Saturday, September 16, 2006

Muslims given special help to get welfare

A special taxpayer-funded forum was held last night to ensure Lebanese Australians rescued from the war-torn Middle East will get priority access to our welfare system. The event, organised by the Iemma Government, brought together key state and federal agencies including Centrelink, housing and immigration to spell out entitlements - including rushing evacuees to the top of the public housing queue. The extent of the support disproves claims from community leaders including Keysar Trad that Australia's response to the Middle East crisis was "racist".

Centrelink forms in Arabic were distributed at the Rockdale City Town Hall in southern Sydney, showing how the dole, pension and other entitlements could be accessed. As Australian citizens, the 4000 evacuees are entitled to the benefits regardless of how long they have lived overseas. While tens of thousands of people grow frustrated at the critical shortage in public housing, a Department of Housing bureaucrat revealed Lebanese Australians caught up in the Middle East crisis now had priority status. "These people are Australians who have been living in Lebanon or were visiting Lebanon," department spokeswoman Vicki Samonte told the meeting. "With the recent crisis in Lebanon there are some people who have been approved for priority housing because they have met the criteria, so these people have already been housed by the department. "There are others who have been asked to find a rental property on the private market and we will assist them. We know they are in crisis so we assist them with the full bond."

Last night's forum was hosted by the Community Relations Commission, a State Government agency chaired by campaigner Stepan Kerkyasharian. The forum was entitled "Services available for Australian Lebanese affected by the recent conflict in the Middle East". The 100 evacuees and Lebanese community leaders who attended were given tips on how to maximise welfare payments for members of the community. Centrelink officers were on hand to issue leaflets in Arabic explaining how to go about claiming the Newstart allowance and parenting payment.

Immigration Department officer Danuta Szuszkiewicz explained the different types of visas that could be used to bring relatives to Australia. "Children can sponsor their elderly parents provided more of the parents' children live inside Australia rather than outside Australia," she said. Another speaker, Centrelink multicultural services officer Amal Taki, advised Lebanese Australians to tell the agency about their ordeal straight away to avoid payment delays. "We encourage people to call Centrelink and tell us that they have just arrived and intend to claim for a payment," Ms Taki said. "In some cases people have not been saying that."

The generous welfare program discredits claims by some Lebanese community leaders that Australia did nothing to help its citizens trapped in Lebanon. "This Government is initiating racism here. There are signs of the Federal Government breeding racism," Mr Trad said.


Religion back on school syllabus

Religion will return to Australia's state school classrooms, with students expected to study beliefs from the Aboriginal Dreamtime to the Koran. A high-powered team of academics working on a chronology of Australian history are united on threading a religious narrative through history teaching, but as an issue rather than a matter of faith.

Federal Education MInister Julie Bishop has now thrown her support behind the move, saying history cannot be properly taught without examining religion's influence. The Catholic-Protestant divide which defined Australian pre-war society looks set to be one area of inquiry, with the bitter conscription referendum of 1916-17 possibly appearing on the chronology.

Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and their impact on mainstream society (as seen in the Olympics opening ceremony) are also believed to be under consideration. Examinations of the Muslim and Jewish religions, the Christian Bible and the Koran may form part of the curriculum. "Religion has played a key role in many aspects of society including the legal system, many charitable organisations, the education sector, government and much more," Ms Bishop said last night. "It would not be possible to explain fully the development of Australian society without including religion in the history curriculum."

Professor Tom Stannage, who attended last month's Canberra History Summit said delegates were united in their desire for students to examine religion's role in shaping society. But educators also recognised a thirst among young Australians for religious education expressed in an historical rather than spiritual context. "The difficult question is the way we go about it, introducing it into the syllabus. "I think as Julie Bishop herself said, the commonsense middle ground can prevail in these matters."


Good proposal from the Left for partial privatization of public hospital care

Perhaps one day ALL government hospitals wil be seen as a bad idea

Private hospital beds will be bought to slash waiting lists for public hospitals under a new ALP policy designed to shake up the health sector. The federal Opposition also plans to ease pressure on doctors by handing more of their roles to nurses and allied health professionals. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley will reveal his plans today in a speech to the Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney. It will offer the first glimpse into a potential Beazley government's approach to health, starting with a strong repudiation of the Howard Government's long-running accusation that Labor is ideologically opposed to private sector involvement.

Mr Beazley will warn that cost-shifting and duplication are crippling the health system at a time of massive increases in demand for services. He will accuse the Government of squandering reform opportunities and promise to use the next commonwealth-state health agreement, which starts in 2008 and will run for five years, as a springboard for change. "We need to tap into the full potential of the private hospital sector," Mr Beazley says, in a speech obtained by The Australian last night. "Private hospitals are an invaluable national health resource and more needs to be done to integrate them with the public system."

Labor will also shake up medical training by paying private hospitals to provide clinical training for medical students and other specialist trainees. The proposal is designed to meet complaints that the Government has dramatically increased the size of university medical and nursing schools without extracting guarantees that state-run public hospitals would be able to provide hands-on training. "Integration and co-operation will define health care in the future," Mr Beazley will say. "All hospitals are in the health business. They have a vested interest in working together."

Mr Beazley will also promise stronger action to deal with medical workforce shortages by realigning roles of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, using a Productivity Commission recommendation as his template. Mr Beazley will frame his health policies in an economic context, arguing better health would lift workforce capacity. Labor sources said Mr Beazley's attempt to link social policy with economic policy would set a trend for his bid for victory in next year's election. They said Labor's defeat in the 2004 poll came because voters were convinced by the Government that Labor was not serious about the economy.


The Windschuttle affair

Comment by William D. Rubinstein - professor of modern history at the University of Wales

Apart from offering cogent evidence of the very small number of Aborigines killed by whites in Tasmania, Keith Windschuttle's The Fabrication of Aboriginal History also made a number of claims of - to put it charitably - very poor research methods by established academic historians whose claims about Aboriginal deaths at the hands of white settlers were apparently unsupported by any real evidence.

Probably the most widely-discussed such claim made by Windschuttle was that concerning Professor Henry Reynolds, who is certainly among the best-known historians of Aboriginal encounters with white Australians. These claims were made previous to the publication of The Fabrication, in 2001 in The New Criterion, the American review. In his book The Other Side of the Frontier, Reynolds estimated that, between 1850 and 1900, about 10,000 Aborigines were killed by whites in the colony (now state) of Queensland. As his footnoted source for this claim, Reynolds cited a limited circulation and little-known 1978 monograph of his, Race Relations in North Queensland.

After a long search, Windschuttle managed to locate this publication. But the passage cited in Race Relations turned out not to be about Aboriginal deaths at all, but about the total number of whites killed by Aborigines.

Nowhere did it mention the figure of 10,000 Aboriginal deaths, let alone provide any evidence for this figure. It did, however, claim that Aborigines may have killed between 800 and 850 whites between 1850 and 1900. The only mention made of Aboriginal deaths at the hands of whites was in one single footnote in which Reynolds claimed that while it was impossible to do anything more than guess at the number of Aborigines killed by whites, their death rate "may have been" ten times more than that of Europeans. No evidence was provided for this claim, which was simply invented out of thin air. Even if somehow true, this does not multiply to 10,000 Aboriginal deaths, but to 8,000 - 8,500, with the extra 1500-2000 dead Aborigines being added, as it were, for good luck. Reynolds' figure quickly gained wide currency among historians of this subject, none of whom questioned the bases of his estimate.

Reynolds' claim, it should be noted, is categorically different from other well-founded estimates of deaths in demographic catastrophes, genocides, mass killings, or other slaughters of the modern world, which are firmly based in valid historical and demographical evidence. There is, for instance, not the slightest doubt that nearly 20,000 British solders died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, or that about 960,000 Jews and 100,000 others perished at the Auschwitz extermination camp, or that, chiefly because of the Famine and emigration, the population of Ireland declined from 8,175,000 in 1841 to 6,552,000 in 1851.

In contrast, Reynolds' figures are simply made up, lacking a shred of real demographic evidence or even reasoned argument to support them. With the apparently misleading footnote reference to his 1978 monograph, they also surely sail very close to the wind in terms of valid historiographical procedure. Any doctoral candidate in history who used this "evidence" in a dissertation would be asked to rewrite this passage, if not failed outright.

Shortly after the publication of Windschuttle's Fabrication, Robert Manne edited a collection of deeply hostile essays on the book, Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Melbourne, 2003). Naturally, Reynolds contributed an essay. One might reasonably have expected Reynolds to have used this venue to refute Windschuttle's charges against his Queensland estimates, which were given wide publicity in the Australian press and which are - presumably - highly damaging to his professional reputation. What does Reynolds have to say about this matter in his essay "Terra Nullius Reborn"? Precisely nothing - not one word. Instead, the essay is an attack on Windschuttle's assertion that Tasmanian Aborigines had no notion of an attachment to the land and - in contrast to the claims of some historians - were not fighting a "guerrilla" campaign against the whites. ("Terra Nullius" is the legal doctrine, accepted in Australian law until recently, that no pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty to Australia existed at the time of white settlement, the continent being, legally, vacant land, whose Stone Age inhabitants had no actual or legal notion of sovereignty.)

Another historian attacked by Windschuttle is Professor Lyndall Ryan formerly of the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, and now of the University of Tasmania. In her The Aboriginal Tasmanians (p. 77) Ryan claimed that:

By 1808 conflict between Aborigines and Europeans over kangaroos had so intensified that twenty Europeans and a hundred Aborigines probably lost their lives.

As with Reynolds, the references cited by Ryan simply do not show this. She cited a contemporary diary, which, on examination, mentioned only the killing of four Aborigines, two white men, and a dog. In her essay in Whitewash, Ryan countered that the real reference was in the next paragraph of her work, to another contemporary account, which claimed, of the twenty to thirty kangaroo hunters, that:

some of them have forced the Native Women, after murdering their Protectors, to live with them and have Families.

From this, Ryan "deduced" that the figure of 100 Aboriginal deaths "is not an unreasonable estimate", although it seems like a highly unreasonable one to me. [See John Dawson, Washout: On the Academic Response to the Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Sydney, 2004) - a pro-Windschuttle work - pp. 117-118.]

Windschuttle cites claim after claim of this kind, made by well-regarded academic historians, often holding senior positions. Again and again, their claims about the killings of Aborigines in Tasmania by white settlers appear either wildly exaggerated or unsupported by evidence.

The fury of the Australian left unleashed by Windschuttle's book was spearheaded by Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, who edited the anti-Windschuttle collection Whitewash and has truly acted the part of Javert to Windschuttle's Jean Valjean, engaging in a long sequence of attacks on him in the press and in well-publicised public debates. A highly intelligent and very cogent writer, and one of the most visible public intellectuals in Australia, Manne is a very strange case indeed. In 1981 he edited a collection of essays entitled The New Conservatism in Australia, and was at the time regarded as probably the leading neo-conservative thinker in Australia.

On the basis of his reputation, in 1989 he was appointed editor of Quadrant, the influential neo-conservative and literary Australian monthly. Once in place, Manne discovered that he was not a conservative after all, but actually a radical, and was forced to resign as editor in 1997 following an internal revolt at the magazine.

Since then, he has produced an endless flow of newspaper articles, essays, and books attacking, from a left-wing viewpoint, the conservative government of John Howard and all of its policies, especially in Aboriginal affairs. Manne was crucially influenced, it seems, by the publicity surrounding the so-called "Stolen Generation" claims about the forcible removal of mixed-race Aboriginal children from their families between the 1900s and 1960s, which in the 1990s became one of the central topics of public debate in Australia.

Manne had shown no interest in Aboriginal affairs before this, and had certainly done no research on Aboriginal history. Windschuttle's book - and his imposing research and intellectual framework and cogency in debate, at least a match for Manne's own - acted as a red rag to a bull for Manne, who has become the leader of the anti-Windschuttle forces on the Australian academic left. It seems to me that, having listened to their televised debate over Aboriginal history and read the exchanges between them, that there is little doubt that Windschuttle has consistently and clearly gotten the better of Manne.

As one might expect, too, the academic left has used any slur or defamation in order to defeat Windschuttle, and the charge that he is the equivalent of a "Holocaust denier" was not long in coming. It was made in Manne's collection by A. Dirk Moses, in his essay "Revisionism and Denial". Any assertion that Windschuttle can be compared to a "Holocaust denier" is, in my opinion, nonsensical and defamatory. For an historian, to reduce the number of victims of mass murder or genocide, based upon new evidence - what Windschuttle has done - is not "genocide denial", but simply an attempt to produce a more accurate interpretation of the past.

Historians actually reduce the number of victims of alleged massacres, based upon new evidence, all the time. For instance, it is now clear, based on post-Glasnost evidence, that the number of victims of Stalin was much lower than the astronomical figures cited by Robert Conquest and others in the 1970s. Critics of David Irving have also completely refuted his claims about the number of alleged German victims of the Allied air raid on Dresden in early 1945. Irving claimed - in order to drum up sympathy for the Germans - that as many as 250,000 Germans perished. Richard Evans and others have shown, with persuasive evidence, that the actual figure was about 19,000. In these cases, historians are seeking accuracy about the past, which is what historians -presumably - aim at doing. This is what Keith Windschuttle is doing.

To those not on the ideological left, Windschuttle's works have already been seen as an important and imposing, but unfortunately rare, attempt to produce a conservative account of Australian history, such as has been attempted in recent years only by a handful of historians like Geoffrey Blainey and John Hirst.

Windschuttle plainly towers above his opponents like a giant among midgets, and will be remembered when they are forgotten. A month ago, he was appointed to the Board of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), a move which - together with the recent appointment of other high-profile conservatives - has turned the Australian left apoplectic. One can only hope that they are able to clean out this particular Augean Stable. Alas, no Tory Prime Minister here has ever had the nerve or intelligence to make similar appointments to the Board of the BBC, which continues to be a free-to-air version of the Guardian.

Source. Prof. Rubinstein also puts Windschuttle's conclusions into a world context here

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