Monday, October 09, 2006

Muslim cabbies refusing the blind and drinkers

Muslim taxi drivers are refusing to carry blind passengers with their guide dogs or anyone carrying alcohol. At least 20 dog-aided blind people have lodged discrimination complaints with the Victorian Taxi Directorate. Dozens more have voiced their anger. And there have been several complaints that drivers refuse to allow passengers to carry sealed bottles of alcohol.

Victorian Taxi Association spokesman Neil Sach said the association had appealed to the mufti of Melbourne to give religious approval for Muslim cabbies to carry guide dogs. One Muslim driver, Imran, said yesterday the guide dog issue was difficult for him. "I don't refuse to take people, but it's hard for me because my religion tells me I should not go near dogs," he said. There are about 2000 Muslims among drivers of Melbourne's 10,000 taxis. Many are from countries with strict Islamic teachings about "unclean" dogs and the evils of alcohol.

Drivers who refused to carry blind people with their dogs attended remedial classes at Guide Dogs Victoria, Mr Sach said. "They are taught why blind people need dogs," Mr Sach said. [It isn't obvious??] "The Victorian Taxi Association has included a program in their taxi driver training program."

Guide Dogs Victoria spokeswoman Holly Marquette said blind people regularly reported taxi drivers refusing to carry them because of their dogs. "It's sad and quite upsetting," Ms Marquette said. "We try to work with new drivers to educate them about their responsibilities and the needs and rights of blind people. "We explain that the dog is clean, well trained, won't go near them and will stay in the foot well with the client. "But it's a high turnover industry and it's hard to capture everyone." Ms Marquette said there was a legal requirement for taxi drivers, shops, restaurants, hotels and supermarkets to accept guide dogs.

Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said the guide dog issue would exacerbate the taxi industry's flagging respect in the community. Under the State Government's customer charter, taxi passengers have the right to "be accompanied by a guide dog or hearing dog". Mr Sach said the problem was often reversed and that Muslim drivers suffered discrimination from passengers who abused them for being "terrorists". "Muslims are good people and the community has to realise that the days of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant are well and truly over," he said. Over the past two years the licences of 306 drivers were revoked or suspended, including those who refused to carry the blind and their dogs.


Teen failed for stand on homosexuals

A 13-year-old student was failed after she refused to write an assignment on life in a gay community, because of her religious and moral beliefs. Her outraged mother, Christian groups and the State Opposition want an investigation into the treatment of the Year 9 student at Windaroo Valley State High School, south of Brisbane. "It's no wonder our kids are struggling with the basics when the Government is allowing this sort of rubbish to be taught in the classroom," Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney told The Sunday Mail yesterday.

The uproar came as Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop this week announced plans for Canberra to take control of school curriculums from the states, accusing "ideologues" of hijacking the education system.

The girl was among a class of 13 and 14-year-olds asked to imagine living as a heterosexual among a mostly homosexual colony on the moon as part of their health and physical education subject. They had to answer 10 questions, including how they felt about being in the minority and what strategies they would use to help them cope. They were also asked to discuss where ideas about homosexuality came from.

Sources said the students were told not to discuss the assignment with their parents and that it was to be kept in-class. They said many of the students were uncomfortable with the subject matter or did not understand the questions.

The 13-year-old girl instantly refused to do the assignment on religious and moral grounds. "It is against my beliefs and I am not going there," she told the teacher, who responded by failing her. After a series of discussions between the school and her mother, it was suggested the girl would be better off leaving the state education system and attending an independent school.

The girl's mother said yesterday she did not learn of the assignment until reading her daughter's report card several weeks later and discovered a first-ever fail mark for health and physical education. "I went to the school thinking there might have been a personality clash with the teacher," said the mother, who asked to be identified only as Bronwyn. She said she was shown the assignment. "When I started to read it I thought, 'Oh my God' . . . I was shocked by the content," she said. "My daughter said she didn't want to do the assignment because she did not believe in homosexuality and did not want to answer the questions. "She was being challenged, but she should not be challenged like that at her age."

Bronwyn was concerned that her daughter was not given an alternative scenario. She said the school claimed it was powerless to change the curriculum. Bronwyn said the school seemed more concerned about how parents found out about the assignment. "That's what concerns me most . . . the parents had no opportunity to even see the assignment," Bronwyn said.

Ms Bishop said the incident highlighted her concerns. "This is another example of a politically-correct agenda masquerading as curriculum," she said yesterday. "Parents need to know the content of school curriculum so they can be confident their children are receiving a high quality education that is also consistent with their values."

The State Opposition and Australian Christian Lobby demanded an investigation. Mr Seeney said Queensland needed common sense back in the classroom. "The Beattie Labor Government has created a system that tries to tell kids what to think instead of teaching them how to think," he said. "It is completely out of line for students to be graded on their moral beliefs. "It's not the job of our schools to politicise our children. It is their function to provide our kids with the basics, like reading, writing and maths."

Christian Lobby state director Peter Earle said the assignment was not about education, rather a teacher or school pushing their own agenda on young minds. "The subject matter was totally inappropriate," he said.

After being approached by The Sunday Mail, an Education Queensland spokeswoman late yesterday said the school had decided to drop the assignment from its curriculum and would work with the girl and her family to achieve a "satisfactory resolution". "The aim of the assignment was to encourage students to think about diversity, culture and belief systems," she said. "Schools can offer alternative assessment topics in consultation with parents, if the school is aware of concerns about an assignment."


Students left behind: Politics-obsessed unions must not control curricula

Speaking at a conference of the History Teachers' Association of Australia in Fremantle yesterday, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop asked a vital question. "How is it", she wondered, "that we have gone from teaching Latin in Year 12 to teaching remedial English in first-year university?"

It is a vital question, and one that more and more parents, fed up with their children's inability to write a grammatically coherent sentence with correct spelling or perform basic mathematics, want answered. The reasons behind the decline in educational quality are manifold. A shift in emphasis away from traditional knowledge and skills-based learning towards the jargon-based and accountability-free ethic of outcomes-based education is largely responsible. Traditionally, federal governments of all complexions have sought to keep school retention rates up as a way to lower unemployment, dumbing down curriculums in the process. The results have not been pretty. Ms Bishop pointed to "English courses without books, history courses without dates and music courses without instruments", echoing a campaign mounted by The Australian to expose the depredations of outcomes-based education and politically correct curriculums in our schools.

The solution, according to Ms Bishop, is to take control of primary and high school curriculums away, not from the states - whose Labor governments have long since abdicated any real responsibility for what is taught in classrooms - but from the teachers' unions and other associated bodies. These groups appear to see their primary goal not as one of educating young people but of creating generations of left-wing social activists in their own image. Recall the lament of NSW English Teachers Association president Wayne Sawyer, who complained last year that teachers were not doing enough to prevent their students from growing up to vote Liberal. A national curriculum would be a big step, and would act as a circuit-breaker against such attitudes.

Ms Bishop's comments must also be seen in the context of Labor backbencher Craig Emerson's call for school to remain compulsory until Year 12 to prevent young people from being lured into a booming economy before their time. While well-intentioned, keeping all young people in school until they are almost 19 is impractical and unfair - both to those who wish to leave early and those who wish to stay. The Australian economy is straining under the demands of the Chinese-led resources boom. In an era when the economy is hurting for lack of workers, far better to follow a European approach where students are able to pursue technical degrees in their teenage years. In Germany, it is a matter of pride to have graduated from a technical college; that same ethic needs to be promoted here.

Properly educating children is one of the most important things a nation can do to ensure its continued survival and success. The crisis in education is thus an existential one for Australia, and one that requires national solutions. The excesses of teachers' unions must be curbed, by the federal government if need be, to allow rank-and-file teachers to do their jobs properly.


Much maligned free trade deal getting results

The Australia-US free trade deal appears to be bearing its first fruit, with millions in extra exports of meat, car parts, motor boats and even oranges since the deal started last year. Exports of Australian goods that benefited from immediate tariff reductions when the preferential trade deal came into effect last year have grown, with some nearly doubling in 12 months. While officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stressed it would take years before the full effects of the deal were felt, data from its latest quarterly publication, Trade Topics, show the elimination of some tariffs are bringing gains.

Companies trying to win US government contracts are also finding it easier to break in. Exports of sheep meat to the US rose from $190 million to $212 million last year, after the 2.8c-a-kilogram tariff was eliminated. After the 1.9c-a-kilo tariff on fresh and dried oranges was removed, exports jumped from $38 million to $43 million. The value of motorboat exports nearly doubled from $42 million to $71 million, while sales of items such as parts for spark plugs jumped from $11 million to $21 million over the year.

Overall, Australia's sales to the US fell last year, because of the continued diversion of Australian beef previously intended for America to Japan and South Korea as a result of the mad cow scares earlier this decade. Motor vehicle sales to the US also fell, primarily because of the withdrawal of the Mitsubishi Magna from the US market. But when these non-FTA matters are excluded from the figures, overall Australian goods exports to the US rose 4 per cent last year. The FTA gave Australian firms full access to the $200 billion US government contract market. The report found that in 2005-06 Australian firms won $95 million worth of contracts


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