Federal Politics


Time for an independent judicial complaints process

The article ''Angry barristers target Refshauge'' (December 15, p1) was a sharp reminder to me that he is not the only judicial officer who fails to deliver timely judgments. In 2009, ACAT general president Linda Crebbin presided over a modest little car crash case that I defended.

It took her two years to make a decision. She found against me and added interest that had accrued over the two-year delay to the judgment debt.

Her judgment was a litany of excuses about the delay, which included inappropriate descriptions of her personal and professional problems that led to the delay. It makes interesting reading and can be found at the website act-now.net.au.

I tried to complain and found, as had the barristers in your story, that there is no appropriate process.

However, there is a judicial policy that allows complaints to be made to the head of the jurisdiction. This is all very well if the case has been heard by rank-and-file judicial officers. But if the head of the jurisdiction, as in my case, decides to hear a case and stuffs up, how can an aggrieved litigant make a complaint?

So I spent some effort complaining to the government and the opposition about how Ms Crebbin conducted my case.


I can only hope that the government gets it right as I am sure that many Canberrans have been disadvantaged by unaccountable judges, magistrates and ACAT members.

If legislation is passed to create a complaints process, I hope that it is independent and impartial.

An in-house complaints system is neither and is just an example of pandering to the judiciary.

Caroline Ambrus, Calwell

Expected better

A week before Christmas and the federal Labor government is caught with its hand in the till, filching from the foreign aid budget to pay for an unjust and costly refugee policy (''Labor MP slams foreign aid cut,'' canberratimes.com.au, December 18).

And what genius in the Labor PR machine suggested excusing this conduct by pointing out that the Liberals, under John Howard, had done just the same?

Many who vote for Labor do so because they expect it to do better than copying the Liberals on social issues.

The take-home message? If you want socially responsible government, direct your vote elsewhere.

David Teather, Reid

Julia Gillard's continued insistence on the realisation of a budget surplus for the 2012-13 fiscal year adds ''government finance'' as one more to the growing list of areas over which she really has no understanding. The way she speaks, I think she firmly imagined that through the process of ''creative accounting'' she could easily achieve a surplus. But her opportunities of adopting this method are fast disappearing or have gone totally already. In any case, a lot of her foreign aid commitments that are now thought to be on the chopping block, especially the new programs, cunningly weren't due to come on stream (and have budget implications) until 2013-14. She knows of no other psychology than announce now, try to win the hearts and souls of the public, and the deferral of funding decisions until later (i.e., after the next elections).

Indonesia, for one, will not be impressed if Gillard-Carr-Swan start tinkering at this late stage on the agreed level of foreign aid for 2012-13 (merely for domestic political purposes and not economics), and Papua New Guinea likewise.

Don Wilkey, Kambah

Respect teachers

I can only agree with Dr David Baker (Letters, December 18) that we should stop blaming teachers for poor student outcomes. One very important fact that is often overlooked in this discussion is that students from countries like South Korea, Singapore and China have a respect for their teachers that has been inculcated in them by their parents.

Why would we expect students who have no respect for their teachers to pay any attention to them?

D. Ee, Palmerston

Take the high road

On December 8, The Canberra Times reported that $10,000 payments were made to the Liberal Party and Greens before the October ACT election. The aim of these payments apparently was by vested interests to prevent reforms proposed in the government's motor registration bill. ACT car owners currently pay more than $1000 to register their vehicles each year. This is about double the cost in Victoria. The Victorian third-party insurance scheme is based on rapid rehabilitation of injured parties rather than financial compensation, which is the case in the ACT. In the new year it is hoped all ACT political parties will embrace vital reform to the current scheme and look after the interests of motorists rather than those who are profiting handsomely from the exiting arrangements.

Brian Brocklebank, Bruce

On the wrong path

The article regarding Living Streets and Canberra's fears about an upgrade of cycling and walking networks (''Walkers fear upgrade plan leaves them out'', December 17, p3) is a matter of concern when one considers the use and management of current dual-user pathways.

These pathways have become like a race track to a few users with speed, no bike etiquette and certainly no responsibility or care towards the pedestrians on the pathway. A speeding bike approaching from behind can be difficult to hear if pedestrians are listing to music or engaged in conversation. Older residents may have hearing loss and be startled more easily by the whoosh of the unannounced bike. This group of cyclists, albeit small, is blase about safety and is presumably ignorant of the ACT government's document ''Important Safety Tips for Cyclists'' which states that bikes must be equipped with a bell, horn, or similar warning device to use when approaching pedestrians. It says cyclists should be alert to the presence of dangers (i.e. pedestrians, dogs etc) and be able to stop quickly.

A recent walk around a similar dual-user pathway in Sydney was a very different experience. Bells were used and speed was not an issue. In addition, there was clear signage at regular intervals reminding cyclists of their safety responsibility to sound their bells when approaching pedestrians.

Cyclists need to improve their behaviour, and at the same time the ACT government should have a similar duty of care to raise the levels of safety awareness and erect suitable signage.

H. Ahern, Yarralumla

Call for bus action

I recently enjoyed a visit to Canberra and during my stay used the local ACTION bus service on a number of occasions to visit parts of the city. I found the drivers to be courteous and the buses well presented. The availability of a bus network map was appreciated.

However, coming from Brisbane, I found it strange that the drivers do not open the centre door on buses at all stops as a matter of course to allow passengers to exit the bus. This is standard practice in other large cities around Australia. Canberra locals tell me this unfriendly practice, which slows down bus operations as passengers ''collide'' at the front door, is the result of a policy by the bus union, the Transport Workers Union.

Well, who runs Canberra buses, the TWU or ACTION management and the ACT government? If it can be done everywhere else in Australia, why not Canberra?

I also found the operation of a different (and very infrequent) bus network on weekends confusing and had not found that in any other part of Australia. A visitor would easily gain the impression from the weekend bus service that Canberra is virtually ''closed'' on weekends - as Australian cities were in bygone days. The city could do better as it celebrates its centenary and hopes to attract large numbers of visitors next year. It is little things like this, not costing millions of dollars, that need attending to by the ACT government before Canberra contemplates building a light rail system which will cost millions of dollars.

John Hoyle, Windsor, Qld

On that note …

Professor Peter Tregear claims the ANU School of Music has ''gone from a situation where the school didn't have much to boast about'' to one where it now does with the appointment of three new faculty members (''School of music moves forward with new talent'', December 18, p3) .

''A situation'' could refer either to the 47 years of the school's operation before its staff were summarily dismissed earlier this year, or to the uncertain period late this year after the dismissals and before the appointments.

If Tregear refers to the former, he refers to a school that, up to this year, produced students who had won professional orchestral auditions and international competitions. Its faculty also included (among others) Australia's finest concertmaster, a bass teacher who produced the principal bassists of the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics and a guitar teacher whose pedagogy seemingly yielded international competition-winning students every semester. This is to say nothing of the school's glorious history since 1965.

If Tregear is unaware of this, then he displays an indefensible ignorance of the history of the school and has also managed to insult all former staff and almost all Canberra musicians in the process. If he refers to the later period, then he can indeed boast that ANU has, through these appointments, patched together a school that is a shadow of its former self after it summarily gutted the institution earlier this year. Perhaps he can clarify his remarks?

Jack Chenoweth, Narrabundah

I find the remark by the head of the School of Music, Professor Peter Tregear (''School of music moves forward with new talent'', December 18, p3) - ''We've gone from a situation where the school didn't have much to boast about and now it does'' highly offensive.

I will try to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is referring to the period following the major structural overhaul of the school, because prior to that, the School of Music had much to boast about. It had a first-class teaching staff, many of international renown, and an enviable reputation for excellence.

His remark is either an unfortunate case of foot in mouth, or inexcusable.

Virginia Berger, Barton

Firestorm finding, commissioner's reaction insult the victims

That Chief Justice Terence Higgins identified clear failures and then justified those failures because, as he saw it, they were failures made in good faith (''NSW not liable for territory firestorm'', December 18, p1), is utter rubbish and an insult to those who died, suffered horrendous injuries, lost their homes and livelihoods, etc, as a consequence of those failures.

To add insult to injury, the NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, issued a statement crowing about letting NSW and his failed officers off the hook.

Mr Fitzsimmons has forgotten or ignored the fact that the ''good faith'' entry in the NSW legislation is there to protect the volunteers in his service who give of their valuable time and experience for the ''on the ground'' protection of the community from the destruction of bushfires.

It was never intended as an escape from accountability and responsibility for his officers holed up in expensive Taj Mahals hundreds of kilometres from the reality of the fire ground.

The hard-working firefighters on the ground must have that ''good faith'' protection, but the so-called leaders must be prepared to face up to their accountability and responsibility.

It is now almost 10 years since the bushfire disaster of January 2003 that was the catalyst for the most disgraceful chapter in ACT history as the government and its overprotected bureaucrats in the critical bushfire management area on the day and afterwards have put every barrier possible in the way of proper bushfire protection for our precious community.

Nobody has been held accountable or responsible for the failures of January 2003 and, as such, nothing has improved in bush management in the ACT. As a matter of fact, it is in an even worse state than it was in 2003.

We are building up to another major bushfire disaster in the ACT, but believe you me, with management neglect of reality, heads-in-the-sand complacency, combined with the dramatically changed fuel structure, that disaster will make 2003 seem like a teddy bears' picnic in comparison.

And you know what? Few, if anybody, cares.

Val Jeffery, Tharwa

I find it unbelievable a state government can opt out of its duty-of-care obligations (''NSW not liable for territory firestorm''). As I sat in the courtroom and heard the judgment, I thought that either the law or the presiding judge had to be changed. Judges interpret the law all the time and the ramifications of states being responsible for bad decisions, but not accountable for repairing at least some of the consequences, is an anathema affecting us all.

This could mean that if if powerlines, gas mains, water and sewerage pipes, etc are not well maintained, any damage to private property that results is your own responsibility. A similar argument could be mounted if an electricity pole fell on you or your house, or a rubbish truck smashed your car in the front driveway. The possible implications are limitless.

It is time the federal government overruled discriminatory state practices like this.

Ric Hingee, Duffy

As the professionalism of public officials declines, the law adjusts. Unlike commercial operators, who face real duties with real legal sanctions, public officials apparently are not up to it. So it is too much to expect NSW fire authorities to act to prevent the loss of Wayne West's Brindabella property and, subsequently, the loss of lives and hundreds of Canberra homes. That's apparently not their professional duty.

Similarly, ACT police are not legally pressured to find any response other than shooting to deal with people such as Jonathan Crowley, wandering Chapman, delusional, with a stick (''Family devastated as $8m in damages denied'', December 18, p1). Surely no parent/friend of any mentally ill person can risk ringing ACT Mental Health in a crisis. With hubristic police routinely brought in, police killings of people whose affliction prevents them responding immediately to threats will continue.

Adrian Milton, Higgins

To the point


How come there are so many schools and government buildings around Canberra that have no idea how to fly the Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags properly? Three poles, three flags, (when the state or territory flag is not flown with these three) then the Australian flag always goes in the middle. While looking at the building the flag poles are in front of, the Aboriginal flag flys on the left and the Torres Strait Island flag on the right. Really, it's not that hard to work out.

Warren Persons, Kambah


The article ''Comcare seeks 'search warrant' powers'' (canberratimes.com.au, December 14) outlines efforts by Comcare, FaHCSIA and employers to ''beef up'' the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act by prosecuting people making ''bogus, exaggerated or fraudulent claims'' and to broaden the definition of ''reasonable management action'' to offset the number of compensation claims. Nobody should condone the lodgement of fraudulent compensation claims but we hope that the same level of scrutiny applied to employee claims would be applied to employer submissions also.

Mike Fitzgerald, Australian Education Union organiser, Manuka


Stephen Holt (Letters, December 18) tells us he's a former proof reader's assistant but it seems he didn't learn the difference between a hyphen and a dash. It's the dash that needs to go before and after the phrase he quotes. Have a close look at how a book or newspaper prints dashes (separating parts of a sentence) and hyphens (joining words): the dashes are longer. Sometimes you may have to use the same symbol but the punctuation marks are still functionally different. If you're proffering advice about punctuation, it's probably a good idea to use the right terminology.

Howard Silcock, Narrabundah


I was both perplexed and disturbed to read that the full bench of the Federal Court found in favour of the public servant injured during a work trip (''Motel sex was work'', December 17, page one) as she was deemed to be still, in effect, at work when injured. I suppose that it was reasonable for the full bench to conclude that being ''on the job'' would be considered, in effect, as being still at work.

Mario Stivala, Spence

A woman injured having recreational sex gets compensation. A man shot and paralysed by the police gets nothing. Don't even mention the bushfire. Sometimes the law really is an ass.

John Robbins, Farrer

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