Again Australian schools are being taken to task for poor performance in literacy, mathematics and science.

It is time we considered more comprehensive information on educational outcomes. There is no doubt that if schools chose to teach little else but literacy, mathematics and science we would see test scores in those subject areas rise considerably. But we expect a lot more of our schools than that.

So any reasonable assessment of how they are performing must consider the achievements of students across all areas.

International comparisons which do not take account of what each country expects of its schools and which measure only selected areas of learning, even though they be key areas, do not do justice to the complexity of what schools do. Yes, Australian schools can do better, but let us look at the big picture.

John Grant, Yarralumla

Jenny Buckingham (''About-face on school funding makes sense'', Times2, December 4, p5) assumes the states will undertake the work to implement ''Better Schools'', which has replaced ''Gonski'' as the current, more complex model. It is doubtful whether the federal government has the will or desire to drive the difficult process, thus aborting the potential for better educational opportunities and standards before it is even tried. A bit like Christianity, really.

Susan Marshall, Chifley

Pining for Pitts

My history teacher declared, ''It's all very well having youth at the helm, but it doesn't know which way to steer.'' According to Nicholas Stuart (''Pyne, the joker in the pack, could bring down Abbott'', Times2, December 4, p5), this dictum is exemplified by Christopher Pyne, now 46, who was the ''second-youngest MP ever, and … undoubtedly is the prissiest … most precocious petal among a bunch of preening peacocks''.

In stark contrast to my teacher's belief was William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), who became the youngest prime minister of Britain in 1783, at 24. He enabled the Tory Party to retain power for a quarter of a century, although he was generally opposed to the development of a strict partisan political system. Pitt became leader following the American War of Independence, when Britain was at war against Napoleonic France, and deeply in debt. According to historian Charles Petrie, Pitt was one of the greatest prime ministers ''if on no other ground than he enabled the country to pass from the old order to the new without any violent upheaval''. If Pyne aspires to political influence at a time when Australia is slipping down the OECD ladder for school literacy and maths, he must lose some hubris and, like William Pitt, gain some understanding of where his responsibilities lie to his country, spiced by a little vision.

Bryan Furnass, Hughes

Paying for the best

In his article ''What chemists don't tell you'' (Times2, December 4, p4) Ross Gittins implies taxpayers are getting a bad deal because the prices paid for certain medicines in certain countries are less than in Australia.

Australians have sensibly opted for the best rather than the cheapest subsidised medicines system in the world. This is because medicines are not widgets and factors such as patient choice, professional dispensing, and certainty and equality of access, are all important.

At the same time, the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS) provides real value for taxpayers. In the past two years, PBS forecasts have been reduced by $6 billion and PBS spending actually fell last financial year.

PBS spending as a percentage of GDP is continuing to fall in spite of our ageing population.

As for the assertion that taxpayers are getting a bad deal because chemists are so politically powerful, try telling that to Australia's 5350 community pharmacies which, on average, face a $90,000 loss of remuneration next financial year.

David Quilty, executive director, Pharmacy Guild of Australia

Ross Gittins' piece makes a timely and important point. I recall this issue being discussed at length on one of Radio National's programs some time ago. Let us hope Ross' recapping of the issue might induce the government to make some redressing action.

As a fellow consumer of atorvastatin for the past 11 years, and paying for it dearly, I subscribe entirely to his comments. It is time to break the drug companies' and Australian chemists' cartel (tacitly endorsed by government) and pass on to users the benefits of cheaper medicines once they come out of their patent. This issue becomes even more relevant if we consider that parallel to this we have the situation in which the level at which a tax deduction for medical expenses can be claimed keeps going up, thus stopping many of us from getting some compensatory relief, at least through the taxation system.

Clearly we are being fleeced left, right and centre.

John Rodriguez, Florey

Thuggery factor

In more than 50 years of drinking in bars and clubs (and working in bars when I younger) I have observed it is thugs who get drunk, and not drunks who become thugs, that cause the so-called ''alcohol-fuelled violence''.

Almost without exception the tiny minority of the population who create violent incidents have a history of assault and/or malicious damage, not all of which have been the subject of court action. For example, those who have a history of cautions or sending off from the football field are frequently associated with fights when intoxicated. Alcohol lowers the inhibitions allowing the true character to emerge; the Romans had a phrase for it: In vino veritas (in wine the truth).

Kieran Loveridge, who killed Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross, is a typical case: on bail for assault and with previous convictions for violence and malicious damage and, anecdotally, a record of violence on the football field.

It is pointless calling for reduced hours in pubs and clubs or higher prices for alcohol because that is not the problem. Making violent tendencies unacceptable from an early age and cracking down hard on unruly behaviour in public is the optimum solution. Paradoxically, hard regimes such as in Singapore seem to be most effective although the scale of punishment is too much for our Western stomachs.

Michael Lane, St Ives, NSW

I'm with Joe Murphy (Letters, December 4. These drunken king-hitters should contribute financially to their victims' rehabilitation. Given such ''adult'' antisocial behaviour, let them also, irrespective of age, be named upon conviction.

Greg Cornwell, Yarralumla 

East Timor spying claims are a national embarrassment

I remember in the dying days of the Howard government feeling a sense of shame at the direction in which Australia was being steered. After only a few months of the Abbott government, this sense of shame has returned - more intensely. The East Timor spying fiasco, allegedly signed off by Alexander Downer initially, and now tacitly approved of again by George Brandis, is the final straw.

How can we have sunk so low in our morals and ethics that we would spy on a tiny emerging neighbour nation, to deprive it of resources that would allow it to grow to an economically strong partner nation? This government is beyond redemption - that its ministers all claim to be Christians and yet act like barbarians sours it even more. Where is compassion? Where is decency? I despair, and I am sure I am not alone.

Anne Macdonald, Kambah

It is being alleged that a cabinet minister in a previous federal Coalition government may have condoned foreign activities that breached an international treaty so that an Australian enterprise could achieve a dodgy commercial advantage (''ASIO raids high-profile Canberra lawyer's office'', December 4, p1).

Embarrassingly, the matter is brought to the attention of the United Nations. Raids by ASIO officers are arranged. It's tricky, what the Coalition should do. How about the Prime Minister sets up an inquiry, appoints an old university acquaintance to run it, writes some narrow terms of reference and sets the timetable.

If the once cabinet minister is compelled to give evidence, he will have to concede (again?) that he has no recollection of any of the details.

The inquiry could make recommendations and hand the matter to the Australian Federal Police. The AFP could sit on it before dropping their investigation, because the prospect of convictions is limited and ''not in the public interest''.

So there you go, Timor-Leste and Bernard Collaery, the AWB playbook will give you some insight into how ministers in a federal Coalition government operate. They couldn't possibly put any future consultancies, lobbying interests or board positions at risk. Best of luck.

Jill Peterson, Dunlop

Have we sunk so low as to spy on East Timor, a poor country that could have begun rebuilding with a fairer share of the future oil and gas revenues? Just looking at the quality of our elected representatives with the continuous par-for- the-course point scoring on all matters, one should not be surprised at the East Timor matter or the Indonesian spying. What have we become in this country?

Rex Williams, Ainslie

Now we know we spied on little East Timor in order to maximise our resources at their expense. A fine example of international bullying for gain, masquerading as security. I already regard these blanket assurances of ''national security'' with extreme suspicion. I'll remember this one next time the Abbott government starts its pious bleating about ''commercial in confidence''.

S. W. Davey, Torrens

In 1999, I was one of 400 United Nations district electoral officers who volunteered to manage the vote for whether East Timor was to be independent of Indonesia, or whether it was to be part of it. For 400 years East Timor had been colonised by the Portuguese and then by the Indonesians in a bloody invasion in 1975, which led to one third of its population killed. Despite violent intimidation, the people voted overwhelmingly for independence. Now, once again, this impoverished nation is being screwed by Australia, which wants to grab as much oil and gas revenue as possible and is using its spy network in a dirty-tricks campaign to subvert the legal process. Please support my petition calling for the resignation of Mr Brandis and the head of ASIO, David Irvine (causes.com/campaigns/70130-get-australias-attorney-general-asios-head-to-resign/description).

Gareth W. R. Smith, Byron Bay, NSW

Bring back compassion

No compassion was shown by an ACTION bus driver at the Belconnen interchange last Tuesday afternoon, when a part-time, after-care student who was due to begin duties at 2.30 proffered a bus pass that unknowingly to him had no credit. He explained that he had no money on him and that he would reimburse the bus company the next day. The bus driver replied: ''Pay, or get off the bus!'' The temperature that day was 33 degrees. That poor student walked about six kilometres to his part-time after-care, arriving 40 minutes late. What's happened to this once friendly city?

Brent Dale, Weetangera

Cheap shot at Catholicism

Adrian van Leest's letter (December 3) is just another cheap shot at Catholics and Catholicism.

His suggestion that Tony Abbott is practising the so-called Jesuit art of mental reservation and equivocation is farcical and unworthy of print. If you follow his logic, then every politician in every country has been trained by the Jesuits.

No one should be asked to incriminate themselves. I wonder how well van Leest would fare when facing death and/or torture at the hands of righteous avengers.

John Popplewell, Hackett

Treat China with balance

The Chinese embassy would have been proud of the editorial ''No winners in islands dispute'' (Times2, December 2 , p2).

I want a friendly relationship with China, and with other nations in our region. But given the scope of territorial disputes China has with its neighbours, including claiming an entire Indian state, for example, it might be that China is being unreasonable here.

It is less surprising that some in the media seem to be proponents against Australia's national interests. China's claims are not supported by other nations in the region, and the unity among other Asian states against China's claims is strong. I am not a Sinophobe, but the editorial seemed to be a Sinophile line.

M. Gordon, Flynn

BYO diners should not expect a free ride

I disagree with Peter Harris' view (Letters, December 3) of corkage as screwage and therefore extortion. Screwage is the jovial term used in the hospitality industry as nearly all wine now has a screw cap. Extortion is to obtain benefit by force. No one forces Mr Harris to take a bottle of wine to a licensed restaurant nor does anyone force Mr Harris to drink.

Restaurants provide a service at a cost that is recouped in the retail price of the product. Service includes the premises, wait staff to open and pour, a table and chair to sit on, airconditioning and lights to provide a comfortable atmosphere and a glass to drink from.

Costs include wages, super, rent, insurance, maintenance, repairs, cleaning, advertising, liquor licence fees (to name a few) on top of the wholesale cost of the product sold.

All these services are provided whether the wine is purchased from the restaurant or bought offsite.

Hence with BYO, there is a corkage charge to cover service costs.

There was a time when going to a restaurant was a full dining experience to enjoy the fare on offer, where no one considered taking a bottle of wine as there was wine on offer on the premises.

Now, it appears, people believe they have a right to take their wine to a restaurant and drink it free of charge because they already paid for it at the bottle shop.

What's next? Taking beer to the pub to drink? Or is it simply cheaper at the bottle shop?

Why not drink it at the bottle shop then go to the restaurant for dinner? No corkage.

If you don't want to pay corkage or screwage, pick a wine off the list. You'll find your bill at the end will be the same.

Chris Drakakis, Griffith




Time for Tony Abbott to start culling the dead wood from his cabinet. The brainless cock-ups from people such as Pyne and Morrison, for example, are clear evidence that the ability to trumpet loudly from the opposition benches does not translate to being an adequate minister.

Nick Payne, Griffith


Among certain animal species, a change in pack leadership involves killing off the young from the previous leader.

The Abbott government engages in a similar animal behaviour, relentlessly killing off any of Julia Gillard's legacy for vengeful reasons. They spend little time contemplating their own constructive legacy.

J. Ellis, Weetangera


I hope the Indonesian government doesn't impose too many restraints on Tony Abbott's intelligence-gathering capabilities. He desperately needs it.

Denis Coen, Macquarie


Jack Waterford (''PM's at crease but few runs'', Times2, December 4, p1) must be readying for a stint in academia, perhaps at the ANU's Australian National Dictionary Centre where the word ''tergiversation'' might be used in everyday conversation .

John Bromhead, Rivett


Please spare us this weekend from pages of men kissing men and women kissing women at so-called gay weddings. Some of us are not celebrating this meddling in matters best left alone by local councils.

Marriage legislation is not a state or territory responsibility.

Peter Baxter, Symonston


Further to Warren Prince (Letters, December 3), I recently flew economy on an Asian airline to Beijing, very ordinary; two different European airlines to Frankfurt and Barcelona, adequate; then was pleasantly surprised when I boarded Qantas at HK for Sydney - a new plane, a warm welcome, comfortable seats, interesting and easy-to-use entertainment system, and even reasonable gluten-free food!

Marguerite Castello, Griffith


It appears as though the Liberals approved illegal spying on East Timor to further commercial interests in fossil fuel burning. They are still promoting commercial interests in fossil fuel burning against the long-term interests of us all.

Peter Campbell, Cook


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).