Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Australian Government toughens rules on asylum-seeker character test

ASYLUM-seekers who commit offences while in detention will be barred from gaining permanent protection in Australia but will still be allowed to live in the country under temporary visas.

Amid growing violence and unrest in detention centres across the country, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has announced a toughening of the character test to encourage better behaviour among asylum-seekers.

Under the proposed legislation, asylum-seekers convicted of an offence in detention will be prevented from permanently settling in Australia and bringing family members to join them.

Penalties for those possessing or making weapons would also be increased to five years in prison.

The changes would be backdated to today, meaning those involved in recent uprisings at detention centres, but who are yet to be charged, would face the new character test.

“These changes send a clear message to anyone considering engaging in unacceptable behaviour in immigration detention that this will only increase their chances of not being granted a visa,” Mr Bowen said. “This will apply to all people in immigration detention: onshore and offshore arrivals, asylum-seekers, or otherwise.”

However, Mr Bowen admitted those found guilty of offences could not simply be deported. He said a temporary protection visa, akin to those used under the Howard government, would still be available to those found guilty of offences.

“The one thing I'm indicating is that of course we will not (remove) people to where they will be in danger, but there are a range of options available to me including temporary visas, which are less attractive,” he told ABC radio.

The government will rely on support from the opposition to have the legislation passed.

The Gillard government has been struggling to maintain control of immigration centres amid ballooning detainee numbers and a massive processing backlog.

Protests at Villawood detention centre last week left buildings destroyed by fire, while rioting Christmas Island detainees razed facilities last month.

The announcement came as three detainee protesters maintained their vigil on the rooftop of Sydney's Villawood detention centre into a sixth straight day, and after reports a man on Christmas Island had stitched his lips together.

A hunger strike at Western Australia's Curtin detention centre has also continued into a third day while protest groups have rallied against mandatory detention and the treatment of detainees outside Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre in Victoria and at Villawood in Sydney.


Make poor teaching a sackable offence

A POPULAR myth about teaching is that if you increase salaries, you will get better teachers. This is an idea that gains traction with the teachers unions. It also resonates with those frustrated with poor school outcomes.

The pay and performance equation is disarmingly obvious. If you don't pay teachers enough, you can't attract the best. This view informs the position of Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, who wrote on this page on April 13: "If you want brain surgeons and international lawyers to consider teaching as an option, then you are going to have to supplement altruism with cash."

And Ben Jensen, director of the school education program at the Grattan Institute, wrote on this page on April 18 that a "system of meaningful appraisal and feedback for teachers will increase their effectiveness by 20 to 30 per cent".

Jensen goes further and says of the institute's recent report on appraisal: "Our proposal concentrates on improving teaching, not sacking teachers." But how can teaching be improved by not getting rid of inferior teachers? Why is teaching sacrosanct?

There is no other profession, job or vocation that closes ranks on incompetence in the same way. When was the last time you heard a teaching union call for the sacking of incompetent teachers? Never. "It's OK to be a dud, we won't tell on you" is union-speak for membership.

This is why Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos says the union supports the idea of appraisal and is reported as saying on the release of the Grattan Institute report that it reinforces the union's view that the best professional development for teachers occurs when they are given time to work together.

But appraisal is a delaying tactic on palpably bad teachers. It can take years with minimal or no improvement. In the meantime, students are damaged. In a normal full-time teaching load of, say, five classes of 25 students each, this means 125 students. Multiply that by a three-year cycle of appraisal. That is 375 students who have not been well taught.

A survey by Britain's National Foundation for Educational Research shows only 21 per cent teachers think schools have enough freedom to sack incompetent colleagues. The Times Education Supplement reported on April 8 that a study of 2100 teachers found 73 per cent of school heads and 52 per cent of classroom teachers agreed there was not enough freedom for schools to dismiss poorly performing teachers. In response, Britain's National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said: "It is regrettable that colleagues agree it is not easy enough to dismiss teachers." There was no mention of appraisal being used to fix the problem.

Why the AEU does not ask its members similar questions is obvious. Many would support sacking teachers. Colleagues are aware of teachers who are failures. They all know who should go and why.

If appraisal and dollars held the key to better teachers, why hasn't performance-related pay been an unambiguous winner? In a report titled "The bonus myth" in New Scientist magazine this month, Alfie Kohn, a teacher turned writer, says: "Economists and workplace consultants regard it as almost unquestioned dogma that people are motivated by rewards, so they don't feel the need to test this." The magazine notes that, in many circumstances, paying for results can make people perform badly, and that the more you pay, the worse they perform.

It is obvious what will improve teacher performance. Australian schools, particularly state schools, must be given the autonomy to hire and fire. The growth in independent school enrolments is in part related to the view held by parents that state school education in some areas is in serious decline and teacher quality is a lottery. They pay independent school fees for not having to gamble on incompetence. The problem is also who gets into teaching. This is unpleasant to say but many teachers are simply not high-flyers, something that the federal government partly understands.

As of 2013 there will be tougher university entrance requirements for teaching. The pool of potential teachers will come from the top 30 per cent of Year 12 students, as well as others who meet the expectation of a high level of proficiency in literacy and numeracy.

Federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett said on the announcement of the new teaching entry expectations earlier this month: "We want the very best people coming into the teaching profession. The Australian community wants to see high-quality teaching in schools."

The problem with poor outcomes in schools is not a matter of funding, class sizes, difficult children or any other excuse. The problem is teachers.

Those who are incompetent, who are inadequately trained or are allowed to consolidate poor performance under union sanction, secure that they will be appraised continuously rather than sacked, are the malady of Australian education.

The only way to tell a teacher they are hopeless is to remove them, as in the case of every other job I know.


Australian Christian Lobby chief Jim Wallace's Anzac Day slur sparks outrage

I have known quite a few "old diggers" (elderly Australian Army veterans) in my day and I am pretty sure what most of them would say if asked whether they fought so that homosexuality would be promoted as normal. The reply would be cutting, very cutting

THE head of the Australian Christian Lobby says outrage over a claim that Australian soldiers didn't fight for gay marriage is down to "misinterpretation".

Earlier today ACL managing director Jim Wallace said on Twitter: "Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for — wasn't gay marriage and Islamic!" The comment sparked widespread condemnation from other Twitter users, who said Mr Wallace should be "ashamed".

This afternoon Mr Wallace apologised "unreservedly" for having made the comment on Anzac Day and said the comment had been misinterpreted. "There is no way I was trying to infer that our veterans didn't fight for all Australians. Of course they did," Mr Wallace told news.com.au. "I spent 32 years in the army myself, I'm imbued with that. "I'm the last person to (want to) demean Anzac Day or our veterans."

However Mr Wallace stood by his belief that the "nature" of the country that veterans had fought for was changing. "I was simply there with my father, a 96-year-old veteran of Tobruk and Milne Bay," Mr Wallace said. "And he was lamenting, as he had in the past, that he found it difficult to identify the Australia that he fought for. "I think that the nature of our society that our soldiers fought for was based on Judeo-Christian heritage."

Mr Wallace said he cited gay marriage and Islam as they were "two things that, in the future, are certainly going to define the nature of our society".

The ACL boss admitted his comment was ill-timed, but said he had not expected it to spark such widespread outrage. "It's the first time I've experienced that," he said of the potential for controversial comments to be shared quickly via Twitter. "I apologise for the fact that it was ill-timed. I had no intention and no thought that it would go into this."

Mr Wallace this afternoon deleted the original comment from his Twitter page.


Bossy Indian doctor raised hackles in Australia

An unfortunate case of culture clash. Bossiness is the opposite of what works in egalitarian Australia. Not all Indians are bossy but Dr. Virdi is a Sikh and they have a warrior tradition

A TOWNSVILLE surgeon wrongly dismissed by Queensland Health for bullying and harassment has been awarded six months' full pay. Dr Inderjit Virdi, a cardio-thoracic specialist, was stood down on full pay in 2007 after an investigation was launched into 19 claims of bullying and harassment by the doctor.

A hearing before Queensland Industrial Relations Commission president Adrian Bloomfield found it "impracticable" to reinstate Dr Virdi, but instead pay him the maximum compensation of six months' wages, believed to be worth about $150,000. "Given that Dr Virdi's continuing loss for his (conceded) unjust dismissal is significant . . . I should award the maximum compensation allowable," President Bloomfield said.

Dr Virdi, an Australian citizen, was a full-time surgeon at Townsville Hospital when allegations were made against him and in 2009 he was granted leave without pay and moved back to India to work.

In President Bloomfield's decision handed down last month, he described Dr Virdi as a "person of strong will and strongly held views". "Dr Virdi firmly believes that it is his right as "captain of the ship" to talk to and direct, subordinate staff in the manner he thinks appropriate," he said. "His previous behaviour towards his subordinate and other professional colleagues would not change if he was reinstated."

Dr Virdi participated in anger management training and effective communication treatment following complaints about his behaviour.

During the hearing the hospital's medical services executive director Andrew Johnson said he was concerned about patient safety if Dr Virdi was able to be reinstated. Dr Virdi vigorously defended these claims and said his hospital had the best clinical results of any cardio-thoracic surgery in Australia.

Dr Virdi's Australian representative and Salaried Doctors Queensland past president Don Kane said the Indian-born surgeon had suffered after a long-running saga with Queensland Health. "He's been badly affected by what has been done to him," he said. "His family have had a horrendous time with this over the last five or six years and he's paid a huge penalty through no fault of his own."

Dr Virdi is the chief of cardio-thoracic surgery at New Delhi's Max Delhi Devi Heart and Vascular Hospital, one of India's largest private hospitals.


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