Letters / How Rebecca will succumb to the system

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Letter writer MARTIN GORDON, of Dunlop, is concerned new Greens minister Rebecca Vassarotti is destined to lose the will to fight and succumb to being an insider. “You may want to change the system from the inside, but usually it ends up changing you!” he warns… 

OCCASIONALLY the written word is much more powerful than radio or television. The inconsistency or absurdity of what may be said becomes more obvious. 

The inconsistency and absurdity arose from the flattering piece (CN April 8) about the new Greens minister Rebecca Vassarotti. 

Environment and Heritage Minister Rebecca Vassarotti. Photo: Holly Treadway

Rebecca railed about the undifferentiated political class and how out of touch it is. Presumably having now joined the political class, she will change the entire order of the eternal regime in short order. 

But I suspect she will, in a short time, resemble her colleague Shane Rattenbury who is a fully co-opted functionary in the eternal regime. Having sought to change things from the inside, the resistance she and all the members of the ALP and Greens in the Assembly offered to a poverty inquiry in February, and questions about management of the AMC have been deflected, suggests otherwise. 

The price of being on the inside is you become an “insider”. You may want to change the system from the inside, but usually it ends up changing you! 

It will become more obvious in time and the inconsistency between what you say and what you do will become more obvious, too. 

Martin Gordon, Dunlop 

Art precinct awaits ‘token’ tick off

COLUMNIST Paul Costigan’s article on “planning disasters” (“Planning plodders learn nothing from the past”, CN March 25) was spot-on. 

As another example I’d suggest the Kingston Arts Precinct. In that case the government, to its credit, put a great deal of effort into preparing and consulting on the Section 69 Kingston Masterplan, which was approved in 2014. 

However, there was then a secret internal government process to select a single developer for this very large and significant site. When the chosen developer’s tender design concept was finally unveiled in August, 2019, it was seen to have ignored the masterplan. The blatant over-development of the site was explained by the architect as being inspired by the piazza and alleyways of Sienna!

The government required the developer to run a “community engagement” process, including setting up a “Community Panel”. 

More than a year of subsequent discussions yielded little material change to the developer’s basic design concept. 

A group of nine heritage experts wrote last year to the (then) Minister for Heritage saying the “design shows a complete lack of respect for the historic buildings, particularly through over-development of the site”. The local community group and the National Trust (ACT) have been asking for months to see the ACT Heritage Council’s advice on this project. No response. 

We are told that the Suburban Land Agency needs to tick off the design before further (doubtless token) “community participation” is sought, on what sounds like a fait accompli.

The government must do a lot better than this on the West Basin project!

Richard Johnston, Kingston

It’s not hard, Mr Miller

I THINK we need to find someone to explain to John Miller (CN letters, April 15), columnist Jon Stanhope’s graphs and statistics on ACT Health’s underperforming and underfunded Emergency Department (“Targets missed: how does ACT Health get it so wrong?”, CN April 1).

Mr Miller, ACT Health’s target is for Emergency Departments to clear 90 per cent of presentations in under four hours. The ED is only clearing 58 per cent of presentations in this time. The missed target means that an increasing number of people are waiting more than four hours, despite the number of presentations decreasing! 

How much longer? Who knows, but it is certain that more and more of those needing treatment in the ED are waiting considerably longer than four hours.

This is not the fault of our dedicated doctors and nurses in the ED who are doing an incredible job in the circumstances. The fault here lies squarely at the feet of ACT Labor and the Greens.

Bob Collins, Latham 

Suburbs are getting hotter, Shane

A DECEMBER 2017 CSIRO report commissioned by the ACT government found that temperatures in many urban areas are warmer than their rural surroundings, with Canberra suburbs and neighbourhoods the hottest.

This occurs because of the “urban heat island effect”, when pavements, roads and buildings absorb the sun’s heat and radiate it back day and night, increasing the temperature.

Shane Rattenbury, who was then Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability, called for a plan to manage the city’s heat in the face of increasing climate-change impacts. He said that more water bodies and shade trees will reduce land-surface temperatures.

Yet now residents and the Watson Community Association are waiting to see if almost 440 trees will be removed to make space for an ACT government development in north Watson (“Residents face anxious wait on fate of 440 trees”, CN April 15).

Watson resident Max Pouwer says in the article that Watson has plenty of housing estates. He favours keeping the area as a natural one rather than creating more dense development.

Where is the Leader of the ACT Greens Shane Rattenbury when you need him? Or will he just sign off on more tree destruction, contradicting his earlier calls to prevent hotter suburbs in Canberra?

Murray May, Cook

Work harder to reduce ED backlog

BOB Collins (“Go home and wait until we call. When? No idea”, CN April 15) says that Canberra has a third-world health system and is the worst in the country. 

What? The health system in SA is worse. People are struggling to survive while waiting for ambulances in Adelaide. The Liberals in SA have slashed ambos and privatised health care. 

However, how can Andrew Barr look after our health system when they are cutting funds to our health system? We need to do more to reduce the backlog of Emergency Department patients in our health-care sector.

Anton Rusanov, Kaleen

Review panel a ‘sop’ on the landscape

WHILE the ACT government has been fond of referring to the role of its Design Review Panel as some sort of bulwark against poor urban planning and design, the panel too often appears to be a mere sop.

The planning and renewal machinations still deliver massive complexes with totally inadequate setbacks or natural shading, and that also give little or no priority to the provision of generous, soft ground-level landscaping and highly appealing and easy-to-use “public realm” environments (“Design panel: toothless, faceless and a joke”, Paul Costigan, CN April 8). 

In addition, the panel’s role and guidance can be conveniently ignored when it suits the planning minister and his directorate. 

The considerable height and mass of the large Coles/apartment block that will take three years to construct in the middle of the Dickson Group Centre should have led to a mandatory review and check-over by the panel, particularly since it is also close to, and will be visible from, the much-heralded city and gateway “boulevard” promised along the nearby Northbourne Avenue and Federal Highway .

On questioning the role of the panel in the final approval of this major Dickson development, the community was advised that plans were not submitted for review by the panel. 

Why did Dickson not deserve any improvements or reassurances that the panel may have been able to provide? 

Or would the building’s bulk, siting, setbacks, urban heating contribution and other significant “public realm” impacts have been too much for that panel to stomach? 

Sue Dyer, Downer

A question of zoning

IN relation to Belinda Strahorn’s article about the Demonstration Housing Project developments (“Directorate sees no conflict in housing approval”, CN April 8), I suggest they be restricted to RZ2 zones and to a 60:40 ratio of green space to building. 

The example included in the article comes with nine car park spaces. As these would take up a fair amount of the available green space, lowering the build ratio would leave more green space.

Restricting such developments to RZ2 zones would make the lower levels more suitable for the disabled and elderly, as they would end up near suburban shopping centres, bus stops, pedestrian crossings and so on. 

As they grow in popularity, and I think they will, I suggest the current RZ2 zones be expanded, since these developments are not really suitable to be interspersed within suburbs.

A project director in the Capital Renewal Authority putting up her own family home for a Demonstration Housing Project proposal is not a good look. These things are often about perceptions and I am grateful to Ms Strahorn for highlighting this as a possible conflict-of-interest issue.

Herman van de Brug, Belconnen 

More ideas of Vienna

THE theme of this year’s Canberra International Music Festival is “the idea of Vienna.”

Helen Musa’s article (“Peelman’s idea of Vienna is all over the place”, CN April 14) included many examples of the occurrence of Vienna in music and culture. Two additional examples are songs, each titled, “Vienna,” by Billy Joel and by Ultravox.

Leon Arundell, Downer

No royal tours to Greece

WITH lifelong connections to Greece and one of its beautiful daughters, it is with a tinge of sadness that I reflect that the Queen has never formally visited Greece. 

It is thought the main reason may be the fraught history of the monarchy in Greece, which affected Prince Philip’s immediate family, and saw their flight in 1922. But to be clear, it is not completely true that the Queen has never been to Greece. She went at the invitation of King Paul, Prince Philip’s cousin, in 1950, but that was before she became Queen. 

The Greek/Danish ancestry of the late Prince Philip created a marvellous human being who, as husband, father, grandfather gave an example of life-service that some young royal couples could do well to note.

Colliss Parrett, Barton

Parton’s on the right track

LIBERAL MLA Mark Parton’s ideas about dual-occupancy “densification” of our existing suburbs, versus intrusive blocks of flats, are generally okay (“Infill prices kill dream of owning a house”, CN March 4). 

However, builder-developers (who needs them, when land owners can commission an architect, and get their “dual-occies” built, via competitive tendering, virtually wholesale?) will generally only provide the minimum required amount of sunny private open space – currently six metres in diameter (28.3 square metres) per dwelling. That needs to be at least a mandatory 100 square metres each, still with a minimum dimension of six metres, for healthy family living, with space for say, a shed, gardens, trampoline, trees and maybe a pool. 

That would help preserve the appealing green swathe of backyard environments running through and defining our suburbs. It would also curb the proliferation of grossly over-sized dual occupancies with puny “alfrescos”, increasingly being taken up as sterile, inflationary Airbnbs, because they’re no good for families. 

The approval of more basement or partial-basement garages could also be considered for dual-occupancies, to maximise open space (currently, they’re only permitted if the block frontage is more than an atypical 30 metres, on aesthetic grounds – a restriction apparently not regarded as relevant to the blight of two double garages side by side in your typical one-street-frontage dual occupancy.

Jack Kershaw, Kambah 

All the torque’s about electric utes

LATELY, there has been much spoken and written about the pros and cons of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. 

Tesla has released an electric ute (which has not yet reached this antipodean backwater) and I predict that the tradie, who uses a ute to carry often-heavy gear and supplies, will change his mind about electric vehicles when test driving an electric ute, with its enormous torque on all four wheels and prodigious carrying capacity.

The EV’s Achilles heel has been – up to now – its short range: perhaps about 300 kilometres. That problem will soon disappear with the increasing use of solid-state batteries. 

These are smaller, lighter and have a greater energy density (electrical capacity per unit volume) than batteries currently in use, and increase range to 700 kilometres or more. And EV prices are coming down. What more do you need?

Then there is the hydrogen-powered vehicle… but that’s another story.

Douglas Mackenzie, Deakin

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