As usual, NAPLAN results divulge nothing. Of what value is it to be told a school is ranked above the national average when we don't know what that average represents. To be the best of a bad lot is no great achievement. We don't need to know that illiterate students in one school are better or worse than illiterate students in another school.

What we need to know is to what degree students, as they pass through the schooling system, have reached appropriate levels of literacy and numeracy.

What we do know is that many school leavers, after 12 years of full-time schooling, are unable to read and write at a level to enable them to engage in satisfying employment or tertiary study.

While ever NAPLAN engages in comparative, rather than absolute, assessment it will remain a cynical exercise in deliberate obfuscation.

F. Lamb, Lyons

Gift to the people

I read with some concern that a centenary gift from a foreign embassy to the people of Canberra was rejected by the ACT government (''Israeli gift tangled in bureaucracy'', March 11, p1). A government spokesperson said the rejection was made on safety concerns in regards to the erection of the sculpture. If that was the reason, the government could have accepted the gift graciously on our behalf and then addressed safety issues. If a government can safely erect the giant monstrosities along our roads, surely it could easily erect a two-metre statue safely.

I find the rejection offensive and ill-mannered. It was a gift to us and not our local government. I hope it was not rejected as part of a political agenda.

Also, it seems suspicious that after acceptance of the gift by the Manuka Business Association, it is being obstructed for ''safety reasons'' from displaying it.

This gift incorporates a didgeridoo to signify a cultural link with the people of Australia, which would be a thoughtful addition to our city sculptures.

If display of the sculpture was not being obstructed again by the government, would we have heard of the original rejection?

S. Wensley, Kaleen

Tapped for too much

Having just lived through a record-breaking ferocious summer, I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised at the water bill I received from ACTEW this week, but $1921 was a shock.

Following Katy Gallagher's advice I bought a longer hose so I could water the poor street trees. What advice does she have for paying massive water bills, and should we just pave over our gardens and forget about them altogether if ACTEW continues to raise its prices?

Rosemary Matley, Deakin

Aunty's fine by me

On Tuesday we had the letter of the century from Clive Hamilton, but sadly, not to be repeated on Wednesday by Dale Fletcher. Whether the ABC is left-leaning or prone to arts previews can be debated at length. But the fact of gender bias cannot be debated. Fletcher claims that after breakfast, ABC 666 has wall-to-wall female presenters. I happen to enjoy Genevieve Jacobs (mornings) and Alex Sloan (afternoons). I also enjoy Adam Shirley on Drive - he would be aghast to think he's been described as a girl. Is it his surname?

As a taste this morning from Jacobs, she ran stories on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight and also on war with General Sir Rupert Smith. Are they feminist agendas?

I love Aunty in Canberra. Fletcher should move to one of the blokey, shock-jock stations and leave us alone to enjoy 666.

Anne Cahill Lambert, Lyneham

Building certification

Ross Peake's article (''Leaks top homebuyer woe'', March 8, p3) reports Minister Simon Corbell saying that ''certifiers are engaged by the consumer'' and there is no way of returning to the days of government certifiers. Both facts may be okay for the ''single house on a block'' situation but the approach is drastically flawed in regard to unit title complex developments.

In this strata sector environment the consumer is the developer and he appoints the certifier. Within two years or so of completion, the developer often has little interest in a building or its quality. The real consumer in this case is the person who buys the unit off the plan from the developer. This consumer has no say in appointing the certifier, who could potentially protect his interests.

We need a modification to the system for strata complexes. Private certifiers could be listed on a panel and the government could allocate a certifier to each development as part of the DA process.

Gary Petherbridge, Owners Corporation Network (ACT) Barton

Certifiers (building surveyors) seem to be taking quite a beating in debate about building quality in the ACT construction crisis, and their voices seem to be missing from the conversation.

A few things should be noted.

Licensed builders are responsible for substandard construction work in the ACT, not certifiers.

Generally, the certifier is in small business, a single qualified building surveyor, in competition with all other certifiers in the market. So, the more building approvals a certifier can take on, the greater the earning capacity (which is the point of being in business). All parties acknowledge certifiers perform a critical function: to provide protection from substandard building work. But they are not public servants, they are private practitioners trying to maintain a commercially viable business in a competitive environment.

This means that even if certifiers wanted to undertake a number of extra inspections to satisfy themselves that compliance was being met, it would not be commercially viable. Alternatively, they could increase their fees to cover the extra work and price themselves out of the market. Certification of compliance for the purposes of occupancy can be supplied more cheaply by a less diligent certifier. This is a simple commercial reality the government seems to be missing.

When it outsourced the certification function in 1999, it outsourced the technical role of approval and inspection, not the responsibility for good governance and regulation. A total review of the building approval process is required to determine the level of compliance necessary to deliver the changes needed throughout the construction industry.

It is the duty of the regulator to provide a clear and robust framework to govern the commercial operations of industry. Done properly, this should improve the quality of construction and provide a more cost-effective process for the benefit of consumers.

Robert Carpenter, Spence

Rethink needed on rush to get rid of mining and carbon taxes

I am a big fan of lower taxes; the less I pay the more I like it, so I have been thinking a lot about the mining and carbon taxes. The mining tax does not bring in a lot or revenue now, but amounts will increase as companies recoup capital expenditure. As 80 per cent of the mining industry is foreign-owned, this tax mainly falls on people outside Australia.

Does not sound too bad to have people overseas paying my taxes for mining Australian resources. All governments need to raise revenue, and the amount needed in Australia will increase to pay for improved maternity allowances, defence expenditure and car lease schemes. Tax is usually levied on income (income tax and company tax) or expenditure (GST, import duties), but taxes in these areas tend to discourage earnings or purchases. The substantial income raised from the carbon tax, collected efficiently from a few companies, could be far easier to bear than increased taxes in these other areas. So why is there a rush to cancel these two taxes?

Eugene Holzapfel, Campbell

Price's bias on show

A narrowly focused internal audit finds ABC news is not biased, no surprises here. Jenna Price (''Hidden agenda behind baseless attacks on our ABC'', Times2, March 12, p5) and the Canberra Times editorial (''Audits' thumbs up for the ABC'', Times2, March 12, p2) appear to be saying that this proves there is no left-wing culture at the ABC.

Really? There are few people in public life who are further left than Jenna Price, so when she writes about the lack of bias in the ABC and declares (unaware of the irony) that ''it's our ABC'', conservatives from News Limited need not apply, it speaks volumes.

H. Ronald, Jerrabomberra, NSW

Health funding options

Jeremy Sammut's defence of proposed co-payments for GP visits (''Co-payment plan no mortal blow against Medicare'', Times2, March 12, p5) is perpetuating a narrowly focused view of health funding reform options. As Dr Sammut points out, the out-of-pocket costs associated with GP services are a relatively small component of the national spend on health. However, the potential impact of increased costs on the most vulnerable members of our community is concerning. The impact of a co-payment on demand is unclear, and increased demand in emergency departments is one possible outcome.

Focusing on GP co-payments ignores the interconnected nature of the health system and the many other opportunities to reform health funding and spending, and re-orientate the system to one that is prevention-focused, integrated and sustainable.

Alison Verhoeven, CEO, Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association, Deakin West

Back to darker ages

Jenna Price (''So much for liberation, where are the jobs?'', March 11, p5) resents governments not providing sufficient protection from nasty, cheap imports to guarantee employees in protected industries their jobs in perpetuity. Forget consequent chronic inefficiency, because, she says, when businesses fold, ex-employees never find jobs much better than cleaning toilets part-time. Consumers/taxpayers should just pay up and shut up.

Surely she should broaden her conclusions. Why allow nasty new production processes/products to displace committed workers, either? The government must save them, too? Where are the proud, retraining-and-mobility-resistant blacksmiths and telegram-deliverers of yesteryear? Cleaning toilets. What about a nice ban on motor vehicles and the internet, Jenna ''Neo-Luddite'' Price?

Manson MacGregor, Amaroo

Force for change

What's going on here ? Feminist criticism of Islam? Jenny Goldie (Letters, March 12) must surely realise that the sisterhood has an implicit pact with the Muslim world to not criticise its outrageous, systemic misogynist excesses.

Doesn't she understand the constraints of cultural relativism?

It means that while Australian men still get taken to task for our limited housework, Islam can endorse marriage at nine, fathers as sole guardians and rape in marriage. And not educating women. And demanding they wear black tents with slits. And the sisterhood must say nothing.

But it's no longer just over there, in the Muslim heartland, is it? Thanks to immigration, similar systemic mediaeval cultural instincts and behaviours towards women are routinely manifest in the West, usually a bit under the radar.

Australian feminists must be a real force for change. Jenny Goldie, among few others, seems to see that.

Cuthbert Douglas, Bonython

Sense in mobile cameras

Fixed speed cameras (''Speed cameras in the sights'', Editorial, Times2, March 12, p2) are stupid. How ridiculous would we think it was if all random breath testing stations were in fixed and known places? People refrain from drink-driving partly because they know that there is a good possibility that there might be an RBT somewhere along their route.

We would get much more effective speed limit observance if speed cameras were mobile and hidden in ordinary-looking vehicles, not the very obvious big white vans used now. They do, however, have their good points: while the white van is parked on the nature strip opposite my house on Ellenborough Street, it stops people making illegal U-turns across the double white lines which they otherwise frequently do.

John May, Lyneham


The lease variation charge, payable when the leaseholder wants to put more than one dwelling on a block of land, is to be ''frozen'' until March 2016 (''Dickson revamp lures grocery giants'', March 7, p1). It should be abolished, because with the lessee having paid the government the equivalent of a freehold price for the land in the first place (a higher price than in most state capitals), it amounts to the government charging twice for the same block of land. There's no equivalent charge in the states.

R.S. Gilbert, Braddon

Weird use of images poses a big question

There is something quite bizarre about the photos of the two supposed MH370 passengers who used stolen passports (''Bomb or rare tech fault latest crash theory'', March 12, p8). Both men share the same legs! The legs of the figure on the right have been pasted onto the figure on the left. I was wondering how long the Malaysian authorities could go on giving out patently false information before the media commented on it. Megan Levy has now done so on your website. Thank you!

All too often journalists seem in thrall to national security-style stories, regurgitating nonsensical official statements and then cementing them as historical facts.

Alex Pollard, O'Connor

Airline tardy on news

The mystery of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is not only deepening, but changing in character with each day.

There has been a stuttering flow of information from several sources; the airline is seemingly the last to release details that (sometimes briefly) popped into the news days before.

We now ''know'' that the stolen passport passengers were likely Iranian economic refugees. This information had been given directly to the airline by a close associate of one of the Iranians days ago.

We now ''know'' that the plane turned out of the search area, although news of this radar-tracked turn had been elsewhere hinted, also for days.

Bizarrely, reports briefly surfaced - and were once only broadcast on ABC News 24 - that mobile phones of some passengers and flight crew have been rung, and they rung out unanswered. Some families urged authorities to track the location of the phones.

Perhaps this latest development was quickly suppressed (here and elsewhere) as it may have been deemed too weird, and potentially too upsetting, for those closest to what may be an air disaster.

Ross Kelly, Monash




Ken Henry was rather coy when answering Sarah Ferguson's questions (ABC 7.30, March 12), particularly those regarding possible increases of the GST and their timing. Perhaps he was afraid of panicking our politicians and mindful that, in many European countries, it is already a whopping 21 per cent!

John Rodriguez, Florey


I totally agree with the comments surrounding certifier selection (Letters, March 11). There is just no arm's length between the builder/s and certifier/s. Having the certifiers randomly assigned is the only workable and robust answer, acknowledging even then that they are all still part of the same industry, club and mates.

Geoff Davidson, Braddon


It was great to see that ''Pegleg Pete'' in all his brightly coloured, feathered glory managed to safely land on the freeway with nothing more than his feathers ruffled (''Feathers ruffled in a deflated landing'', March 12, p3).

What a shame the ugly, costly Sky Whale, when experiencing a crash landing over the weekend, did not come down over Lake Ginninderra and sink slowly into the murky depths never to be seen again.

Heather Ponting, Greenway


We should all be outraged that the environment exists where an entity with ubiquity in the community, access to children and other vulnerable people, power to influence governments at the highest level, and concessions such as tax avoidance and license to run schools, (e.g. the Catholic Church), is allowed to operate without being incorporated or publicly answerable, or to be required to atone for sins in the real world.

Jennifer Jones, Spence


The article ''Fruitgrowers welcome SPC deal with Woolworths'' (canberratimes.com.au, March 12) may have serious repercussions if the supermarket chain treats SPC as it did the dairy farmers in this country who received a piddling 15-22¢ a litre for their milk. It didn't affect Woolworths' profit, of course, but one can see a time when fruitgrowers will rue the day this contract was put in place.

Rex Williams, Ainslie


Jenna Price (''Government's belittling of ABC the worst action of all'', canberratimes.com.au, March 12) couldn't have put it more succinctly. Offensive attacks on press freedom tends to occur in dictatorships, not democracies. It is shameful it should happen here.

Rajend Naidu, Glenfield, NSW


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).