Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Clever! Sydney University dumbs down its image

A Latin motto is dignified and a mark of interest in scholarship but U. Syd would rather be "modern". They claim to be aiming at making themselves stand out but in fact have just joined the common herd. It is a long time since I graduated from U. Syd but if I were a recent graduate I might well feel that my degree had been devalued -- that I had graduated from an ordinary university rather than a distinguished one. But I guess that the Left who dominate academe these days despise all traditions -- even a tradition of high scholarship. Perhaps they suspect -- probably rightly -- that they are not up to the standard of their predecessors

After 150 years the University of Sydney has abandoned its status quo, dropping the Latin motto from its redesigned coat of arms and logo. Students and scholars have turned to the new technology of social networking to launch a campaign calling for the reinstatement of the Latin inscription.

The university spent almost $750,000 on the research and redesign that axed the motto: "sidere mens eadem mutato" - a reference to Sydney following the traditions of universities in the northern hemisphere. A further $500,000 was spent replacing marketing material such as banners and street signage, the university said.

The motto - most commonly translated as "the constellation is changed, the disposition is the same" - has been part of the university's coat of arms since 1857. As a first-time astronaut, Greg Chamitoff, a former university staff member, even took a patch of the crest into space on the shuttle Discovery in 2008.

Marian Theobald, the university's external relations executive director, said market research, overseen by the Chicago-based firm Lipman Hearne, had found the university relied too heavily on its sandstone heritage and something "bolder, more energetic and more modern" was needed. "The opinion of thousands of students, academics, alumni, donors and business groups was canvassed, and we discovered the university was struggling to differentiate itself from other elite Australian institutions, in the domestic and international market place," she said. "We needed to engage better with the outside world. The removal of the Latin motto during the joint design work by Lipman Hearne and the Australian firm Moon Design was purely practical. It's hard to reproduce and read online. It was impossible to read when reduced in size. "The motto will still be used by the university and will be maintained for more formal purposes, such as on testamurs."

Ms Theobald said suggestions that between $5 million and $13 million had been spent on the branding project were ridiculous. Costs had been kept to a minimum by allowing supplies of old stationery stock, publications and merchandise to exhaust naturally.

Emily Matters, president of the Classical Language Teachers Association, said the removal was hugely disappointing. "I think this goes against everything what universities stand for where one generation hands over its culture to the next," she said.

Anthony Alexander, president of the Classical Association of NSW, who also teaches Greek and Latin at the University of Sydney, said the deletion was far from a dumbing down of the university or a denigration of Latin. "What matters is what we teach, what we actually do in the classrooms," he said. "I don't think it compromises Latin, which is stronger than ever."

Elly Howse, president of the University of Sydney Students' Representative Council, said rebranding or a new logo was a failed approach at modernising the university's image. "The money should have been spent on teaching and learning facilities," she said.

A Facebook page titled "Bring back the old USYD crest" calls for reinstatement of the Latin motto, saying the new design was better suited to a primary school.

The University of NSW, meanwhile, said it had no intention of removing its Latin motto, "manu et mente" (with hand and mind) from its coat of arms.

The university adopted its new logo and the styling of its coat of arms with a soft launch in mid-January. The coat of arms mantling and the shape of the escutcheon (shield) have changed and the motto scroll is removed. The mane and fur of the lion have been changed, along with the number of lines in the open book and the coloration.


Surgery waiting lists grow in Queensland public hospitals

ONE in five Queensland patients are waiting longer than clinically recommended for potentially life-saving elective surgery. Queensland Health's latest quarterly report reveals 6762 of 34,480 elective surgery patients were left languishing on hospital waiting lists too long. The additional 728 patients on the long wait list compared with the previous quarter has been blamed on theatre closures over Christmas.

Health Minister Paul Lucas said that while the number of patients waiting too long increased, the difference was only several days and Queensland hospitals performed more elective surgery during the period. "The overall surgical workload has increased and it has increased significantly greater than the rate of population," he said. But Mr Lucas said he was concerned about a blow-out in the number of urology patients waiting too long and this would be addressed.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the number of long waits was "appalling" and a reflection of the Government's failure to plan and invest in infrastructure. Category one patients, those at risk of their conditions deteriorating quickly, were among the worst affected by the Christmas closures.

According to Queensland Health, there were 315 patients left waiting longer than the recommended 30 days at the end of the December quarter compared with 198 in the September quarter and 259 the previous year. There was also a blow-out in long waits for category two patients who should be seen in 90 days because their condition caused pain, dysfunction or disability.

The report found 4183 category two patients were waiting too long, 767 more than the previous quarter and 782 more than the same quarter last year. However, the number of long wait category three patients (conditions that do not require treatment within a set timeframe) improved. Overall, orthopaedic surgery had the most patients waiting too long, followed by general surgery and plastic surgery.

Mr McArdle said the Government was also yet to meet its commitment to release dental waiting lists. "What is the Minister hiding?" he said. "Why are Queenslanders being kept in the dark?"


Bullying at Canberra public hospital leads to exodus of doctors

The Government's defended an exodus of doctors from a hospital denying claims of bullying. Nine obstetricians, including four registrars, have left Canberra Hospital over the past 13 months, ABC Television reported last night. The Royal College of Obstetricians says doctors have reported a culture of poor management and bullying as well as lack of senior medical staff at the hospital. They'd since "voted with their feet", the college's Andrew Foote said.

The hospital and ACT Health were also accused of trying to hide medical blunders. Canberra mother Fiona Vanderhook, who was mistakenly told her foetus had died at five weeks, said the clinical notes she'd requested in order to pursue legal action had been censored.

"I would reject any sort of culture that says we cover up," ACT Health acting chief executive Peggy Brown said.

Of the four registrars to recently leave the hospital, ACT Health said three had been for family reasons and said the figures on such departures were common. But Dr Foote disagreed. "It's unheard of," he said. "When you've only half finished your training, you don't have a qualification ticket and you are at risk of never getting your qualification ticket if you walk away from a training program. "So things must be a pretty difficult for a registrar to do that."

Dr Brown said the department had not received any formal complaints.


Rudd must dump dead ducks and tackle what really matters

There is something noble about the advocacy of lost causes. Provided it is recognised they are lost. The alternative is self-delusion. There is little chance Kevin Rudd can get his emissions trading scheme through the Senate. To do so would require Labor to obtain seven additional votes. There are five Green senators and two independents but, for various reasons, the Greens and independents have indicated their intention to defeat this legislation.

When the legislation was subjected to a Senate vote last December, two Liberal senators crossed the floor to vote with the Rudd government - the Victorian Judith Troeth (first elected in 1993) and the Queenslander Sue Boyce (appointed in 2007 to fill a casual vacancy). Even if both cross the floor when it is next considered by the Senate, the Rudd government would still be five votes short of a majority - unless five senators from the Greens or independents vote with them.

The lesson is clear. The ETS is a lost cause. In which case, Rudd would be well advised to cut Labor's losses now and junk the legislation. A post-ETS political environment would make it possible for the Prime Minister to reshuffle his ministry and move the Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, and the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, into different positions.

Rudd is primarily responsible for his government's inability to explain its climate change policies. However, the formal dumping of the ETS could be used as a rationalisation to explain a reshuffle.

Wong was a star performer in the 2007 election campaign and rarely missed making the required political point. It's just that, in her climate-change role, Wong sounds like an automaton who is unwilling to answer questions. Garrett appears to have become a victim of the PS syndrome - he is so committed to Planet Saving, he has not focused on the administration of Labor's environment program.

There was always a case for Australia awaiting the outcome of the Copenhagen summit before deciding on climate-change legislation. This would have suited both sides of politics. But Rudd bet on a more-or-less successful outcome at Copenhagen and the opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, went along with him because he is a true-believing eco-catastrophist. Tony Abbott's defeat of Turnbull in the Liberal Party leadership ballot, and the subsequent disaster that was Copenhagen, have changed the political climate.

Few would expect Abbott to win the next election but the Coalition under his leadership is capable of gaining votes and seats. The challenge posed by the new Liberal Party leadership should encourage Labor to change its focus.

* It has become fashionable for commentators to assert that Rudd cannot communicate a simple message. As far as the ETS is concerned, this is harsh. It is not clear if anyone can explain emissions trading in readily understandable terms. Before the 2007 election, Rudd could get across an understandable line. His current problem seems to be engaging in indirect speech. On Meet the Press last Sunday, for example, the Prime Minister prefaced his answer on a dozen occasions with the term: "Can I say?" - or words to this effect. No such question is necessary. He needs to talk directly.

* Since the election, the research capacity of the Prime Minister's office has been downgraded. This should be revamped. Two weeks ago Rudd forgot a commitment he had made about no worker being worse off under the Fair Work legislation. On Q&A last week, he incorrectly said there were three (rather than two) independent senators. His office should be spending time briefing the Prime Minister rather than running lines calculated to embarrass the opposition.

* There is little point attacking Tony Abbott's social conservatism. In the states where the Coalition threatens Labor - NSW and Queensland - social conservatism is not a negative. Some of the inner-city luvvies who dislike Abbott may not admit it, but the next election will not be won, or lost, in Ultimo or Leichhardt.

The Age journalist Katharine Murphy does not present as a prude. Indeed she describes herself as a secular feminist. Last month, Murphy described Abbott's advice to his young daughters about pre-marital sex as "more or less what I would advise my kids". Many parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents would agree - and quite a few would live in marginal seats. One of Rudd's appealing features to many voters in 2007 turned on the fact he is a social conservative himself. Labor should not forget this.

Political change is never easy. The success of the governments led by Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard is that they were able to implement significant reforms. Hawke and Keating never enjoyed a Senate majority and Howard only had majority support in the upper house in the final years of his government. Rudd needs to get things done.

Rudd's priority was climate change. Yet there was never any sense in Australia going out in front of the world on this issue. So far only the European Union nations have adopted an ETS and their economies are significantly different from that of Australia, Canada or the United States. The sinking of the ETS would make it possible for Rudd to focus on health and the economy. He would be ill-advised to go an election with an ETS in Labor's policy speech.


"Human rights" just a far-Leftist hobbyhorse

THE Rudd government is now overdue to respond to Frank Brennan's 2009 report seeking new policy and legal entrenchments of human rights: a "true believers" agenda largely deserted by the Australian people.

The long-run strategy of the Brennan report is the transformation of Australia's political culture. It seeks a culture where people see themselves and others as "rights-holding entities" and operate on this basis, where the rights culture is entrenched in the school curriculum and where the public service, from Centrelink to the police station, is re-educated and compelled by law to take a series of human rights into account in all decision-making.

Passage of a human rights act is the core recommendation. But Brennan's report, critically, recommends a series of administrative and legislative changes short of a human rights act that gets the cultural change immediately rolling. The key to Brennan's report is to see its incremental steps as part of a long journey to a different Australia. It is the opening chapter in a minority campaign by lawyers, the human rights lobby and advocacy groups to change the way Australia is governed.

Since its release last October, the report has attracted almost a dead silence, evidence it is not a priority for most Australians. Claims have been made that a majority of Australians back Brennan's human rights agenda. Such claims are false and contradicted by the report's own survey work.

It commissioned Colmar Brunton to conduct focus group research and a quantitative telephone survey. This found no crisis or no groundswell for substantial change. "Most participants in the groups reported that they had had no experience of having their rights violated or had ever even felt that they were under any particular threat," the company said. "In the survey only 10 per cent of people reported that they had ever had their rights infringed in any way with another 10 per cent who reported that someone close to them had had their rights infringed."

Even more disconcerting, 64 per cent of people felt human rights in Australia were "adequately protected", with only 7 per cent disagreeing. This is an exceptionally narrow platform from which to mount a change to Australia's institutions and culture. It should warn Labor that people will question the real motives behind any human rights act. It should make a prudent Rudd cabinet think carefully about this entire venture.

Colmar Brunton found "while it was universally agreed that human rights and their protection were important, views on how to achieve this were more varied". Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) felt that with human rights the "spirit of the law" was more important than "the letter of the law". When asked about five specific actions to improve human rights, the "most preferred approaches were those which provided the least additional definition of rights". While 90 per cent preferred that parliament pay attention to human rights when making laws, only 56 per cent preferred a human rights law. So the public's preference is to improve rights is by modest, not radical action.

Yet the Brennan committee ignited a litany of stakeholders and groups, many representing the most vulnerable, the homeless, mentally ill, disabled, refugees, people from detention, the aged and those suffering drug dependencies, saying, unsurprisingly, they didn't get a fair go. The report said "lawyers and advocacy groups" saw what the average person missed, the gaps in our human rights protection. Of 35,014 submissions to Brennan's committee 87.4 per cent favoured a human right act. Brennan activated the human rights lobby that his committee was created to activate. The upshot is a true dilemma for the Rudd government: the public is disengaged but the human rights lobby is mobilised and expects substantive progress from Labor.

The Brennan report is a brilliant yet unconscious insight into the patronising morality at work that would be lethal for Rudd Labor. Its spirit is that the uneducated Australian public must be challenged to "reconsider current attitudes" and find a means to "recognition of other people's dignity, culture and traditions". Human rights advances depend on "reducing the levels of fear and ignorance that surround many aspects of life'.

Australians must be subjected to a "comprehensive human rights plan' anchored in the school system and in the community to correct their thinking. This is human rights dogma seeking an ideological re-positioning of our democracy. The human rights debate is shaped by politics. The reality is that human rights laws are techniques to deliver social and policy outcomes that are opposed by a majority of Australians and would not otherwise be obtainable.

Brennan's report makes clear the issues that energise the advocacy groups are hostility to national security laws, to the Northern Territory intervention and to strong border protection. Advocates seek changes in Australian governance to win on these policy goals.

For Rudd, alignment with such sentiment is an open invitation to his opponents. Tony Abbott, a cultural warrior, is sure to launch a ferocious campaign against Rudd if he walks down the Brennan path.

The deeper problem for Rudd with Brennan's report is its misconception over the means towards a better society and better governance. How does this report promote a better society? The answer, at best, is equivocal. The idea that the problems of homelessness, indigenous abuses and obese children have new human rights laws as parts of their solutions is highly contestable.

On governance the answer is clear-cut: new human rights laws will diminish Australian governance and lead to bad policy.

The arguments are well known. The trade-offs in any policy or legislated instrument should be evaluated on merit at the time. This is called representative democracy. It can be helped by having parliamentary committees to notify better human rights provisions. This is far superior to having policy imposed via the application of an across-the-board human rights act with its myriad unpredictable, intended and unintended consequences. This is the brainchild of lawyers ignorant of sound public administration. It would be inefficient in terms of promoting rights, sure to make government slower and more bureaucratic, risks politicising the judiciary and encourages more litigation.

Presumably, in an election year Rudd would not be so foolish as to support Brennan's call for a human rights act. The trap is that Rudd may play both sides: avoid the human rights act yet still authorise a series of ill-considered steps on the deluded path to a new political culture.


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