Monday, April 12, 2010

Teachers' union wants censorship of school information

THE Australian Education Union is preparing its position against next month's National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests.

There is a distinct possibility of a national boycott. Such a move will be a direct challenge to Education Minister Julia Gillard's resolve. She must hold the line on NAPLAN and the availability of data on the MySchool website.

At the centre of the mooted boycott of the NAPLAN tests, scheduled to roll out across the country from May 11 to 13, is one pressing issue. This is how data collected by the government can be used in league tables. Next Wednesday in Hobart, the Tasmanian branch of the AEU will ask members for a decision on the boycott. It is expected to pass. This will give momentum to the national AEU push for a boycott.

Already, the industrial journals of the AEU are using combative language. In last month's issue of Public Education Voice, the official journal of the AEU's ACT branch, the following call to arms summarises the union position:

"As our union has been called upon in the past, we are once more called upon to stand proudly for the principles of our profession against the political expediency and indeed stupidity of our political representatives . . ."

But besides the battle cry of the AEU, Gillard is coming under increasing pressure to change the MySchool website. Last month, talks were undertaken between the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, which developed the MySchool website, and the AEU to see how they could placate teachers threatening to boycott.

As a measure of the AEU angst towards the accountability of school performance the MySchool website enables, Jo Earp, editor of Australian Teacher Magazine, had this to say in an editorial headed "Rank smell of unwanted website" in the March edition: "It is hard to gauge how Gillard would deal with a teacher boycott of NAPLAN testing, as she remains tight-lipped on the legal options open to her, but it seems highly unlikely that the stalemate will be broken."

At the centre of the AEU opposition to the My School website is the issue of alleged misuse of the data and league tables. According to AEU Victorian president Mary Bluett, "All that's being sought is a protection of the data and that it not be, in our view, misused to generate unfair league tables."

This position presents what amounts to a direct attack on the availability of information to parents and the media. Data protection must be resisted. It is a form of censorship that denies parents data they should be able to access.

It is, however, seemingly acceptable to make school comparison information available to the AEU but not elsewhere. Why else would AEU Tasmanian president Leanne Wright say last month of the NAPLAN results, "To a point they can be useful for teachers because they give an overall indication of how things are going"?

Being useful to teachers does not include being useful to parents, it seems.

It is not just the AEU that is against providing the specifics to parents. Responding to the MySchool website, Viewpoint, the March newsletter of the Victorian Independent Education Union, asked that "reporting of students' average scores be replaced with a graphical representation of relative performance or an alternative proxy such as percentage achievement above minimum benchmarks". This is nothing more than data protection by stealth.

But beyond the persistent claims by the AEU and its federal president Angelo Gavrielatos that the MySchool website data is "invalid", it is curious that parents are overwhelmingly in favour of not less data being available but more.

In a survey before the launch of the website, more than 90 per cent of polled parents believed they had a right to know how their school compared with others.

Still, calls for legally binding conditions pertaining to use of the MySchool data are reason for concern. While it is arguable that organisations should be prevented from collating the MySchool data and selling it to parents, as one organisation did on the website's launch, the media should not be prevented from making information available in whatever form it chooses.

To restrict this is tantamount to a union, at best an unrepresentative body in community terms, choosing what the public should and should not be able to access.

What the AEU persists in doing is trafficking in false information, generating an unreasonable fear about whether league tables will show some schools to be better than others and that sinking schools will be exposed.

If this logic is taken further, it is acceptable for poorly performing schools to continue to fail their students as long as people do not know. This is data protection.

What Gillard must resist, on all counts, are calls for legislation restricting the free availability of comprehensive data generated from the NAPLAN test results and posted on the MySchool website. She must also hold the line against the kind of criticism made by Waleed Aly in the April edition of The Monthly.

In a comment piece on the new national curriculum, Aly, not known as an educationalist but as a lecturer in politics at Monash University, takes aim at Gillard's "meat and potatoes curriculum", which he says is distinguished by "common sense" and "practicality" that amounts to "a very conservative revolution indeed. [John] Howard with a smile."

It may be conservative to measure children, tell parents how their schools are going in comparison with others and offer a curriculum that gives children the kinds of content that it is utilitarian rather than ideological.

But it is the kind of conservatism we need. This is why the Education Minister must stare down her opponents, protect the school performance principles that parents broadly share and provide accessible data on schools for all.


Asylum claim freeze won't stop the boats coming to Australia, admits Foreign Minister

More than 20 extra Australian Federal Police officers are expected to fly to Christmas Island to quell possible disturbances as authorities intercepted the first asylum-seekers to fall victim to the Rudd government's suspension of new refugee claims.

Four boats carrying more than 230 people have been intercepted since Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced on Friday a six-month suspension of all new Afghan asylum claims, and a three-month suspension for Sri Lankan claims.

A boat carrying 25 passengers, understood to be predominantly Afghans, was stopped by Customs and Border Protection personnel yesterday near Browse Island, off Western Australia's north coast. Later yesterday, another vessel, this time carrying 30 passengers and four crew, was intercepted by the navy in the Ashmore Islands, also off WA's north coast.

As the interceptions were occurring, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith conceded the policy changes were unlikely to have any immediate impact. "We're not asserting or suggesting this will stop the flow of boats in the short term," he said.

Tony Abbott continued the Coalition attack on the asylum claims freeze, labelling it a stunt to get the government through the federal election.

Yesterday's arrival may be the first boat to be affected by the suspension, which was designed to send a signal to asylum-seekers and people-smugglers that Australia is not a soft touch. It was not known if the passengers aboard the boat had been told of the policy changes, which will ensure a minimum six-month stay in detention should they proceed with refugee claims.

But in a clear sign authorities are concerned the policy shift could trigger violence in the detention centre, the AFP yesterday moved to boost its presence on Christmas Island. The Australian understands an extra 24 officers were due to fly in yesterday, but were delayed by poor weather. They will join the 17 officers understood to have flown in on Friday, plus a smaller contingent that arrived on Saturday.

On Friday, the officers held a meeting with senior immigration officials before unpacking riot gear, including shields. A freight plane that arrived on Christmas Island on Saturday is understood to have included tear gas, rifles and ammunition.

The insignia worn by some of the officers suggests they are members of the elite Operational Response Group, the AFP's offshore tactical unit.

However, there was no trouble at any of the island's detention centres yesterday. Afghans and Sri Lankans were told through interpreters on Friday that the claims decision would not affect their cases, although many are worried that their chances of being granted asylum are less hopeful if the government believes conditions are improving in their home countries.

Refugee Immigration and Legal Centre co-ordinator David Manne, who is on Christmas Island visiting asylum-seeker clients, said the announcement had created considerable confusion and anxiety among detainees. "For those not caught by the freeze, they are still finding it difficult to believe there won't be a negative impact on their cases as well," he said. "Some asylum-seekers sense there's a potentially serous misunderstanding and trivialisation of the grave dangers they believe they would face if they returned to Afghanistan."

The Immigration Department said yesterday there were 2162 detainees on Christmas Island, well above the official operating capacity of 2040. To ease the pressure, the department is trying to install new accommodation that would supply an extra 400 beds on the island, and a charter flight with a seating capacity of 177 is expected to leave today.

But with 202 intercepted asylum-seekers and crew en route to the island, combined with the bottleneck on new asylum claims looming due to the freeze, a spill to the mainland is considered virtually inevitable.

Mr Smith admitted yesterday there was little prospect the suspension of claims would have any immediate impact on the number of boats arriving, which has been steadily increasing. "But it does send a message to the people-smugglers, and to their potential prey, that if you come to Australia from Sri Lanka or from Afghanistan, there'll be a three-month or six-month pause, and you will not be guaranteed a visa."

Mr Smith denied the government had effectively consigned new asylum-seekers to indefinite detention, a fate Senator Evans described in February as worse than prison. "Once processing resumes, none of the rights that are currently accorded or afforded to them will be taken away from them," Mr Smith said.

The Opposition Leader said of the freeze: "They're trying to say you won't be processed for three months or for six months, but let's face it, people were waiting months on Christmas Island anyway." But Mr Abbott declined to say if a Coalition government would maintain the freeze should it win the federal election, which is expected in coming months.

A spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, Teuku Faizasyah, offered tacit support for the measures, but said they were a matter for Australia. "In the broader perspective, any measure that prevents people from travelling illegally will suit any country in the region," he said.


Tim Dunlop is pretty rubbery on immigration

Tim is a fairer Leftist than most and he quite logically shows that Australians are not critical of illegal immigrants because of racism. Few countries have accepted more immigrants per head from all over the world than Australia has.

So what is Tim's comment on the open door to illegals which Prime Minister Rudd has been holding open but has now shut until the election?

Tim thinks Rudd is a spineless waffler and who am I to disagree with that? But the idea that an open door to illegals could be "sold" to the Australian population is preposterous. Tim below:

Arguments that equate a desire to control immigration with racism are often mounted by those who wish to assert their own purity against a straw man. The truth is, there is nothing inherently racist about wanting to control your borders and there is nothing unique about the way Australians react to the issue.

In fact, Australians have been as good as anyone about accepting people from overseas. That much of the concern, when it arises, is focussed on those who arrive by boat is hardly surprising. Not only does the sensationalist media spotlight boat arrivals and grossly exaggerate what is happening, but one of our major parties, the Liberal-National Coalition, viciously exploits the issue for political gain. This may tap into the racist feeling of some (it's not as if no-one is a racist ever) but it is more likely to be tapping into a range of other concerns, from jobs to the environment to national sovereignty.

In the face of misinformation from influential sections of Australian society, the only workable solution is a long and consistent campaign of pushback, of countering lies with facts and of standing up for the principle of dealing justly with asylum seekers while not dismissing as racist anyone who wants to place limits on our overall intake. The reason the Opposition can exploit the issue is at least in part because the Labor Party (in and out of government) is incapable of sustaining such an argument. The fact that, at the moment, Labor is led by a moral coward of the magnitutde of Kevin Rudd makes things especially difficult.

No-one should underestimate the difficulties for any PM dealing with this matter. As I say, influential forces within society are thrilled to use the subject as a way of delegitisimng a Labor government. And there are genuine concerns out there about population growth. But when the PM is as singularly weak as Kevin Rudd it is almost certain that Labor will capitulate in the face of a scare campaign.

It needn't be this way. During the hysteria over Tampa, independent MP, Peter Andren refused to countenance the fear mongering, went into his electorate and made the case for acceptance of asylum seekers. According to the Australians-are-racist crowd, not to mention the jelly-backs who run Labor's campaigning, this should have meant disaster for Andren. Fact is, though, he was reelected with an increased majority.

So the hysteria and lies can be fought if you have the spine to do it. Unfortunately, Kevin Rudd doesn't.



Three current reports below:

Rudd vows to repeat the British disaster

The introduction of 4 hour "targets" in the NHS has led to appallingly rushed and negligent treatment, with many needless deaths and much suffering resulting

AUSTRALIANS would wait no more than four hours for medical attention in hospital emergency departments in an ambitious bid by the federal government to halve existing waiting periods.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will today announce a $500 million injection for emergency departments but only if the states sign up to his health reform plan.

And in a boost for Queensland the government announced yesterday it would spend $22 million on clinical training to entice graduates to take up jobs in the cities and towns in which they have studied.

Under the new target, public hospitals will be required to ensure people are admitted to hospital, referred for follow-up treatment or treated and discharged within four hours.

Government figures show about 600,000 people each year - or one in three patients - wait for more than eight hours in emergency departments before being seen.

Two-thirds wait for longer than is clinically recommended before they receive medical attention.

The $500 million will pay for an extra 1.2 million consultations. Hospitals that reach or exceed the new four-hour target will receive reward payments. Doctors say the reason is not a lack of staff but a shortage of available hospital beds.

The Australian Medical Association wants 85 per cent of beds to be occupied at any given time so there is space for people brought into emergency departments. No emergency department in metropolitan Sydney had that capacity last year, according to the association's report card on public hospitals.

The AMA will be wary of praising the move unless there is a specific commitment to funding more beds.

The announcement is the first of several expected to be made this week as Mr Rudd pushes the states to sign up to his health reform plan. Announcements on elective surgery, aged care, primary care and mental health are also expected. But consumer-friendly announcements such as that on emergency waiting times will only happen if the states sign up to the PM's reform plan.

Mr Rudd will meet state and territory leaders at a Council of Australian Governments meeting on April 19 in a showdown over the plan, which would lead to the Commonwealth becoming the main funder of hospitals and the only funder of outpatient services. The Commonwealth would lift its share of hospital funding from an existing 40 per cent to 60 per cent.

But the states would lose one- third of their revenue from the GST. That would go to local health networks that would be responsible for the day-to-day running of hospitals.

The plan is being strongly opposed by Victorian Premier John Brumby who wants the states to keep GST revenue, while the Commonwealth raises its share of funding from 40 to 50 per cent.

Mr Rudd is insisting the states give him an answer on his plan at the COAG meeting. If they knock it back, he has threatened to hold a referendum on the issue either at or before the next federal election.


Rudd health reforms 'bizarre', says Reserve Bank board member Roger Corbett

Corbett was a brilliantly successful manager at Woolworths so his grip on reality is undoubted

RESERVE Bank board member Roger Corbett has attacked Kevin Rudd's hospital reform plan as "bizarre", and a "formula for disaster", as the Prime Minister today prepares to release a $739 million injection to aged-care services as a sweetener to break the deadlock with the states.

The former Woolworths chief executive, who chairs the Westmead Children's Hospital in Sydney's west, described the plan as "almost grotesque" and praised Victorian Premier John Brumby and Kristina Keneally of NSW for resisting elements of the blueprint, arguing it would not end the blame game and would add to confusion.

"It's not going to resolve anything. In fact, it's conceivably going to significantly worsen the situation," Mr Corbett told the Seven Network.

His intervention comes as negotiations between the premiers and Mr Rudd enter a final week ahead of next Monday's Council of Australian Government's meeting.

The Prime Minister will today unveil a $739m package supporting 5000 aged-care places. The announcement will increase pressure on Mr Brumby, who last week issued a rival blueprint rejecting Mr Rudd's planned hospital takeover in favour of a 50-50 funding model and continued state control.

In Brisbane yesterday, Mr Rudd again pressed premiers to sign up next week. "I believe that working families, pensioners, carers right across the country have already reached a conclusion that the current system is not good enough," he said. "It needs to be improved." [But how?]

But Mr Brumby attacked Mr Rudd for releasing the package one element at a time. "It would have been better to deal with the whole health system in one go rather than in bits and pieces," Mr Brumby said. "I don't believe you can separate it out." Mr Brumby said the Prime Minister must put more money on the table for the states to agree to his plan.

In today's announcement, the commonwealth will offer to take full funding and policy responsibility for aged care, including home and community care currently provided by the states, to enable a nationally consistent aged-care system. Mr Rudd will offer the states $280m to fund older people who occupy hospital beds while waiting to get into aged-care facilities, which in 2006 numbered 2400.

The package also includes $143m for providing zero real interest loans to aged-care providers to support development of 2500 new aged-care places. It promises to work with the states to release more land and accelerate planning approvals to enable aged-care homes to become operational more quickly.

Incentives will be provided to general practitioners to increase services to people in aged-care homes, in a $96m plan over four years.

It is estimated that 27,000 hospital admissions a year could be avoided through better GP care in aged-care homes.

State premiers have been demanding key detail on the federal government's plans for aged care since Mr Rudd unveiled his $50 billion public hospitals reform plan last month.

But Mr Corbett told Seven aged care was a prime example of why the hospitals reform plan should be opposed. "If you're involved with aged parents and trying to navigate your way through those services, they are hopelessly unco-ordinated and, I think, a national disgrace run by, I might say, the federal government." Mr Corbett said Mr Rudd's planned local area hospital networks would only add to confusion and lead to more public servants.

Mr Rudd's aged-care instalment will add to a string of big bang announcements from the commonwealth in the past few weeks, including the weekend's $500m funding injection to cut waiting times in emergency departments to a maximum four hours and $500m to treat diabetes.

"I would say to any premier or chief minister who thinks that their system is currently good enough and doesn't need to be improved, to go and have a long, long conversation with people currently queuing for attention at the emergency departments of their hospital this morning," Mr Rudd said.

Claiming the biggest shake-up to the healthcare system since Medicare, Mr Rudd has proposed that the federal government contribute 60 per cent of public hospitals funding in return for clawing back 30 per cent of the GST. The government has threatened a referendum for a full commonwealth takeover of health if the states fail to agree to the plan. [Contested referenda are always lost in Australia so that is an empty threat. Rudd would be the big loser]

Tony Abbott yesterday accused Mr Rudd of throwing money at problems. "It seems that the Prime Minister is throwing money at problems in a transparent attempt to bribe the state governments to sign up to his plan," the Opposition Leader said.


Horror rooms in rundown NSW government hospital

RELATIVES of critically ill patients at one of Sydney's biggest hospitals are being housed in a rundown building infested with rats and cockroaches and surrounded by smashed bottles and rubbish.

Walkways in the desolate accommodation block at Liverpool Hospital are littered with bags of wet, dirty linen, discarded shopping trolleys, bird nests and rat droppings.

One section of wall on the third floor at Ron Dunbier House has been demolished and is blocked only with a piece of masonite, studded with long nails, propped on its side.

Fly screens have been ripped from their frames and are covered in cobwebs. A wire fence between the units and the busy freight rail line, about 15 metres away, has been forced open and the area is littered with broken beer bottles, plastic food containers, discarded chairs and soft drink cans. Grass has grown over much of the rubbish and lights have been smashed by vandals.

Desma Manyweathers paid $34 for two nights' accommodation, plus a $40 deposit, when her husband was admitted to the intensive-care unit, but refused to stay after viewing her room. "This place is virtually derelict, dangerous and dirty, she said. "Inside my unit, the microwave has dried food in it, the lights are broken, the phone is covered in grease and the shower is rusty and full of filth."

Cupboards and drawers were mouldy, the stove was dirty and the ceiling leaked. "Unless you are used to living in a hovel, you could not live there," she said.

Mrs Manyweathers spent her first night at the hospital sleeping across chairs near the intensive-care unit but has since moved to a motel in Casula, which costs her $74 a night. She also pays $32 a day to take taxis to and from the hospital.

Her husband Bill, who has bowel cancer and internal bleeding, has been told he may not be discharged from the hospital for weeks but she fears she will not be able to afford to stay near him. She said staff had expressed surprise the block was still being used to house relatives as gangs of youths carrying knives were regularly chased from the units.

"I can't afford to stay in a motel but I can't stay here either," she said. "I don't know any woman who would feel safe here on her own."

The hospital is undergoing a $390million upgrade but the ageing accommodation block will not be rebuilt.

A hospital spokeswoman said maintenance was undertaken "as required" and staff would respond to urgent requests. All rooms were cleaned before and after they were used and a full-time cleaner worked in the building each day, she said.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Queensland Health still yet to pay staff, many of whom have now been waiting a month. "Working through a system of priorities" it seems. Looks like paying your staff is now based on a hierarchy of desperation.