Letters to the editor - Mar 18

Praise the lord
When I first read Rob Speirs’ comments that SCU was giving “all the resources and funding” to the on campus Christian group that I belong to (The Bible Talks), I was bowled over. SCU gives us a room to meet in each week for an hour, and $200 per year – the same as any other club on campus.
More to the point, shouldn’t Christian university students have the freedom to meet together on campus, and learn together from the Bible? Surely a university (of all places!) should be a place of freedom of thought, speech and association, without being held hostage by a particular vision of what’s acceptable. The 20th century saw the rise of many countries (eg the Soviet Union), whose governments were only too happy to take away such basic freedoms (starting at their universities). History teaches us that removing such freedoms did not do any of these countries any good. So what does Lismore want: freedom of speech or thought police?
Akos Balogh

Hope springs

People like B Parker give me hope (Echo letters, Mar 11). Hope that religionists will not take over the earth and institute the next inquisition, hope that blind ignorance has not totally usurped reason and curious investigation and knowledge. His last letter reminded me of an episode when I was in Malta a few years back. We were sight seeing and stumbled on a church in the centre of Valetta, the capital. Inside was all shrouded in black commemorating All Souls Day (Halloween to some). On one altar, (there were many) was a skull shrouded by a black net. I asked the attendant whose skull it was, and he replied “Saint Joseph’s”. I asked, you mean the father of Jesus? He said “Yes”. I asked, really, he shrugged and said “Who knows!” But it attracts the tourists, especially the gullible ones.
M Mizzi

Good Samaritan

To the young man who works at Red Rooster in Lismore, the one who rang an ambulance for my daughter one night late last year, then proceeded to go to the hospital at 10pm to check up on her, I would like to say a big thank you. Young people often get a bad wrap, and usually for no real reason. When things like this happen it shows that anyone can be compassionate, thoughtful and caring.
That young man from that night is all of these things and more. Once again, thank you.
L Bugeja

Highly rated
Rates are on the way up.
Residents who are lucky enough to own property will all have received a letter from Council recently.
Whilst the letter says rates are to go up 3.51% on top of 2.6% many people have seen their rates estimate go down due to lower valuations.
Great you say! Property values dropping – rates down.
But not all get this “lucky”. One commercial property notice I have seen showed a 20% increase in the rates charge.
Let’s hope that the increase is passed straight on to the tenants.
We already have higher rates than any neighbouring council on the Northern Rivers.
Even Byron, where commercial rents are three to four times higher, are charged less.
So why is this happening?
Maybe because Council has a poor track record when it comes to major projects and investments.
Let’s look at some history.
In 2002 when the Memorial Baths was first proposed the cost estimate was $3.8M, when completed it had become $11M plus an annual loss of around $400K every year.
The Goonellabah sports complex similarly went from $6M to $18M and currently loses $500K every year.
The global financial crisis wiped $4M plus from Council savings and investments.
Now we have a more worrying development: cost blowouts before a project starts.
The new sewer trunk main has gone from $7.3M to $15M of which $800K alone goes to consultants to oversee the project.
Bearing in mind the past results, does anyone believe that this project will come in on budget or on time?
Equally poor is that there was no forward planning on this.
Staff must have seen capacity in the sewer disappearing – you only have to lift a manhole cover! – yet only when the system was at limit did anything get done.
We pay Council staff exceedingly well (the $800K Council hopes to raise in the current rate increase would not cover wages and office costs for the top five managers).
The total of the above disasters amounts to around $30 million.
This is a humungous amount of money.
Couple this with ongoing losses from the pools and it apparently presents us with no choice – we need to increase rates.
But there is an alternative.
What would any person do when presented with such a financial shortfall?
Tighten their belt, not hold up the nearest bank.
Barry Robinson

Yes to increase
I am the woman who said ‘yes’ to the special rate variation at the Wyrallah forum. I am also the woman who volunteers a conservative 60 hours weekly in my well-earned retirement working for koala conservation across the Northern Rivers as president of Friends of the Koala and for broader environmental outcomes in several other positions.
My reason for saying ‘yes’ to the variation proposal is because I have waited a long time for a Council that is concerned about Lismore’s natural environment and has the capacity to put forward a changed management program which will improve its ecological values.
The environmental component of the variation is $200,000 but only half will be spent on biodiversity. $100,000 won’t go far towards developing and implementing a conservation strategy which will achieve a full survey of the local government area’s (LGA) fauna and flora, a LGA-wide comprehensive koala plan of management, and maintenance and restoration of native vegetation to enhance wildlife corridors and connectivity.
The present environmental protection budget is reported as being $10,000 of the total budget of $107M. For any work to be done at all depends on successful grant applications to external funding bodies.
Staff dedicated to environmental, including climate change, issues has doubled (or will have when the recent appointments are in place). More grant applications plus additional funds in Council’s own budget will result in higher amounts being leveraged out of the State and the Feds for local environmental projects.
Friends of the Koala is a voluntary community group with a very long history of working with local government. Plenty of our volunteers put in extraordinarily long hours to hang on to Lismore’s koalas for future generations. They and others like them who willingly give their time and expertise, whether or not they personally stand up to be counted, are the citizens who are looking for Council’s leadership and guidance in protecting, conserving and enhancing Lismore’s natural environment.
Success builds on success. Lismore needs a few runs on the board. Say ‘yes’ to the variation.
Lorraine Vass

Value judgement

As a councillor, 15 years ago I supported the special rate for roads, because it was clear there would never be enough funds to bring the roads up to the standard expected of them by the community.
 The decision came after several really wet years with people clamouring for more to be done. Similar to what’s happening now in the discussion about Lismore Council’s proposed special rate increase, although many people supported the decision, significant others didn’t. Nevertheless, the rate has provided an extra $620,000 a year dedicated to roads every year since then, which means that nearly $10 million extra has been spent on roads in the past 15 years than otherwise would have been. Furthermore, Council increased the ongoing funds available for roads each year after that at a higher rate than was given to other Council services. Road funding now accounts for over 30% of Council’s total budget (about $20 million) and continues to increase. Whilst there are those who argue that more should be spent on roads, that would mean reducing spending on other services. Although roads are important, other services are also important for a regional city, and arguably contribute equally to the economy and quality of life enjoyed here, which benefits everyone, regardless of where one lives. It’s easy to complain   about the roads, yet to my mind Lismore’s roads are far better than they were when I came here in 1982 despite the huge increase in traffic, including heavy transport, over that period. Much of that increase comes from people who work in Lismore but live in neighbouring council areas and contribute not one cent to Lismore’s rates. The roads are generally wider, and many more are sealed or have been reconstructed. Given our rainfall and the geology of our area, we will always have potholes and road failures. Lismore has about double the length of roads as neighbouring councils such as Ballina and Byron Bay, and there’ll never be enough funds to meet everyone’s expectations of roads. This is a similar issue facing local government across Australia, not just Lismore. I support the proposed rate increase, but believe there should be continued, and perhaps closer, attention paid to the quality of the Council’s current work practices, and not just in regard to roads, so that we get the best value for our money.
Ros Irwin

Too much already

The glaring fact that we could do with more funding for roads is difficult to ignore, and such things as environmental awareness and promotion of our city to bring more visitors to our region are certainly worthy aims.
Yes, all of the above sound very commendable... as a proposition. However when it comes to funding it with an extra hit of rates, I think many who are already struggling to afford general rates of 2.6% pegged to the value of their property (as designed by the greedy state government) will find the extra 3.51% on top of their rapidly climbing property valuations almost impossible to meet. Essentially it will be forcing people out of their homes.
This hike needs to be added to the planned increase for other services such as water, waste, and sewerage. The percentages added every year are simply not mirrored by similar increases to incomes or pensions, and yet they have to be paid.
Why does our council continually look towards the ratepayer for more funding when we are already burdened with significant amounts of tax to the state, supposedly to cover such infrastructure as roads?
The current Sydney-centric distribution of tax funds seems to be able to provide whatever it takes to keep the city happy, ie trains, buses, highways, tunnels, metros, ferries, massive fireworks and even Catholic youth conventions. Remember that one?
Here in the country, we pay just as many taxes and cop just as many fines on behalf of the state, but our tunnel-visioned government can’t seem to find the funds for our one simple rail service. Even just a small percentage of the obscene amount of money already completely wasted on the feasibility study for Sydney Metro would have got our rail up and running, and fully maintained for many years!
This country is increasingly run as a private enterprise, where a system of “user pays” is widely accepted, yet we are still paying governing bodies huge amounts of taxes for infrastructure, only to have to find the funding for so much of our own privately at this end.
Our Council, and others, must look towards Sydney now before burdening your struggling community with an added increase on top of already crippling rates.
Paul deGrey

Support MISA

I am prompted to write this letter after reading the front page article and the editorial, Mar 4, Echo.
My first thought was that this report could not be true, and perhaps the news hawks had exaggerated!
Then, my other self said, not my Echo, they are true journalists, not sensationalists.
Where has empathy gone for people less fortunate in our communities?
The free swimming pool has been closed, so why not take the next step and totally live in a money-driven world.
I have been involved with Lismore’s Living Library for three years, and in that time we have hosted the Hearing Voices Choir twice, and the Red Inc. Signing choir twice.
Our hearts have been touched by the dedication of the leaders, and the amazing teamwork of the performers who range from people with severe disabilities to lesser disabilities.
One of the people who will be affected by the closure of MISA is a Living Book, and as well as being in the photo on your front page, has been featured recently on the news, bravely stating his need for this wonderful service.
Together with Dominic and other people whom I know personally in our community, I am very much aware of the semi crisis in mental health funding.
Over the years I have had contact with Richmond Clinic on behalf of people in desperate circumstances, and can totally agree with Brad’s comment that many institutions do not, or cannot, have the compassionate understanding that some need.
It is vitally important that we fight to keep the little that we have in support systems, so I urgently ask anyone who can to write, speak or yell, that this withdrawal of funding must not happen.
June Crawford

Help needed
Good on you Dr Len Martin for your letter to the Echo, Mar 11. It is outrageous that between federal, state and local government, no money can be found to keep the Mental Illness and Substance Abuse help service (MISA) funded. It just shows how corrupted these government systems are. They stop the best, humane, empowering substance addicts program in our area cut, giving power to the heavies in the police and Richmond Clinic to keep on abusing trauma victims. It puts more strain on Nimbin. As a consequence, Nimbin bares the brunt of addicts who have gravitated for their fix to eventually be mauled by the boys in blue. It is a sad fact. It will only give more power to the corrupt powerful in our midst. This inevitably will generate more conflict and sickness in our area. Together with letters to Kevin Rudd and federal reps in our area we need to send letters/emails to Mayor Jenny Dowell and other councillors in the Lismore Council. Also send letter/emails to State Parliament representatives and other members, not to forget Ian Cohen
So let us have some public discussion during MardiGrass about this. There are many of us non smokers/drinkers, substance free, living in Nimbin who would love to see a fresh dialogue take place to challenge the deniers and give support to programs such as MISA. The Bush Theatre will be opening soon in Nimbin. This could be a good place to hold a forum and brainstorm alternative ways of funding the MISA program. I am interested.
Benny Zable

Have a heart

Someone out there is severely ill – mentally ill. I refer of course to the person or persons who placed the anonymous gratuitous insult in Raymond Parry’s mailbox (Echo, Mar 11).
Brother (or Sister) you are desperately, mentally sick and need to get help as soon as possible.
In 1988 I found myself in a Brisbane psychiatric ward, sectioned after an unsuccessful suicide attempt arising from deep depression brought on by chronic booze abuse. While there, I became friends with an elderly lady from a small North Queensland town, also in with depression – as were most of the patients, including one GP. My friend and I found our experiences of depression near identical, the black hole of despair, the black band compressing the brain, the complete lack of future hope, the mental isolation from one’s loved ones. But my friend had an additional problem: she was terrified that her community might learn that she had been in a mental institution.
I was fortunate. On the advice of my psychiatrist (a top rate bloke) I gave up the booze (a major depressive drug) and with his help, plus the support of my partner, my family and, not least, my academic colleagues, managed to drag myself from the mire. It took several years, with some severe mood swings on the way, but I did it – and without the use of anti-depressives! But I couldn’t have managed without that “public” support. I have never forgotten my psychiatric-ward-friend’s terror of people finding out about her problem, and so have never hidden the fact that I had one – even publicising the fact to friends and acquaintances who suffer the ‘Black Dog’. It sometimes helps them.
So, to all those who may be unaware of their own mental illness, pause a moment and consider before you judge those who admit to suffering from such – there are a lot of us about.
Dr Len Martin

Crystal clear

Like many others, I have followed the fluoride debate in this paper with some interest. I was even prepared to give the homeopathic argument some credibility. That is until I read the gob-smackingly idiotic contribution from a Mr, sorry a “Doctor”, Douglas Wilson BVM &S, Phd MACVSc; Vet MFHom;... hope I got all those letters right.
He claims consumption of fluoride causes... now wait for it, I’m not making this up here; let me quote accurately. “Materialistic dependence and the desire for plenty of money; addiction to gambling, narcissism, psychopathic and criminal behaviours, sexual deviance and promiscuity.” I kid you not!
He goes on to plead his case against fluoride by pronouncing that “we” don’t want those symptoms here in Lismore. Now normally I’d ponder just who he meant by “we”, but other emotions took over.
After I recovered from my fit of near uncontrollable laughter, I wondered how we already managed to have each and every one of the above right here in this very town already WITHOUT the benefit of any fluoride in our water at all!
Seriously “Doctor”,... I am reminded of the old adage that goes something like “It is better to say nothing and have people think you are a fool, than to open your mouth and confirm it”.
Don’t look now, but you just may have single-handedly blown any credibility the homeopathic argument possessed to smithereens.
Nurse, bring on the fluoride!
B Parker

Congrats Norrie!
I would like to congratulate Norrie May Welby on becoming the first person in Australia to be registered legally as gender non-specified. I am over the moon that at least one person in this country is legally recognised as neither man nor woman.
Norrie does not identify as man or women nor does zie identify as intersexed; Norrie identifies as sexless, aka non-gendered and zie documentation such as birth certificates and passports etc should recognise this. Many Asian and American Indian cultures for centuries have recognised that there are more then just two sexes and it is great to see that Australia is slowly but surely catching up.
On another note, what planet is Tony Abbott living on? Sorry to break the obvious to you Tony but polling shows that 60% of the Australian public support marriage equality and most Australians certainly do not feel threatened by gays, lesbians, bi’s, trans and intersexed (LGBTI) people. At the last election people voted (including in the seat of Page) for change and yet the Coalition decides to vote in someone who is even more conservative than John Howard and locally choose a candidate that is just as backward as Ian Causley. When is the Coalition going to get the message and stop living in the 1950s?
Ben Cooper

 Note to editor: the usage of the word zie is not a spelling error, zie is a term used for people who are not male or female. Terms such as she and he are inappropriate and inaccurate to use when discussing the gender of people who are intersexed or non-gendered.

I know, ooh, I know
Putting two television episodes of Fawlty Towers on stage has to be a difficult task. However, this current production by Lismore Theatre Company is executed with remarkable skill.
Of course no one else can ‘be’ John Cleese, yet Jason Smith, who plays Basil Fawlty, does an excellent representation of him. It worked so well that I thoroughly enjoyed the mishaps and misfortunes of Basil on stage even though they were familiar to me. Vanessa Dibley looks and sounds so much like Sybil Fawlty that I was soon on the side of her hapless husband. The couple work well together on stage, so enhancing the production. Ric Mepstead, as the dim-witted Major and Fran Legge, as the deaf Mrs Richards, both performed with honest gusto and sincerity. Maitraya Stewart, as Manuel from Barcelona, projects the necessary amount of bewilderment, although any sign of fear is rather lacking. His forward leaning posture seems too subservient at times for such a young man. I would like to have seen Alison Roulston project a little more of Polly’s frustration but maybe it was first night nerves. Other cast members played their parts with credible enthusiasm and they have clearly tried very hard to do duty to the very clever scripts.
The stage set, costume, light and sound were all excellent. The cast, crew and directors are to be applauded so go along and give them your applause. This is a show for all the family and should not be missed. Worth every penny.
B. Guy

Planting seeds

I would like to send a big thanks to Rudi Maxwell for the article on Vegan Voice Magazine. I adore the magazine and wait eagerly for my next issue. It is great to see increased awareness and acceptance of veganism as both a diet and a movement. Good on Rudi for recognising the importance of moving towards a plant based diet. The benefits include better health, a positive impact on the environment and the obvious, less suffering for animals.
Rana Hales
Caroline Springs Victoria



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