Omissions in history class mean racial lessons are never learnt
I support Shane Mortimer in his complaint against Don Aitkin (''Aitkin sued over alleged slur'', November 11, p3). Why is this so? In the last few years, two prominent court cases concerning racial discrimination of this kind have shown that ''modern Aborigines'' are defined by history, and not by the colour of their skin or their racial features. The distress for me, as an Aboriginal person, is that Australia's history has been one of discrimination.
The idea that Aitkin can, like some members of the establishment, plead ignorance to that history and the rule of law is unacceptable.
As Sir Anthony Mason says in his foreword to The History Wars: ''There can be no denial of the fundamental proposition that indigenous peoples of Australia were dispossessed against their will [and culture].
''The extent of the force and violence that accompanied that dispossession is a matter of historical research and debate, but the fundamental proposition remains unshaken.''
In today's Australia, it is a shibboleth of Australian citizenship; and the law protects that right for Aborigines, along with the many other rights provided through citizenship.
So long as Australian universities, including the ANU, refuse to teach a year-long subject on Aboriginal history to undergraduates, this racial defect will persist.
Associate Professor Gordon Briscoe, Lilli Pilli, NSW
Solution up in the air
Paul Blair (Letters, November 10) correctly points out existing deficiencies of Canberra Airport compared with Sydney Airport, in terms of runway length and height above sea level. He also cites the case of the Ukrainian freighter (an Antonov ''vodka-burner'' as the video commentator put it!), which struggled to take off (to the south, on Runway 17) from Canberra. While little can be done about Canberra's altitude, it is still theoretically possible to extend Runway 17/35, to provide extra take-off and landing distance. Some time ago, that runway was extended to the south, necessitating a considerable deviation of Fairbairn Avenue. Further extension southward would involve another such deviation. However, at the northern end, the situation is different.
The runway could be extended at least 400 metres northward by the excision (and transfer to the airport) of a small portion of Rural Block 636, Majura, between the existing northern boundary of the airport and the southern boundary of Rural Block 642. An additional 400-metre extension could be similarly accomplished by the excision of Rural Block 642 itself. Also, it might be prudent to re-align Majura Road slightly to the west - this might be included already in the design of the upgrade now under way.
I don't suggest for one moment that such transfers of land to the airport be executed without further delay in order to transform Canberra Airport into the second Sydney Airport - I agree with Mr Blair that such a development is no substitute for a second Sydney Airport somewhere near Sydney. However, if such a course of action were directed to be taken, one factor in the operational capability of Canberra Airport (main runway length) can be improved, in a fairly straightforward manner, to compensate for another factor (height above sea level), which cannot be changed.
Paul E. Bowler, Holder
There seems to be a general agreement that Sydney needs a second airport in the Sydney basin and the only remaining question is ''where''. After an extensive and expensive investigation, Badgerys Creek was selected years ago as the most suitable option available and the land was acquired. Planning even progressed to the issuing of invitations to the official ground breaking ceremony for a small general aviation airport, capable of later expansion.
In the intervening years, Sydney has continued to expand and the options have necessarily become fewer. If Badgerys Creek was the best option then, it can only be a better one now. And more importantly the land is still set aside and available. Surely it is long past time to put politics aside, stop wasting public money on more unnecessary studies, to accept the reality and build the damn thing.
Time to shine a light on child abuse wherever it took place
Congratulations to all those who have worked tirelessly for a royal commission to be held on child abuse. I hope that all of the organisations and individuals who have denied and turned a blind eye to abuse in aged care institutions realise that their days are numbered and that a royal commission will one day be knocking on their doors.
Lynn Russell, Yarralumla
Sexual abuse of children goes back for decades, and it isn't all in church schools. Let's bring it all out, whenever and wherever it occurred.
It must have been cover-ups for the sake of a school's reputation that kept out of jail a staff member at a prominent Sydney boys' high school in the 1930s and '40s. Erudite in his scholarship and a dapper dresser, this gentleman was in charge of a sport that allowed him to carry out his nasty practices off campus. He was the butt of jokes among the boys (and perhaps also the staff) and he met any insolence from a lad with a swift backhander.
It was at school principal level in 1946 that he was moved on (to a Hunter region high school) after a complaint from a parent. Plentiful evidence could come out about this man if a full and proper inquiry is carried out.
Barrie Smillie, Duffy
The Prime Minister's decision to appoint a royal commission on the revelations by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox is to be applauded.
However, I am disappointed NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has not made a public statement that Chief Inspector Fox has his complete confidence. I am also concerned about rumours that Chief Inspector Fox might be forced to resign because of threats against his life and lack of support from his colleagues in the service.
Bill Alcock, Port Macquarie, NSW
The founder of the Catholic Church described it as a rock and said it was both human and divine. Over the millenniums, the rains of good and evil have fallen on it and will continue to do so. Recently the human side has brought disgrace through the sexual transgressions of some priests and brothers. While they comprise a very small percentage of the total number, their actions rightly outrage society, and calls for justice and compensation for victims must be acted upon.
The Pope has said: ''Today … the greatest persecution of the church does not come from outside enemies but is born of sin within the church.'' This will be seen as too late for some victims.
Colliss Parrett, Barton
Do the numbers
So there is talk again of enlarging the number of elected members of the ACT Legislative Assembly.
The ALP wants five electorates, each returning five members. Previous discussions have explained that this system will effectively bar minor parties and independents from being elected.
Canberrans must keep firmly in their minds the memory of the ''modified d'Hondt'' electoral system, which was a cynical attempt to discredit proportional representation with voters as retaliation for the ALP failing to impose 17 single-member electorates on the ACT when the territory was first granted self-government.
The proposed 5 x 5 put forward by the ALP is a continuance of the same attempt at eternal political dominance. If 21 members, or three electorates returning seven members is not enough, then the move should be to 23 members or two electorates each returning seven members and one returning nine members.
This allows a reasonable chance for non-ALP and Liberal Party candidates to be elected (and some opportunity for competition within the ALP and the Liberal Party for candidatures.)
It also goes some way to ensuring there will always be a minority government dependent on negotiation over issues, with less railroading of legislation and a lessening of the influence of lobbyists and vested interests.
Moving to a 21 or 23-member Assembly is the only way we can be sure the interests of Canberrans as a whole would be truly represented.
Julie McCarron-Benson, Charnwood
Robbing Peter ...
Terry Dwyer (Letters, November 9) correctly claims that land value rates are more progressive than income taxes. This is why these are normally levied at a flat rate. The ACT government has chosen a further, highly progressive scale on top of residential rates, which attempts to soak the rich but catches many of the less well off who may have few assets other than a home in an inner suburb where land values have risen in recent years.
On the other hand, wealthy residents living in luxury apartments will be much less affected because of their relatively small land component and because most of their wealth will be outside the home. This unfortunate twist distorts the tax, especially because Canberra is an island within NSW where the tax does not apply.
By refusing to release modelling that would give each ratepayer an idea of how their policy change will ultimately affect them before the election, the ACT government has been devious and hypocritical in denouncing the Liberals' ''triple rates'' campaign. I can only hope they will now come clean, or that the Liberals hold them to account on this matter in opposition.
Ted Riesz, O'Connor
It is interesting that the recent death of Major-General Alan Stretton continues to be overlooked across the nation (''Parliament overlooked cyclone Tracy hero Stretton'', November 9).
As hurricane Sandy bore down on the east coast of the US, comparisons were swirling in the Australian media of the size and devastation of the cyclone that almost destroyed Darwin in 1974. Within days, Sandy had torn a corridor of terror across several states.
At the time, the media and local political focus of the plight of the American people was appropriate. Yet tucked away in the personal notices of the newspapers were larger-than-normal notices of the retired army officer's funeral.
The late ''hero of Darwin'' was more than just someone to be remembered for his leadership during Tracy. In his own right as a soldier he was well decorated and his distinguished career meant he was well-placed to head the then Natural Disasters Organisation.
Given Stretton's contribution to this country, not only for his leadership after cyclone Tracy, is would be regrettable if the federal government did not correct the omission of a parliamentary condolence motion with a more permanent acknowledgement of his life of service.
Politicians are often quick to offer state funerals, even to media tycoons, and it is therefore important that real Australian role models are not overlooked, even in death.
Allan Gibson, Cherrybrook, NSW
It is astonishing and deeply regrettable that Major-General Alan Stretton's death has not even been mentioned in Parliament. (''Parliament overlooked cyclone Tracy hero Stretton'', November 9, p1). He truly was a hero in the aftermath of Darwin's 1974 disaster, being named Australian of the Year the following year.
However, Stretton's views would not all have found favour in the corridors of power, especially those on the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2006 he wrote: ''From the start, our involvement in Iraq has been a military and political catastrophe'', and that it would have long-lasting consequences for peace and security.
He referred scathingly to the lack of United Nations' authority for the war, the fact that it was based on falsehoods, and its role in increasing terrorism.
Many senior Australians have called for an inquiry into the process by which this country became involved in that war, to learn for the future how we can ensure we never repeat the mistakes made then. No decision to go to war should be made on the basis of lies, by a powerful leader with no parliamentary approval. Dictatorships operate like that, not democracies.
There is little doubt that Stretton would support such an inquiry. Perhaps he could be honoured by a serious consideration of the proposal, rather than the perfunctory dismissal it has received by our leaders thus far.
Dr Sue Wareham, Cook
Clarity on awards
There have been several letters regarding the awarding of gallantry decorations in response to my initial letter (November 5) pointing out that such awards are the prerogative of the Queen. Respondents are confused between recommendation and the authority to approve.
Frank Marris, in his confusing letter on November 9, begins by disagreeing with me, and then promptly asserts that the award of the Victoria Cross for Australia is made with the approval of the Queen on the recommendation of the minister through the Governor-General.
These awards are not made by any government, but ultimately under the authority of the Queen, who may or may not, upon advice other than from the initiating recommendation, either approve or not approve the award.
Energy price shock
Brian Hatch (Letters, November 11) indulges in the classic reactionary strategy of tossing around some impressive-sounding numbers to try to add substance to his rhetoric.
While his loose wording makes it difficult to determine precisely what he is claiming, it seems to be that, in 10 years' time: Canberra's electricity prices will have quadrupled; that is a 400 per cent rise (he doesn't actually specify the timing for this, but let us be generous and assume that he meant 10 years).
This quadrupling will be attributable to renewable energy generation (as opposed to the general infrastructure costs that have caused the overwhelming bulk of price rises for the past five years), and it will be cheaper to generate a household's electricity by buying and running a petrol generator than buying power from the grid.
If Hatch is willing to put his money where his mouth is, I challenge him to a bet, to be witnessed and arbitrated by the then editor of The Canberra Times, that the set of claims above will not be true on November 11, 2022.
To make the bet even more attractive, I'll pay his electricity bill for the following 12 months if he wins and he can pay mine if I do. As I suspect, I'm more careful with electricity use than he is, he stands to win more than I do.
Felix MacNeill, Dickson
TO THE POINT
As one of many supporters of the ANU School of Music as it once was I might be more inclined to ''stop assuming the worst'' and ''help secure a strong, secure and vibrant future'' for it if Professor Tregear (CT November 8 p. 16) could assure us that the two remaining (world-class) jazz musicians at the school will be employed to teach their art in 2013 and not the diffuse and undistinguished course currently displayed on the ANU website.
Geoff Page, Narrabundah
Although my republican sympathies have been somewhat agitated by the renaming of a significant place in our parliamentary triangle, I do have to confess that I was mightily relieved to read the official announcement/advertisement in the Canberra Times on Friday (November 9, p 2), where it is noted that Queen Elizabeth Terrace is formally Parkes Place. Being the formal kind of fellow I am, I shall continue to call it Parkes Place. Am I to presume that it will be known only casually as Queen Elizabeth Terrace?
Bill Maude, Griffith
As a professed republican who had just announced a new-look Australia engaging with neighbours in the Asian century, Julia Gillard has demonstrated remarkable political dexterity by re-naming Parkes Place, at the epicentre of Australian national symbols, ''Queen Elizabeth Terrace'', thus (literally) setting in concrete our link to the British royal family while de-throning our erstwhile national hero, Henry Parkes, a remarkable feat!
Peter Dawson, Hughes
BONE OF CONTENTION
Interesting article on early cavemen chipping flints in South Africa ('Handyman to the bone', Times2, November 12, p3). Pity about the accompanying photograph of the 'advanced thinker' who may have made them, which clearly shows the skeleton of a small theropod (meat-eating) dinosaur at least 60-100 million years old.
Dr Alex Ritchie, Fraser
GOD'S ON WHOSE SIDE?
Linus Cole (Letters, November 10 ) is correct that a number of prominent Republicans in the US have blamed the electoral loss on hurricane Sandy. And given that it gave the electorate the opportunity to compare the response of President Obama to the crisis, to the bumbling response of the Republican White House to hurricane Katrina in 2005, perhaps they have a point.
I do, however, wonder if they've thought through the implications of blaming their electoral defeat on an ''act of God''?
John Spooner, Curtin