Letter to the editor

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In criticising Chris Pyne, Jenny Madden and Vicki Harris (Letters, December 5) are either ill-informed or politically biased. The Gonski report was excellent and put forward a range of conceptual ideas for the future resourcing of schools so every child receives a high quality education. However, it is primarily an aspirational program-free report.

Implementing the Gonski principles into practical programs requires an administrative framework on which the Commonwealth needs to agree and liaise with states and territories. Unfortunately the previous Labor government rushed this process through in order to gain credit in the lead-up to the elections. In doing so, it negotiated with the states from a position of weakness, and ended up with a set of individual agreements rather than a national model for implementing the Gonski recommendations.

The apparent approach by the present government is to try and overcome the problems in the Labor government implementation caused by the race to try and get agreements in place before the election.

Pyne's solution is to initially follow the signed agreements while investigating better ways in which to implement the Gonski principles. This is a sound logical approach to ensure that the resources are allocated in the most effective manner applied in a standard manner across Australia. Whether the implementation plan finally put forward by Pyne is the best, only time can tell.

Paul Fitzwarryne, Yarralumla

Fast train for Qantas?

Noting the financial problems facing Qantas, I have never understood why Qantas has taken no apparent interest in the very fast train debate. If it were ever to become reality, the train would surely take an enormous proportion of Qantas' domestic traffic. By entering that market, Qantas could ensure that its trains and planes connected smoothly at the international and domestic airports. Virgin already operates fast trains in Europe, and would be in a position to completely destroy Qantas if they built and operated the fast trains in Australia.

A bit of lateral thinking is required.

John Walker, Queanbeyan, NSW

Not such wedded bliss

The terms married and de facto have well-established acceptance, both legally and socially, to describe two relationships that have a great deal in common but nonetheless exhibit a clearly definable difference that distinguishes them.

The ''marriage equality'' campaign, which seems to suggest that homosexual couples and heterosexual couples are exactly the same - and it is only those nasty, bigoted, rednecked, right- wing fundamentalists that think there is any difference - is therefore contrary to a well-established and well-proven convention. This is all the more perverse when it is recognised that a separate status providing equivalent legal and social recognition, while also acknowledging and respecting the difference, would almost certainly have been achieved without the intense social divisiveness of the present campaign.

The vigorous, emotional, and sometimes bitter public discussion and the ''pioneering action'' of the ACT government has made the whole business seem increasingly like Shakespeare's description of life - ''A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing'' - but unfortunately now costing the taxpayer heaps.

Roger Quarterman, Campbell

As a sometime correspondent, I would point out that I am not the David Jenkins who recently wrote in support of gay marriage (Letters, December 5). I do nevertheless support every sentiment so well expressed by my namesake, particularly his ire at the role of the ''mumbo jumbo'' lobby in influencing how we live in these post-Enlightenment times. Marriage is a social contract and construct. It can be whatever we say it is, irrespective of what men (always men) in funny clothes with convoluted, strange beliefs like to foist on everybody else. Religion is the marzipan on the wedding cake, nice if you like that sort of thing but inessential to the substance. Marriage takes two people living in the real world.

I call on David Jenkinses everywhere - and the rest of the populace - to stand up for humanity, compassion, inclusion and decency in the face of ignorance, bigotry and moral despotism.

David Jenkins, Turner

Plea for mentally ill

As someone who has experienced both mental illness and physical disability, I can attest to the devastating impact of violence, including physical and sexual abuse, in ACT mental health institutions (''Unit at risk due to 'one size fits all' approach'', (November 26, p3).

We urgently need to improve the manner in which the mentally ill are treated, but I suspect I will have to wait until my experiences can be deemed ''historic'' before I receive an apology.

In the meantime, I am concerned the proposed ''secure'' psychiatric institution will worsen conditions for many vulnerable patients in the name of ''efficiently'' segregating people on the basis of perceived ''dangerousness'' rather than needs.

Mariana Oppermann, Lyons

Scotland's big question

Andrew Hunter (''Yes Scotland can take the lead'', Times2, December 2, p4) is being disingenuous. Any secession from the UK, for the Scots, will be fraught with many disadvantages. The first major issue being whether Scotland gains automatic entry to the European Union?

Andrew failed to mention that the Scots have always had a disproportional influence upon the Union government at Westminster. Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Ramsay MacDonald, Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron are either Scottish or of recent Scottish ancestry. Scotland has always had its own judicial system. Scottish money is very distinct once you cross the border. The northward movement of the maritime boundaries from Berwick-upon-Tweed is nothing less than a furphy!

As the Quebecois found out, having independence referendums does not necessarily resolve underlying grievances.

Last year I had a holiday in Scotland (where my father was born) and asked various people the question of their voting intentions in the referendum. Their answers were confusing to say the least. Scottish indolence for what it is worth, is the bottom line in any real result. The Scots I am sure are well aware of this and my belief is that they will vote for the status quo.

Kevin Connor, Kaleen

'Indignant' Downer's memory of thuggish act shameful

The tears poured down my cheeks as I read the indignant, heart-rending comments made by former foreign minister Alexander Downer on the great sacrifices his government had made for the ungrateful people of East Timor (''Australian intelligence watchdog accused of failing to act on claims of East Timor bugging'', canberratimes.com.au, December 5).

With every ounce of wounded pride he could muster, Mr Downer claimed that Australia had given East Timor ''90 per cent of the revenue from the joint development area in the Timor Sea'', neglecting to highlight, of course, that Australia had already rigged the game by previously negotiating maritime boundaries with the Indonesian government, resulting in 80 per cent of the resource being located within Australia's exclusive resources zone, leaving East Timor with less than 20 per cent of the resources.

And in keeping with his humble nature, Mr Downer neglected to acknowledge the benevolent standover tactics used by his thuggish government during its negotiations with East Timor, when it peremptorily withdrew from the jurisdiction of international courts on maritime boundary issues just two months before the signing of the treaty, effectively cutting off any avenue for East Timor to challenge the fairness of those boundaries and thereby forcing it to accept Australia's take-it or leave-it ''generosity''.

Mr Downer makes me ashamed to be an Australian.

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

Right to know

All citizens are entitled to know about acts of questionable propriety that have been committed by their government on their behalf. And prospectively, it is important for citizens to be party to informed discussion about whether the policies that underline these acts are misguided or not. Turning a blind eye to the less pleasant aspects of security and intelligence may be a source of comfort in the short term, but it can lead to future headaches.

It has become apparent that successive Australian governments have engaged in espionage activities against friendly nations. The present government appears unwilling to provide a justification of these actions, simply stating that it does not comment on matters of intelligence. Here, the tension with democracy is self-evident.

One should be cautious about uncritically accepting government pronouncements relating to security. Historically, many governments, democratic and otherwise, have invoked national security as a justification for domestic surveillance and political repression, to chill democratic political debate, to shield shortcomings in governance from public and media attention, and for the inappropriate use of armed force.

Some of the more significant threats to national security are self-inflicted. When hypocrisy is masked by secrecy, ultimate disclosure can be painful.

More public discussion of national security issues would be beneficial. The convention that governments do not comment on issue of national security is a convenient cop-out, especially when used to avoid accountability for its own questionable or illegal conduct.

Peter Grabosky, Forrest

Off the mark

Amin Saikal's assertion (''Israel the loser in Iran deal'', Times2, November 28, p1) that ''the Iranian leadership is showing goodwill towards the Jewish people to integrate Israel more into the region and world system'' cannot be taken seriously. Iran's theocratic regime still cannot bring itself to call Israel by name, and refers to it as the ''Zionist entity''.

Iran continues to finance, arm and train Hezbollah, which operates as a state within a state in Lebanon and reportedly has 100,000 missiles permanently trained on Israel.

Saikal implies that Hassan Rouhani, unlike his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a moderate who operates independently of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. This too is false. Some 680 candidates were excluded from running in Iran's presidential elections by Khamenei. Rouhani was one of only six hand-picked candidates who were permitted to run.

In 2005, Rouhani gave a speech to the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council about Iran's negotiations with the West concerning its nuclear program, and boasted: ''While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the nuclear conversion facility in Isfahan. By creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work there.'' Saikal simply omits all of this critical background.

Peter Wertheim and Alex Ryvchin, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Sydney NSW

Tariff madness

In the last of the ABC's ''Keating'' interviews, he told us we benefited from his deregulatory policies, which included continuing Whitlam's practice of reducing tariffs. After being reminded of the resulting job losses in our manufacturing industry, Keating rejoiced in this fact and told us of a worker he met whose eyesight and chest were adversely affected by years of work in the garment industry. He indicated that people today are spared such exploitation.

Because we buy our garments from Asian sweatshops, it was tantamount to him saying we should be pleased underpaid Asians working under appalling conditions are now doing our dirty work. At least the Australian garment worker received a liveable wage, and our OH and S legislation would prevent eye and chest damage occurring today if we still had a garment industry.

Nowadays, it's virtually impossible to buy clothes which aren't made in sweatshops, and when I once did by mistake I felt ''dirty'' when I became aware of what I had done. Mr Abbott, prove to us you're a true Christian and cease taking advantage of those in the Third World by bringing back high tariffs. If you don't you'll be remembered with the same distaste many of us remember your Labor and Coalition predecessors from Whitlam onwards.

Paul Remington, Gordon

Marion Griffin emerges from her husband's shadow

I recently had the honour of attending the renaming ceremony of the Mount Ainslie Lookout (''Renaming pays tribute to Marion Mahony Griffin's vision'', November 23, p2). I remain sadly mystified, however, as to how some credit Marion as only ''the hand that held the pencil''. On the day, even the Chief Minister said Marion's ''beautiful drawings were central to Walter's winning of the competition''. In fact, Marion did far more than make the iconic renderings (with which, of course, even she had assistance).

As I wrote in the National Archives of Australia's A Vision Splendid, although the Griffins' Canberra entry was submitted only in Walter's name, the plan was actually designed collaboratively with his wife.

Walter said as much to the press during his first visit to Australia in 1913. The ''architect of Canberra'' - a Perth newspaper would later sensationalise - ''has declared in public that his wife is practically the planner and designer of all the works which have emanated from their house. 'My wife is the genius, I am only the businessman,' said Mr Griffin.'' He was only half joking. Walter's scrapbook of newspaper cuttings yields yet more evidence. Writing in a Melbourne daily, an unnamed reporter mused, ''I wonder if many people know that the designing of the federal capital was, to quite an appreciable extent, the work of a highly qualified woman architect''. ''Mr Griffin'', the account continued, ''makes no secret of the fact that Mrs Griffin rendered yeoman's service in the work of designing''.

Marion's devotion to Walter, limitless and for some unfathomable, compelled her to never claim credit beyond orchestrating the renderings. To do so would have, for Walter's detractors (of which he had many), undermined his authority as federal capitol director of design and construction.

And so, Marion has emerged after a century in Walter's shadow, although we need to remember that that is where she chose to be.

Lastly, for the record, recent research has uncovered that Marion was the third, not first, woman to be granted a licence to practise architecture in the state of Illinois.

Christopher Vernon, associate professor, faculty of architecture, landscape and visual arts, University of WA

TO THE POINT

FACTS ON MARRIAGE

Peter Baxter (Letters, December 6) should learn the history of marriage laws in Australia. Prior to 1961 marriage legislation was a state and territory responsibility. The Marriage Act passed in 1961 did not include a definition of marriage.

It was John Howard's discrimination against same-sex couples in 2004 that has led us to the current situation.

David Grills, Kambah

AIM OF THE NAME

Why is there even the remotest surprise when members of the parliamentary Liberal Party lie? The party's very name is a blatant lie.

If the party cannot be honest in the simple, base exercise of identifying itself, how can its members, logically, be trusted with anything else? It really is time the Liberal Party was put under pressure to change its name to correctly reflect its conservative agenda.

Matt Meyer, Campbell

NEWS NOT PARLIAMENT

ABC News Radio should be for news - not for parliamentary broadcasts. Could ABC management please think about moving them somewhere else?

C. Williams, Forrest

QANTAS LOSS SURPRISE

It is surprising that Qantas is running a loss considering how much it gets from the members of its frequent-flyer program. For a recent flight from Canberra to Washington, DC, it took 128,000 points, plus nearly $950 for so-called taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges that should be included in the base fare.

Patrick de Fontenay, Campbell

WISDOM BECOMES THEM

While we are not fans of the Coalition, we congratulate the Prime Minister (aka Typhoon Tony) and Christopher Pyne (aka Pine Nuts) on reinstating the Commonwealth funding model, which the Gonski committee recommended. Wisdom is sometimes seen in the admission that a wrong decision has been made and being prepared to admit it.

V. and P. Bourke, Golden Beach, Queensland

ASIO THE WRECKER

With the crisis with Indonesian relations still boiling over, a new outrage is developing, this time with East Timor. This gives Tony Abbott a golden opportunity to employ his wrecking-ball brand of diplomacy to drive our relationship with that country to a new all-time low.

We should ask ourselves which country is ASIO targeting next and what kind of lame diplomacy will the Coalition come up with to deal with the ensuing disaster.

John Butler, Windella Downs, NSW


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