Federal Politics


Ralph Nader would call B-triples unsafe at any speed

More than 30 years ago, American consumer advocate Ralph Nader published a book titled Unsafe At Any Speed. It related to more than 30 types of vehicles then being released onto the US market.

What would he say of a class of vehicles currently on Australian roads that account for about 1 per cent of all vehicles, are involved in more than 10 per cent of fatal accidents, and account for about 35 per cent of road deaths? These were the statistics produced by the trucking industry at a conference at Coffs Harbour about four years ago. Nader, if he were still alive, would say they are unsafe at any speed. Not even P platers have a record that comes near this.

The figures are now probably worse since there have been many more B-double trucks launched onto the roads in the last four years. Their accident rate is appalling. And now I read that B-triples are to be allowed to operate, first on the Hume Highway.

The mind boggles at the thought of the type of carnage these vehicles could cause. They will have about one-third the braking capability of your average car. In addition they will have zero capacity to steer out of trouble. Wow! I expect to see the Hume closed even more often than it is now to clear up the mess of crashes from these vehicles, and it is closed often enough from B-double crashes. Semi-trailers have about half the braking capacity per tonne mass of the average car. If a car and a semi are travelling down the highway side by side at 100km/h, and both go into heavy braking simultaneously with a view to fully stopping, when the car comes to a stop, the semi will still be doing 70km/h. B-doubles and triples will be even worse.

I'd rather see all restrictions on gun ownership lifted than have these abominable monstrosities unleashed onto the roads I have to drive.

Perhaps the insurance companies can tell us just how much is the insurance bill per year for the trucking industry. It would simply run into billions.


Guy Swifte, Garran

The idea of B-triples on our roads or highways is absolutely outrageous (''Carriers say ACT can take B-triples'', January 3, p1). Let's get big trucks and B-doubles off our roads immediately. I would like to see the statistics regarding catastrophic and fatal accidents on major roads involving large trucks.

There is a very good rail system throughout NSW and into the ACT that has plenty of capacity to carry the goods proposed to be carried by B-triples. For every B-double truck currently on our roads, transport companies should be required to pay for a rail goods carriage.

Jane Timbrell, Reid

Usual objections

The Braddon Club's proposal to build an apartment/shopping complex on its (at present) concessional-lease ground (''Raiders cut-price offer for prime site'', December 31, p1) brings out of the woodwork the usual objections to holders of such leases (sporting or recreational clubs, churches, etc.) being allowed to redevelop the site, those objecting arguing that, if the site is no longer needed for sporting purposes, it should be handed back to the government (Letters, January 2).

Most objections are based on the theory that the government (the community), not the sporting club, should benefit from any redevelopment of the site. Such objections are misplaced because if the sporting club undertakes the redevelopment, it has to pay the government ''betterment'' (a lease variation charge) equal to the increase in value of the land by converting it from a ''concessional'' lease to a residential/commercial lease. And the amount involved would be very considerable indeed, particularly for the site the Braddon Club occupies close to Civic (almost certainly much more than the $320,000 the club has offered the government).

R. S. Gilbert, Braddon

Games and blame

Despite citing several sources, Chris Williams (Letters, December 31) fails to address some basic facts in his rebuttal to my letter (December 20) regarding the negligible effect of violent video games and movies on school violence. The first is that in the world's 10 largest video game markets, there is no statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related violence. According to a report by the US Secret Service, only 12 per cent of school shooters had expressed an interest in violent video games. Indeed, there are more recent studies that take these facts into account, such as the 2012 study by Professor Chris Ferguson entitled ''Not Worth the Fuss After All?'', which is online.

The most important and self-evident fact in this debate, however, is that there are millions of video game users, and yet only a tiny minority of them go on to commit violent acts, which renders the prevalence of violent video games a poor explanatory tool for predicting whether any given individual will become a shooter or not.

Chris Williams attempts to take the high moral ground in his criticism of Tarantino but he fails to realise that his focus on violent entertainment merely serves the interests of the NRA and those who want to divert debate from the real issue of gun control. This distraction hardly serves the interests of those trying to make a positive difference to the problem of school shootings in the US.

Simon Leeds, Nicholls

Unfortunately, Frank McKone (Letters, December 31), the US Supreme Court has broken the link between militia and the right to bear arms. The court ruled in District of Columbia v Heller (2008) that the Second Amendment does indeed protect an individual right to possess a firearm, unconnected with service in a militia, and to use the firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home.

This case overturned a ban in the District of Columbia on the registration of handguns and a requirement for trigger-locks. In 2010, the court (McDonald v Chicago) ruled that the Second Amendment limited state and local governments as well as the federal government. Justice Antonin Scalia in the 2008 case made clear, however, that the court's decision did not overturn prohibitions on firearms being possessed by felons or the mentally ill, or within sensitive places, such as schools.

David Stephens, Bruce

In search of …

I agree with Robin Brown (Letters, January 1) in his implication that the answer to human intelligence lies with such questions as why we exist and how did we come to exist.

However, when it comes to computers that can think, Gerard Salton, the father of modern-day search engines (eg Google), proposed an interesting relationship between the amount of relevant material that is retrieved on a particular search and the amount of the retrieved material that is relevant. Salton suggested that it was impossible to have perfect precision (only get relevant information in a search) and that the entire knowledge base on every subject would have to be presented in order to retrieve all the material relevant to a particular document.

Yet humans make remarkably effective use of Google and other search engines. One reason is that the people who make the best use of search engines have the intelligence necessary to be a good engineer: they don't necessarily know the right answer, but they do know when they have the wrong answer. I won't hold my breath waiting for a computer with such simple intuition.

Les Broderick, Farrer

On AI and QI

I am grateful to my former colleague Dr Thomas Mautner for his amusing and accurate comments (Letters, December 31). Robin Brown (Letters, January 1) asks whether I am ''suggesting that the artificial creation of intelligence will forever be beyond us''. No, I was careful not to say that. I do not rule out the possibility that we might one day create a thinking robot.

My point, following John Searle, was that such a robot would not think simply in virtue of ''running'' a computer program. Can machines think? Yes, we are machines (albeit flesh and blood), and we think, so machines can think. Searle holds that we think in virtue of having brains with certain complex causal powers, not in virtue of ''running'' a computer program.

So if we do succeed in creating an intelligent robot, it will be intelligent in virtue of having an artificial brain with the requisite causal powers. To put the point in somewhat vulgar terms: when it comes to intelligence, ''hardware'' matters as much as ''software''. As a new year begins, it is refreshing to see such intellectual matters discussed in The Canberra Times. It reinforces the reputation of this broadsheet as the nation's most distinguished organ of reportage.

Dr Brian Garrett, School of Philosophy, RSSS ANU

Greed is not good

In her article ''Soaking the rich won't work'' (January 2, p13), Julie Novak says it is incorrect to think that ''rich people attained their wealth through ill-gotten profits''. I disagree. While some earned their money from a good idea at the right time, it is my experience that wealth makes the rich greedier.

In my first career as executive secretary to wealthy employers, and later as an accountant, I have observed the rich cheating on taxes and business deals, or pressuring employees who then cheat on their behalf. Their legal tax avoidance is at the expense of ordinary people, as it limits government provision of services. Novak is correct that the rich will do anything they can to avoid paying more taxes, but not in saying that the rich earned it all deservedly.

M. Pietersen, Kambah

Julie Novak's exercise in Reaganomics fails to convince. The reason that America has become a plutocracy is precisely because the rich have avoided paying a fair share of the tax load. Romney lost the election because of the belief that he minimised his tax to an obscenely low level. The wealthy have the best accountants and lawyers thinking of new ways to minimise their contributions. Novak is right in saying that they will still find ways to avoid paying a higher tax rate. However, the various governments will hopefully find ways to block many of the tax evasions.

Howard Carew, Isaacs

To the point


So there is a renewed call for chemical castration for sex offenders. This is far too genteel for monsters like the Indian gang rape mob. A rusty penknife and no anaesthetic is the way to go! Maybe the traditional use of hot tar to cauterise the wounds would also help.

Roger Quarterman, Campbell


It is infuriating to hear the government is going to change the ACT Self Government Act to increase the number of territory ministers from five to six because there is ''too much work'' for existing ministers.

If the workload is too high for members/ministers in the appallingly bloated and incompetent ''town council'' known as the Legislative Assembly, may I, as a long-suffering ratepayer, urge them, please, to resign and get a job!

Bruce Pollock, Chifley


It's good to read that John Moulis (Letters, January 2) enjoys the ''left-wing'' letters in this column during the silly season. But please reassure us, Mr Moulis, that your letter was satire. Wasn't it?

T. Fisher, Kambah

Congratulations to John Moulis (Letters, January 2) for his brilliant representative opinion of ''every mainstream male'' regarding Julia Gillard. Thank God I'm not in the mainstream! Unfortunately, what his comment does reflect is that sexism, and not policy (do the Libs actually have any policies?) will provide the outcome of this year's election.

Bob Tyghe, Worrigee, NSW


Doug Hynd (Letters, January 2) tells us that Jesus was killed by the Romans because Rome did not like his political ideas. That claim could hardly be more wrong. Jesus was killed by the Romans on behalf of the Jews who were offended by Jesus' claim to be God. The Roman governor found no fault with the man and tried to persuade the Jews to have Barabbas, a real lawbreaker, executed.

David Morrison, Springwood, NSW


It's great that New Year's Eve in Canberra was relatively peaceful, but with 15 cubic metres of rubbish (''The clean-up: 15 cubic metres of rubbish and a few stragglers'', January 2, p2) perhaps on December 31, 2013 the police might experiment with issuing fines for littering.

Peter Marshall, Captains Flat, NSW


If our local government is smart, access to rubbish tips must be free.

Graham Roberts, Garran