Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is a true supporter of peace in the Middle East

Australia's decision to change its position and abstain on two United Nations resolutions regarding settlements and the Geneva Convention was the act of a true supporter of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Explaining the decision to change the vote, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the shift ''reflected the government's concern that Middle East resolutions should be balanced'' and said: ''The government will not support resolutions which are one-sided and which pre-judge the outcome of final status negotiations between the two sides.''

The reality is that the UN's entrenched biases against Israel - reflecting the imbalance of power between one Jewish state versus 22 Arab states plus 56 majority Muslim states - have rendered it ineffective as a mediator. Arab states have long sought to use the UN to delegitimise Israel and seek an affirmation of the narrative about Israel being a usurper state existing on ''stolen'' Palestinian land.

Thus the resolutions in question presuppose the final borders of Israel and a Palestinian state, which undermine agreements made at Oslo that such issues be directly negotiated by the parties. In addition, it encourages the Palestinians to walk away from negotiations with Israel and pursue their goals in international forums.

Highlighting how ridiculous the UN has become recently was an unlikely source. A UN interpreter, unaware that her microphone was on, said: ''I think when you have, like a total of 10 resolutions on Israel and Palestine, there's gotta be something, c'est un peu trop, non? [It's a bit much, no?]. There's other really bad shit happening, but no one says anything about the other stuff.'' Laughter erupted among the delegates. But the matter is not funny.

By the end of its annual legislative session, the General Assembly is expected to adopt 22 resolutions condemning Israel - and only four on the rest of the world combined, with only one on the Syrian civil war that has led to more than 100,000 deaths and the use of chemical weapons.

Ms Bishop clearly recognises this problem, and this is doubtless why Australia decided to change its votes on two typically one-sided resolutions from ''in favour'' to ''abstain''. These resolutions made prejudgments on key issues to be negotiated between the parties while making no demands of the Palestinian side, refusing to specifically acknowledge Palestinian terrorism, incitement or the rejectionism of Hamas, which rules Gaza. Australia's allies the US and Canada voted against these resolutions.

The resolutions were regarding the applicability of the Geneva Convention and settlements in the West Bank. A true friend of peace recognises that while settlements are an issue that must be resolved in negotiations, housing construction in settlements is not the main obstacle to peace, as construction in West Bank settlements is not absorbing additional land that will ultimately be part of a Palestinian state, as is widely implied.

Israel has not built any West Bank settlements for more than 15 years. Since 2003 all settlement growth authorised by Israel has occurred within the existing boundaries of long-standing settlements under an agreement reached between Israel and the United States.

Furthermore, settlements themselves take up less than 2 per cent of the land in the West Bank, a fact acknowledged by Palestinian leaders. Finally, most settlement blocks, where the vast majority of recent construction has occurred, have long been expected to be retained by Israel in exchange for land swaps with the Palestinians. Even the Arab League has endorsed this idea.

The official position of every successive Israeli government since 1999 has been to support a two-state outcome and Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered a Palestinian state on land equivalent to nearly all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem. Meanwhile, demonstrating Israel can adjust its policy on settlements to facilitate peace talks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instituted a 10-month moratorium on building in settlements in 2010 and recently cancelled controversial Housing Ministry long term plans for settlement units.

Israel and the Palestinians are in the midst of negotiations and together they will confront many tough issues: the future of Jerusalem, refugees, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, relations with Hamas and settlements.

A true friend would know it is essential for the parties to decide the outcome of negotiations and encourage maximum flexibility rather than support UN resolutions trying to dictate what that outcome should be.


Primary school bans leather footballs

A SCHOOL has banned children from using leather footballs and soccer balls after concerns were raised about possible head injuries.

Only 'soft' balls are allowed in the playground under new rules introduced at Albert Park Primary School.

Experts have backed the move but warn parents and teachers not to be lulled into a false sense of security.

The school introduced the new ball rules in a bid to lessen the impact of stray balls which hit students in the head.

Assistant principal Sue Pattison said the school's almost 450 students shared an oval little bigger than a basketball court, increasing the chances of an accident.

About 480 students are expected to attend the school next year.

"We still want kids to be able to run and play - it's an important part of having a break - but to do it in as safe an environment as we can manage," Ms Pattison said. "It's really just about prevention of major injuries."

The soft balls, introduced last term, are constructed of foam or have a foam layer under the skin.

Students who bring their own equipment must comply with the requirements.  Regular basketballs and tennis balls are allowed.

"We didn't actually have a major increase in incidents but it is a proactive decision because it's a busy yard," Ms Pattison said.

Under Education Department rules the parents of any child who suffers a head injury must be notified.  Albert Park contacts parents even if children are hit with a softer ball.

Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health neurosurgeon Prof Gavin Davis said softer balls were likely to reduce minor head injuries like lacerations and fractures but may not necessarily reduce concussion.

Concussion was more commonly caused when children fell over and hit their head or if it collided with another child's body part.

"It's an admirable intention to reduce head injuries with a softer ball," Prof Davis said.  "In general the principle is sound - in application it's not always the case."

"Education about recognising and acting on concussion was vital, he said.

Kidsafe Victoria executive officer Melanie Courtney said use of soft balls was an "innovative" way to ensure safety in a cramped playground.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh said it was important each adapted to their settings to ensure student safety.


Federal Education Minister calls for return of phonics

SCHOOLS have failed to help a generation of students who struggle to read, prompting an Abbott Government pledge to bring back phonics in "a big way".

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has outlined the principles of his new needs-based funding model for the nation's schools that he will unveil next year, focusing on teacher quality, traditional literacy learning methods including phonics (which involves sounding out the letters in words), principal power and parental engagement.

But he has also admitted he couldn't promise that no school would lose a dollar, arguing that the states ultimately decided individual school grants.

Mr Pyne sparked national controversy after he revealed he was going "back to the drawing board" on Labor's Gonski reforms because a majority of states had not signed legally binding agreements.

Accused of junking an election promise that he was on a "unity ticket" over the funding model for public and private schools, a defiant Mr Pyne said he was ready to "take on the education establishment".

A father of four, Mr Pyne said he had a deep understanding of learning difficulties after members of his own family had struggled to read.

"While it might have been pursued with all the goodwill in the world, there's no doubt that literacy standards for Australian students have declined measurably," he said.

"We are very determined and I am personally very determined to drive an agenda in literacy that focuses on phonics. It's far too important to turn a blind eye to what is failing our students in Australia and I am not prepared to do it."

Phonics is regarded by advocates as superior to more recent "whole language" learning, which is based on teachers providing a "literacy rich environment" combining speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Mr Pyne said getting results was not simply about funding but better teachers, school autonomy and parental engagement.

He said claims by state ministers that public schools would bear the brunt of any cuts were wrong.

"Why on earth would I be an enemy of public schools? They educate two-thirds of our students," he said.

"We send the money to the states and they apply the formula. So for them to say that somehow we may have to make a commitment that no school will be worse off -- it's quite impossible for us to follow through with that commitment. Because we don't actually apply the model in the final instance," he said.


Australian Olive Association ad campaign on substandard imports

The standards for olive oil production in Europe do appear to be appalling.  I buy Australian olive oil purely to be sure it is olive oil I get in my olive oil bottle

LOCAL olive oil makers will launch a $300,000 national ad campaign tonight after failing in a two-year bid to have what they say are substandard imports comply with Australian standards.

Australian Olive Association CEO Lisa Rowntree said the campaign was "a last-ditch effort" as various authorities had failed to enforce the same standards on imports as applied to local olive oils.

"We had been hoping the regulators would step in and not leave a lot of this decision-making to consumers but they don't seem to want to do that," she said. "We need to now educate consumers ourselves."

But Paul Berryman from the Australian Olive Oil Association, which represents olive oil importers, hit back saying there is room for everyone, local and imported, refined and pure olive oils and the focus should be on using olive oil fit for purpose.

"What everyone should be doing is promoting the use of good olive oil and that is what we are trying to do but they (the AOA) seem very much intent on denigrating imported oil," he said.

"We consumer in Australia 55,000 tonnes of olive oil and Australia produces (about) 15,000 tonnes of olive oil, so they can't even meet supply, so why they are carrying on as they do I don't understand."

Ms Rowntree said the campaign was "not import bashing".

"We are happy to call our product what it is and we don't mind competing head to head with imported product as long as it is labelled correctly and the claims it makes are true," she said.

AOA testing over two years found that, of 106 imported oils representing 40 different brands, 77 per cent failed the Australian Standard.

The EU admitted last month that olive oil is the No. 1 product most at risk of food fraud, including the substitution of Greek olive oil for Italian oil to the addition of refined or cheaper oils such as corn, hazelnut and palm oil.

Refined oils are often labelled as "Pure", "Light" and "Extra Light" and make up about 45 per cent of Australia's total olive oil consumption, which is almost two litres per person per year.

"In Europe they don't make claims like pure and light and extra light because they are meaningless and they are not terms that are used. But in Australia they are allowed to happen," said Ms Rowntree.

"These people are able to label a refined, bleached, deodorised product with terminology that intentionally confuses a consumer."

Australians have doubled their consumption of locally produced extra virgin olive oil to 31 per cent of total consumption in the past 18 months and grocery sales of local olive oil are expected to exceed $100m by 2014.

The three-week national ad campaign, starting tonight on television and followed up in print, will be fronted by nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan.

"People assume that be buying a European oil you are going to be getting a better oil," said Dr McMillan. "In fact that is not true at all. Europe do produce some great oils but they are keeping it for themselves and the stuff that they send over to Australia is the real substandard stuff unless you spend a lot of money in your local posh shop."

Local chefs backing the campaign include Stephanie Alexander.

"I would like to convince as many consumers as possible that Australia extra virgin olive oil is the freshest product and that it doesn't age," she said.

"You don't need to keep a bottle of olive oil for three years in the back of the cupboard because that's the worst possible thing you can do with it."


1 comment:

Paul said...

True supporters of peace are those who say and do whatever they are told by the foolish Colonial experiment known as Israel, who are of course blameless victims, as usual.