After years of neglecting Australian Aborigines, former prime minister John Howard suddenly announced a hugely expensive intervention because of child abuse in Aboriginal communities. Before we rush into a widespread inquiry into child abuse, perhaps we should ask the Aboriginal people which (if any) aspects of the intervention were helpful. Has anything changed at all? Similarly did the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody really change anything? What might have made a difference?
Is child abuse most rife in powerless groups? Like the Aborigines, Catholics were once an oppressed group. They clung together, loathe to dob on one another to the hostile Protestant power holders.
Who worked in the various childcare institutions? Was it poor, ill-educated people who couldn't get jobs elsewhere or who may have been emotionally blackmailed into a life in a religious order despite being ill-suited to that work? Were those people effectively prisoners within those institutions themselves, unguided and unsupported in their work as they looked after children who society was glad to ignore? Were those people often victims of abuse themselves?
In order to prevent more child abuse, we need to examine which contexts and cultures are most likely to give rise to it.
This inquiry could give rise to masses of unread print or could be conducted in a way that it transforms Australia, creating protection for children and understanding of what conditions trigger this kind of behaviour.
Rosemary Walters, Palmerston
You would have thought that after 50 years of living in the West, I should be totally relaxed about the story behind the headline ''PM orders sex abuse inquiry'' (November 13, p1). I am afraid the opposite is true.
For me, Paul Simon hit the nail on the head when he sang: ''We've lived so well so long, still, when I think of the road we're travelling on, I wonder what went wrong, I can't help it, I wonder what's gone wrong.''
Sam Nona, Burradoo, NSW
There are two unsettling aspects of the announcement that the federal government is considering enabling the ACT assembly to unilaterally increase its size. The first is that nowhere in the announcement is there any mention of the proposal being put before the ACT electorate for their opinion. Katy Gallagher refers only to an ''expert working group'', while for Zed Seselja ''negotiations between his party and Labor would determine the future size of the assembly''.
One would expect that the biggest single political development contemplated for the ACT since self-government would be the subject of a referendum or, at least, a proposal to take to the next ACT election. Certainly not something opportunistically rammed into place before the next election without referral to the electorate.
The second unsettling aspect is the timing of the announcement, ie, immediately after our recent election. Given the limits applying to major new business during the period of caretaker government, this proposal must certainly have been developed at the federal and ACT levels ahead of writs being issued. That being the case, why was it not announced before the election? Why were we not offered policies in this regard by the Liberals, Labor or Greens? With all three parties supporting the proposal in recent days, one suspects the prospect of going into the election with all parties visibly in favour of the same proposal was just too nauseating to contemplate.
Given the opportunism displayed by our politicians, it remains the responsibility of the federal government to include within its planned amendments to the ACT Self-Government Act, the requirement that any proposal to vary the size of the assembly be put before the ACT electorate for approval.
Paul Varsanyi, Kambah
Sadly, young workers' lives still at risk on building sites
I have been reading with interest your special series ''Send Them Home Safe''. Your dramatic front-page photograph of Jayson Bush (November 10) brought back memories of my brother who fell from unsecured scaffolding while working as an apprentice at the BHP shipyards in Whyalla in 1966. He broke his back and was flown by air ambulance to Adelaide.
The worksite foreman and all his fellow workers were intimidated by BHP bosses and remained silent. My brother was a few days past his 19th birthday, a superbly fit young man, in training for the state road cycling championships (and a former state junior road cycling champion.) Not only did he become a paraplegic as a result of the accident, but his kidneys were also severely damaged.
He spent his remaining years with ongoing serious health problems, enduring an ileostomy operation, blood transfusions (and contracting hepatitis from contaminated blood), and years of dialysis treatment. He died of kidney failure when he was 35. His life was ruined by workplace negligence. Sadly, 46 years have passed and little seems to have changed. Young men continue to die or suffer serious injury and businesses continue to put their workers lives at risk in the pursuit of profit.
Bernadette Thakur, O'Connor
After reading the article, ''Inspectors cut as city worksite deaths rise'' (November 10), I would add couple of comments. The Work Health & Safety Act 2011 clearly states all workers have a duty of care firstly to themselves. If a worker feels at all that he is in any danger doing a particular bit of work then he should not proceed with that work unless he is given sufficient training or assistance to do it. Jayson Bush (''Jayson fell 6m onto concrete and he couldn't even yell for help'', November 10), clearly felt this and asked for assistance. But the culture of ''getting the job done'' (''everyone was under the pump'') was the goal of management and he was put into a situation where he felt he had no choice.
If there had been any safety culture at all Jayson should have been completely free to refuse to do the job without any repercussions. The Act also says it is the responsibility of the 'person in charge' to ensure the worker has enough training and equipment to do a job safely.
The fact that he fell doing a job when he had asked for assistance indicates a clear breach of this responsibility. The Act also says workers should not work alone. Here was an inexperienced worker doing something he did not feel safe doing - under the pump - and no one bothered to see how he was going. The fact that he suffered an accident and was then left lying in a ditch for two hours is quite frankly inexcusable.
There is no need for more regulations, there are enough now to ensure workers are safe. The problem is that managers do not understand them and have created a huge paper war that does nothing but protect them (the managers) if there is a mishap.
What is needed is a change in culture - as the article ''the year of living dangerously'' says ''one which is not underpinned by paperwork, but by communication between workers and their supervisors''. My suggestion is to start training managers and supervisors in safety and how to ensure it works. And another thing. Putting Jayson ''under the pump'' to get the job done certainly didn't save any time did it?
Geoff Barker, Flynn
Whilst deaths in any industry are a tragedy, consider the possibility that sometimes it's the workers who are at fault with their attitude towards workplace health and safety. It is legislated that we all in the industry have a basic duty of care to look after the health, safety and well-being of ourselves.
Every day I induct workers to our construction site who couldn't care less about safety and that's when people die. Change the culture and you will change the outcome. You don't change a culture by paperwork or union 'strong-arming', you educate workers to have a new attitude towards their own safety and that of their co-workers. Then we will make it home safely.
K. Palmer, Chapman
Poor choice of words
We were astonished to hear the Prime Minister refer to ''the crimson thread of kinship'' in her embarrassing speech cosying up to the royals at the newly minted Queen Elizabeth Terrace last Saturday.
The words have always been code for the White Australia Policy, confirmed by the federal government's own National Archives on its website. They were frequently heard until the 1950s as successive prime ministers extolled our Britishness, our deep ties to ''kith and kin'' and a place that intentionally excluded non-white races. Back then, we were even claimed to ''speak British''.
Whoever wrote the speech doesn't know much about Australian history and, unfortunately, neither does the PM. Little wonder she does nothing about the republic.
Sarah Brasch, Women for an Australian Republic, Weston
True to form, the latest royal visit has provoked an outpouring of jealousy and bitterness from some of the radical republicans among us. The latest outburst emanates from Mike Hutchinson (Letters, November 13).
Yes, a constitutional monarchy does necessarily involve a certain level of symbolism and accompanying pageantry. Is that a bad thing? I think not, and neither do the thousands of Australians who turn out to welcome our royal visitors and who flock to Britain to visit some of the places and institutions which gave birth to the freedoms and privileges that we all too often take for granted.
To suggest, as does Mr Hutchinson, that the appointment of the Duchess of Cornwall as colonel in chief to the military police hinders progress is laughable. Our system of government, replete as it is with the checks and balances and bipartisan symbols that have worked so well over more than a century, maximise our potential rather than inhibit it.
Gary Kent, chairman ACT & Region Branch, Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy,Griffith
House of mysteries
Thousands of journalist words have appeared in print both before and after the recent US election, but I have seen no analysis attempting to explain the mystery of why the House of Representatives remains strongly Republican, while the Democratic President won a majority of the votes in a majority of the states. I presume that the House is elected in proportion to the population, as is the Electoral College, although with the addition of numbers representing the Senate, which is Democrat-controlled.
Is there some skulduggery afoot which results in a Republican-controlled House, or are the American voters just too thick to realise that if they want their President to end the gridlock and get things done, then they should have voted for his party in the House? Whatever the reason, it sure does show us that we don't need a political president here.
Chris Mobbs, Torrens
Don't get shirty
Robert Willson (Letters, November 13) asks whether the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin, responsible for the deaths of millions of people, are the hair-shirt of modern atheism. The actual accusation, delivered with Willson's habitual absence of Christian charity, is difficult to decipher.
It's clearly intended offensiveness is diluted by its manifest silliness. However, one thing is certain; atheists don't generally wear hair-shirts. That neurosis, along with self-flagellation and hatred of the body, is associated with certain God-botherers. Oh well, each to his own.
R.F. Shogren, Hughes
Buying into mateship
So the US State Department is now on the record as expressing its unease at Australia's foreshadowed trimming of defence spending (''Cuts to defence raise the ire of US'', November 10, p1).
On the face of it, this is because our capacity to pull our weight as an ally may be compromised - and that is a valid concern. Less obvious is the commercial aspect: arms dealing is a major export earner for the United States, and publicly upbraiding Australia is likely to be a deliberate strategy to send a signal to the wider ''customer base'' of allies that part of the protection deal is keeping the war factories humming stateside.
It is an open secret that US embassies are - among many other things - unofficial branch offices for the major weapons contractors.
Wikileaks cables revealed in detail the pressure that has been applied to push the Joint Strike Fighter on customer governments, and went so far as outlining an international template for benign public messages but strong private pressure to make it clear to allies who don't sign on the dotted line that the defence relationship may not be entirely unaffected.
The ''real politics'' of our alliance with Washington is that we don't have free action in a range of matters, and one of those matters is from whom we buy arms and how much we book up. Other matters are Middle East policy and biting our tongue regarding anything coming out of the White House or State Department: when was the last time you can recall any plainly stated difference? A dramatically accelerating program of extra-judicial CIA drone assassinations off a secret list? No problems there, evidently.
Our relationship with the United States is arguably necessary but it does come at the cost of merely appearing to be masters of our own destiny.
Declan Summerill, Kambah
According to politicians past and present, from Bob Hawke to John Howard to Julia Gillard, Australia and the US are great mates, committed to help and defend each other against aggression and be united in the never-ending fight for freedom and democracy. We've certainly done our bit, in Vietnam, Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan, and in allowing US intelligence bases in Australia, but in pursuit of what objectives? Opinions differ, but usually if there ain't a buck in it for Halliburton, General Dynamics, Bechtel et al, the US is reluctant to get involved.
Some time in the future, maybe, Australia will get something back.
But now the US criticises its best mate for reducing its military budget despite doing the same itself. Implied is the possibility of Australia being less willing in future to support the US's military adventurism.
Or might it be that the US is upset at the prospect of Australia not buying from them as many used tanks and other expensive military hardware we don't need, as we have done in the past.
Vince Patulny, Kambah
TO THE POINT
PM IS REASON FOR COMMISSION
Am I alone in thinking that Australia has at last achieved a Royal Commission into sex offences against children only because the Prime Minister is both a woman and an atheist? Historically, the churches and perverted yet powerful groups of men have had too much to lose in such a searching examination.
Roger Marchant, Reid
Will the abuse of children that is locking them up in refugee detention centres also be investigated, Julia Gillard?
John Passant, Kambah
I had a glimmer of hope when Prince Charles's visit didn't make the front page of Saturday's paper. But then came the sickly sweet front page on Sunday, well in keeping with the Prime Minister's fawning speech of the previous day. When will this country shake off its cultural and constitutional cringe? When will it gain the strength of a mature nation to be fully in charge of its own affairs, and not to rely for confidence on a hugely privileged mother (or father) figure living on the other side of the world? When?
Peter Dark, Queanbeyan
NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED
Those lamenting the forelock-tugging name change of a segment of Parkes Place to Queen Elizabeth Terrace would do well to recall that in the 1880s the knighted Henry Parkes was an anti-trade unionist member of the pro-establishment loyalist elite in NSW. In their book Radical Sydney, Terry Irving and Rowan Cahill state that working class people regarded Parkes and ''other leading politicians as frauds, questioned their morality, and mocked their talk of class harmony.'' Well may we ask, looking at those royal visitors invited to preside over the renaming ceremony, has anything changed?
John Murray, Fadden
The latest buzz word for journos and commentators - ''Redemption''.
Chris Carder, Spence
HEADLINE HYPE AND GLORY
The headline on Judith Ireland's piece on the US elections ''Land of hype and glory makes rest look sweepingly plain'' (Forum, November 10, p7) has to be one of the catchiest headlines for the year.
Lois Grosse, Lyons
MAYBE NEXT TIME
I was excited to see an ad in your sports section featuring the words Blue and Bulls. I thought we would be visited by the wonderful Blue Bulls (Blou Bulle) rugby team from Pretoria and the Veldt which is a feeder team for the Bulls in the Super Rugby competition. Unfortunately the ad referred to cricket. Maybe next winter perhaps?
John Moulis, Pearce