Wednesday, October 09, 2013

No more dole, Tony Abbott warns the under-30s

TONY Abbott has proposed banning the dole for people under 30 in a bid to entice the unemployed to head west and fill massive skill shortages in the booming resources sector.

The Opposition Leader made the controversial remarks during a two-hour meeting with about 15 senior resources industry leaders in Perth on Monday night.

Mr Abbott told the roundtable briefing he believed stopping dole payments to able-bodied young people would take pressure off the welfare system and reduce the need to bring in large numbers of skilled migrants to staff mining projects.

His comments were attacked last night by Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes, who described them as "Hansonesque".

"If he genuinely thinks you are going to solve an economically crippling skills shortage by taking punitive measures against welfare recipients, he has clearly never lived in the real world," Mr Howes said.

"You can't just get any old Joe off the street and plonk them into a mine, and think that's going to mean they can work."

Six of the attendees confirmed yesterday that Mr Abbott had raised the idea of banning welfare payments for young people to encourage them to fill the thousands of jobs emerging in states such as Western Australia and Queensland.

"He said he was thinking more and more about it, with a view to formulating something on it," said one of the participants, who asked not to be named.

Another recalled: "He definitely said it was something he was considering as a policy."

A third executive said: "It certainly wasn't a throwaway line. He brought up the issue twice during the meeting."

Mr Abbott also told the business leaders that safety mechanisms would be needed under such a scheme to protect disabled people or those with mental health problems. And he raised the possibility that employers would need to be given funding to train the unemployed, according to those present.

Some of the business leaders were surprised by the remarks, while others were impressed Mr Abbott was considering new measures to address the labour shortages in Western Australia that threaten to crimp the next resources boom.

"I thought to myself: here is a guy who thinks outside the square," said one participant.

The Minerals Council of Australia said the number of workers in the resources sector would need to grow by about 86,000 in the next decade to maintain Australia's share of global minerals markets.  It said 31,000 of those workers would need to be skilled tradespeople.

The demand for labour is expected to be most severe in Western Australia, which has about $200 billion in resources projects either under way or in the pipeline.

This is led by the $43bn Gorgon liquefied natural gas project on Barrow Island and the planned expansion of Woodside Petroleum's Pluto gas plant near Karratha.

Among the attendees at Mr Abbott's roundtable were BHP Billiton iron ore chief executive Ian Ashby, Rio Tinto's Pilbara managing director Greg Lilleyman, Woodside general counsel Rob Cole, Fortescue Metals Group director Graeme Rowley, Gindalbie Metals chief executive Garret Dixon and Inpex's Australian head, Seiya Ito.

Mr Abbott's views echo comments he made as employment services minister in 2000 when he announced that people on the dole in South Australia's Riverland would be required to seek fruit harvest work before receiving benefits.

Last night a spokeswoman for Mr Abbott confirmed he had made the remarks about the dole to the mining leaders.

The spokeswoman said Mr Abbott had posed a question about the dole for the benefit of the argument and the debate at the meeting.  But, she said, Mr Abbott's comments did not mean the approach was Coalition policy.


Perth Anglicans vote to ignore Bible

(See Romans chap. 1)

Anglicans in Perth have voted to have same-sex relationships recognised.

The church synod voted by a two-thirds majority to call for legal acknowledgment of civil unions between people of the same sex.

Rector of Darlington-Bellevue Anglican parish, the Reverend Chris Bedding, presented the motion to the synod.

"We presented a motion saying that the Anglican Church and the Diocese of Perth would like to acknowledge that legal recognition of same-sex relations can coexist with legal recognition of marriage between a man and a woman," he said.

"That had already come last year, it had essentially been vetoed by the Archbishop and it came back this year and the bar was set even higher.

"We needed a two-third majority amongst both the clergy and the laity to get it passed.  "And, I thought there was no way that the motion would be passed.  "Strangely enough the synod, via quite a convincing majority, [decided] to make that acknowledgment.

"As a church, we are not ready to have marriage-like ceremonies for same-sex couples in our churches yet, but we wanted to say that if the government has civil recognition of unions or equality, then we are comfortable with that."

Australian Marriage Equality's acting director Ivan Hinton says it is an encouraging step forward.  "I think this is a great moment to recognise that Christianity in Australian culture is far more diverse than what has been expressed on the political level for a very long time," he said.

The motion needs the support of the Archbishop of Perth, Roger Herft, before it is officially adopted. Archbishop Herft has 30 days to assent or dissent to the vote.

A similar motion last year was vetoed by the Archbishop, but Reverend Bedding says this year may be different.  "Things might have changed in a year or they might not. The one thing that did change was that the vote increased amongst both laity and clergy," he said.

"So a lot of people changed their mind in a year.  "It's possible that the Archbishop has changed his mind over the last year."

Gay Christians like Graham Douglas-Meyer are worried the Archbishop will not endorse the vote.  "I think it would actually be a slap in the face of the people of Perth. It would be saying that 'I know better than you'," he said.  "I think he (the Archbishop) really does need to give his reason, and a good reason to the people.

"It would be distressing for them, specifically if they are from an Anglican background themselves, because they are actually being put into position where they're being told, once again, that their relationship is unacceptable."


NSW Students stop taking Asian languages in senior years

Asian languages are just too hard for Anglos

Senior high school students in NSW are giving up on Asian languages at an astonishing rate, despite growth among younger students.

Between 2010 and 2012, the number of high school students learning Chinese grew by 42 per cent to almost 10,000. Yet, over the same period, the number of HSC students studying the language shrunk by 27 per cent. And figures released last week show just 902 HSC students studied Chinese this year, a 5 per cent drop from last year.

The president of the Board of Studies NSW, Tom Alegounarias, said it was likely students were not convinced a language gave them the competitive edge it once did.

"To the extent that studying a language is a functional advantage for interacting globally, the paradox is that as the world globalises, you don't need another language and people are aware of that," he said. "Everyone that goes to China knows you can get around pretty well with English."

Figures provided by the NSW Department of Education and Communities show primary and secondary enrolments in all four of the state's priority Asian languages grew between 2010 and 2012. A large proportion of those high school students would have learnt the language as part of the state's compulsory 12-month course.

But the proportion of students continuing to more advanced study in the senior years continues to slide, with Fairfax Media revealing last week that the rate of students studying a foreign language for the HSC is at a historic low of just 8 per cent.

The director of the Chinese Teacher Training Centre at the University of Melbourne, Jane Orton, said that when it came to the high-stakes HSC exams students are deterred by having to compete with classmates who have grown up around the language.

"There are kids who would like to go on but they just literally can't afford it for their futures," she said. "It's like having a race for the under 12s. You can't have long-legged 15-year-olds racing down. Of course they're going to win."

She said the continued push for Asian languages by successive governments was not having the desired effects.

"They seem to throw money at it rather than invest money in it," she said. "If they are doing it for national interest, they need to hothouse just as they do for sport."

Mr Alegounarias says the challenging nature of Asian languages might also partly account for the drop-off.

"There is a different cultural and theoretical linguistic underpinning which actually makes it harder to study those languages, particularly if you’re competing with students of that background," he said.

A senior lecturer in linguistics at the University of New England, Dr Liz Ellis, says "the closer a  language is in structure and general orientation, the easier it tends to be to learn."

French, for example, would typically be easier and quicker for an English speaker to learn than Mandarin.

This year 663 HSC students took French as a beginner, while only 52 students took Chinese as a beginner.

Dr Ellis there is a lot of evidence that bilingualism can enhance cognitive abilities. 

"There certainly is research that shows [a link between bilingualism and academic performance] because it expands their facility for thinking and their understanding and ability to think creatively," she said.

Dr Orton says more parents need to value the learning of language, beyond just employment opportunities.  "A lot of parents take an increasingly utilitarian view of school, so it’s a question of will it get you a job," she said.


Tasmania has a killer prosecutor

LAWYERS for Director of Public Prosecutions Timothy James Ellis SC say they want a Tasmanian magistrate to hear the case.

Mr Ellis, 58, yesterday pleaded not guilty to causing the death of another person by negligent driving over a crash in which a Launceston woman died.

The state's top prosecutor -- whose leg was badly broken in the collision -- appeared on crutches in the Hobart Magistrates Court yesterday.

His lawyer Michael O'Farrell SC told Chief Magistrate Michael Hill: "Mr Ellis will enter a plea of not guilty" to the single charge.

Mr Ellis' Mercedes and a Toyota hatchback driven by 27-year-old Natalia Pearn, of West Launceston, collided near Lovely Banks about 6pm on March 24. Ms Pearn was killed and Mr Ellis suffered serious leg injuries.

Mr Hill told Mr O'Farrell that every Tasmanian magistrate had disqualified themselves from hearing the case.

The Chief Magistrate said he had a "personal difficulty" with the matter and was troubled by the issue of public confidence in the system should the case be heard by a local.

Mr Hill said steps had been taken to appoint an interstate judicial officer to preside over Mr Ellis' trial, but Mr O'Farrell said the defence team had identified at least five local magistrates who could hear it without difficulty.

"Mr Ellis, like any citizen, is entitled to be given due process according to the laws of the state and for all of the magistrates of the state to excuse themselves -- without hearing from Mr Ellis -- is not due process," he said.

Police allege that Mr Ellis was negligent for: failing to keep a proper lookout; failing to drive with due care and attention; failing to keep his vehicle to the left; failing to keep his vehicle from crossing to the wrong side of the road; failing to return to the correct side of the road, failing to manoeuvre to avoid a collision; driving without reasonable consideration for other road users and failing to pay sufficient concentration to the task of driving.

Mr Hill adjourned the case until November 11 to allow the defence and prosecution to negotiate how the case might proceed.


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