Thursday, September 06, 2007

Not letting facts disrupt the protest

APEC has made a great contribution to easing poverty

It has long been fashionable for otherwise well-educated and affluent people to exercise their liberal democratic right to protest at gatherings of world leaders, no matter how worthy the objectives of those attending the meeting may be. For some protesters, APEC represents little more than a resistance day picnic complete with water cannons, riot shields and a ring of steel that makes sure their activities have little hope of disrupting the people at whom they are directed. Proof that fashion dictates the nature of protest is clear from the fact that, prior to the arrival of US President George W. Bush last night, actions so far have centred on attempts by Greenpeace in Newcastle to demonise Australia's coal exports. This is despite the fact that as host nation of this year's APEC leaders' summit, Australia has put the quest for an international climate change response at the top of the conference agenda.

The war in Iraq will no doubt be another target for protest action but the last time we looked, Iraq was not located in the Asia-Pacific. In reality, Mr Bush's attendance is enough in itself for the noisy few to voice their well-known, anti-American beliefs. Targeting the US confirms that many who take part in protest actions are really interested only in continuing what is now a tired and old-fashioned campaign against capitalism per se. By using the rhetoric of defending the Third World's exploited poor, these protesters display their complete misunderstanding of the role played by globalisation in helping to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Nowhere is this trend-for-good through globalisation more evident than in the work of APEC.

Since it was founded by Australian prime minister Bob Hawke on a visit to Seoul in 1989 and upgraded to a leaders' forum by US president Bill Clinton in Seattle in 1993, APEC has been the key trade grouping in what is recognised as the frontline region for future world growth. The economic rise of APEC nations has given life to the rhetoric of the dawn of a Pacific century in which, over the decades ahead, nations in the Asia-Pacific will outpace the economic advances of Atlantic-centred nations that drove world prosperity through the industrial revolution and on to the 20th century. Together with the rise of India, the economic transformation of China that is now under way has the potential to lift more than two billion people out of poverty. In addition to the obvious environmental challenges this rapid growth presents, it has already delivered real advances in areas that those who protest loudest against the APEC gathering and globalisation claim to care about the most. In the first decade of APEC's existence, the United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index for lower income APEC economies improved by nearly 18 per cent. Poverty in East Asian APEC economies fell by one-third, representing 165 million people. Almost 200million new jobs were created, including 174 million in lower income economies. Infant mortality fell and life expectancy rose as sanitation improved and spending on public health and education grew.

APEC has played an undeniable role in helping to improve dialogue between nations and remove barriers to trade. For Australia, the economic dividend from APEC has been enormous. APEC member economies account for eight of Australia's top 10 export markets and 61 per cent of world growth between 1989 and 2003. APEC countries take 95 per cent of Australia's beef exports, 89 per cent of our medicinal/pharmaceutical product exports, 84 per cent of our petroleum exports, 82 per cent of our iron and steel exports, 77 per cent of our non-ferrous metal exports and 64 per cent of our coal exports. They represent eight of the top 10 sources of international visitors to Australia and provide more than 70 per cent of international students studying here.

Mutual prosperity through closer economic ties will always be APEC's core challenge. For this reason, the Howard Government must temper expectations that it can achieve a dramatic breakthrough on a new deal to combat climate change if it wants the Sydney gathering to be judged a success. And while a new bilateral security pact may be announced between Australia and the US during Mr Bush's visit, APEC is poorly equipped to deal with the detail of the complex bilateral security issues faced by member nations.

Outside the domestic political context in Australia, the Sydney APEC meeting will be judged by history on what it does to advance APEC's 1994 Bogor Declaration to achieve free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for industrialised economies and 2020 for developing economies. This declaration recognises that economic liberalisation, not the end of capitalism, will always be the best way to deliver on the concerns being voiced by protest groups.

Ultimately, it remains a perverse feature of demonstrations that so many of those who take part have such little understanding of the detail of what they are complaining about. APEC is much more than an opportunity to whinge about disruptions to Sydney city traffic or the poor takings by local coffee shops because of heightened security. Such concerns only highlight the insular and parochial thinking of the comparatively well-off in regional terms. Just as unruly demonstrations predominantly highlight the prejudice and misunderstanding of those who take part.


Special treatment for Muslims in Australia too

HALAL food and prayer rooms should be adopted at all universities to help Muslim students meet their religious and educational obligations, a conference heard yesterday. The religious needs of Muslim university students were addressed at an inaugural conference launched by the University of Western Sydney. UWS Director of Equity and Diversity Dr Sev Ozdowski said they wanted to develop national standards for Muslim students which could be incorporated by other universities.

The "Access, Inclusion and Success - Muslim students at Australian universities" two-day conference is covering issues relating to gender, discrimination and how to meet the fundamental religious needs of Muslim students. Dr Ozdowski told The Daily Telegraph the aim of the forum was to raise awareness and to find a way to make sure Muslim students can meet obligations to their religion as well as the university. UWS already has prayer rooms and halal food at a majority of its campuses for its 2000 Muslim students - the largest tertiary Muslim student population in Australia.

"There is no model or national standard to guide Australia's universities on how they can best address the varied cultural, ethnic and religious needs of their diverse student populations," Dr Ozdowski said. "It's important that all people, including those from Muslim backgrounds, have the ability to fully participate in higher education so they can gain good employment and strengthen their place in society. "We also need to address the practical realities that Muslim students face every day, such as providing prayer space and cafeteria food that is halal, to ensure university campuses are welcoming of all cultures and faiths," he said.

About 150 people are involved in the conference including representatives and speakers from universities and TAFE, the government and local muslim communities. Muslim student Najwa Hussein - who is completing her post graduate diploma in psychology at UWS - believes the conference is a positive step forward for Muslim students. "It is part of our obligations to fulfil these religious duties, to pray and to ensure we eat halal meat," the 21-year-old from Guildford said. "These small things are part of our daily life so if the universities adopt such facilities, that would be awesome," she said. The conference, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Parramatta, concludes today with practical workshops.


Workers can stay on old agreements: Gillard

JULIA Gillard has admitted that workers currently on the Howard Government's individual employment contracts could continue onthose conditions indefinitely under a Labor government. The Deputy Opposition Leader's comments will fuel union concerns that Labor plans to dump the Howard Government's Australian Workplace Agreements in name only - despite having claimed they disadvantage workers. But Ms Gillard told The Australian yesterday that Labor could guarantee no worker need be worse off under its industrial relations policy.

Following protests by Unions NSW chief John Robertson, Ms Gillard said that even workers who traded away award conditions in return for individual contracts offering increased hourly pay rates need not be disadvantaged. Under Labor's policy released last week, the Howard Government's AWAs would be abolished as part of plans to dump Work Choices. After a two-year transitional period, all workers would be employed on award conditions, collective agreements or individual contracts under common law. Workers would be guaranteed a legislated set of 10 minimum conditions, plus a further 10 conditions for award employees.

While common law contracts normally use awards to determine minimum conditions, Labor plans to exempt employees earning more than $100,000 a year in response to calls from employers for maximum flexibility.

Academics who have studied Labor's policy claim the party has abandoned a long-held commitment to collective bargaining and provided almost complete flexibility for employers to negotiate individually with award workers earning less than $100,000. Industrial lawyer Ron McCallum and workplace researcher John Buchanan say Labor has accepted the underlying philosophy of Work Choices laws by emphasising that employers would have the power to change conditions for individual workers using "flexibility clauses" in all awards. The pair said Labor's collective bargaining rules appeared weak, and employers would be given freedom to introduce "individual flexibility" within awards.

Ms Gillard confirmed Labor would introduce flexibility clauses, giving employers and employees flexibility to craft mutually acceptable work conditions, provided the workers were not disadvantaged when compared to the award.

Asked whether there was any chance of a worker being worse off under Labor, Ms Gillard agreed that some people on AWAs could face lower rates of pay under Labor's system. This might arise, she said, if an employer who used an AWA to eliminate award conditions in return for higher pay rates had to return to arrangements underpinned by award conditions. The prohibition under Labor would be the creation of new AWAs. "Beyond its (the AWA's) nominal expiry date it persists - that happens now," she said.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey yesterday attacked unions for backing Labor's flexibility clauses - accusing them of hypocrisy - despite last week accusing Labor of a policy that pandered to unions.


That good ol' government "planning" again

With just three enrolments so far, a primary school will be ready to open next year in a housing estate that boasts just 30 homes. Financed with private investor funds, the development south of Wollongong is proving a growing embarrassment for the State Government. It is one of 10 schools the Government is building using public-private partnerships - and all are due to be opened by early 2009. The primary school being built at Tullimbar, west of Albion Park, can cater for 300 children, with facilities for up to 525 students. Children living further afield are now expected to be sent to the school by bus in in an attempt to boost enrolment numbers and meet the Government's contractual commitment to the investors in the school.

When Tullimbar was planned, it was to cater solely to children in the new housing estate, said Nicholas Cole, president of the Parents and Citizens Association at nearby Albion Park primary school, which is facing declining enrolments even before Tullimbar opens. "The department won't confirm now whether it is planning to transfer children from other areas to the school," Mr Cole said. "We already have an educational system working well in this area. We have five primary schools within a four-kilometre radius."

An organiser for the NSW Teachers Federation, Gary Zadkovich, said: "There has been a planning mistake. They've gone ahead with a property development and built a new school. At the very least their demographic analysis has got it wrong since the nearest primary school has declining enrolments." Under the same contract, using private investment funds, schools are planned for Rouse Hill, Hoxton Park South and at Ropes Crossing, in the former ADI site near St Marys. This estate has just 100 people living in it, raising concerns only a few children will attend the primary school which opens next year.

Miltonbrook, the developer of Tullimbar, says when the estate is completed in about 13 years it will have about 5000 residents. "Progress with the development has been a little slower than we anticipated," a spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for the Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, said the development of Tullimbar Village has been delayed by rising interest rates and the housing downturn. She said while it was not unusual for new schools to have very small initial student enrolments, it was estimated that delays in the housing development would mean lower than estimated enrolments for the first two to four years.

The NSW Opposition education spokesman, Andrew Stoner, said the Government should explain why it was opening schools where there was no community demand, while it was closing Macquarie Boys High in the growing Parramatta region. He said it should say how much it will pay private contractors to run schools for just a few students. Mr Zadkovich said: "If the Government wants to defend the Tullimbar development by saying it will remove demountables from Albion Park primary school, then why didn't it build the new classrooms where they are needed in the first place?"


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