Friday, December 05, 2008

The "Greenhouse" retreat begins

The battle with climate hobgoblins is slowly giving way to reality

FEDERAL cabinet is finalising a cautious emissions trading scheme offering higher compensation to big trade-exposed polluters and a "soft" start in pollution-reduction targets. With concern growing in the Rudd cabinet about the emissions trading scheme's potential to exacerbate already rising unemployment, particularly in crucial marginal regional seats, the target range for the regime to be released on Monday week is widely expected to be between 5 per cent and 15 per cent by 2020. But the emissions trading white paper will tie Australian emissions reduction targets to the ambition of next year's Copenhagen agreement on cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.

After months of furious lobbying from key industries, including LNG, cement and steel, the Government will offer significant changes to its original formula offering wider compensation to trade-exposed emissions-intensive industries to ameliorate corporate concern about jobs and investment moving offshore.

Senior sources also say the Government's strategy is to negotiate the scheme through the Senate next year with the Coalition, rather than the Greens and independents, meaning its final impact is likely to be even softer when an amended version finally starts in 2010.

Conservationists and renewable energy industry advocates have in recent weeks implored the Government to keep open the possibility of deeper emission cuts of 25per cent by 2020 to maximise the chances of an international deal that could limit global warming to 2C, a level that can still avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change.

The Government remains determined to press ahead with its emissions trading scheme despite the global financial crisis, but in his speech to the parliament yesterday Kevin Rudd made it clear he was very worried about rising unemployment. "We have had a debate in here from time to time about where the global financial crisis goes," the Prime Minister said. "It is going to affect a lot of people who will lose their jobs. That is the truth and it is an awful thing. "Whatever our policy debates may be about that, the other thing we need to be reminded of at a time like this is, through our own work in local community, to support people who find themselves in those positions in the period ahead."

The Government's green paper released in July proposed handing out for free up to 20 per cent of permits to heavy industry in the period before an international agreement imposed similar costs on their competitors, and 30 per cent once agriculture was included in the scheme in 2015. The remainder of the permits would be auctioned. But in recent weeks officials have canvassed the prospect that this strict cap on the proportion of free permits could be increased - to about 25 per cent, or 35 per cent after the inclusion of agriculture, with more sectors qualifying for at least some free permits and companies being able to apply for permits for new projects as well. They have suggested that industry sectors could be allowed to choose between two possible formulas for calculating their eligibility for free permits and that industries previously missing out on permits - such as oil refining and some chemical production - could now be offered 30 per cent of their necessary permits for free.

But the cabinet subcommittee is understood to have considered it politically unacceptable to offer 30 per cent free permits for the methane emissions from coalmines, even though coal would probably have been eligible under the revised plans, ordering further negotiations to narrow the government assistance to the sector. No other country has plans to require coalmines to buy permits for methane emissions for many years.

Many industries that miss out on free permits are also being offered "structural adjustment" assistance from the proposed multi-billion-dollar Climate Change Adjustment Fund, created from the proceeds of permit auctions, to ease the burden from the introduction of the emissions trading scheme. The Government is also holding detailed discussions with industry about the implementation of its promised national renewable energy target (RET) alongside the ETS, with another discussion paper on the much-delayed RET set to be released before the end of the year.

Yesterday, leading economists - including nabCapital chief economist Rob Henderson, ANZ chief economist Saul Eslake, and Macquarie Group chief economist Richard Gibbs - wrote an open letter to the Government. They urged it to apply the ETS as broadly as possible, including to petrol, which the Government has pledged to exempt for the first three years of the scheme, and to set any carbon-price safety cap very high to allow the new market in carbon permits to work.

The cabinet subcommittee on emissions trading has met twice this week and the full cabinet was also scheduled to discuss the issue yesterday as the Government raced to finalise the design of its scheme ahead of its release on December 15. Cabinet is very conscious that Labor's hold on marginal seats, including Capricornia, Flynn, Dawson, Corangamite and Solomon could be strongly affected by the decisions taken.


Incompetent ambulance phone operator kills man

A man suffered a heart attack and died while an ambulance called for him went to the wrong address, the Opposition has told State Parliament. State Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg today highlighted the case of 62-year-old Bob Silman, who suffered a heart attack on November 2 near Mackay. His wife Lorraine called an ambulance to their Pleystowe address, just 10 minutes from the local ambulance station. But Mr Silman died during a 40-minute wait for paramedics, who were dispatched to number 2, instead of the Silman's address at number 20. Mr Springborg said the tragic case brought to attention a substandard ambulance response service.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the case was a sad one but call centre staff were professionals who were trained to deal with stressed callers. "There have been instances where, because of the distressed nature of the caller, it has been difficult to identify the precise address," he said. Mr Robertson said initial advice suggested the delay at the Silmans' home was due to an inaccurate address being provided to the responding crew. "I am not placing any blame on any individual, but that is the advice I have received on that matter," he said.

But the triple-0 call log shows Mrs Silman repeatedly tried to clarify her address with the confused operator. Mr Springborg told reporters the dispatch system was wrong - not Mrs Silman - and the Government should apologise. "She went through the most extraordinary and excruciating painful process in trying to convince the call centre that they had the information on her property address wrong," he told reporters. "Despite this Government taxing Queenslanders more and more in the boom times, they have managed to get it wrong today and it has actually ended in tragic circumstances."


Public servants fear bad publicity before all else

A State Government department responsible for looking after children considers bad publicity more important than a death in a school.

A leaked Education Queensland risk matrix policy document tabled by the Opposition in State Parliament yesterday revealed the ranking system public servants should use when notifying bureaucrats of issues. "Sustained adverse publicity" was ranked in the worst category of critical but "loss of life or permanent injury" was considered less serious in the major category below. Other results considered less important than bad publicity included a 10 per cent financial impact on the budget or long delays to programs.

The existence of the rankings has emerged three years after former health inquiry commissioner Geoff Davies labelled a similar document used by Queensland Health as "shocking".

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg yesterday questioned how the Government could still be using such a system. "After 10 long years, the Beattie-Bligh Labor Government has clearly lost its way when it is more concerned about bad news stories than people's lives," Mr Springborg said.

However, Premier Anna Bligh defended the document, saying the critical category also included "multiple deaths" alongside the bad publicity. "Yes, it lists 'sustained adverse publicity'," Ms Bligh said. "Of course the department would have to deal with that. "That is just one example of what would be a critical risk in the category of managing the external environment."

But Mr Springborg said the loss of one life should be considered more important than a bad run in the media. According to the Davies Commission of Inquiry report, former Bundaberg health bureaucrat Peter Leck testified that decisions were made by reference to a risk matrix which rated "significant and sustained statewide adverse publicity" on the same level as "loss of life".

Furthermore, "sustained national publicity: QH reputation significantly damaged" was on the same level as "multiple deaths". "The view, which seems to be that of Queensland Health, that substantial adverse publicity is as serious a consequence as multiple deaths, is shocking," Mr Davies found.



They seem to have taken California seriously. Four current articles below

The red ink saga gets worse

Teachers told to leave wrong answers blank

TEACHERS at a Brisbane school were told to leave wrong answers by students blank, as marking it wrong would have hurt the child's confidence. The case at Algester State Primary School on the southside has emerged in the wake of the red pen controversy this week involving Queensland Health warning teachers to stop using red pens as the colour was too "aggressive".

One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was shocked at the recent directive to leave answers blank. "They didn't want us to write anything," he told The Courier-Mail.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Rod Welford said he was too busy to be interviewed and that he did not comment on "operational" issues anyway. "There's nothing for our minister to say," the spokeswoman said. A one-paragraph statement from Education Queensland issued later failed to discuss issues proposed.

It came after the red pen controversy played out in State Parliament again, with the Bligh Government turning the tables on the Opposition over the source of the red pen advice. It was contained in a Queensland Health kit given to 30 schools to provide a range of tips and hints on dealing with mental health issues in the classroom. The Liberal National Party had claimed the document was "kooky, loopy, loony, Left policy" but the Government yesterday revealed the kit was initially released nationally by the Howard government in 2000.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson lampooned the LNP claims, questioning who the "Marx and Engels of the Howard socialist government" were who devised the kit. "None other than comrade Dr Michael Wooldridge and comrade Dr David Kemp - a couple of loony lefties full of kooky, loony and loopy ideas if there ever were any," Mr Robertson said. [The Federal education bureaucracy is Leftist too. No doubt they slipped this one past the politicians]


Education policy gets an F

EDUCATION systems with no red pens and no wrong answers feed the delusion that our students are doing well. State education gets an F for setting up children for failure. The Queensland Health document calling on teachers not to use a red pen when correcting students' work (it's seen as aggressive and damaging to self-esteem) is so bizarre, it has to be true.

In the Alice in Wonderland world of education - where teachers no longer teach, they become guides by the side, where classic literature is replaced by SMS messaging and graffiti and history is reduced to studying the local tip (it's the environment, stupid) - nothing surprises. Read state and territory curriculum documents from the past five to 10 years and the fact is that no one fails. Learning is developmental, so don't worry if children cannot read or write as, eventually, they will pick it up.

Ranking kids one against the other or giving a test marked out of 10, where 4 means fail, is wrong as each student is precious and unique and being competitive reinforces a capitalist, winner/loser mentality. Failure is redefined as "deferred success" and reports describe student achievement with comments like "consolidating", "not yet achieved" and "establishing". No wonder parents don't have a clue where their children rank in the class. It's also no wonder that so many thousands of primary school children enter secondary school with such poor literacy and numeracy skills and that universities now have remedial classes for first-year students, teaching essay writing and basic algebra.

Fast forward to Gen-Y and the results of this care, share, grow approach to assessment and correcting work are clear to see. Having never been told their work is substandard or that, compared with others, they may have failed, Gen-Y has an inbuilt sense of invincibility and success. Ask employers about working with Gen-Y and the consensus is that this is a generation that expects never to be corrected, that promotion is automatic and that near enough is good enough. After years of being told at school that everyone has a right to an opinion - after all, how we read the world is subjective and teachers are only facilitators - no wonder many young people are incapable of working out the difference between success and mediocrity.

There is an alternative. As every good parent and teacher knows, children need a disciplined approach to learning, and to be told when they have passed or failed. Boys, in particular, need clear and immediate feedback about what's expected and whether they have reached the required standard. Look at the stronger-performing education systems of Singapore, Japan, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, and it's obvious they rely on competitive assessment at key stages and students suffer the consequences of not doing well enough.

It's ironic that Australian students, who are in the "second 11" when it comes to international maths and science tests, on being interviewed express a high opinion of themselves and their ability to do well. Asian students, on the other hand, who consistently rank at the top of the table, say that they need to work harder as they feel there is always room for improvement. So much for the smart state.


State Premier pisses into the wind

Show us respect, Premier John Brumby tells Melbourne's young. When their Leftist teachers are telling them that there is no such thing as right and wrong and that everything is relative, what chance that the kids will heed propaganda telling them to be do-gooders?

JOHN Brumby has declared war on the "me" generation of out-of-control young Victorians who lack respect and fuel crime. The Premier today will unveil a plan to restore respect throughout schools and the community. "I am concerned about an emerging culture of alcohol and a lack of respect," he told the Herald Sun.

Mr Brumby plans a multi-million-dollar campaign to steer young Victorians into volunteering for key fire, rescue, welfare and community groups. The school curriculum is expected to be changed to teach teenagers right from wrong.

The campaign, aimed at between 15 and 25, comes as crime figures show 33,911 charges were laid against people under under 18 in 2007-08, and one in five of all offences were committed by teens. "Like all parents, I am concerned when I see images of young people writing themselves off on Friday or Saturday nights, getting into fights, or just not treating themselves or other people with respect," Mr Brumby said. "I will be pushing a respect agenda very heavily next year - it's a top priority."

The Premier was speaking after the annual Schoolies Week of drugs, drunkenness and anti-social behaviour hit the nation's beachside resorts. His plan has won the backing of notorious party animal Corey Worthington - who reckons more needs to be done and has offered to advise Mr Brumby for free. Speaking through his manager yesterday, the Melbourne teenager said more amenities and activities were needed for under-18s who are banned from licensed venues. "They need to be entertained or have places to go so that they aren't on the streets where the violence occurs," Worthington said.

The wild child said he was happy to make himself available at no charge to meet the Premier to help develop suitable strategies. Organised street parties, concerts and relaxing laws so some licensed venues can be used for under-18s events were some of his suggestions. The teen became notorious in January after throwing a wild party at his Narre Warren house without his parent's permission.

Crime figures show that juveniles are vastly over-represented in public order offences, arson and car theft. Drunken violence on the streets among the young is changing the face of Melbourne's CBD. Violence and alcohol abuse is rife at elite schools and unruly teenage parties.

Mr Brumby's strategy will dominate the Government's social agenda next year. A round table of experts and parents will meet to carve out a way to teach the young right from wrong. Education ministers today are expected to declare a shared goal in Australia of better values among the young.

A centrepiece of Mr Brumby's agenda will be encouraging volunteering. He wants to lead the way by joining the Country Fire Authority as a volunteer to help protect his family farm. He said young people would be better off if they directed their energies towards volunteer organisations, sporting clubs and soup kitchens rather than trawling the streets. "Parents don't want to be lectured by Government, but I think some would like some advice on helping their kids become solid citizens," Mr Brumby said. "Schools do a great job but we can always look at whether we can do more to teach life skills to young people." He will work with Education Minister Bronwyn Pike to assess whether schools should be more involved in teaching young people to value themselves and others. "I can think of nothing better than joining up to these (volunteer) organisations for young people to learn about community respect and what it means to be part of a team," he said.

Mr Brumby said the respect agenda flowed on from the Government's crackdown on alcohol-related crime. He referred to the night when he went to the Melbourne Custody Centre with the Herald Sun to discover three young drunks being processed by police. "I was shocked when I went to the Melbourne Custody Centre to see the state some young people were in - and it struck me that nobody would get into such a state if they respected themselves and their community," he said.


Islamic school bans national anthem

School reportedly bans the singing of Advance Australia Fair at assemblies.

A BRISBANE school has banned the national anthem at assemblies and sacked the teacher who asked for it to be played. Australian International Islamic College teacher Pravin Chand was sacked in November, four months after his proposal for students to sing Advance Australia Fair was ruled to be against the "Islamic view and ethos". A memo sent to teachers at the Durack school in July and obtained by The Courier-Mail, also said "the singing of the anthem will be put on hold".

The revelations follow an outcry on the Gold Coast this week at a plan by the same college to open another campus at Carrara. A vocal crowd draped in Australian flags accused the college of promoting segregation, anti-Australian values and even terrorism. Muslim leaders slammed the protests as "un-Australian" and claimed religion should not be used as a reason to protest against a school.

School chairman Imam Abdul Quddoos Azhari yesterday denied the anthem ban and said students sang it "at every function". But Mr Chand, whose version of events was backed by a second teacher, said he had not heard the anthem once this year. "No national anthem to me means no integration with Australian kids," Mr Chand said. "Western values (at the school) are a no-no. "It's like a paramilitary camp that place."

Mr Chand's employment was terminated by the college board last month on the grounds he was "not fitting into the school's ethos". Outgoing principal Azroul Liza Khalid, who started at the school in July, said she had not heard the anthem once at assembly, although it was played two or three other times. Ms Khalid said she was told by a board member not to play the anthem or any songs on Friday because it was a holy day. In July, school assembly day was moved from Monday to Friday.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Rod Welford indicated it was unlikely a public school had banned the national anthem. "It's not compulsory for schools to play the national anthem," she said. "There's an expectation it would be played on formal occasions when the Australian flag is being raised."

A Catholic education spokesman said: "I'm absolutely confident that no Catholic school has ever banned the playing of the national anthem and never will."

School trustee Keysar Trad and Imam Quddoos said they had not heard of the ban and supported the playing of the anthem at future assemblies. The future of the proposed 60-student college at Carrara will be decided by Gold Coast City Council next year.


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