Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Australian election -- with some U.S. comparisons

Conservatives have just had a huge win in Australia's Federal election.  Romney would have had a similar win but for the rusted-on vote of America's two big minorities.  There are no such big minorities in Australia.

The picture below shows voting in Australia.  Australians just use pencil and paper in temporary carboard cubicles.  No voting machines so no hanging chads, no accusations of the machines being "fixed" and easy recounts.  And results were known within a couple of hours of the polls closing.

Elections in Australia are also less hectic.  They are on Saturdays (Tues. in U.S.) when most people are not working.  And if you turn up to vote mid-morning there are usually no lines of people waiting to vote.  I had no wait at all.

A difficult Senate

A double dissolution was always on the cards  -- JR

TONY Abbott seems set to face an uphill battle steering his agenda through the Senate.

In upset results, Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party may have taken Senate places in both Queensland and Tasmania.

Independent Nick Xenophon appears sure to be returned from South Australia, while Family First's Bob Day may well have claimed the final position from the state.

The Palmer win in Tasmania and Mr Day's victory have robbed the Coalition of third Senate spot wins they hope for in the two states.

In a surprise outcome Green Sarah Hanson-Young may be returned in South Australia at the expense of "faceless man" and giant of the Labor Right Don Farrell.

The Greens may also have increased their representation with a second senator in Victoria.

Early results suggest one of the micro-parties, the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts, may have won the last position in Victoria.

Another micro-party that almost broke through at the 2010 poll, the libertarian Liberal Democratic Party, could take a seat.

Results were not available from Western Australia at the time of writing, but they are expected to split three to the Coalition, two to Labor and one to the Greens.

This scenario would put the Coalition with 33 votes in the Senate, short of the 39 needed to control the 76-member chamber.

Labor would have 26 and the Greens nine, also denying them control of the upper house.

That will make the crossbenchers - John Madigan from the Democratic Labour Party, not up for re-election at this poll, Senator Xenophon, Mr Day, David Leyonhjen from the LPD, the Palmer candidates, former rugby league great Glenn Lazarus and Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie, and Motoring candidate Ricky Muir - key to controlling the Senate.

Mr Day is a former Liberal Party officeholder and donor who defaults towards economic rationalists. Mr Leyonhjen will swing the same way. This could open conflict between the more populist crossbenchers.

But while the process may be tortuous, the way is open for the new prime minister to negotiate his platform through.


Childcare move: Coalition to push for less qualified staff

A Coalition government would seek to slow or abandon requirements for childcare centres to lift staff to child ratios and employ more highly qualified workers.

The Coalition posted its childcare policy on its website late on Thursday, without issuing a press release or making an announcement.

In a shift from the their previous public position, the document says it would work with state and territory governments to slow down implementation of changes which require centres to lift the ratio of staff to children.

It would also seek state and territory agreement to pause requirements for higher staff qualifications.

Under the National Quality Framework, centres are required to have a worker for every four children under two years of age, every five children aged two to three, and every 11 children from three to preschool age. The timeline for implementation of each requirement varies between states.

By January, the framework also requires half of all staff to have or be working towards a diploma level qualification, with remaining staff required to have or be working towards a certificate III qualification. Centres with 25 children or more must have at least one degree-qualified early childhood teacher.

The Coalition document says it supports the National Quality Framework "in principle" but is concerned by reports that its implementation is causing staffing and administrative problems which are pushing up fees. The document also floats a proposal to allow Family Day Care providers who have had no serious incident for five years to take an extra child under preschool age.

It also states it will not approve any further spending from the $300 million Early Years Quality Fund, set up by Labor to provide pay rises for childcare workers.

The document says the Coalition would honour contracts already made, and remaining funds would be retained in the childcare portfolio.

The Coalition's aged care policy makes clear it will take a similar approach to wages, ending a $1.2 billion Labor scheme to lift wages in that sector.

Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page said the organisation was "very sad to see the Coalition wanting to … water down those reforms".


Academic ridiculed by Coalition, says Sydney University vice-chancellor

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney has told staff he was "distressed" to see the work of a renowned philosophy academic from the university unfairly ridiculed by the Coalition as an example of "ridiculous" and wasteful government spending.

The Coalition announced on Thursday it would audit and redirect funds from the Australian Research Council (ARC) in an attempt to curb government "waste", with opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey singling out certain projects during a press conference.

Among the projects highlighted by the Coalition is "The God of Hegel's Post-Kantian idealism", a research project being led by Professor Paul Redding from the university's Department of Philosophy.

In a private email to staff on Thursday afternoon, obtained by Fairfax Media, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence expressed his alarm at the Coalition's actions. "I was personally distressed to see that the work of one of our academics was on a list of topics unfairly criticised today in a Liberal Party press release, which has been reported in the media," he wrote. "The academic is globally recognised as amongst the very best in the world in his field."

"I want to reassure you that we will do all we can to help the federal government understand the importance of university research across all academic disciplines, and the value of the robust peer-review process at the heart of our research funding system."

The Coalition's media release vowed to "crack down on Labor's addiction to waste by auditing increasingly ridiculous research grants and reprioritising funding through the Australian Research Council (ARC) to deliver funds to where they're really needed".

"The Coalition would look to targeting those ridiculous research grants that leave taxpayers scratching their heads wondering just what the government was thinking," it said.

"Taxpayer dollars have been wasted on projects that do little, if anything, to advance Australians (sic) research needs." Coalition costings released on Thursday showed $103 million would be "reprioritised" from the ARC and put towards health spending.

The union representing university staff said the Coalition's actions were an attack on academic freedom.

"Institutional autonomy and academic freedom are the essential characteristics that define what it means to be a university," said Jeannie Rea, president of the National Tertiary Education Union.

"To suggest that any research projects which have been through a rigorous, competitive, peer-reviewed application process could in any way be described as 'wasteful' is an insult to the hundreds of senior researchers who give freely of their time to assess the thousands of research applications the ARC receives each year." According to the ARC website, "funding recommendations are made to the minister responsible for research by the CEO following independent and extensive competitive peer review by Australian and international experts".


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