Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Amanda Vanstone defends Tony Abbott on number of women in cabinet

FORMER Liberal cabinet minister Amanda Vanstone has defended Tony Abbott's decision to name only one woman to his cabinet, saying she'd rather have competent government than ministerial gender equality.

Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose today condemned the lack of women in the Abbott line-up as unacceptable in 2013.

But Ms Vanstone, a former senator and former Ambassador to Italy, said having more women in the cabinet should not be an end in itself.

"Would I like to see more women in the cabinet? Yes. But it didn't help the Labor Party, which had lots of women but was hopeless,' she told The Australian.

"I'd rather have good government, than have more women in the cabinet for the sake of it."

Ms Vanstone said the "die had been cast" for Mr Abbott's male-dominated cabinet a long time ago.

"He appointed his shadow ministry a long time ago and said if they did well, they'd keep their jobs. "If he made too many changes now he'd be accused of breaking an election promise."

Ms Buttrose said Mr Abbott's decision to appoint only one woman - Julie Bishop - to his 19-person cabinet, showed the "glass ceiling" still existed in Australia.

"We're told it doesn't, but that's a nonsense. It does exist," she told the ABC.

"I'm sure Julie Bishop is accustomed to being the token woman throughout her career, and here she is being the token woman again."

Ms Buttrose said when she was running Women's Weekly "years ago", she had then been concerned about the lack of women in decision making positions in the federal parliament.

"I felt that our voice wasn't heard well enough, and our views weren't canvassed well enough," she said.

"You can't have that kind of parliament in 2013. It's unacceptable."

Ms Bishop said she had never considered herself as a token woman: "I believe in people being promoted on merit. I don't see a glass ceiling," she told ABC Radio.

"The number of women in the ministry will build over time. Currently there are a number of capable, talented women who will be considered for cabinet in due course."

Liberal senator Sue Boyce has attacked the lack of women in cabinet as a systemic problem for the party, declaring the "embarrassing" omission had tarnished the Coalition victory.

Former Liberal senator Judith Troeth said the Coalition boasted women capable and suitable for promotion to the federal cabinet, but men had "an innate fear of capable women at that level".

Labor's acting leader Chris Bowen said the Afghanistan government's cabinet had better female representation than Mr Abbott's.


Foreign investment tests Coalition's free trade credentials

Stephen Kirchner

The issue of foreign investment made an impromptu appearance during the federal election campaign, with Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd both signalling a more cautious approach.

The new Coalition government has a policy of reducing the monetary threshold for Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) scrutiny of foreign acquisitions of agricultural land. However, in the absence of a change in the criteria applied to these acquisitions, the policy will serve only to increase the workload of the FIRB, without changing the already very low rejection rate for such acquisitions.

The government's caution on foreign direct investment (FDI) sits uneasily with its desire to develop Australia's potential as an exporter of food to Asia and to secure a free trade agreement with China. Agriculture is increasingly capital intensive, requiring new investment from abroad. Australia's regulation of FDI has been the chief stumbling block to the successful conclusion of a free trade deal with China.

Australia's caution on foreign investment also stands in sharp contrast to international developments. In July, China restarted negotiations on a comprehensive bilateral investment treaty with the United States. In August, the Chinese cabinet moved to create a new free trade zone (FTZ) centred on Shanghai that will serve as a test case for a much more liberal approach to its regulation of FDI. If successful, the new Shanghai FTZ will become a template for a much broader liberalisation of China's capital account. China is already a net importer of FDI and home to the world's largest stock of FDI outside the US.

Australia's regulation of FDI risks being left behind by these developments.

The Coalition should move to raise the monetary threshold for scrutiny of foreign acquisitions of Australian businesses to an inflation-indexed $1.078 billion, the same level that currently applies to US and New Zealand investors. This would eliminate the costly delays and uncertainties that currently affect the many foreign acquisitions that are too small to raise potential 'national interest' concerns.

The new government should also not trivialise the concept of the 'national interest' that is meant to inform the exercise of the Treasurer's discretion to reject foreign investment under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act. The 'national interest' test should not become a thinly-disguised proxy for domestic political concerns.

Instead, the new government should demonstrate political leadership on the issue by actively working to allay community concerns about foreign ownership.


Industry Minister dismisses coal seam gas protests

The incoming federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, says the development of Australia's natural gas industry will be a priority.

The resources, science and manufacturing portfolios have now all been rolled into the Industry portfolio, as announced by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, yesterday.

In particular, Mr Macfarlane says he plans to push hard for New South Wales farmers to rethink their opposition to coal seam gas.

He says he'll travel the state of NSW and tell farmers there first hand how CSG, coal mining and agriculture coexist alongside each other in his home state of Queensland.

Mr Macfarlane says there are 4,000 farmers in Queensland who have signed access deal with CSG and other mining companies and are reaping the economic and social benefits.

He's dismissed the opposition to the CSG industry as unscientific and driven by small but vocal interest groups.

"I'm not interested in noisy protesters, minority groups, with no interest in the development of regional Australia and the economic progress of agriculture and mining together.

"They simply want to politicise this issue and tell lies."


Don't mind the gap: deferring uni shown to give students academic edge

If the road from school to university for you or your teenager takes a short detour via the backpacking trails of Europe, do not be alarmed.

A new study shows students who defer tertiary education have an edge once they are actually at university, over those who take the plunge straight from school or who return much later as mature-age students.

Researchers from the University of Sydney tracked the academic results of 904 undergraduate students over their first four semesters.

The findings contradict the idea that taking a year off can disrupt the "academic momentum" a year 12 student may have developed at school, said the study's lead author, Andrew Martin.

"What we concluded was that a gap year, particularly a constructive gap year, is part of the momentum," Professor Martin said. "You're probably a little more likely to crystallise what you want to do when you come back, you're starting to test yourself out, developing the self-direction and the self-regulation and autonomy that you really do need at university."

While the differences were not huge and all students could achieve good marks, gap-year students had a consistent edge, even when factors such as socio-economic status were taken into account, findings published in the Journal of Higher Education show.

This time last year, Marcus Ho was part-way through a backpacking odyssey through Europe and northern Africa.

Mr Ho, 19, who is now studying a bachelor of commerce and bachelor of science (advanced) at the University of Sydney, also spent five months last year working at a hospital as a wardsman to save money for the trip. He thinks both experiences have helped, not hindered him at university.

"It really made me appreciate how hard it is to be financially independent because I had to fund my whole trip myself," he said.

"It made me realise how important education is. It drove me to try harder at uni as well."


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