Sunday, July 27, 2014

NSW Labor Party adopts pro-Palestinian stance

A FUTURE Labor government may consult like-minded nations about recognising a Palestinian state, after the NSW branch of the party voted to adopt a motion critical of Israeli settlements.

THE draft resolution, moved by former foreign minister Bob Carr, was passed without debate at the NSW Labor conference in Sydney's Town Hall on Saturday.

"NSW Labor welcomes the decision of the Palestinian Authority to commit to a demilitarised Palestine with the presence of international peacekeepers, including US forces," the amendment said.

"If, however there is no progress to a two-state solution, and Israel continues to build and expand settlements, a future Labor government will consult like-minded nations towards recognition of the Palestinian state."

The amendment also applauded the previous Labor government for opposing Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and for branding the settlements illegal under international law.

"NSW Labor recognises a Middle East peace will only be won with the establishment of a Palestinian state," the amendment said.

"The state of Palestine should be based on 1976 borders with agreed land swaps and with security guarantees for itself and Israel."

As foreign minister, Mr Carr rolled then prime minister Julia Gillard and pushed for Australia to abstain, instead of oppose, a vote that augmented Palestinian status at the United Nations.

Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten is expected to address the conference on Sunday.


New university rankings out

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) publishes the only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions.

CWUR uses eight objective and robust indicators to rank the world's top 1000 universities:

1) Quality of Education, measured by the number of a university's alumni who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals relative to the university's size [25%]
2) Alumni Employment, measured by the number of a university's alumni who currently hold CEO positions at the world's top companies relative to the university's size [25%]
3) Quality of Faculty, measured by the number of academics who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals [25%]
4) Publications, measured by the number of research papers appearing in reputable journals [5%]
5) Influence, measured by the number of research papers appearing in highly-influential journals [5%]
6) Citations, measured by the number of highly-cited research papers [5%]
7) Broad Impact, measured by the university's h-Index [5%]
8) Patents, measured by the number of international patent filings [5%]

The top 5 this time are unsurprising:

1     Harvard University   
2    Stanford University   
3    Massachusetts Institute of Technology   
4    University of Cambridge       
5    University of Oxford

The rankings in the top 100 were overwhelmingly dominated by U.S. universities.  There were 4 other UK universities in the top 100 and only two Australian universities:  The two oldest, University of Sydney and University of Melbourne.  I hold a large document issued to me by the first of those


Tony Abbott cuts asylum deal with India

AUSTRALIA has offered more help to India to disrupt people-smuggling from its shores and to fight transnational crime, after the “generous offer” to consider taking back most of the 157 ­asylum-seekers who have been detained at sea for a month.

Fending off claims of policy failure on “stopping the boats”, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott have declared none of the 157 who left India by boat to seek asylum in Australia would be allowed to ­settle here. “Don’t get on a boat to come ­illegally to Australia,” the Prime Minister said yesterday. “Because even if you get here, you won’t stay here. You will not become a permanent resident of Australia.’’

Mr Morrison said: “The message from this voyage to people-smugglers is Australia and India are engaged together to stop you and the full suite of measures that are available to the Abbott government remain and will be deployed.

“In the last seven months there has not been a single successful people-smuggling venture to ­Australia and this remains the case even for the venture that remains at sea.”

About 17,000 asylum-seekers arrived on about 200 boats in the corresponding period last year, under the previous Labor government.

Labor and the Greens said the Coalition’s border-protection policies were not working.

Labor’s acting immigration spokeswoman, Michelle Rowland, said: “What we saw today was an admission from Scott Morrison that he has lost control of his ­portfolio.”

“A few weeks ago, Scott Morrison refused to even confirm these 157 people existed. His border-­protection policy is in a complete shambles — his job is now being done by the High Court.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Morrison was a “spectacular failure” and that the issue was making Australia an international disgrace.

The decision to move the people from the Customs vessel at sea to the mothballed Curtin detention centre on the mainland was taken to allow Indian consular officials in Canberra to conduct face-to-face interviews.

The Australian government considered providing access by phone and video link to avoid bringing the asylum-seekers to the mainland, and even considered taking the Indian officials to sea.

Mr Morrison said the Indian offer was generous and followed discussions between ministers, ­including a 72-hour flying visit to New Delhi by Mr Morrison to meet India’s powerful Home ­Affairs Minister, Rajnath Singh.

The 157 mostly Tamils left India’s southern coastal city of Pondicherry last month.

They were intercepted in international waters and taken aboard an Australian Customs vessel.

Human rights groups have challenged the government’s ­actions in the High Court as the people were detained at sea while the government negotiated with India about taking them back.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul welcomed Mr Morrison’s announcement, but said it would act as a “serious blow” to Operation Sovereign Borders and challenged government claims the asylum-seekers would not be able to make legal claims once on the mainland.

Mr Rintoul said it was highly likely the asylum-seekers would be entitled to settle in Australia, though he remained concerned about the visas that would be ­issued.

Although the Indian government has agreed to consider taking back all Indian residents and some who aren’t, it is possible a handful — who are not Tamils — will face being returned to Sri Lanka.

Indian High Commissioner Biren Nanda last night told The Weekend Australian he was preparing a team of consular officials to interview the asylum-seekers and it was Indian practice not to use video links.

“The first step is we have to go and interview them and collect information about them and then we have to send the information to Delhi, which will make a determination about their exact status,” Mr Nanda said.

The Australian government decided it was too dangerous and would take too long to send Indian officials to the ship. It was decided it was easier to reopen the Curtin detention centre instead of sending the 157 to the still-crowded Christmas Island or to the more distant Nauru or Manus.

As part of the co-operation talks, Mr Morrison has written to Mr Singh offering to increase Australia’s help, such as intelligence sharing, to India in disrupting ­people-smuggling ventures as well as establishing a permanent group to work more closely on transnational crime including narcotics and people-smuggling.

Mr Abbott is considering a visit to India in September for talks with new Prime Minister Narendra Modi that will include people-smuggling, but also India’s push to expand its nuclear energy generation and uranium imports from Australia.

In announcing the decision to transfer the people to the mainland, Mr Morrison said the government had never claimed to have “stopped the boats” and that it required permanent vigilance to deter people smugglers.

“It is the policy of the government … to prevent the illegal entry of vessels to Australia and their passengers,” he said. “This is the best way to ensure that no one is ever resettled in Australia who seeks to come to Australia by that method. Our policy of denying the illegal entry of vessels and their passengers to Australia is first achieved through co-operation with our regional partners — which includes the government of India — to disrupt ventures before they depart.

“In cases where a venture may depart, the government has a series of highly effective measures available to it to deny the vessel and persons onboard entry to Australia. During the same period of time last year … more than 17,000 people arrived on more than 200 such ventures.”

News of the group’s imminent transfer to the mainland will come as a relief to families awaiting word of those who left India’s Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camps last month.

A Chennai-based advocacy group for the 60,000-strong community of camp dwellers in southern India, the Organisation for Eeelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), said it feared the move would only presage a new and more protracted phase of limbo.


Gifted students vie for a seat in popular OC classes

If your watch gained two minutes every hour and you set it to the correct time at 7am, what time would it show at 1.30pm?

It was questions like this that nine-year-old Gabriella Moussa found “pretty easy” in her opportunity class (OC) placement test on Wednesday morning.

The McCallums Hill Public School student was one of more than 10,000 year 4 students across the state vying for a spot in the specialty classes for academically gifted children in years 5 and 6.

The students attempted 70 multiple choice questions over 60 minutes – less than one minute per question – meaning a successful candidate would probably know by now that the time on the watch would be 1.43pm.

“I got to the end but I had to quickly rush the last few questions,” Gabriella, who sat the test at Kingsgrove North High School, said. “I feel like I did well.”

With fewer than 1800 positions available across 75 schools, only one in five applicants will be chosen.

The classes, designed to nurture the state’s brightest students, are highly sought after, with many parents viewing them as a stepping stone to selective high schools. While they do not act as formal feeder schools, a high proportion of students do transition to selective high schools.

The Education Department stresses it does not endorse intensive tutoring for the test but many coaching colleges in Sydney offer group classes and private tuition specifically tailored to the OC exam.

Gabriella had a quick look at some sample questions on Tuesday night but her mother Claudia Moussa wanted the experience to be as stress-free as possible.

“She hasn’t done multiple choice before, so I explained that to her and told her to read things twice and not worry too much,” she said. “But she had no real practice. I only want her to get in if she’s naturally going to get in. I wouldn’t push her.”

Mrs Moussa's two preferences were Greenacre and Hurstville public schools, both about five kilometres from her daughter’s school. “If she got in, it would be a big decision but it would definitely be up to her,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, many of the primary schools that record the highest NAPLAN results are those with OC classes.

As a result, they are also among the largest and fastest-growing schools in the state. Artarmon Public School has swelled from 753 students in 2010 to almost 1000 this year and Chatswood jumped from 710 to 928 over the same period.

Matthew Pearce Public School at Baulkham Hills, consistently one of the top academic performers, is the largest primary school in NSW with 1184 students this year, up from 875 in 2010.


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