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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR GPO Box 4162, Sydney, NSW, 2001 Fax: 02 9288 3077 Email: (no attachments)


The West’s problems in the troubled nation are growing AS US President George W. Bush makes a nine-day visit to the Middle East in an attempt to reactivate the stalled Annapolis Israeli-Arab peace talks and bolster the alliance of moderate Arab states against Iran, the more pressing developments continue to unfold further to the east, in Pakistan. The head of the UN atomic watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, has put his name to what has until recently been the world’s great unspoken fear — that al-Qa’ida could use the deepening security crisis in Pakistan to seize the country’s nuclear arsenal. Many of Pakistan’s nuclear warheads are in regional areas where support for the Islamic extremists has been growing unchecked by an increasingly illdisciplined national army. There is a growing consensus that what were once considered unreasonable fears about the extent of the threat posed to Pakistan by Islamic extremists are no longer quite so farfetched. This is particularly so given the Pakistan media’s increasingly brazen reporting of ‘‘the extent of the penetration of state machinery’’ by radical Islamic militants. Shortly before she was assassinated, Benazir Bhutto warned that, left unchecked, Taliban forces would be marching on the Pakistan capital, Islamabad, within two to four years. As The Australian ’s South Asia correspondent, Bruce Loudon, reports, Pakistan’s respected The Daily Times newspaper has editorialised on the ‘‘blurring of the line dividing alQa’ida from the state of Pakistan’’. The paper says there is now little credibility in President Pervez Musharraf’s claims that his Government is not involved in the mischief of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bhutto had promised to allow US troops access to Pakistan’s border regions with Afghanistan, which Taliban troops have

been using for respite from their clashes with coalition troops. What were once considered unreasonable fears about the extent of the threat posed to Pakistan by Islamic extremists are now being taken much more seriously by Pakistan’s middle class. Like many of the region’s problems — including the Israeli and Palestinian peace talks and curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions — there are high stakes for the rest of the world and no easy solutions. This is particularly true for Pakistan. The high stakes are obvious, given that Pakistan is both the world’s second-biggest Muslim state after Indonesia, and nuclear armed. For the West, the complexity is exaggerated because of its involvement — first it armed the Mujaheddin to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union and then it turned a blind eye to Mr Musharraf’s excesses in exchange for his keeping the extremists in check. The assassination of Bhutto has made it impossible to ignore the fact that the West’s desire for a strong relationship with the increasingly authoritarian Mr Musharraf, to bolster the war on terror, has been shortsighted. As The Economist magazine argues, the US’s support for Mr Musharraf — justified as necessary to combat extremism next door — has fostered extremism at home. As a result, moderates have paid a high price and their chances of achieving democracy have been damaged, not enhanced. It seems clear that in the longer term, the recent chest-beating between the US and Iran over a small scale maritime standoff in the Strait of Hormuz will be seen for what it is — a sideshow to the real threat that has emerged within a nation poorly served by its treatment as a friend of convenience.

QUALITY IS PARAMOUNT Studies point the way for the education revolution

MORE than two years after the definitive National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy established beyond doubt that ‘‘direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read’’, influential Australian education experts, who shape the way trainee teachers are taught to teach reading, are still in deep denial. Yesterday’s revelation by The Australian that Queensland University of Technology professor Allan Luke has dismissed scientific studies proving the benefits of phonics highlights the magnitude of the challenge confronting the Rudd Government in implementing its much-vaunted education revolution. Scientific evidence in support of phonics is convincing, with a sevenyear Scottish study finding that children who were taught how to put sounds together to read words were several years ahead of average in reading and months ahead in spelling and comprehension. Surveys of newly graduated teachers across Australia show that most flounder about how to teach reading, despite its being the foundation of all learning. State education systems and universities training teachers must be encouraged — or made — to adopt the best practices in literacy teaching. Yet Professor Luke’s attitude is indicative of the implacable opposition the Rudd Government, like the Howard Government before it, will meet if it tries to break free of the equality-of-outcomes philosophy that has dogged schooling for a generation. Labor might be better placed to draw the states, teachers’ unions and universities into the process, but it must be prepared, sooner rather than later, to impose its commitment to quality and rigour. That must include building on and improving uniform testing, clear re-

porting to parents and transparency in publication of schools’ results. While NSW and Victorian parents can look at published Year 12 results to compare schools, Queensland parents, for instance, are largely in the dark, with only very broad Year 12 comparisons released. Teachers’ unions have long railed against public accountability, but that stance has been debunked by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment, which conducts comparative international testing. As Justine Ferrari points out in The Australian today, PISA has found that students in schools where student-achievement data is regularly made public score substantially higher than others. Education Minister Julia Gillard yesterday promised a rigorous, content-based national history curriculum from kindergarten to Year 12, but stopped short of endorsing the model syllabus recommended by the Australian History Reference Group set up by the Howard government. Until it has something better to replace it, the Government should be wary of scrapping the model course released by the Coalition, designed to be taught in Years 9 and 10, with the Australian story covered in 10 chapters with 70 ‘‘milestone events’’. Ms Gillard will collaborate with the states about history, but if this means protracted delays and the kind of sludge taught in Studies of Society and the Environment courses in most states instead of narrative-based history and factual geography, the education revolution will be a dud. The Coalition’s curriculum was criticised for including too little about the rest of the world, but it was a useful starting point. Handing out laptops will be the easiest part of the education revolution.

A LOAD OF RUBBISH Good advice on plastic bags has been binned OF the hundreds of Productivity Commission reports produced to provide good advice based on facts and not widely held assumptions, few have caused as much controversy as last year’s boringly titled Waste Generation and Efficiency . Contained within the report was unwelcome news for anyone who passionately believes that plastic bags are for the environment what coal-fired power stations are for global warming. The report found that banning plastic bags would be a waste of effort at high cost for little environmental pay-off. Many plastic bags were already recycled and used as rubbish bags, reducing the impact removing shopping bags would have on the waste stream. A small proportion of bags ended up as litter. And if litter was the problem, the report said, far better to deal with that directly. Green groups

predictably responded to the Productivity Commission analysis with a barrage of counter-claims that, if they had read the report, had already been forensically demolished. Most revealing was the fact that claims that at least 100,000 animals were killed each year by plastic-bag litter were based on the misinterpretation of Canadian research on the impact of fishing nets. The Productivity Commission did not say it was a dumb idea to keep plastic bags out of waterways, just that banning all plastic shopping bags was not the best way to go about it. Some dogmas refuse to die, however. And by declaring that he will accelerate a national ban on plastic bags, Environment Minister Peter Garrett has clearly shown where he stands when it comes to balancing facts against popular but emotionally-based misunderstandings.

Call off the cricket until the Indians apologise

THE Indians may feel a complaint against sledging is a bit rich coming from Australians who have used the technique for years. But to call a black man a monkey is to associate themselves with white supremacists who have attempted to justify discrimination by saying that coloured people are lower on the evolutionary line than whites. It is one of the most offensive things you could say. The Indian team, after their collective meltdown, have managed to present themselves as the victims and get all their demands while taking responsibility for nothing. This should not be allowed to happen. A full apology from the Indian cricket board and team should be supplied before any further sport takes place. David Griffiths Fitzroy North, Vic FOR some of us who find cricket mindnumbingly boring, the happenings of the past week nevertheless made us sit up and take notice. Not of the game itself but of the politics of race, Third World v First World, north v south, and everything divisive in between being played out. If Harbhajan Singh called Andrew Symonds a monkey, he showed an appalling lack of any social awareness and a total ignorance of history, notwithstanding the lame excuse that monkey is not an insulting term in the context of Indian culture. As a sportsman who travels the world representing his country, such ignorance is fatal. The irony


of it is that the Indian team now find themselves being given a lesson in racial vilification by whites, who invented racial superiority. Given Australia’s past and the very recent history, for Ricky Ponting to cynically exploit Symonds and pretend to take the moral high ground of political correctness is beyond rich. This is a country that in the past 11 years systematically dismantled PC, as if it was some kind of virus, thereby robbing us of a decent humane way to interact. The ugliness was played out in the country and on the cricket field, with sledging, boorishness and intimidation — poor Steve Bucknor — all going under the very politically correct heading of ‘‘playing hard’’. Indu Abeysekara Nedlands, WA OH how the tide turns. Four years ago Darren Lehman was dismissed in Sri Lanka and after storming inside the Aussie dressing room he had a tantrum and yelled out the words ‘‘black c . . .’’. This was overheard by the Sri Lankans from the other dressing room and he was reported to the umpires and swiftly suspended for four matches for racial abuse over a comment he made in the privacy of his own dressing room. To his credit, he took it on

Costello has some nerve criticising his successor IT’S not enough for Peter Costello to take his bat and ball home and attempt to graciously refrain from commenting where it is not welcome. Extraordinary that the former treasurer, who presided over 10 consecutive interest rate rises and didn’t have the political courage to tackle John Howard on his government’s spending profligacy, would have the nerve to criticise Treasurer Wayne Swan who has the responsibility of cleaning up the inflationary pressures left by the previous government. But Costello’s modus operandi has always been to snipe from the sidelines rather than stepping up to tackle a contest head on. Your time is up Costello. Be mindful of your own vulnerabilities on economic management. Tim Hamilton Coburg, Vic IT is now clear what has happened. The banks and financial institutions have already created serious projected losses through unwise business decisions. There being, as always, only one set of pockets, they want us to pay for their mistakes so that their bottom line will hold up for 2008. Interest rates in the US, Canada, and the EU are going nowhere but down. Home mortgages in these countries are still significantly lower than ours, crisis or not. Their starting crisis-driven variable rates are at less than the 5 per cent that we had in our salad days around the turn of the millennium. This is indeed a real crisis for them. They are used to mortgages at 3.5 per cent. And mortgage interest is tax deductable in the US and many EU states. The Christmas shopping frenzy should not serve as an indicator for another rate hike. That is a separate social phenomenon. This kind of claptrap only confuses the issue further. Our inflation is home grown. Decreasing costs of Chinese-made imports have offset domestic rises. Until now. Higher rates won’t stop food or gas prices rising. It will push them up further. This is Economics 101. We need to get out of the sackcloth and ashes mentality. Reduced rates will lower the Australian dollar, make exports cheaper and imports dearer. We produce most of our energy here in Australia, so that will be a wash. Our trade deficit will decrease. Our tourist industry will benefit. And hard-doneby working families holding average mortgages of $240,000, who currently pay nontax-deductable interest of $20,000 annually before principal or property tax and maintenance costs, will be greatly relieved. And all mortgage costs should be deductable — or none. That would level the playing field. Jay Fitzgerald Cleveland, Qld

Libs must return to roots

DANIEL Finkelstein of The Times is right in thinking (Opinion, 10/1) that ‘‘conservative’’ parties have to change their philosophical approach but he is mistaken in suggesting small government has waning appeal. The reality is that in none of the UK, the US or Australia has it been tried over the last 10 years. In Australia the burden of taxation

the chin and accepted his punishment. Had the Aussie team threatened a boycott, it would’ve been a blight on the game. Fast forward to the events of the last few days and Harbhajan Singh is quite fortunate to only get three games for a racial comment actually directed at a person — not in the midst a tantrum — especially given this ground was already covered in India a few months ago. However, not for one minute do I believe the Aussies are innocent of sledging, verbal abuse, mental disintegration or whatever you want to call it. Most have stepped well over the line at times. What is a shame is that all this is taking away from what was a great Test match. It had everything. The last two days were enthralling. Nobody was talking of any unsporting conduct during the match, this has all exploded since the game finished, unsurprisingly, after the result didn’t favour the Indians. As for playing in the spirit of the game, the Indians are throwing very big stones in a very big glasshouse on this one. Anil Kumble’s field placings of seven men on the fence during the final morning’s play was a disgrace as he clearly wasn’t playing for a wicket, let alone the time-wasting tactics that were employed. Now their board are acting as if they are bigger than the game by holding it to ransom. They’re lucky the ICC lacks any leadership or backbone. Scott Daly Noosa Heads, Qld

ment in any way in either the Operation Whistler investigation or the preparation of the contents of the related investigation report published in December 2005. John Pritchard Commissioner, Police Integrity Commission

Human rights paranoia

increased under the Howard government by about 2.5 percentage points of GDP and Finkelstein’s conservative mates in the UK allowed Tony Blair to expand the size of government with scarcely a squeak. In Australia the move by Labor to a centrist position has created a major challenge to a Liberal Party that has itself been centrist in practice. There is ample justification and scope for the party to give real meaning to its stated belief in small government. Unless it does so, Labor may be in government for many years yet. Des Moore Director, Institute for Private Enterprise, South Yarra, Vic

Death a sad indictment

THE revelation that yet another elderly person in NSW has died in his own home almost a year ago is an indictment of our selfcentred society (‘Man dead for a year before anyone noticed’’, 10/1). That another human being can be off the scene for more than a year and that his neighbours could apparently give a ‘‘continental’’ is a national shame. The Yagoona resident’s letter box had been overflowing with mail for months — a telltale sign of a potential problem with an elderly person not known to travel — and all the neighbours can say is that it is ‘‘the government’s fault’’. Spare me. Michael J Gamble Belmont, Vic

Clarification on ICAC probe

I AM writing in response to yesterday’s article ‘‘PIC chief centre of MP raid inquiry’’. The article clearly attempts to draw a link between a complaint said to be currently under investigation by the Inspector of the Independent Commission Against Corruption regarding my involvement in a search warrant application and the Police Integrity Commission having on Monday of this week being ‘‘forced into an embarrassing retraction of allegations against a serving officer’’. Though not stated, it is clear that the latter matter refers to the contents of the PIC’s investigation report for Operation Whistler which it published in December 2005 and about which your newspaper reported (‘‘Police watchdog retracts claims’’, 8/1). I joined the PIC and commenced my term as PIC commissioner in October 2006, some 10 months after the Operation Whistler report had been published. I had no involve-

SCAREMONGERING about the possibility of increased litigation because of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities is at best misinformed and at worst mischievous. People cannot suddenly sue others over an alleged breach of their human rights (‘‘Lawyers eye off charter breaches’’, 9/1). They can only raise a human rights argument in a court or tribunal in an existing case. This point seems to be lost with all of the talk about a flood of litigation or cases being dragged out because human rights considerations are brought into play. The charter is not about creating more work for our lawyers and judges but about guiding the work of government and public authorities to consider human rights when making laws and delivering services. This is a ‘‘prevention is better than cure’’ model, which ensures our government is vigilant and transparent about the protection of our human rights. This is something that we should be applauding rather than being distracted by high-profile legal cases that do not represent the bulk of the courts’ work. Greens MP Greg Barber has misrepresented the commission’s online register of legislation assessed against the Human Rights Charter as a list of human rights breaches. It is nothing of the sort. This register will form part of the commission’s report card on the operation of the charter which will be tabled in parliament in March. What the register and our report shows is that human rights are finally on the agenda in Victoria and are being taken into consideration. This is something we should all value and celebrate. Dr Helen Szoke Chief executive officer/chief conciliator, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

Failing to read the signs

SAD, though not at all surprising, when a former director-general of the Queensland Education Department doesn’t understand the meaning of scientific proof (‘‘Experts reject reading study’’, 10/1). If those involved with curriculum development in Australia acknowledged that tried and true phonicsbased teaching of literacy is the best foundation for later more advanced reading, most of them would lose their cushy jobs. They are paid to invent gobbledygook like ‘‘homeschool transitions and access’’ or ‘‘ethnographic, case-based and quantitative literacy research’’. I don’t imagine the same day’s article that claims that half of all Australians lack the minimum reading, writing and problemsolving skills to cope with the modern world has anything to do with our mediocre education departments? Maria Greene Curtin, ACT

THOUSANDS of words written about cricket’s latest drama, but what short memories we have. Does nobody recall 2005 and the Edgbaston Test? Australia — outplayed for most for the match — has made a gritty last-day attempt to save the game. Against the odds, the tailenders have held out through the last exciting session. A bruised and battered Brett Lee refuses to concede, only to see his last partner dismissed right at the end. England has a rare win over the old enemy. Its players are jubilant. But what is the very first reaction of their knockabout young star Andrew Flintoff? He goes instinctively to Lee, shakes his hand and warmly consoles him. The Test finishes on the highest possible note, everyone feels good, lifetime friendships are made. Fast forward to Sydney, January 2008. Another exciting last day. Another rearguard action. Indian skipper Anil Kumble does a Lee and is similarly stranded after a sterling effort. This time Australia wins. The contrast could not be greater. Kumble is totally ignored by an hysterical Australian team, especially its captain. Not even a handshake. If, as they claim, Ponting and his team really do respect the game’s history, they should have remembered Flintoff. Had they done so, all those thousands of words need never have been written. Phil Teece Sunshine Bay, NSW

FIRST BYTE Not sure what Ponting is bleating about. Threatening phone calls from India have been a way of life for me for years. Robin Park Surrey Hills, Vic Monkey! So what’s all the fuss about? As a West Indian I would not take umbrage. I would feel honoured. It’s a well known fact that the monkey is a sacred animal in India. Anthony Magaron Werribee, Vic Australia needs less evidence-based educational research like it needs more opinionated professors of education. Bill Jenkins Gooseberry Hill, WA Sadly Tony Frank (Letters, 10/1), it would only take one lunatic with the God-given right to bear arms and Obama would end up resembling both Kennedy brothers. Chris Moore Maylands WA The US Democratic caucuses suggest you may not be able to get blood from a stone, but you can certainly get tears from Little Rock. Philip Glaister East Brisbane, Qld Good one, Bill Leak (10/1). There is no way anyone on the planet will ever forget you, George Dubya. You had a chance to make the world a better and safer place but you blew it with a little help from Tony and John. Dallas Fraser Mudgeeraba, Qld You’re obviously never too old in Young! (‘‘Woman, 81, accused over cannabis supply’’, 10/1.) Barry Lamb Cairns, Qld

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Don’t blame pollsters, New Hampshire was hard to call Former Bush adviser Karl Rove, in The Wall Street Journal, on how Hillary Clinton appeals to beer drinkers


HAT would Shakespeare’s Jack Cade say after the New Hampshire Democratic primary? Maybe the demagogue in Henry VI would call for the pollsters to be killed first, not the lawyers. The opinion researchers find themselves in a difficult place after most predicted a big Obama sweep. It’s not their fault. The dirty secret is it is hard to accurately poll a primary. The unpredictability of who will turn out and what the mix of voters will be makes polling a primary election like reading chicken entrails: ugly, smelly and not very enlightening. Our media culture endows polls — especially exit polls — with scientific precision they simply don’t have. But more interesting than dissecting the pollsters is dissecting the election returns, precinct by precinct. Hillary Clinton won working-class neighbourhoods and less affluent rural areas. Barack Obama won the college towns and the gentrified neighbourhoods of more affluent communities. Put another way, Clinton won the beer drinkers, Obama the white wine crowd. And there are more beer drinkers than wine swillers in the Democratic Party. Clinton won a narrow victory in New Hampshire for four reasons. First, her

CUT & PASTE campaign made a smart decision at its start to target women Democrats, especially single women. It has been made part of the warp and woof of her campaign everywhere. This focus didn’t pay off in Iowa, but it did in New Hampshire. Second, she had two powerful personal moments. The first came in the ABC debate on Saturday, when WMUR TV’s Scott Spradling asked why voters were ‘‘hesitating on the likability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more’’. Clinton’s selfdeprecating response — ‘‘Well, that hurts my feelings’’ — was followed by a playful, ‘‘But I’ll try to go on.’’ You couldn’t help but smile. It reminded Democrats what they occasionally like about her. Then Obama followed with a needless and dismissive, ‘‘You’re likable enough, Hillary.’’ Gloria Steinem, in The New York Times, on the hurdles of being a woman contender: THE caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted

together. That’s why Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division: we should remember that. I’m supporting Clinton because, like Obama, she has community organising experience, but she also has more years in the Senate, an unprecedented eight years of onthe-job training in the White House, no masculinity to prove, the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country’s talent by her example, and now even the courage to break the no-tears rule. The editors of Pakistan’s The Daily Times reflect on International Atomic Energy Authority chief Mohammad ElBaradei’s fears that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are at risk from extremists: THE question now arises: how big is the number of those inside the state apparatus who owe allegiance to al-Qa’ida or hate the US enough to place the country’s nuclear assets in the hands of those they regard as the

most legitimate Islamic response to the policies of the US? Add to this blurring of the line dividing al-Qa’ida from the state of Pakistan the near-total reluctance of our politicians to even hint at standing up to alQa’ida and you have a huge reverse indoctrination problem on your hands. No Pakistani believes the Government when it says it is not involved in the mischief of the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the least, many believe that Islamabad may not know what the rogue elements within the state machinery are doing on the ground. Names are being named of retired agency officers, located in Peshawar and Quetta, who are running another covert war that plays directly into the hands of al-Qa’ida. Taliban warriors who enter Pakistan for rest and recreation and for treatment of wounds can reach medical facilities as far away from the Durand Line as Karachi, wondering why Pakistan, whose intelligence agencies are knowledgeable about them, does nothing to capture them. The conclusion drawn by the West is that they could be a part of alQa’ida’s war. The ElBaradei warning can no longer be waved aside.

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