Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Leftist Australian government thinks it is a nanny too

Government pushes forward with internet filtering

THE Federal Government is pushing ahead with its controversial plan to filter the internet, saying illegal material can be blocked "with 100 per cent accuracy and negligible impact on internet speed". It has just released results of its latest live filtering trials, used as proof that a national internet filter will work.

Labor will introduce legislation next year requiring all service providers to ban "refused classification" (RC) material hosted on overseas servers. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says RC material includes "child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence and the detailed instruction of crime and drug use". "Most Australians acknowledge there is some internet content which is not acceptable in any civilised society," Senator Conroy said. "It is important that all Australians, particularly young children, are protected from this material."

The proposed scheme will place Australia with 15 other Western democratic nations that have or are preparing to implement ISP filters. Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands operate similar ISP filter systems that operate from blacklists which contain child abuse material. However, in those cases the filters are voluntary, while Australia's is mandatory.

The ISP filter plan has attracted a chorus of criticism from industry and internet users, who claim its introduction will strangle internet speeds, curb free speech and be used by the government to ban content it deems "undesirable". Advocacy organisation GetUp's petition against the proposal has garnered more than 120,000 signatures. "It's shocking. This great firewall of Australia is going to hand control of the internet to the moral minority," GetUp acting national director Oliver Maccoll said.

In March, the proposed trial came under fire when a list of about 1000 sites secretly banned by ACMA was leaked online, revealing that harmless sites, including YouTube links and gambling sites, had also been blacklisted. But after the successful live trial ironed out many kinks in the initial plan, the filter has now been given the go-ahead by the Government. The list of banned sites will be maintained by an independent body.

Senator Conroy said the list would be "compiled through a public complaints mechanism", but the Government will add sites containing "known child abuse material" obtained from "highly regarded international agencies". Currently, the Australian Communications and Media Authority issues take-down notices for black-listed content hosted in Australia.



Three current articles below

Australian universities bribed to accept unqualified students

Fixing the High Schools is the real solution to helping the poor but spending the taxpayers' money is so much easier

UNIVERSITIES are likely to have a significant financial incentive to enrol poor students as the federal government's loading for low-socioeconomic status students increases to about $1500 a student by 2012. While the initial loading set for next year of about $540 a student doesn't cover the costs of successfully teaching non-traditional students, who are generally less prepared for university study, it is five times the present rate of low-SES loading.

The loading, which is sourced from a fixed four-year bucket of money, is dependent on the number of students in any year. It is forecast to be about $1033 in 2011 and $1434 in 2013. The HES has seen internal cost estimates from one university suggesting the extra cost of low-SES students is in the region of $1100 to $1200 a student. About $42 million will be available for the loading next year, rising to $84m in 2011 and about $126m in both 2012 and 2013.

"The low-SES student loading is generous and, combined with proposed additional funding for the progress and retention of these students, will ensure that educational equity becomes more than a discretionary policy," said Deakin University's manager of student access and equity Jennifer Oriel. "It is an incentive to give these students the red carpet treatment," Richard James, director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, told the HES.

Professor James said the loading would allow universities to invest in extra student support and new curriculum in the first year to better cater for these students and encourage their retention. He said the initial loading was modest but at the higher rates it would be "a serious financial incentive for universities".

The government signalled that in identifying low-SES students next year it may use Centrelink data on student income support to supplement its reliance on ranking post codes. Such a combined measure would apply in the interim while more accurate measures were developed. These could take into account parental education and may utilise a smaller geographic indicator than post codes such as census collection districts, which comprise about 250 households.

The government has released a discussion paper on measures. Submissions are due by February 5.

The government has allocated $433m during the four years to June 30, 2013, towards raising the participation at university of students from the poorest 25 per cent of society, from about 15 per cent of the student body now to at least 20 per cent by 2020. That is about a further 55,000 low-SES students.

About $325m will be allocated as a loading for low-SES enrolments and $108m will fund partnerships between universities, schools and vocational providers to boost aspirations and pathways to university for low-SES students. About $14m of partnership money will be available to the sector next year and will be divided equally among the 38 universities. From 2011 the money will be allocated as grants to individual proposals and projects as approved by the government.

Successful applications will be judged on a series of principles. Among them are that the proposals include mechanisms to measure results and, where appropriate, that they address early intervention, defined as beginning before year 9.


Principals seek to hire and fire

SCHOOL principals are calling for the power to hire and fire teachers and manage their schools if they are to be held accountable for student results with the publication of national performance reports next month. With the launch on January 28 of the myschool website, on which student results for every school in the nation will be publicly available for the first time, principals are worried they will be held responsible for their school's performance while many are denied the power to effect changes necessary for improvement.

The presidents of the primary and secondary school principal associations, Leonie Trimper and Andrew Blair, argue that international research shows a direct correlation between a principal's ability to select staff and school results.

Education Minister Julia Gillard agrees that principals should be given more control over the running of their school, and says comparison of school results in January will provide evidence on the effectiveness of different management practices. The issue was raised at a principals forum last month hosted by Ms Gillard, where Adelaide high school principal Wendy Johnson questioned the validity of school comparisons on the website. Myschool attempts to compare schools considered alike in their students' social makeup.

Ms Johnson said a group of similar schools could include very different management practices, and compare a school where a principal was able to hire teachers with another where a principal had to accept the teacher sent to them from the education department.

Ms Johnson, principal of Glenunga International High School, yesterday said that international research showed the key to making a difference in student learning was the quality of a teacher, which could account for up to 30-40 per cent of student results. "If you have teachers who want to be working with these students and want to be working in that particular school with its particular emphasis, its particular directions and its particular culture, you have enormous advantage over a situation where a teacher might be not bothered or the match between the school culture and their beliefs doesn't sit well," she said. "If you have no control over it, it's really difficult to hold you accountable. Every principal is committed to making an improvement in student outcomes -- that's why we went into teaching in the first place -- but if you don't have the material to make a difference it makes it really difficult to deliver."

State education departments give their schools varying degrees of autonomy, with Victorian principals having the most control and NSW considered to have the most centralised system. Western Australia is relaxing its control in some schools next year, with the introduction of 30 "independent public schools", allowing principals and parents greater control over their school including hiring teachers.

Mr Blair, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, said principal autonomy was a necessary precondition for school improvement. He queried the validity of comparing schools with different principal powers, asking how accountable a principal was for the results of teachers that were sent to the school.

Ms Trimper, president of the Primary Principals Association, said matching the needs of the school and its students with the expertise and skills of the teacher would improve the system. "Name any company that sits back for Centrelink to ring and say, `Here's your 10 staff'," she said. "It just doesn't happen."

Ms Gillard said there were differing views among school principals about the nature of school management and leadership, but the federal government was encouraging greater empowerment of principals through its national partnerships on disadvantaged schools and teacher quality. The Education Minister believed devolving power to local schools and principals could make a difference to students' results. "But the more weight we put on the shoulders of school leaders, the greater the obligation we have to support and nurture school leadership," Ms Gillard said.


A Leftist government cuts the bureaucracy to spend more on teachers!

Sadly, it is only in Tasmania (population 500,000) but it shows what is possible

Tasmania's special schools have received a funding boost. The Tasmanian Government is investing an extra $930,000 a year to provide 10 new teachers. Tasmania has three main special schools catering for about 150 students with disabilities.

The Premier and Education Minister, David Bartlett, says the extra money has been cut from bureaucracy and re-invested in front-line services. "[Thereby] ensuring that parents who choose special schools over inclusion in regular schools have a fantastic level of to provide more in the way of art, in music, in PE, for special needs students," he said.

Mr Bartlett today toured the new southern campus for children with disabilities. The revamped Hazelwood school on Hobart's eastern shore will open next year but the cost has blown out from $3 million $4.6 million. Mr Bartlett is not concerned, saying he made a promise to parents. "We wouldn't be penny-pinching or cutting corners. It has cost a bit extra," he said.

Leanne Wright, from the Education Union, says it has taken almost two years to address a funding shortfall. "I presume part of that would be because of the Global Financial Crisis," she said.



Three current articles below

Greens take moral high road - and finish last

By Peter Costello a former Liberal Party federal treasurer and the outgoing member for the Higgins electorate

Two days out from the Higgins byelection Malcolm Mackerras, Australia's leading psephologist, predicted a Greens victory. Mackerras not only knew the result, he knew the reason for it, forecasting the Liberal candidate would be defeated because of the "arrogance" of the resigning MP and the elevation of Tony Abbott.

When the poll was declared on Monday, the Liberal vote had in fact increased. Mackerras has moved on to other predictions. But the forecast excited the Greens leader, Bob Brown, enough for him to make a whistlestop tour before the ballot, hoping to associate himself with the victory. He appeared in the Melbourne suburbs to tell the media about the concerns of local voters. Surprisingly, they were all his pet policy projects.

I was with the Liberal candidate, Kelly O'Dwyer, that day. The press smelled a rat. "Haven't you been forced into the electorate to counter Bob Brown?" one journalist asked me. I pointed to my former office nearby, explained I had lived in the area for 20 years and that we were in my local shopping centre. "I don't travel here, I have to travel to get out of here," I replied. It was clear the media momentum was on the side of Brown.

It is hard to think of circumstances more propitious for the Greens: a sympathetic press, no Labor candidate, a Liberal leadership spill, parliamentary debate on the emissions trading legislation and the media focus on Copenhagen. And Abbott, as new Liberal leader, didn't get time for a visit. Still the Greens fluffed it. This did not stop Brown declaring a great triumph. As usual, there has been little critical appraisal of his performance. So what went wrong?

In contrast to the Liberal candidate, who was outstanding, the Greens chose a bad candidate. Their central command overrode local supporters to impose someone who lived in Canberra. Most people think an MP should represent locals to Canberra. The Greens had the idea they could represent Canberra back to the locals. And what a representative. When it comes to alarmism, Clive Hamilton is almost without peer.

These days he preaches destruction from climate change. In 2000 Hamilton forecast the GST would kill people on the roads - 65 a year - because it would lead to increased motor vehicle use and pollution. That means the GST has caused well over 500 deaths by now, which is nothing like the body count Hamilton is forecasting from global warming. But it is still a decent set of fatalities he can lay at the feet of the Liberal Party.

Secondly, some Labor voters - particularly among lower-income earners - will not vote for the Greens. To maximise their joint position, the Greens and Labor need to run three-cornered contests, like the Liberals and Nationals do in regional electorates. The Liberal campaign was assisted mightily by Labor's decision not to run.

Thirdly, the Greens have to scale down the sanctimony. They thrive on a message of impending doom. These days the cataclysm is global warming. Previously it was logging, or nuclear annihilation. Only by repentance and obedience to their doctrine can we escape the wrath to come.

But educated people are a little less credulous than that. They know in political policy, outcomes rarely match the promises, particularly the overblown promises of zealous activists. They know that moral absolutists rarely deliver what they promise.

The Greens have a moral superiority complex. In their mind they are not only right but virtuous, which makes their opponents not only wrong but immoral. This is why Hamilton has compared climate sceptics with Holocaust deniers - if you disagree with his policies you are complicit in, or covering, up mass murder. Robert Manne, who launched the campaign for Hamilton, put it this way: "If the Greens can achieve a breakthrough in the byelections … [this] might come to be seen as a turning point in the moral history of this country."

In Melbourne on December 5 electors could have turned to good from evil, to Green from Liberal. Instead, by voting Liberal out of concern for their children's education, or for the lack of aged care, or for their job or business, they demonstrated moral inferiority. One day it might dawn on Brown, Manne and Hamilton that voters do not like moral condescension. Sanctimony can make you feel good, but it rarely appeals to those listening.


Politicians talk green, drive fuel guzzlers

The usual Greenie hypocrisy. It's other people who have to make changes or do without

FEDERAL politicians are using a taxpayer-funded perk to pay for gas-guzzling SUVs, with more than 90 percent of them driving six or eight cylinder cars. A staggering 225 out of the 243 private-plated cars chosen by MPs and Senators have six or eight-cylinder engines, in contrast to the national trend towards smaller, more fuel efficient models. Only a handful of MPs drive low-emission hybrids.

The list, published today on The Punch, shows the most popular car among federal politicians is the Ford Territory, Australia’s answer to the SUV and possibly the heaviest Aussie-built passenger car ever made. It was chosen by 81 MPs, including many who live in suburban electorates. The Federal Government’s own Green Vehicle Guide gives the Territory a woeful 2.5 stars out of five.

The details, released under Freedom of Information laws and current as of March 1 this year, show only 10 MPs drive low-emission hybrids.

All MPs and Senators are entitled to at least one private-plated vehicle for personal use as part of their salary package. They can choose from a list of 35 cars valued at up to $48,990 or with approval from the Special Minister of State, select a “non-standard vehicle”. Apart from the Territory, other popular vehicles include the Holden Berlina and Calais vehicles or the Toyota Aurion V6. Some of the Toyota Landcrusiers, preferred among some country-based MPs, are diesel or in the case of one or two six cylinder cars, dual fuel LPG operated.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was embarrassed into swapping his private-plate Territory for a hybrid Toyota Prius in 2007 when, as Opposition Leader, it was revealed he was calling for action on greenhouse while driving a Territory.

Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig, a Territory driver, said the government was examining “cleaning up” the parliamentary entitlements framework, including the private-plated vehicle scheme. An independent committee would report to him next year with some recommendations intended to “reduce cost and increase transparency”.


The Quixotic war against carbon to add a third to power bills, which will cost $1000 more over three years

AUSTRALIANS will have to pay up to an extra $1000 over the next three years for power, with about a third of the extra cost directly attributable to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The NSW regulator yesterday issued a draft ruling allowing the state's three electricity companies to raise their charges over the next three years, and it is the first such ruling where the cost of a CPRS can be exactly determined. The federal government has estimated that an ETS would add $1100 a year to the average family's bills, with gas, fuel and groceries set to rise along with electricity.

Power prices in Australia are set by each state within a national framework, and the Australian Energy Regulator recently issued guidelines for South Australia and Queensland, with those for Victoria due to be released in the new year. But these rulings allow only for increased charges for network costs and not a CPRS, making yesterday's ruling by the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal the first on what it sees as the potential cost to consumers of a CPRS.

While NSW is the first state to make such a call, its figures would be a guide for other state regulatory bodies when they issue their rulings for possible rises. Under the NSW body's draft ruling issued yesterday, the three main energy companies would be able to start charging for a CPRS from the middle of next year, even though the scheme was not due to start until the middle of 2011.

Notes issued with the ruling show that customers of Energy Australia would pay an extra $288 over three years for a CPRS, while those with Integral Energy would pay an extra $314, and those with Country Energy an extra $302. This represents a rise in cost between now and 2012-13 of 23 per cent for Energy Australia, 25 per cent for Integral Energy, and 21 per cent for Country Energy. In the case of all three distributors, the cost of a CPRS is about half the overall increase recommended by the independent regulator, with most of the extra cost to consumers coming from the need to replace ageing infrastructure.

The overall costs allowed by the NSW pricing tribunal would see rises over three years of $554, or 44 per cent, for customers of Integral Energy, $727, or 58 per cent, for those of Energy Australia, and $893, or 62 per cent, for those signed to Country Energy.

Tony Abbott seized on the last figure as evidence of how the CPRS would hit ordinary consumers. He claimed that "those massive increases are due in significant measure to Mr Rudd's emissions tax". "There is a real problem here. Mr Rudd is trying to tell us that there is a painless way to tackle climate change," the Opposition Leader said. "There isn't. And we have learnt today from the NSW authorities that Mr Rudd's emissions tax is likely to impact massively on Australian families." But the federal government planned to allow full or partial compensation for electricity consumers who earned less than $160,000.

The NSW opposition said the planned increases showed the extent that basic infrastructure such as powerlines had been allowed to run down under the Labor government.


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