Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sex education from as young as 9 in Australian schools

CHILDREN will be taught to "recognise sexual feelings" from age 11 or 12 under a new national physical education curriculum criticised by religious schools.

Physical, social and emotional changes of puberty will be taught in Years 5 and 6, when children are as young as nine and 10.

But Catholic educators have forced the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority to back down from its plan to explain puberty to children as young as seven, over concerns the kids might "freak out".

ACARA had wanted puberty as a topic to be introduced in Years 3 and 4.

Guidelines for the first national curriculum on health and physical education reveal a shift from a focus on sport and fitness, to the politically correct topics of "gender, sexuality, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and psycho-social environments".

The subjects of "sexual and gender identity" and "managing intimate relationships" will be included in the new curriculum, which will be drawn up in detail during the next 12 months.

Sexuality will be explored in Years 7 and 8 when some students are still only 11 or 12 years old as they "learn to recognise sexual feelings and evaluate behavioural expectations for different social situations".

But ACARA had to delay the puberty sessions after education groups raised concerns.

"Respondents from the Catholic education sectors considered the inclusion of content related to puberty in Years 3 and 4 as inappropriate," ACARA states in a summary of educators' feedback to its earlier draft guidelines.

The final guidelines will be used by education experts to write the detailed curriculum that will be drawn up by a group of education experts during the next 12 months.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said it was rare for Australian children to hit puberty before the age of 11 or 12.

"(Teaching it in) Years 3 and 4 does seem to be a bit early," he said yesterday.  "They're still out playing hide and seek."

Dr Hambleton said talking to children about puberty and sex was "best done by family", although it was important children did not hear it in the playground first.

Council of Catholic School Parents executive director Danielle Cronin said classroom lessons on puberty could "really freak kids out".

"It's quite confronting, and it can be distressing enough in Years 5 and 6, so Years 3 and 4 are probably a bit too early, especially if you want to avoid them being freaked out," she said yesterday.

An ACARA spokesman said children in Years 3 and 4 would still be taught about body changes but ACARA had "made a shift in the language as a result of concerns".

"The community will have further opportunities to provide feedback on the Health and Physical Education curriculum as it moves through the development process," the ACARA spokesman said.

He said Catholic schools had not been the only educators to object, but would not give more details.

The final guidelines have removed the reference to puberty but state that Year 3 and 4 students "develop and apply the knowledge, understanding and skills to manage the physical, emotional and social changes they begin to experience during this stage of life."

National Catholic Education Commission chairwoman Therese Temby said Catholic schools would take part in ACARA's drafting of the new curriculum.


Australia seen as too risky, costly for mining companies

MINING companies find the Australian resources sector too tough and too complicated for developing projects compared with its major competitors, according to a global survey of 300 senior industry leaders by Baker & McKenzie.

It's claimed that last week's increase in Queensland coal royalties has only added to the perception of Australia as a high-cost and high-risk investment destination.

Baker & McKenzie also suggested companies may now try to force governments into mine-specific agreements on taxes and charges. The report suggested that senior executives in Australia were more pessimistic about the future of mining investment in this country than those investing in the other jurisdictions surveyed.

About 75 per cent said that investing in the mining sector was more complicated and costly because of increasing red tape and environmental obligations, complex and uncertain project development requirements and the rising costs of mine development and operation.

The survey coincided with a report from the Minerals Council which said the majority of thermal coal developments were at risk and those in other countries had a competitive advantage on cost.

"Each year the completion date of the average Australian coal project is delayed by three to four months," the council said.

It also found that in aluminium, Australia could not compete with the 60 to 80 per cent cost advantage of China.

The Baker & McKenzie report said the level of Commonwealth and state government involvement in the Australian mining industry was also causing concern to investors.

About 60 per cent of respondents said the government was too involved in the industry, and 72 per cent said sovereign risk was on the increase.

Baker & McKenzie global head of mining David Ryan said Australia needed to look much more seriously at the issues impacting the competitiveness of the industry.

"Getting a project across the line in this country is now harder than it should be," he said. "If we want to remain globally competitive and continue to attract investment in the mining industry, we need to look at reducing the complexity of mining regulation and sovereign risk, otherwise we risk companies deploying their capital elsewhere.

"We have already seen a number of high-profile projects shelved in recent weeks. Much of this is due to falling commodity prices and the high Australian dollar."

Mr Ryan said there was a need for a clearer process for project approvals and a more uniform approach to mining regulation across the Australian states and territories.

"Mining is an industry which involves large up-front capital investments and long project lives," he said.

"Investors crave certainty, and miners need more certainty regarding the application of taxes and royalties and land-use restrictions."

While investors were comforted by Australia's security of tenement rights, political stability and enforcement of contracts, the country was still seen by some investors as a greater sovereign risk than Indonesia or South Africa.


Multiculturalism still has a long road to travel to reach all in Australia

There was much intimidation and considerable violence to and from the Muslim demonstration outside the United States consulate in Sydney on Saturday. The banners included such messages as "Behead Those Who Insult Islam!!!" and "Obama, Obama, We Love Osama!!!". But what was of particular interest was the destination.

Perhaps it is understandable angry Muslims in the Middle East or Africa would demonstrate outside American diplomatic missions against the apparent circulation of a YouTube video mocking the Prophet Muhammad by a person based in the US. There is no such excuse for Australian Muslims.

Citizens and residents of Australia know we live in a democratic society in which the government does not, and mostly cannot, engage in acts of political and religious censorship. That's why Americans have not been able to get the cheap film deleted from the web. And that's why footage of beheadings of non-believers by Islamist extremists remain on the web.

Some Muslim leaders in Australia have condemned Saturday's violent demonstration in which several members of the NSW Police were injured. Others have not. Whatever the response of Muslims, the incident provides yet more evidence that multiculturalism - after a promising start - has failed. If some Australian Muslims do not understand how democracy works, it's time for a rethink.

Some contributors to the debate ran the familiar left-liberal line that, when a small minority get violent, it is not entirely their own fault. Yesterday the Monash University academic Waleed Aly criticised the demonstrators but then went on to refer to the plight of a "humiliated people" who are angry about "the West's disrespect for Islam".

Last year, Aly made a similar point about al-Qaeda's attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Writing in The Sun-Herald on the 10th anniversary, Aly commented that "it is worth considering how we got sucked into contributing to the process".

Get it? Somehow or other, the West contributed to al-Qaeda's attacks on the US in which Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims died. Even though this occurred before the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Interviewed about Saturday's demonstration on ABC Radio 702 yesterday, Aly criticised only one person by name: Tony Abbott. No surprise there - since Aly is on record as claiming the Opposition Leader "embraces a reactionary form of monoculturalism". If Aly were just another leftist academic, this would not matter much. It's just that he presents the influential ABC RN Drive program.

Paolo Totaro, the foundation chairman of the NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission, weighed in with a not dissimilar rationalisation. According to Totaro, "if we have children in the streets calling for beheadings, the fault is not of multiculturalism, but of those - all of us - who have not taught, in enough depth, the democratic values of multiculturalism". In other words, don't blame the advocates of arbitrary beheadings. Blame us all, instead.

Mohammed El-leissy, the Melbourne-based Muslim community worker, had a somewhat different take. He told the ABC Breakfast program yesterday: "When I looked at the footage coming out of Sydney, I didn't really see young Muslims. I saw a lot of angry men from Lakemba … I don't believe in the argument that multiculturalism has failed; I certainly believe that Lakemba has failed". He called for more services.

Most Muslims have settled well in Australia. The notable exception involves some of the Muslim Lebanese who were given special privileges by Malcolm Fraser to settle in Australia around 1976 under what was called the "Lebanon Concession", and their descendants. Much of this group is based in Lakemba. As El-leissy has pointed out, "quite a lot of them have very low employment and a huge lack of education". Some other Muslims identify with this group's alienation.

Where El-leissy's analysis falls down is his solutions. All Muslims in Australia came here voluntarily and/or were born here. All have experienced the generous education, health and welfare benefits available to Australians. The rest of the country are not responsible for any alienation that they feel. Such anger will not be dissipated by the provision of more taxpayer-funded services.

It doesn't matter if the disaffected in a democracy are Catholic-born members of the Irish Republican Army or Muslim-born supporters of bin Laden. If a radicalised group in a Western society does not accept democracy and engages in terrorism or violence, there is only one response. It's over to the police to enforce the law with the assistance, where necessary, of the intelligence services. Then it's up to the judicial system.

Australia is a viable democracy in which virtually all groups have prospered, including the vast majority of Muslims. If last Saturday's demonstrators don't appreciate this, tough. It is not our fault.


The Australian Labor Party's  'Pacific Solution' now relocating illegals to Nauru

A PLANELOAD of Sri Lankan boat people is expected to land on Nauru today as the Labor Party’s reinvigoration of the so-called "Pacific Solution" gathers pace.

The new arrivals, the second group to go to Nauru since Labor reopened the John Howard-era detention centre on the tiny Pacific island, were expected to touch down shortly after 7am (5am Australian time).

Like the 30 Tamils who arrived on Friday, they will be  taken by bus to the 500-person capacity tent city in the sweltering middle of the island, where they will be hemmed in by thick jungle, the island’s rubbish tip and a rock quarry.

With the Australian Army almost finished building the tent city and with the Christmas Island detention centre already exceeding its capacity due to an influx of boats  this year, today’s arrivals will soon be followed by more. Indeed a boat carrying 10 people was detected off West Australia’s coast last night.

Another planeload of several dozen Tamils are expected later this week, and the first group of Afghan Hazaras early next week. By then the camp will house more than 150 asylum seekers.
Some of those 150 may also turn out to be women, children or whole families, as Immigration Minister Chris Bowenlast week told a press conference that "you can expect to see a broad cross-section of people transferred to Nauru next week and in coming weeks".

Despite promises by Mr Bowen that Labor’s system on Nauru would involve a processing centre, not a detention camp, the site’s inhabitants are forbidden from leaving.

A Nauruan government spokesman, Rod Henshaw, said on ABC radio that the situation was a "period of settling in".

"I know the Nauru government is anxious to have them settled and, over a period of time, to give them the privileges of wandering around."

He said he hoped the asylum seekers would be free to leave the camp in weeks or a month. "I couldn’t put a time on it ... but that is the objective, [to give the asylum seekers] the freedom of the island to some degree."

Questions also continue to be asked about the decision to process the refugee claims under Nauruan law. Last week the regional head of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Rick Towle, said that Australia was handing over legal responsibility for people seeking asylum in that country.

Some  have  expressed concern that Australia may disagree with a refugee approval made under Nauruan law and refuse to take the person, meaning they can’t be returned to their country or resettled in Australia.


$A now a reserve currency

Because of Australia's  well-run banks and low level of public debt,  both of which were set in train by the conservative Howard government.  For some background on that see here

UP TO 23 central banks from around the globe have included Australian dollar assets in their foreign exchange reserves, underlining the wide appeal the currency holds among overseas investors.

In a sign this interest goes beyond major trading partners, central banks that hold the dollar range from the National Bank of Kazakhstan to Sweden's Sveriges Riksbank, an internal Reserve Bank document shows.

The document, released yesterday under Freedom of Information laws, said 15 central banks held Aussie dollar assets and a further eight could possibly be holding the currency. Some of the larger institutions holding the dollar include Germany's Bundesbank and the central banks of Switzerland, Hong Kong and Russia.

Central banks that may have invested in the dollar include those of Indonesia, Iceland, Jordan and Moldova, the document said.

Central banks, which have historically invested heavily in euros and US dollars, are looking to diversify in response to the dour outlook in these economies.

Chief currency strategist at Westpac, Robert Rennie, said Australia's AAA credit rating and strong economic outlook was an attractive combination for investors, when compared with many other nations.

"It's entirely logical that central banks are looking away from the traditional US dollar and euro cores in their portfolios," he said.

Such strong interest among foreign investors is one reason for the dollar's resilience despite a weaker economic outlook and falling commodity prices, economists say.

Foreigners held 77 per cent of Australia's $245 billion government debt in the June quarter, just below a record 79 per cent in March.

In a separate document, written in April and released yesterday, Chris Potter from the Reserve's international department wrote: "The apparent preference shift and resulting portfolio shift of foreign investors towards Australian dollar government securities has increased Australian dollar demand."

Yesterday's documents, released after an FOI request from Bloomberg News, also show the bank has been examining if the dollar may be overvalued - a complaint of some manufacturing employers and unions.

A briefing titled "Is the Australian Dollar Overvalued?" was prepared in February, but was redacted except for a comment that "strong $A demand from foreign central bank purchases" had supported the currency.


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