Monday, September 30, 2013

More Leftist groupthink on display

Dealing with people as individuals is beyond them

Labor leadership aspirant Bill Shorten has proposed broadening the party's quota system to include gay and lesbian candidates and indigenous Australians, to improve their under-representation in Parliament.

In a bulk mailout to Labor members, due to arrive in coming days, Mr Shorten launches a passionate bid to be made leader.

He outlines his vision for the Labor Party as a younger, more dynamic organisation that would attract more professional women, academics, small business people, tradespeople and farmers.

To attract and keep more members, he says the party should offer discount memberships for union members, students, pensioners and people out of work, and allow people to join online. He says Labor must also redouble its efforts to promote at least 40 per cent female candidates.

Labor's membership has risen by more than 1100 new applications since the election, with broad support among the membership for the new leadership election process introduced by former leader Kevin Rudd.

NSW general secretary Jamie Clements said the leadership reforms had softened the blow of Labor's election defeat. "A lot of oxygen has been sucked out of what's wrong with the Labor Party. That's not the focus right now. The focus is, members have an opportunity to elect their future. That's the net effect."

National secretary George Wright said 43,000 members were eligible to vote in the contest between Mr Shorten and Left stalwart Anthony Albanese.

Mr Albanese and Mr Shorten are understood to have better chances in their home states of NSW and Victoria, respectively, despite NSW being controlled by the Right. The majority of branch members are not factionally aligned.

Ballot papers were posted to members on Tuesday and will be counted within a fortnight.


Literacy failings 'due to ideology'

A "SHOCKING" proportion of Australian schoolchildren are failing to meet basic literacy standards, with a new study blaming a tendency by teachers and government to impose "ideological" theories rather than evidence-based teaching programs.

Writing in the spring edition of the Centre for Independent Studies' Policy magazine, Jennifer Buckingham, Kevin Wheldall and Robyn Wheldall argue policymakers and teachers need to use "scientifically valid" reading methods, not ideological theories, to reduce illiteracy.

In the 2013 NAPLAN results, 11.5 per cent of year three students were at, or below, the minimum standard for reading, despite about 1200 hours of reading instruction.

In an article entitled "Why Jaydon can't read: the triumph of ideology over evidence in teaching reading", the authors say those results do not necessarily reflect student ability.  Rather, they were the product of teacher training and badly advised government strategies.

"National and international tests show that average (reading) achievement is static, with no reduction in the proportion of Australian students at the lowest performance levels," the authors say.

"Poorly conceived government policies and university education faculties wedded to outdated and unproven teaching methods have each contributed to the situation."

Australia ranked second last among English-speaking countries in the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). The work drew on studies in Britain, the US and Australia that found a large proportion of training and classroom teachers had insufficient knowledge of meta-linguistics.

A 2008 Victorian study found that only 38 per cent of pre-service teachers and 52 per cent of in-service teachers knew the correct definition of a syllable.

The authors argued a comprehensive reading program incorporating five essential elements - phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension - was needed in Australian schools.

"The importance of phonemic awareness and phonics in teaching reading seems to be widely acknowledged among teachers, but many have neither the personal literacy skills nor the requisite professional and practical knowledge to teach them well," the article says.

"Governments must cease wasting money on ineffective 'add-on' programs that add to the burden of schools. If more money is to be spent on schools, it should be spent on up-skilling classroom and learning support teachers."

Ms Buckingham, a CIS research fellow specialising in school education, said a number of successful phonics programs had been refined over the years and had proved to be engaging.

"You need to have great literature in the classroom, shared reading, that love of literature encouraged, but at the same time there needs to be a really strong phonics program," she said.

"Almost 100 per cent of schools would say 'we do phonics' but their idea is not necessarily the most effective or proven way."


Milne's Greens 'marching to slow death'

On her way out of the party-room meeting that returned Christine Milne as Greens leader on Monday morning, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young walked past a table of journalists at Aussies Cafe at Parliament House.

To their bewilderment, Senator Hanson-Young matter-of-factly announced that her party had just returned a leader that would see the party "marching to a slow death".

After the election, at which the Greens bled a third of their vote, recriminations within the party have been swift. There is clear disquiet in the party's senior ranks about Senator Milne's leadership, but for the first time, it is out in the open. It was revealed last week six of the party's 18 most senior staffers, including Senator Milne's chief-of-staff Ben Oquist, had left.

One Greens senator told Fairfax Media: "I believe all this [leadership speculation] is because there are concerns about where [Senator Milne] takes us in the next three years. If we have the same result we had this election, we will be gone; we can't afford to do it again."

But who is driving the destabilisation in this post-Bob Brown era of the Greens?

Senator Hanson-Young, an outspoken and ambitious party room member, is often mentioned by her colleagues as one of the key destabilising forces. Four separate sources claim that she made a bid for the party's leadership team at Monday's party meeting, a charge she denies.

The story goes that Senator Hanson-Young tried to gauge support for her to run for deputy leader, a position now held by the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, who would then be propelled into the leadership. (Senator Hanson-Young would not comment on Saturday, other than to say "that's just not true").

But others suspect the rumours are being put about to deflect attention from 41-year-old Mr Bandt, coming as they do on the back of reports that he had tried to gauge numbers for a challenge last Monday. Mr Bandt issued a statement saying he and his leader were "a strong, united leadership team", and that he had never sought the position of leader. But his office would not respond to questions about whether others had urged him to run for leader.

This sort of publicly fought internecine warfare is nothing new to Labor but it is a shock to many in the Greens, who have never experienced the sort of leadership challenges normal to most political parties. There is a sense within the party that even to publicly discuss a possible challenge is impolite. Behind the scenes, the Greens have been a consistently unified presence in Federal Parliament.

But in the aftermath of the Greens' election performance, in which the party's lower house vote dropped from 11.76 per cent in 2010 to 8.6 per cent, some within the party's senior ranks are concerned about Senator Milne's leadership, particularly her attempts to put a positive spin on a poor result.

Mr Oquist, an experienced political operator who had spent years fighting for the Green side of politics, quit early last week citing "fundamental differences of opinion in strategy".

A former staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says Senator Milne is "in denial" about the election result. "She said this week she wanted to move to a 'campaigning phase'. Well, here's a tip, love. We've just had a federal election. What the f--k have you been doing all year?"

Senator Milne told Fairfax she took "some" responsibility for the party's election result - and losing about a third of its vote - and vowed to listen to supporters who abandoned the party.

"Of course, as the leader of any political party you take some responsibility for the outcome of that election, and certainly I have to take a share of that responsibility in terms of the outcome for the election both good and bad," she said. This included returning at least 10 senators to Parliament after the election, with new Victorian senator Janet Rice elected. (WA senator Scott Ludlam's position is still in doubt.) But Senator Milne dismissed reports there had been a foiled attempt by party insiders to install Mr Bandt as leader, saying there was no threat to her leadership. "It's wrong."

NSW senator Lee Rhiannon leapt to Senator Milne's defence, saying: "I figure if someone is going to mount a challenge, they're going to lobby for numbers. I wasn't lobbied. I just do not believe there was a challenge."

While she acknowledged the Greens had "a challenging election and a challenging election result", Senator Rhiannon said the party room shared responsibility for the low vote. "I think what we need to be looking at is how we project our message to voters."

The party's campaign committee will review the election result and report to the Greens' national conference in November.


Immigration minister denies that efforts to rescue asylum seekers were delayed

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has for the second time in two days forcefully rejected suggestions Australia did not respond quickly enough to an asylum seeker boat that sank off Java on Friday morning, killing at least 24 people.

Breaking his self-imposed media blackout on asylum seeker operations for the second consecutive day, the minister issued a statement on Sunday saying Australian rescue and border protection agencies "respond to all such events with great professionalism and a keenly felt sense of duty, as they did on this occasion".

Only 28 of the boat's 81 passengers have been found alive, leaving more than 50 dead or missing. Indonesian authorities say they have little hope of finding more.

One survivor, Abdullah, from Jordan, said: "I called the Australian embassy. For 24 hours we were calling them. They told us just send us the position on GPS, where are you. We did, and they told us: 'OK, we know … where you are.' And they said: 'We'll come for you in two hours.'

"We wait 24 hours, and we kept calling them: 'We don't have food, we don't have water for three days, we have children, just rescue us.' And nobody come."

Mr Morrison's second statement said the government "completely rejects allegations of a 26-hour delay".

"Suggestions Australian authorities did not respond to this incident appropriately are absolutely and totally wrong," the minister's statement said.

His earlier statement on Saturday said Australian authorities received a phone call about the vessel on Friday morning. Initial reports placed it inside the Indonesian search and rescue region.

Australia's Maritime Safety Rescue Co-ordination Centre issued an all-ships broadcast. A merchant ship responded but was unable to locate the vessel. A Border Protection Command aircraft was also unable to locate it.

Mr Morrison is due to give the second of the weekly briefings he has promised about asylum seeker operations on Monday.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Network Ten: "Tragically, I mean, the events occurred in an area that was under Indonesian jurisdiction.

"As long as the boats keep coming, people sadly will continue to lose their lives."

Greens leader Christine Milne called for an inquiry into Australia's response.

She said the Greens would use the Senate to demand a return to the regular release of information rather than weekly briefings.


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