1992_07_july_llord

The Landlords Association of the ACT was formed this week.

About 75 landlords of residential property in the ACT formed the organisation in response to moves in the ACT to change tenancy law and the new land tax.

Its main aims are to get quarterly payment of land tax (instead of the present requirement to pay the lot before August 15 on pain of 20 per cent interest) and to have monthly tenancies after the initial annual lease runs out. Under this system landlords as well as tenants can give notice of one month to quit premises. This is the system in NSW. In the ACT tenants have a rights to stay indefinitely, subject to the owner moving back in and other special circumstances.
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1992_07_july_leader1992_07_july_

Anecdotal and apocryphal evidence, though of no probative value can certainly be very illustrative. A story doing the round at the Australian National University several years ago when the Faculty of Economics was coming under fire for failing some sixty per cent of its first-year students is an example. The story goes that the faculty was coming under fire at the University Council for concentrating too much on research and not enough on teaching. If only the teachers would do more and better teaching, fewer students would fail, it was said. To which one council member is reputed to have replied that perhaps the faculty could learn teaching methods from those who taught women’s studies, where the pass rate was almost 100 per cent.

The important point is that the quality of teaching is extremely hard to measure. That is the case because the reciprocal quality of learning is equally hard to measure. How does a government measure and then improve teaching standards without facing the cynicism exemplified by the response to difficulties faced by the ANU’s Faculty of Economics? The Minster for Higher Education, Peter Baldwin, has decided to spend $5 million a year trying to find out. He has chosen Dr Don Anderson to chair the Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching.

Much of that money is to be spent on showing how modern technologies such as radio, television, computers using CD ROMs and the like can be used to improve teaching. Dr Anderson thinks this will free university teachers from the tyranny of lectures. He thinks the lecturing method is antiquated and owes something of the lecturer’s need to be prominent and in a position of power. There is a germ of truth in this if the university lectures are in fact formal lectures with more than 40 students where interaction is impossible. Alas, this is becoming the case, certainly in first-year courses. It was not always the case, certainly in later years. The lecture was more a large seminar. Most of the talking was done by the lecturer, but much was done by the students. It worked in the Socratic tradition.
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1992_07_july_leader17

The Franklin River in Tasmania is almost the only river in the temperate world that flows from its source to its mouth through wilderness, undammed, mighty and free. It is a great tribute to Australian society that its heritage value has been recognised and the river and its surrounds preserved for posterity. Its preservation was achieved through World Heritage listing and Federal legislation. Its heritage value is now well recognised.

How bizarre, then, that a man-made dam across a creek in a recently man-made city should be considered as a matter of heritage. The proposal by Labor MLA David Lamont to seek heritage listing (albeit not on a world but local listing) for Lake Ginninderra is perverse. Lake Ginninderra (created by the damming of Ginninderra Creek in the mid-1970s) has about as much heritage value as a three-bedroom brick-veneer with en-suite bungalow in western Sydney.

Sure, it is a pleasant lake with great community amenity. But let’s not confuse our values here. Heritage is about irreplacable things of historic, geographic and cultural value. Mr Lamont’s proposal does not enhance the value of the lake; rather it devalues heritage.
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1992_07_july_leader15

The republican movement in Australia, or at least the latest public manifestation of it, has rightly confined itself to the symbolic issue of Head of State and not muddied the waters by wider issues of constitutional reform. This has prompted different conclusions by different respected and largely neutral commentators. The Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, says it tends to show that the rest of Australia’s constitutional arrangements do not need radical change. Professor Leslie Zines, of the Australian National University, says it shows that Australians are easily distracted from issues of substance in constitutional reform by the emotive and symbolic. Professor Zines argues there are other pressing issues of constitutional reform.

Both have sound points. The Head of State is a symbol and the Australian electorate can get easily distracted from more pressing questions of reform, constitutional and otherwise.

People in the republican movement have said theirs is not a distraction from broader economic issues. Surely, Australians are intelligent and mature enough to run two debates at the same time. It would be nice to think so. But the history of the Australian electoral process shows otherwise. Elections have been won and lost on last-minute emotive appeals: guns in NSW in 198? and the green appeal in the Federal election in 1990 are examples. Indeed, most Governments and Oppositions appeal to emotions rather than reason at election time, usually because it works.
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1992_07_july_leader14

The Western powers must keep up the pressure on the Serbian army to stop the violence in Bosnia-Hertzogovina and it must continue its efforts to get supplies through to the non-Serbian population of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. The historical rights and wrongs and the demography behind the fighting will be hotly contested. Each side blames the other, and says it has right and history on its side. Fundamentally, it comes down to political borders not matching the ethnic make-up of the population. When that is combined with a history of enmity, violence is almost inevitable.

Tito and the Stalinist legacy must take most of the blame. Throughout his empire Stalin subdued nationalist aspirations by artificially pandering to them. He would nominally allow them greater chunks of territory in their “”autonomous” regions than the ethnic make up of the population warranted. The “”autonomous” region would still be ruled by his totalitarian followers, but potential national uprisings were subdued. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the fallout has been often violent clashes over territory. The clashes have frequently been based on unstable and unsuitable borders, particularly in what was Yugoslavia, were added to artificial borders has been the difficulty of minority enclaves of Serbs within the borders of the other constituent parts of what was one federal nation.

The moment Croatia declared its independence last , the Serbian army moved in to protect Serbs in those enclaves and to grab as much territory adjacent to the old Stalinist border as quickly as possible. Bosnia was inevitably next.
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1992_07_july_leader12

The best interests of the department have been cited by both sides in the dispute over whether the Department of Arts, Sport and the Environment should move from Civic to Tuggeranong. Left unsaid, at least publicly, are the selfish motives for those who want the move and those against.

On one side is the Public Sector Union which has taken up the concerns of what it says are the 90 per cent of the 800 staff who do not want to move. On the other side is the Minister, Ros Kelly.

The debate must be laughable from the perspective of people living in Sydney and Melbourne. For them the 20-minute trip from Tuggeranong to Parliament House or Civic would be luxury. In Canberra, some consider it a burden.
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1992_07_july_leader11

Australians can cautiously welcome resumed defence ties with Fiji. Australia quite rightly severed ties and co-operation with Fiji after the 1987 coup by then Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Mr Rabuka is now a retired general and the elected Prime Minister of Fiji. After five years of military dictatorship, Fiji returned to constitutional rule last month, albeit a flawed one. Thus is was appropriate for Australia to consider resuming defence contacts and other co-operation with Fiji. As part of this process the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, invited Mr Rabuka to visit Australia in September.

In 1987 Mr Rabuka overthrew the elected Government of Dr Timoci Bavadra. Dr Bavadra headed an Indian-dominated coalition of the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party. Ethnic Fijians had long expressed concern about ethnic Indians outnumbering them and taking more than just the economic power they had achieved in business and the professions, but taking political power which would inevitably lead to greater Indian land ownership, something that had been denied them by Governments led by Ratu Kamisese Mara since independence in 1970. In 1987 ethnic Fijians feared being dispossessed in their own land by Indians who had been brought to islands when a British colony to cut the sugar cane.
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1992_07_july_leader9

Every recession yields a shakedown of responsibility: political, legal, economic and corporate. When things go wrong, fingers are pointed. We are now witnessing, in addition to political finger-pointing, a great deal of buck-passing and blame-shifting in the corporate world. Inevitably some of this has ended in the courts.

Last week in the NSW Supreme Court Justice Rogers set out some principles dividing responsibility for huge corporate losses among auditors, senior management and directors. While he was dividing responsibility, there were others dividing blame. Justice Rogers was ruling on who should bear the alleged loss of $50 million by the Australian electronics company AWA Ltd, much of it in foreign-exchange dealing.

Under Australia’s corporate law, the foundation of which goes back 1{ centuries, responsibility and power is divided. Unlike a sole traders, who are themselves responsible for raising capital, making decisions about how it will be spent and the distribution of profit, companies split the responsibility for these functions. One of the central reasons for the law creating corporations was to create a dichotomy between capital and management. The corporation has been part of the genius of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. It has been a recognition that some people have capital, but no knowledge in how to put it to good effect, and others has skills of management, but no capital to put them to good effect. Married together, the results can be hugely productive. They are productive in a way not achievable without the legal creation of the business corporate entity, which has perpetual succession and can sue and be sued in its own right. The corporate entity has shareholders (who provide capital) and directors who provide management. Part of the genius of the corporate system is that shareholders have no inherent right to interfere with management. Collectively, they have a right to elect a board of directors, but after that they have no rights other than to vote to replace them. Even the distribution of profits is determined by directors. It is much like the relationship between voters and government in a democracy.
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1992_07_july_leader7

There is more than one element to a banana republic. Paul Keating sounded the alarm seven years ago. he said Australia was fast becoming a banana republic. His warning related to Australia’s foreign debt. But huge debt alone does not make a banana republic. The other element is a decaying public infrastructure. Well might he reissue his 1985 warning.

The recession has caused governments to prune back the amount of money they are spending on public works, particularly public buildings and the ceremonial structures of our cities and towns. Canberra has been especially hard hit. According to the chairman of the National Capital Planning Authority, Joseph Skrzynski, the Parliamentary Triangle is in desperate need of maintenance.

It is not a question of new works, but maintaining existing works. New works, alas, seem out of the question. In 50 or a 100 years people looking at the great public buildings in Canberra and elsewhere in Australia will notice a gap as they look at the foundations stones. Very few stones will carry dates between 1989 and, say, 1995. One can wander around Melbourne or Adelaide today looking at foundation stones and “Est.” dates on buildings and see the gap from 1890 to about 1902.
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1992_07_july_lead26

Something is with the grant of legal aid to those charged over an incident at the Iranian Embassy earlier this year. Eight of 13 who applied got legal aid. The committal hearing is to resume in September.

It must be said at the outset that the case is before the courts and in issue of the grant of legal aid has nothing whatever to do with the merits of the case.

It has been estimated that the legal aid will the taxpayer about $1 million. That is an awful lot of money for just one case. It has resulted in caustic criticism, especially on talk-back radio in Sydney. The shadow attorney-general, Peter Costello, has also weighed in. Several questions come to mind immediately. Why so much money? What effect will it have on the ACT legal-aid budget? What role, if any, did the Commonwealth have? What sort of legal aid, if any, should be granted to non-citizens? And why did these defendants get lawyer-of-choice aid?
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