Federal Politics


Sprawling, rich Canberra will never embrace light rail

Jack Palmer struggled to explain light rail's attractions (Letters, October 5).

He noted cars work best until the population density reaches high levels, like in big, dysfunctional cities. Mass transit also works well with a substantial underclass.

But that's not us. We have high incomes and live in a sprawling city unconstrained by surrounding paddocks and pine plantations.

Too few poor people will ever live cheek-by-jowl here. That's why our bus system's $100 million annual subsidy keeps rising.

But, Palmer said, light rail will overcome the isolation of individuals from society, thereby bringing about ''the integration of our population into a full community''. Is he joking?

I've lived in several big cities, using mass-transit systems. Passenger-interaction etiquette is the same as in lifts and urinals. Commuters just stand silently, with random people on either side, for longer. Does being squashed together really count as ''integration''?


Veronica Giles, Chifley

Stuart Walkley insists the ACT Greens' policies on light rail aren't half-baked symbolism (Letters, October 4). So they really are going to do it.

I first thought we'd pay $100,000 for each of the 10,000 Gungahlin residents who bother to park-and-train down Northbourne Avenue, assuming ''normal'' cost overruns. With operating subsidies yet to come.

But then I read about the last bit of groovy, Green symbolism in north Canberra: the little urban stormwater program that grew (''Corbell takes on water watchdog'', October 4, p1).

Five years ago, the government budgeted $3.5 million for it. By the last budget, it had grown to $50.8 million.

You remember that one: digging mosquito-breeding, unfenced, toddler-drowning ponds in urban open space.

Price escalation like that (over 1400 per cent) would see those 10,000 Gungahlians getting $1 million each to ride the train down one road. With operating subsidies yet to come.

Expensive half-baked symbolism?

Michael Jordan, Gowrie

Stuart Walkley's letter was very upbeat. However, it ignored the fact that all urban transport loses money.

The question about bringing light rail to Canberra is whether the benefit comes at a price that is justifiable. What condemns light rail the most is the fact that, if it charges anything near an amount that will cover downtime when it has little use, it simply could not compete with the private car.

If we take the latest light-rail project in the United States as an example, it's rather daunting. It was built in 2004 in Phoenix, Arizona. It covers 26 kilometres and serves a large population of potential users.

Its highest amount of working week users was 38,000. Its revenue covers about 30 per cent of its operating costs, and it's financed by a perpetual 2 per cent surcharge on state taxes.

To my mind, it would be far cheaper to build any proposed government buildings in our town centres. Any new light industries should be offered cheap land to build in suitable town centres.

With modern communications and an existing network of government shopfronts, distance is no longer an obstacle to efficiency. In short, instead of trying to transport more people into an already over-trafficked Civic, we should be trying to let as many as possible work where they live.

Howard Carew, Isaacs

Path to good health

Tidbinbilla nature reserve can be readily accessed by Canberra motorists - and those cyclists prepared to share the road with the traffic. We now have ACT politicians promising to improve our reserves' infrastructure to get people off the couch and become healthier.

Including the construction of segregated, safe, cycle paths to nearby reserves, such as Tidbinbilla, would complement this worthy aim.

Jorge Gapella, Kaleen

Joyce's sniff test

Barnaby Joyce thinks that because carbon dioxide is colourless and odourless, a steadily increasing concentration of it in our atmosphere is harmless (''Where will guilt by conversation strike next?'', October 4, p15).

A substance's colour or odour has no bearing on its potential to harm humans or nature. Carbon monoxide, for example, is colourless and odourless, but it also can be very deadly.

Several of the chemical warfare nerve gasses, such as sarin, are colourless, odourless and tasteless.

I'm surprised Joyce has managed to navigate his 45 odd years safely, if his method of determining the danger of something is simply to sniff it.

C. Gunn, O'Connor

Sickening smoke

The government set new diesel-emission standards to protect our health. Despite the extra costs on new vehicles, four-wheel-drives must emit no more than 0.005 grams of particulate pollution per kilometre travelled.

CSIRO's research shows new wood heaters emit about 10g of particles per kilogram of firewood.

With annual average fuel consumption of 3.7 tonnes a year in Canberra, the average new ACT wood heater will emit 37kg of particles a year - 370 times worse than a new diesel engine.

Research shows there is no safe level of particulate pollution.

New Zealand set new wood heater standards; its industry soon developed new, cleaner models.

The real madness would be to risk our health by continuing to install wood heaters that are 370 times dirtier than the average new diesel 4WD, instead of waiting until new, clean-burning models are developed that won't make people sick.

Dr Dorothy L. Robinson,

Australian Air Quality Group

A dead issue?

As the ACT election campaign rolls on with new promises every day from all contestants, I have looked out for some reference to funding of a new cemetery in south Canberra, especially in the Brindabella electorate.

With the leader of the Canberra Liberals, Zed Seselja, now a contestant for one of the Brindabella seats, I was half expecting that the proposal to build the new facility opposite the Mugga Lane tip might be revived.

The public reaction to that proposed site a year or so ago was unfavourable. Does this mean it's now a dead issue?

E. L. Fisher, Kambah

Children need rights

Clearly, the four Queensland girls forcibly deported to their father in Italy, and other children involved in custody battles, lack any human rights in Australia (''Judge orders four sisters be returned to Italy'', October 4, p4).

The girls, aged nine to 15, are old enough to decide which parent they would like to live with. Yet the Family Court has treated them as commodities, understandable only if they were infants under five.

It's time to change the Family Law Act and the Hague Convention to give the children of custody battles the right to determine their future.

Much has been written recently in The Canberra Times about giving prisoners human rights; let's give the children in Australia some rights, too.

Vicki Lilley, Monash

Bright Mr Chips

The Australian Catholic University's vice-chancellor says ''we want Mr Chips, not the nerds from The Big Bang Theory'' (''Plan to lift teacher quality fails grade'', October 4, p6).

It's worth noting that the Mr Chips character was apparently based by its creator on W. H. Balgarnie, whose academic achievements included a first-class honours degree in classics from Trinity College, Cambridge.

Whatever his other attributes, he would therefore also have been one of those teachers, perhaps more common in the past, of good intellect with an academic grounding of substance in the subjects which they teach.

I suspect his ATAR score would have been quite impressive.

Robin Oldham, Rosedale, NSW,

Wealthy pensioners

Could someone explain how extending the retirement ages of judges and military personnel will reduce demand on the Commonwealth's age pension system (''Call to clear hurdles to a longer working life'', October 3, p1)?

Given the level of remuneration, including privileged standards of taxpayer-funded superannuation, already enjoyed by employees, compared with mere mortals in the private sector, I would have thought most would neither need the age pension nor be eligible for it. The suggestion that keeping such people employed would create savings for the public purse and contribute more tax revenue is a nonsense, given that these folk are paid from the public purse.

The problem with people like Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan is that they've never had to survive in the real world and therefore don't understand that many older people would like to keep working but can't find work, as their contribution is often simply not valued or wanted.

Rather than coming up with silly, half-baked ideas to extend privileges for those who already have them, Ryan would do better to come up with innovative policies that create real diversity in the workplace, including employment of people of all ages.

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

Pondering pickles

Robert Willson (Letters, October 4) reckons venerating the pickled hand of St Francis Xavier is no more credulous than seeing the pickled heart of Phar Lap. Surely the credulity lies in the metaphysical baggage one brings to these objects.

Let's assume they are original body parts and that a theoretical punter is beguiled by both.

Given Phar Lap's want of Catholic zeal, our punter would hardly suggest that the horse's body is incorruptible, even though it was stuffed and preserved; yet, although St Francis Xavier never ran successfully in the Cox Plate as a five-year-old old carrying nine pounds, one can imagine the punter murmuring to the saint's desiccated 16th-century hand as if it could affect outcomes at Moonee Valley.

Peter Robinson, Ainslie

Nuclear power is not renewable 

We must choose between poisoning our planet by burning fossil fuels, or switching to more expensive renewable energy sources. Nuclear power is temporary, unsafe, and unclean.

It's important to understand that generating power using uranium in nuclear reactors produces non-renewable energy.

It's no substitute for renewable energy, and is a poor substitute for coal, because there is not very much uranium available to mine.

As Adrian Milton points out (Letters, October 4), 90 per cent of ''megatons to megawatts'' fuel has been used. The yet-to-be-mined uranium is not enough to supply our needs for long, but it would increase the intractable problem of dealing with nuclear waste.

Cuthbert Douglas (Letters, October 4) is wrong to claim that nuclear waste is manageable above ground.

After the loss of electric power at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant halted the continuous supply of water to the spent fuel rods in the pool at the No.4 reactor (which was shut down at the the time), the water boiled away, the zirconium alloy cladding the fuel rods melted, burned, and released high level radioactive waste into the atmosphere.

I hope they don't have power outages at Lucas Heights, in Sydney, where our nuclear waste is stored in a similar pool.

The reason that high-level radioactive waste is left above ground is that it is too expensive to properly bury it, for example, using Ringwood's Synroc, which would then be buried two to three kilometres deep in granite covered with one kilometre of infill. Nuclear power is unsafe. Even mining uranium is more unsafe than mining coal.

Douglas tells us about Canadian uranium deposits that must be mined by remote control. We don't have mutant moose in Australia, but ecotoxicological studies in ecosystems surrounding and downstream of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu have detected mutations in fauna (see the Uranium Research Group's submission to the World Heritage Committee).

Bruce A. Peterson, Kambah

Cuthbert Douglas alerts us to the presence of highly radioactive uranium deposits in Canada and implies that they are not dangerous because there is no evidence of mutant moose.

Is he not aware of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, who dug the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind him and built Mt Hood by piling rocks on his campfire to put it out?

Then he dug the Great Lakes so his companion, the Blue Bull, could drink.

Surely these giants were mutants that arose when their respective parents wandered too close to a radioactive deposit?

Peter Snowdon, Aranda

We need wetlands

To improve water quality for recreation, appearance and smell in our urban lakes, we must cut the amount of nutrients that enter stormwater.

The best way is to build urban wetlands, like those at Lyneham and O'Connor, which will soak up nutrients and faecal bacteria.

These clean the water and reduce blue-green algae. They are also scenic and an amenity for residents.

Similar wetlands are needed in Tuggeranong, and will be helpful in Belconnen if Lake Ginninderra is to remain usable for recreation.

The recent Lake Burley Griffin report advocated these wetlands to improve water quality. What they cost I leave others to argue, but their long-term value will be great for Canberra.

Ian Falconer, vice-president, ACT region, Conservation Council

Rate rise is unfair

There are many investors from Canberra and interstate who buy more than one house and/or apartment in the ACT.

There are also many Canberrans who can afford to upgrade to larger homes.

All of these people presently pay stamp duty for each purchase.

How is it ''fair'' to make it easier for investors and others to increase their material wealth by abolishing stamp duty, while requiring the wider community to make up for lost government revenue through the imposition of increased rates?

Yes, the investors will pay higher rates for their properties but they'll simply recoup that by charging higher rent to their tenants.

Katy Gallagher or Andrew Barr: please explain what's fair.

Bill Bowron, Farrer

To the point 


The ANU just doesn't get it about the school of music (''Elite teachers told to reapply'', October 5, p1). Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Sutherland, Armstrong and so on still wouldn't be able to get jobs there. They didn't want to research music; they wanted to make it. And gloriously.

Bruno Yvanovich, Waramanga


If the NRL is wondering why it is losing credibility and acceptability, it need look no further than the Bulldogs' chief executive and coach (''Bulldogs gamble on biting allegation'', October 4, p20). They think a 12-week suspension is harsh for a footballer who bites his opponent. Thank heavens he was only a Bulldog by name!

Ken Stokes, Wanniassa


The relocation of the Medicare centre from Civic to Braddon shows a complete lack of concern for the average resident, especially the aged and the disabled. This retrograde step could be remedied immediately if local politicians took action. Which of them will have the courage to act first?

Harold Grant, Campbell


I rode my bike to Belconnen recently using the recreation paths. I propose that all path users be banned from wearing headphones or earphones. Bike riders can ring their bells, toot their horns and call out to warn others, but those wearing headsets are in a world of their own.

P. J. Carthy, McKellar


In days of yore, education was a key element of cycling activism. This involved visits by Pedal Power, police and the media to schools. Such action might solve the conundrums posed by Michael Jordan in ''Shared paths'' (Letters, October 3).

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor


Evidently, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is a feminist because he has lots of women around him (''Women in Abbott's life campaign to talk up Tony'', October 6, p4). On that logic, King Henry VIII was the father of feminism.

John Passant, Kambah


I'm very sad to hear of Graham Downie's retirement. Over the years, I've always enjoyed his columns even though I didn't always agree with them. He has helped me on two occasions, the first dating back to the early 1980s. In both cases, the outcomes were successful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading ''He saw things his own way'' (October 6, Forum, p5). I wish Downie a happy retirement. A job well done.

Barbara Mecham, Melba