Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Border friction: New Zealand set to open for NSW, Victorian tourists before Queensland

The border lock is popular with Queenslanders.  It is a good way of preserving our remarkably safe position

Tourism centres of NSW and Victoria may be opened to travellers from New Zealand before visitors from Queensland as the federal government steps up talks to create a "travel bubble" across the Tasman.

In a new warning to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Morrison government said it would not allow state border bans to create an "obstacle” to allowing flights to and from New Zealand.

The Morrison government said it would not allow state border bans to create an "obstacle” to allowing flights to and from New Zealand in a new warning to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

The comments raise the possibility that Australians from southern states could ski in New Zealand before they surf in Queensland if Ms Palaszczuk keeps her state border controls in place as late as September, costing her state billions of dollars in lost tourism business.

Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the government wanted the tourism industry to stand on its own two feet "as soon as it’s safe” for tourists to travel again.

"New Zealand is obviously the first, and right now only, international market that we could safely agree to open up to,” he told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

"If New Zealand and some Australian states are ready and willing to progress, then the reluctance of other states to open up their domestic borders shouldn’t become an obstacle to progress.

"The recovery of jobs and small businesses in some states shouldn’t be held back by the decisions of other state governments.”

Tourism and Transport Forum chief Margy Osmond released a survey last week showing 53 per cent of people named the Gold Coast as an intended destination in the next six months, while others named Noosa, the Sunshine Coast and tropical north Queensland.

"Unfortunately at this stage it looks like more of a dream than a reality if Queensland continues to batten down its hatches,” Ms Osmond said.

Queensland has closed its borders to travellers but allows freight and business travel.

Ms Palaszczuk said last week she would consider lifting restrictions at the end of each month but the closure could remain until September, a stance also adopted by Queensland Chief Medical Officer Jeannette Young.

Dr Young has argued that a single case from interstate travel could cause an "enormous setback” to the coronavirus recovery plan. "If the tourist industry wants a realistic scenario, then they should be preparing for September,” she said on Wednesday.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants an air corridor opened with Australia without asking travellers to undergo 14 days of quarantine, signalling this could happen under her country’s level 2 restrictions.

"It is possible to have a trans-Tasman bubble, for instance, at level 2 – it is not contingent on us being at level 1 for that,” she said last week.

Destination Queenstown interim chief executive officer Ann Lockhart said a safe "bubble” would be a huge benefit to the New Zealand city and its surrounding ski fields.

"We stand ready to welcome Australians to Queenstown again, with the enticement of a wonderful ski season in the coming months,” she said.

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult said Australians made up more than one-third of the travellers to the ski fields. "I understand there has been talk of individual states starting trans-Tasman travel before interstate travel recommences,” he said. "If that happens, we are perfectly happy with that.”

Figures released on Sunday showed New Zealand had 27 active COVID-19 cases, with no new cases in the previous 24 hours.

University of NSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said she was concerned about the pressure on Queensland to open its border when new cases in the southern states were yet to fall to zero.

"I am concerned the push is more economic than COVID-safe without mandatory mask use or face shields on planes, leisure boats and other activities where social distancing can’t be guaranteed,” she said.


Australia must 'move on' from the dream of fast rail: Grattan Institute

The cost would be enormous and any advantage over air travel dubious

Australia should put the idea of an east-coast bullet train to rest and "move on”, as the long-held dream of linking major cities from Melbourne to Brisbane via rail will fail to deliver its proposed economic, travel and environmental benefits.

That's the view of the Grattan Institute, which has called for a re-think on high speed rail on the grounds that bullet trains are unsuitable for Australia's population, size and density.

Federal Labor renewed its calls for a fast rail line connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane, arguing it would help the economy recover from the COVID-19 economic crisis.

The federal government is promising to build its own fast rail network in Victoria, NSW and Queensland and has provided $8 million to a private consortium to investigate the merits of an east-coast bullet train from Melbourne to Sydney.

But the Grattan Institute's head of the cities and transport program Marion Terrill said the government should stop using public money to continually study these proposals.

While the sound of a Eurostar, Shinkansen, or TGV might sound appealing, fast rail networks in Europe and Asia connect large and concentrated populations even where the distances covered are very long. Countries similar to Australia in population size and spread — such as Canada and the US — do not have bullet trains.

"As regrettable as it might be given the undeniable appeal of an Australian east-coast bullet train, we should put the idea to bed and move on," Ms Terrill states in her new Fast Rail Fever report.

Rail upgrades such as electrifying track or removing bends and inclines to enable speeds as high as 200km/h makes more sense in Australia, and may improve life for people in regional cities, the report suggests.

But claims they will take pressure off crowded capital cities while at the same time boosting struggling regions are "overblown".

“Australia’s regional towns have more pressing infrastructure needs than faster rail, including better internet and mobile connectivity and freight links. And governments would help a lot more CBD commuters by improving transport options for people in the outer suburbs rather than the regions.

"Every proposed rail renovation project in Australia should be reviewed in light of the COVID crisis. The costs and benefit of each one should be rigorously assessed, and those that don’t stack up should be abandoned."

The analysis also warned that once a bullet train was up and running, it would emit far less than today’s planes, but construction would take nearly 50 years and be enormously emissions intensive.

The Victorian government has invested $100 million in its Western Rail Plan, to improve speeds on the Geelong and Ballarat lines by fully separating regional and metro services.

The federal government launched its Faster Rail Plan last year to speed up links between Melbourne and Geelong, Shepparton, Albury and Traralgon.

It provided funding to the Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA) company, which proposed to build two inland cities in Victoria and a further six in New South Wales that are linked by high-speed rail lines between Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

Federal Labor Leader Anthony Albanese has renewed calls for an east-coast bullet train in the wake of the pandemic after developing the policy a decade ago. He argued it would "revolutionise" interstate travel and become an "economic game-changer" for regional communities.

Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said the government’s ambition over the next two decades is to “connect the big capital cities to the satellite regional centres surrounding them”.

“In doing so, it can allow people to live in those regional centres and have the cheaper housing and lifestyle associated with that, while still being able to easily access the big city employment centres on a convenient and affordable basis.”

Federal opposition transport, infrastructure and regional development spokeswoman Catherine King reiterated that Labor was a firm supporter of rail - “whether that be urban, regional, freight or high speed”.

“High Speed Rail is a transformative, nation-building project which would reshape all of eastern Australia and deliver major decentralisation and development benefits to regional centres along the route.”

A Victorian government spokesperson said high speed rail along the eastern coast was a matter for the commonwealth government.

“We make no apologies for delivering on our election commitments to deliver fast rail to our regional cities – that will not only deliver faster travel times, but boost our economy and support jobs.”


Smart school funding a problem-solver

As is customary, new changes to school funding have carved up winners and losers. To finally put to bed, it’s time for a market-based makeover.

New Department of Education data shows how much schools’ funding will alter under the new means-testing ‘direct measure of income’ system. Reforms almost always increase the funding pie, but this shakeup doesn’t increase the pie so much as change the way it’s sliced up.

Parents who choose schools with higher median incomes are expected to chip in more, as they should generally. But the new ‘direct measure’ approach is no cure-all either.

First, the subsidy is based on the median parents’ income across the whole school, rather than what each parent actually earns. Second, parents’ income level isn’t always the perfect guide to how much parents can afford to pay in fees — for some, assets or help from family members would make a better proxy.

And, third, parents’ incomes don’t necessarily measure a child’s educational advantages — which is what school funding ultimately is supposed to address in the first place.

But it’s not necessarily fair to call these failures of the new approach though. There are simply so many flaws with school funding that tweaking around the edges just won’t cut it.

For a start, any subsidy should be paid to parents directly, not to schools — cutting out the middlemen in administration who re-calculate what goes to schools.

The amount of subsidy should be based on each students’ and families’ needs, not their schools’ needs. While the Gonski formula is notionally based on a child’s needs, there’s not necessarily any nexus to supporting individual students’ learning needs.

And the subsidy should be genuinely means-tested for each household, not the schools’ median.

We already provide welfare payments directly to households, adjusted to income and assets tests. Why not provide families with school-aged children a cheque each year equivalent to a basic, means-tested amount to spend directly on schooling?

Schools could then set their fees based on demand factors — like how popular they are and how much parents are willing to pay. Parental choice would keep fees in check, since schools with excessive fees will be less attractive. And public schools could offer market-based fees too; perhaps with some regulation to make sure they remain within reach of locals.

Parents could choose to pay more than the cheque’s amount — much like they do already — but the subsidy would be better targeted. And parents might use the cheque to pay for additional out-of-school support too to provide for their child’s needs. That’s far more transparent, competitive, and efficient than anything currently on the table.

School funding can be improved — not by spending more, but by spending it more wisely.


‘Audiences are sick of being told they’re horrible’

When David Williamson was starting out as a playwright with his satirical dissections of the 1970s in Don’s Party and The ­Department, Australia’s cultural elites were the people he calls the “first-nighters”. They were from the wealthier suburbs, the silvertails and socialites, effectively being paid by the government to attend premieres at the opera and the ballet.

“We thought they were the real elitists because they were being subsidised about $150 a ticket,” Williamson says.

“The most affluent section of our society was being paid the most to see, to us, elitist art forms. The elitism wasn’t contemporary work. It was the opera and ballet, and I think it still is.”

Today’s culturally privileged are not only the rich but also the poorer citizens who work as ­actors, comedians, directors, ­authors, songwriters, filmmakers, painters and curators. They are members of the creative class who hold a mirror to contemporary Australia and tell us what they see. Williamson knows they can rub people the wrong way.

“I do think that some middle-class audiences at the theatre are finding it a little tiresome to get yet another play from yet another minority group, that tells them that they are unconscionable, and beats them about the head, and tells them that they have caused great problems for minority groups,” he says. “I’m sure there is a bit of that. Some sections of the audience are sick of being told they’re horrible.”

A study released this week by Canberra think tank A New ­Approach also highlights the divide in Australia’s cultural life. The authors wanted to hear what “middle Australians” had to say about the arts, and held focus groups with 56 men and women from the suburbs of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Townsville. The groups comprised swinging ­voters who worked in offices, trades and other jobs.

In general, they have a very positive attitude about Australian culture, especially activities that inspire the imagination and involve them in their communities. But they showed little interest in the “high arts” that are too ­expensive, too hard to get to, and not to their taste.

“I am not a big fan of the ballet. I have seen it advertised a lot recently — yeah, not really my thing,” said a man from Brisbane. A Sydney woman told the focus group: “Opera, because of how expensive it is, I don’t think it is easily accessible for everyone. And if you haven’t been exposed to that sort of music you might not enjoy it.”

In recent months, the creative class has taken a great deal of interest in what the rest of Australia thinks. The coronavirus lockdown has devastated the arts and cultural sector, shutting down untold exhibitions and performances and locking thousands out of their livelihoods. Opera Australia, the nation’s biggest and busiest ­performing arts company, has cancelled 570 performances to date, costing $70m. Losses across the performing arts will likely ­exceed $540m, not counting screen production, galleries, museums, book publishers and other cultural businesses.

State and local governments have, to varying degrees, held out a lifeline to the arts and culture sector, which will take months if not years to recover. But support from the federal government has been but a blip in total stimulus spending: just $27m for especially ­vulnerable groups. While Arts Minister Paul Fletcher says “billions” of JobKeeper dollars will flow to those in the arts and creative industries, many are not eligible because they work for government organisations or are employed on short-term contracts. Appeals to broaden the JobKeeper eligibility criteria ­appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Just why the arts have been ignored is causing significant anguish and not a little soul-searching. Broadly, the problems can be identified as a failure to effectively communicate the value of the arts; a disconnect between the elite arts and the general community’s idea of culture; and a ­difference in values between the progressive creative class and the conservative government.

Arts and culture are big business in Australia when you include film and television drama, publishing, live and recorded music, galleries, museums, dance and drama teachers, the professional performing arts and other activities. The government’s Bureau of Communications and Arts Research puts the value of cultural and creative activity at $111.7bn a year, although that ­figure includes creative industries such as fashion, media and information technology.

Taken alone, the creative arts contribute $14.7bn to the economy and employ 193,000 people, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. As an employer, the arts is bigger than finance, accommodation and coalmining, but many people don’t recognise its significance. In a report released this week, the Australia Institute found that 68 per cent of people underestimate the size of the creative workforce compared with coalmining. It’s an indication, says research director Rod Campbell, that people don’t recognise art and culture as an economically dynamic industry and one that employs tens of thousands of Australians.

A second challenge for the arts is to shake off the elitist tag and connect meaningfully with people beyond a rusted-on audience. One approach has been to widen the frame of reference by giving a boost to artists from different cultural backgrounds.

This is the policy of the federal government’s arts agency, the Australia Council. Its corporate plan sets out strategies to increase the visibility of people from cultural minorities, with particular emphasis on celebrating indigenous artists.

The intention is to give fuller expression to the many different voices and perspectives that make up our nation. One of the findings of the New Approach study is that people value those diverse cultural experiences. But a constant emphasis on minorities or identity politics also risks alienating the mainstream, leading to those familiar accusations of cultural elitism and political correctness.

“Very good at preaching to the converted, not so good at talking to nonbelievers,” is theatre director Sam Strong’s diagnosis of the malaise in the arts sector. But he believes that art is also the way to reach across the cultural divide. Strong recently directed Williamson’s Emerald City — the season at Melbourne Theatre Company was cut short by the lockdown — and is due to direct the stage ­premiere of Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe, now scheduled for next year.

“That is a great example of a contemporary Australian story that has engaged vast numbers of people,” Strong says of Dalton’s novel. “I think that’s partly because there’s an immediacy to Trent’s writing and a lack of pretension. But ultimately there’s a capacity for people to recognise themselves and their own experience in those stories.”

The divide between the arts sector and the rest of society is perhaps more imagined than real, Strong says. But the question ­remains why the federal government has stayed silent on a substantive rescue package for the sector, and the implicit message is that “what we do isn’t valued”.

Strong is careful not to blame the lack of federal support on an ideological stand-off with the Coalition, believing the sector has to own its own failures. But others do. This month actress Noni Hazlehurst accused the government of “waging a culture war” against the arts by denying industry assistance. And Williamson says conservative governments have long regarded the contemporary arts with suspicion, seeing in a film’s or a play’s social critique an attack on their own kind.

“Conservative governments are quite happy with anything that was written 200 years ago — the opera and the ballet — that’s not threatening,” he says. “But I do think there is an element of conservative governments feeling threatened by contemporary work and, consciously or unconsciously, that’s part of the reason they don’t value and don’t fund the arts.”

Indeed, the Coalition’s relationship with the arts has been less than rosy in recent years. There are bitter memories of budget cuts in 2014 and of former arts minister George Brandis’s radical intervention in arts funding. Coalition funding for the Australia Council remains less than that of the last Labor government. And funding for the arts across all tiers of government is in decline. An earlier study by A New Approach reported a decrease of 4.9 per cent in Australian governments’ arts spending, in per capita terms, in the decade to 2018.

Esther Anatolitis, of advocacy group National Association for the Visual Arts, says what is apparent, more than any culture war, is simply a lack of interest from Canberra in a large part of Australia’s economic and cultural life.

“The fact that the government has failed to respond with a specific stimulus is the clearest demonstration that they just don’t want to,” she says. “The government talks about throwing out ideology … but in practice they are being driven by a set of values, and one of those values is not to support the arts.”

Leaders in the arts sector say they must continue to make the case for investment in an industry that brings economic and other pay-offs: that the arts assist schoolchildren in their learning and concentration, that a strong cultural life aids social cohesion and national identity, that creative activity can help ward off some effects of old age.

But there is also a need to master the politics of persuasion, to read the community’s mood, to break out of the arts bubble and to change the well-entrenched narrative that the arts are elitist or only for the rich.

At the time of coronavirus and the nation’s emergence from hibernation, the stakes have never been higher.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Monday, May 25, 2020

Coronavirus has left Australia in better shape than most

In one of his final poems before dying at 59, Australian poet James McAuley wrote: “Winter will grow dark and cold / Before the wattle turns to gold.

McAuley (born 1917), a Christian, apparently had in mind eternal life. But he well understood his immediate future on this earth, which was dark indeed.

Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy acknowledged on Thursday that Australia was already in recession, one that had come about so suddenly as to be unique. In Australian history, no government has shut down large sections of the private sector, with or without a pandemic. The same goes for other Western nations.

The economic consequences of the medical response to COVID-19 are new territory. So much so that we do not know whether a depression will eventuate. However, we do know that Australia entered the year with a comparative advantage compared with many other nations.

As Josh Frydenberg pointed out in his well-written and clear ministerial statement on May 12, the Australian economy was in a strong position — when compared with similar nations — at the beginning of the year.

Growth had risen from 1.8 per cent to 2.2 per cent in the December quarter. Moreover, the International Monetary Fund was forecasting the Australian economy was likely to grow at a faster rate than that of the US, Britain, Japan, France and Germany in both this and the next calendar year. And the unemployment rate was reasonable at 5.1 per cent.

The Coalition governments after September 2013 — led by Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison with Joe Hockey, Morrison and Frydenberg as treasurers — worked to reduce the budget deficit of more than $48bn to a balance or near surplus. A constant figure in the budget reform process was Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. The ongoing deficit reduction was accompanied by the creation of some 1.5 million jobs.

Sure, it was not an economic utopia early this year. But the economy was in relatively good shape, contrary to the claims today of some on the green left, including journalists. In short, Australia was well placed to experience an unexpected recession.

It was much the same with novel coronavirus. Like New Zealand, Australia benefits from being an island, which makes border control relatively easy. Australia called COVID-19 a pandemic before this was done by the World Health Organisation. Moreover, early in the pandemic Australia closed its border with China, the centrepoint of COVID-19. This was done contrary to the wishes of the WHO.

The creation in March of what the Prime Minister called the national cabinet — consisting of federal, state and territory leaders — was an important initiative. As it turned out, it made possible a less dramatic shutdown than that advocated by some state and territory leaders and put into practice by Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government in New Zealand.

The states and territories are primarily responsible for health, education and law enforcement. But the Morrison government managed to bring about a “black book” approach to the pandemic. In other words, in various stages certain industries were instructed to close. Those not on the restricted list could remain open. So agriculture, construction (of various kinds), mining and transport, for the most part, remained in operation, as did early childhood education.

The left is in love in Ardern who, without question, is a popular leader. However, despite a more comprehensive lockdown in New Zealand than Australia, on a per capita basis the two nations have similar rates of COVID-19 infections and recorded deaths.

Unlike some green-left politicians and commentators, Frydenberg well understands that the task is to open up the economy as soon as this is possible, then to focus on private enterprise and increasing productivity. The Australian economy will not recover fully by means of increasing taxation and regulation.

The way out of the recession ideally should reflect the way in. The Morrison government introduced three initiatives to temper the economic impact of the close down. First up there was the economic reform package aimed at providing economic stimulus, followed by a $66bn support package aimed at business and households. Then came the huge JobKeeper program, aimed at making it possible for employers to connect with employees whom they have managed to keep at work or who are waiting to return to work.

Without question, JobKeeper has made it possible for many small and medium businesses to remain in operation. Again, this will facilitate the path to recovery when COVID-19 abates.

However, there is little doubt that this recession, which essentially has affected the private sector, has led to many shattered lives and businesses.

The men and women who have lost their livelihoods may recover their health, but many will lose their businesses through no fault of their own.

That’s why it is important that the economy opens up as soon as possible. Initially the national cabinet, the first time Australia has experienced such an entity, worked well. But its use may be fading.

The reluctance of the less populous states (Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania) and the Northern Territory to open their borders is detrimental to the important tourism industry and makes the life of small-business operators even more difficult than at present.

The advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which advises the national cabinet, is that there is no reason the borders between the states and territories should remain closed.

Here some Australian governments give the impression that they are being run by public servants. Take Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, for example. Early this week she said the opening of the Queensland border was not her decision but that of Queensland’s chief health officer.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be eradicated any time soon. It’s up to elected politicians to make decisions to reopen the economy while managing risk.

The federal government, with the recent support of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, is showing the way. Their approach provides some hope. Otherwise the economic winter will be cold indeed.


Coldest day in a CENTURY: Parts of Australia's east coast shiver through the briskest May day in 98 years

Global cooling!

Brisbane has endured its coldest May day in a century with the mercury hitting 15C at about 1pm on Friday - and the chilly snap is here to stay.

Including wind chill the apparent temperature was even colder - dropping to 10C at 3pm, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The cold snap wasn't just confined to the north with New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia also experiencing an icy weekend courtesy of cold fronts sweeping over the states.

Australians have been warned to brace for continuing cold weather as the week progresses and we head into winter, with most major cities forecast with maximums of 20C or lower on Sunday.

The cold fronts also mean the wet weather will continue with large areas of the country forecast to experience overcast conditions and showers.

In New South Wales the cold fronts brought wind, rain and even snow in some places such as the Blue Mountains and Bathurst. 

On Saturday in Sydney, a severe weather warning was issued as massive waves battered many of the city's surfing beaches, including Bondi.

A layer of cold dry air, rain and thick cloud cover is causing the unseasonal weather. 'That acts kind of like an evaporative air conditioner,' meteorologist Lauren Pattie said on Friday. 

Ms Pattie also said the cool weather is expected to persist into next week, with frost possible in some areas from Sunday.

Her Bureau colleague, meteorologist Rosa Hoff agreed, saying the cold weather would continue into Sunday. 

Brisbane is forecast to drop to just 9C overnight, before warming up to a top of 21C by midday, she said. [It was 27 degrees at 1:30pm Sunday]

The last time Brisbane hit a top of 15C like on Saturday was in 1922 - with other regional centres also breaking decades-long records.

Longreach and Charleville in the state's mid-west had their lowest May maximum temperatures in 50 years at 14.6C and 13.2C respectively. 


Australian universities face an existential dilemma from loss of income

Time for efficiency reforms

Australian universities are "some of the most creditworthy entities in Australia and the world", ratings agency S&P Global says in a report on the effects of COVID-19 on this country's higher education.

This should put universities in a good place for what will be a punishing 12 months to come. The Group of Eight conservatively estimates a revenue downturn of $2.2 billion for 2020.

Already universities with small cash buffers, among them La Trobe University and Central Queensland University, are flagging redundancies.

S&P Global says universities have healthy balance sheets and low debt levels. But that's putting it kindly.

Critics of the university sector refer to lazy capital tied up in buildings and land holdings, which in some cases are used for only the 28 weeks a year when students are actually on campus.

And without shareholders to keep an eye on costs, payrolls have expanded in a heavily unionised workforce.

Robert Leeson, a professor of economics at Notre Dame university in Perth and biographer of the classic-liberal economist Friedrich Hayek, says Australian universities would benefit from some "creative destruction" of their own, reducing the ranks of middle management and making them more efficient.

As the post-coronavirus reality begins to bite, some policymakers are arguing for structural reform in higher education.

National lead partner for education at KPMG, and a former vice-chancellor at the University of Canberra, Stephen Parker, says the last real reform in higher education was 30 years ago when education minister John Dawkins let colleges of advanced education merge with universities.

S&P Global analysts said there was an appetite in Canberra for university reform.

Its recent report said: "We anticipate that when the pandemic is over, there will be greater political pressure on Australian universities to diversify or reduce their reliance on foreign students."

Some industries facing revenue shortfalls after COVID-19 are talking about mergers to get economies of scale and a more stable revenue base. But Australian universities are already large by global standards.

The vice-chancellor of Monash university, Margaret Gardner, doubts that growth by merger is the future for Australian universities.

She says she can't see the policy setting that would underpin mergers. In any case, universities are already very large. Monash has nearly 70,000 students, making it massive by comparison to British and US universities. Professor Gardner says in some senses it is already "merged" with other universities – through joint research projects with domestic universities and by collaboration with overseas institutions.

Also working against mergers is the fact that universities define themselves by their relationship to local communities.

Monash has a strong identity with communities in Melbourne's south-east, not the least because of the massive health market it serves with research and clinical services.

Gardner agrees that universities are going to change but says "the notion that Uni X merges with Uni Y is a very big question that intersects across community and government interests."

If consolidation through mergers is off the table, one way to get greater efficiencies would be a series of more simple alliances doing things such as shared back office, joint tenders for research or submissions to government.

Professor Parker points out the great universities of California are part of a state alliance.

The former vice-chancellor of Deakin University and interim vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia, Jane den Hollander, says alliances are already on the agenda of university councils.

All five universities in WA are members of the Forrest Research Foundation and this might be a good model for sharing costs and ideas, she said, without losing the structure of individual universities.

Another arrangement might be a federated model that brings together universities with a shared "market type", for example Geelong in Victoria with Newcastle and Wollongong in NSW.

"I'm interested in what regional universities do. Universities are to some extent the first pillar of the community," she says, echoing Gardner. "The big question is not just what happens in the capital cities. How do we nurture the regional role of the university?"

There are some long-established alliances, for example the Regional Universities Network or the Australian Technology Network, but these are more to do with marketing than local communities, shared resources or cost-cutting.

Working with business

The most likely university model for collaboration is with business.

This growth-oriented strategy is well established. Long before the government started pushing universities with tools such as performance funding to produce job-ready graduates, business has been moving onto campuses.

Monash University works with GlaxoSmithKline on pharmaceuticals, the University of Newcastle works with Brambles on printed solar collectors, and Sydney University is partnered with Telstra, Microsoft and Rio Tinto.

Edith Cowan University has 12-week work-integrated attachments for science students, and the University of Queensland commercialises research via its spin-off company UniQuest. UniQuest's first patent application for what was to become the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine was lodged in 1991.

The University of NSW Torch Innovation Precinct ("We invite you to join us moving from mining and manufacturing to mass innovation and mass entrepreneurship"), which opened in 2016 and is focused heavily on China, is a "good model for driving growth", UNSW vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs says. "It's not going to release spare cash. But it covers its costs and it means we can do additional research."

Professor Jacobs says he has been "hammering" the link between university and business for five years. Universities get cash flow and job-ready graduates and businesses get intellectual property.

COVID-19 has also proven the possibility of some cost savings. UNSW Sydney thought it was at capacity three years ago, the vice-chancellor says. Now that idea is "up for review".

Collaboration, between universities or with business, looks like the best option for universities trying to maintain growth in the face of falling international enrolments.


Strict social distancing rules for lifts, which would have created havoc for office workers around the country, have been ditched

Safe Work Australia reversed its guidelines on Wednesday stating that there was now "no requirement to provide four square metres of space per person in lifts".

The revised rules say that "you must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas".

It is a significant back down from the previous rules that would have created a major choke point for returning workers, adding hours to their journey, if only a few people could travel in a lift at any one time to maintain a 1.5-metre distance from each other.

The Property Council of Australia, which had lobbied strongly on the issue with the federal Attorney-General and Safe Work Australia, welcomed the major concession.

"The new guidelines on lift usage are sensible and practical, and give our building owners, managers and their tenants the certainty they need to plan their return to the office in coming weeks,” said the PCA's chief executive Ken Morrison.

“If we hadn't have had this outcome we would have had people milling around unable to get to their offices, posing a transmission risk in foyer areas.

“It provides recognition that if the COVIDSafe app requires a 15-minute proximity test before it does a digital handshake, then riding for a minute or a minute-and-a-half in a lift certainly doesn’t present that risk.”

Darren Steinberg, chief executive of Australia’s largest office landlord, Dexus, welcomed the decision and said the removal of the four square metre restrictions in lifts would go a long way to enabling people to get to their tenancies in a quick and efficient manner.

“It is a far more sensible approach because it is all about the worker experience when we get back to work full time and this would have been a major detractor, spending a significant amount of time waiting for lifts," he said.

But he warned there would still be delays given some restrictions in lifts would remain.

In landmark towers, such as Sydney's Australia Square which has smaller lifts, the previous 1.5-metre rule would have limited lift capacity to just two people.

Workers could have been forced to wait as much as three hours to get to their desks at peak times if all staff were back at work, according to estimates by building owner Dexus.

To ensure lift rides are as safe as possible, the revised rules encourage the use of staggered start and finish times, along with working from home arrangements for some staff.

The Work Safe rules also encourage lift programming to be modified to allow more efficient flow of users.

The updated rules retain the requirements of four square metres of space per person within offices and the need for a 1.5-metre separation between them.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Now that the worst of COVID-19 is over, we must focus on the economy

Scott Morrison

Several weeks ago I said that Australians were a strong people, but with the pandemic upon us, we were about to find out just how strong we were.

Facing the most serious threat to our way of life in generations, Australians have stepped up.  We’ve adapted, made sacrifices, and made sure we have supported each other.

We’ve worked together – employers and employees to save jobs; banks working to save businesses and homes; and even in politics, we’ve found common ground on many fronts through the National Cabinet of states and territories with the federal government.

For many of us, the changes have brought home what is most important – the bonds of family, community and country.

Millions of Australians have been hit by devastating job losses, reduced hours, and business uncertainty. A hard reminder about just how much we depend on a strong economy for the essentials we rely on.

At the same time we have experienced the vulnerability and frustration of isolation, especially tough on those who are older and were more vulnerable to begin with.

These sacrifices have enabled us to do what most countries haven’t. We have been winning our fight against the virus, flattening the curve at the same time as boosting our health system.

While we are no more immune than we were three months ago, we now have much stronger protections in place in our health system.

Like a physical recovery, economic recoveries take time and effort.

Having taken up the fight to the virus and having bought time with emergency lifelines such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs, we are now reopening our economy.

The National Cabinet, made up of the state, territory, and federal leaders, has agreed on a three-step plan to achieve a COVID-safe economy and society and is implementing that plan. Step one is almost done.

A key part of step one is finally getting kids back into school. This is also well underway, especially here in NSW.

Treasury estimates that the benefits of step one being lifted will result in 250,000 people going back to work, including 83,000 people in NSW. Step one will put $1 billion back into the NSW economy every month.

By the end of step three, 850,000 people will be able to get back in work including 280,000 in NSW. With NSW representing one-third of our national economy, reopening NSW safely is a critical part of our national recovery.

In the coming months, we need to keep building confidence and momentum in our economy. This will enable us to shift our reliance from emergency assistance programs like JobKeeper, to real and sustainable incomes that can only come by restoring jobs in the workplace.

JobKeeper is an emergency $130 billion lifeline provided by the federal government to more than 6 million Australians in their time of greatest need. It’s the most expensive program in Australia’s history. And then there is the doubling of JobSeeker payments to help all those who are unable to access JobKeeper through their workplace.

These are important emergency supports, but at more than $20 billion per month they cannot go on forever. There is no money tree. All of this money has to be borrowed and paid back.

The JobKeeper and the expanded JobSeeker programs are buying us valuable time to chart our way back, but they are not the plan.

Getting people back into real jobs in growing businesses is the only sustainable way we will get Australians and our economy back on their feet.

But looking to the future, I would rather be in Australia than anywhere else in the world.

The foundation of our recovery will be continued success on the health front.

That means having a COVID safe Australia. Relying on the capability we are building to track and trace the virus. More Australians downloading the COVIDSafe app will strengthen this capacity – it is vital to our national efforts.

As well, businesses, unions and governments are working on efforts to ensure our workplaces are COVID safe. For many businesses, that will mean adjustments to existing layouts, practices and policies.

Beyond the here and now, we need to look at policy settings across all areas and ask a simple question: Are they fit-for-purpose to create jobs and fire economic growth?

On tax, on getting state and federal governments to work better together, in enabling workers and their employers to do better deals where they can both benefit, on getting rid of job destroying government regulation, on making energy more affordable and reliable, and making sure we are training Australians with the skills they need to be successful in their jobs.

This pandemic has shown we can never be complacent about the things we need to do to grow our economy and generate jobs.

While we face the greatest economic shock in 90 years, I am an optimist about what is ahead.

Throughout this pandemic, Australians have shown each other what we can achieve when we work together.


Coronavirus Australia: We can’t spend the rest of our lives avoiding risks

How good are Australians in a ­crisis? The number of active cases of COVID-19 has fallen steadily for more than six weeks. At the start of last month, there were almos­t 5000 known carriers. Today there is a tenth as many.

If you want to know what a health crisis really looks like, turn to Britain, where 2642 fatalities have been announced in the past week, pushing deaths per million to 521. In Australia there have been just four per million.

That suggests it is safe to let the experts stand down and put the politicians back in charge. The extraordinary powers given to medical officers and police chiefs should be withdrawn to allow the hard work to begin.

Last week’s unemployment figures are just a taste of the post-pandemic misery. JobKeeper payments have kept Australians employed for now, but not every job is salvageable. Hundreds of thousands more people are likely to be out of work when the payments are wound back.

By any reasonable measure, the health crisis has been averted. Yet the experts who were so swift to alert us to the danger in the first place are slow to admit it.

A second wave, however unwelcome, would almost certainly be smaller than the first. We are far better prepared for its arrival thanks to the investment in ­testing, tracing and additional hospital facilities.

Credit also belongs to the Aust­ralian people, who have sacrificed­ much to beat this virus. Those who still have jobs should be allowed to return to them.

As Scott Morrison was at pains to point out on May 1, opening up the economy involves risk. There will be further outbreaks. More people will be infected and some could die.

Yet we are beyond the point where the pain averted by keeping people at home is greater than the pain it causes. And we are well beyond­ the point when the damage­ to the economy ($4bn a week) can be seen as a necessary or proportionate response.

Let us recall the reason for taking these drastic measures. In late March the virus appeared to be spreading exponentially, such that demand for acute hospital beds might outstrip supply.

The lockdown, together with the work of federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, ensured that didn’t happen. The number of intensive care unit beds tripled to more than 7000. Fewer than 100 were occupied by COVID-19 patients at the height of the pandemic. Yesterday 11 were in use.

With our borders closed, the risk that another wave could be large enough to swamp our health services is extremely slight.

The risk is even lower in South Australia. A swift response from Premier Steven Marshall — the closing of state borders, enforced quarantine for South Australians returning home and the appointment of a state co-ordinator under the Emergency Management Act — allowed SA to contain the virus better than most.

Only one new case has been detected in the state over the past three weeks. Of the 439 cases identified, 435 have recovered. Sadly, the other four died.

Yet bars and pubs remain closed. Cafes and restaurants are limited to 10 patrons at a time, making reopening a loss-making option for most.

Police can issue a $5000 on-the-spot fine to anyone reckless enough to invite more than seven guests to a wedding or 20 mourners to an indoor funeral.

Under whose authority is this extraordinary power given to the police? The authority of the SA Police Commissioner himself, Grant Stevens, who was appointed state co-ordinator of emergency manageme­nt on March 22.

Now that SA is, as near as ­dammit, virus free, Stevens is ­entitled to pat himself on the back, drop in at Government House and relinquish his emergency power, which will otherwise not expire until the end of the month.

Don’t hold your breath. Like the health experts appointed to save us from becoming the Italy of the south, Stevens is in no hurry to return to his day job.

SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier put on a “Fri-yay” top to celebrate the “fantastic” news of the state’s clean bill of health, but seems less than eager to step out of the limelight. There was no room for complacency, she warned. There was always the threat of a second wave.

Expert as Spurrier and Stevens might be in their respective fields, health and public order is not the expertise we need at this moment.

Our challenge now is avoiding deep, damaging recession. We need experts in assessing the nationa­l interest, weighing risks and evaluating competing public policy goals. We need experts who can balance the need for a healthy population against the imperative of a healthy economy, particularly in SA, where unemployment is at 7.2 per cent, the highest in the country.

In other words, we need the expertis­e of parliamentarians whose jobs depend on recognising the public interest. The power to make decisions should be remove­d from unelected officials and returned to those with a popular mandate.

The hard road is still ahead. Extraordinary public health measures that impinge on indiv­idual liberty were popular six weeks ago, when the shops were out of toilet paper. Today, they are a burden.

Having controlled this virus better than almost anyone expec­ted, by normalising social ­distancing, reducing international arrivals to a trickle and restricting interstate travel to essential business, governments must act quickly to lift restrictions.

The speed of economic recovery will depend on the willingness of businesses to take risks by investin­g and hiring, despite the uncertainties that will bedevil us.

Governments must lead by exampl­e before the culture of risk-avoidance that takes hold in a pandemic becomes entrenched in public and commercial life.


Public holiday date is moved to create another long weekend for Australians in a bid to boost domestic tourism

A public holiday has been moved forward to create a new long weekend in Queensland as the premier pushes to boost domestic tourism.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Thursday the usual mid-week public holiday for Ekka - the Royal Queensland Show - is being moved back to Friday August 12.

'The Ekka public holiday will move from Wednesday, 12 August to Friday, 14 August to support our tourism industry,' Ms Palaszczuk tweeted.

'For one year only, People’s Day will become the People’s Long Weekend and I’m calling on Queenslanders to use it to boost local tourism.'

The show has been scrapped this year because of COVID-19, but it is hoped the creation of a long weekend will encourage families to further explore their local region.

Ms Palaszczuk on Thursday has also urged the state to plan winter holidays within their regions during the upcoming school break.

She said there had been confusion over the school holiday restrictions, but that Queenslanders would be permitted to travel up to 250km.

'They can holiday in Queensland in their regional areas so I really want to encourage people as much as possible to start planning those holidays and support our tourism industry,' she said.

The announcements come as she faces pressure from the tourism industry and other stakeholders to open the borders.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has repeatedly pushed for Queensland to relax the rules to allow interstate travellers to visit the Sunshine State for a holiday.

But Queensland is holding firm, saying the borders will remain closed until the southern states can bring their COVID-19 cases under control.

Transport Minister Mark Bailey said on Thursday the government won't take health advice from NSW, which has recorded 49 deaths from the virus and is still regularly recording new cases.

'We won't be lectured to by the worst performing state,' he said. 'It's time for Gladys and the NSW government to get their act together and start performing as well as Queensland has on the health front.'

Ms Palaszczuk agreed. 'I hope they get their community transmission under control because that means we will be able to open up sooner,' she said.

The premier is also facing pressure from One Nation leader Pauline Hanson who has engaged a pro bono constitutional lawyer to represent businesses affected by the border closure in a High Court challenge.

'It is unconstitutional for Premier Palaszczuk to close Queensland's border and her actions are causing me a great deal of concern for the economic viability of our state,' Senator Hanson wrote on Facebook.

Ms Palaszczuk said a court challenge was a matter for Ms Hanson. 'But, by the time any action gets to the High Court, I'm quite sure the borders would be open.'

Queensland recorded no new cases of COVID-19 overnight. There as 12 active cases remaining


Reading wars hit home during lockdown lessons

“Dogs say ‘woof’, cats say ‘meow’, what does the letter ‘a’ say?”

And so it began. Perched at the dining table, armed with a 257-page guide on teaching a child to read, I was about to try to do just that. My daughter, Margot, had been at school for two months when the niggling concerns about her reading progress began.

Aged 5½, she could read and write her name independently, but not much else. Despite years of reading to her, singing songs and learning rhymes — many of which were learned by heart — she had difficulty identifying all the letters of the alphabet consistently, while her ability to link the letters with their various sounds was hit-and-miss.

Her teacher reassured me that she was where she was meant to be for a foundation-level student. Still, I was haunted by a conversation I’d once had with a prominent education academic who suggested all the journalists she knew had their children reading by the time they started school.

One evening, I sat down with my daughter to read one of the readers sent home from school and noticed how her eyes were automatically drawn to the pictures. It was hardly surprising; the images were obnoxiously large, overshadowing the much smaller text. As I suggested she point at each word and try to sound out each of the letters, she ignored me and started blurting out what she guessed they might be based on the image.

Frustrated by my gentle attempts at bringing her attention back to the words, she told me crossly that Eagle Eye was helping her to read.

As an education journalist, I know all about this Eagle Eye character who encourages children to guess an unfamiliar word by looking at the picture. Along with pals Lips the Fish (“get your lips ready to try the first sound”) and Skippy the Frog (“let’s skip that word altogether”), these child-friendly characters are a common feature of classrooms that adhere to the balanced literacy approach to reading instruction.

Balanced literacy emerged from whole-language reading instruction, spawned in the late 1960s, whereby children were expected to learn to read whole words naturally, merely as a result of plentiful exposure to books and writing. While balanced literacy concedes that children may need some guidance, it is based on a problematic theory called multi-cueing, also known as three-­cueing, which surmises that a reader looks for meaning, structure and visual cues to help make sense of what is on the page.

Countless researchers from across the globe have dismissed multi-cueing as an ineffective system on which to base reading ­instruction lacking in any evidentiary basis. Yet cueing strategies are popular in many primary classrooms because children often experience some early success using picture cues and context to identify words, especially when aided by repetitive and predictable texts.

However, as Sir Jim Rose, whose landmark 2006 review of reading in the UK was key to the development of Britain’s Primary National Strategy for Reading, has pointed out, “children who routinely adopt alternative cues for reading unknown words, instead of learning to decode them, later find themselves stranded when texts become more demanding and meanings less predictable”.

Through my work I had written about many schools that had transformed their reading results and they typically shared one common feature: they had implemented a phonics program.

While the mere mention of the word phonics risks sparking an outbreak in the long-running reading wars, the debate has at least moved on from whether to teach phonics — the research says we should — to how it is best taught.

In Victoria, where I live, the­ ­Department of Education and Training promotes a balanced literacy approach to teaching reading, in which phonics is taught in ways deemed “meaningful to children”, such as reading books, having fun with rhymes and writing their own stories.

“Phonics instruction should take place within a meaningful, communicative, rich pedagogy, and within genuine literacy events,” the department’s Literacy Teaching Toolkit states.

With phonics in context, a typical lesson might involve the teacher reading with students and periodically stopping at a word to discuss the relationships between letters and sounds (known as phonemes). Occasionally there may be a lesson on a letter or sound, but they are not typically presented in a systematic, cumulative way.

In many other states, such as NSW and South Australia, public education authorities have endorsed a different approach called systematic synthetic phonics. Also known as “blended” phonics, it involves teaching a child about the individual letter-sound relationships first, then having the child combine or synthesise these sounds to form words. While learning to read successfully entails more than simply learning phonics skills — it also depends on the development of phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension skills — major reviews of the teaching of reading in Australia, Britain and the US during the past 18 years have consistently identified ­phonics as a key component of an effective program.

The research also comes down on the side of synthetic phonics.

According to the NSW Education Department’s guide for schools on effective reading ­instruction: “There are a number of different approaches to teaching phonics, with varying levels of effectiveness. The most effective method is called synthetic phonics.” The document highlights results from a longitudinal study undertaken in Scotland that compared synthetic phonics with two analytic phonics programs.

At the end of these programs, children in the synthetic phonics group were reading around seven months ahead of children in the other two groups and were spelling eight to nine months ahead of the other groups.

Seven years on, those in the synthetic phonics group had extended their advantage further.

I was attracted to the simplicity at the core of the synthetic phonics approach; the way children were taught sequentially, starting out learning some simple letter-sound relationships, working towards the more complex end of the spectrum. For a parent with no teaching expertise, it seemed somewhat achievable. And with schools effectively set to close indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic, I finally had the time to help my daughter learn to read.

Having asked several literacy specialists and teachers what programs they rated, I settled on one devised by US author Stephen Parker called Teaching a Preschooler to Read (also suitable for primary schoolers). Parker, a retired teacher, has a knack for using plain language to explain a pretty technical topic. The guide, aimed specifically at parents, maps out clearly what to teach, when to teach it and how.

My first task was to refamiliarise myself with what is known in literacy circles as the alphabetic code. As Parker explains, the alphabet itself is only part of the code, with the 26 letters symbolising 44 different sounds. There are 20 vowel sounds (such as the short A in apple or axe but also the longer A in acorn) and 24 consonant sounds (B in bat and D in dad but also “th” and “sh” and the “ng” in king).

A list of those 44 phonemes was my constant companion during the coming weeks, and I swear I started to have nightmares about mixing up those short and long vowel sounds.

Stage one of the program kicked off with teaching my daughter the five short vowel sounds as well as M, N and S .

With a new Sharpie I wrote each letter on an index card and we practised saying the letters and their corresponding sounds every day. We also started to pay more attention to letters in our environment. Walking down the street, I’d point to the number plates on cars and ask Margot whether she could spot any of “her letters”, as we’d call them, and sound them out.

With her confidence growing, we moved on to decoding simple two and three-letter words. As with the letters, I wrote them on the index cards. To make a game, I had her flip them over and attempt to sound them out.

“A-n … An!” She got it on the first attempt.

I asked when she would use such a word.

“I would like an apple,” she replied. I was quietly impressed.

She moved on to the next word.

“M-a-n … Man.” Again no problem.

“N-a-n … Nan.” Ditto.

And that brought us to the word “sun”. She looked at it, then looked at me with a strained ­expression.

“Snake,” Margot said. I asked her to try again, this time concentrating on each letter. “Sam! S-s-s-sit!” She was becoming frantic, reeling off any word she could think of that started with S.

We were done for the day.

The next time we sat down to practise phonics I introduced her to the Decoding Dragon. The invention of Melbourne linguist and author Lyn Stone, the dragon’s job was to chase away those Guessing Monsters, including the hit-and-miss Eagle Eye.

While I was no fan of Eagle Eye, I decided to redeploy him. I told Margot that Eagle Eye had a new job and would help her focus on each of the letters as the Decoding Dragon would help her to sound them out.

Our little sessions continued. Some days were great. Others — quite a few actually — were a grind. Small children have very short attention spans and I learned my daughter has quite a stubborn streak. Overall, I could see a trend of improvement and a growing confidence. Each time she successfully sounded out a new word, I’d place the index card into her “special word box”.

“Look how many words are in your word box!” I said one morning. “I know,” she said, “I’m killing it.”

I made a decision early on to be upfront with the school about tackling phonics at home and my intention to replace the predictable readers for decodable books.

The teacher was receptive and supportive, going so far as to recommend several online apps for decodable readers, many of which were free as a result of the pandemic. However, concerned about the amount of screentime we were already having, I decided to purchase a hard-copy set. At $420 for 60 readers, they weren’t cheap but I felt it was a necessary investment.

One morning I took to Twitter and mentioned how excited I was that the readers had arrived in the post, only to see first hand how divisive their use is in literacy circles.

With titles such as Pat the Rat, The Pan and The Map, decodables are designed so a novice reader can practice reading the words they have already been explicitly taught.

“A pan sits!” mocked one teacher. “Fit rats. No thankyou.”

“Read to your daughter with ‘real-world’ words,” demanded another.

I won’t lie; I don’t particularly love the books. The language is basic and sometimes seems stilted. They won’t win any literary prizes. But they are not aimed at me — a proficient reader — but at a child, for whom deciphering the strange squiggles on the page is a hugely laborious task.

Further, they are merely a stepping stone along the path to becoming a reader

We’ve been at this caper for two months now and have just moved on to stage two of the program, which involves introducing the letters D, P, G and T. In the meantime Margot’s teachers, who have been doing an exceptional job teaching the children remotely, have introduced the digraph “th” as well as a bank of common ­English words such as the, is, was and my.

With school set to resume next week, I find myself reflecting on her progress. Can she read independently? Not even close; we are still very much at the start of this process. But I no longer feel that underlying sense of guilt about whether I could be doing more to help her out.

The word box is getting quite full and my daughter can now read many of them automatically. At night, when I read her a bedtime story, she will stop me to point out words she knows.

The other day I told her she was starting to read like a grown up. “I know,” she replied, “The Decod­ing Dragon has been helping me.”


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Friday, May 22, 2020

‘It is unconstitutional’: Pauline Hanson threatens to take ‘scaremongering, lawless’ Queensland premier to the High Court for refusing to open up the borders

Pauline is referring to Section 92 of the constitition, which reads "On the imposition of uniform duties of customs, trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free." That "absolutely free" is hard to get around so Annastacia Palaszczuk is clearly breaking the law with her restrictions

Pauline Hanson is threatening to take the Queensland premier to court over the state's controversial decision to keep the borders shut, despite the coronavirus curve flattening nationwide.

With businesses crippled across the state, Annastacia Palaszczuk has insisted keeping the state borders closed is for the good of people's health.

There have been just 1,058 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Queensland, and only 12 known active cases.

It comes as restrictions were eased or lifted entirely across the country, with NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian even encouraging families to book holidays.

With Queensland refusing to do the same, Ms Hanson has vowed to 'take the premier on' over the 'unconstitutional' and 'political' border closures.

'I raised last week that I think it's unconstitutional what the premier of Queensland is doing keeping borders closed for trade and commerce under section 92 of the Australian constitution', Ms Hanson told Sky News.

'Speaking to other people, they totally agree with me.

'I'm calling on Queenslanders who've been affected by either their families being destroyed, or inconvenience or trade.

'Those tourist operators who rely on tourists coming there have had their businesses affected.

'It's unconstitutional to do what they're doing, it's important to hold her to account and I think it's a political move what she's doing.

'When I see my state in dire straights, you've got communities that are dying, we need the tourists from down south coming up through Queensland.

Labor's Ms Palaszczuk, who says she is putting the health of the people she leads first, is also facing pressure from other states to remove the border block.

'The very, very earliest, and only if everything went absolutely perfectly, we might be able to think about opening up our border in July,' Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young said on Wednesday.

'If the tourism industry wants a more realistic scenario they should be preparing for September.'

Dr Young says she herself would like certainty over when the border will open, but cannot commit to any timeframe.

She said a September re-opening may not even be feasible if interstate cases are not brought under control.

Senator Hanson said she had engaged a pro bono constitutional lawyer to represent businesses affected by the border closure in a High Court challenge.

'It is unconstitutional for premier Palaszczuk to close Queensland's border and her actions are causing me a great deal of concern for the economic viability of our state,' Senator Hanson wrote on Facebook.

'There is no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, and until there is, all states and territories must learn to live with the virus. 


Australians should say 'ya'll' instead of 'ladies and gentlemen' - according to politically correct new push for 'gender-neutral language'

Australians should be saying 'y'all' instead of 'ladies and gentlemen' or 'boys and girls', according to the United Nations, which has intensified its push for 'gender-neutral language'.

UN Women Australia, a national branch of the global organisation, tweeted part of a its new 'gender-neutral dictionary' on Monday.

The list urged people to replace common words such as 'landlord', 'husband/wife' and 'manpower' with 'owner', 'spouse' and 'workforce'.

A more comprehensive list on the website directed Australians to use Americanisms such as 'y'all' or 'folks' instead of 'ladies and gentlemen' or 'boys and girls'.

According to the guidelines on the website, the list was made to promote gender equality by abandoning gender-based pronouns, such as 'he' and 'she', and replace them with generic terms, such as 'they'.

New South Wales One Nation leader Mark Latham described the guidelines as 'ludicrous'. 'I'd tell them - y'all crazy,' he told The Daily Telegraph.

'My advice to them is that if they want to use "y'all" I'd strongly advice them to go and live in the United States, go to Alabama.'

Mr Latham said UN Women Australia - which strives to achieve gender equality around the world - should be closed down.

The Institute of Public Affairs' Dr Bella D'Abrera said the recommendations curtail free speech.

'The UN's ridiculous attempt to curtail free speech by dictating which words we can and cannot use is a fundamental attack on the very human rights it purports to defend,' she said.

She claimed the UN is more interested in 'social engineering' than maintaining international peace.

The tweet garnered thousands of responses slamming the organisation for the 'tone deaf' post.  'Stop trying to control people's language. It's creepy and unnecessary,' one woman wrote.

Another pointed out many languages other than English largely comprise gendered words.

'Are you going to rewrite all languages that incorporate grammatical gender? Or is that suppressing a culture,' they asked.

'The coronavirus is ripping through countries killing hundreds of thousands of people and this is what this tone deaf incompetent organization is focused on,' a third said.


Retirees facing financial as well as health risks in coronavirus pandemic

Spare a thought for self-funded retirees in these difficult times. Not only are they in the age bracket most at risk from the virus, but their financial wellbeing in retirement is being put at substantial risk.

The collapse in the stock market, including among most blue chip stocks, is just the start of their financial pain. These big businesses, even if they survive, aren’t likely to pay out the dividends they once did for years to come, if ever.

The financial plans of self-funded retirees are built around dividend projections which therefore no longer apply, and with interest rates so low its not as though they can simply transfer their saving into cash accounts and do any better.

The RBA cash rate is at a record low.

The difficulties self-funded retirees face in low interest rate environments is the flip side to the benefits those of us with homes loans get from lower rates for borrowing.

Lower interest rates has become a way of life, but the prospects of rates surging north again anytime soon seems unlikely. Even if it does happen, it will only be in conjunction with inflation, which erodes spending power at the same time.

On the policy front, there isn’t much there for self-funded retirees to cushion the blow. While Jobseeker and JobKeeper are doling out tens of billions of taxpayers dollars to keep working age Australians in jobs or at least above the poverty line, self-funded retirees are getting no such support.

Even pensioners have received a boost to their pensions to help them get through these tough times. But the self-funded retirees who voted en-masse against Bill Shorten and his franking credits policy have become the forgotten people among Coalition supporters.

Their loyalty hasn’t translated into being looked after now. And because Labor is still licking its wounds from last year’s May election defeat, it hasn’t exactly been inclined to highlight their plight and put pressure on the government to do something to help this large voting cohort.

Rather, Labor has focused its attention on the plight of many casuals who are missing out on JobKeeper, and the university sector which isn’t eligible for the payments. Or childcare users who would benefit from free childcare continuing for longer. Or workers for foreign companies ineligible for JobKeeper. Or indeed anyone who might benefit from Newstart not returning to the low levels it was pegged at previously.

What about self-funded retirees? They truly are the forgotten people in this crisis. Taken for granted by a government that would not have won the last election had it not been for their support. Forgotten by an opposition that has written them off politically.

While I have long been critical of the unsustainable tax breaks for many older Australians, especially those with very large savings, the self-funded retirees who only just miss out on a part pension and concession card benefits are the ones caught in the middle right now.

As Ian Henschke from National Seniors has pointed out, some self-funded retirees — because of this crisis — are now drawing on an annual payout from their investments lower than the annual pension. To survive they would need to draw down their savings right at a time when their value has been halved. He wants to see discussion about legislating a universal pension in the wake of this crisis to ensure that can’t happen.

Whether that is a long-term solution or not is debatable — indeed whether it is fiscally viable is highly debatable. But there is little doubt this cohort of senior Australians deserves more than the cold shoulder.

Especially from a Coalition government.


Whitehaven Coal's $700m Vickery coal mine expansion plan clears another hurdle

WHITEHAVEN Coal has cleared another hurdle in its push for a $700 million coal mine expansion near Gunnedah, in north-eastern NSW.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has recommended the project is "approvable" and pushed the application to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).

The application seeks to extend the Vickery coal mine, about 25km out of Gunnedah, and develop a new coal handling and preparation plant, as well as a rail spur line to connect to the main railway that leads to the Port of Newcastle. This would mean the end of coal trucks transporting the goods on the road to Gunnedah.

The project - which went on public exhibition in the latter half of 2018 - attracted 560 submissions with 345 in support of the project, and 201 who opposed the plan.

In September last year, Vickery Coal submitted an amended application. It's expected to generate 450 jobs as well as 500 during construction, as well as a net benefit of $1.16 billion to the state.

The Department released its report on Tuesday and highlighted key issues for the IPC to consider which included impacts on water resources, amenity and biodiversity.

The report from the department will now be considered by the IPC who will hold a further public hearing in coming weeks. The IPC must make a final determination on the project within 12 weeks.

Whitehaven Coal issued a statement on Wednesday welcoming the release of the report.

"We know there is strong support for Vickery from the comprehensive community consultation process that has already been undertaken - 60% of public submissions to the Department of Planning and 75% to the IPC called for the Project to be approved," Whitehaven Coal Managing Director and CEO Paul Flynn said

But in April, the mining giant put all expansion decisions on hold due to "volatile financial market conditions", including the Vickery mine expansion.

"While coal markets in the March quarter have demonstrated their resilience, volatile financial market conditions caused Whitehaven to continue to be cautious in allocating capital to expansion," the company said at the time.

Lock the Gate - a vocal opponent of the expansion plan - has long maintained the coal mine "will damage local groundwater, put an iconic heritage property at risk, and worsen the social damage large-scale mining has already inflicted on the local community".

 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How scrapping ‘free’ childcare will hurt providers, parents and children

In recent days both the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Education Minister Dan Tehan have indicated that the “free” childcare arrangement they initially promised for six months may be shelved as early as June 28.

To understand why this will be catastrophic for parents and centres you only have to look to the comments the PM himself made when announcing the rescue package.

“Child care and early childhood education is critical,” Prime Minister Morrison explained.

“Particularly for those Australians who rely on it so they can go to work every day, particularly those who are working in such critical areas. I don’t want a parent to have to choose between feeding their kids and having their kids looked after, or having their education being provided.”

He continued: “This virus is going to take enough from Australians without putting Australian parents in that position of having to choose between the economic wellbeing of their family or the care and support and education of their children. I won’t cop a situation where a parent is put in that place with their kids.”

If the government proceeds with its reported plan to pull the rug out on free childcare and “snap back” to the old system on June 28 that is precisely the situation many parents will face.

And other children will no longer have access to the education and support their early learning currently provides – not necessarily because of their parent’s positions – but because up to 86 per cent of childcare centres will be at risk of closing if the old system is suddenly switched back on.

The government’s own review of its rescue package was reported yesterday and it indicates that 86 per cent of centres said the package had stopped them from closing its doors. All of those centres will be in jeopardy without the current relief in place.

According to the government review, attendance rates at centres across the board are currently just 63 per cent of ordinary times, which is well below break-even point, and not viable. Without the lure of free care, operators are expecting those numbers to drop further still.

Given more than 600,000 Australians lost work last month alone it’s highly unlikely parents will be able to afford the same level of care now that they could three months ago.

The government intervened in April because parents were fleeing from centres in droves, driven by either health concerns related to the pandemic, or drastically changed financial positions, or both.

The health risk of COVID-19 is certainly less now than it was in April, but the devastating economic damage this pandemic has unleashed remains alive and well – and is unlikely to be repaired any time soon.

Charging full fees again will place unsustainable economic pressure on parents who are already squeezed; many will no longer be able to afford access to the education and care their children deserve.

Without children enrolled close to pre-COVID-19 numbers this vital sector’s ability to survive will be compromised.

The Prime Minister has said free childcare is not sustainable. But withdrawing this relief early and attempting to snap back while we are still in the midst of the economic fall out of this health crisis is not sustainable either.

Providing “free childcare” is costly and not perfect. But it won’t cost Australia nearly as much as it will if the early childhood education sector falls over altogether. We cannot afford that collapse – not for our economy, our communities and least of all our children.

Instead of unwinding this reform we need to strive for better and spend the next few weeks and months ensuring the early childhood education and care sector is strong enough to emerge from COVID-19 not just intact, but better than ever. For children, educators and families.


Turnbull left us a dud school curriculum

In his recent memoir, A Bigger Picture, Malcolm Turnbull presents an ego-centred, delusional account of the way he single-handedly solved the school funding issue and ensured Australian students’ dismal performance in international tests would improve.

Wrong on both accounts. Not only was the Gonski 2.0 funding model flawed, inequitable and guilty of penalising low-fee schools, especially Catholic, but the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools also proved to be a dud calculated to dumb down the curriculum further, ensuring even lower standards.

Chapter 40 of the former prime minister’s book centres on the May 2, 2017, press conference announcing a new school funding agreement titled Gonski 2.0, named after the report’s chairman, David Gonski, and the intention to appoint Gonski as chairman of the education review.

Turnbull lauds the event as a political masterstroke as Gonski had been chosen by the ALP’s Julia Gillard when education minister to review school funding and the “I give a Gonski” slogan was a key plank in the left-leaning Australian Education Union’s campaign to attack conservative governments.

By securing Gonski’s involvement, Turnbull boasts: “I’d ensured that all those ‘I give a Gonski’ posters, banners, corflutes, T-shirts and hats were heading to the recycling bin. Because we didn’t just ‘give a Gonski’, we had his support: he was standing right next to me as we announced our new school funding policy.”

While Turnbull writes he had settled the funding wars as schools now had a model that was “genuinely national, consistent and needs-based”, nothing could be further from the truth.

Stephen Farish, the expert responsible for developing the methodology employed by Gonski 2.0 to quantify how much funding non-government schools received, admitted it “clearly isn’t working”. Under Turnbull as prime minister wealthy independent schools were treated the same as low-fee, less privileged Catholic schools.

Even worse, Simon Birmingham, the federal education minister at the time, and Turnbull knew the Gonski 2.0 funding model was inequitable as months earlier the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria had published a paper — Capacity to Contribute and SES Scores — proving the model reinforced disadvantage.

Significant is that the analysis and conclusions reached by the CECV paper subsequently were endorsed by a commonwealth review of school funding chaired by Michael Chaney that concluded the Gonski 2.0 model was so corrupted it had to be replaced by a more equitable way of deciding funding to non-government schools.

By ignoring the CECV’s paper, in addition to endorsing a flawed funding model, Turnbull also demonstrated how politically inept he was by igniting a nationwide campaign led by Stephen Elder, then executive director of Catholic Education Melbourne, arguing for a more equitable funding model.

In addition to launching Gonski 2.0, Turnbull announced the curriculum review to try to achieve excellence in Australian schools by identifying the most effective way to raise standards.

Describing Gonski’s experience and qualifications to determine how to overcome Australia’s academic underperformance as measured by international tests, Turnbull called Gonski “my old school friend, debating partner and neighbour” and “one of Australia’s leading capitalists and a director of banks”.

Not mentioned in Turnbull’s book is that the eventual report published in March 2018 was flawed, substandard and guaranteed to lower standards further.

Instead of explicit and rigorous year-level standards where students would be graded and evaluated in terms of performance, the review embraced costly and unproven educational fads such as progression points and developmental learning. Students would no longer pass or fail as the focus turned to formative assessment and personal growth.

The report also undervalued what American academic Jerome Bruner described as teaching “the structure of the discipline” in favour of content-free, vacuous so-called 21st-century generic competencies.

The review ignored findings by the National Research Council in the US in the acclaimed publication, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, that a “fundamental understanding of subjects” was essential if students were to become “self-sustaining, lifelong learners”.

Jennifer Buckingham, then a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, wrote at the time that “the solutions posed in this report will take us further in the wrong direction. If implemented, the Gonski 2.0 report will just be another chapter in the story of Australia’s sad educational decline”.

It’s understandable why failed politicians such as Malcolm Turnbull want to ensure their version of events dominates the historical record. But A Bigger Picture shows how he failed Australian schoolchildren.


No longer a joke: Why Australia's COVID-19 inquiry campaign won the day

Australia's role in landing an independent investigation into coronavirus was dismissed by Beijing as a joke. Our transgression was not in the substance of the argument but in speaking out of turn.

This uppity island nation of 25 million marshalling support for an independent inquiry infuriated Beijing.

The long standing trade relationship between Australia and China is under strain after the coronavirus halted imports and exports, forcing Australia to look inwards to develop manufacturing.

Good fortune, effective government policy and the public's embrace of social distancing measures had put Australia on course to suppress the virus before any other middle power. Seeing a diplomatic opening, Australia stuck its neck out and pushed for the inquiry.

More significantly, it acted on the rhetoric and began building a coalition with Europe. The prospect of an alliance with the Trump administration had been poisoned diplomatically by White House claims of a "Wuhan lab virus".

This was a historic move by Australia.

Overnight, almost a month to the day since Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne first lobbied for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, the motion to establish one passed the World Health Assembly unanimously.

There were no objections. The resolution had the largest number of co-sponsors in history -137 countries in total for a motion that will examine both the origins of the coronavirus and the role of the World Health Organisation.

The last time Australia had played such a prominent international role was in 2015, when then foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop led calls to establish an MH17 inquiry after 298 people were shot out of the sky by a Russian-Ukrainian missile. The coronavirus has killed more than 300,000 and decimated the global economy.

China accused Australia of running a politically motivated campaign in April. Two trade strikes would follow in early May. They were of course, unrelated, we were told. About $1 billion in the barley and beef trade is now affected.

By Sunday, more than 60 countries had signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution. Its fate was sealed. For Beijing, it was much more preferable for the European Union to be seen as leaders of the resolution than those upstarts Down Under.

Europe has gravitas that Australia does not. Our negotiators recognised this early when they latched the first terms for an independent inquiry onto the draft of a European Union motion on April 29. It was happy to concede the lead, allowing countries to back the call without choosing "sides" in the rancorous three-way dispute between China, the US and Australia. China became one of the last dozen co-sponsors on Tuesday night, just before the vote.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian emphasised the European Union’s role this week after being asked about Australia’s push. "The EU submitted a draft resolution on COVID-19 to this year’s WHA, and the parties reached consensus on the content of the draft resolution after thorough discussion," he said.

"This is a slap to the face to countries like Australia - the most active player in pushing forward a so-called independent probe into China over the coronavirus outbreak, which was then rejected by the international community," China's international state media arm The Global Times said on Tuesday.

Behind the bluster, the reality is found in the actual motion.

The final text of two key clauses in the motion, OP9.6 and OP9.10 are identical to the draft motion agreed to by the European Union and Australia over the weekend. The same document was signed by China on Tuesday.

They establish a mechanism to identify the source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population and "an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the WHO's response to COVID-19" at the "earliest appropriate moment".

Compromise and negotiation saw any direct reference to China removed and terms such as "investigation" transformed into "review", but the substance of Australia's argument largely remains intact.

In fact it is far stronger now that the one initially agreed to by the European Union member states in April. That motion would have focused much more broadly on the "lessons learnt from the international health response to COVID-19".

No doubt questions still remain. China will use its weight, funding of the WHO and influence over developing countries to interpret the "earliest appropriate moment" as only once the pandemic has passed. That could be years away.

The footnotes of the motion reveal the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme will be engaged "as appropriate" to oversee inquiry into the WHO response.

The existing WHO committee consists of seven members drawn from national governments, non-governmental organisations, and the UN system, outside of the WHO itself.

Can they be truly independent inside an organisation that has shown itself to be caught and occasionally paralysed by the rising rhetoric and volatile funding of its two largest members?

But the significance of clause OP9.6 of the resolution should not be understated. The clause allows for scientific and collaborative field missions to enter China to determine the origin of the disease and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, those sites where the virus makes the fateful leap from bat or bird or pangolin to human.

China, which is not named, will argue that the same inspectors should be allowed to enter the US, having pushed the unfounded theory that the disease might have originated there.

The US will likewise argue that inspectors should be allowed into the Wuhan lab, a theory that is also unproven.

So they should. Both superpowers have signed the motion.


Angus Taylor says it is not Australia’s policy to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, despite signing up to the Paris agreement, because the Morrison government will not adopt a mid-century target in advance of a plan to achieve it.

The energy minister said on Tuesday that signatories to the Paris agreement, including Australia, had agreed to hit net zero “in the second half of the century”. But scientists say in order to meet the central Paris goal of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C – a commitment Australia adopted in 2015 – signatories need to hit net zero by 2050.

A new review of the government’s climate policies headed by former Business Council of Australia president Grant King notes that “like other signatories to the Paris agreement, Australia has agreed to adopt progressively more ambitious targets beyond 2030 and has endorsed the agreement’s overarching long-term goals, namely to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2C – and if possible below 1.5C – by achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible in the second half of the century”.

Major business groups, including the Business Council of Australia and the Ai Group, say Australia should adopt the net zero by 2050 target. Earlier this month the Ai Group called for the two biggest economic challenges in memory – recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and cutting greenhouse gas emissions – to be addressed together, saying it would boost growth and put the country on a firm long-term footing.

Every Australian state has signed up to net zero emissions by 2050, and these commitments are expressed either as targets or aspirational goals.

But asked on Tuesday whether net zero by 2050 was the federal government’s policy, Taylor said: “No.”

“Our approach is not to have a target without a plan,” Taylor told the ABC. He said technology improvements would drive significant reductions in emissions “and we’d love to be able to achieve net zero by 2050, but ultimately that will depend on the pathways of technology to deliver that without damaging the economy”.

The King review has recommended new approaches to reducing pollution including paying big emitters to keep their emissions below an agreed limit, and allowing businesses to bid for funding from the government’s climate policy – the $2.55bn emissions reduction fund – for projects that capture emissions and either use them or store them underground.

The King review proposal to pay emitters to remain below their baseline looks like a voluntary carbon trading mechanism. The review says the idea “could be achieved by crediting emissions reductions below baselines and providing for the sale and purchase of … safeguard mechanism credits by the federal, state or territory governments or through voluntary transactions in carbon markets”.

Despite that clear description in the review, Taylor contended initially on Tuesday the proposal was not a form of voluntary carbon trading. He said the review proposed a “carrot” to give companies an incentive to overachieve on their pollution reduction commitments.

The Coalition has spent a decade opposing carbon pricing, and it abolished the emissions trading scheme legislated during the Gillard government. Rightwingers in the Liberal party also moved against Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in part because he pursued a policy to reduce emissions in the electricity sector.

But after first saying the King proposal was not a form of carbon trading, the energy minister then argued that principle was “nothing new”. “You can trade Australian carbon credit units now. There is nothing new with that, that’s a pre-existing system we have through the emissions reduction fund.”

It is unclear whether some of the proposals in the review would garner majority parliamentary support, but Taylor said some of the proposals might be able to be achieved without changing legislation.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here