Friday, June 27, 2014

Slippery Peter thinks he's nuts

He's got a point

Former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper has lost a bid to have fraud charges against him dropped on mental health grounds.

A Canberra court on Wednesday heard that allegations of dishonesty and sexual harassment had left Mr Slipper feeling he had no way out, and had driven him to try to take his own life.

Yet his application for the charges to be dismissed due to mental illness was thrown out of the ACT Magistrate's Court on Wednesday. It was Mr Slipper's second failed attempt to keep charges he fraudulently used cab vouchers on a Canberra wine-tasting trip thrown out of court. He has pleaded not guilty to the allegations. A six-day hearing set to start on July 21 will now go ahead.

In handing down her decision, Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker acknowledged the defendant had been diagnosed with a major depressive illness and swift resolution of the legal matters would be in his interests.

She said Mr Slipper's suicidal thoughts were "highly concerning" and told him he should not feel like a "social pariah", because he was innocent until proven guilty.

Although the amount of money related to offences was relatively small, Mr Slipper's position as a federal MP at the time meant they were potentially serious, she said.

Mr Slipper, who served as the speaker in 2011 and 2012, appeared in court on Wednesday with a cast on his right arm.

His treating psychiatrist Christopher Martin said via audiovisual link that Mr Slipper had experienced feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness and "ruminated endlessly on his situation". He said Mr Slipper used alcohol to deal with his problems and had "a sense that he has no way out of his current predicament".

Dr Martin said Mr Slipper told him he had made two attempts to take his own life early last year.

The court heard Mr Slipper had been admitted to a medical facility on five occasions since May last year, for periods of between five days and almost a month.

Crown prosecutor Lionel Robberds, QC, argued Mr Slipper's mental state had deteriorated after the offences took place and it had not affected his cognitive function.

Mr Slipper is fighting three charges he dishonestly used about $1000 worth of vouchers in 2010.


Changes to asylum-seeker repatriation test attacked for risking lives, violating rights

A move to radically reduce the threshold for deciding to send asylum seekers back to possible danger will violate rights and endanger lives, leading refugee lawyer David Manne has warned [He would]

Under sweeping changes introduced to Federal Parliament on Wednesday, those whose protection claims are rejected face return to their country unless it is decided they are "more likely than not" to suffer significant harm.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the existing threshold, under which they are not returned if there is a "real chance" of them suffering harm, means they can stay as this risk is "as low as 10 per cent".

The new "more likely than not" test would mean there would have to be a "greater than 50 per cent chance" of a person suffering significant harm for them not to be returned, he said.

The change, covering those seeking protection under international treaties against torture and on civil and political rights, was one of many to toughen the process for seeking asylum.  It does not apply to those seeking protection under the refugee convention.

While Mr Morrison insists the new law is in line with the approach of Canada, Switzerland and the US, Mr Manne said it was contrary to accepted practice and could carry grave consequences and "ultimately risk the lives of many".

"What this does is propose a fundamental deviation from the well-established threshold for assessing someone's risk of facing life-threatening harm," he said.

Mr Manne said no case had been made for this and other changes that would "downgrade due process and impose restrictions on fundamental rights".

Mr Morrison said the government was committed to ensuring it abided by its international obligations. "This is an acceptable position which is open to Australia under international law and reflects the government's interpretation of Australia's obligations."

"This bill deserves the support of all parties. We need the tools to ensure public confidence in Australia's capacity to assess claims for asylum in the interests of this country, and against the interests of those who show bad faith.

"These changes uphold the importance of integrity, the establishment of identity, and increased efficiency in our protection processing system," he said.

But the changes shocked human rights lawyers.  "These amendments would allow the government to send people back to their country of origin even if there's a 49 per cent chance they will be killed or tortured," said Daniel Webb, director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

Greens spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said it was a dangerous attack on vulnerable asylum seekers already in Australia.

"If you can't prove that you are more likely to be shot than not, you will be on your way home."

Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the changes were troubling. "We would be extremely concerned if the government attempts to use complex legislation to sneak through shifting the goal posts on what determines refugee status," he said.


Moody's rates Australia's economic strength as 'very high'

Global ratings agency Moody's says Australia's economic strength is "very high" and its susceptibility to financial risks "very low".

In its latest credit analysis on Australia, Moody's predicts that the economy will grow between 2.6 per cent and 3 per cent per annum over the next five years.

Unlike the most recent ABS National Accounts economic growth data for the March quarter which was boosted by exports, Moody's believes that households are likely to drive the expansion.

"Near-term growth appears to be driven primarily by domestic consumption, rather than exports and resource investment," the agency noted.

Moody's says Australian consumers have been remarkably resilient in the face of rising unemployment and an attempt to pay down debt, largely due to continued earnings growth, cheap credit and the feeling of increased wealth from rising housing prices.

However, the ratings agency sees that trend of rising housing prices as also being a key vulnerability, with "medium-term risks as Australia's real estate market may be overheating".

"After considering supply-side constraints, the influx of foreign capital and the fact that monetary policy is set to remain accommodative for the foreseeable future, the housing market appears to be increasingly likely to get caught up in a positive price-feedback loop and eventually could face a correction," Moody's warned.

"Re-accelerating housing credit suggests that monetary factors, especially record low interest rates, are playing a prominent role in fuelling the housing market trends."

The ratings agency says a moderate fall in real estate prices is unlikely to severely damage the broader economy, though, because most borrowers are well ahead on their repayments and Australia's banks are well capitalised.

The other major threat to the banking system and economy comes from the near-term possibility that the drop off in mining investment and employment will be in full swing well before resources exports have fully picked up, leading to pockets of unemployment that may push up loan defaults.


Plan to fast-track teacher training to fill gaps questioned

Long-standing American TFA program being transplanted

A proposal to solve a shortage of maths and science teachers by fast-tracking graduates from other disciplines into schools is being questioned by academics, parents and Queensland's peak teaching union.

The State Government said recently it would reconsider plans to introduce Teach for Australia (TFA) graduates into schools as it tries to plug the teacher shortage, despite rejecting similar proposals last year.

TFA recruits high-achieving university graduates and places them in disadvantaged classrooms for two years after six weeks of teacher training.

TFA was founded in Victoria in 2008 by then-federal education minister Julia Gillard and has since also been adopted by the ACT and Northern Territory.

The organisation has come under criticism for placing graduates with less experience rather than those who complete university diplomas and degrees in teaching.

Legislative changes in Queensland would have to be passed to allow the plan to go ahead, which means the program would not be available to be implemented in the state's schools until 2016.

Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek says he has been approached about TFA and has been considering it, but there were no plans to change legislation at this stage.

"We are always looking at innovative ways to ensure we have the best teachers in the classroom," he said.

"Teacher quality is the most important factor when improving student outcomes.

"To have the Teach for Australia program in Queensland schools we would need to amend existing legislation and consult widely, so if we decide to proceed, it won't happen until 2016."

Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) president Kevin Bates says the program's short preparation for the TFA associates could undermine the status of the teaching profession.

The art of teaching is something that is developed over a period of time.

"One of the fundamental issues is making sure there is sufficient pre-service training to provide students with the foundation skills they need.

"Our concern is obviously to continue to protect that status of our profession by not allowing that type of teaching qualification into Queensland schools."

Kevan Goodworth, CEO of parents association P&Cs Queensland, agrees and says teaching is a complex profession that could not be taught effectively in such a short time.

"The content knowledge and the subject specific knowledge that these people have is extremely valuable and getting high-flying people who have that knowledge is very, very useful," he said.

"However, we would be very interested in teachers obviously having the pedagogical ability to also teach and that is quite complex - normally a four-year course."

An evaluation report of the TFA program by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in 2012 found its associates were "novices" and needed a significant amount of support in their first few terms of teaching.

However, the report found by their second year, associates were much more confident and were considered by other school staff members to be on-par with other teaching staff.

Jessica McCrae, one of the first TFA associates, says although she felt challenged with her first teaching position, she did cope.

I definitely went into the classroom feeling like I was entering a pretty challenging situation, but I had the tools I needed to be a confident beginning teacher.

Five years on, she is now a teaching and learning leader in maths and science at Hume Secondary College in Melbourne.

However, only 53 per cent of associates continue teaching after they receive their Masters in Education at the end of the program.

Associates also cost $216,500 to train, which is more than double the cost of training a teacher via a postgraduate pathway.

These costs are covered via state and federal government funding, as well as support from the private sector.

Griffith University teaching professor Glenn Finger says its graduate diploma secondary program was a "superior model".

"Those [university] students are highly qualified, cost far less to produce, and build successful careers," he said.

Griffith University students are required to complete a minimum of 10 days of professional experience.

Other universities require more extensive practical experience, such as the University of Southern Queensland, which requires its postgraduate students to complete a minimum of 75 days of professional experience.

However, TFA associates are expected to start teaching without any prior experience.

A Queensland teacher who studied a full education degree at university, Scott Tibaldi, says the more practical classroom experience students get while undertaking a university degree prepares them better.

"The six weeks proposed for the new program may not prepare these prospective new teachers enough, to effectively enter the classroom," he said.


No comments: