Thursday, December 05, 2013

Cut ABC funding, urges  Senator  Bernardi, as Coalition ramps up attack on the national broadcaster

The ABC's funding should be cut and the national broadcaster forced to sell advertising and paid subscriptions online to compete with commercial newspapers, Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi says.

"I don't want to see a state run media effectively dominating this landscape," the South Australian senator said.

Senator Bernardi's call for ABC funding cuts, which he made in an interview on ABC radio on Wednesday morning, comes amid widespread anger within the Coalition about the ABC's collaboration with The Guardian Australia to report on the alleged phone-tapping of the Indonesian President, its perceived left-wing tendencies and its $1.2 billion annual budget.

Such is the ABC-directed anger within the government that, in a rare move, Prime Minister Tony Abbott publicly condemned the chief executive of the national broadcaster, Mark Scott, for exercising "very, very poor judgment" by publishing the Indonesian spying revelations, leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"The ABC has grown exponentially over the years," Senator Bernardi told ABC radio on Wednesday. "And now it's basically encroaching into the newspapers of the 21st century, which is the online space."

Senator Bernardi said he was happy for the ABC to keep its radio and television stations, but not for it to publish free news on its websites. This would destroy newspapers published by Fairfax Media and News Corp, Senator Bernardi said.

So strong are the feelings within the Abbott government against the ABC, that a joint party room meeting on Tuesday was dominated by criticisms of the national broadcaster, led by Senator Bernardi.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull attempted to fend off a mini-revolt in the Coalition party room over the ABC, telling the meeting that he believed the ABC did a pretty good job of observing its charter, but was open to criticism for what he called outdated work practices.

He denied that the national broadcaster was contributing to the ruin of newspapers, arguing the publishing industry suffered from a lack of advertising revenue, not from a lack of readers.

However, Mr Turnbull agreed with Mr Abbott, in a rare rebuke of the national broadcaster, that the ABC should not have collaborated with The Guardian to "amplify" or advertise the spying story.

Mr Abbott has so far resisted pressure from within his party room to announce cuts to the ABC's funding.

In the party room meeting, Senator Bernardi described the ABC as a "taxpayer-funded behemoth". He was joined in his attacks by the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Senator Ian Macdonald, among others.

Senator Bernardi also criticised the ABC for what he characterised as muddled priorities which, he said, saw the board go to extraordinary lengths to withhold the salary information of its senior broadcasters while showing no such reluctance to reveal information detrimental to the national security interests of the country.

He said there was a compelling case to consider breaking the ABC into two entities with the traditional television and radio operations protected to ensure services in the bush and regional Australia, while the online news service could be disposed of.

''It is in the national interest, the budget interest, and the competitive media interest, that the broadcaster be separated,'' he later told Fairfax Media.

According to multiple sources in the meeting, the trio of Ms Bishop, and senators Bernardi and Macdonald, received ''warm'' support for their assessments that the broadcaster had failed to maintain political balance, and was using its annual $1.1 billion taxpayer funding to crowd out commercial news organisations in breach of its charter.

Senator Bernardi described its behaviour as ''cannibalisation of commercial media''.


So much for the Southern summer: snow predicted in Southern Australia today

Global cooling

Snow will fall on Victoria's Alps on Thursday as a cold blast of wintry air hits the state.

Between 10 and 20 centimetres could fall on the Alps, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, while rain will continue steadily elsewhere. Already more than 30 millimetres of rain has fallen in Melbourne and regional areas.

"We'll see that snow falling, snow down to 1100 metres on Thursday," said Bureau forecaster Michael Efron. "We'll see that really cold air arriving over the state."

Nearly 20 millimetres has fallen on Melbourne since rain began on Tuesday night. Falls have been markedly heavier in the south-eastern suburbs, with Moorabbin receiving 30 millimetres and Mentone, Hampton and Sandringham 29.

Elsewhere in the state, Mt Buller has had 45 millimetres and Mildura, 35. Melbourne could get another 10 to 20 millimetres on Thursday, said Mr Efron, and parts of Victoria between 10 and 20.

A top of 17 is expected for Melbourne on Thursday, with gusting south-westerly winds. "It could feel a lot colder than 17 with those winds," said Mr Efron.

Fortunately, the cold won't be around for long. Friday will be 20 ndegrees, with a shower or two, but Saturday will be warm and 27, Sunday a shower or two and 29. Monday and Tuesday will have temperatures in the low 20s.

"Saturday is looking the best day in the outlook," said Mr Enfron.


Morrison visa halt 'brutal': Labor, Greens

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison has been labelled brutal for banning new permanent protection visas for asylum seekers already in Australia.

Mr Morrison has used his ministerial powers to put an immediate cap on the number of protection visas for people who have arrived by boat. That means the number has been limited to 1650 until at least July next year, when the cap will be reset.

The minister blames Labor and the Greens for playing parliamentary games by combining in the Senate on Monday to scuttle the coalition's re-introduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs).

Greens MP Adam Bandt condemned both Mr Morrison and Prime Minister Tony Abbott for "acting like thugs" and leaving refugees in permanent limbo.

"What a way to treat some of the world's most vulnerable people who have come here seeking help," Mr Bandt told reporters.

"This is a government that is revealing its former brutality day by day."

Labor MP Kelvin Thomson disagreed with Mr Morrison's description of the disallowance motion as an "own goal" for Labor and the Greens, and voiced disappointment the refugee intake will not reach the former Labor government's 20,000 a year.

"I think that's a pity ... a move in the wrong direction," Mr Thomson said.

"What we can do is be decent, generous and compassionate citizens, and have a refugee program of the order of 20,000.

"There's no reason why we can't accomplish that."


PISA report finds Australian teenagers education worse than 10 years ago

AUSTRALIAN teenagers' reading and maths skills have fallen so far in a decade that nearly half lack basic maths skills and a third are practically illiterate.

The dumbing down of a generation of Australian teenagers is exposed in the latest global report card on 15-year-olds' academic performance.

Migrant children trumped Australian-born kids while girls dragged down the national performance in maths, the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, released in Paris last night, reveals.

Australia's maths performance dropped the equivalent of half a year of schooling between 2003 and 2012.

And rowdy classrooms and bullying are more common in Australia than overseas, the report says.

China tops the latest league table of 65 countries in maths, science and literacy.

The average 15-year-old student from Shanghai is nearly two years ahead in science, and a year and a half ahead in maths, than a typical Australian teen.

Four out of 10 Australian students flunked the national baseline level for mathematical literacy - compared to just over one in 10 in Shanghai and two in 10 in Singapore.

At least one in three Aussie students fell below the national baseline level for reading and science.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) called on governments to "act now to stop the slide".

The ACER director of educational monitoring and research, Sue Thomson - who wrote the Australian chapter of the PISA report - said Australia now has fewer top-performing students, and more at the bottom.

She said the reading results showed Australian students were illiterate in a practical sense.  "It's not saying they're totally illiterate or innumerate," she said.  "But they don't necessarily have the skills they need to participate fully in adult life."

A year after former prime minister Julia Gillard set the goal for Australia to rank among the top five nations for reading, maths and science by 2025, the latest PISA report shows Australia has fallen further down the ladder.

As the debate over school funding continues, the results also reflect how increased spending on education has failed to arrest the slide of other countries, including the United Kingdom, which despite an increase of billions of dollars in funding is producing high school graduates who trail almost every other developed country.

Australia still performs above average for developed countries within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - but its ranking has dived over the decade.

Poland has now leapfrogged Australia in maths, helping push Australia from 11th place 2003 to 19th in 2012.

Australian teens came fourth in PISA's world literacy rankings in 2003, trailing only Finland, Korea and Canada.  But they now rank an equal 13th with New Zealand.

The ranking for science fell from 6th place in 2006, to 16th place in 2012.

Australian girls' performance in maths has fallen to the OECD average - dragging down Australia's result.  But boys are a year behind girls in literacy levels at the age of 15.

PISA exposes an educational underclass in Australia - with a two and a half year gap between the performance of students from poor or indigenous families and those from well-off households.

Dr Thomson said taxpayer funds should be targeted to disadvantaged students.  "Just putting more money in won't work, but targeting money will work," she said.

Dr Thompson said Asian education systems, such as Singapore, gave more remedial attention to children lagging at primary school so they did not fall behind.

The PISA report shows that migrant students performed best in the Australian test.

Even in English literacy, 14 per cent of foreign-born students were top performers, compared to 10 per cent of Australian-born students.

Indigenous students or those living in remote areas were twice as likely to do worst in the PISA tests.

Students from wealthy families were five times more likely than the poorest students to excel.

But results also varied widely within schools, between classes.

"A larger-than-average within-school variance means that, for Australian students, it matters more which class they are allocated to than which school they attend," the report says.  "(However) the choice of school still has a significant impact on outcomes."

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne - who this week pledged to give the States and Territories an extra $2.8bn in funding for schools over the next four years - said Australia's results had declined despite a 44 per cent increase in education spending over the past decade.

"These results are the worst for Australia since testing began and shows that we are falling behind our regional neighbours," he said.  "For all the billions (Labor) spent on laptops and school halls there is still no evidence of a lift in outcomes for students."

Australian students also reported a higher frequency of noise and disorder, and teachers having to wait for students to quieten down, than the OECD average.

More than 40 per cent of Australian students reported that "family demands" interfered with their school work.

One in five students felt they did not belong, were not happy or were not satisfied at school.

Australian Greens spokeswoman for schools, Senator Penny Wright attacked the Abbott government for handing the States "no strings attached" schools funding.

"It is deplorable that in the 21st century, Indigenous students are two and a half years behind non-indigenous students, and that kids in remote areas are as much as 18 months behind children in the city," she said.

The Australian Education Union blasted the results as a "wake-up call" for the Abbott government to increase funding to schools in poor areas, and set higher entry standards for teachers.

Nearly 15,000 Australian students aged 15, from 775 schools, were selected at random to take the PISA test last year.  More than 51,000 students in 65 developed countries took the test.


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