Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Julia Gillard's Asian Century plan causes divisions in Labor

JULIA Gillard faces a backlash from elements in her own party over key aspects of her plan to reach out to Asia with more free trade and easier immigration.

Outspoken Labor Senator Doug Cameron said he was concerned about the expansion of free trade agreements canvassed by the "Asian Century" White Paper and called for a "a proper critical analysis" within caucus.

He demanded the Government explain how it would protect Australian wages and conditions as it embarked on "economic integration".

Labor faces further turmoil over its policy to allow mining companies to sponsor foreign workers in bulk.

A committee of 14 Labor MPs is set to today debate a plan drafted by Senator Cameron to further restrict the use of migrant workers through enterprise migration agreements and 457 visas. The plan, which has already caused Labor MP Andrew Leigh to quit his role as deputy of the committee, will also call for more regulation of conditions for fly in, fly out workers.


Questions over "Asian" white paper implementation

Critics are questioning how the Federal Government plans to implement its Asian Century white paper, particularly whether there are enough teachers and diplomats to fill the roles required.

The white paper, released on Sunday, outlines 25 major objectives - all aimed at building stronger ties with Asia.

They call for Australia to be listed in the top five countries for ease of doing business, and they say every student should have the chance to learn an Asian language throughout their education.

The review focuses on four key languages dubbed the priority languages: Chinese, Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese.

The director of the Asian Studies Program at the University of Sydney, Adrian Vickers, says it is a good list, but he wonders why it has taken so long to identify the growth potential in Australia's relationship with Asia.

"The Asian Century is already well underway. Shouldn't we have been planning for that quite a while ago?" he said.

"I think we've got a lot of catching up to do. And particularly in terms of the ways that, in my own sector say, Asian universities are racing ahead.

"If you look at all of the international rankings, Asian universities are climbing up very quickly.

"And certainly the rapid advances in technology, in social change, in political change in Asia are things that we are struggling to keep up with as a nation."
Audio: Questions over Government white paper (PM)

Professor Vickers says there is a lack of money and no resources to do implement the white paper properly.

He says the attempts to increase language levels come at a time when students are deserting university language programs.

"Given that a lot of universities are seeing the teaching, say, of Indonesian as not economically viable.

"Two other universities in Australia recently have attempted, or thought about, cutting the program altogether because they're not getting enough money or there are not enough students to make it viable.

"If you translate that across the board, it's hard to see how market forces are going to give you the student numbers to keep language programs going."

Targets for the Asian Century include:

 *   By 2025, Australia's GDP per person will be in the world's top 10, up from 13th in 2011, requiring a lift in our productivity.

*    This will mean Australia's average real national income will be about $73,000 per person in 2025 compared with about $62,000 in 2012.

*    Globally we will be ranked in the top five countries for ease of doing business and our innovation system will be in the world's top 10.

*    By 2025, our school system will be in the top five in the world, and 10 of our universities in the world's top 100.

*   All students will have continuous access to a priority Asian language - Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.

*    Our diplomatic network will have a larger footprint across Asia supporting stronger, deeper and broader links with Asian nations.

*   Our leaders will be more Asia literate, with one-third of board members of Australia's top 200 publicly listed companies and Commonwealth bodies having deep experience in and knowledge of Asia.

A parliamentary committee has also raised questions about whether Australia's diplomatic network is up to the job of supporting them.

The sub-committee says the Department of Foreign Affairs has been under-funded for the past 30 years.

Chairman Nick Champion says Australia lacks a significant presence in many areas, including Asia.

"Well it's mainly resources. If you put resources in, you'll get more posts. And one of the things we just lack is presence in many places, particularly in Asia, particularly in Africa,"

Mr Champion says what is needed is a white paper into diplomatic representation.

He says an external review of DFAT itself is needed and there should be an increase of 20 diplomatic posts around the world.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr says extra funding for DFAT would be welcome but he is confident there are enough diplomatic positions already to meet the goals of the white paper.

"Australia is punching above its weight in diplomacy," he said.

"You've got our biggest embassy in Jakarta. You've got successful Australian diplomacy in East Timor, in Myanmar and Mongolia, and among the 10 ASEAN nations.

"In the last few weeks we had visits from Singapore, from Korea, Myanmar, Thailand, The Philippines, Japan; the ASEAN secretary general. Our diplomacy is moving ahead very strongly."


Uncool, but grammar should rule the schools

The nation's English teachers must be rubbing their hands with glee regarding the recent debate about the definition of feminism, sexism and (gasp) misogyny. It has made consulting the dictionary kinda cool. Even the head of the Macquarie says it's livened things up a little in the office, with the editors busy musing about the evolution of the terms and how to update the newest edition.

I just hope this newfound interest in our language extends into a nationwide clean up day to remedy our discourse from glaring grammatical blunders. Before I go on, I must declare that as a Gen Xer, we were blighted from the beginning.

Apparently, in the 1970s, our baby boomer teachers thought "to heck with bras and virginity before marriage, and while we're at it, this grammar palaver is really uncool, man. Let the words be free, unshackled from conventional rules." Right on dude. What seven-year-old wants to have their story about Uncle Bob's sheep that got away on the weekend sullied with worries about past participles and the like?

So we traipsed through the hallowed halls of academia, blissfully unaware of terms like dangling modifier, conjunction and adjectival clause. Sure, we learnt the basics. Capital letters. Full stops. A couple of commas ("To mark a breath for the reader") were thrown in for good measure. Probably the most remembered rule was: don't end a sentence with a word like of. Oops. That last one is a fragment, which you'd only know nowadays, because it ends up with red underline on your word processor.

I was always regarded as "Good at English". That is, comparative to my physics marks, I was an absolute genius. But years later, I found myself at a professional writing course and the first thing we did in the compulsory editing 101 subject was to take a grammar test. "Bring it on!" I thought, fully expecting to blitz the exam.

I scored three out of 20. Most of my classmates scored less than 50 per cent and we looked around in horror at each other. This was a selective course in graduate writing. How the heck could we be turning in that sort of result?

"It's not your fault," our teacher said soothingly. "Grammar was taken out of the curriculum in the '70s and '80s," she said. What?! That's like saying addition was taken out of the maths curriculum.

Later, at the pub, our shock turned to anger, then denial. "What the hell does it matter anyway?" we cried. "We've got this far. We're all 'Good at English'. Who cares if we don't know where to put commas, when it's all said and done, around a non-restrictive phrase?"

Well, it does matter, I hate to say. Once you know what it is you didn't know, you cross the Rubicon. You're born again. And everywhere, you start to see wanton neglect of that which you now hold so precious. On a daily basis, I'm confronted with assaults to my newfound grammatical piety.

First, there seems to be an apostrophe for every occasion. As a writer for hire, I'm often called in to add a spit and polish to corporate copy. The number of times I see an apostrophe plopped in the wrong context is extraordinary. It's KPIs, not KPI's.

A legitimate use of the apostrophe is for a possessive noun, or in easy speak: if the thing you're writing about owns the thing you're referring to, you bang an apostrophe in before the 's'. The book's title. The King's Speech. Tick. The meeting is in five minute's. Wrong. "The biscuit's are here for everyone". Observed in a corporate kitchen, this induces a ghastly shudder as one reaches for the last remaining Kingston.

So, I offer one more tip for those for whom grammar was just a word added to the name of an expensive school. I'm on a personal mission to eradicate the chronic misuse of "amount", where "number" is the apt and grammatically correct choice.

The rule is: If you can count it, don't use "amount". Television journalists are the worst offenders. "The amount of people here today is absolutely unbelievable." Uh-uh. People can be counted, therefore it should be: "The number of people here today…" The amount of hyperbole in sports reporting? Yeah, that's OK.

I welcome debate about the meaning of our political verbiage. While we're at it, let's start a campaign to help grammar get its groove on like it's 1975.


Adults conceived via IVF are well-adjusted with a positive perception of their environment

ADULTS who were born through IVF are just as well-adjusted and satisfied with life as those conceived naturally, the first longitudinal study into IVF children's quality of life has found.

The only significant difference discovered was that young IVF-conceived adults had a more positive perception of their environment, including of their safety, finances and learning opportunities.

Melbourne researchers surveyed about 1100 adults aged 18-29, half of whom were IVF-conceived, measuring 26 life quality factors including satisfaction with relationships, medical treatment needed, sleep and moods.

The research also took into account the person's work status, birth weight and their parents' financial situation.

The findings were presented at the Fertility Society of Australia's annual conference in New Zealand yesterday.

IVF experts say the findings are an important validation that the procedure is safe for children's social and psychological health in the long term.

The first generation of IVF babies are now starting to have their own children, including through artificial fertilisation.

"The results aren't surprising, because there's no doubt these kids were wanted," said Melbourne IVF's medical director Dr Lyndon Hale.  "Common sense suggests that these kids would have lots of input from their parents."

The study was a collaboration between researchers from Monash and Melbourne IVF, the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, the Jean Hailes Research Unit, the Royal Women's Hospital and the University of Melbourne.

The mother's smile says it all

Bianca and Matt Smith's two children, nine-week-old Mason and 22-month-old Isla, were both long-awaited arrivals with the help of Melbourne IVF.  Ms Smith, 35, said that after years of trying to conceive naturally, she was investing her energy in raising happy, well-adjusted children.

"You long for them for so long. You spend a lot of money and time going through a lot physically and emotionally, and it's all worth it," Ms Smith said.


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