Federal Politics


Process of reviewing PS staff is unsatisfactory

Chris Williams (Letters, November 21) rightly wants the PM to review the need of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal following its ludicrous decision that one-on-one meetings with an underperforming staff member constitutes bullying. I add that the review should include the process of managing underperforming PS staff.

The present process is tedious and generally produces unsatisfactory results to the department and no change in a member's performance. But sometimes the member receives treatment that performing co-workers see as an undeserved yet significant reward for unacceptable behaviour.

Initially for the review, each department should provide anonymous details and outcomes of all recent and current actions to rectify individual underperformance, and of the effort involved in following the process. Since members may have claimed psychological injury due to being managed or have physical injury, Comcare should provide anonymous summaries of cases, including time off work on full pay and duration of return-to-work. But the government (both parties) may be hesitant to open this can of worms. The PS union would immediately rebel, and some PS staff would see their cherished ''I can't be sacked'' threatened. But those many conscientious PS staff who are hard workers would see it as about time. Oh yes, the review should not be carried out or supervised by the PS hierarchy since nearly all of them have never been a manager in private industry and they do not understand what are reasonable expectations of performance for wages received, that exist in the private sector.

B. Pettitt, Theodore

I nearly choked on my soluble fibre when I read the report that private, one-to-one meetings between a supervisor and a staff member had been deemed ''bullying'' (''Public servant 'bullied' '', November 17, p1)! I note the report did not provide any alternative models for dealing with difficult personnel issues. Perhaps a public counselling session, where everyone could listen to the exchange? Maybe a group ''intervention'', where co-workers could all throw in their two bits' worth? How about a lengthy exchange of emails, where neither party would be able to benefit from seeing the other party's body language, or hearing the tone of their voice?

As for others being aware of the meetings, it is, in fact, often desirable for meetings about difficult issues to be held where the participants can be seen (but not heard) by others. This reduces the risk of any physical or sexual harassment by the supervisor, and can minimise any unfounded allegations by the staff member of physical or sexual harassment.


It's easy for review bodies to find flaws in any process; the tough bit is coming up with a better alternative.

As for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations' guidelines, (if the Times' report is correct) they seem to indicate it is actually possible for a reasonable and legal request, (say) for a person to try to be more punctual, to constitute bullying, if it causes the person to be (or if the person claims to be) distressed! If such a scenario is possible, I think the guidelines need to be rewritten.

Gordon Fyfe, Kambah

Keep at arm's length

Is anyone else concerned by the fact that, in the ACT government's inquiry into safety on construction sites, a prominent role has been given to the head of the agency that is responsible for investigating and enforcing worksite safety and which stands to benefit from recommendations that these functions should be strengthened?

One would have expected, given his involvement in the matters that form the subject of the inquiry, that the appropriate role for the ACT's Work Safety Commissioner would have been to provide a comprehensive submission and to provide additional information as required - but otherwise to remain at arm's length from the proceedings.

Why an independent team with relevant expertise was not appointed to undertake such an important inquiry is a question that the government needs to answer. Perhaps it was for the same reason that site safety is given short shrift … money.

Karina Morris, Weetangera

Canberra the obvious place for a natural history museum

Phil Creaser's assertion that ''we need an institution to educate us about our special fauna'' (Letters, November 21) highlights a serious deficiency in how Australia presents the fascinating story of our island continent. But his proposal is too narrowly focused - it is not just about a ''special fauna'' (or flora).

Each Australian state has its own long-established state natural history museum and they all play an important role, but each of them naturally presents mainly its own state's story. What Australia lacks (and badly needs) is a truly national natural history museum. Think of the central role occupied by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington or the Natural History Museum in London.

It is common knowledge that many Commonwealth and university institutions in Canberra hold - and are responsible for - the care and maintenance of major natural history collections in various disciplines of earth and biological sciences. In some cases, these scattered collections are poorly funded and staffed. Some are housed under unsatisfactory conditions and lack adequately trained and permanent curatorial support for the unique and irreplaceable natural heritage resources they represent.

We need a federally funded national natural history museum, and Canberra is the obvious place for it, to house these collections. This should trace Australia's story over several billion years and illustrate how we can trace the origins of our special flora and fauna to a long-vanished super continent, Gondwana.

The need for such a museum in Canberra is not new. A Commonwealth government committee set up to look into this matter reported back, in 1929, that ''at the present time the need is not great … However, there is every possibility that Canberra will become a great centre for intellectual work in all science, and that in course of time the need for a museum to cover all branches of natural history will be imperative''. I leave it to your readers and to our political masters to decide whether Canberra has now reached this state of intellectual maturity.

Dr Alex Ritchie, Fraser

More water, please

With regard to the Murray Darling Basin Plan, the majestic river red gums will only get the water they need every 13 or more years, not the every five years they need to survive. The salt and pollutants that are killing the Coorong and lower lakes won't be exported into the sea as much as needed. There will not be enough water to keep the Murray's mouth open.

The decline of water birds, fish and native species by not providing enough water to trigger breeding events; increased frequency of blue-green algal outbreaks; and severely reduced water quality means $11 billion of taxpayer money will be wasted because the plan in no way guarantees the 3200 gigalitres will be returned to the environment by 2024.

In droughts that are certain to come, Adelaide won't be able to rely on the river for drinking water.

Geoffrey Davidson, Braddon

I am astounded the Murray Darling Basin Plan is so totally inadequate. The plan only meets three of 20 of the most important South Australian environmental goals, and rejects the best science on how to save the river.

There will now be an even greater decline of water birds, fish and native species as the plan will not provide enough water to trigger breeding events, and the majestic river red gums will only get the water they need every 13 or more years, not the every five years they need to survive. With these horrendous outcomes, this is a plan that must be reconsidered.

Anna Saxon-Taylor, Lyneham

Justifying terrorism

If there were a competition for most immoral column of the year, Seumas Milne wins hands down (''Palestinians have the right to self-defence'', November 22, p19). According to Milne's analysis, the Palestinians are not only entitled to attack Israel as much as they like but under no circumstances is Israel allowed to defend itself. I can't wait to see Benjamin Netanyahu standing up in his country's parliament and welcoming terrorists to do their worst while calling on Israelis to recognise that Hamas' racist and blood-curdling charter characterising the conflict as a holy war against the Jews is fully justified, so they should just cop it. Milne justifies Palestinian terrorism, but only if its targets are military ones, and then praises Hamas' accumulation of rockets used for indiscriminate fire on civilian towns.

Alan D. Shroo, Forrest

Include the Roos

I fully understand the extraordinary risk from bushfire and the efforts that must be undertaken to reduce this (''Red alert for high risk of fires'', November 19, p1). But what got my attention were the comments made by TAMS fire manager Neil Cooper that it was ''no secret Canberra had lots of grass'' and now there is a need to carry out heavy grazing and extra grass slashing. There are also to be extensive burn-offs. This situation happens every year. So why is another arm of TAMS intent on decimating the grass-eating kangaroos year after year? I appreciate the light-footed kangaroos eat less grass than a cow or horse, but surely they should be included in a sensible environmental management plan.

Last year the ACT Parks and Conservation Service director, Daniel Inglesias, suggested the kangaroos had to be killed, as they may starve in future years. Given the survival of the species over time this was rather a silly idea. Perhaps the left and right hand of TAMS needs to get together and produce an ACT environmental plan that does more than just kill off kangaroos - which is meant to protect the grassland for endangered species, only to see it slashed, burnt and stomped on by herds of hungry cattle.

Philip Machin, Wamboin, NSW

Too hard on Cooper

As a self-confessed rugby union fanatic, I find it impossible to comprehend the extraordinary punishment and subsequent humiliation handed out to Quade Cooper. Yes, he was wrong in his statements about ''toxic Wallabies'', and he may not agree totally with the coach. His outburst on TV was totally wrong and his concerns should have been presented to Wallabies coach and management before telling the world on TV. But the punishment handed down does not fit the crime and is far too harsh.

To humiliate a mercurial player such as Quade will set Australian rugby back decades and put every current and future player under so much duress that they will be afraid to speak out.

The current decision by the ARU should be rescinded, Cooper should be offered a more appropriate contract and retained in the Wallabies and Reds squads.

To lose such a talented player will cause many like myself to walk away from union and go to league or AFL because the ARU is putting itself above the welfare of the players and has little or no consideration for its support base, i.e. the fans.

N. Bailey, Nicholls

Not just Catholics

When I was a young teenager in the 1950s, the warning jokes about sexual predators were based on parsons with the choir boys and Scoutmasters with the troop.

In reality, coaches have molested swimmers, gymnasts and other young athletes.

Secular, humanitarian organisations that offer home or institutional child care have also been accused of harbouring predatory persons.

Now there is talk about allowing the Catholic Church to be sued as a legal entity. I presume that the same change of laws would apply to other sects and secular institutions. Anything else marks the royal commission as nothing less than an attack on just one particular sect rather than addressing the whole problem.

Brian Wilson, Curtin

Cyclists set example

I am not a cyclist and I have never worn Lycra, but I was somewhat dismayed at the negativity towards cyclists vented in the article ''Lycra, hat, bike. Let's road test this ritual'' (November 22, p3). Surely, as obesity rates and mental health issues soar, we should be applauding anyone who takes positive action to improve their wellbeing?

As a taxpayer who contributes to the health system, I am delighted to see so many cyclists in cafes sipping on their lattes after a long bike ride. I am far happier to follow their sweaty butts on cafe seats than contribute to the rising health costs for all those overweight, miserable and unhealthy people sitting on their broad butts in fast-food outlets and pubs.

Annette Jamieson, Kambah

As a member of the off- and on-road cycling fraternity it seems that I may well be cast from the elite as described in your cycling investigation article. And I say elite because anyone who spends more than $200 on just a top and pants to be part of ''the in crowd'' is crazy and has more dollars than cycling sense.

I wear non-matching hi-vis Lycra and I don't shave my legs.

Joe Murphy, Bonython

How about a bus

Further to recent letters about the respective merits of light rail and buses, I enjoy travelling on trams. But, if we are to have them in Canberra we should think about all the improvements that could be made to them. First, let's get rid of the ugly live wire power supply and keep the trees along Northbourne Avenue which the poles and wires would displace.

Battery technology should soon enable ''cordless'' electric operation with diesel and hybrid in the meanwhile. Second, we could avoid the noise pollution arising from steel wheels running on steel rails by using pneumatic rubber tyres as is done on some of the Metro lines in Paris. Third we could increase route flexibility by allowing the front wheels to be steered independently and thus go on existing roads.

Ye gods - it sounds like a bus!

Now if the money to be spent on studying, let alone building, light rail from Gunghalin to Civic were to go to improving ACTION across Canberra we might make some real progress.

A Parliament House stop for the Blue Rapid route at the junction of Adelaide Avenue and Capital Circle would be a good start.

Martin Bonsey, Yarralumla



I find it surprising the button wrinklewort seems to be prevalent on every vacant site in Canberra, and it comes into flower as soon as there is a proposal to build on one. I can't help thinking that ''ubiquitous'' may be a more appropriate description than ''endangered'' for this plant.

G.C. Shannon, O'Malley


I was pleased to read that the ACT's economy now rivals that of the entire nation of Ethiopia (''ACT surging in economies of scale'', November 22, p2). The ACT, as the new economic powerhouse, should make the rest of the world stand up and take notice.

Mario Stivala, Spence


For our students to have successful outcomes in their foreign language learning, teachers must first have serious exposure to the languages. Intensive training (one year on home ground and another year abroad) on full pay is not an unreasonable suggestion. After all, another government department already offers this to its staff in preparation for overseas stints.

Kit Huang,Yarralumla


I was intrigued to read in the article ''The last laugh in suburb names'' (November 21, p6) that short streets cannot have long names. Was that a joke? Why not? Do they get upset easily? Can long streets have short names? Long Place in Scullin doesn't look very long, while Short Place in Belconnen seems to fit the bill very nicely. Interesting.

Peter Stubbs, Gungahlin


The editorial ''Feds must clean up asbestos act'' (November 21, p16) mentioned both James Hardie Industries and the Commonwealth. The common issue was acceptance of responsibility. One can only speculate that this federal denial of responsibility for even municipal remediation within the ACT will be echoed throughout departments across the nation.

Gary J. Wilson, Macgregor


Although West Australian Premier Colin Barnett refers to sugar as ''food'' (''Ord River deal is sweet for China bidder'', November 21, p13), the $250 million purchase of Ord River agricultural land for growing and processing sugar cane will not only spoil an important part of the Kimberley but also contribute to the Chinese becoming some of the world's fattest people, since excessive sugar consumption causes the triad of obesity, type 2 diabetes and associated cardiovascular disease.

Bryan Furnass, Hughes