Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Australian pro-liberty thinktank vindicated on climate

By Greg Lindsay, Executive Director

Eighteen months ago in Tokyo, my two year term as President of the Mont Pelerin Society, founded by F.A. Hayek in the wake of World War II, came to an end. I was succeeded by development economist Professor Deepak Lal.

In my Presidential address, I traced the history and intellectual lineage of that famous Society back to the great thinkers of the Enlightenment and speculated about some of the problems and threats to freedom that modern-day liberals faced.

What I singled out in particular was the so-called ‘debate’ about the theory that man-made carbon emissions are responsible for causing potentially catastrophic increases in global temperatures. My concern wasn’t the evidence for this theory, per se, but what I described as ‘the regrettable features of the climate change debate, which I believe has descended into anything but a reasoned and scientific discussion judged by Enlightenment standards.’

My point was that scepticism – the rigorous evaluation of evidence – a fundamental building block of intellectual and scientific progress, was in danger of being swept away by a new form of pre-enlightenment quasi-religious belief and rent seeking:
'What is disquieting, and should be disquieting to all who cherish the principles of the Enlightenment, is the certainty of belief displayed by some of the believers . . . The politics of climate change have become intensely ideological, and far distant from a rational debate which allows for a free exchange of ideas. The debate, such as it is, has struggled to rise above the ridiculous, at its worst demonstrated by the morally offensive use of the labels ‘denier’ or ‘delusionist’ to discredit all who are so ‘unsound’ as to question the dominant interpretation of the science . . .

There is no question that we should apply the best scientific techniques to discover the truth about this issue and then deal with it appropriately. Unfortunately, one has to question the integrity of a great deal of climate research. This is because climate research has become an industry which is heavily reliant on the steady drip of government funding. Competing and challenging research is too often swept away . . .'

Just a year after that speech, a torrent of disclosures about dubious climate science practices has underlined my concerns. Popular tags such as Climategate have been applied and will stick; reputations have been tarnished and many will most likely be trashed. It seems that key scientists have allowed questionable objectives to politicise their science and have put at risk the standard procedures of the scientific method including peer review.

If the disclosures of the past few months do anything, they should restore some balance to this debate and allow competing ideas, theories and evidence to be tested. Apocalyptic visions distilled from the propaganda of climate activists that ended up in official reports should be seen for what they are. That international bureaucracies such as the IPCC should be taken in by such material should come as no surprise.

If anything good comes out of all this it should be to question the increasing dependence by scientists in all fields on government funding. Hopefully, policymakers will also pause to think through the implications of the dirigiste policies they plan to combat ‘global warming’.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated February 1. Enquiries to cis@cis.org.au. Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Rudd warns poll defeat a possibility after shock Newspoll result

For non-Australian readers this is a bit complex. Votes for minor parties are not discarded but are reallocated to the voters' second preference in the major parties. It is now only the voters for minor parties (mainly the Greens) who are keeping Rudd afloat in the polls

KEVIN Rudd has warned voters there is "no guarantee" Labor will win the next election in the wake of a shock Newspoll finding that the Coalition has overtaken Labor on the primary vote. The Prime Minister said today the reality was that Mr Abbott would be prime minister if two or three people in 100 changed their vote at the next election.

Newspoll, published exclusively in The Australian today, finds that Labor retains an election-winning lead of four points - 52-48 - on par with the result that delivered the 2007 election win. But for first time since the 2007 federal election, the Coalition leads Labor - 41-40 - in primary vote support.

Tony Abbott responded to the good news this morning during a pre-dawn bike ride up Red Hill, telling cameramen who assembled at 5am that the result was “encouraging, but that there's a long way to go”.

The Prime Minister, who attended church with Mr Abbott and other MPs today to mark the resumption of parliamentary hostilities, launched a media blitz with interviews on breakfast television and radio.

As Mr Abbott prepares to unveil his alternative climate change policy today, the Rudd government is preparing to face more political heat with the arrival of another boatload of asylum-seekers. This time, more than 180 passengers are on board, with the Prime Minister maintaining Christmas Island can still cope with the latest large arrivals without having to activate contingency plans to take arrivals to Darwin for processing.


Anonymous internet comments made illegal in South Australia

This is very troubling. People often have good reasons for anonymity. For instance: Known supporters of California's successful Proposition 8 (banning homosexual marriage) were subsequently harassed and attacked by homosexuals

SOUTH Australia has become one of the few states in the world to censor the internet. The new law, which came into force on January 6, requires anyone making an online comment about next month's state election to publish their real name and postcode. The law will affect anyone posting a comment on an election story on The Advertiser's AdelaideNow website, as well as other Australian news sites. It could also apply to election comment made on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The law, which was pushed through last year as part of a raft of amendments to the Electoral Act and supported by the Liberal Party, also requires media organisations to keep a person's real name and full address on file for six months, and they face fines of $5000 if they do not hand over this information to the Electoral Commissioner.

Attorney-General Michael Atkinson denied that the new law was an attack on free speech. "The AdelaideNow website is not just a sewer of criminal defamation, it is a sewer of identity theft and fraud," Mr Atkinson said. "There is no impinging on freedom of speech, people are free to say what they wish as themselves, not as somebody else."

Mr Atkinson also said he expected The Advertiser to target him for sponsoring the law. "I am also certain that Advertiser Newspapers and News Limited will punish me personally, viciously for being the attorney-general responsible for this law," he said. "You will publish false stories about me, invent things about me to punish me."

The Advertiser's editor, Melvin Mansell, said: "Clearly this is censorship being implemented by a government facing an election. "The effect of that is that many South Australians are going to be robbed of their right of freedom of speech during this election campaign. "The sad part is that this widespread suppression is supported by the Opposition. "Neither of these parties are representing the people for whom they have been elected to govern."

The Right to Know Coalition, made up of Australia's major media outlets including News Limited, publisher of The Advertiser and parent company of news.com.au, has called the new laws "draconian". "This is one of the most troubling erosions of the right to free speech in Australia for many years," Right to Know spokeswoman Creina Chapman said. Ms Chapman also pointed out that newspaper blogs such as AdelaideNow were moderated and publishers and broadcasters took responsibility for the material they published.

Opposition justice spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said yesterday while the Liberal Party had supported the amendment to the Electoral Act, she believed it would be too broad to implement if it included Facebook and Twitter. Ms Chapman said Mr Atkinson should introduce a regulation to limit its scope. "It is clearly not the intention of what we understood that to be," she said.

The SA law - which could also apply to talkback radio - differs from federal legislation, which preserves the right of internet users to blog under a pseudonym. The law will apply as soon as the writs for the March 20 election are issued. The writs for the election can be issued any time between now and 25 days before the election. The law will then lapse at 6pm on polling day. Mr Atkinson said there was no intention to broaden the law to take it beyond the period of elections.


Incompetent teachers must be given the boot

More power for principals to hire and fire would help

THE suggestion that poor children will not do well at school is both offensive and misguided. Anyone who knows much about education and teaching understands this simple fact: quality educational outcomes are directly related to quality teaching. It is the sleeper in the My School website.

Research has persistently shown better teachers mean better results. Do you think I am overstating the case? Well, consider this. According to the findings of the benchmark 2005 Department of Education, Science and Training's national inquiry into the teaching of literacy: "Highly effective teachers and their professional learning do make a difference in the classroom. It is not so much what students bring with them from their backgrounds, but what they experience on a day-to-day basis in interaction with teachers and other students that matters. Teaching quality has strong effects on children's experiences of schooling, including their attitudes, behaviours and achievement outcomes.

"Thus there is need for a major focus on teacher quality, and building capacity in teachers towards quality, evidence-based teaching practices that are demonstrably effective in maximising the developmental and learning needs of all children."

Even so, Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority chairman Barry McGaw, in The Weekend Australian, trotted out the tired and irresponsible argument that governments need to do more to "reduce the impact of demography on school results".

The demographic argument has been used by state governments for years to justify low school achievement. No matter that before the My School website indicated performance nationwide, the Australian Council for Education Research could demonstrate that it was not a question of where you lived but who taught you that affected educational outcomes.

If this was not the case, why then are the Teach for Australia flying squads of super university graduates targeting underperforming schools? While the Teach for Australia idea is significantly flawed in terms of adequate classroom preparation of teachers, it has identified that good teachers make a difference. McGaw cites evidence that, on the basis of comparable OECD data, in Australia "poorer schools and schools in poorer communities struggle to a greater extent". However, the answer is not physical resources or postcodes but who is in front of the class. I am a secondary teacher. I came from a poor family, lived in a working-class area and was superbly taught in Victorian state schools. My father was a storeman and bought me a desk, on hire purchase, so I could do my schoolwork. There were many children just like me. I owe my tertiary education to gifted teachers.

Why does the Australian Education Union cover for incompetence? What the AEU fails to address with any kind of serious intent is working co-operatively with governments to get rid of poor teachers. Education Minister Julia Gillard is savvy on the question of quality assurance in the classroom. This is why she can say: "A poor child can get fantastic results." How? Teacher quality must improve.

National primary and secondary principals associations have recognised that there is a direct correlation between a principal's ability to select staff and school results. Leonie Trimper, president of the Australian Primary Principals' Association, pithily noted last December: "Name any company that sits back for Centrelink to ring and say, `Here's your 10 staff.' "

In Victoria, taking a leaf out of Queensland's approach, there are $50,000 golden goodbyes on the table for poor teachers.

While the AEU can recite the mantra that the My School website - as federal president Angelo Gavrielatos did on ABC radio on the morning of the launch - is "inaccurate, incomplete and invalid", the question every parent in the country should be asking is: Does my school have quality teachers? If not, why not?

Those who link demographics with student performance are simply not facing reality. Poor children deserve quality education. If they do not get it, then look to the teachers.


High levels of immigration will be disastrous for the quality of life in Australia

By Barry Cohen, a former minister in the Hawke Labor government

NOW that Kevin Rudd has informed us that he favours a "big Australia" with a population reaching 35 million by 2050, will he also tell us what happens then? Do we continue to pursue policies that will further double our population by 2100, causing us to cease immigration altogether and then apply the Chinese solution: one child per family? And if the population is to increase to 35 million, what's the rush to get there so quickly?

Thanks to the ABC, Kerry O'Brien and The 7.30 Report, which devoted most of last week to showcasing the question of population growth, it appears that at last we are going to have the public debate some of us have been seeking for years.

I once asked in question time whether the prime minister was aware that immigration levels were causing concern because of the pressure they exert on "education, health and social services, housing and land prices and the consequent diminution in the quality of life that overcrowded cities have on our environment". I asked for a white paper on immigration to evaluate the costs and benefits of continued large-scale immigration. That was on June 10, 1970, and John Gorton's answer indicated he was none too pleased with my question. Neither was Labor's immigration spokesman Fred Daly. Having written and spoken about the issue for 40 years, I'm delighted a serious debate is about to begin.

My view then was that Australia couldn't have an immigration policy without first having a population policy. It hasn't changed. The then minister for immigration, Phil Lynch, understood what I was on about. He set up an inquiry under Wilfred Borrie, but when Borrie eventually reported in 1978, no mention was made of population numbers.

What surprises me is that Rudd has decided to support a massive increase without the matter being debated in public, the parliament, the party or the press. I am not alone in my concern. What advocates of big Australia haven't yet done is spelt out clearly the benefits from such a huge population increase. In the early 1990s our annual growth rate, including immigration as well as births and deaths, dropped below 1 per cent. It is now, thanks to more babies and more people living longer, almost 2 per cent.

With a population of 22 million, the deterioration in the quality of life in our cities is already obvious. Daily our media highlights the inadequacy of our schools, hospitals and transport system, housing and water shortages, and spiralling land prices. You don't need to be an urban planner, demographer or sociologist to see the problems. If the 35 million predicted by 2050 is correct, with Sydney and Melbourne rising to seven million each, we are courting disaster. Double the population and life in the cities will be intolerable.

No, no, say the big Australians, we can take millions more. We can but who will benefit? It is up to the big Australians to show how this will improve the quality of life for present and future generations of Australians.

In the immediate post-war period, Australia, having just fought a war of survival with the Japanese, recognised that we could not occupy or defend a vast island continent with six million people. It may seem xenophobic today but fear of being swamped by the yellow peril before, during and after World War II was real enough. Most of these fears have now abated and, thankfully, with the end of the White Australia policy, most Australians recognise that our security is no longer dependent on increased population. If it is, what numbers will be necessary to repel the three billion who live to our near north? .

The other reason given at the time was that a larger population would provide our manufacturers with the economies of scale. That may have had some validity then, but Australia's economy now depends more on mining, tourism and agriculture as well as financial and educational services rather than manufacturing.

The Prime Minister might also care to explain why the government is telling us we must reduce our carbon footprint while suggesting we should double the number of feet. We appear to be on two different planets. Some suggest that not to share our country with millions more immigrants is selfish and that we have the responsibility to help other countries to lighten their population load. Excuse me? What about helping them with population control?

Why has it taken so long for this debate to take place? One reason is that the ethnic lobby brands anyone who questions immigration as racist. That won't work with the type of people who are now entering the debate. People of the calibre of Dick Smith, Bob Carr and, if I may say so, yours truly can't be so labelled.

More and more Australians are speaking out on this issue and they will not be silenced out of fear of being blackguarded by those afraid to seriously debate the issue.

The pundits suggest the federal election will be fought on the economy, climate change, health care and education. To that we can add population and immigration. It's the big sleeper. Rudd and Tony Abbott take note. It will be a debate not about who comes to this country but how many.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Rudd supports a big population increaswe while carrying on endlessly about Climate Change and how its all our fault. Yet he and Wong expect to be taken seriously?