Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wow!  So many State government employees fired that  Brisbane's CBD like a ghost town and carparks empty

It can be done

HUGE cutbacks to Queensland's public service are draining Brisbane's CBD, leaving entire floors of carparks empty and retailers struggling to stay open.

Secure Parking's David Knight said it was not only the shrinking CBD workforce that was hurting operators; fewer people in general were coming into the city for business.

"People aren't going to see that lawyer or architect or engineer, and they're not going to government offices because there's no new projects happening," Mr Knight said. "It all dominoes right through the economy."

National Retail Association spokesman Gary Black said CBD retailers had been doing it tough since late 2009 and many were now on death row.  "You would expect the public service job cuts to have some impact (on retailers)," he said.

Mr Black said rent hikes and increasing labour costs were also hurting city stores, and having an impact on service.

"Independent retailers in particular don't have the resilient characteristics that chains have," Mr Black said. "To expect them to continue to survive in the face of this prolonged downturn I think is not realistic. We're certainly going to see continued business failures in the retail sector until the end of this year."

Premier Campbell Newman announced on Friday that public sector numbers had fallen by 4400 full-time employees.  He said the Government's reforms to build a "right-size public service" would continue.

Mr Knight said the plunge in demand for car parking started just before the June school holidays and had only got worse.  "At first I thought everyone had gone away to the snow. But after the holidays business didn't pick up like it normally does," he said.

The lack of interest had prompted price cuts, with all-day early bird parking now available for $9 in Fortitude Valley and $12-$15 in city parking stations - down from usual rates of $20 to $26.

But it is still cheaper to fly to Sydney to shop than park your vehicle in Brisbane's most expensive city car parks. Visitors to Secure Parking's MacArthur Central, Festival on Charlotte, Parkade on Albert St, AM60 on Albert St, and 140 Elizabeth St premises' are being slugged $72 for a three-hour-plus stay.

An annual bill, calculating the cost of parking for three hours, five days a week, comes to more than $18,000 - the price of a new car.

A short lunch-break is also denting motorists' wallets, with a 31-minute ticket at the carpark operator's Emirates House site on Eagle St costing $33 - that's more than $1 per minute.


NSW Minister targets inadequate teachers to improve classroom standards

THE NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, is planning to make bold changes to the way school teachers are trained, supported in the job, and managed out of it to lift teacher quality and improve learning outcomes.

Mr Piccoli wants to look at how underperforming teachers can be removed from classrooms as one element of a comprehensive review of how best to improve the quality of teaching in all schools in NSW.  "You've got to have a transparent, fair and fast process for removing teachers if you want to guard your standards," he said.

The minister and his director-general, Michele Bruniges, are clearly frustrated at the present process for removing under-performing teachers. Mr Piccoli said it was important for the profession's integrity.

He hopes to work with Catholic and independent schools, universities and teacher unions on the review process.

While it is still a discussion paper built around a series of provocative questions, the review's outline highlights a number of incendiary issues. In the minister's sights are universities that are churning out too many graduates and whose staff may lack recent teaching experience, and mid-career teachers who perhaps should be forced to continue learning to keep their jobs.

"We're eager to make bold changes even if we upset individuals or organisations along the way," Mr Piccoli said.  "This really is the key to education reform. Nothing is off the table."

The review signals the possibility of a minimum university entry score for aspiring teachers and perhaps offering education only as a postgraduate course. It highlights concerns that some students enter university to become teachers with a tertiary admission ranking as low as 40.

At present 5500 teachers a year graduate from NSW universities but the Education Department employs only 300-500 new graduates in permanent positions.

The review will consider placing a limit on the number of university student teaching placements it offers each year to encourage universities to cut their numbers.

The review will focus on better supporting graduates - many of whom work, without clear supervision, as casuals in schools and classrooms - when they enter the profession.

Existing teachers are also to be questioned about their learning and whether they should have to demonstrate that they have kept their skills, knowledge and teaching practice up to date to be able to continue teaching.

The review paper was welcomed by Peter Aubusson, the president of the NSW Council of  Deans of Education, and Maurie Mulheron, the president of the NSW Teachers Federation.

Associate Professor Aubusson conceded that universities needed to look at the tertiary admission rankings of teaching entrants and said it was vital to manage better the transition of graduates into the profession.

Mr Mulheron said it was in the interests of the profession to protect standards but he warned that while disputes about staffing and resources remained unresolved, the minister would struggle to win the goodwill of the profession.

The executive director of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Sydney, Dan White, said schools in Sydney had invested in training for teacher mentors to support new graduates.

"We believe 99 per cent of teachers are very competent and capable practitioners but it is critically important there are standards that manage under-performance and that principals and employing authorities have courageous conversations to ensure there is a quality teacher in front of every classroom," Dr White said.


Tony Abbott's realistic approach to China only offends fawners

In any debate on China, the voice of the "whateverists" can invariably be heard. This term was invented to describe the position, over the years, taken by many Western academics and others that we should all pay due heed to whatever it is that the leadership in Beijing is saying.

That's why it is so refreshing to see a succession of Australian politicians in recent years say what they believe about China, without fawning before the apparent views of the Communist Party. Some commentators have compared the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's direct address to the Australia China Chamber of Commerce in Beijing last week to the approach taken by John Howard when he was prime minister.

Many of Australia's allies and friends in the region have a genuine concern about China's power

The comparison is accurate. However, the essential point is that a degree of bipartisanship is involved here. Abbott's position is similar to that of Howard. But so was Kevin Rudd's.

Abbott has received some criticism for saying that "China should prosper even more if its people enjoyed freedom under the law and the right to choose a government". Yet, in April 2008, Rudd went even further in his address at Peking University. He spoke about China's "problems of broader human rights" in general and Tibet in particular.

While recognising the importance of China to Australia's economy, Howard went out of his way to indicate that this would not be at the expense of the nation's traditional friends. The then Chinese ambassador to Australia, Fu Ying, was in the room when Howard delivered the Lowy Lecture in March 2005. Howard deliberately referred to the great democracies of the Pacific - Australia, Japan and the US - while acknowledging the importance of China to all three countries.

The lesson is, or should be, obvious. Australia's trade with China grew during the periods of the Howard and Rudd governments. China's leaders do not oversee the purchase of Australia's primary resources because they like us. They do so because Australia provides an excellent product at competitive prices and has an independent judicial system to resolve any contractual disputes.

Critics of mining, from the former Greens leader Bob Brown on, tend to overlook the fact that Australia's strong economy - and the "soft power" which goes with it - turns on the fact that Australia's mining industry operates at world's best practice. Phillip Adams recently repeated the leftist mantra that mining is all about digging up Australia and shipping it overseas. This view is not heard in Beijing.

The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is clever but also tough. The likes of Hu Jintao are not likely to be offended by Abbott's comment, in the current issue of The Spectator Australia, that "China is freer than it was but it's still a repressive state". This just happens to be the truth.

Party members are well aware of the Soviet-style shuanggui (or "double regulation") discipline system which comes into operation when comrades break the rules or fall out of favour with the dictatorship. This is the current fate of Bo Xilai, who recently fell from favour.

And there is history. The current leadership in Beijing traces its power to the Communist Party revolution of 1949, when Mao Zedong became leader. In his recent book Mao's Great Famine, the Dutch-born scholar Frank Dikotter estimates that the number of deaths due to Mao's regime, between 1949 and 1976, amounted to a staggering 45 million: most as a result of forced famine, which was a consequence of the so-called Great Leap Forward; the others due to political murder and suicide.

In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s - up until the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 - it was unfashionable in Western circles to discuss the totalitarian gulag that was China. The academics, journalists and business figures, who comprised the whateverists of their day, did not approve of China being criticised. Now political leaders such as Howard, Rudd and Abbott are castigated if they imply that China has residual human rights problems.

The Australian National University professor Hugh White normally talks a lot of sense when commenting on defence. However, in his 2010 Quarterly Essay "Power Shift", White went close to saying that the decline of US power in the Asia Pacific entailed that Australia should distance itself from Washington and cultivate Beijing.

This does not make much sense. For starters, many of Australia's allies and friends in the region have a genuine concern about China's power. Moreover, it is far from clear what China's future will be. History suggests that one-party states do not last forever. And China faces an ageing population due primarily to the regime's one child policy.

If Abbott becomes prime minister, his realistic approach to China is likely to be as successful as that taken by Rudd and Howard. When nations are dependent on one another, a little hard but truthful talk is unlikely to do much harm.


Exclusive Brethren's Agnew School one of Queensland's best for academic performance

This should put to bed allegations that students at fundamentalist Christian schools suffer academically.  The EB are VERY fundamentalist

IT is perhaps Queensland's least known and most misunderstood school.  It is also one of the state's top consistent academic performers.

Clearly the Agnew School  --  run by the Exclusive Brethren  --  is doing something right, recording the state's highest OP1 to 15 percentage regardless of school size over the past five years.

It is one of a handful of small schools not included in top-performing OP charts each year because of potential statistical anomalies that can happen in tiny sample sizes.

But analysis of five years of OP data shows those top scores are consistent, recording 100 per cent of OP-eligible students achieving an OP1 to 15 in three out of the five years.

Principal Norm Sharples was quick to point out the school had only a small number of OP-eligible students each year, with between five and 22 recorded between 2007 and 2011.

He said small class sizes  --  about 10 to 12 students per class  --  a commitment to academic excellence by the school's board and strong parental support was behind consistent top student performances.

Contrary to popular belief, students at the school use "plenty" of technology, including video conferencing at its six campuses across southeast Queensland.

Mr Sharples said the school also encouraged students to enrol in tertiary studies.

"We try not to be distracted by outside elements we do sports internally. Our motto is learning to learn. We have schools in other states which we are often comparing results and we look at how we could be doing better," Mr Sharples said.

The school currently has 359 Year 3 to 12 students at its six campuses, including Brisbane, Bundaberg, Maryborough, Nambour, Toowoomba and Warwick, which is only primary.

Its website states: "The School is conducted in accordance with the beliefs and teachings of the Brethren and the Directors are committed to ensuring that the Ethos, Values and Guiding Principles are enshrined in all aspects of school life".


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