Saturday, April 05, 2008

Black education disaster in Australia

Maybe even worse than Los Angeles

INDIGENOUS children in remote communities in the Northern Territory are being condemned to failure by a system of educational apartheid that offers a second-rate curriculum in make-believe schools. In a paper to be released next week by the Centre for Independent Studies, Helen Hughes, professor emeritus at the Australian National University and senior fellow at the CIS, says indigenous schooling in the Territory has "in effect not been extended to secondary education".

"Because most indigenous primary school leavers, particularly in remote areas, are at Year 1 level, so-called secondary classes mostly teach elementary English, numeracy and literacy," she says.

Teachers are flown in to remote schools, sometimes for as little as a few hours one day a week, and many schools are not open five days a week. Students are not taught history, geography nor science, Professor Hughes says, and she cites examples of teenagers thinking there are 100 minutes in an hour and not knowing how to divide a piece of material into two, nor how to find Canberra on a map nor what "capital of Australia" means.

She calls for more than 4000 preschool teachers for indigenous children, more than 200 houses to be built for full-time resident teachers, and for remote schools to be twinned with mainstream schools to allow exchanges of students and teachers.

At the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, community members have acted to build their own school after decades of educational failure on the islands. When teachers from Tiwi College tested the literacy of 13- and 14-year-olds, they found at least half the students had the literacy levels of a six-year old. Students such as 15-year-old Bertram Tipungwuti are now engaged in a desperate race, passionately driven by the traditional owners on the island, to catch up with students in mainstream schools. [Tiwi islanders are different. They are of mixed race, descendants of Malay and Indonesian seafarers in part -- though you are not supposed to mention that. There are many differences between Tiwis and mainland blacks]


Attack on global warming policy from within the Australian Labor Party

The NSW Labor Right has fired a shot across the bows of climate-change "true believers" within the Rudd Government, with NSW Treasurer Michael Costa warning that their approach could mug the economy and scare away foreign investors. Mr Costa has slammed the recommendations of the Government's climate change adviser, the ANU's Ross Garnaut, in an interim report released by Professor Garnaut last month. In a speech to business leaders in Sydney last night, he warned that Professor Garnaut's proposals could cost Australia more than $50 billion in lost productivity between now and 2030 because of the burden imposed on the electricity industry and related sectors.

Mr Costa was scathing about Professor Garnaut's suggestion that, in a new emissions trading system requiring permits, there should be no compensation paid to the $40 billion coal-fired power industry. Unveiling new modelling by NSW Treasury officials, he warned that this approach, combined with a target of reducing greenhouse emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, would cause a reduction in gross domestic product of 4 per cent by 2030. Mr Costa said the "sovereign risk" associated with imposing a new carbon trading regime on Australian companies, combined with rigid emission targets, would result in a capital flight by overseas investors.

"The Garnaut proposal has significant financial and economic impacts," Mr Costa told the annual dinner of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "The transitional effects could seriously disrupt critical sectors of the economy. The Rudd Government needs to proceed with caution and recognise that international investors, in particular, will be looking at how they treat existing property rights of asset owners." He described the suggestion that no compensation was necessary for asset holders as, "absurd" and "unacceptable".

Mr Costa's comments put him at odds with climate change advocates within the Rudd Government such as Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Environment Minister Peter Garrett. While Ms Wong has declared no decisions will be taken on Professor Garnaut's suggestions until industry and community groups have been consulted, The Australian understands her key policy advisers share his aversion to paying compensation.

The NSW Labor Government is set to be among the big losers under the Garnaut model, with Mr Costa and NSW Premier Morris Iemma preparing to take about $10 billion worth of state-owned electricity assets to market next year. Mr Costa said his modelling showed the cost of carbon permits traded in the electricity industry could be as high as $120 billion by 2030, with a further $150 billion in adjustment costs. He warned the resulting increase in power prices could be much higher than the 10-15 per cent predicted by Professor Garnaut.

Mr Costa told The Australian: "It's like building a road through your place - I'm expected to provide you compensation for the adverse impact. The laws have changed, it affects property rights and therefore there ought to be compensation."


Wave of Chinese and Indians will change nation, summit told

AUSTRALIA needs to get ready for a new wave of Chinese and Indian immigrants as the "emerging economies" flex their muscles, delegates to the Australia 2020 Summit have been told. A new briefing paper for the mega-conference says Australia will be vastly different in another decade due to the rising influence of the Asian superpowers. Not only will the Australian economy be more tuned into Asia but there will be more Indians and Chinese settling here. "Migration will continue to be a short-term solution to skills shortages and will see people arriving from emerging economies such as India and China," the paper says.

Yesterday organisers released more than 200 pages of questions, background information and statistics for delegates and interested members of the public. The April 19-20 summit will be co-chaired by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Professor Glyn Davis, with 1000 delegates in 10 panels. Mr Rudd has talked up the summit as a way of finding long-term solutions to the nation's major problems, but Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson has been increasingly critical.

World Vision chief Tim Costello, the brother of former federal treasurer Peter Costello, is heading the panel discussion on "Strengthening Communities", which could be one of the most topical. Information released yesterday for panel delegates said Australia's cultural identity would keep evolving. It said that in the past 10 years there had been an increasing number of immigrants arriving from China and India and that this would continue. "What can be done to help new Australians to settle and participate in the community?" the paper asked.

The document also highlighted the rising use of drugs and the increase in violent crimes. It also warned binge drinking was a serious problem in Australia although it was often ignored. Mr Costello told The Courier-Mail in February he wanted to address the issue of binge drinking at the summit, but Family First senator Steve Fielding said yesterday urgent action was needed now.


More lawyer power coming?

Sadly, Australia now has a very thick Attorney-General

"I am an economic conservative. I am an economic conservative. I am an economic conservative." Before the recent election, Kevin Rudd couldn't assure voters often enough of his credentials when it came to the economy. And no doubt, as interest rates get higher and labour laws are deliberalised, time and Rudd's response to these and other economic stresses will tell. The voters will get to see if the Prime Minister is the economic conservative he so repeatedly branded himself.

However that plays out, and none of us can know for sure, it is becoming plainer every day that our new federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, is not a constitutional and legal conservative. Indeed, it appears that McClelland's mantra is closer to: "I am a legal revolutionary; I am a legal revolutionary; I am a legal revolutionary." First off, as soon as the election is done and out of the way, he announces that he rather fancies one of those new-fangled bills of rights.

Why not aim to bring one in before the next election, he muses. Well, one reason is that the Labor Party has no real mandate to do this. Does anyone reading this recall McClelland or Rudd saying, before the election, "we will give you a bill of rights"?

Here's another reason. These instruments overwhelmingly inflate the power of unelected judges. And I'm talking about statutory bills of rights, not just the constitutionalised versions modelled after the US and Canada. The legal revolutionary crowd, drawn disproportionately from the chardonnay-sipping wing of the Labor Party, like to assure people that statutory bills of rights won't diminish the power of the elected parliament at all. We'll just copy what Britain and New Zealand have, and nothing much will change at all, they assure us.

This is an out-and-out prevarication. Here's what one of the top British judges said, after Britain got its statutory bill of rights just less than a decade ago. It was in the course of giving his judgment in the House of Lords' case of Jackson. Lord Steyn said: "The Human Rights Act (Britain's name for its statutory bill of rights) created a new legal order." That's a quote. Do you think our Attorney-General, who wants to copy Britain's bill of rights, is unaware of that statement?

In a similar vein, do you think McClelland doesn't know that the British judges have used the statutory bill of rights to say that they (the judges, that is) can read any statute they want in a new "bill of rights friendly way"? This, they tell us, means that they can read words in, read words out, ignore the plain, clear meaning of any statute and attribute it the exact opposite meaning to the one they know the legislature intended. Now that, to my way of reckoning, is revolutionary. It cuts to the heart of democracy and rule by the people.

Think of it this way. You decide your 15-year-old son has misbehaved. So you say to him, "You cannot go to the movies this weekend." And assume you are the elected legislature. He, though, is the unelected High Court of Australia and there is a statutory bill of rights in place. He responds: "Well, Dad, in interpreting your words, I am putting them into what I consider to be a bill of rights friendly context and, in my view, denying me access to movies breaches fundamental rights. So what you meant, in this new light, is that I can go to the movies. "Oh, and I am also reading in a few words, namely that you have to buy me some popcorn and a drink. You see, Dad, I'm the one who gets to decide what is and isn't in keeping with fundamental rights, not you." That sounds so ridiculous readers won't believe me. But that's barely a parody of what the British and NZ judges have done in a bunch of big bill of rights cases.

So we need our Attorney-General to come out and tell us if this is what he wants to happen here; if he thinks judges can be restrained (in some way that has failed everywhere else); and, if not, why he thinks this outcome - this revolutionary outcome that takes power away from our elected representatives and gives it to committees of ex-lawyers - is a good idea.

But so far we get nothing but gaseous platitudes about protecting people's fundamental rights, as though there was any consensus at all among smart, reasonable people about what this means in day-to-day practice when it comes to having to draw lines about wearing veils to school, campaign finance regimes, same-sex marriage and so on.

But that's not all, incredibly enough. Our Attorney-General has announced that he's also going to change the way magistrates and judges are selected. He's going to take politicians largely out of the equation. Let sitting judges and ex-judges and top lawyers and maybe a few representatives of special interest groups - pick the favourite special interest group before whom you'd expect people to genuflect - draw up lists based on (wait for it) ostensible merit. You see this sleight of hand works by pretending that the notion of merit is uncontroversial and that it's best to leave the judges and lawyers largely to pick their successors.

And it assumes that a few political hacks getting appointed to the bench (which does happen now) is worse than leaving judges and lawyers to pick their own replacements (which will happen under this proposal). It's not. Test this by asking yourself if you'd let top generals decide who got to be the next chief of staff or whether you'd want political input into that decision.

My point is that if you were asked to set up a system that comprehensively undermined democratic decision-making without anyone realising it was happening, I doubt you could do better than the Attorney-General's one-two punch. One, you put in place a bill of rights that greatly increases judges' powers. Of course you do this while repeating endlessly that you only want better to protect fundamental rights, the unspoken premise being that a group of ex-lawyers are better at this than the men and women elected to parliament. Next, you cut off the voting public's ability to pick who those now incredibly powerful judges will be. They'll get to pick their own replacements, thank you very much. The Australian judges who here too will one day tell us "this is a new legal order" will also decide who sits on the Federal Court and maybe even the High Court.

Of course the jargon used to sell this undermining of your and my democratic input will sound grand and marvellous. Heck, if you don't use your brain at all and just revel in the warm feeling such rhetoric induces, you may even feel the Attorney-General deserves a pat on the back. This is all revolutionary stuff. But it's a quiet revolution. Keep your head down and you won't even see it happening, until it's too late. Those who are democrats at heart need to protest as soon as possible at this prospect of juristocracy.


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