Sunday, April 15, 2012
NSW conservative Premier keeps his promises
WHEN Barry O'Farrell sat down next to Julia Gillard in Canberra on Friday with other state and territory leaders, he would have been keenly aware of the differences between himself and the Prime Minister.
Weeks after she took office, O'Farrell described Gillard as a "ranga" [redhead] in a misdirected tweet to a radio journalist. Superficial differences between the ginger PM and the Premier known as "Fatty O'Barrell" in his heavier days in opposition are one thing but it's their polar-opposite political fortunes that fascinate O'Farrell and guide his leadership style.
In the Premier's eyes, it comes down to one thing: trust. O'Farrell is modelling himself as the anti-Gillard. A leader whose word is his bond. A bond that will not be broken no matter how stubborn and lethargic it makes him look.
Take O'Farrell's refusal to budge on a full sell-off of the electricity network - the $30 billion or so locked up in the government-owned poles and wires. Defying the wishes of business, his own infrastructure adviser, Nick Greiner, and the majority of his cabinet and parliamentary colleagues, O'Farrell will not act.
Why? Because it was a pre-election commitment. Actually, he had ducked taking a firm stand on the issue for a long time until the local newspaper in Lithgow got him on the record as being against a full privatisation. So on one level the towering infrastructure backlog of NSW is on ice for another four years in the interest of keeping face with the Lithgow Mercury.
The second-airport debate is another example. O'Farrell says it was his commitment not to proceed with another airport for Sydney.
Does anyone remember that commitment? I don't and I'm paid to monitor such things.
This allowed him to walk away from the airport debate without even having read the report urging his government to move now. Some colleagues think the growing view of O'Farrell as a "do nothing" Premier is unfair. "Barry is the only politician who gets a kicking for sticking to his promises. For politicians in Canberra his approach is completely foreign," a Liberal says.
It's no coincidence that O'Farrell is a keen listener to talkback radio. When things go wrong he is straight on to the airwaves. During the disabled schoolkids transport fiasco, Ray Hadley's show became like a daily confessional for the Premier. O'Farrell knows - just as John Howard did - there's no better way to reach voters than to talk to them directly.
The Premier also listens to them. You only have to listen to 10 minutes of talkback radio to get a gauge of the white-hot anger out there at Gillard, the carbon tax "liar".
O'Farrell is prepared to go to any length to avoid the same tag.
Bogus marriages allegedly brokered by immigration agent 'commonplace'
AN investigation has uncovered bogus marriages allegedly brokered by an Queensland-based immigration agent. Bombay-born Chetan Mashru is also accused of profiteering through applications for refugee and skilled migrant visas students have no prospect of getting, The Courier-Mail exclusively reported.
A happily-married father-of-two said Mr Mashru, 32, offered in January to arrange residency for him "if you divorce your wife".
The man's family in India yesterday received a threatening text warning against pursuit of complaints against Mr Mashru, a day after The Courier-Mail confronted the agent at his Oxley office.
The Federation of Indian Students of Australia called for more criminal prosecutions of agents, saying such complaints were commonplace in an industry "reeking of corruption and nepotism".
A teenage mother of three, who also asked not to be named, said she was paid $3000 by a Punjabi student who she married.
The Inala woman, 19, whose husband has never set foot inside her Housing Commission home, said: "I was struggling money-wise at the time, and a friend suggested it. "My friend said if I need money, there's this thing I can do - I can just sign some papers saying I'm married and they'll pay me $1000 each month."
The woman said she saw her new "husband" pass Mr Mashru a large sum of cash in August, the month they were married. While she remains married to the man, she no longer receives payments out of fear she would "get into trouble".
Her husband, 24, who also declined to be named, must now return to India. He confirmed he had paid $18,000 to Mr Mashru, who sources visa brides through a network of Australian friends.
"Chetan do (sic) only the girls sitting at home and who got children," he said.
A second sham marriage involves an Indian student, 27, who claimed he paid $20,000 to Mr Mashru to be paired with an Acacia Ridge woman of Jamaican descent aged 21.
Climate changers shrinking
The federal Department of Climate Change will shed nearly half of its Canberra-based staff within the next three years as it struggles with further deep budget cuts.
Public service sources say the department will reduce its workforce by about 440 people, or 48 per cent, by 2014-15.
Staff were told in a meeting this week that the current workforce of nearly 920 full-time-equivalent workers would be cut to about 520 in 2013-2014 and to some 470 in 2014-15.
It follows last week's announcement of about 300 job losses in the department by June 2013 as the government tries to rein in expenditure and deliver a surplus.
But a department spokeswoman said the new figures were just "one possible scenario" and a range of options were being considered for "internal management purposes". The numbers were based on the department's projected budget for the next three years, which was publicly available in the budget papers.
Affected employees, all of whom are based in Canberra, would be offered "job application skills training to better equip them in seeking alternative employment".
"At this stage the staff reductions will be achieved through natural attrition, review of existing contracts, increased opportunities for flexible working arrangements and voluntary redundancies," the spokeswoman said.
Earlier this month, the department's secretary, Blair Comley, asked for expressions of interest in voluntary redundancies to reduce staff numbers by a third this financial year.
In a statement to employees, Mr Comley said the cuts were the result of "a very tight budget situation", the conclusion of a range the department's programs and the impact of the "efficiency dividend" - an annual cut to agencies' administrative budgets.
The Community and Public Sector Union, while unable to confirm the latest job cut figures, said reducing numbers to 470 would be a massive blow for staff and would seriously damage Australia's ability to deal with the impacts of climate change.
National secretary Nadine Flood said that some work in areas such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and industry assistance programs would "simply not be done".
"Since the initial cuts were announced a few weeks ago, staff morale has hit rock bottom," she said.
"Many staff are voting with their feet, moving to other agencies or leaving the service completely.
"They are passionate about contributing to one of the nation's most pressing issues, but they are growing tired of their increasingly hostile and uncertain environment."
Federal agencies which have announced plans to reduce staff include the departments of Education (500 jobs), Treasury (150), Resources (100) and Veterans' Affairs (90), as well as the Bureau of Statistics (75), the Fair Work Ombudsman (70) and ComSuper (50).
The Health Department will also shed an unspecified number of jobs, as will many smaller agencies.
Finance Minister Penny Wong has told agencies to try to avoid involuntary redundancies by instead spending less on travel, consultants and advertising.
Tiger mothers and the social escalator
Observing the contrasting school experiences of the panellists on last week’s episode of Insight, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Australian ideal of a ‘fair go’ for all was all self-deception and no self-realisation.
While non-selective public schools are apparently under-resourced and blighted by underachievement, private schools and selective public schools seem to provide supportive and aspirational educational environments conducive to academic excellence.
Perceptions aside, Australia actually remains one of the most socially mobile countries in the developed world, according to a 2010 OECD report. This is consistent with a 2011 Smith Family study, which found that 29% of Australians whose father had stayed at school until Year 10 or less obtained a university degree.
Despite the relatively high level of social mobility, Australian children often go on to reproduce the socio-economic environments into which they are born. The same Smith Family report also found that 53.7% of the children with fathers who were managers and professionals become managers and professionals themselves, compared with only 27.9% of those whose fathers were operators, drivers and labourers.
However, a degree of social immobility is not necessarily cause for concern about economic opportunity. This is because social mobility is never exclusively a function of the opportunities offered by society; the values and aspirations of individuals are also crucial.
Assuming that the same material opportunities existed, a society of tiger mothers of the Amy Chau variety (‘Study hard, do well and do not date or drink’) would produce very different socio-economic outcomes from a society of Alfred Doolittles (Eliza Doolittle’s feckless father in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion).
Unsurprisingly, social capital often trumps economic capital when it comes to producing a healthy, meritocratic society. As the testimony of the students on Insight made clear, academic achievement is in large part the result of the values and aspirations of fellow students, parents and teachers, and not simply a product of the number of dollars spent on schooling.
While an austere regime of constant study and no play might seem all too onerous for children and parents alike, an emphasis on self-realisation and responsibility is arguably the best way of speeding up our social escalator.