Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New conservative Victorian Premier pledges no change!

In his first press conference as Victorian premier Ted Baillieu says that under his government "what you will see is what you will get". "We will treat families with compassion and dignity," he said.

Labor leader John Brumby conceded defeat late Monday following Saturday's tightly fought state election.

"There will be no hidden agenda, no spin, no secrecy. Accountability and transparency will the principles that underpin our government," Mr Baillieu said on Tuesday. "What you will see is what you will get." "We know that Victorians have given us a mandate to make change, a mandate for reform and we will be getting on with that task.

"But we also understand that Victorian families want to know what affects their daily lives because Victorian families are really best placed to make judgments about what's in their own interests and how the cost of living can be kept down.

"I want to reassure all Victorians that there will be no radical or sudden changes. "We will be taking a common sense and sensible approach to running this state.


But he will obstruct the Federal Left

INCOMING Victorian premier Ted Baillieu will challenge key planks of Julia Gillard's reform agenda. This included the broadband network, health reform, the mining tax and water, in a clear challenge to the Prime Minister's ability to deliver.

The premier-elect last night told The Australian he will launch an immediate audit of Victorian hospital waiting lists to determine whether the national health reform deal signed by outgoing Premier John Brumby provides enough for his state.

Mr Baillieu will also make his support for Canberra's planned roll-out of the National Broadband Network conditional on improved mobile phone reception in regional and metropolitan areas.

Mr Baillieu's aggressive approach towards Ms Gillard's major reforms came as Labor insiders predicted Mr Brumby would soon stand down to allow a smooth transition to a new Labor leadership team.

As Mr Brumby formally conceded that the Victorian election was lost, speculation centred on his Health Minister Daniel Andrews as the likely replacement leader. Water Minister Tim Holding and one of the party's rising stars, Regional and Rural Development Minister Jacinta Allan, were also being mooted as candidates, but considered less likely to run.

Mr Baillieu drove through the gates to the Governor's mansion at about 6:30pm last night to formally accept his commission as next premier. While he is yet to formally outline his priorities for government, he told The Australian more questions needed to be answered before he could support either the NBN or Ms Gillard's reforms to hospital finance.

"Before taxpayers fund an NBN, basic services such as mobile phone reception in many regional and metropolitan areas of Victoria should be addressed and improved wherever possible," he said.

"Victorians don't know enough about the health deal John Brumby signed with Kevin Rudd. We will commence an audit on coming to government to reveal the true extent of hospital waiting lists in Victoria. I've made it clear that we'll examine every aspect of the health deal on coming to government, and if it's not in the interests of Victorian families, we will seek to get a better outcome from Julia Gillard."

The instalment of a Coalition government in Victoria, along with Colin Barnett's West Australian government, will further complicate the Prime Minister's task in securing state support through COAG for her reforms.

The NSW Labor government is widely expected to face a huge defeat in March next year and opposition parties in NSW and Queensland signalled they would also take a critical approach to Ms Gillard's plans. Mr Barnett said he was pleased not to be the only non-Labor premier.

Mr Brumby called Mr Baillieu shortly before a 5pm media conference to concede defeat in Saturday's election and pass on his congratulations. He blamed the "weight of time" after 11 years of Labor government as being the most decisive factor in the result. "The electorate has spoken and we must accept their verdict, no matter how close the result," he said. "The people of Victoria felt it was time to give another team a chance."

In addition to Ms Gillard's NBN and health reforms, Mr Baillieu urged caution towards Labor's proposed national curriculum, Murray-Darling Basin plan and mining tax.

"I am supportive of a national curriculum and it was originally a Liberal idea," he said. "But Victorian families don't want a prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach. There should be a focus on basics, especially with declining literacy and numeracy standards amongst Victorian students. It is also important to have a sound mix of content and skills and there should be a balanced approach to Australia's and Victoria's history and social values".

In a threat to the plans to return water to the Murray-Darling Basin, Mr Baillieu said he would not allow the changes to be fast-tracked in Victoria.

"It is clear that much more work needs to be done on the social and economic impact of the plan on Victorian communities and families," he said. Mr Baillieu will seek an emergency briefing from Ms Gillard on the mining tax and potential impacts on Victoria.

The comments to The Australian reveal the Prime Minister faces an uphill battle to deliver many of her national reforms.

Mr Baillieu said he would push for a "better deal" in the proposed national health reforms and additional commonwealth funding for major infrastructure projects.

In a forerunner to what is likely to become an increasingly difficult climate between the federal government and the states over proposed reforms, Mr Baillieu told The Australian one of the first things he wanted to do for the state on a national level was to re-examine what Victoria received in the health agreement.

"Victoria has the potential to make a bigger contribution to the national economy and do better on service delivery, integrity of government and cost of living," he said. "I will be pushing for a better deal for Victoria on health and infrastructure funding."

Mr Baillieu said he wanted to secure more funding for his proposed railway line to Avalon Airport, near Geelong, and funding to improve the state's level crossings.

He also wanted, as a key priority, "crucial road funding" to stop traffic bottlenecks in the city and suburbs which "damage the economy and slow travel speeds".

It comes as Coalition opposition parties said they would also take a critical approach to Ms Gillard's plans.

Queensland Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said the Murray-Darling plan, the health takeover, the NBN and the mining tax were all potential flashpoints. "I am encouraged that Queenslanders are growing in confidence with the policies the LNP have been announcing, but we are not taking anything for granted and will work day and night to provide a viable alternative to the tired, long-term Labor government," he said.

And NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell has declared that if he wins government he will not sign deals that left NSW people worse off. "The NSW Liberals and Nationals will not sign up to any national agreements which leave the state's services or taxpayers worse off."

NSW opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said NSW Liberals and Nationals had always voiced concerns about handing over GST funding, especially when there were no details on what levels the "efficient costs" would be set at.

"The NSW Liberals and Nationals have positive plans for health reform in NSW that we believe are compatible with the current arrangements but we reserve the right to act in the best interests of NSW patients should circumstances change".


Something odd about home schooling?

Next year I will educate one of my primary school-aged children at home. It suits him, for now, and it will suit me, now that I have made some changes. Yet it doesn't seem to suit anyone else. Even the government representative – meant to support parents and children undertaking home education – seemed, well, judgmental. When I asked why it took a few months for approval to come through – nothing accusatorial in my tone, just wanting to be across the process – she caustically responded “because we care about the children”.

My son loves to learn – more broadly than the curriculum dictates. I like to teach, and I too am still learning. I will organise help if there are elements beyond me. Basically, we are excited. And I am not asking for the $10,722 it would have cost the government to have him in primary school next year. So which bit is confronting?

Teaching has been around as long as humans have, but education and schools are relatively newer concepts, particularly our industrialised version.

The reactions of others would suggest I am removing my son from a perfect education system, a system that, despite some excellent teachers, stands accused of narrowing education, teaching to the test and moving towards rewarding a school, or recognising the "best" teachers, based on flawed measures that foster stress and desperation.

The NSW Board of Studies oversees home education in NSW. Parents or carers must complete an interview with an authorised person within the home. They need to demonstrate that a suitable education program, in accordance with the curriculum provided by the Education Act and Board of Studies syllabuses, has been devised and learning experiences, student achievements and progress can be recorded. Registration for home schooling is granted for a set period, usually between six months and two years, and once it expires you have to re-apply.

Home schooling has steadily increased in recent years. In 2009, 1945 children were registered for home schooling in NSW compared with 1417 in 2005, according to the NSW Board of Studies. More than 1.5 million students were educated at home in the US during 2007, compared with 1.1 million in 2003 and 850,000 in 1999, the US Department of Education says.

A Stanford University journal, Education Next, reported last year that the phenomenon was becoming mainstream, and the most common reason was a concern about the local school environment, rather than religious beliefs.

Research on the performance of home-schooled children here is close to non-existent. But most overseas studies indicate they perform the same, or better, both academically and socially.

Choosing to educate at home is a way of doing things differently. It may not be suitable for everyone – school is a safety net too for many families – but it should not be maligned or deemed unnatural.

The cartoonist and philosopher Michael Leunig did it for more than 10 years. He says home schooling forces parents to re-examine their own values and learning, and question what is worth doing in life. “Having the top score at 18 isn't going to help if you have a nervous breakdown at 40 . . . We are watching horrible pressure being put on children. Human happiness, sanity and health is involved in this issue. Taking back what we are meant to do is a bold step. It's not just about educating, it's about protecting character, it's about parenting.”

"What about the socialisation?" say many of those who disapprove. Frankly, much of the socialisation at school constitutes quips such as “You're gay” (if you, say, go to the library voluntarily) or, “You're weird” (if you don't own a gaming console).

If repeated exposure to this prepares a child for the adult world, then we are doing something very wrong in the adult world. So much of the school experience is just surviving – a strange way to fritter our Western advantage. Research published this year as part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study, which tracks the development of 15,000 children born between 2000 and 2002, found that one in four boys hate school by the age of seven.

Educating a child at home is a legitimate choice. Why are we so frightened of doing things differently? Why are we so frightened of others doing things differently?


Secrecy tells its own story about the NBN

So much for opening the curtains and letting the sunshine in. The last few weeks of the Federal Parliamentary year have highlighted the farcical lengths the Gillard Government will go to avoid the sunshine of parliamentary scrutiny.

Demanding unprecedented seven year secrecy clauses from MPs. Blocking legislation to allow the Productivity Commission to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Then finally, dragged kicking and screaming, releasing just a flimsy 36 page summary of the NBN 400-page business plan.

It begs the simple question: why be so secretive? It’s almost as if the National Broadband Network was a figurative political vampire that must be protected from the sun at all costs. No new paradigm sunshine will be permitted to reduce this policy monster to a pile of ashes.

The irony is Labor’s NBN is showing signs it will indeed be a parasitic drain on the public purse while sucking the life out of competition in the communications sector.

The flimsy “business plan” summary relies on extremely optimistic take-up rates to justify its rubbery figures. Laughably, the Government is now claiming it will cost $6 billion less than first expected. Hmmm…sounds reasonable coming from a Government that managed to overspend $2 billion on a school hall program, and waste an estimated $7 billion in delivering it.

And now an international study by two expert consultants has found that the claimed benefits of the NBN are grossly overstated. No earth shattering news here. Indeed, the study has questioned the benefits of fibre-to-the-home networks.

It’s a fair question in a world where technology is advancing rapidly and wireless internet speeds are now so much faster than we dreamt of just a few years ago.

I don’t claim to be an expert on broadband technology. But with demand (and capacity) for mobile technology growing almost daily, it seems extremely antiquated and inefficient to be digging up footpaths and laying fibre across a nation as extensive as ours.

In a fascinating development, last week a subsidiary company of Telstra located in Hong Kong announced the roll out of “fourth generation” wireless internet which will provide speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. That’s wireless technology delivering now the kind of speed promised by the NBN - and at no cost to Hong Kong taxpayers. Makes you wonder.

We all want decent, fast and affordable broadband. But as the Governor of the Reserve Bank so eloquently put it last week, “much hinges on how much you pay to do it and how efficiently it’s done.” That’s the bottom line. That’s what an independent cost-benefit analysis by the Productivity Commission would determine.

While Labor (and their new paradigm pals the Independents and Greens) refuse to subject the NBN to the sunshine of scrutiny, it’s taxpayers who will be figuratively left in the dark with their jugular exposed.


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