Federal Politics


Natural history museum a public education boon

Murray Upton and Joanne Daly (Letters, November 28) are in favour of a natural history museum, in keeping with Frank Fenner's suggestion in 1968 for a biological survey of Australia.

In 1965, Frank was an enthusiastic member of a committee convened by Stephen Boyden, and including Marcus Oliphant, Otto Frankel, Alec Costin and myself, which sought to establish an Australian national biological centre (later shortened to ''Biocentre''). The aim was to bring to the people of Australia an overview of the evolutionary background of living organisms and their interdependence with the human species and the environment.

Letters were dispatched to politicians, school principals and scientists to seek their views. They replied with almost universal approval. Supporters included then prime minister Robert Menzies, the Duke of Edinburgh, Julian Huxley, Conrad Lorenz and many other scientists.

Seven years after its submission, the proposal was approved by cabinet but unfortunately overturned by the incoming Labor government.

Now is the time to emphasise the importance of understanding the biological sciences, not only to celebrate Canberra's centenary but also to underline the urgent need to address the environmental crisis which we now confront, including climate change.

Bryan Furnass, Hughes


Gillard witch-hunt

Mark Baker's article (''Document at odds with Gillard fund claims'', November 29, p1) is particularly shoddy, even by the standards of the current witch-hunt. First, Baker claims that Ms Gillard denied the Australian Workplace Reform Association (AWRA) was ''a trade union organisation'' when the extract from the transcript shows she had said ''it wasn't a trade union''.

There is a big difference between a union and an organisation set up by a union or by union officials. Second, Baker is deliberately vague about whether the WA legislation simply precluded the incorporation of trade unions as associations or, more broadly, the incorporation of associations with links to trade unions. Third, Baker quibbles over what constitutes a ''limited role''. The prime minister has described the details of her involvement in setting up the association in exactly the terms Baker uses in his article; she has summarised this role as ''limited''. Others may differ. Fourth, Baker tries to make something of whether AWRA was set up to win union elections or to achieve workplace reform when logically one could have led to the other. Finally, Baker relies on the transcript extracts he has been fed by Nick Styant-Browne, apparently without questioning whether they might be selective or self-serving.

David Stephens, Bruce

Usual suspects

It reads like a roll-call for ''the gang who couldn't shoot straight''. Former Qantas executives, including Geoff Dixon and Peter Gregg are reported as seeking support for a change in the direction of Qantas (''Qantas boss blasts renegades'', November 29, p18).

This includes, incredibly, the sale of Jetstar and of Qantas' Frequent Flyer division, and walking away from the proposed alliance with Emirates. The fact that the frequent-flyer division has perennially been the most profitable part of the company is just one indicator of the quality of commercial nous being applied by this group.

But wait, there's more. Dixon and Gregg were part of the group that, in 2007, through the private equity-led Airline Partners Australia, nearly pulled off a highly leveraged $10.8 billion takeover of Qantas. With the GFC, two years later Qantas' market value had crashed to $4.6 billion.

Had APA succeeded, it is probable that Qantas, with its huge debts, would have been tipped out of the sky permanently.

Paul Varsanyi, Kambah

Scientists wrestled with fate of Earth while pollies squabbled

Some scientists are living in a parallel universe to the rest of us. The hot topic last week was what the Prime Minister did or didn't know 20 odd years ago, a matter of great national significance. Meanwhile a bunch of scientists at the Academy of Science have been discussing the ticking time bombs in the human-earth system, which if their evidence is correct, will have profound effects on all of us.

For starters they learnt that the Earth's temperature has already passed the 2 degree rise and is heading for 3 degrees, faster than the most extreme projections of 10 years ago.

If all burning of coal and oil were to stop today it could be held at this temperature but would take 500 years to return to pre-industrial levels. But this won't happen: Australia is set to mine billions of tonnes of coal in the Galilee Basin in Queensland and the United States has embarked on a bonanza of ''cheap'' shale oil and gas consumption, so the Earth is heading for a 6 degrees rise in the next 50 years. This will be higher than the Earth has experienced since the Pliocene, 3.5 million years ago, when Antarctica was free of ice and our pre-human ancestors were confined to southern Africa.

To avert the apocalyptic events that will surely follow a 6 degree rise, all governments would need to adopt a ''war footing'' now, stop all mining and burning of coal, and prepare for much more frequent extreme weather events, severe food shortages and the displacement of millions of people from inundated deltas as sea levels rise. But again, this won't happen because it's only scientists living in a parallel universe who worry about it.

What the scientists said can be viewed on www.science.org.au

Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe, Hackett

What I want for Christmas is for Santa to fly Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop and Barnaby Joyce to the Arctic and give them the gift of understanding just how serious our environmental situation is. Are those invisible gases such as methane really harmless? It matters because they are being released in massive quantities (''Arctic methane hits gas-cut goals'', November 29, p 9).

It is vital that we respond to global warming in a rational, organised manner - hardly a job for Abbott, who still intends to repeal the carbon price given the chance.

No wonder he and Bishop are distracting attention from such foolishness by rabbiting on about vague notions from two decades ago.

Rosemary Walters, Palmerston

Your report ''Arctic melt irreversible and under global radar'' (November 28, p1) was deeply depressing but confirms what many have been warning. For instance, at the Earth Systems conference held in Canberra this week, oil analyst Ian Dunlop said that climate change is the most urgent issue confronting the world. He said emissions are at worst-case levels; virtually nothing has been done in the past 20 years; the 2 degree Celsius guardrail is way too high and yet may be unattainable; Arctic Sea ice may have disappeared as early as September 2015 and the Arctic may even be ice-free all year round by 2030. The Greenland ice-sheet has just experienced the most rapid melting seen so far.

Dunlop went on to say that we have already passed climatic tipping points and that we are heading for irreversible runaway warming. We are headed for 4 degrees warming. He cited Joachim Schellnuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who said: ''What's the difference between 2 degrees and 4 degrees warming? Human civilisation.''

Jenny Goldie, Michelago, NSW

The article by your environment editor Ben Cubby (''Arctic melt 'irreversible' and under global radar'', November 28, p1) says it all. He summarises a report presented to the UN on Tuesday about the likely timing and consequences of polar ice melting, yet he makes no mention of the second Australian Earth System Outlook Conference held over the past two days in Canberra.

At this international meeting, ''Ticking Time Bombs in the Human-Earth System'', deglaciation was discussed, together with other fast approaching ''time bombs'', especially our damaging carbon investment bubble, the accelerating decline of the Great Barrier Reef, and the increasing insecurity of the global food supply. So where were the reporters and TV cameras?

Why are these life-threatening issues ''under (the) global radar''? Simple. The politico-media cabal that decides which issues should be discussed were in the corridors of Parliament House trying to confect a scandal of no real consequence. Nero (AD 37-68 AD) who is said to have ''fiddled while Rome burned'' would have approved.

Adrian Gibbs, Yarralumla

Mediocracy looms

Former director of the Australian Institute of Sport Robert de Castella's doubt about handing elite sporting development to the national sporting organisations highlights the dilemma that has dogged this major institution since its establishment.

The AIS administration has always been torn between the demands of developing coaching excellence and the financial accountability demanded by the government bureaucracy that dishes out the funds for its programs.

Those responsible for AIS programs have never got the balance right. Involving national sporting organisations as the major players in the development of excellence in their own sports would appear to be a no-brainer, and making them accountable for the money given to achieve that goal equally so.

The first two AIS directors, Don Talbot and John Cheffers, were free spirits with sporting excellence and elite coaching background, combined with vision and entrepreneurial flair, who advocated greater ties with NSOs in the states and territories in such areas as satellite coaching development.

However, this approach sat uncomfortably with the bean counters of the central government bureaucracy and when the Australian Sports Commission took control, financial accountability became the main focus. Consequently, today's AIS has lost the edge that stood it apart as perhaps the world's leading academy of excellence in the 1980s and '90s.

Unless we get the balance right, the AIS is doomed to mediocracy, little more than a sporting tourist attraction in Canberra in the years to come.

John Bell, Lyneham

Sports shock

I received a shock when I turned to the ''Sport'' section of The Canberra Times on November 28 and there was not one but two articles on women in sport. Perhaps they had heard me muttering aloud in Pirie Street, as I flicked through my Canberra Times last Saturday.

The large sports supplement contained many an article about men's football, of all codes (and I thought it was summer), the expected large coverage of men's cricket, and everything else about sportsmen (and racing). Why do you not just call the pages/supplement ''Men's Sport''?

Kathryn Spurling, Chifley 

Attack of wind

Greg Jackson's thoughts (Letters, November 28) on evidence are idiosyncratic to say the least. He discounts evidence for climate change on the basis that Al Gore asked for it. Similarly, research on industrial wind turbines is discounted on the basis that people living near wind turbines don't like them (and presumably influence research design?).

I wonder if he has also observed that industry-funded research usually produces results that do not threaten the host industry. The alleged safety of mobile phones is a classic example.

It is ironic that the 2012 Nissenbaum study on sleep and ill health near industrial wind turbines showed a clear ''dose-response'' relationship, thus demonstrating more objective results than Jackson might like to admit. Such results argue against some sort of conspiracy, lying or bias on the part of the participants, as people at varying distances from the turbines could hardly be expected to demonstrate differing measures of ill health to ''fit'' the uniform curves obtained.

Murray May, Cook

In responding to my letter (November 24) on wind turbines and the recent Nissenbaum study on sleep and health near turbines, Greg Jackson (Letters, November 28) unfortunately misquotes my letter. He says: ''The degree of noise (harm) correlates very neatly with distance.'' However, the insertion of the word ''noise'' in this quote is Jackson's addition.

When one examines health and wind turbines, just as Nissenbaum did, the story makes sense. The closer one is to wind turbines the more likely one is to suffer from ill health, as reflected in measures of sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and mental health problems.

Moreover, there was a clear dose-response relationship demonstrated, suggesting that noise from industrial wind turbines results in adverse health impacts.

The fuss over wind turbines isn't just about subjective complaints over noise, but its link with, and consequences for, health.

George Papadopoulos, Yass, NSW

Beautiful story

In the article ''The last laugh on suburb names'' (November 21, p6) Stephanie Anderson writes: ''There are several Aboriginal words, such as Yarralumla, meaning echo, and Amaroo, which translates to beautiful place.'' Our old next-door neighbour in Ainslie, Tom Gribble, who passed away in 2004, told us a very different story regarding the origin of the name Amaroo.

Tom was born in 1911 and grew up as the youngest of nine children at The Glebe Ginninderra, land now covered by the suburbs of Melba and parts of Spence, Florey, Fraser and Evatt. He descended on both sides from pioneer settlers of the Canberra region, Samuel and Harriet Southwell and Thomas and Catherine Gribble. Gribble Street in Gungahlin is named after Tom and his family.

The ruins of ''The Valley'', which was Tom's paternal grandparents' partly pise homestead, can be seen from Gungahlin Drive behind Burgmann Anglican School.

Tom's stories, his cackling laughter, his sense of humour and the way he would wax lyrical about Canberra's early days, remain firm in our minds today.

Tom told us that years ago one of his married sisters moved to land where the present suburb of Amaroo lies. His sister called her place ''Emohruo'', which is ''Our Home'' spelt backwards. When referred to quickly and with a broad Australian accent it sounded much like ''Amaroo''. Tom always had a chuckle when he heard or read that the suburb of Amaroo was an Aboriginal word meaning beautiful place. Perhaps this is all just a coincidence and it is an Aboriginal word after all, but I think Tom and his sister might be having ''the Last Laugh''.

Louise Lyon, Ainslie


Gillard's law

Is what Julia Gillard did any different to that which thousands of other lawyers have done and continue to do? That is, fudge their way around the edges of the law without actually breaking it. And isn't that why we so often employ them? Maybe that's why so many of them slip so easily into politics.

Eric Hunter, Cook

Abott unfit and improper

I have voted Liberal all my life, but Tony Abbott's performance and manner have persuaded me that he has moved beyond his level of competence and is a person that is unqualified and unfit to lead the country as prime minister. He is bereft of ideas about future directions for this country and his only concern is for getting the top job for himself. He has convinced me that after all these years, Labor is a preferred option. Were Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberals then I would reconsider my position.

Roger Smith, Scullin

Divided loyalties

If ever anyone needed proof of the totally compromised position of the current Australian Prime Minister and three of her appointed ministers, the UN vote last week has shown clearly where her loyalties lie and it is not here in Australia. I will gladly contribute towards her airfare to Tel Aviv to tell her leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, of her failure. Even the caucus failed to support her.

Rhys Stanley, via Hall, NSW

A clip in time . . .

If the government had kept an eye on hedges as they grew it could have ordered them clipped to keep them clear of footpaths without leaving them for years and then mutilating them half to death. In fact, the owners should have kept them in order without letting them grow until they became a nuisance.

Michael Travis, Cook

Party pooper

So poor old Andrew Stewart (Letters, November 29) had his afternoon disturbed by the foreshore concert. He regrettably represents a small group of Canberrans who just can't bear to see their fellow citizens having a good time. Andrew, it's one afternoon a year out of 365!

Mark Sproat, Barton

Children strike wrong note

I agree with Alan Sinclair (Letters, November 28) when he raised concerns about noisy children on the sidelines of the Voices in the Forest concert. It is wonderful to see children being exposed to music, but clearly some children had more fun running in front of the stage than listening to opera singers. It was obvious these children had no interest in the concert and their antics were a distraction.

Lesley Banson, Reid