Saturday, July 11, 2009

More Britons are emigrating to Australia

More Britons are emigrating, and they don't have to be young and carefree to join the exodus. Consider the choices of Britons joining the 2.26 million jobless queue, with rain outside and peeling paint within. If they are of a generation that enjoyed the sun-kissed, carefree bliss of the backpacker trail, this increasingly is the moment to swap recession-hit Britain for balmy and relatively buoyant Australia. British unemployment has reached 7.2 per cent, a 12-year high, and thousands of people are preparing to follow the masses of Australians going home to an economy which has largely avoided recession.

There is nothing new about British immigration, of course. Tens of thousands arrived under the postwar £10 Poms scheme, encouraged by a labour-hungry Australia willing to subsidise their passage and determined to preserve Australian whiteness. But money frequently is no longer the guiding principle for today's crop of often comfortable departees from the old dart. Quality of life is the new holy grail; many can fall back on sizeable cash reserves accumulated during boom times.

Not everyone is invited to the party though. In a world where sophisticated immigration policies have been tailored to the needs of individual labour markets, the door is open only to a "migrant elite" with specified skills. Unlike earlier generations, large numbers have no intention of returning to Britain.

Typical are members of the Mercer family from the Wirral, north-western England, who are set to move to Australia this year. "My expectation is that Australia is a land of opportunities where hard work will be recognised in a way that I think is taken for granted here," says Tony Mercer, 31, whose property business went bust in the economic storm last year.

An aircraft engineer by trade, his skills did not meet the qualifying criteria because he had not used them for years. Instead, the Mercers secured the points needed to move to Australia because his hairdresser wife Jane's skills are in demand. With Samuel, 7, and Jessica, 4, the Mercers have chosen Adelaide. Aside from air fares, a family of four is likely to pay about $10,000 in the visa application process, a system the Mercers describe as "a minefield".

Unsurprisingly, inquiries have shot up at the Emigration Group, a British company employing former Australian immigration staff who help with visa applications. "More people are having serious concerns about the future of this country," says an Emigration Group director, Paul Arthur. Increasingly his customers are young, middle-class professionals citing high taxes, poor weather and poor services as reasons for emigrating. The vast majority are homeowners, although the stagnant property market has meant some are biding their time before they raise the capital needed.

Another option for those wanting to emigrate is to study overseas. One British company, Study Options, has taken on extra staff to place Britons in Australian and New Zealand universities. Co-founder Stefan Watts reports a surge in business from professionals wanting to ride out the recession by taking time to study. Mr Watts sees more clients who are older, in their late 20s or 30s, and time poor. Many look forward to returning to a country they once backpacked around and are unfazed at getting little or no support to pay fees such as the typical $17,000 for undergraduate degree courses.

Will Morrin, a 38-year-old from Glasgow who was made redundant last year from his job as a broker, is about to embark on a three-year radiography degree at Newcastle in NSW, even though he was accepted for a similar degree in Britain with no fees to pay. "I have savings and had been doing a bit of thinking so I sold the car and the house. Weighing it up, what's important is the quality of life," he says. "Weather is the No.1 draw and getting away from the rat race. Things in the UK will only get worse once interest rates kick in." Once qualified in a sought-after profession, he may stay for four years to qualify for Australian citizenship or move to Canada, another economic lifeboat of choice for many...

Traditionally Britons emigrated in good years and stayed put in uncertain economic times. The sign from this recession, however, is a bucking of those traditions. Immigration peaked in 2007 and began to decline early last year, but picked up again in the second half of 2008, according to the Office for National Statistics. More than 165,000 British nationals had emigrated in the first seven months of last year.

This year's yet-to-be published Brits Abroad report by the Institute for Public Policy Research will show most British migrants are highly skilled, although the net loss of such workers seems to be decreasing. Work, lifestyle and adventure are listed as the three main reasons for leaving. The big surprise, however, is in the flexibility afforded by technologies that promote and facilitate remote working. More people are having their cake and eating it, emigrating while retaining jobs back in Britain.


Australian conservatives wavering on climate bill

MALCOLM Turnbull will come under renewed pressure to try to block the Rudd government's climate change legislation in the Senate after warnings from a key Liberal frontbencher. Coalition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb said yesterday he was "even more convinced" of the need to delay Labor's climate change plans after learning first-hand about US legislation that could disadvantage Australia.

Mr Robb said the Rudd government wanted to impose punitive laws on high-emissions industries such as power generation while legislation that had passed in the US congress made almost all the gains from industry offsets. "Our bill is largely all stick, the US bill is carrot," Mr Robb said. He said he had identified eight key differences between the Australian and US legislation that meant it was foolish to pass new laws in isolation.

Speaking to The Weekend Australian after meetings with US industry and congressional figures in Washington, Mr Robb said the US proposals allowed much longer periods for adjustment, more assistance for business and big offsets under carbon trading.

The senior Liberal's position is in stark contrast to the warm reception President Barack Obama gave Kevin Rudd at the climate change forum of major economies in L'Aquila, Italy, as a climate change hero for advocating innovative carbon capture techniques. The Prime Minister has already used the US congress vote on the proposed Climate Change and Clean Energy Act to press the Opposition Leader into backing Labor's version of an emissions trading scheme in the Australian Senate after it passed in the House of Representatives.

Mr Turnbull, who says he wants to support an amended ETS scheme, is having difficulty with sceptics in the Coalition partyroom and has been accused by Mr Rudd of being a "permanent block" on climate change. Mr Rudd has revised the government's proposed scheme by delaying it until 2011, making more generous compensation for the heaviest polluters and reducing energy bills by pricing carbon at $10 a tonne for the first year.

But Mr Robb is not satisfied after comparing Labor's bill with the mammoth 1300-page US legislation, which is expected to be amended further when it goes before the US Senate. Mr Robb said the Rudd government needed to wait until at least October or November, when the final form of the US legislation may be passed. He said he was most concerned about US offsets for agriculture, built-environment and other areas of the economy. "In the US bill, there is major provision for industry to create carbon offsets, and there is only minor provision for that in the Australian bill," Mr Robb said. "It's a major difference -- it's that carrot and stick issue. Our bill is largely all stick, the US bill is carrot, and mostly the targets are going to be provided by the carrots, the offsets."

Mr Robb's Washington study follows a similar visit by Family First senator Stephen Fielding, now a climate change sceptic, who could vote against Labor's bill. Mr Robb said the US treatment of power generators was fundamentally different from Australian proposals: "Eighteen years adjustment period in the US, five years here. Three times more assistance in the US than here. "With energy-intensive trade-exposed industries, there is 100per cent free allocation of permits until the rest of the world has its schemes in place."

Mr Robb said US electricity price increases would be lower than for Australia. In the US, only 15 per cent of all the permits would need to be bought over the next 10 years, while in Australia, from year one, 70 per cent would be bought. "That means our scheme is far more punitive and will put us at a disadvantage," he said.


Teacher unions hold future to ransom

Michael Costa

EDUCATION Minister Julia Gillard has within her portfolio responsibilities the challenge of managing arguably the most ideological and militant section of Australia's union movement, the teachers unions. The negative impact of these unions on the national economy and the financial and psychological wellbeing of Australian citizens far outweighs the damage caused by the periodic outbreaks of criminality witnessed in the building and construction sector.

The disproportionate and hysterical campaign being run by teachers unions against the federal government's modest attempts to reform Australian education shows how unreasonable and reactionary teachers unions have become.

In any discussion of education policy and teachers unions it is important to draw up-front distinction between the ideological fashions of educational policy professionals, the restrictive work practices imposed by teachers unions and the day-to-day work of teachers. Teaching and teachers have been undervalued for many decades; however, recent adjustments in teachers' salaries have led to a significant real increase in their value.

Teaching, practised well, is one of the noble professions that provides direct and unquantifiable intangible benefits to teacher and student. I have encouraged my own children to view teaching as a worthwhile and enriching career. It is important to acknowledge these in many ways self-evident issues up-front because one of the tactics used by teachers unions is the claim that criticism of educational practice is synonymous with criticism of the commitment and professionalism of individual teachers. This is, of course, nonsense.

Much of the difficulty in getting a sensible debate on education reform rests on the presumption of educationalists and teachers unions that only they understand what is in the best interest of students. Much of this is a smokescreen for protecting outmoded work practices, but it would be wrong to assume that it's all a smokescreen. Some of it represents genuinely held, albeit erroneous, beliefs by educationalists that they do indeed know better than the customers of the system - students, parents and employers - what is in their best interest. The skirmishes in education policy revolve around three key issues: the structure of the national curriculum, transparency and management accountability at school level.

The desirability of a consistent national curriculum that focuses on quality outcomes in basic literacy and numeracy should not be controversial. From the point of view of students and their parents the minimum outcome one would expect from a properly functioning education system should be a proficiency in these basic skills. Employers and the taxpayers who generously fund the education system expect students to be able to enter the labour market and participate in the general community with the basic skills required to make a meaningful contribution.

As uncontentious as this may seem, it still raises concerns and criticism from the education unions. The concerns expose the ideological conflict at the heart of this debate. The Australian Education Union submission to the National Curriculum Board on the shape of the national curriculum argues, in general, support for the concept of a national curriculum but wants the ability to influence, if not control, its composition. The AEU rejects the notion that the national curriculum is simply a program of teaching modules; rather, it claims that it is "one of the most powerful forces in democracy". The curriculum for the AEU ideologues "is a tool of social justice because it both describes and unlocks social and economic power".

The national curriculum document, according to the union, "should contain a statement or preamble recognising the vital role of education as a vehicle to social equity and fairness". Government should reject the so-called "back to basics" movement, which relies on "a distorted sense of educational crisis" based on false claims that "modern teaching methods have led to a decline in literacy and numeracy levels in schools".

This view is more an insight into the thinking of education unionists than a sensible critique of the challenge of a national curriculum. Clearly, by their own admission, education unionists regard the curriculum as a political document to enhance a particular group's views on what constitutes social justice. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out many years ago, social justice framed this way is largely meaningless, contradictory and ultimately in the eye of the beholder.

A national curriculum that focuses on basic literacy and numeracy can comfortably coexist with curriculum flexibility to allow students to concentrate on a range of other subjects as part of a broader education. Equipped with good basic skills, students are provided with the opportunity to achieve success (social justice) in the marketplace and community. The real injustice is that the system at present doesn't deliver this for all.

Equally, much union criticism of so-called league tables misses the central issue: parents and taxpayers have a right to know how their children and their schools are performing. The unions claim the league tables "are unfair and simplistic" and they could "stigmatise schools and lead to unfair comparisons". Any statistical data can be misused. That is not an argument against collection of the data or publication of the data.

The hypocrisy of the Greens and the NSW Liberals on this issue is breathtaking. They regularly distort information received under Freedom of Information requests for political advantage. It would be interesting to see their reaction to a proposal to fine them $55,000 for publishing distorted or misleading statistical information.

Transparency and accountability are critical to improving education outcomes. Transparency and accountability are required in a sector that draws nearly 6 per cent of national wealth. Labor, before the 2007 federal election, made clear its intentions in these areas and has a mandate toprovide this fundamental educational data.

Concerns about the usage of the data could easily be dealt with by including in the rankings a clear measure of school performance through time. Clearly a school that has been performing well will have less scope for improvement than one that has performed poorly in the past. It can be argued that this is more unfair to the school that is consistently performing well than the school that has dramatic positive changes off a lower base.

A national curriculum and quality data about students at school performance are essential preconditions to improving education outcomes. However, without a significant realignment of responsibilities and accountability at the school level, this effort could be wasted. The local administrators, particularly principals, have to be allowed to manage their schools without undue interference from central bureaucracies and union-sanctioned work practices that undermine quality innovation in schools.

Principals need to have flexibility in how they allocate their budgets and how they manage their staff. Principals should not have to put up with poor performing teachers and they should have the ability to directly hire teachers who they believe will benefit the school. Parents need genuine input in their children's educational outcomes. Whether school vouchers or some other mechanism can provide this needs to be tested.

Gillard's quest for transparency and accountability needs to be vigorously supported as a preliminary stage in a process of education revitalisation. The real test of the government's commitment will require more than this preliminary first step.


Australian antisemitic publications

At its core the internet is an ideal. I can arrange an online chat with a political scientist in South Korea, create an email focus group amongst my constituents, even discuss Islamic revolutionary theory with a student in Iran. But as with any movement or agent of change, an ideal can be undermined by the ideology of its users. For me, a clear example is the partisan coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict by some online magazines. This years output of two of these online publications, and New, is profoundly disturbing.

Both have pretensions to non-partisan coverage. Crikey is run by a staff who claim journalistic credentials in its mission statement to be fair and open. New Matilda similarly claims to provide non-partisan information and takes contributions, as it describes, from "journalists, current and former politicians, lawyers, critical and creative thinkers, bloggers, policy-wonks and satirists". Which is just about everyone in this room - and a good percentage of those outside of it.

Whatever their stated aims, a careful analysis of their output over the first three months of this year shows that when it comes to the coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Crikey and New Matilda are in fact manifestly partisan. Both consistently adopt the Palestinian narrative, characterise Israel as an oppressor, and ignore Israeli's legitimate security concerns. It is their right to criticize the only free society in the Middle East but it is nonsense to claim they are not strongly biased.

Following the last Israeli elections, Crikey contributor Jeff Sparrow stated as fact that Israeli society had moved sharply to the right, at the same time that that the centre-left Kadima party secured the largest block vote and Likud's Netanyahu sought to broaden his coalition into a ruling government whose final makeup included longtime advocates of peace with the Palestinians. In another article the same contributor looked at the decision of the Israel's Central Elections Committee to ban the participation of two nationalist Arab political parties in the elections, drawing odious parallels with South Africa's apartheid regime - whilst ignoring the democratic Israeli institutions, not found elsewhere in the Middle East, that a few days later saw the Supreme Court reverse that bureaucratic decision. Similarly, New Matilda correspondent Ben White accuses Israel of apartheid control over the Palestinians. He condemns outright the erection of a security fence without reference whatsoever to it or the fact that it has lead to a 95% drop in homicide attacks on civilians in Israel or the fact that it acts as a defensive measure against repeated terrorist attacks, or that the fence's route has always been subject to negotiation and moderation by the Israeli Supreme Court as part of the peace process.

Another Crikey contributor, Guy Rundle, downplays the genocidal policies of Iran's President Ahmedinajab to little more than populism, dismissing outright Israel's authentic fears of a nuclear-armed Iran, not to mention the apprehension of moderate Arab regimes at the prospect of an Iranian regional hegemony.

New Matilda is even more strident in its partisanship. Of the 18 articles run by in the fist three months of this year concerning the Israeli Palestinian conflict, 17 presented a hardline Palestinian narrative.

Some themes emerge. Polemicist Antony Lowewentein is but one of the correspondents to claim as fact that Israel refuses to consider a two-State solution, despite the evidence of numerous peace overtures, the consistent views of mainstream Israelis in favour of a consensus solution, and the unprecedented territorial concessions offered by Israel at the 2000 Camp David Summit and later at Taba, and indeed reoffered by Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert. Unmentioned is Hamas's refusal to recognise Israeli existence, as is the barrier presented to any unified proposal by the ongoing blood feud between the Fatah rulers of the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

Time and again these articles refer to Jews, or the Jewish State, but rarely Israel as a sovereign entity . Paradoxically New Matilda contributor Michael Brull then complains that most Australian Jewish groups do not identify themselves as pro -Israel but as simply Jewish. Clearly he has not read the pro-Israel platforms of the Executive Council for Australian Jewry or the Australian Union of Jewish students, two of the organisations he mentions, he appears unfamiliar with the view of Australian Jewry, which is similarly pro-Israel.

In May this year in Crikey, Lowenestein attacked the Executive Council for Australian Jewry , this time because it fails to condemn other forms of racism as readily as antisemitism. But it is this gem that highlights the author's real intent: "Anti-Muslim sentiment has often been proudly displayed since September 11 by the Zionist establishment. In their world view, only what they find offensive should be censored". Here we have it, a shadowy unnamed Zionist elite that has the impudence to speak out against antisemitism, as though a Jewish group is not entitled to focus on racial attacks against its own ethnicity! This is a rigged rhetorical game. It doesn't matter whether Jews defend themselves or not, or whether the focus of critics is on Israel as a Jewish State or Jewish groups in Australia, the charge is relentlessly the same.

Journalism can be a democratic bulwark, but in doing so we assume certain principles of journalistic professionalism, including the training and commitment to place opinion in a factual context. Yet the rise of the bologosphere is often characterised by its proponents as a triumph against the elitism or corporatisation of the established media. It is all well and good to allege that the Australian newspaper's foreign affairs commentator Greg Sheridan is an Israeli propagandist, as one New Matilda correspondent suggests, but Sheridan has thirty years experience as a senior journalist and is the author of five widely-published books on foreign issues. The New Matilda correspondent may not like his views, but Sheridan works in an environment where facts are checked and factual errors are corrected. As former New York Times standards editor,Al Siegal has said, the most overt concern with accuracy at a newspaper can be seen in the volume of corrections. This hardly seems to concern the editors of Crikey and New Matilda in their coverage of Israel.

An exchange of letters between the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission Chair Tony Levy and New Matilda editor Marni Cordell highlights this problem. In April Levy sent to Cordell a sober, detailed and careful analysis of the magazine's content in the first three months of this year, explaining the ADC's concerns over partisan opinion and the broad slabs of hate-speak that appear regularly in the comments sections attached to each article. In her brief reply, Cordell failed to address the evidence of partisanship, instead championing her publication's contribution to ‘diversity of opinion' i.e Brull, Lowenstein et al all whom have broadly similar views. This thinking is explained by her charge that the one sided ‘diversity of opinion' is to balance what she asserts is a biased media environment - of course, without corroborating this charge. She does not address at all the allegation of antisemitic comment, nor does she respond to the ADC's concern that the magazine chooses not to censor these comments, even though it expressly reserves the right to do so if the commentary is abusive or promotes hate.

Nevertheless, is this antisemitism, or just sloppy journalism? Former Soviet dissident and human rights activist Natan Schrasansky distinguished the two by his "3D Principles" - he warns to look for demonisation, delegitimation, and double standards.

Looking at the coverage in Crikey and New Matilda, we see Israel as a manipulator of world events, an apartheid State engaged in ethnic cleansing, and an initiator of wars that have no strategic or defensive foundation. That is demonisation.

Israel as deserving of the rocket attacks on its citizens, or not entitled to defend its sovereignty? That is deligitimisation. Israelis portrayed as arch war criminals, while scant attention is given in the same publications to human rights abuses in Burma, or Darfur, or Zimbabwe, or Tibet, or North Korea, or Chechnya, or the Congo? That is a double standard. Cordell's pathetic excuse for the obsession with denigrating the Israeli's and ignoring other conflicts where far more people's lives are at stake is ‘As I'm sure I don't need to remind you, the Israel/Palestine question is not a conflict on the same level as other regional problems that you mentioned. Problems in the Middle East, within which Israel/Palestine is a major issue, are something that play out in innumerable ways across the globe'


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