Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oakeshott: An experienced liar

There were six people in the room. Morris Iemma was there with his top advisers to meet Rob Oakeshott and his key staffer. It was 2007; Iemma was premier of NSW, Oakeshott was an independent state MP. Oakeshott had a list of requests. One was that he be considered for an appointment as a minister in the Iemma Labor government.

Iemma did not dismiss the request. Before deflecting the matter, he consulted several senior ministers, including the treasurer, Michael Costa. News of Oakeshott's amenability also went back to Labor headquarters in Sussex Street, where Mark Arbib was running the state. This is the meeting Oakeshott says he does not remember.

Costa remembered it vividly last Tuesday when Oakeshott mentioned, during his soliloquy about where he was going to cast the deciding vote in the 2010 election, that he had been offered a ministry by Julia Gillard and would consider the offer.

Costa, a fiery character, started talking. Word of the 2007 meeting made it into the media. Oakeshott was asked about it the next day. He responded by telling one reporter the story was "Bullshit". He attributed it to "faceless men" of the Labor machine.

But there were no faceless men. There was Iemma, who not only confirmed to this column that Oakeshott had offered himself as a minister, but also provided details of the meeting. He recalled Oakeshott saying he may resign his seat, returning it to the Nationals. Costa supports Iemma's recollections, and Costa is the opposite of faceless.

On Friday, at a press conference, when Oakeshott was confronted with the reality that the story of his request for a ministry was coming from senior people speaking on-the-record, his response was: "I don't have any recollection of any conversation."

This is not good. This is not credible. When the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made an offer of a ministry to Oakeshott, she did so in the context he had been previously amenable to such an arrangement.

By the time he made his announcement on Friday he had no choice but to refuse, because the offer was not just a fundamental compromise of his independence, and not just an affront to the anti-Labor landslide his electorate has just delivered the previous week, but he had just been exposed as having prior form when it came to such footsie with Labor.

In fact, the entire edifice of political innocence that Oakeshott has carefully built around himself is not credible. This self-created mythology reached its climax last Tuesday, during his dance of the seven veils, before revealing his final, crucial vote.

Oakeshott has never been an outsider, or a political innocent. He grew up on Sydney's north shore, where his father was a prominent doctor, and he attended Barker College. While still a student he went to work for the federal Liberal MP Philip Ruddock, who told me last week: "Oakeshott did work experience with me in my electorate office. It was unpaid work. He was a student. It was well before he went to work for Mark Vaile."

After graduating from the University of Sydney (honours in government), Oakeshott worked briefly at the Road Transport Forum before becoming a staffer for Vaile, the newly elected National Party federal MP for Lyne.

Three years later, after the Coalition took power in Canberra, he went to work for the Coalition's public relations operation in Canberra. Later that year his connections with Vaile were leveraged into National Party preselection for the safe state seat of Port Macquarie, which sits within Vaile's federal seat of Lyne. Oakeshott was just 26.

Six years later, in 2002, he split with the Nationals to become an independent, a decision vindicated when he thumped the National Party's candidate in the 2003 election. Just as he had first entered Parliament via a byelection in 1996, he entered Federal Parliament via a byelection in 2008 when Vaile departed early after the Coalition lost government. Oakeshott rode a voter backlash to an easy victory.

Last month, he was re-elected with a commanding majority. But Lyne also delivered an emphatic anti-Labor vote. In the House vote, the combined primary votes of the ALP and the Greens was just 17.2 per cent. This crushing anti-Labor vote was replicated in the Senate vote in Lyne, where the Coalition won 45.75 per cent of the primary vote to Labor's 30.3 per cent. The conservative parties' combined Senate vote was 53.7 per cent, to the Labor/Greens's 38.5 per cent. The anti-Labor/Greens vote in Lyne was the second biggest in the country.

When Oakeshott negotiated with the major parties after the deadlocked election as one of the three rural independents holding the balance of power, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, proposed a permanent $1 billion-a-year increase in regional infrastructure spending. It was an offer both much larger and with less contingencies than Labor's counter-offer.

From all this, Oakeshott conjured for himself a mandate to create a Labor-Greens government. It is exactly what his electorate had just rejected. Oakeshott then stage-managed his vote as the climactic vote, delivering a speech presenting himself, like Jimmy Stewart in the classic, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, as the loveable cleanskin who took on the machine and won. But Oakeshott was actually delivering power to the ultimate machinists.

That was six days ago. It seems longer. It must seem so to Oakeshott, who has discovered that the media world beyond the adoring Port Macquarie News is a very different place, a place where Oakeshott has become Potshott.

He has spent nearly 20 years working towards this moment, his time in the national sun. But with the glow comes the heat.


Victorian public health system "dire"

MORE than 1000 Victorian patients a day are unhappy with their treatment in the state's hospitals, the system's latest annual report card shows. The last Your Hospitals report card ahead of the November state election shows more than 250,000 emergency department patients were not treated on time in the past year - an increase on four years ago. Almost 90,000 Victorians were left on trolleys in emergency departments for more than eight hours.

The state's top hospitals failed to meet five out of nine key performance targets - worse than last year's performance. The worst-performing hospitals were in Melbourne's western suburbs, with Sunshine Hospital rated the least popular. Almost half of patients were not admitted to a hospital bed within the required period.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said this was a "fail" for the Brumby Government, with almost 25 per cent of patients "dissatisfied" with their hospital treatment.

The Australian Medical Association warns the Victorian health system is going backwards and patients are waiting longer for access to basic medical care because of an acute shortage of beds to meet Victoria's growing population.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews admitted improvements were needed across parts of the system. "We want to provide better outcomes," he said. "More money will mean more patients get treated quickly. We always need to look for ways to improve and to do better."

THE median waiting time for orthopaedic surgery is 76 days.

Rye pensioner Alison Watson, who was left on an emergency bed in the corridors of Frankston Hospital for two days, said the system was a shambles. Despite being told in March she urgently needed an operation, Frankston Hospital has cancelled her hip replacement surgery three times in the past four months.

"I'm in pain 24 hours a day," Ms Watson said. "And to have three dates ripped away from me is also hurting my mental health. The health system is not working."

AMA Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley warns there are dire problems at hospitals in the western suburbs and Dandenong. "We have seen a steady increase in the number of Victorians being let down by our public hospitals," he said.


Useless police again

The neighbour of a woman bashed to death in her Adelaide Hills home by a mystery intruder believes she called the police for help 16 hours before her body was found.

Retired nurse Pirjo Kemppainen moved from Finland 15 years ago for a quiet life in the village of Callington, near Mt Barker near Adelaide. Now she is dead, the victim of an apparently motiveless murder that has shocked the community.

Her killer or killers remained on the loose last night, and police and State Emergency Service volunteers will today continue scouring the area for clues. It is not known if a weapon was used in the murder.

A neighbour told The Advertiser he believed 63-year-old Ms Kemppainen, a retired nurse who lived alone, had called police at about 12.30am Saturday after hearing noises in her yard. Her battered body was found by her brother at 5pm.

When asked if the murder victim had made a call for help, Major Crime Detective Acting Superintendent Denise Gray said she would not comment.

Forensic investigators yesterday removed a ramp leading to Ms Kemppainen's back door, which had been smashed above the handle. Investigators paid particular attention to a section of wire fence at the front of her property, which was damaged and bent. The fence runs adjacent to a public walkway that follows the Bremer River and is frequently used as a shortcut for locals walking home from the Dog 'n' Ute Callington Hotel.

Distraught relatives told The Advertiser Ms Kemppainen was a defenceless woman who could have lain injured for hours before dying. "We found out late this morning that she'd been brutally bashed by somebody," relative Kylie Kemppainen said. "I don't know how long she was left there, whether they bashed her to death or whether they just left her to die on her own."



Three articles below

NSW High School students think their education is irrelevant

HSC students in New South Wales have slammed the English curriculum, saying it isn't relevant to their lives and should no longer be compulsory. They want the course to give more emphasis to grammar and spelling and help prepare them for their working life.

Pupils who sat last year's HSC complained to the Board of Studies about the advanced English test and also the maths exams, saying they were too difficult.

About one in six students surveyed after last year's HSC said the exams were not a fair test and 18 per cent believed there were too many assessment tasks. An exit poll of 3300 students found the number who believed the HSC exams were a fair test fell three percentage points on 2008 to 69 per cent.

This year's HSC candidates said teachers were thoroughly preparing them for the exams but even the highest level English courses could be made more relevant to their future working lives.

Daniel Taha, of Delany College at Granville in Sydney's west, who will sit the exam this year, said he had difficulty in understanding the relevance of some texts to life. "There isn't an emphasis on grammar," Daniel, 17, said. "There's a big focus on content and so many students can end up losing the fundamentals.

"My teachers are really good at revising those fundamentals and also seeing that we are using vocabulary relevant to the advanced course." His classmate Marian Prasad, 17, also questioned the relevance of some material in English Advanced, and said it was more beneficial to students intending to study literature at tertiary level. "I would like to see more on communication so that we can be articulate in the workplace," she said.

The poll results reveal students' feelings about the strengths and weaknesses of the HSC as about 70,000 prepare to sit their final school exams next month.

Complaints were received about the Studies of Religion paper which had to be stopped for an hour at one school over concerns it contained questions not based on the syllabus. Two-thirds of the students who sat the exam later said it had not been a fair test.

Some students at a Sydney school began crying over an unexpected question they believed had not been covered during their course of study. Officials ordered a break of an hour while the students composed themselves. After the exam, 100 complaints were made to the Board of Studies.

A report prepared by the board after the exit survey said about 480 students made "generally positive" comments about their HSC experience, while 160 were negative. Less than half of the candidates said the Mathematics paper was a fair test.


Mass exodus of experienced teachers in South Australia

And probably similar elsewhere. Schools today are a much less pleasant working environment than they once were

NEARLY a third of the state's public school teachers aged 45-plus will retire within five years, raising concerns schools will face grave staff shortages, particularly in country areas.

The University of Adelaide's Career Intentions Survey of more than 3000 public teachers aged 45 and over, found high schools would be hardest hit. Nearly 38 per cent of secondary teachers who responded to the survey said they planned to leave by 2015. The teachers union said serious staff shortages in rural areas already existed and that extensive recruitment programs needed to be put in place to keep teaching graduates from leaving the state.

The 2010 annual report by the Teachers Registration Board found there are 15,948 registered teachers aged 45-60, however, not all may be in teaching positions. The national average retirement age of teachers is 58.

Australian Education Union SA branch vice president David Smith said the large number of retiring teachers would add to the severe relief teacher shortages in regional areas such as Port Augusta and in subject specialist roles such as maths, science and technology.

Mr Smith cited the changes to the South Australian Certificate of Education and the national curriculum as a contributor to older educators wanting to leave the workforce early.

An AEU survey last week showed 84 per cent of educators believed the new SACE reforms would cause "excessive workloads". The report by the university's Australian Institute of Social Research also found:

MORE than half of the teachers aged over 55 intend to retire within five years.

RETIREMENT of preschool teachers and junior primary teachers is expected to peak in ten years.

TWO-THIRDS indicated an interest in casual employment after retirement.

There are 311 full time teaching students who started full-time studies this year at the University of Adelaide, 2807 full-time teaching students at UniSA and 612 at Flinders.

Education Minister Jay Weatherill said the department's teacher recruitment strategy, which was announced last month, was aimed at attracting enthusiastic young people into the profession.


A great Australian asset: East Asians

Australia gives them the opportunity to realize their potential.

The claim below that the students concerned do well because they are "middle class" may have some truth but not much. The Vietnamese in particular are the children of desperate "boat people" refugees from Communist terror

The best performing school in the state, James Ruse Agricultural High School, is also the selective school with the most students from a migrant background. New figures obtained under freedom of information laws show that 95.2 per cent of students list a language background other than English in their entry application. Only 41 students from an English-speaking background are studying at the school - an average of seven in each year.

Children of migrants fill almost 80 per cent of the places offered at the state's top 10 selective high schools, which are all ranked in the top 20 HSC performers. On average only 20 per cent (or 320 students each year) are from an English-speaking background.

The dominant cultural group is Chinese, with the most applicants and the highest success rate in the entry test. Last year, 2361 applicants were from a Chinese background and 1242 were successful.

The second most represented group was Vietnamese followed by Korean. In total, 3912 students were awarded a selective school place last year, with 5516 applicants from a non-English speaking background - 42 per cent (1828) of whom were successful.

The co-director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, Bob Birrell, said the successful students largely represented middle- to upper-middle-class families from Asia who put a heavy emphasis on education and professional achievement.

He said selective schools were not providing assistance to the vast majority of families. "In NSW we are entrenching advantage within one particular ethnic group. If the NSW government was serious about equal opportunity, it would put some geographical boundaries to ensure better access to [top] schools."

A specialist in schools systems from the University of Melbourne, Richard Teese, said that the pooling of high achievers in selective and private school systems had raised the performance bar beyond the reach of students in mainstream schools. "When you pool resources like that you multiply their impact and you give the students who have access to that distinctive advantages over everybody else," Professor Teese said.

"You are setting up a situation in which you [create] extremes of advantage and extremes of disadvantage. If you took those students out of those hot-house environments they would still do well. But by combining their resources you multiply their advantage. It is a zero-sum game: some win, but others must lose."


No comments: