LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

POOR DECISIONS FOR A TRANSPORT HUB

It appears the Minister for Planning has taken a step too far for most of our councillors by declaring himself all powerful and unfettered master of the Ballarat Station Precinct through recent amendments he has made to the Ballarat Planning Scheme. The future of this important transport and heritage site in the heart of Ballarat is almost entirely in the Minister's hands.

The Planning Minister's announcement was the culmination of some rather drawn-out and dry planning manoeuvres. It gives him total control of the whole precinct (not just the site advertised for amendment). It rezones the precinct to allow commercial development and to approve developments without the need to worry about the usual planning concerns, like car and bike parking, advertising signage, licensed premises, and bizarrely, integrated public transport planning. He even seems to trump everyone else on heritage issues. Untouchable, basically. 

Months ago, at the recommendation of then CEO Anthony Schinck (now working for Regional Development Victoria), BCC dealt itself out of its role as planning authority, and asked the Minister to take it on. The Minister established an Advisory Committee to consult with the public and advise him on this and other specific matters. Declaring himself the responsible planning authority was the only recommendation he unreservedly accepted from his Committee.

What is at stake? Ballarat is growing, like it or not. Ballarat Station needs to work as our principle transport hub, with any commercial activation complementing this and adding to the vitality and effectiveness of the precinct. It also needs to preserve as much of our unique rail heritage as it can whilst fulfilling its primary purpose as a transport hub.

We have a proposal before us which puts the commercial ahead of transport and heritage imperatives. Building a 120 room hotel in the middle of the precinct, without the benefit of a master plan that is capable of meeting our transport demands for the next 100 years, is just stupid. We need every inch of space on this land-locked site to meet future public transport demands. 

At a recent council meeting, councillors admitted to being concerned by the Minister's move. They declared though that they would strongly advocate Ballarat's best long-term interests, despite being in a comparatively weak position compared to the Minister. Would BCC have made the decision to hand power to the Minister if it had known this was the likely outcome?  Apart from our councillors, the losers in this are the people of Ballarat. Rail commuters will be severely impacted during the construction phase of this project, and none of it will improve the rail service one iota.

John Barnes, Brown Hill

 SOLUTIONS NOT CHILD ABUSE

With all our hearts, we implore the PM  to release to safety in Australia the refugee children detained on Nauru. We are part of a movement of 2000 grandmothers. We beg you to do all in your power to stop the enormous damage being done to the over 150 asylum-seeker and refugee children in desperate and dangerous situations on Nauru. The recently released 'Nauru Files' document over 2000 incident reports, outlining shocking details of physical and sexual assaults, self-harm attempts, poor living conditions and poor medical treatment. Alarmingly, 51.3% of these reports relate to children.

The Nauru Files is the latest in a long line of reports documenting devastating damage being done to innocent refugee children left in limbo on Nauru. Dr Peter Young, former director of mental health for offshore detention centres, has emphasised that children are particularly vulnerable in "a system designed to drain people of hope". We, as grandmothers, cannot be silent. We call on the Australian government to stop being part of the child abuse of refugee and asylum-seeker children. 

DISTRESSING: The misery and mental torture inflicted on asylum seekers, particularly children, cannot be part of a any expedient solution.

DISTRESSING: The misery and mental torture inflicted on asylum seekers, particularly children, cannot be part of a any expedient solution.