Thursday, August 04, 2011

Strong Australian dollar offers education bargains overseas

The $A used to buy around two thirds of a greenback. It now buys around $US1.07, roughly a 50% increase in buying power. It's been similar with the pound sterling. It's more realistic to look at it the other way around however. The Greenback and to some extent the pound have drastically lost value while the better managed "colonies" (Australia and Canada) have remained stable. So an $A now buys a lot more in the USA and the UK. And that makes private school fees look cheap overseas. Australians are big users of private schools. About a third of Australian students are educated privately and for High School the percentage is even higher

Japanese yen buy a lot of Greenbacks at the moment too. Even though the Japanese economy is in a bit of a pickle these days, Japanese politicians are nowhere near as destructive as Mr Obama

FORGET Sydney's breeding grounds for the rich and privileged - if you want to give your child a shot at being a prince, prime minister or poet it's now cheaper to send them to Eton.

Thanks to a robust Aussie dollar, parents can now bypass Sydney schools like Knox Grammar and The King's School and send their young blue bloods into the land of future lords and ladies at top British schools.

The tuition and boarding fees of elite private schools such as Cranbrook, Newington, The King's School and The Scots College are now more expensive than their once more posh English counterparts - yet lacking the illustrious alumni.

Cranbrook can boast gambling magnate James Packer as an old boy, but Eton has the pride of the parade in princes William and Harry.

However, what local schools lack in old boy status, they make up for with value for money, according to executive director of the Association of Independent Schools, Geoff Newcombe. "The quality of boarding here is very different from what it was a few years ago," Dr Newcombe said. "Many kids have to board because they live in distant places.

"There has been an incredible effort to make their accommodation more like home. It's on a very different level from the English schools. Eton is pretty basic.

Annual fees for board and tuition at Cranbrook for a Year 12 student top $51,621, while Eton charges $46,137.

At The Scots College, board and tuition is more than $49,000 for access to its honour board, which features Hollywood film director Peter Weir and artist Brett Whitely.

But Winchester, the most expensive boarding school in England, costs just $46,686 and boasts cricketer anti-hero Douglas Jardine and Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon among its famous alumni.

At Trinity Grammar the annual fees are $48,650 for an association with rock singer Richard Clapton, at Newington (nursery of chef Neil Perry and Wallaby captains Nick Farr-Jones and Phil Kearns) they are $45,432 and at The King's School (which produced Hollywood film director Bruce Beresford and former deputy prime minister John Anderson) they are $44,082.

Those fees rival the costs of top boarding schools in the US.

St Paul's in New Hampshire, which boasts among its old boys media baron William Randolph Hearst and US presidential contender Senator John Kerry, charges $45,000. Groton School in Massachusetts asks $44,266 and prides itself for the fact that most of the Roosevelts went there.

And Middlesex School in Massachusetts charges $43,809 and can gush about actors Steve Carell and William Hurt hurtling through its hallowed halls.

One of the cheapest of the best in the US is Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. For just $38,558, students can walk in the famous footsteps of author Gore Vidal, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown.


Carbon tax campaign spinning its wheels

SUPPORT for federal Labor has collapsed in metropolitan Sydney and is so low in Queensland that former prime minister Kevin Rudd would be the only government MP to hold his seat in the state if elections had been held last weekend.

Polling commissioned by the Australian Coal Association also shows the government has achieved only marginal gains in support for the carbon tax since the package was released early last month and that a clear majority of voters remain opposed.

It found opposition to the carbon tax was highest in Queensland electorates (62 per cent) and key Sydney metropolitan electorates (61 per cent) and that 67 per cent of voters believed the Prime Minister should wait to introduce the tax until after an election.

The Galaxy poll shows the majority of people believe they will be left worse off by the tax despite the government's bid to sell its compensation package.

Galaxy said while more voters were claiming they better understood the tax and options were becoming more deeply entrenched "this is not translating into increased support".

A clear majority believe it is bad for the economy, nearly three quarters of voters (74 per cent) believe the coal industry should receive the same levels of support as other key export industries and 65 per cent believe the government should offer financial support for carbon capture and storage.

The poll of 2000 voters from across Australia was taken between last Wednesday and Monday and shows Labor's primary vote is 31 per cent compared with the Coalition's 48 per cent. The Greens' vote was 13 per cent. The result gave the Coalition a 56 per cent to 44 per cent two-party preferred lead.

Labor's primary vote has collapsed to just 29 per cent in the Sydney metropolitan area compared with 54 per cent for the Coalition and 9 per cent for the Greens. This gave Tony Abbott's Coalition a commanding 60-40 per cent two party preferred lead in the nation's biggest city and put it on track to pick up a swing of 13 per cent.

In Queensland Labor's primary vote was 32 per cent compared with 54 per cent for the Coalition and 8 per cent for the Greens. This gave the Opposition a 41 per cent to 59 per cent lead over the government on a two-party preferred basis and put it on track for a 6 per cent swing.

The national results are broadly similar to the latest Newspoll taken on July 22-24 that put Labor's primary vote at 29 per cent, the Coalition at 47 per cent and the Greens at 13 per cent. And where as the July 22-24 Newspoll had support for the carbon tax at 36 per cent, the Galaxy poll put support for the tax at 37 per cent.

The poll found that while Julia Gillard's bid to sell the tax had resulted in slight gains -- 39 per cent of people now said they understood the tax compared with 38 per cent in April and those supporting it rose to 37 per cent from 35 per cent in April -- an unchanged 55 per cent of voters opposed the tax.

And while the number of people who thought they would be worse off had fallen, the figure still remained at 69 per cent from 77 per cent in April. The number of people who thought they would be better off rose to 9 per cent from 6 per cent in April.

The number of people who thought the carbon tax would be good for the economy remained steady at 27 per cent and the number who thought it would be worse for the economy rose to 57 per cent from 55 per cent.

While Galaxy said the impact of higher power prices was having less impact in swaying voters now compared with when they were last polled on the issue in April, lower income earners held the greatest concerns about the tax, suggesting they were either not aware of the government's compensation package or did not believe it would offset expected price rises.

A majority of voters, 52 per cent, believed Mr Abbott should scrap the tax if he won the next election and 55 per cent of voters believed the Greens had too much input into the policy.

While the number of people who thought man's emissions were to blame for global warming stayed the same between the April poll and the latest survey at 36 per cent, the number of people who thought global warming was part of the natural cycle of nature rose in the latest survey to 32 per cent from 26 per cent.


No job is lonelier than defending freedom of speech on Australian government TV

Brendan O'Neill

ABE Fortas, the US Supreme Court judge, once said that judging was the loneliest job in the world, "in which a man is, as near as may be, an island entire". I can think of a lonelier job: defending freedom of speech on ABC1's Q&A.

It used to be uncontroversial, even popular, to argue journalists should be free to write what they believe to be true, and newspapers should be free to propel it into the public arena.

Not any more. As I discovered on Q&A on Monday, these days defending the ideal of a free press will win you bemused looks from chin-scratching audience members, narrow-eyed stares from liberty-allergic politicians and a tsunami of tweets asking if you have gone completely mental.

Two freedom-of-the-press issues came up on Q&A: whether right-wing commentators bore responsibility for the actions of the Norway nutter Anders Behring Breivik; and the question of whether, post-phone hacking, it was time to tame and possibly break up the "Murdoch empire".

My answer to both was no.

No, you cannot blame the grotesque murder of 77 Norwegians on the fact Mark Steyn or Keith Windschuttle once wrote a column bemoaning the decline of Western culture. And no, we should not invite the state to dismantle Rupert's regime.

Instead, if you really don't like what his papers have to say, you should set up your own post-Murdochian, pot-stirring paper. That's one of the great things about press freedom: anyone with the nous and the know-how and a fundraising sidekick can press their own ideas and offer them up for public consumption.

I may as well have been calling for Stephen Fry or some other modern-day national treasure to be put in the stocks and pelted with rotten oranges, such were the looks of horror shot my way by my co-panellists. Especially by Labor Minister for Human Services Tanya Plibersek who, according to one blog report, spent the whole show with "narrowed eyes, casting daggers at her tormentor" (that's me). In the discussion on the Norwegian killer, Plibersek seemed outraged when I suggested right-wing writers, however much we might disagree with some of them, were not "the cause of all violence and horror in the world".

Indeed, my suggestion made Plibersek sick to her stomach, she said. "I cannot understand that you think that it is fine for people to go out and say we should kill all Muslims . . . and that that has no real effect in the world," she said.

Even after I pointed out that the right-wing columnists being fingered as intellectual accessories to the worst crime in peacetime Europe did not call for all Muslims to be killed but simply expressed disagreements with the ideology of multiculturalism, still Plibersek seemed convinced that their words were wicked, the moral equivalent of weapons.

"What you're saying is that there is no responsibility if you preach hate for what happens when you preach hate," she said, once again mixing up "making legitimate criticisms of multiculturalism" with "preaching hate". She said public debate should be "more courteous", which really means more boring.

It is, of course, unsurprising to hear a politician who gets her fair share of flak from shock jocks and uncouth columnists express an inner desire to defang tabloid-style commentary, even if she has to rather shamelessly hijack the Norway massacre to do it. It is more surprising to hear it from journalistic entrepreneur Stephen Mayne, another Q&A panellist.

Firmly elbowing aside the modern, enlightened belief that writers should not be held responsible for how others chose to act on their words, Mayne also bought the idea that words caused violence.

He cited Alan Jones, Sydney's rowdiest radio presenter, and the fact Jones once said, in Mayne's words, "that Julia Gillard should be put in a bag and thrown out to sea". Surely that kind of commentary should be restricted, right? When I said no -- first on the basis that I trusted Jones's listeners knew he was making a joke and not issuing an instruction, and second because if any of those listeners did put Gillard in a bag and chucked her in the ocean then they were responsible for their actions, not Jones -- the audience guffawed. I mean, really, how can we expect the brain-dead bogans who suck in Jones's over-the-top orations as they drive their utes to work to know the difference between a jokey comment and an instruction to assassinate the Prime Minister of Australia?

That is the implication of Plibersek and Mayne's discomfort with provocative discourse: that the little people's minds are so putty-like that one shrill comment from an un-PC loudmouth might be enough to push them over the edge towards murder.

Q&A confirmed that, post-Norway, we're witnessing the rehabilitation of "media effects" theory, the stubbornly unproven idea that words directly cause carnage.

In the old days, that theory was promoted by the stuffy, conservative, purple-rinse lobby, who wanted to ban video nasties and saucy movies on the basis that they might turn men into psycho-killers or rapists. Now it is the so-called "progressive" sections of society who cling most tightly to "media effects" theory, believing that newspaper articles can make men into mass murderers.

The censorious implications of the idea that heated or experimental words and ideas provoke murderous behaviour are profound. Maybe we should ban J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye? After all, John Lennon's killer cited it as his inspiration. "Media effects" theory lets killers off the hook. It forgets about a little thing called free will, the existence of which should mean that no writer is held accountable for what another free agent does after reading his words.

The second press-related discussion on Q&A confirmed that anti-Murdoch schadenfreude has reached such dizzy heights that people such as Plibersek and Mayne are incapable of recognising its likely impact on press freedom. So when I suggested Britain's post-News of the World inquiry into the ethics and morality of the press was not a good thing, representing the first time in nearly 400 years that the British state had barged back into the world of journalism, my co-panellists looked at me as if I had lost the plot.

They seemed to forget that, throughout modern history, democrats and progressives fought tooth-and-catapult to eject the authorities from the sphere of the press. As 17th-century English poet John Milton put it in his impassioned plea for the freedom to print: "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."

Surely even my scrappers on Q&A can agree that abandoning that liberty today is too high a price to pay for the fleeting joy of seeing Murdoch squirm?


Hospital reform looks sickly but the blame game is fit as a fiddle

Jeremy Sammut

WHEN Kevin Rudd promised to "end the blame game" over public hospitals before the 2007 federal election, political considerations were driving his health reform agenda. The strategy was to satisfy growing community concerns about the quality and quantity of public hospital services by offering voters a can-do alternative to the tiring Howard government.

With the finalisation of the new federal health agreement, the Gillard government has delivered something less than the "bold" set of reforms Rudd promised.

Rudd's original reform plan in April last year was billed as "the most significant reforms to our health and hospitals system since the introduction of Medicare". The centrepiece was the promise of a new national funding system that would have seen the federal government become the majority funder and ultimately assume responsibility for paying for 60 per cent of the cost of each in-patient public hospital service.

While critics claimed the approach was too hospital-centric, the primary focus on the financing of public hospital care was warranted. State governments have perennially blamed long waits for elective and emergency treatment in public hospitals on underfunding by the commonwealth.

The theory behind the Rudd plan was that once the commonwealth footed 60 per cent of the efficient price of hospital care, the states would no longer be able to blame problems on Canberra's parsimony. Instead, they would have to address waste in their highly bureaucratic public hospital systems. However, the plan broke down because the states refused to give up one-third of their GST revenue.

The result is the watered-down Gillard deal that will see the commonwealth ultimately provide 50 per cent of all new funding for public hospitals. In 2008-09, the commonwealth's share of public hospital funding was 39.6 per cent, compared with the state's 51.2 per cent. By 2020, it looks as if the commonwealth will instead be paying for about 44 per cent of the efficient cost of each in-patient hospital service as determined by the Independent National Hospital Pricing Authority.

The new pricing arrangements are a step towards a more transparent and accountable health system as the government has claimed. Yet the underwhelming impression one is left with is that the reforms are primarily an exercise in money shifting between state and federal budgets.

This impression is reinforced by another dud aspect of the deal. This is the promise of greater local control of hospitals and the replacement of the centralised command-and-control management model employed by state health departments.

The promise made to public hospital staff across the country was that hospital management would be devolved by requiring the states to set up local hospital networks. Yet the intention always was that state health departments, which are stacked with public sector union members, would remain the system managers in charge.

This is crucial to whether the deal will do much to improve waiting times. Not only will the states continue to provide most of the funding. State health bureaucracies will continue to determine budgets and set service limits based on whatever money the state governments are willing to pour into public hospitals.

At best, the introduction of an efficient national hospital price will drive improvements in public hospital performance if state governments can cut out the bureaucratic fat and redirect more resources to the front lines. But this is a huge reform task and there are serious question marks over whether state politicians have the will and ability to accomplish it. The likeliest outcome is the local hospital networks will become just another layer of bureaucracy. If so, then the same centralised bureaucracies that have mismanaged public hospitals will continue to determine how many public hospital services the community ends up receiving. And the commonwealth, as the minor funding partner in the system, will continue to be open to charges by the states of underfunding .

I therefore suspect that hardy perennial of Australian politics, the blame game over health and hospitals, is far from dead.


Mad march of political correctness

Janet Albrechtsen

MARK Twain knew a thing or two about political correctness when he said: "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it."

It's tempting to think of the PC crowd as just a bunch of busybodies who are having us on. Early episodes of Sesame Street carry adults-only warnings. Enid Blyton has been cleared of all golliwogs. And last year a Seattle school renamed Easter eggs "spring spheres" so as not to offend children by alluding to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Political correctness seems to march to an imbecilic beat.

But of course, we know the PC crowd is not having us on. These are smart people who really mean it. Smart because the PC virus has infected so much of what we do, what we read, how we live and how we think. It's the thinking part that should trouble us the most. By telling us what to think, political correctness is a heresy if we are truly committed to liberalism. And it seeps into so many parts of society, so often without us even paying attention to the aim.

Over the past few weeks, some on the Left have claimed that those of us who have raised questions about multiculturalism, immigration and the relationship between Islam and modernity have blood on our hands for the mass murder in Oslo. Here, murder is used as a muzzle to close down free speech. And this is just the latest addition to a growing list of tactics to curb free speech, and even worse, to stifle genuine inquiry.

Consider the other tricks in recent years. To close down discussion about, say, immigration or border control, you call your opponents racists and point to xenophobia in the community. Opponents are not just wrong, they're evil. Their views should not be aired in a civilised society.

But remember this: the stifling political correctness that rejected an open debate about immigration in the early 1990s helped fuel the emergence and popularity of Pauline Hanson.

Another ruse is the victim game. We now live in an age when "feelings" are treated as a measurement of moral values. We live in what author Monica Ali calls "the marketplace of outrage" where groups vie for victimhood status, each claiming their feelings have been hurt more than others.

We have witnessed a familiar opera of Muslim oppression used to shut down debate. It starts with a book called Satanic Verses. Or a silly Danish cartoon. Or a film called Submission. Or a cheeky episode of South Park sending up the fact that Mohammed is the only guy free from ridicule. Then we hear that great aria of all accusations: Islamophobia.

The final act sees the West capitulate, muttering about hurt feelings and preferring the path of least resistance to launching a staunch defence of freedom of expression. And we are left with a new norm of anticipatory surrender and self-censorship.

The victim game works so well because it is augmented by the apparatus of the state. Legal prosecutions are mounting: politician Geert Wilders in Holland, writers Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant in Canada. And in Australia, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt is defending a claim by a group of Aborigines that he "offended, insulted and humiliated" them in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The PC crowd is clever. They know there are no useful legal tests about hurt feelings and inciting hate. They enact nice-sounding laws, build bureaucracies and wait for them to blossom and bludgeon free speech. They have effectively co-opted Islamic-style oppression to prohibit debate; be it about Islam or anything else they wish to fence off from free speech.

The other trick is to quietly exclude certain people from the national discourse. It is best summed up by a German word: totschweigtaktik. To be totsched is to be subjected to death by silence: books, ideas, people that challenge the status quo are simply ignored.

In Quadrant last year, Shelley Gare wrote that those who are totsched find "their efforts left to expire soundlessly like a butterfly in a jar". When Orwell wrote his 1938 classic Homage to Catalonia, which addressed Stalinist Russia's involvement in the Spanish Civil War, the left-wing literati simply ignored it. By the time Orwell died in 1950, barely 1500 copies had been sold. As Gare traces, the same death by silence was used to ignore Australian writers such as Chris Kenny, who challenged the secret women's business behind the Hindmarsh Island affair. It was used when author Kate Jennings aimed her fire at the sisterhood, postmodernism and women's studies.

It's used by those who tell us that climate change will destroy us all if we do not act immediately. The sceptics are being totsched. Opposing views? What opposing views? Governments have their own tactics. Those with poor ideas and even worse policies resort to something best described as the bipartisanship racket. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd called for bipartisanship on indigenous policies. In fact, Rudd sought supine obedience to the rollback of the NT intervention. If you disagreed, you were charged with politicising an issue. Just imagine if similar calls from those defending the status quo had managed to shut out the ideas from people such as Noel Pearson. The very last thing we want is bipartisanship when it is used so blatantly to stifle dissent and vest moral authority in one voice.

A similar trick, the consensus con, emerged from Canberra last year. Treasury boss Ken Henry, touting the emissions trading system and the ill-fated super profits tax on mining companies, said he supported the "contest of ideas" but then said there were "occasions on which economists might, at least for a period, put down their weapons and join a consensus".

It sends shudders up your spine. But Henry lost that debate. And that's the point of free debate. It is the single most effective mechanism for disposing bad ideas. Ideas are not finessed through consensus or bipartisanship. If we are serious about defending free speech, vigilance demands that we look out for the tricks and that we test the trickery against first principles. The alternative means more moral disorientation and a weird Western death wish.

The principles are clear enough: free speech is not a Left-Right thing as Mark Steyn said. It's a free-unfree thing. You don't get to cry in favour of free speech just to defend those with whom you agree. And free speech must include the right to offend. If we prosecute offensive opinions, we just encourage ever more ridiculous claims to protection. We fuel that marketplace of outrage. And we end up shutting down the true genius of modern Western civilisation: the contest of ideas.


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