Federal Politics


Decision to abstain from UN vote offends everybody

So, our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is sufficiently concerned about the sensitivities of Israel over Australia's decision to abstain from voting on the Palestinian Authority's application for observer state status at the UN that she can find time to publicly reassure the Israeli embassy and meet with an ''angry Jewish lobby'' to discuss their concerns ('Gillard forced to retreat on Israel'', November 28, p1)?

How disappointing then that our Prime Minister doesn't have the time, nor the inclination, to engage with the representatives of the Palestinian people, or to acknowledge and represent the views of the more than 80 per cent of Australians who believe that a just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is essential to securing world peace; who support a policy for peace negotiations based on international law and human rights; who support the right of return for Palestinian refugees and who oppose the Israeli government's policy on Jewish settlements.

Of course, in the finest traditions of ''the gang that couldn't shoot straight'', our government has decided that it's best to offend everyone by abstaining on the UN vote, rather than adopting a principled stance in support of Palestinian recognition, as expected by the Australian people.

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

It is a great relief to read in The Canberra Times (''Gillard forced to retreat on Israel'', November 28, p1) that our local MP, Andrew Leigh, has done us proud by planning to prepare a caucus motion to have Australia vote for Palestine to be given observer status to the UN. Unfortunately a compromise position has been taken by the government to abstain from the vote. However, I am most grateful to Andrew for his intelligence and integrity on this matter. How we can continue to ignore the treatment of Palestine in recent history is beyond my comprehension. I would be more relieved if our Prime Minister could show some vision and leadership and stop making Australia the tail on the US dog.

Gina Pinkas, Chifley


Thanks to Andrew Leigh for his readiness to move support in the ALP caucus for Palestine's admission to the UN as an observer (''Gillard forced to retreat on Israel'', November 28, p1). The resulting decision to abstain is a step in the right direction.

I disagree with Phillip Coorey's characterisation of this as a decision to ''withdraw Australia's support for Israel''. The true interests of the people of Israel in peace and security can only be served by a just recognition of the same needs of the Palestinian people. Israel's treatment of Palestinians has not been marked by ''righteousness'', and according to the Jewish and Christian scriptures (Proverbs 14:34), it is righteousness that makes a nation great.

Anne Kilcullen, Macquarie

The federal opposition's venal rhetoric about the government's decision to abstain from a vote at the UN to give Palestine observer status targets only the zealots and ignorants among us.

Our government's policy promoting a two-state solution is in no way belittled by our abstention. Australia's support for Israel and Israel's right to self-defence is not challenged by our abstention.

By abstaining, we send a strong message to the Palestinian government: Today, we neither favour nor oppose your increased status. Instead, we give you an opportunity to demonstrate that you can live up to the responsibilities of being an ''observer state''.

We're not saying, ''Yes; and terror can continue unabated''; we're not saying, ''No; and terror is your only way to be heard.'' We're saying, ''Show us our aid and our future support for your safety, security, and statehood ensures the safety and security of Israel as well.'' The denigrating rhetoric from the opposition seems to originate from our inability to envision how everybody can benefit.

Judy Bamberger, O'Connor

Lodge needs love

It seems that current discussion of a new Lodge for the Prime Minister has been stimulated by the University of Canberra and the Gallery of Australian Design's competition to design a new home for our leader.

While architects and designers will jump through hoops of fire to show off their talents, in reality there is nothing wrong with the present Lodge that a little imagination could not fix. The present Lodge is a well situated, unpretentious, elegant building set in beautiful grounds and forms a major part of the nation's political history.

The Prime Minister would be well advised to lead the way in sustainable re-adaptation of Australia's existing building stock by remaining at the Lodge and overcoming any of its perceived shortcomings by, for example, simply building a beautiful new self-contained reception pavilion in the grounds. Besides, who would want to see Attunga Point fenced off with the obligatory and ugly security barriers associated with a new Lodge, if put in that location? And, to what use would the existing Lodge be put once it was vacated?

Penleigh Boyd, Reid

The new Lodge bandwagon appears to be gathering momentum and I'd like to see the brakes applied. The present prime ministerial residence in Canberra is a modest dwelling by today's standards, and this is exactly as it should be. Our political leaders sometimes seem terribly out of touch with the plebeians and a new, grand Lodge will exacerbate this. We should be proud of the fact that our Prime Minister lives in a modest abode rather than a Doge's palace.

It makes much more sense to properly maintain this beautiful heritage building, as is currently being done, than to spend a fortune on ego gratification and impressing visiting political leaders. It is very easy to think of much better, less flashy uses for our taxes.

Steve Ellis, Hackett

Active mouthpiece

It's vital that the Belconnen Community Council continue to be active in espousing our local needs; for example, witness in recent letters to The Canberra Times the bemoaning of further residential high-rises in central Belconnen - with no properly discussed master plan!

Here in Latham, the council has recently convened meetings on the issue of another footbridge across Gininderra Creek.

Also, it has supported on-site visits aiming to restore the unsightly Belconnen tip on Parkwood Road as well as the need for a public reserve centered on Gininderra Falls.

Chistopher Watson, Latham

Murray needs help

Urgent action is required to ensure the quantity and quality of water flowing down the Murray River is adequate to sustain life in the river and its related ecosystems (such as the Barmah Forest) as well as productivity in the riverside communities.

Continuing to deprive the river of adequate environmental flows will surely lead to the degradation of aquatic habitat which will over time cause the collapse of both riverine ecosystems and the economies of the communities along the river that depend on its life-giving waters.

We simply can't go on taking too much water. Today's political compromise will simply make life harder for the people living along the river in years to come. Communities need time to adjust but they cannot keep hoping to survive on the kind of water extraction levels that were allowed to get way out of hand over the past 60 years. Healthy rivers flow, not trickle. They are our life-blood.

It is time for action to increase the flow to that recommended by the scientists who know, such as those in the Wentworth Group. This is ecologically very serious, the Murray River really needs a lot more water - now!

Hugh Pitty, Bega, NSW

Concert for everyone

Alan Sinclair (Letters, November 28) has raised my hackles! He has complained about the parents not teaching their children how to behave and show some respect to the artists and patrons attending the Voices in the Forest concert last Saturday. He seems to forget that these concerts are for the people of Canberra. Those parents were also ''paying patrons''. The supporting choirs were basically younger children. Obviously their parents had to be present. What parent would not be present at a concert where your children were supporting such a wonderful line-up of artists?

They were not misbehaving from what I could see. What about tolerance? These children are being exposed to opera, jazz and big band music at such a young age and that is not a bad thing. Alan Sinclair says in his letter that ''you can call me a wowser''. According to the dictionary, a wowser is ''someone who stops other people from having fun, or a fanatically puritanical person'' . I am afraid Alan Sinclair, in this instance, is a wowser! Thank you to the organisers, artists and choirs. The concert was sublime.

Margaret Juskevics, Flynn

What's the big idea?

Australians have always had a taste for big things. Witness the unflagging interest in the Big Banana. The need to stand next to a big pineapple and feel small, and of course our very own Big Merino, weathered slightly now, but still a very large sheep. Wind turbines are big. We are awed by the sheer immensity of them and assume they must be interesting. They are very white! We visit them and marvel at the wonder of it all. But there is not just one big turbine. There are lots, and more to come. They are now striding across our countryside like giant chess pieces. They are big, they are everywhere, and they dominate the landscape wherever they are.

I wonder what Clancy would think about this new landscape? Would he embrace it, could he write a poem about it? Could we waltz our matildas and rest in the shade of a very large turbine? Could the Man from Snowy River stir our souls as he twists and turns his trusty mountain pony between overly large turbines? And what would get away? The colt of new regrets? Regrets we ever thought this was a good idea.

We need energy, it is very important. But at what cost this new direction? Should green energy be this polluting? I would have thought that is what we were trying to get away from.

Sharn Ogden, Bungendore, NSW

Killer deadlines compromising safety on Canberra worksites

Our son is an electrician on a Canberra construction site. After finishing his apprenticeship eight years ago, he was full of youthful enthusiasm about the action-packed building site, showing us where he worked and drawing our attention to the huge cranes on site. His exuberance is now tempered by resignation mixed with cynicism; we've also noticed his fatigue.

His summary of the situation is: ''It's push, push, push, push. We're always up against deadlines. There are work safety signs all around the construction site but we don't see any inspectors unless there's an accident.'' We've long been concerned about our son's welfare and safety at work, realising how easily fatigue and stress can precipitate accidents.

It's a relief to see that the recommendations the government is adopting include up to ''12 new ACT Work Safety inspectors'' and on-the-spot fines (''ACT worksites in for overhaul'', November 27, p1). What will be difficult to shift is the machismo culture and complacent approach. How many deaths or severe injuries have to occur before the penny drops?

A factor that seems to have been overlooked is the pressure for rapid completion and maximum profit. Is this attributable to developers or the construction industry or both? Aiming for a lower profit margin with more generous time allocations might be more profitable in the end if there are no deaths and few injuries. If workers feel a construction company really cares about their safety and welfare, things might look up.

Judy Kelly, Aranda

The article ''Gentle reminder to rookies as Assembly leak exposes a few problems'' (November 27, p1) says it all. It is all very well for the CFMEU secretary to have a talk to a ''worker about unsafe building practices'', but were was the supervisor?

She/he is the one who should have been brought to account for allowing the unsafe practices. As the worker said, he ''didn't realise'' he was working unsafely. Start training the managers and supervisors and we might get somewhere. And of course that means start training HIA and MBA officials.

Geoff Barker, Flynn

Not too late, Julia

Thank you, Canberra Times, for two excellent articles about the horror and stupidity of our refugee policy. Jack Waterford (''Leaders wallow in gutter'', November 25, p21) describes more eloquently than I can the shameful tragedy that has been developing since the days of Howard and Ruddock. And it is gratifying to have my gut feeling about Chris Bowen's latest abomination confirmed with surgical precision by William Maley and Penelope Mathew (''Bowen's asylum line is illegal'', November 27, p9). I first became aware of Julia Gillard as a person of note when I read an article in which she quoted her father saying that, while all nations were susceptible to racism, civilisation consisted in having leaders who took care not to stir it up. That seemed to me realistic and enlightened, and I was heartened to think a potential leader had nailed her colours to that mast.

What a disappointment. Are you listening, Julia? It may not be too late to do the right thing. Of course, you would have to withstand a roasting from Abbott, but you have already shown you can face him down. And in the worst case, it may be no bad thing to go down fighting for civilisation.

F. Poldy, Reid

A growing concern

Landscape architect Professor Ken Taylor (''Battle for the soul of the city'', November 26, p9) and others who decry what is happening in Canberra (infill, densification, building on open spaces, high-rise buildings, etc) because it doesn't sit well with Canberra's reputation as a ''bush capital'' or ''garden city'', are living in the past.

Even if they're right that Canberra's ''bush'' character is disappearing (and I doubt that they are), perhaps that's a price that has to be paid if - as is inevitable - the population grows. After all, people have to have homes to live in. And from time immemorial, as populations grow, forests have had to disappear, and open spaces filled, to accommodate people and their desire to improve their standard of living.

R.S. Gilbert, Braddon

To the point


There appears to be a lowering of standards for the dress code for the Speaker of the House of Representatives since the mode of address was changed from madam or mister speaker to just plain speaker (what a great idea that was). On Monday, the Speaker looked like she had got off the back of a motorbike, or had spent the morning painting her house without wearing something to protect her clothing from splashes of paint.

Lauren Maher , Gilmore


I have battled Comcare since 1984 as a solicitor for those entitled to compo (''Letter-bomber battles for compo funds'', November 26, p1). My experience is that Comcare takes the view that when it considers a person undeserving, the payments are just not paid unless enforcement measures are taken. At times unnecessary appeal steps are taken on the same basis. Comcare always deny this, but nearly 30 years of experience suggests otherwise.

Brian Hatch, Narrabundah


I agree wholeheartedly with Beryl Richards (Letters, November 27) . I can't even look at Chris Bowen any more. And guess what? He is mean!

Dawn Michelle, Chapman


May I be so bold as to suggest that the exhumation of Yasser Arafat's remains to determine his cause of death will do nothing for peace in the Middle East.

Linus Cole, Palmerston


Yet again the legal system allows a total ratbag back on our streets (''Teen on bail again despite claim he fled crash scene'', November 28, p1). Oh yes, he, like every other would-be criminal, has mental health issues and might be in danger in jail. That's OK then, he can be a serious danger to the safety of 350,000-odd Canberrans instead. That makes sense. I guess we wait until he kills someone before he is kept in custody.

C. McKew, Forrest


We are all very sad at the death of Bryce Courtenay but he has done the community a service by reminding us that to decline further medical treatment which you regard as overburdensome is morally acceptable.

Clara Curtis, Kambah


It is incorrect to say that Lady Astor was the first woman elected to the British Parliament (Today in History, Times2, November 28, p2). She was the first to sit as a female MP of the British Parliament but a woman from Ulster in Ireland was elected at the previous election but refused to take up the position as an MP.

Tony Lamb, Garran

Email: letters.editor@canberratimes.com.au. Send from the message field, not as an attached file. Fax: 6280 2282. Mail: Letters to the Editor, The Canberra Times, PO Box 7155, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT 2610. 

Keep your letter to 250 words or less. References to Canberra Times reports should include date and page number. Letters may be edited. Provide phone number and full home address (suburb only published).