Saturday, March 27, 2010

Anti-Islam rally under threat in Victoria

No free speech allowed? Let me see if anything happens when I am critical of Islam: "I think Islam is the Devil's mockery of Christianity". I would be at great risk from the authorities if I said that in Victoria

POLICE are monitoring a group linked to far-Right white supremacists who are planning an anti-Islam march on state Parliament. The march, scheduled for next month, threatens to further damage Melbourne's reputation, already battered by attacks on Indian students.

A group linked to far-Right white supremacists has set up a Facebook page promoting a mass rally against immigrants and Islam. There are fears it might descend into a Cronulla-style riot. "Listen Aussies, it's time to harden up, close the gate, look after our own and keep our country as our country," the Facebook page says.

Premier John Brumby slammed the rally, and said the matter had been referred to police. "Racism is unacceptable in Victoria and will not be tolerated," he said. "It is highly distressing when people seek to abuse their right to freedom of speech."

The president of the Islamic Friendship Association, Keysar Trad, condemned the rally. "It's their democratic right to rally against anything they like, but it gives a very bad image of Australia to our neighbours, and doesn't do much for internal cohesion," he said. "The organisers should realise the majority of Australians do not share their view and can see the benefits and contributions Muslims have made to Australia.

"My message to the community is that Australians will not buy into this type of action. "We've moved on from Cronulla, and they need to realise that."

The Facebook group has gathered about 40 members and has received support from interstate.

Some posting messages have criticised the event. "Cronulla comes to Melbourne. Another sad day for Australian history," one message says.

Police are concerned about the event and have warned organisers not to break the law. "A police response will be decided on once all of the information and intelligence is assessed," a spokeswoman said. "Police will be in touch with the organisers of the event in the near future. "Victoria Police will not tolerate any breach of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act."

A man listed on the Facebook page as being behind the rally said he had no connection to it. However, his own Facebook page links to several white supremacist groups.


Parents revolt over bureaucratic waste

But the light of publicity brings a rapid backdown

ALMOST half the population of a tiny NSW town blockaded its school's gates yesterday to prevent builders and managing contractor Bovis Lend Lease from entering the site to perform works under the Rudd government's Building the Education Revolution program.

The small primary school in the NSW Hunter Valley town of Cassilis had been slated to receive a toilet block and a covered outdoor learning area for a combined cost of $250,000 under the schools building program.

After learning that construction costs had blown out so much that the COLA had to be scrapped, the toilet block downsized and that the drinking fountains were not going to be replaced, parents decided to take matters into their own hands. About 40 of the town's residents created the blockage yesterday.

"Enough is enough," Cassilis P&C association spokesman Phillip Morton said. "We want to stop the project. And the reason we want to stop it is we believe if we do that now, we can incorporate the facilities we need into the building. But if we wait till it's complete, it's only going to be harder to extend, and it will cost taxpayers more."

Under the original plans, provided to the school in May 2009, Cassilis was allocated $140,000 for the construction of the COLA.

A further $110,000 was budgeted for a seven-core toilet block, which included a girls' bathroom of six cubicles, a boys' bathroom of three cubicles and a triple urinal, as well as a separate staff toilet and a disabled access toilet.

So in the first week of this school year, when Cassilis was suffering through a heatwave, builders demolished the shed and removed the bubblers.

But just a couple of weeks later headmaster Ross Craven was advised by the NSW Department of Education and Training that due to a blowout in costs the toilet block was being downgraded to a one-core facility, with no staff toilet, no disabled toilet, a single urinal and only three cubicles. With no drinking fountains.

Then about a fortnight later came the news that there would be no COLA either, as that smaller toilet block was projected to cost $279,000. To add insult to injury, the school was then informed it must pay to replace the drinking fountains.

"It's just craziness. It was the middle of summer," Mr Morton said. "The only other option if kids want a drink is to use handbasins next to the old toilets, which is obviously unhygienic. And they're the sort they did away with in most schools because the taps are low and kids knocked their front teeth out trying to get their mouths underneath."

Just how costs could overrun to such an extent also remains a concern. The school asked for a budget breakdown, but none has been provided.

What it does know, however, is that the 8m x 7.3m COLA (which never eventuated) would have cost just $15,300 to construct and supply if the school had self-managed the project. A quote was obtained from a local supplier but the principal was advised by the NSW DET to use Bovis Lend Lease.

Mr Morton also notes that the assessment of the school's needs was conducted in February last year, when the school's population was the lowest in more than 100 years at 16 students.

However, the school's population is now 23, an increase of nearly 50 per cent in a year. And with two new mines opening up within 20 minutes' drive, which are estimated to provide up to 800 jobs, the demand for schools is expected to increase further still. "If they'd consulted with us properly we'd never have been in this position," Mr Morton said.

The decision to blockade the school gates was approved, after consultation with police, at a meeting on Thursday night. The protesters arrived at 6am, and stayed until 9am.

After The Weekend Australian put questions about the case to the relevant state and federal departments yesterday, authorities last night reversed their position and agreed to pay for new drinking fountains. The school can also keep its old toilet block as well as receiving a new one.


Getting black kids to go to school is the first challenge

But it is one that is not nearly being met

SOMETIMES I just cannot understand how governments think when it comes to setting indigenous policies. Two of the five goals that all Australian governments are now striving to close the gap on indigenous disadvantage concern education.

It is probably useful to distil a complex policy agenda down to a handful of key goals, because some of these dashboard indicators can capture whether or not progress is being made across a broad policy range and gaps are closing.

But I have problems with the policy reasoning underpinning the two educational goals.

First the goal of doubling the year 12 completion rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is strange. Of course secondary school completion rates are important, but in a strategic sense there other more fundamental prerequisite policy goals which, if solved, will automatically result in higher year 12 completion rates.

The strategically important goal is closing the gap on literacy and numeracy achievement by indigenous students. You solve this problem, you solve the year 12 completion rate problem.

There is a strategically important prerequisite to closing the gap on literacy and numeracy, and that is school readiness and attendance. You can't close the gap on literacy and numeracy unless you first close the gap on school readiness and attendance.

So if I were the policy-maker, I would establish school readiness and attendance as the target goal. And I would set a very brief timeframe for achieving it. School attendance is not rocket science: surely governments and indigenous communities can close this gap in short order.

The good thing about school readiness and attendance is that it is a tangible, actionable goal. What is needed to be done is clear. The benefits and flow-on effects of achieving school readiness and attendance are plain and palpable. Governments, educators and communities can't hide behind the elusiveness of a goal such as year 12 completions, which really describes the desirable outcome rather than a strategic goal.

You can hold people accountable for performance on school readiness and attendance in ways that you cannot hold people to account for an outcome such as year 12 completion rates.

Bureaucrats, politicians and communities are therefore let off the performance hook. They can say they're working on lifting year 12 completions while doing nothing decisive on school attendance and readiness.

Which brings me to my problem with a second education-related goal set by the Council of Australian Governments. They have established the goal of halving the gap in indigenous reading, writing and numeracy within a decade.

In many ways this is an obscene goal. It accepts a level of educational under-achievement that is unnecessary and avoidable. It condemns indigenous children to educational failure when better outcomes are achievable.

Given the social injustice that flows from educational under-achievement - low employment rates, higher rates of poverty, higher rates of social problems, higher imprisonment rates, poorer health and, ultimately, lower life expectancy - you would think that Australian governments committed to closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage would not adopt any policies that were needlessly low in their expectations. And yet, this is what they have done.


Being a boy is no walk in the park in Australia today

Teenagers have never been given much respect but never have they seemed quite so marginalised as they are today. Strangers are all too willing to think the worst of the next generation of taxpayers they will expect to support them in their old age. This is especially true for boys.

It's a harsh world for a teenager, more violent and forbidding than for their parents' generation, an anti-child culture with restrictions and rules for everything and adults who are too preoccupied to give them the attention they pretend not to need. The automatic assumption if something goes wrong is it's the teenager's fault.

Take 15-year-old John, who was set upon and bashed with four friends at a park in Gordon on the upper north shore this summer. The boys had been to see a movie in Hornsby and were due home by 8.30pm.

When they arrived at Gordon station at 7.30pm they still had half an hour until sunset. One of the boys had a ball so they trooped over to the park to play touch footy before going home. Bad luck for them, a group of thugs wanted their phones and wallets. They escaped, but one boy suffered a black eye and split lip.

When they arrived home, upset and dishevelled, John's mother, a nurse, patched them up and took them to the police to report the assault. She was surprised by the attitude.

“It was like they had done the wrong thing. The police said 'What were you doing in the park? You shouldn't have been there.' Apparently this park is renowned [for bashings]. So kids can't even go to a park and throw a ball round any more? It's all their fault. They're good boys but no wonder they have a bad attitude to police.”

Since when is a suburban park a no-go zone in daylight? If this is the experience of well-behaved boys from caring families, less emotionally advantaged teenagersfare far worse.

The obvious reaction is to rail against inactive police who allow crime hot spots to flourish, empowering thugs with their reluctance to confront them, while applying the full force of the law onto citizens guilty of nothing more than minor traffic misdemeanours or being young and male.

But we are seeing stabbings, bashings and escalating violence among ever-younger children, which indicates something more profound is wrong with the nurturing instinct in our increasingly disconnected communities.

You can see it in everyday vignettes which show emotional advantage doesn't necessarily correlate with socio-economic status.

There is the well-heeled mother at the hairdresser having hair extensions attached while her bored seven-year-old does his best to amuse himself with pen and paper for hours. Every time he wants to show her his drawing or whine about how long it's all taking, she snaps, determined to have her scalp massage in peace, or update her Facebook on the laptop she brought along. “This is Mummy's relaxation time,” she says, shooing him away. It's hard to imagine the child gets more attention at home.

In a technological age it is too easy for adults to become engrossed in selfish personal pursuits which eat into time that should be spent connecting with their children, and children are so easily occupied by their own digital entertainments they are less likely to complain about being ignored.

This is a form of modern neglect which the psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg calls “Tamagotchi parenting”, with no supervision, limits or boundaries. He describes children growing up in Australia today as the “most vulnerable generation in our history”, lacking the “social and ritual protective factors” of cohesive societies, from stable institutions to neighbours who look out for each other. Binge drinking, anxiety and violence are just symptoms.

James Pitts, CEO of the Odyssey House McGrath Foundation, sees what happens to the most vulnerable children, when low self-esteem, anxiety and a dearth of role models lead to serious drug addiction.

By the time young men get to Odyssey House's residential treatment centre in Campbelltown, their lives are out of control. They must have had nine previous drug treatment attempts to qualify for a highly structured, peer-dependent program which uses stable male role models and team sport to teach social skills.

For 60 per cent of the males, their biological fathers have been absent since they were seven or eight. But even in intact families, says Pitts, we have become, "narcissistic in our pursuit of happiness. Parents don't have the kind of time to devote to children; kids have to fend for themselves."

Equally important is that, outside of home, few people know who they are or care whether they are up to mischief.

At a time when children are trying to spread their wings and join society, they are greeted with hostility, resentment and indifference. “That protective resilience within your own community doesn't exist nowadays,” says Pitts. The concept that “it takes a village to raise a child” has been lost.

Meanwhile, strong male role models and authority figures such as police and teachers have been disempowered, fearful to exert discipline in case they are accused of assault or intimidation and dragged through punitive procedures.

Then there is the uber-violence of movies and games which influences boys just when they are learning how to be men.

The popularity of the recent Ultimate Fighting Championships at the Acer Arena, the world's fastest-growing “sport”, suggests increased appetite for barbaric spectacles.

“Young people these days are ... much more sophisticated, more in-your-face, more vocal, verbal and visual than past generations,” says Pitts. “They are a big challenge for parents and teachers."

Yes, they are a lippy, assertive generation, but they are a challenge worth rising to. After all, we reap what we sow.


1 comment:

Paul said...

I think I said to you a little while back that when they started moving "refugees" on-shore to the Mainland from CI, then the only thing to stem the tide would be the supply of available refugee boats. The move is now on.

Just watch.