Monday, March 23, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says Australia now has a culture of bingeing, and not only on alcohol

Farewell Pauline

It would seem that Australia's most famous political outsider is finished. I voted for her three times because her policy on Aborigines seemed to me to make her the least racist candidate. Her platform had two major planks: A drastic cutback in immigration and an end to special treatment of Aborigines. For that she was branded racist despite her message being in fact what was contained in the name of her party: One Nation. She wanted immigrants to assimilate and everybody to be treated the same by governments. Assimilation is in fact the opposite of racism. It says that being Australian is cultural and you can become an Australian regardless of your race. Note that the last representative of her party was married to a man of Chinese descent -- hardly racist. Despite Pauline's various defeats, her concerns about lax immigration controls resonated strongly with the people and underlay the swingeing and effective crackdown on illegals put into place by John Howard

Saturday rammed home the final nail in the coffin for One Nation, with the defeat of its sole MP and the failure of Pauline Hanson in her seventh attempt to be elected to parliament.

One Nation became a significant political force when it won 11 seats when it first contested the Queensland election in 1998. But Rosa Lee Long, who had been the One Nation MP for Tablelands since 2001, looks to have failed in her bid to win the new seat of Dalrymple in north Queensland. Counting was close on Saturday night and Ms Lee Long was yesterday not conceding, saying she would fight to the last vote.

With Ms Lee Long's apparent defeat, the only connection One Nation has with elected politicians is that one of its MPs elected in 1998, Dorothy Pratt, still sits in the Queensland parliament as the independent member for Nanango. Ms Pratt left One Nation during her first term.

Ms Hanson's candidacy in Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, attracted national media attention but not enough voters. She secured 22 per cent of the vote to run third behind Labor and the Liberal National Party winner Aiden McLindon.

Ms Hanson has sought election to the Senate three times and once to the NSW parliament, since she won the federal seat of Oxley in 1996 and failed to win the new seat of Blair in 1998. On Saturday night, she would not rule out another tilt at politics, despite having said when she nominated this would be her last run at politics. She'd wait and see how she felt after a good night's sleep. "I think I've got a great result to get the vote that I have," she said. Ms Hanson said the vote confirmed for her so far was an indication people were not satisfied with the major parties.

The One Nation founder blamed the media for her loss, referring to the publication of raunchy photographs of a young woman erroneously claimed to be her in the mid-1970s by News Limited Sunday newspapers. "I seem to get this huge media hype every time I run," Ms Hanson said. "I feel I am being hounded by the media. I have had to deal with issues that no other candidate has had to deal with."


Australian rights record under scrutiny in UN seat bid

What a lot of crap. Human rights are as good in Australia as in any country in the world. And as far as Aborigines are concerned, successive Australian governments poured welfare money down their throats for decades because anything else would have been called racist. The fact that welfare did more harm than good is no surprise but it was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't

PRIME MINISTER Kevin Rudd's dream of winning a UN Security Council seat might be dashed by international concerns about Australia's record on human rights.

Australia's poor treatment of its indigenous population and refugees will come under scrutiny by an international human rights watchdog, amid continuing lobbying for a seat on the prestigious UN body that oversees military and peace-keeping operations.

The Human Rights Committee will today examine Australia's human rights record and issues, including the Northern Territory intervention and immigration detention.

Australian lawyers meeting in New York last week said a good report from the committee would improve the Prime Minister's bid to join the Security Council.

"It would assist substantially," said Human Rights Law Resource Centre director Philip Lynch. "Australia has put human rights front and centre of its Security Council bid."

High level officials from the Immigration, Indigenous Affairs and Attorney-General's departments will represent Australia during the two-day hearing.

Andrew Hudson, senior associate at non-government organisation Human Rights First, said the committee objectively examined countries and their compliance with treaties and standards.

"It will criticise Australia's human rights record to the extent that it falls short," he said.

Unlike the US and Britain, Australia does not have a bill of rights. Proponents sense the Security Council bid could propel the Rudd Government to enshrine human rights in law, as they are in Victoria and other states.

Teena Bagli, from the National Association of Community Legal Centres, said human rights had to be secured for a bid to succeed. "It's vital for the Government - who has said human rights is important and is a part of their Security Council bid - to walk the walk," she said.


University rejects demand for Muslim prayer room

The existing eight Muslim prayer rooms are not enough, apparently

AUSTRALIAN universities are responsible for providing quality education, not consecrated religious spaces, according to a university involved in a bitter dispute over Muslim prayer rooms.

Dozens of Islamic students plan to protest today to demand that a dedicated Muslim prayer room replace an existing multi-faith centre at Melbourne's RMIT. But acting pro vice-chancellor Maddy McMaster said it was not for universities to provide consecrated religious spaces. "A university's responsibility to its students is to provide them with a quality education," she said. "Recognising that the educational experience is not confined to the classroom, RMIT offers other services, including prayer rooms. It falls to religious communities to provide the consecrated spaces."

The dispute over prayer rooms at RMIT's Swanston Street campus began when a Muslim prayer room was demolished in late 2007 as part of renovations. The university's Islamic student association claims it was promised new rooms but that the institution reneged on its promise by making them multi-faith. They are now campaigning to have the multi-faith rooms declared Muslim-only. "As a result (of the multi-faith centre) students and staff have been forced to pray," the RMIT Islamic Society said on its website. "As a consequence of not having a Muslim prayer room on Swanston St, Muslim females have allegedly been subject to sexual abuse, harassment and religious vilification."

Organisers of the protest - which has the backing of the National Union of Students and the RMIT Student Union - say they have been left with no choice but to take action.

But Dr McMaster said the university already provided a number of prayer rooms for Muslim students across all its campuses. "It is difficult to see how we can improve on eight Muslim prayer rooms, with one more opening, as well as providing Muslim students with preferential access to two prayer rooms in the multi-faith Spiritual Centre," she said. "(Universities) should provide quality resources for those who choose a spiritual path. But as a secular institution, such resources do not include consecrated spaces such as churches, synagogues or mosques."

NUS president David Barrow said the demand for Muslim prayer rooms was increasing and space was a problem. "With the influx of international students from Muslim countries, the Muslim prayer rooms haven't been able to cope with the load," he said.


The crazy politics of learning to read

By Miranda Devine

Ideological promoters of the discredited "whole language", or osmosis method, of teaching children to read have been unmasked this week. The whole language lobby's devious and irrational opposition to evidence was exemplified in a bid to derail the State Government's trial of MULTILIT, a successful remedial reading program based on explicit phonics teaching.

In an email stream last week from Associate Professor Brian Cambourne, of Wollongong University, to literacy educators who subscribe to a university mailing list, strategies for winning the "reading wars" were laid bare. Cambourne, regarded as the "godfather" of whole language in Australia, urges his network to "flood Verity's [the Education Minister, Verity Firth's] office" with messages designed to denigrate MULTILIT and undermine the trial "at an almost subconscious level". He also suggests linking the program to "readicide", which he defines as "the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools".

Confronted this week by The Australian's education writer, Justine Ferrari, Cambourne came up with this extraordinary quote: "When you rely on evidence, it's twisted … We rely on the cognitive science framing theory, to frame things the way you want the reader to understand them to be true."

That sounds like a postmodern justification for obfuscation.

To their great credit, it appears that both Firth and the federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, are more interested in results than ideology. Gillard has tied literacy and numeracy funding to programs proven effective by evidence-based research. "This is about finding out what works," Gillard said in a press release last May. Similarly, Firth has said she is not interested in "internecine debates". She urged educators to "stop arguing about what we believe and start talking about what we know".

In other words, reading programs should be based on evidence of what works. Paying lip service to phonics under the rebadging of whole-word theory as "balanced" instruction isn't enough. Both Firth and Gillard are lawyers who understand the value of evidence. Interestingly, both are also members of the Labor Left, which will insulate them from the ideological ad hominem attacks usually employed by the leftists of the whole-language lobby, and may help to unhook the teaching of reading from its historic left-right baggage.

It has never made sense that the whole-word doctrine has been a hobbyhorse of left-wingers, when its results work particularly to the detriment of the working class. Underprivileged children have suffered most from the marginalisation of phonics in schools, as their homes are generally not rich learning environments. The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (of which I was a member) found as many as 30 per cent of year 5 students had literacy problems preventing them from "effectively participating" in further schooling. The National Curriculum Board reportedly puts the figure for struggling readers at between 20 per cent and 40 per cent.

How can anyone dismiss the miracles that go on every day in classrooms in Uniting Church centres in Ashfield and Redfern and in a Noel Pearson-led trial in Cape York, where the reading age of indigenous students is three to four years behind the national average.

You just have to see for yourself the joy in the faces of children as they learn the sounds of the alphabet and how to put them together in words, and they suddenly realise what the "black stuff" on the page means.

In the program trial in Coen, on Cape York, some children started learning so quickly a special accelerated program had to be devised for them. After two terms there were average gains of almost two years in reading accuracy.

How can anyone ignore Melbourne's Bellfield Primary, one of the most disadvantaged schools in Australia, which transformed itself by rejecting whole language theory and instituting a program of explicit phonics instruction. The results were stunning, with 91 per cent of grade 2 students reading with 100 per cent accuracy compared to the previous 31 per cent. How can anyone reject results of the seven-year study of underprivileged children in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, who were taught to read using an intensive form of phonics, and wound up more than three years ahead of their peers.

In his email stream, Cambourne gives a clue to the origins of his ideological blinkers when he dismisses the evidence on which the MULTILIT trial rests as a "neo-liberal" concern.

"I believe that the neoliberal views of 'evidence-based research' … can be shown to be just as flawed as their economic theories". How the science of teaching children to read became an ideological battleground is a mystery to Professor Kevin Wheldall, the inspirational creator of MULTILIT. But there is no doubt it has been a tragedy, as the whole language movement has held sway for 40 years, with its Rousseauian notion that children learn to read naturally just by being exposed to books. When it became clear this was not the case for as many as two-thirds of children, whole-language proponents did not question their beliefs but turned to social justice for justification. Teacher education courses became infected with the revolutionary idea that only by eradicating poverty and underprivilege (by overthrowing the patriarchal, authoritarian, elitist capitalist system, of course) could students progress.

This has been as futile and damaging as the notion that we cannot prevent catastrophic bushfires unless we stop climate change. It is using the tragedy of illiterate children as the means to achieve an ideological end.


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