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Canberra Today 4°/8° | Monday, October 25, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Fairness really means ‘free’ in public housing

Lockdown is bringing out the quills. We have never published so many in letters in one edition. Thank you to all our readers for writing in. 

WHY do I have to pay rates when people in public housing properties pay nothing? I have wondered about this for many years. 

I became more curious about this question in the last two weeks when two new, beautiful houses in my street were given to public housing tenants. 

These tenants enjoy life tenancy, pay a pittance in rent and run a very low risk of eviction. They have the best real estate deal in Canberra, as do other public housing tenants – all 11,000 of them.

Rates in Campbell are very high and I wonder why these people don’t contribute to the running of the city or the suburb. Even to the extent that they pay for garbage collection and all the levies added to rates bills. The vast majority of public housing tenants are on Commonwealth benefits, which means the rent they pay comes directly from the taxpayer. The formula to assess rent is no more than 25 per cent of their “income”. In addition they get a further subsidy from Canberra ratepayers. Nothing is free and what they get for nothing is paid for by others.

Not only do they get what amounts to a free house, it is of a higher standard than most of the neighbouring houses who pay high rates and have done so for years. This real estate deal is magnificent when compared to private-sector rents. No one in the private sector gets away with not paying rates, it’s either the owner or the landlord. Public housing tenants are getting a free ride on the back of taxpayers and the system is seriously unfair.

I don’t begrudge needy people getting public housing, but the concept of fairness has gone too far, when the so-called needy end up better off than those who pay for that housing. 

It has also become clear that those who represent the needy – ie, ACTCOSS – have been bleating about fairness, which really means free. How do they reconcile the needy living in a new house when the neighbours, who fund the new houses, live in old houses? 

Once a person gets public housing they cease to be needy and should make a contribution to Canberra. Surely that’s fair? If they paid rates, this money would go into government coffers and reduce government debt and contribute to more people getting public housing.

Lucinda Spier, Campbell 

Leave the age of criminal intent

I SEE one of the young thugs who invaded Wallaby great Toutai Kefu’s Brisbane home was aged 13. His three accomplices were aged 15. All have been charged with attempted murder and other serious offences.

Surely this just reinforces the blindingly obvious fact that the age of criminal intent should be left as it is and any question of whether a young person under 14 knew what he/she did was wrong be left to the court.

If this crime was to have been committed in the ACT after Shane Rattenbury’s law came into effect, this alleged young thug could not have been charged and brought to justice.

Bill Stefaniak, Narrabundah

‘Sound footing’ for development

JON Stanhope (“The border may have to burst to get everybody in”, CN August 19) posed the question “where will all these extra people that the government said will actually reside?” 

The government’s 2019 Planning Strategy should have provided guidance, but failed to assess the merits of alternative distributions of population and employment.

The strategy substituted platitudes for assessment and without evidence determined the level of housing demand to be accommodated in established areas should increase from 30 per cent to 70 per cent. 

No analysis was undertaken of (a) the optimal level of intensification, (b) where it should be prioritised, (c) the cost of augmenting existing infrastructure, (d) the implications of restricting detached housing supply in the territory, (e) the merits of alternative greenfield areas including Kowen, (f) the effectiveness of policies to reduce travel including directing employment to locations well served by public transport, (g) housing preferences and (h) to demonstrate light rail was more cost effective than alternatives such as bus rapid transport or that light rail is a better use of funds than spending on health and social housing.

To address these deficiencies a comprehensive review of the strategy is required. 

The light rail extension and proposals to increase density in Yarralumla and Deakin should be deferred until the review is completed and Canberra’s development is placed on a sound foundation.

Mike Quirk, Garran

Greg’s change of heart

I WAS interested to read the letter from Greg Cornwell (CN August 19) on legalising illicit drugs and inconsistencies. 

I am pleased to see Greg’s change of heart from the mid-’80s (pre-self-government days) when along with the other Liberals in the Assembly, which was only an advisory body to the Federal government, Greg walked out when the vote was about to be taken on recommending banning tobacco advertising. 

I understand that Greg was a nicotine addict at that time and his firm had an account with the tobacco industry.

“How can you justify limited sentences for those who profit from death?” In the mid-’80s, an Australian died every 45 minutes from the effects of tobacco-related diseases. That’s the reason Canberra Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was formed. 

Does Greg suggest those who marketed tobacco, knowing how dangerous the product is, should be sentenced to death? Logically from what he writes “yes”.

Greg, I do agree with you on this issue. Legalising small quantities of illicit drugs is a message to the drug pushers that the ACT will be a good market for them.

Dr Alan Shroot, ASH

Thanks to the folks at Fisher

MY wife and I were booked in to have our second virus “jab” at our doctor’s surgery. 

The whole operation was carried out with maximum efficiency and, being someone who has been associated with production lines for most of my working life, I feel that they at Fisher Family Practice should be given a big pat on the back for the way they handled the operation.

No doubt there are other practices that the above comments could be applied to, however when you see something that you are very familiar with, a little bit of praise is justifiable.

Jim Crane, Monash

Our border is here to stay

JON Stanhope’s column about the pressure of growth on the ACT’s existing border concluded that the ACT/NSW border “is surely going to have to change”. However, he didn’t discuss the process required for changing the border, which will be a fraught process at best. 

The ACT government must first convince the NSW government to agree to “border reform”. If the NSW government remains true to the form it displayed when the Commonwealth explored returning the Jervis Bay Territory to NSW, then the ACT will find that NSW has little interest in change (ie a net benefit to NSW, which would translate as a net loss to the ACT). 

The NSW government would then need to convince the people of NSW that it is a good idea, as any proposal to change the NSW border must be approved by referendum. I feel sure the NSW people would also want to know what’s in it for them before ever agreeing to border reform. 

I doubt that the NSW government, as they have consistently shown in matters related to the Jervis Bay Territory and Norfolk Island, would ever seriously contemplate border reform without a lot of carrots and political manipulation. 

Unfortunately, I believe our future planning will have to occur within the constraints of our current borders unless other means can be found, as it was with Ginninderry. 

Trevor Melksham, via email

Very large Canberra ‘undesirable’

I ASSUME Jon Stanhope’s column (CN August 19) on a future Canberra of up to 1.5 million people was intended as a tongue-in-cheek glimpse of a dystopian future, rather than an endorsement of the ACT government’s long-range planning abilities. 

A very large Canberra is neither inevitable nor desirable. Most Australians do not want a continuation of the rapid population growth that is fueling urban growth. 

The problem lies with a pro-growth coalition of developers, politicians and some academics that obscures the costs of endless development while seeking to marginalise those who try to rein it in. 

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that community matters more than numbers. Population growth is an outworn mindset and should be treated as such. 

Dr Jenny Stewart, Torrens

Public toilets please, pronto!

I JOIN with the many readers of “CityNews” who have recently expressed their anger about the lack of amenities, ie toilets, around Canberra. 

I think it is irresponsible, careless, stupid and very annoying that the ACT government thinks that it is not their business to provide such facilities. One can’t rely on businesses to provide any. It would cut into their profits.

When I shop in Mawson, I have to use the female toilets there and they are usually very unpleasant. An attempt to provide handwash and a hand dryer is just that. The dryer does not work. I use my own hand towel. I have complained to City Services Minister Chris Steel about this some time ago. I believe that nothing has been done to improve them. 

I have been to Downer, too, to socialise (pre-lockdown), and fortunately I have purchased a coffee so that I may use the toilets in the café. There should be public toilets everywhere and well-maintained toilets at that!

As one reader said, it is a human right to have access to toilets and clean running water, especially with the pandemic. 

The handwashing facilities in the toilets in Canberra Centre are a disgrace, too. The taps are supposed to be automatic, but they don’t work! 

This Labor/Greens government thinks it can do anything (or nothing) with impunity. It takes for granted the probability of re-election because most Canberrans don’t want a Liberal government. 

This government has grown complacent. Who do we vote for next time? The Greens have coalesced and lost their own brand of politics, losing their power.

The construction of public toilets in the ACT IS the responsibility of the government and, as such, should be budgeted for, and work should commence pronto! And get them right!

Jenny Holmes, Weston

Building both sides of the avenue

JACK Kershaw has a shot (Letters, CN August 19) at “those who, in support of development there [south of Civic], invoke Griffin’s depictions”. 

For the record, I enclose an extract from Griffin’s last (1918) plan clearly showing buildings extending along both sides of Commonwealth Avenue. 

Perhaps Jack was upset by the big, black monstrosity immediately south of the Legislative Assembly building (incidentally, this map shows Jack’s favoured route for Light Rail Stage 2, south of Acton Peninsula – so he doesn’t mind invoking Griffin when it suits him).

Richard Johnston, Kingston

Thank you very much, Cedric

RETIRING gardening columnist Cedric Bryant has been one of the main reasons that my partner and I look forward to each edition of “CityNews”. His articles have always been informative, interesting and well-illustrated. 

I wrote an article about Cedric’s contribution to the Horticultural Society of Canberra last year for its quarterly bulletin. Cedric was then in his 81st year and he told me that he’d been writing weekly articles for “The Canberra Times” for 23 years before moving to “CityNews” in 2011. Cedric was awarded life membership in the society some years ago. Thank you so much, Cedric, for your many articles and other contributions to gardening life in Canberra.

Wendy Whitham, via email

Dismay at meeting’s report

MINISTERS should be careful to query what their directorates and consultancy firms brief them on and tell them to say publicly, regardless of how positive and “consultative” the messaging might appear (“Canberra’s planning function ‘not fit for purpose’”, CN August 18). 

The public record of the statement made by the Planning Minister at the end of June to a major forum about ACT Planning Review processes and progress, shows that he claimed that “Listening Reports” had been emailed to all participants who registered to attend the recent suite of district planning workshops. 

At least some community volunteers who worked hard to contribute input on five themes in one of the three-hour workshops never received such communication. 

And, yes, once their workshop’s report was “discovered” and made its way along the informal community grapevine, these participants also viewed it with utter dismay. 

Sue Dyer, Downer

Commonwealth must intervene

I HAVE before me a letter from the Prime Minister that settles the legal prosecutory Commonwealth/ACT positions on illicit drug offences that some have seen as an opportunity to muddy the waters. 

It says in part: ” The Commonwealth’s position is that the ACT legislation has no legal effect, and that offences in the Commonwealth Criminal Code will continue to operate, including in the ACT, as the ACT legislation does not prevail over, or negate, the operation of the Criminal Code.”

It goes on to say that this advice has been passed on to the ACT government. This, of course, must mean that if the ACT government decriminalises/legalises illicit drug use and has offences treated under local ACT “laws”, which have no legal effect, the Commonwealth must intervene. 

Such intervention would have to appropriately advise the ACT government that ACT Policing, as part of the AFP, is responsible to the Federal Minister for Home Affairs – not the ACT Minister for Police.

Colliss Parrett, Barton

Two steps too far, Robert

I CONGRATULATE columnist Robert Macklin for his perceptive and prescient article “So, we may think things are bad now” (CN August 19) warning about the danger of thinking “we’ve got this thing [the virus] beaten” and drifting into complacency. 

We can’t afford to be off guard for a minute when fighting the extraordinarily contagious Delta variant.

So far so good. However, to claim that the “COVID-19 pandemic” is “one of the most virulent manifestations” of climate change, and may be “only the beginning of a much more serious sequence of pandemics” is two steps too far.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have concluded that the reproduction rate of the covid virus is not noticeably affected by Earth’s air temperature. If anything, its reproduction is stimulated by lower temperatures – not the increasing temperatures of climate change (global heating).

Our best defence against the virus remains vaccination for all, avoiding as far as possible crowds, maintaining appropriate hygiene and remembering “we’re all in this together”.

Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin

Palmer’s wasteful case

CITIZEN Palmer portends to take a case against WA to the High Court. He asserts that WA’s border closure violates Section 117 of the Australian Constitution: “A subject of the Queen, resident in any State, shall not be subject in any other State to any disability or discrimination which would not be equally applicable to him if he were a subject of the Queen resident in such other State.” Ie, a citizen living in one state (eg, Palmer, resident of Queensland) should not be disabled from travelling to another (eg, if he lived in WA, Palmer would be allowed to be in WA).

Fine, and the very next section of the same chapter of the same constitution notes: “Full faith and credit shall be given, throughout the Commonwealth to the laws, the public Acts and records, and the judicial proceedings of every State.” 

In other words, the Commonwealth and other States must honour the laws passed by one State.

WA declared a State of Emergency (SoE) related to COVID-19, according to its legal processes. Under that SoE, WA restricted entry to and exit from WA, as it legally may do.

Once again, Clive Palmer wastes taxpayer funds and consumes judicial resources for his own pleasure. The borders would be opened much faster if that money were spent to provide medical equipment and deliver coronavirus vaccines!

Judy Bamberger, O’Connor

Stay away from me!

TO all those still not fully vaccinated, for whatever reasons, keep away from me, please do, otherwise we may both end up in hospital, me in isolation and you in the ICU!

Mario Stivala, Belconnen

Help with a noisy neighbour

IN a recent “Letters” page, correspondent M McGregor, of Curtin, wrote bemoaning the noise a young neighbour makes when leaving the house for work early each morning.

“I have spoken with his father and complained to him in writing for months, all in vain,” writes the octogenarian. 

“What are my options? Has anyone else had a similar problem and how did they manage to solve it? Legally? Peacefully?”

Karen Johnstone wrote sympathising with Mr McGregor’s predicament. Sort of. 

“I am a light sleeper and have suffered broken sleep through various circumstances throughout my life. I currently live in a small cul de sac, where a neighbour drives his wife to work at various hours of the night and the newsagent delivers a newspaper with a radio blaring at 4am,” she says. 

“That said, living in the middle of suburbia requires an element of tolerance, compromise, understanding and acceptance. Everyone has the right to work and if that work requires someone to leave home at 6.40am, then that is their right. 

“Perhaps the perspective of accepting that this young man has the right to be doing what he is doing and, potentially, be commended for making his way in life by solid employment.

“You might like to consider silicone earplugs to block out external noise.”

Richard Strong weighed in with “a couple of thoughts both legal and illegal”.

“Continue to complain and try to ignore the noise and hopefully with the warm weather approaching there will be less start up and warming noise until next winter.

“An eccentric aged Bega resident had a problem with noise from his neighbours many years ago. He believed that they played rooster tapes every morning to upset his peace. In response, he placed speakers on his house front and played loud Classic FM when the roosters started.

Steal the SUV at your age and take the risk.”

Meanwhile Kanchana also suggested Mr McGregor buy noise-cancelling earphones or cheaper earplugs. 

Amy also plumped for earplugs. “Your neighbour’s son is merely earning a living in an honest manner. As a recent transplant from Sydney, I will add that 6.40am is by no means early to leave for work,” she says. 

Anne and Owen Reid weighed in with: “Perhaps instead of complaining about a young man starting his vehicle of a morning to go to work, he should be congratulated for his work ethic. What is he supposed to do, walk to work in slippers so he doesn’t make a noise?”

Mario Stivala was a little more sympathetic to Mr McGregor offering up the earplugs suggestion, but not long term.

Then things got expensive: “Soundproofing the bedroom by double glazing any windows, installing soundproofing to the bedroom external walls and roof space above, also installing an efficient door seal to the bedroom door.”

Then some common sense: “Additionally, I would suggest a visit to any Access Canberra Shopfront for their comments, as this is a very common problem, which they would have undoubtedly dealt with on numerous earlier occasions.”

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