Thursday, March 01, 2012

Labor attacked over 'solar vandalism' after ending hot water subsidy

Warmism slowly dying

THE Government's decision to abruptly end a solar hot water subsidy is being called "solar vandalism" in attacks by the Opposition and Greens.

Late yesterday the Government announced that the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme would end from today, except for installations already underway.

The reason was the need for savings to meet the promise of a Budget surplus in 2012-13. The Government will save about $70 million from a program which so far has cost $320 million.

More than 250,000 households have used the scheme which had been a boost to the solar installation industry which expected many more families to take up the rebate.

The scheme will officially end on June 30 but effectively stopped today. "To be eligible for the rebate before the scheme closes, systems must be installed, ordered (and a deposit paid) or purchased on or before 28 February 2012," said Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Mark Dreyfus in a release issued just after 5pm yesterday.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt called the shut-down "solar vandalism". "Businesses who are on the ground building the clean energy economy have invested in stock, parts and production schedules and are now being thrown on the scrap heap by the Government," said Mr Hunt.

"My office has taken calls from several businesses shocked that they would be treated in this way when car manufacturers, smelters and others in the old economy get handouts of hundreds of millions of dollars."

The Greens said Mr Hunt said just $24.5 million was allocated for the scheme in 2012-13 and the closure of the program would not do much for the Budget.

Deputy Greens leader Christine Milne said the Government was sending the wrong signal on the move to a clean energy economy and demanded the scheme be reinstated. "Solar hot water is a great Australian clean, green manufacturing industry, exporting to the world and helping householders to cut their power bills and their greenhouse footprint," said Senator Milne.

"Cutting this scheme with no notice at all is a short-sighted sacrifice of a great industry to meet a political target of a Budget surplus next year."


Warmist ticked off over false prophecies

METEOROLOGISTS suggested Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery leave weather forecasting to them as the big wet defies his prediction rain would become scarce.

In 2007 Professor Flannery said Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane were in urgent need of desalination plants.

Four years on, Warragamba Dam is on the verge of overflowing and Brisbane last year endured the worst flooding in almost four decades.

After yesterday discovering Professor Flannery is not a meteorologist, the Weather Channel's meteorologists said it was probably best he left the forecasting to them. "People ideally suited to that are meteorologists. From what I can see on Tim Flannery, meteorology wasn't one of his specialties," Weather Channel's Dick Whitaker said.

A commission spokeswoman yesterday said Professor Flannery was in Germany, but said droughts were expected to become more frequent and "just because it is raining does not mean we should not think ahead and prepare for a drier future."

Professor Flannery's statements in 2007 came "in the midst of a record-breaking drought with dam levels perilously low," she said.


Benign neglect is good for kids

In Japan, kindergarten kids walk home from school without adults

PICTURE this. It is 2005, I arrive for the first time in Tokyo. I am making my way across the busy city when I encounter a small group of kindergarten children walking home from school. They are oblivious to my presence as they busy themselves crossing streets, picking up autumn leaves and chatting. There is not a supervising adult in sight, no older siblings. As a parent I feel a sense of foreboding - I worry about their safety.

I recount my experience to a Japanese colleague and exclaim, "There were no adults watching out for them." He is taken aback. "What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. The city is full of adults who are taking care of them!"

On average, 80 per cent of primary-age Japanese children walk to school. In Australia the figure in most communities is as low as 40 per cent. Why? What happens in Japan that makes it so different?

At a community seminar recently I asked the audience to imagine themselves aged eight in a special place and to describe it. Most recounted being outside in their neighbourhood, with other children, out of earshot of parents: "My friends and I would go to this vacant lot and build our own cubbies" (Richard, 36); "We used to get all the neighbourhood kids together and go out on the street and play cricket" (Andrew, 39).

Author Tim Gill would call this parenting style "benign neglect" and for many of us, growing up in baby-boom suburbia, this was our experience. It made us independent, confident, physically active, socially competent and good risk assessors.

I asked the audience if they would give these same freedoms now to their own children. They all said no.

The big issue for parents around children's independence in the streets is "stranger danger" and child abductions. Statistics show almost all abductions are by family members, and the numbers have been going down for a decade. When I tell my audience the odds of a child being murdered by a stranger in Australia are one in 4 million, they answer like Andrew: "I know the chances are slim but I just couldn't forgive myself."

So is there a middle ground between "benign neglect" and "eternal vigilance"? There is in Japan and in Scandinavian countries, where children's independent mobility is high. While parental fear of strangers is still high in these countries, rather than driving children to school or other venues, parents and the community have initiated activities to increase their safety.

In inner Tokyo, a neighbourhood has parent safety brigades that patrol the streets around schools, shopkeepers are signed up as members of the neighbourhood watch program and the local council has provided a mamoruchi, a GPS-connected device that hangs around a child's neck and connects them instantly to a help call centre. These strategies are reliant on one critical cultural factor: a commitment to the belief that children being able to walk the streets alone is a critical ingredient in a civil, safe and healthy society.

If we want to start claiming back the streets and local parks for children then it's our role as community members to let parents know we are willing to support them and play our part.


Improving education in Australia: First improve the teachers

One attraction of the study that Dr Ben Jensen has been doing on education for the Grattan Institute is its focus on what we could be doing better.

As measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's regular testing of the performance of 15-year-olds at reading, maths and science under its program for international student assessment (PISA), Australia is doing well. We don't do as well as Finland and Japan, but we're consistently better than the Americans, British, Germans and French and about the same as the Canadians.

As more Asian countries are added to the comparisons, however, we're slipping down the rankings. We also have a worryingly wide gap between the performance of our best and poorest students.

So we shouldn't be resting on our laurels. What can we do to improve our schools' performance? Well, it's not simply a matter of spending more money.

Jensen says most studies show more effective teachers are the key to producing higher performing students. "Conservative estimates suggest that students with a highly effective teacher learn twice as much as students with a less effective teacher," he says.

"Teachers are the most important resource in Australian schools. Differences in teacher effectiveness account for a large proportion of differences in student outcomes - far larger than differences between schools. In fact, outside of family background, teacher effectiveness is the largest factor influencing student outcomes."

Jensen says there are five main mechanisms to improve teacher effectiveness: improving the quality of applicants to the teaching profession; improving the quality of teachers' initial education and training; appraising and providing feedback to improve teachers once they're working in the profession; recognising and rewarding effective teachers; and moving on ineffective teachers who've been unable to increase their effectiveness through improvement programs.

His greatest interest is in appraisal and feedback. "Systems of teacher appraisal and feedback that are directly linked to improved student performance can increase teacher effectiveness by as much as 20 to 30 per cent," he says. Such an improvement would lift the performance of Australia's students to the best in the world.

Jensen says our present systems of teacher appraisal and feedback are broken. This is not to attack teachers, which would be both unfair and counterproductive. On the contrary, it acknowledges the central importance of the work of individual teachers and argues we should be investing in their greater effectiveness.

Indeed, no one understands the inadequacy of the present arrangements better than teachers themselves. A survey finds 63 per cent of them say appraisals of their work are done purely to meet administrative requirements. More than 90 per cent say the best teachers don't receive the most recognition and reward, and 71 per cent say poor-performing teachers in their school won't be dismissed.

"Instead, assessment and feedback are largely tick-a-box exercises not linked to better classroom teaching, teacher development or improved student results," Jensen says.

He proposes a new system of teacher appraisal and feedback that avoids a centralised approach. "Instead, schools should have the responsibility and autonomy to appraise and provide feedback to their own teachers."

Appraisal should be based on a "balanced scorecard" that recognises all aspects of a teacher's role. It thus shouldn't rely solely on students' performance in national competency tests but should include such things as teachers observing and learning from other teachers, direct observation in the classroom by more experienced teachers, and surveys of students and parents.

Such an approach would require a culture change in many schools, but it offers huge benefits for relatively little cost.



Paul said...

They wanted the carbon tax. That's all, now they can get rid of the pretense of environmental concern.

Paul said...

Why? What happens in Japan that makes it so different?

Coherent, homogenous society with a work ethic, a homogenous population schooled in discipline, ethics, family and community, and hardly any multicultural rubbish.