Controversy over what maps should have been displayed in the National Library's Mapping our World exhibition (e.g., Peter Trickett's article ''Mapping a history mystery'', Forum, January 18, p4) and what to make of a kangaroo-like drawing in a 16th-century Portuguese manuscript raise interesting questions.

Why should we care today what bunch of curious European seafarers first encountered Australia? Europeans have long since awarded themselves prizes for their discoveries of new lands and nothing we do now can make any difference to these historical results.

Yet Europeans were never the only people to sail the seas. The Indian Ocean was regularly crossed by ships from Arabia and South Asia before Europeans got into the game and Chinese fleets are known to have sailed to Africa, and perhaps as far as South America.

It would be surprising if not one of these non-European seafarers had ever bumped into Australia during their travels.

Second, what did these people use for maps? For the most part, they would not have been able to rely on Europeans for assistance.

A visit to the exhibition, for all the appeal of the maps displayed, raises the question of whether there are any Arab or South Asian maps that might have been exhibited to present a non-Euro-centric history of our world.

Barry Hindess, Reid

Questions unanswered

I enjoyed the letters of Marilyn Shepherd, David Fuller and Adrian Gibbs (January 21) but, though I appreciate Gibbs' humour, I don't think we should be so quick to lampoon the navy.

Our derision should more correctly be directed to a minister who believes we are so gullible and mushroom-like as to accept that incursions into Indonesian waters were accidental (''Ships push boundaries of Indonesia's patience'', January 18, p8).

The navy was undoubtedly doing its duty in implementing government policy and for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to use it as a scapegoat is weak.

I am thankful for Shepherd's succinct statement of the rights of refugee vessels; I wonder how the minister would answer a question about how the government's ''t(hr)ow them back'' policy aligns with those rights?

Oh, I forgot: he doesn't answer tough questions!

D.J. Taylor, Kambah


The arrogance of the Abbott government and its mouthpieces over the refugee situation and Indonesia is breathtaking.

Their contempt for the public knows no boundaries. Just how stupid do they think we are?

To the best of my knowledge, most if not all Royal Australian Navy ships, of whatever size, are equipped with the very latest electronic equipment, GPS and whatever else is necessary to define their positions at sea.


Anne Healy, Watson


Not so far away

In his only public statement before going into hiding, the so-called Defence Minister, David Johnston, said that we needed another war to keep the troops battle ready (''Return to Afghanistan a possibility, says minister'', September 21, p7).

I think he meant starting a war in the Middle East, but the way things are going it looks as though Tony Abbott will give him a war much closer to home.

Then the troops will need to be battle ready.

Richard Keys, Ainslie


Labor realities

It may not fit in with Mario Stivala's view of the world (Letters, January 21), but the Greens withdrew from their agreement with Julia Gillard's government early last year.

An alternative view to Stivala's is that the ALP suffered from its defence of and reliance on Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper, and all the corrupt shenanigans in Sydney with Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald and others. Clinging to power at all costs was most unedifying.

The Greens should probably have jumped ship earlier to avoid catching those fleas.

A party led by a mannequin could probably have beaten the ALP in an election.

In fact, given the amount of information emanating from the government, I am inclined to think one did.

Peter Marshall, Captains Flat, NSW


Some example!

Having given the International Court of Justice an undertaking that no one has read the documents ASIO seized from the offices of East Timor's lawyer, Bernard Collaery, Australia's clairvoyant Attorney-General, George Brandis, maintains that they are not protected by legal professional privilege because they disclosed national security information and ''therefore involve the commission of a serious criminal offence'' (''Brandis vows not to read files from raid'', January 21, p1).

In the words of Louis Dembitz Brandeis: ''Our government … teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.''

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW


Online G20

Governments and academia alike are slow to learn.

Clive Williams, a professor of, essentially, intelligence and security, considered expected disruption by anarchists and other extremists online at the G20 conference in Brisbane in November (''Blooming problem for G20'', Times2, January 20, p4). He concluded: ''It would be a good idea for most Australians to stay away.''

In passing, he noted that one of the prime threats came from ''a sand dune-type syndicat'' in cyberspace.

Ironically, Williams' article appeared over part of another by Canberra writer and defence commentator Nicholas Stuart (''Heat is on to find solutions'').

Stuart commented on some individuals' refusal ''to limit a seemingly insatiable appetite to jet about the country''.

Why stage these exorbitantly expensive, dangerous targets for opponents of globalisation when electronic alternatives exist?

Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor


Too hard to answer?

A child's guide to economics:

''Daddy, what causes a debt crisis?''

''Mostly because the government can't collect enough money, darling.''

''Who collects the money, daddy?''

''The Tax Office, darling.''

''Then why is the Tax Office sacking 900 people, daddy?''

''Hush child, go upstairs to bed right now and stop trying to be a little smarty pants.''

Bill Deane, Chapman


The days of '39 …

The article ''More heatwaves forecast'' (January 20, p1) says: ''Record-breaking heat saw the city swelter through five consecutive days of temperatures above 37 degrees, the first recording of such prolonged warmth since the bureau began in 1934.''

On the same day in the Gang-Gang column, was the following quote from The Canberra Times of January 14, 1939: ''For seven consecutive days, residents of Canberra have experienced temperatures in excess of the century [Fahrenheit].''

The century Fahrenheit converts to 37.8 degrees Celsius.

It would appear the heat in January 1939 was hotter and for a longer period than the heat we experienced last week.

C. Rule, Gilmore


US must learn to refrain from entering the world's frays

Nicholas Burns (''US has careful role to play as China flexes muscles,'' Times2, January 17, p4) - like, it seems, most of his countrymen - is wedded to the notion of American exceptionalism: their God (or their president, or someone) expects them to be the world's caretakers, because they have it all just right, whereas all the others are horribly wrong.

The China-Japan dispute is complex and we must allow those two parties to resolve it for themselves. Amicably. The only foreign intervention must be of a diplomatic kind.

Unfortunately, conflict could easily break out over this issue. Nevertheless, let's give Japan and China credit for not swatting a gnat with a blockbuster.

The United States does not have a premium on finding righteous resolutions to disagreements, any more than it has a right to sail into or fly over the disputed territory and itself risk provoking a fight.

Nor does it have a huge amount of muscle left, having burnt its fingers in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the enormous cost of its economy.

There are, of course, those in the US whose share portfolios lead them to thirst after more tanks, guns and profits, and for their growing army of the unemployed - fed and clothed cheaply - to be thrown unquestioning into another conflict.

Let's be sure Australia doesn't get dragged into another of the US' nasty military adventures. It's getting to be not just ''go home, Yank!'' but ''bloody well stay at home''.

Barrie Smillie, Duffy


Telstra's transparent

In response to Frank O'Shea's comments regarding the health dangers of mobile phones (''Get out now before the mobile guilties suck you in'', Times2, January 20, p5), I would like to stress that Telstra takes the matter of all radio transmission including mobile phone health and safety very seriously.

We are completely open and transparent on our network build and safety via publicly accessible online information and we have a dedicated team to monitor the science and answer community inquiries.

We act and comply with the findings and advice of the World Health Organisation, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (an agency of the Australian government), Cancer Council Australia and the law of Australia in regard to radio transmission, mobile towers, mobile phones and their emissions. We also have a dedicated team working in this area keeping up to date with the latest worldwide research.

Telstra has a web page dedicated to mobile phone safety and electromagnetic energy information providing a range of information to the public on the issue (telstra.com.au/eme).

We also operate a public help desk via the website to answer customer and community inquiries.

As one of many providers and users of radio technology over a very wide range of applications, we proceed on the facts as we know them and take the appropriate actions and responsibility.

Mike Wright, executive director, Telstra Networks


Risks with ATO proposal

Mark Chapman is right to be concerned about the Tax Office's proposal to outsource large business audits (''DIY tax plan may hit families'', January 17, p6).

I doubt, however, that the intention would be to divert resources to the small business and individuals sectors; that it is to cull resources from the large business sector.

How this could be done by natural attrition from the relatively small large business division is doubtful and the loss of specialised knowledge would be a concern.

What is also a concern is that it would be amazing if the cost of outsourcing proved less than the cost of the ATO conducting its own audits.

The conjectured trial might be promising because it entailed a ''suck-in'' price, but you can be sure the fees charged would escalate.

The major concern, though, is the conflict of interest mentioned by Chapman in having large business audits performed by the same big four accounting firms that advise business on tax minimisation.

This represents a very significant threat to Commonwealth revenue.

T. J. Marks, Holt


Large corporations being audited by large corporations - what is the Tax Office thinking? This is like having the asylum run by the inmates.

As many buyers of new residences in the ACT can testify, self-regulation doesn't work.

The only remedy is paying more taxes so governments can afford to oversee matters properly.

Businesses and people will cheat and cut for the sake of a dollar, but governments should be above this.

Governments should provide an impartial and effective service, which may cost more because of all the rules and regulations they must adhere to. But it is the only way to provide a fair go to everyone.

M. Pietersen, Kambah


Traffic plan a winner

The plan for electronic and monitored traffic management sounds like just the thing needed to allow Melrose High School students to cross Athllon Drive safely, and all in one go, with minimal disruption to the traffic, as drivers are diverted to other roads for 10 minutes when school gets out (''Plans for high-tech traffic management system revealed'', January 20, p1).

Joe Murphy, Bonython


A lesson in teaching

Very commendably, Bob Douglas and many other experts have been bending their minds assiduously to the question of just what our schools should teach (''A sustainable curriculum'', Times2, January 21, p1).

Content is important, but none of it will be transmitted if poorly behaved children take over. Some teachers just prattle on through the riot with barely the front row able to hear. Teachers unable to command attention should be put in charge of sweeping the floors: as educators, they are worse than useless.

Gordon Nevin, O'Connor




In a column some years ago, Ian Warden described how he put out his yellow bin on the week it was not collected, then pulled it in after dark, after others in his street had followed suit and put out their yellow bin. In Sidaway Street, Chapman, this week, I saw lots of yellow bins put out for collection on a non-collection week, and couldn't help wondering if Warden was now living in the street.

John Milne, Chapman


If the parents of NRL player Russell Packer were police officers, would he have received an eight-month suspended sentence, 12-month good behaviour bond and 200 hours of community service like Logan Dunlop (''Jail suspended for 'unforgivable' king-hit'', January 18, p2)?

Natali (Neil) Rech, Yarralumla



Our creatures great and small; the Lord God made and burneth all.

Richard Dixon, Lyons



With reference to the ''Endless jam of road works to nowhere'' (Letters, January 21), what about the continued non-activity at the Parkes Way widening site? Are they waiting for something to grow there to complete this overdue project?

Martyn Hearle, Narrabundah



Elizabeth Thurbon (Letters, January 14), when someone has worked their butt off after arriving in the country with bugger all and achieved all that Sotiria Liangis has, I think they are entitled to celebrate their success however they choose (''How Sotiria Liangis left Greece with nothing and built a Canberra empire'', January 11, p1).

Alex Wallensky, Broulee, NSW



No media tarts, no selfies, no useless committees and no boats: a commendable start from the recently elected Coalition government, I would say. Governments are elected to govern, not to issue daily reports on the state of the nation. If at the end of their term they have not performed to expectation, you boot them out!

Mario Stivala, Spence



I refer to my letter published on January 18 about roadwork during the heat. Since then, I must record that the final result of the resurfacing of Catchpole Street is just fine. It was the loose gravel (a process I understand is known as blotting) that had become corrugated and that has now been removed. A job well done.

J. F. Bishop, Flynn


Email: letters.editor@canberratimes.com.au. Send from the message field, not as an attached file. Fax: 6280 2282.Mail: Letters to the Editor, The Canberra Times, PO Box 7155, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT 2610.

Keep your letter to 250 words or less. References to Canberra Times reports should include date and page number. Letters may be edited. Provide phone number and full home address (suburb only published).