Saturday, May 09, 2009

The usual public broadcaster bias gets frantic

Andrew Bolt

An increasingly shrill Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s 7.30 Report last night asked, pleaded and demanded the Liberals be more “fair” to poor Kevin Rudd, and stop mentioning the “scary” deficit he’s helped to rack up with his reckless spending.

It was astonishing. Here are all O’Brien’s questions last night to Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. I defy anyone to characterise them other than as the most partisan heckling of Turnbull, and most desperate excuse-making for Kevin Rudd, and I defy O’Brien - who has form for this barracking - to present a single interview he’s done with Rudd that is so overwhelmingly hostile, and so demanding of more fairness to the other side:

KERRY O’BRIEN:...Malcolm Turnbull, in your speech today you painted quite a bleak picture of Australia’s future debt levels because of the Rudd Government’s spending to stimulate the economy during the global recession. Are you comfortable that your speech was a fair representation of the facts - no exaggerations, no major sins of omission?

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well, what I’m getting at of course is whether you’re going out of your way to paint the worst picture you can, rather than a balanced picture?

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well I think the point is, whether you are right to lay so much of (the blame for the deficit), as you are, at the door of the Rudd Government, rather than to say a significant portion of this, or a very large portion of the situation Australia is in has landed at our door from global influences?

KERRY O’BRIEN: No, no. Can I suggest that that’s not quite fair (to say Rudd’s huge giveway of free money achieved too little) because in fact that money was spent before those cheques went out and there’s - if I can quote one economist to you, JP Morgan economist Helen Kevans, “it’s a big shock in retail sales. It was a lot stronger than expected. In anticipation of the cash handouts that were to be received in April and May, consumers went out and spent a lot of discretionary items.”

KERRY O’BRIEN: But they are spending a great deal of money. They are planning to spend a great deal of money on infrastructure?

KERRY O’BRIEN: You made an enormous amount today about the debt levels. Just two weeks ago, the Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens said this of the Australian economy: “Public finances remain in very sound shape, with modest debt levels and a medium term path for the Budget back towards balance.” That’s a very different picture from the one you presented today.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But is Mr Stevens wrong when he says that public finances remain in very sound shape; when he says “modest debt levels”, and when he says, “a medium term path for Budget back towards balance”. He’s presenting a very calm message, I would have thought, by comparison with yours.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But you didn’t once acknowledge in your speech, as I read it, that the bulk of the deficit the Government faces in this Budget, the bulk of the debt will come from a massive drop in tax revenue due directly to the impact of the global crisis, while at the same time you put heavy emphasis on Mr Rudd running up massive debt. Now was that fair, was that really a balanced picture?

KERRY O’BRIEN (after being told he was actually wrong): But did you acknowledge how much the impact on Government revenue was? $115 billion that we know of and probably much, much more.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But did you acknowledge that? Did you acknowledge that?

KERRY O’BRIEN: That’s if your assumption that they’re blowing it is correct.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well there are a lot of credible economists who are arguing differently. The governor of the Reserve Bank.

KERRY O’BRIEN: The Reserve Bank Board governor said as recently as yesterday, “The stance of monetary policy together with the substantial fiscal initiatives will provide support to domestic demand over the period ahead.” By “fiscal initiatives supporting domestic demand” he’s obviously referring to Mr Rudd’s stimulus package?

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well you know that jobs are going to be lost regardless of what happens, simply because of the impact of the global crisis.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Would you have been able to - would you have been able to - would you have been able to stop a haemorrhage of jobs in this country if you were confronted with what has been happening in the global economy?

KERRY O’BRIEN: You talk about Australia’s debt levels in terms of hundreds of billions, which can be made to sound quite frightening, but as a percentage of GDP ...

KERRY O’BRIEN: But as a percentage of GDP, it sounds much less scary, doesn’t it?

KERRY O’BRIEN: In fact, even if we see a $60 billion deficit next year, it would be about five per cent of GDP. That is still vastly less than those other big major advanced economies, is it not? Five per cent of GDP?

KERRY O’BRIEN: But this is the biggest global crisis since the Great Depression.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Isn’t that the biggest single factor we’re talking about here, that the Government is dealing with, by far? Isn’t it about the global crisis?

KERRY O’BRIEN: I did not say it doesn’t matter. What I said was that when you talk in those round figures, it can sound scary.

KERRY O’BRIEN: When you put it in the context of a percentage of GDP in this climate against what’s happening elsewhere in the globe it does not sound quite so scary. That was what I put to you as a proposition.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well, as a final point, I’ll just put to you once again Mr Turnbull, the Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens describes public finances in very sound shape with modest debt levels. He says the debt levels are modest.

KERRY O’BRIEN: How else do you interpret the term “modest debt levels” without accepting them as modest debt levels?

KERRY O’BRIEN: No one’s used the word trifle, Mr Turnbull. I was just quoting the governor of the Reserve Bank as describing them as modest debt levels. But we’re out of time.


Brag now, pay later - it's just hot air

The article below is mocking but also accurate

OK. This climate change debate has now officially disappeared up its own fundament. Consider this: Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong are now completely committed to forcing emissions trading legislation through Parliament as soon as possible. The legislation itself won't do anything, seeing as it will set the start date of any actual emissions trading scheme back beyond the next election. In passing the legislation, the Government can harvest all the political kudos for having kept its promise to introduce an emissions trading scheme, while putting off the fuss and bother of actually having one.

It's a nifty idea, isn't it? Kind of like legislative lay-by. Legislate now and receive 24 months interest-free!

As a practice, "brag now, pay later" is not entirely new. Successive governments have experimented, for example, with the art of back-loading promises into distant budgetary years. Many's the punter who's marvelled at a government minister's election-eve announcement that promises $10 billion on something-or-other "over four years", only to look at the fine print and discover that "over four years" means "nothing this year, $10 the following year, $50 the year after that, and the remaining $9,999,999,960 to be paid in year four, by which time my rabble of a government will be a distant memory and I will be seeking solace in the cushiony bosom of my superannuation".

But the emissions trading scheme sets a whole new standard. The Ruddbot and his Wongbot are investing deeply in symbolism, at the expense of progress. After all, symbolism has worked in the past for the Labor crowd; you can understand why they're having trouble abandoning it now.

The pair of them seem also to have pulled off a magnificent meta-swifty on the green lobby. In return for the business-friendly concessions in their revised emissions trading scheme (more money for big polluters, lower carbon price, free neck rubs for everyone at Rio Tinto), the green crowd has been thrown the assurance that if things go well at the Copenhagen summit this year, the Government might commit to 25 per cent emissions cuts by 2020.

It takes considerable skill to execute a successful trade of something real for something pretend. But effectively, the deal Kevin Rudd has pitched to the green lobby goes something like this:

KR: OK, funsters. Here's the new situation. Things are getting tougher, so I'm gunna need those sandals, that hemp shirt, your bike and those fun hacky sack balls. All three of 'em, thanks.

Greenies: Huh? What? Damn! Etc.

KR: Wait a minute there, dudesters. Calm your farm. You're not gunna lose out. In return for all that stuff, I might be able to get you the Obama puppy, depending on whether the two little girls are willing to give it up.

Greenies: No way! Excellent! Isn't that a Portuguese water dog? They rock! Etc.

The truth is that climate change policy in this country has always been arse-up, no matter who's in power. To sign legislation to reduce emissions without actually reducing any emissions, as Kevin Rudd is doing, seems weird - sure. But is it any weirder than containing emissions while steadfastly refusing to sign legislation to contain emissions? That's what John Howard did, year after year. Remember?

When the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, Australia's delegate to that memorable conference - the Howard government's then education minister Robert Hill - pranced home to great acclaim for the permissive deal he had secured for Australia, in which we were permitted to increase our carbon emissions by 8 per cent over 1990 levels by 2012. John Howard was especially pleased; giving Hill a scratch behind the ears, he described the outcome as a "stunning diplomatic success" and a "first-class outcome for Australia".

It wasn't until later on that Howard - having listened to the coal industry and chewed the fat a little with his Texan friend, Mr Bush - started to see the Kyoto deal as a flawed agreement that would cost Australian jobs. So he decided not to ratify it. But he did promise to honour Australia's undertakings to contain greenhouse emissions nonetheless.

So you ended up with a very strange situation whereby the Howard government complied with Kyoto but refused to capitalise on the political advantages of doing so. This cleared the way for Kevin Rudd to win the election, so that he could legislate an emissions trading scheme but not actually reduce any emissions.

Anyone looking for a simple answer on where Australia stands on the climate change issue could be forgiven for feeling very confused at this point. The Government that only a year ago was advocating the necessity of tough and timely decision-making on carbon emission reduction has pulled back because the whole thing turned out to be quite tough. You can almost hear the Rudd cheer squad now.

"What do we want? TOUGH DECISIONS!"

"When do we want them? WHEN IT'S EASIER!"

And Malcolm Turnbull, who was one of the Howard ministers who tried unsuccessfully to get his old boss to take a more digestible line on Kyoto, isn't providing much by way of useful clarity these days.

Poor old Turnbull. It's been a trying week for him, all round. Fair dinkum, he must be the only Opposition leader in the developed world dealing with a retail trade mini-boom and a spike in employment. How he must yearn for England, the land of his forebears, with its deserted high streets and its bitter armies of unemployed; where the Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has just whacked the top tax rate up by 10p in the pound and seems certain to be run out of town on a pointy stick just as soon as voters get a chance.

But Malcolm Turnbull is not in England. He's in Australia, where Kevin Rudd has just acceded to the two key Turnbull demands he's been making on the emissions trading scheme: delay it and make it nicer for business. Having secured this victory, Turnbull - who does not want to vote for the scheme - is now obliged to rely instead on his objection that the Government is not sufficiently interested in biochar, or the burying of small charcoal pellets in arable land.

Turnbull has recommended that the Productivity Commission - that collective of master reinvestigators - stage an inquiry into emissions trading. A new inquiry? Ordinarily, that would sound like a Rudd idea. But not in this crazy, mixed-up age.


Australia's own Fawlty Towers

A great pity. Blue Mountains resorts have a long tradition of the highest quality. I hope the Hydro Majestic back to its old standards by now, a wonderful place on my visits to it

ONCE a Blue Mountains icon, Leura's York Fairmont Resort has been turned into the region's Fawlty Towers with claims of unwashed sheets, dirty towels, a filthy leaf-clogged swimming pool and irate guests demanding their money back. Immigration officials raided the place last month; the federal Workplace Ombudsman is investigating claims by former workers that they have been ripped off; motoring organisations across Australia have suspended the resort's rating; and NSW tourism organisations have stopped taking bookings.

The business couple who run hotels and shopping centres, Michael Kwok and Helen James, bought the award-winning former Peppers Resort from Mirvac group for $47 million in December 2007. Since then more than 200 of the 240 staff have been laid off and the situation has become so intolerable that even the few staff left are fed up.

The hotel's business manager, Priscilla Lagatule, said: "Fairmont has always had a good name … in the first year of York taking over, that reputation was intact. Obviously, they've made the wrong choices in the decisions they've made since." Mrs Lagatule said management had told staff last Friday that the company engaged to outsource housekeepers had been sacked. When experienced Peppers staff were dispensed with, they were replaced by workers with less experience.

Mr Kwok and Ms James have admitted to former staff members that they no longer have anybody in senior management with hospitality experience. Despite requests, neither Mr Kwok nor Ms James returned the Sydney Morning Herald's calls yesterday.

The chairman of Blue Mountains Tourism, Randall Walker, said: "That something like this would happen to such an iconic property is unprecedented." When the Herald visited the resort yesterday, signs of decay were common. In a car park, the duck-shaped boats that once plied the resort lake are stacked, some missing heads. Insulation hangs from holes in the eaves.

The resort's problems came to a head on Easter Saturday when police were called after more than 200 guests signed a petition demanding their $250-a-night payments be returned. The guests complained of inadequate staff numbers, rooms not being serviced, and dirty and broken facilities. Ten member organisations of Blue Mountains Tourism offered complimentary one-night stays at other locations and entry to local attractions to Fairmont guests to atone for any ill-feeling.

Sylvia Avati of Balmain said the best way to describe her stay was an Easter horribilis. "No one would answer the phone, room service/house-keeping/reception/main switch were never answered. I had to walk the 120 metres to reception and complain to get an ice bucket delivered to the room," she said. "The whole floor was incredibly dirty. Towels thrown into corners of the corridor. Room service trays left out in the hallway for over 24 hours."



Three current articles below

Rural school ignores bully reports

That great government education again. It makes a mockery of the claim that schools act "in loco parentis"

BULLYING is so out of control at a small rural school that parents are threatening to pull their children out while some have already done so. One child was so badly terrorised at Mt Tarampa State School, about 40km north-west of Ipswich, that after years of bullying his mother pulled him out of the school. Kathrine Rodgers said she was so concerned about her nine-year-old son being abused that she reported the incidents to the school repeatedly - but his ordeal continued for two years. “He was being bullied and harassed constantly,” Ms Rodgers said. “One time he even got hit with a star picket in the middle of his back.”

The turning point for Ms Rodgers was when her son, who was in year four at the time, was punched repeatedly. Ms Rodgers said she reported the incidents but little was done. After witnessing more students being bullied at the school she has gained the courage to support other parents in their fight to stop the bullying.

A teacher, who cannot be named, worked at the school for more than a year and described the classrooms as “out of control”. The teacher said she left after a year because her concerns fell on “deaf ears”. “Some of the students should be expelled or suspended because they are out of control,” she said. “There are students at that school who shouldn't be there because their behaviour is unacceptable and disruptive to other children and they need more support than is available.”

Another parent, who asked not to be named, said her two sons aged 10 and 8 were constantly being bullied and victimised at the school. “They are getting beaten up on a regular basis and they are absolutely petrified of going to school,” she said. “They get their hair pulled, stomach punched and kicked and it doesn't matter how many times I tell the school nothing changes.”

But she is confident with a bit of help she can make the school a safer environment for her children. “I have them crying and pleading with me every day to not make them go to school but my only hope is that things will change,” she said.

No one from Education Queensland was available to comment yesterday.


School invaders menace students and teachers

VIOLENT intruders, including some armed with weapons, are attacking and hurling abuse at teachers and students almost daily in Queensland schools. The Courier-Mail can report parents as well as complete strangers last year invaded schools at least four times a week on average. Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show some intruders waved knives and axes. In one shocking incident, an intruder told teachers at a Brisbane school that he was a terrorist and threatened to wreak vengeance with an AK-47 assault rifle, which fires 600 rounds a minute.

In other cases of school violence, intruders have assaulted girls outside school toilets and teachers have been kicked and headbutted. The documents detail at least 152 school invasions during the 2008 school year but Education Queensland issued only brief letters to parents for some cases and little more than a dozen media releases for the entire year.

Parents also are taking matters into their own hands, picking fights on behalf of their children and storming classrooms. One parent tried to kick in the door of a principal's office. In another incident last May at Runcorn State High School, in Brisbane's south, a person terrorised staff and students after entering without permission during the lunch break. "The male went back to his bike and came back with an axe, which he held up in a menacing way," an internal report said.

In one high-profile case, not detailed under FOI, several teenage gang members last July allegedly armed themselves with a meat cleaver and hunted students at Brisbane's prestigious private boys school St Laurence's College. Two 15-year-old students underwent surgery after the alleged attack.

While most cases occurred on Brisbane's southside and the Gold Coast, one case at Indooroopilly State High School, in which an male intruder was reported wandering around the school on four occasions, received special attention by top bureaucrats "given that there are some high-profile media parents of the school". Just a month later, the school faced an even graver threat when a Year 11 girl received a text message stating an intruder planned to "come to the school with a gun". "I'm going to come and shoot up your school," the SMS read.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson yesterday insisted schools had systems in place to deal with intruders, calling police for criminal behaviour, while angry parents faced bans. However, he conceded schools were hard to protect given their size. "I don't believe anyone wants to send their child to school behind barbed wire," he said. "All schools have lockdown procedures in place, which are practised on a regular basis each year to ensure students and staff are prepared for any potential incidents."

However, teachers at Brisbane bayside schools experiencing a spate of intrusions in February last year were told to catch the female intruder themselves. "Should she attempt to leave the grounds, follow at a discreet distance," an internal report said.

Students at Yeronga State High School last year "displayed signs of trauma" for days after a stranger attacked two staffers in front of children and claimed to be a terrorist with an AK-47 assault rifle. "It has been stressful as many students report not seeing such level of violence before in our school community and it has led to them to question the safety of our school," a teacher said in an incident report.

Queensland Teachers Union state secretary Steve Ryan yesterday blamed society for school invasions, saying he was surprised only 152 had been reported. "It's another example of the unnecessary and unwanted pressures that are forced upon schools as a result of societal changes," Mr Ryan said.

Education Queensland has admitted it keeps no record of intrusion statistics, while many of the FOI documents have been blacked out beyond personal details – with some cases completely censored.


Curriculum reform looking hopeful

DURING her time as Minister for Education, Julia Gillard has made her stance, and that of the Government, very clear on school curriculum. Mirroring concerns about falling standards and state and territory dumbed-down curriculums, Gillard describes herself as a traditionalist and argues for a back-to-basics approach to learning, where the subject disciplines are centre stage. As such, it should not surprise that the most recent round of national curriculum documents, released yesterday by the National Curriculum Board (appointed by the Rudd Government), embody a conservative approach.

When outlining the principles and guidelines on which the national curriculum will be built, the board argues that all students, regardless of socioeconomic background and perceived ability, must be taught "the knowledge and understandings on which major disciplines are based".

While nodding in the direction of cross-disciplinary learning and teaching generic skills, such as problem solving and working in teams, the paper, The Shape of the Australian Curriculum, states that each discipline is unique and that schools must provide students with a "systematic engagement with a discipline-based curriculum". Thankfully, after years of curriculum frameworks being full of vague and generalised statements that drown teachers in useless detail, the national board argues that frameworks must be concise, manageable, free of jargon and explicit.

After years of curriculum development being based on no more than ideological bent, personal preference and whatever is the most recent educational fad, it is also good that the National Curriculum Board states there must be a "strong evidence base" for any new curriculum, both in terms of theory and what works in the classroom.

Additional evidence that Australia's national curriculum is on the right track relates to its assessment and reporting regime. During his period as the education minister under the Howard government, Brendan Nelson mandated A-to-E reports (or equivalent), detailing student performance. Not only does the board also argue for A-to-E reports, but in opposition to the current practice of grouping curriculum into key stages (such as kindergarten to year two, or years five and six) states that so-called achievement standards, detailing standards of learning students should demonstrate, will be year-level specific.

No longer will students move from year to year with vague and confusing comments such as "consolidating" and "not yet established'. Parents and teachers will have a clear standard at each year to evaluate each student's level of performance, with a D or E signifying cause for concern.

The first stage of the national curriculum, to be implemented at the start of 2011, involves English, mathematics, history and science. The document Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (to be used as a guide when writing the English curriculum K-12) provides further evidence of a conservative bent.

Readers who have followed debates in The Australian will appreciate how English teaching has been adversely affected by whole language (where children are taught to read by looking and guessing) and the failure to teach grammar and more formal aspects of language use, such as spelling, punctuation and syntax. Not only does the English document call for teaching the "fundamentals, like phonological and phonemic awareness", it also states that grammar should be taught "across all the years of schooling" and that "explicit teaching and consolidation of the fundamentals of spoken and written English are important aspects of the national English curriculum".

While the definition of literature is weakened by the inclusion of multimodal texts (can watching a film or posting an entry on Facebook ever replace the type of engagement demanded by the printed word?), specific mention of the need to teach those works associated with "Australia's literary heritage" should be commended. When detailing the importance of literature, the board's paper, in opposition to texts being analysed in terms of power relationships and the rights of victim groups, states that literary texts are significant because of their cultural value and that students should explore the "aesthetic and ethical aspects of literary texts".

Since the personal-growth model became prevalent during the early 1970s, and more recently with the advent of discovery learning, where teachers become facilitators and students self-directed knowledge navigators, more formal approaches to teaching have been shunned. Thankfully, the English document argues for a proper balance between curriculum content and process - both are essential and how they are employed depends on the task at hand - and between explicit teaching and more student-centred approaches.

While the curriculum frameworks to be implemented in 2011 have yet to be written, and the devil will be in the detail, based on the two documents discussed above, there is cause for optimism.


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