Federal Politics


Government must pay more to get safety inspectors

If ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe believes that ''one of the biggest problems he had in hiring experienced and qualified safety inspectors was that they could earn double the pay in the private sector'' ('Ex-inspector's safety warning', November 16, page 1), then our Labor-Greens government should order salary raises and effective recruiting campaigns for inspectors immediately.

Very costly bureaucratic effort could be wasted on futile searches for alternative solutions to this grave recruiting and regulatory failure problem, and more preventable workplace deaths and injuries could occur, if we don't create fully effective workplace safety regulation.

Governments readily pay medical practitioners, Navy submariners and RAAF pilots the salary levels the market seems to demand, and so it should be with all jobs of life and death gravity.

If we transferred one or more of our health, policing, emergency services and education systems back under NSW control, and allowed the ACT government to operate more like a local government, that could easily free up dollars and people sufficient to dramatically reduce the ACT's shocking workplace safety problems, and reduce taxes to make it easier for building companies to make profits without taking risky short cuts.

Mark Drummond, Kaleen

It's the bosses' fault

It is concerning the author of the opinion piece ''Masculinity top safety barrier'' (November, 16, page 23) describing gender and significant other problems related to construction felt the need to use a pen-name to present her well-balanced article. Construction has always had potential to enrich entrepreneurs quickly. Developers and unions ''understood'' each other. Workers knew each other, working co-operatively as extended family.


Demonisation of unions, individual employment contracts, Howard's Australian Building and Construction Commission and Work Choices, all served to create unsupervised, pressurised work sites. National, watered-down, OH&S laws, efficiency dividends and state cutbacks, have emasculated workers rights to safe conditions.

Males - especially younger ones - tend to have higher mortality statistics, because testosterone makes them feel immortal, hence their eagerness to go to war, or work on building sites! Rush for profits has transformed the closely knit ''family'' into Darwinian individuals governed by fear and anxiety, eroding solidarity and mateship vitally important in high-risk occupations.

Albert M. White, Queanbeyan, NSW

Karen Watkins's piece on masculinity and deaths on construction sites(''Masculinity top safety barrier', November 16, page 23) is an apologia for the building bosses and their approach of cutting safety corners to increase profit. It shifts the blame for deaths and injuries on building sites on to men for being men.

Last year about 50 building workers died on site.These are the silent dead, killed in the brutal building industry for profit. They die in a war, the class war, which the enemy the building bosses, the ALP and the Coalition has dominated for too long.

The brutal building bosses are only interested in profit. The workers are vitally interested in their own safety.

The Labor Party and Coalition have criminalised strikes except in certain very limited circumstances.

The Howard government set up the Australian Building and Construction Commission in 2005 and gave it draconian powers to police building unions and building workers. It effectively killed wildcat strikes over safety.

This effectively killed building workers. The Labor Party has changed the ABCC's name but kept its anti-building union and building worker functions.

If building unions could enforce safety standards and strike over safety the death rate would fall dramatically.

John Passant, Kambah

Shredding evidence

In Australia the 30-year rule that provided the yearly cabinet papers to be released publicly 30 years after they were created was only amended to reduce the closed period to 20 years in 2009. So many freedom of information (FOI) requests could have often beaten Jack Waterford's FOI record of receiving a requested report after ''29 years, 11 months and about two weeks ago'' (''Thirty years in deep freeze'', November 18, p20), since the introduction of the FOI Act in 1982.

Moreover, if newspapers openly alleged that ''thousands and thousands of documents were put through the shredders at the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the night that a royal commission was announced in June 1981'' this writer with personal memory can say that it also happened day and night in the Department of Primary Industry.

What was left for FOI requests would have been only bland information. The spicy hot bits had been destroyed without the authorisation of an Archival Disposal Authority. And the then minister Peter Nixon remained minister until 1983.

The investigations into the meat substitution scandal may have been desultory but the shredding in both departments was not.

Noelle Roux, Chifley 

Accent on youth

Andrew Hunter (''All talk and too little diction'', November 12, p13) makes the excellent point that the Australian education system has consistently failed to deliver reasonable outcomes from its foreign language programs. This is particularly true for languages that are difficult for Anglophones to master, such as Mandarin.

Immersion programs have been shown to work well in countries like Canada and the US. We would argue that such programs should start even earlier, at preschool or childcare. Our Mandarin bilingual childcare centre gives babies and toddlers a good basis in Chinese before they start school, when they are most receptive to language learning.

The ACT Government has a unique opportunity to show the rest of the country how to deliver effective language education, including by supporting bilingual early childhood education.

(Ms) Janaline Oh, vice-president, Association for Learning Mandarin in Australia Inc,, Mawson 

Taking stock

Forget all that dicey tween-season fuel-moisture-estimation, micro-regional weather forecasting and up-wind burning-off (''Red alert for high risk of fires'', November 19, p1). Mistakes made managing that process account for a big share of dangerous bushfires. If Canberra is, once again, fire-threatened by high fuel loads west to the river, and if the most dangerous part of that fuel-load is long grass, why aren't there thousands of additional cattle and sheep already grazing it down? Instead of spending money mowing the city's relatively benign eastern perimeter, the ACT government must require all leaseholders to our west to radically suppress their grass.

If necessary it should buy (and sell) sufficient temporary additional livestock to get that job done fast.

Cuthbert Douglas, Bonython 

Leave bush alone

The compelling reasons set out by Jamie Pittock (''Planners should keep off the grass'', November 16, p23) should convince the Canberra public and the NCA that taking parts of Stirling Park and Attunga Point for subdivision is simply not acceptable.

Canberra needs to retain this unique bush land adjacent to the city and parliamentary triangle to enhance the city and its people. The intrusion into Stirling Park of a subdivision for embassy development is short sighted, very expensive and will inevitably cause severe damage to the ecology of the surrounding bush.

Just the large earthmoving equipment needed for building roads and retaining walls, the felling of a large number of beautiful 60-year-old pin oaks and the creation of a bush fire zone, not to mention years of building works to construct the proposed embassies, will greatly impact on the habitat of the endangered button wrinklewort, bird life, the native grassland and other flora and fauna of this valuable land.

The NCA should be pursuing the other options available for their building plans.

Janet Wright, Yarralumla 

AGL response

In relation to Chandra Sinnarajah's frustrations (''Power connections restarted'', November 15, p3) we believe we have not shown a lack of interest towards him. We have spoken several times with Mr Sinnarajah to help his understanding of the position and have also offered him financial assistance.

From the outset we have advised Mr Sinnarajah on a number of occasions that we could not undertake the connection to his new home as there was a WorkSafe ACT prohibition notice in place and an investigation under way. Until the investigation was completed and the prohibition notice lifted, we were unable to provide an estimated date for connection.

Second, since the incident occurred, we've been working with and will continue to work with all impacted customers, or their builders and electricians, to keep them informed. We aim to complete all outstanding works by the end of November, conditions permitting. In Mr Sinnarajah's case, connection was completed on November 15.

Third, while we deeply regret these circumstances and apologise to all customers affected, this was a very dangerous incident and the process undertaken to ensure future safety in these situations was important and could not have been rushed.

The safety of our staff and our community must always, by law and by all moral and ethical standards, be our priority.

Finally, we thank all impacted customers for their patience. For anyone who has suffered unavoidable loss as a result of the prohibition notice, we will consider these situations case by case, so I urge you to contact the ActewAGL Claims team on 6248 3016 or email claims@actewagl.com.au to have your claim assessed.

Michael Costello, ActewAGL chief executive officer

The pursuit of paedophiles is hardly religious persecution

Chris Smith (Letters, November 19) calls the proposed commission on child sexual abuse a ''pogrom'' against the Catholic Church.

A pogrom (for the benefit of readers) is a violent, destructive series of rampages by citizens (usually against Jews), carried out with the implicit, sometimes active, support of the state.

In the absence of any evidence of churches being burnt, priests being dragged into the streets for lynching or ''holy'' objects being piled up for looting/destruction, I would dare to suggest that Smith's language is not only emotive but inaccurate. Far from a ''pogrom'', all that has been proposed is an inquiry into child abuse.

If certain quarters interpret this as an attack on the church, that's more a comment on them, I should think.

During my career I dealt with hundreds of paedophiles. Almost without exception they felt, rather like former Nazis, that they were the ones being picked on and persecuted. So while we are diminishing the meaning of terms from the lexicon of Jewish suffering, let's say we now have a healthy breed of latter-day Simon Wiesenthals, determined to hunt down their former tormentors, not for personal revenge (nothing ever evens up that scale of justice) but to try to ensure this never happens again. Maybe the rest of us could offer to help them rather than standing in the courthouse doorways crying: ''This is a pogrom!''

Mike Crowther, Watson

So a royal commission on child abuse is supported by 95 per cent of voters; it's surprising it is not 100 per cent.

The only problem is the PM's royal commission was decided on in reaction to media attention (surprise?) without consultation with the states, which have constitutional responsibility for the associated policing, legal practices and most institutions, and with no agreement on the funding of the commission or its scope.

Already it has degenerated into warfare against Catholics and arguments about what institutions should be reviewed, how long will it take and how many commissioners there should be.

Ed Dobson, Hughes

With open season on the Catholic Church now effectively declared, it is timely to note, as best these things can be judged, less than 5 per cent of sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by church and other institutions.

This is in no way offered as defence or even mitigation against the betrayal of trust by clergy and other church figures. Indeed, they deserve to be judged more harshly, though only time will tell whether God agrees, for they have preached decency and used their positions to betray those in their care.

Further, as indicated by the report on the handling of claims of sexual abuse and misconduct within the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide, tabled in the South Australian Parliament in May 2004, victims of abuse within institutions are frequently some of society's most vulnerable individuals, with the least power and least able to seek help from trusted adults.

The report said: ''The tactics commonly used by child sexual abuse perpetrators to gain the victim's trust and the trust of the victim's family to help maintain the victim's silence had not been recognised, thereby enabling abuse to continue.''

And this is a major distinction between abuse within an institution and that endured by the other 95 per cent or so of minors abused by family members and trusted family friends. These perpetrators generally abuse one or two minors, whereas perpetrators acting with the effective protection of an organisation have abused up to 40 children over many years.

As noted in the Adelaide report, when there was an admission of inappropriate sexual behaviour the alleged perpetrator's promise that such behaviours would not continue had often been considered adequate intervention. Clearly it was not, which is why the abuse continued.

The abuse of minors, indeed of any person, whether within an institution or by family members, is equally wrong. So it must be hoped the present justified focus on church bodies in particular does not give the impression a royal commission will overcome the scourge of abuse estimated by some child protection agencies to afflict about 20 per cent of females and about 12 per cent of males.

While there will always be lawyers eager to help institutional victims recover financial compensation, victims of parents and family friends are likely to remain largely ignored.

Graham Downie, O'Connor

To the point


Gary Chapman (Letters, November 19) may ''read with amusement'' Tuggeranong Community Council comments on airport noise, but he should at least write with integrity. Mr Chapman is general manager for Queanbeyan City Council, a prime supporter of the proposed Tralee development. This is not disclosed in his letter. Mr Chapman is not writing about any old issue around which he, like anybody else, is perfectly entitled to a private position. This is one in which he has a vested professional interest. Not to disclose this is not so amusing.

Dr Alan D. Hemmings, Queanbeyan


Perhaps the ICAC inquiry into the Obeid family's exploits should be called ''coalgate''.

Mrs Valerie Quigley, Ngunnawal


What are Q&A and Malcolm Turnbull (Q&A, ABC TV, November 19) trying to do to Kevin Rudd's chances of getting the leadership of the Labor Party? Please, don't tell anybody he is our only chance to win the next election over Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott!

John Rodriguez, Florey


Outstanding teachers should be recognised in the honours lists. There are always professors, business people and politicians, but rarely an outstanding teacher. Teachers recognised by parents, their peers or principals as outstanding deserve nomination. Few professions are more important than teaching and frequent recognition in the honours lists will help give teaching the status it deserves.

John Brudenall, Reid


The picture of the member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, with the demonstrators outside the Israel embassy (''Protest calls for peace and support for Israel'', November 19, p3), was something that should never be countenanced. A member of an Australian Parliament, with a senior role, supporting a foreign state as it bombards another country, and by his presence giving Israel the thumbs up. What a disgrace.

Rex Williams, Ainslie


Judy Ryan (Letters, November 19) has her views published on the very day the World Bank ''warns that the world will heat up by 4 degrees at the end of the century if the global community fails to act on climate change'' (climatechange.worldbank.org/research). She, typical of climate deniers, cherry-picks fringe sources. Even the bean counters can see the light but, of course, those who put their short-term interests ahead of the interests of future generations will believe what suits them.

Mike Stracey, Fraser