Friday, September 28, 2007

More economic stupidity

LABOR has left the door open to slowing the pace of tariff reductions on Australia's textile, clothing and footwear industry in a bid to protect 60,000 manufacturing jobs. A Rudd government would also trigger an independent inquiry into the sector to consider further taxpayer-funded support, including research and development funding and export market development grants.

Labor industry spokesman Kim Carr yesterday accused John Howard of treating manufacturing as though it was "on palliative care". Asked about government claims that Labor would increase tariffs on imports, Senator Carr said he had made no such commitments. But he wanted to bring forward an inquiry already planned by the Government to examine "all matters" affecting the competitiveness of the TCF industry. "That's why I am not ruling out action on the tariff in terms of the legislated changes," Senator Carr said.

The Labor move would be the first major review of the TCF tariff regime since both sides of politics embraced the need for tariff reform in the 1980s. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane seized on the comments last night to accuse the "socialist Left" of seeking to bring back tariffs. "The public rhetoric from Mr Rudd is calculated to reassure people that Labor would be a responsible economic manager, but his senior shadow ministers are spreading a very different message to selected people in private," Mr Macfarlane said.

Under Howard government legislation put in place in 2003, tariffs on TCF imports are being gradually reduced in line with the long-term trend towards trade liberalisation. Between 2005 and 2009, tariffs on cotton sheeting, woven fabrics, carpet and footwear will remain at 10 per cent, while 7.5 per cent tariffs will apply to sleeping bags, table linen and some footwear parts. But from January 2010, these tariffs will be reduced to 5 per cent. Tariffs on clothing and some finished textiles will be remain at 17.5 per cent until 2009 but will fall to 10 per cent from January 2010, and then to 5 per cent from January 2015.

Senator Carr flatly rejected any suggestion that Labor would increase tariff levels. But he said he would bring forward and broaden an inquiry already foreshadowed in legislation to examine thelegislated reductions and explore ways to improve the industry's competitiveness. "As far as I am concerned, manufacturing is not a dirty word and we repudiate the Government's approach, which essentially is to presume that these are sunset industries," he said. "With the right policy framework, we could actually see quite dramatic improvements."

He said the legislated tariff levels were underpinned by economic assumptions valid at the time they were put in place but which were now questionable. "What we've seen since that time is the dollar appreciate dramatically," he said. "This is an industry that still employs close to 60,000 people. They are entitled to a good deal more attention than they are getting. "The presumption that many have is that the Government wants to put them on palliative care and die quietly. That's an approach that I strongly reject."

He said focus was needed on innovation research and development and measures that improve productivity. "It's not just about tariffs," he said. "Tariffs are a second-order issue. How can we focus on greater innovation and productivity are the questions that I want answered." He said the existing regime provided several options for further industry assistance, including enhancements to an existing $575million, 10-year strategic investment scheme, a $50 million product diversification scheme, a structural adjustment program and a small business program.

Mr Macfarlane said the only reason Senator Carr would want an inquiry was so he could change the law. "The socialist Left is working hard to bring tariffs back, with Senator Carr leading the charge as shadow industry spokesman," Mr Macfarlane said. "Kim Carr's only qualification for the shadow industry portfolio is that he was a key backer of Kevin Rudd's leadership challenge in December 2006. "What a repudiation of previous reforms, proving that Labor either has no policy or has a policy it won't dare share with the Australian public."

The Howard Government remains committed to phased tariff cuts for the TCF sector and the car industry. Mr Macfarlane has previously flagged a review of the car industry next year to examine the impact of tariff cuts, which are due to fall from 10 per cent to 5per cent in 2010.


New vision for schools 'just drivel'

A FORMER senior Labor policy adviser has attacked the vision for school education unveiled by state and territory governments, describing it as "dangerous drivel" and a "retrograde step that will dumb down school curriculum across Australia". Ken Wiltshire, professor of public policy at the University of Queensland and the architect of the Queensland curriculum under the Goss government, told The Australian that the Future of Schooling report showed Labor education policy was still driven by the teachers' unions.

Professor Wiltshire seized on the idea in the report, released this week, that "the judgment of teachers is paramount", with external state exams and national tests supplementing the teachers' assessment. "External assessment should be what drives the whole national school curriculum. School-based assessment is subsidiary," he said. "This is an enormous step backwards. This is a really retrograde step that will dumb down the whole curriculum across Australia to the lowest common denominator, and the worst school will become the standard. "If this document gets through, the eight state education ministers are the greatest dunces in Australia."

Professor Wiltshire said the argument for school-based assessment was driven by teachers' unions and meant the teachers decided what would be examined and assessed, with no external checks or comparison of standards. "It's teachers' unions driving this to prevent any checks or controls on teachers and to prevent parents having appropriate measures of accountability and performance standards for the reporting of their kids," he said.

The Future of Schooling report was released on Tuesday by Victorian Premier John Brumby and commissioned by the Council for the Australian Federation from a steering committee chaired by the secretary of the Victorian education department, Peter Dawkins. The report was a final version revised after consultation with a range of organisations, with very few changes.

But the statement on public reporting of student assessment did change, with the draft version saying: "The external assessments of all students in state and national testing programs provide this kind of information (to understand personal development of students)." The final version states: "The judgment of teachers is paramount, but external assessments of all students in state and national testing programs must supplement this information."

Professor Dawkins said that to interpret this sentence as a movement away from state and national testing programs was wrong, and that they remained a critical part of the assessment and reporting process. Rather, the idea of a teacher's judgment being paramount was to reflect that teachers are trained to interpret test results and relate this to a child's development, and that they are the primary communicators with parents about their child's performance. "State and national testing programs are an important part, but not all the information that a teacher uses to determine a child's developmental needs," he said. "The judgment of teachers should always be crucial in reporting to parents. "During the consultation period, we received feedback that this is important. However, this is not intended to detract from the important role of external assessment."

Professor Wiltshire said the explanation was "gobbledegook and designed to prevent proper accountability". "Parents want to see external assessment - they're not interested in school-based assessment," he said. "They don't want to know whether the teacher likes their child, or how they rank in class. They want to know how their child is shaping up and keeping pace with the national curriculum."


Government "child welfare" organization kills another little kid

If it does lead to real skepticism about the value of university "social work" qualifications, that would be a big step forward

THE Queensland government will consider employing child safety officers with more "life experience" following the death of a toddler returned to his parents from foster care. The two-year-old died on Tuesday night after he was allegedly assaulted by his father at their home at Margate, north of Brisbane. The 34-year-old man appeared in Redcliffe Magistrates Court yesterday charged with manslaughter and torture. He was remanded in custody to reappear on November 27.

The state government, which has ordered an independent review of the case, yesterday confirmed the child had been in the care of the Department of Child Safety before being returned to his parents. Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech today defended her department, saying staff had a "really tough job, full of tough decisions".

But she said a review was under way into the skills needed to be a child safety officer. "Many of the great people in the job are young women, many of them are graduates from our universities who have had a small amount of life experience," Ms Keech told ABC Radio. "What we're considering right now is perhaps looking at not only the very important qualifications that the child safety officers need, but also they need life experience and other skills. "Perhaps professions, for example, (like) police officers, nurses, teachers may be other qualifications that may be welcome when we're looking at recruiting child safety officers."

Ms Keech described the boy's death as an "absolute tragedy", but said there was a lengthy process to determine whether children known to the department should be returned to their parents. "I believe that the process is a very strong process," she said. "I guess at the end of the day, individual parents will, unfortunately, whether it's through the effects of alcohol abuse or drug abuse or their own history etc, do actions which unfortunately lead to tragic results."

An immediate departmental review into the boy's death is to be carried out, as well as an external review by the child death case review committee, chaired by the Commission for Children and Young People. "They will review all decisions that have been made in the case and if there are any things that we can learn from the case we can accept the recommendations and implement them," Ms Keech said.

In July, two brothers aged four and 18 months were allegedly murdered by their mother's boyfriend in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane. Department of Child Safety officers had contact with the older boy a fortnight before his death and handed him back to his mother and her partner.


A MOST interesting study of ill health among war veterans

Anti-malaria drug PREVENTS cancer. A fascinating finding. Australia had conscription during the Vietnam war so the sample is unusually representative. Dapsone is quite an old drug but is still not well understood. It is related to the Sulfonamides

Australia's Vietnam veterans were not harmed by taking the drug Dapsone to protect against malaria, a new study has found. The finding has eased veterans' concerns that Dapsone might have contributed to health problems they suffered in later life. Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Billson said the study showed the incidence of cancer among those who took Dapsone was actually 10 per cent lower than in a comparison group of veterans.

But, like earlier studies into the cancer and mortality of Vietnam veterans, the study confirmed that Vietnam war service had adverse effects on the health of many veterans, he said. "The overall incidence of cancer in both groups of veterans is significantly higher than in the Australian population," he said in a statement. "For those who took Dapsone it was seven per cent higher and 20 per cent for those who didn't." [In other words, dapsone eliminated two thirds of the bad effects. Most impressive. IT WOULD SEEM TO SUGGEST A PREDOMINANTLY BACTERIAL CAUSE IN THE GENESIS OF CANCER AMONG VETERANS]

Vietnam Veterans Association national president Ron Coxon said veterans had been concerned that they might have been used as guinea pigs to test a drug that had health risks. "We had serious concerns that the veterans on Dapsone might have had some serious side effects from that medication," he said. "But from the controlled studies that have been done it would appear that is not the case ... this would seem to allay that."

Dapsone is an anti-bacterial drug most commonly used in the treatment of leprosy. During the Vietnam war, some Australian troops took the drug Paludrine as an anti-malarial agent, while some took both Paludrine and Dapsone. A royal commission into the effects of the herbicide agent orange on Australian troops in Vietnam, established in 1983, reviewed the use of Dapsone and recommended there be further study into whether it caused cancer.

The report released on Wednesday is the fourth and final volume of The Australian Vietnam Veterans Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study. This study, produced by the Department of Veterans Affairs in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, examined all army veterans deaths identified from the end of Vietnam service to 2001, and all cancers diagnosed from 1982 to 2000. It compared death and cancer rates among those who consumed a combination of Dapsone and Paludrine with those who used Paludrine alone and concluded there was little evidence that Dapsone was associated with an increased cancer risk.

"There are case reports of cancers among persons who have taken Dapsone, but no specific or unusual site of cancer consistently appears in these reports," it said. "None of the reports gives a biological argument for an association of specific cancers with Dapsone use." It said most cases described in scientific literature as developing cancer had been taking Dapsone in high doses over long periods to treat leprosy. "The study revealed no definite evidence that Dapsone exposure (among Australian servicemen in Vietnam) was associated with an increase in total cancer incidence," it said.


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