framework is purpose based and the purpose of the travel is determined by the senator or member,'' and ''The department does not approve travel … The department cannot determine for a parliamentarian if an event they are attending is official or electorate business.''
Two questions immediately come to mind. First, if it is an honesty system, why is former speaker Peter Slipper's alleged misuse of cabcharges for visits to wineries being vigorously pursued through the courts? Are former members of the Liberal Party subjected to a higher test of honesty than current members such as Tony Abbott, Don Randall and Alex Somlyay? Second, would the misuse of his employer's credit card have been OK for Craig Thomson if the card had been issued by the Parliament, and not the HSU?
Mike Reddy, Lyons
Accolades for Morrison
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has come in for a bit of a bagging for a public statement about the facts of the riot by detainees at the Manus Island detention centre. He said, wrongly, that the event during which one man was killed and others injured happened outside the centre rather than the (less favourable to the government) fact that it occurred inside the wire.
Mr Morrison's error was a bad one, but maybe he is more to be congratulated than condemned in the end for his handling of the matter, as he has gone against the history of Coalition governments in such matters.
He is to be congratulated because when he became aware of the error in his original statement, he moved to correct it publicly. This is all the more praiseworthy when compared with an earlier event when Coalition ministers failed to retract even more outrageously ill-founded statements relating to boat people.
Those earlier ministers included then prime minister John Howard, who during an election campaign exploited voters' fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by alleging that they had thrown their children overboard from their leaky vessel in order to get to Australia. Howard went on to win the election, having had ample opportunity, which he did not take, to correct his allegation before election day. Nor did he subsequently retract it.
Morrison understands better than Howard and his other earlier colleagues the principle of the Westminster system that ministers must not lie to the public or the Parliament. The convention being that electors are entitled to believe that their governments tell the truth at all times. Morrison has broken the mould of deceit fashioned by his predecessors.
B. Cox, Bruce
TO THE POINT
Could Tony Abbott please tell us who are the ''goodies'' and who are the ''baddies'' in Ukraine. I'm confused.
John May, Lyneham
GALLAGHER'S BIG ISSUE
Three cheers for Chief Minister Katy Gallagher for taking on the difficult issue of healthy weight in Canberra (''Ban on soft drinks in schools'', February 24, p1). If anybody in Canberra wishes to be an ''obesity denier'', I challenge them to negotiate a visit to Kingston markets on a Sunday. The evidence is clear.
B. Collins, Ainslie
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
A no-confidence motion because a Nazi-style uniform was worn in an act (''Liberals to move no-confidence motion against Burch'', February 25, p1). What would Hogan's Heroes merit?
Mike Hettinger, O'Connor
NOT ALONE ON ISLAND
Frank O'Shea (''Let's get heads out of the Manus Island sand'', Times2, February 24, p5) is absolutely right. I wish more Australians were of the same mind.
Mary Braithwaite, Rivett
So who killed asylum seeker Reza Berati, or is it Operation Closed Doors? Someone must be made accountable for his death.
W. Cook, Monash
BIAS TAKES LEFT TURN
More than a thousand people died at sea due, largely, to failed Labor/Green policies and the silence was deafening. One man dies in a riot in circumstances yet to be determined and the left hyperventilate. A typically shameful display of base partisan politics trumping principle.
H. Ronald, Jerrabomberra, NSW
WRONG OVER RIGHTS
Tony Abbott's toadying rationalisations of ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka (''Diplomats fear Aust will ruin UN probe'', February 24, p3) and the disclosure that former Sri Lankan officer Dinesh Perera is to take charge for Transfield at Manus completely undermines any pretence Australia might be serious about human rights.
Albert M. White, Queanbeyan, NSW
Now that the Attorney-General, George Brandis, has seen fit to provide cabinet papers from the last government to the ongoing roof-insulation inquiry, I look forward to the release of papers pertaining to the Australian wheat-for-oil scandal. That one was centred around Alexander Downer, the man tipped to become the next Australian high commissioner in London.
Nick Thomson, Giralang
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