Tuesday, March 15, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is amused that Julia is now even less popular than Kevvy

Labor quietly dissolving work for dole scheme

Giving taxpayers' money to people who haven't earned it sounds just fine to a Leftist government

The flagship work-for-the-dole program has been quietly slashed by more than 60 per cent by the Gillard government, with only 9151 long-term unemployed now in the politically charged program.

Federal Labor has consistently rejected suggestions it would abolish the scheme, designed by the Howard government as the centrepiece of its bid to ensure welfare recipients contribute something in return for their benefits. But it is disappearing quietly, with the program losing more than 3000 participants in the final eight months of last year.

On April 7 last year, there were 12,695 people in work-for-the-dole schemes. On December 31, there were 9151 jobseekers either placed or expected to start a work-for-the-dole activity. This was down from 22,362 in April 2005, under the Howard government. Since July 1, 2009, there have been 32,168 jobseekers placed in one or more work-for-the-dole activities.

Employment Participation Minister Kate Ellis yesterday defended the dwindling of the program, arguing that the government was not fixated on keeping it as the main pathway to work, citing training and community volunteer work as alternatives.

"Our government has moved away from a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, so as to allow jobseekers to access a range of work experience options, including structured vocational training and community volunteer work as well as the work-for-the-dole program," she said.

"Our focus is on assisting jobseekers to access a range of education and training opportunities to give them the skills they need to find sustainable employment in the future."

Opposition employment participation spokeswoman Sussan Ley said the government was seeking to dismantle the program by slashing places month after month. "This is Labor's death by a thousand cuts," she said. "We warned a year ago the Rudd-Gillard government was watering down the Coalition's mutual obligation principle for those who are unemployed."

Ms Ley said the program was critically underfunded, with too few work options to build up skills where really needed. It also needed to be applied far earlier than after 12 months' unemployment under Labor, which doubled the threshold set by the Howard government.

Ms Ley said the current numbers in the scheme were "unrealistic, particularly with the number of long-term unemployed blowing out by around 90,000 people in the past two years". "When the Coalition introduced the program, most were required to undertake an activity after six months. Now people go in after 12 months," she said.

The types of activities people do on work for the dole vary widely, according to the Gillard government. Two examples included a community gardening project that provided training in nursery practices, and the remodelling and construction of memorial display areas for a children's and Chinese burial area.


Abbott unfazed by carbon scare

THE Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has again questioned the scientific evidence for climate change, saying he does not accept that carbon dioxide is a proven "environmental villain" or that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is the most important environmental challenge.

The Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, seized on the comments by Mr Abbott yesterday as "proof" the Liberal Party's climate policy is based on "the extreme view that climate change doesn't exist".

Speaking at a community forum in Perth, Mr Abbott said: "I don't think we can say that the science is settled here.

"There is no doubt that we should do our best to rest lightly on the planet and there is no doubt that we should do our best to emit as few waste products as possible, but, having said that, whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.

"We should take precautions against risks and threats, potential ones as well as actual ones, but I don't think we should assume that the highest environmental challenge, let alone the great moral social and political challenge of our time, is to reduce our emissions," Mr Abbott said in response to a question.

Despite once famously saying the settled science of climate change was "absolute crap", Mr Abbott has more recently repeatedly stated that he accepts the science and has told his MPs their debate with the government should be about the Prime Minister's broken promise, the impact of the carbon price and the relative merit of the Coalition's "direct action" climate policy, and not about climate science.

Mr Combet said the comments showed "Mr Abbott is a climate change denier, which explains why his climate policy is nonsense".


The key is consistency; Labor is lacking

There's been an enormous amount of distraction about this week. Kevin Rudd itching to capture Tripoli. Julia Gillard delivering a beautiful speech to a room full of people who can't vote for her. Tony Abbott taking this opportunity to visit a steel mill in the PM's own electorate with his terrifying artist's impression of what her new carbon tax might look like.

Tony Windsor, complaining about the Prime Minister's decision to announce the prospect of a carbon tax without supplying any detail (provoking, in uncharitable minds, the question about why Mr Windsor himself chose to stand beamingly next to her while she did so).

Let's look at the basics here. Labor's problem is one of trust and consistency.

Political advocacy is about believing something, and setting out to bring a majority around to your point of view. In the best political advocates, principle and determination work together to the extent that even voters who fundamentally disagree with their position on a particular policy stance will grudgingly support them anyway.

Federal Labor is a long way from that right now, thanks to the messages it has sent out to the electorate on a number of issues.

Climate change, for example, where its message has been: "This is the most important moral challenge of our... oh, never mind. Wanna be in a focus group? Course there won't be a tax. Wait! I know! How about a tax?"

Or border protection: "Tough! Humane! Tough! Humane! I'm on a boat! No, you're on a boat! Look, there's East Timor! And there will be no new detention centres. Except for that one we're building right there."

Or health: "We're taking this thing over. Or maybe not. I'm wearing a mob-cap. Wait! We fixed it! Oh, bugger. Maybe we didn't. How about this?"

All the questions that are zinging around about the carbon pricing scheme right now are predictable, and fair enough.

Such questions will always attend a policy that is under development in the public eye. But the fundamental question that lies beneath all of them is far deeper, and more profound, and far more risky for Julia Gillard than what the price per tonne will be or what the carbon tax will mean for a birthday cake.

And that question is: Can this prime minister possibly build, in the hearts of her admirers and detractors alike, the unshakeable belief that she means what she says? What is the answer? I don't know. I think, given the circumstances, that it's a pretty long shot.

But I suspect that anyone who is idly contemplating leadership change probably hasn't quite twigged to what the core problem is. Can you imagine what would happen if federal Labor swapped leaders again? The analogy with rotten NSW Labor would be complete. You might as well just go ahead and get Craig Emerson to hop up on his desk and dance in his undies. The image of the Labor Government - a wobbly invertebrate, yanked hither and thither by hidden factional puppeteers - would be confirmed.

And the sweating independents, for whom daily life is made more difficult every time their coalition partner buggers something up - would presumably take the opportunity to decamp to Tony Abbott, or force an election. The whole idea is so suicidal and daft, in fact, that you probably can't rule it out entirely.

But make no mistake about what the issue is here.


Children and the internet

I don't fully agree with the article by Kylie Lang below but think that her approach is at least better than technophobia. I saw no need to time-limit the TV and computer usage of kids in my house during their childhood and they have all grown up as very creditable human beings with whom I still have good relationships. The kids had to do their homework and after that it was up to them. But seeing I spent many hours on the computer too, I could hardly have asked anything different of the kids. I did however also spend a lot of time playing rough-and-tumble games with them, which we all enjoyed -- JR

Plugged in but tuned out: sound like a child you know? The great connect to technology has become the great disconnect from family life and meaningful social interaction for kids who have developed an acute aversion to doing anything that doesn’t involve a keypad or remote control.

Perfectly reasonable requests to set the table, walk the dog, or engage in a conversation (without grunts) go unheard as our kids tune us out, building relationships instead with Angry Birds, Call of Duty Zombies and instant acquaintances misnamed as friends.

Before we go blaming technology for our children’s aloofness, consider this: iPhones, Wiis and computers are merely tools of communication. As such, they need to be managed and used respectfully.

As with the phone when I was a child, restrictions must be imposed. If I talked longer than 30 minutes (three minutes to a teenage girl), Dad would draw circles in the air to signal “wind it up”, I’d roll my eyes and huff but I would get off that phone. It was a similar story with TV. One hour a day, watching programs my parents deemed suitable, (Two and a Half Men would not have been one).

Technology is not the enemy here. It’s poor parenting, characterised by a reluctance to set and enforce limitations (in case our kids won’t like us) and a resignation to the idea that technology is omnipotent (it's everywhere so what can we do but let them have it?).

Instead of surrendering to weapons of mass communication, let’s determine how to use them for good. What values do we, as a family and collectively as a society, want to encourage and preserve? We must then commit to these things, not leave them to chance, because technology is racing ahead faster than we can digest and interpret it.

Research firm Gartner predicts that 64 million computer tablets will be sold this year; two years ago there were none. We already have 350,000 apps for our iPhone, yet 820 new apps are submitted each day.

With technology so pervasive and increasingly affordable (more than three-quarters of Australian homes have internet access), parents must sit down with their kids and agree on guidelines they can uphold. Appropriate screening covers school work and networking with students online to solve problems (such as maths, not who to take to the dance).

Beyond that, it is fine to play age-appropriate games within a set time - childhood experts recommend no more than one hour of screening (that includes TV) for under fives and two hours for fives and up. Within these periods, older kids can tweet, text or chat with friends, the key word here being friends. Friends are people you can touch and know through shared experiences that you can trust. They are not the secondhand acquaintances on social networking sites who multiply faster than measles.

Now, to inappropriate use. Screening has no place at the dinner table. Computers do not belong in bedrooms but in communal spaces where parents can monitor them. Where was the supervision of Brisbane schoolboy Philip Heggie, who ripped off eBay customers to the tune of almost $40,000 and stole a tidy $2 million from Suncorp?

Technology is a convenience parents have come to rely on (because, let’s face it, it’s the only babysitter kids really like), but giving a handheld device to a child in a restaurant to shut them up is teaching the child nothing about how to appreciate the dining out experience.

A friend of mine went to a baby shower in a restaurant last weekend, There were two little girls present, aged four or five. All other guests were women. One of the girls walked in wearing earphones and clutching a handheld device. “That’s a prepared mother," my friend initially thought, and then the second child arrived, without techno props.

As the three-hour function rolled on, the little girls, though seated side by side, did not engage with each other at all. Miss Earphones sat playing quietly on her handheld device and spoke to no one, including the other girl who eventually scored her mother's iPhone. "It was as if the two children were invisible to each other,” my friend said, “it was so sad”.

Technology, when used sensibly, has the power to positively connect people in a way we’ve never known. Look at how the much-maligned Gen Y rallied to the cause of flood recovery in January. When council websites choked, social networking took over, directing helpers to the areas of greatest need.

As a tool of communication, technology has no peer. But if we allow it to dominate our lives, it ceases to work for us. Parents must lead by example. No point telling your son too much screening is bad for him if you spend all night checking emails on your BlackBerry. Plugged in but tuned out describes adults too.

Former IBM CEO Louis Gerstner said: “Computers are magnificent tools for the realisahon of our dreams, but no machine can replace the human spark of spirit, compassion, love and understanding."

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 13 March

Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

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