Friday, November 14, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks he knows why China agreed to Obama's climate push

Tony Abbott says jobs and growth, not climate, top of the G20 agenda

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has insisted jobs and economic growth, not "what might happen in 16 years' time" on climate change will be front and centre at the G20 summit in Brisbane, even as senior US officials said climate change was an issue for the global economy.

In an extraordinary statement, Mr Abbott, who last month said "coal is good for humanity" and would remain an "essential part of our economic future" in Australia and right around the world, argued "for Australia, I'm focusing not on what might happen in 16 years' time, I'm focusing on what we're doing now and we're not talking, we're acting" despite the long-ranging superpowers' climate deal.

In Washington, US State Department senior spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that at the G20 meeting "there will be a focus on economic issues and how we are co-ordinating with the global economy. Climate in our view is part of that".

In Beijing, analysts told Fairfax Media China was unlikely to push as hard as the US appeared to be doing to put climate talks on the G20 agenda.

The Prime Minister's comments came after the United States and China announced a deal that will see the US target an emissions cut of 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 and as China pledged to cap growing carbon emissions by 2030.

The federal government's Direct Action policy, in contrast, mandates a 5 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 against 2000 levels, a target Mr Abbott said he was confident Australia would hit.

While Mr Abbott and his most senior ministers, including Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop, welcomed the US-China deal on Thursday,  they hosed down its immediate impact on Australia's post-2020 emissions reduction target, which is due to ne set in the first half of 2015.

Mr Abbott has resisted attempts to make climate change a high priority agenda item for the G20 summit of world leaders and Mr Hockey said climate change would only be "part of the agenda" while accusing companies who do not pay tax where they earn profits of committing "theft".

Mr Abbott said the US and China were the "two most significant countries and they're obviously the two biggest emitters" but said that at the APEC Beijing conference "climate change was hardly mentioned".

Forthcoming climate conferences in Lima and Paris would focus on the environment and he expected at the G20 "if other countries want to raise other subjects they're entirely welcome to do so but my focus, and I believe the principal focus, of the conference will be on growth and jobs".

In Washington, Ms Psaki said the US hoped the China climate deal would provide momentum for further international action and "I am certain in bilateral meetings the issue of climate, as we look to the Paris negotiations a year from now, will be a part of the agenda" at the G20.

The joint US-China announcement is seen as deft diplomacy by Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the deal seen as symbolically important, as China's economy has already begun shifting away from dirty coal and its 2030 target is not seen as overly ambitious.

Wang Tao, a Beijing-based climate change expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, said the joint announcement was a "clear signal" that would have leverage and implications on potential negotiations around climate change at the G20.

"It's regrettable that Australia's scrapped the carbon tax and it's actually moving on the other direction from everyone else in the climate change negotiations," Dr Wang said.


Back to exams rather than university assessment

In my undergraduate years in the early 1980s I once stood up in class and challenged the lecturer for setting a 100 per cent end-of-semester exam. University policy gave students the right to be consulted on how they were evaluated and we lefty students were in favour of continuous assessment – several pieces of work rather than just one big roll of the dice. It seemed fairer. Now, having worked for 25 years as an academic, I have changed my mind.

This is not because I've become a born-again traditionalist - exams can be brutal and are not always the best measure of ability - but because the internet has changed things completely. There seems to be no alternative. Cheating is so easy that even the most credulous academic finds it hard to trust prepared work. This week's revelation of the widespread trade in ghost-written essays simply confirms anecdotal evidence that some students are gaming the system.

We often hear from students that they are pushed for time, that part-time jobs and personal commitments get in the way of essay deadlines. But many find it hard to avoid the temptation to procrastinate, because the laptops on which they research and write are also devices for play and communication. Of these a small number might be tempted to buy essays as a way of crisis managing the consequences of poor time management.

Others cheat because their writing skills are underdeveloped and they are convinced they will fail. This is a particular problem for overseas students from non-English-speaking backgrounds. There have been numerous reports of fraud in English-language testing like IELTS and so it is clear that some are admitted to degree courses without the language skills necessary for academic writing. Nobody enjoys assessing the work of someone who, while probably capable of great lucidity in their first language, has such poor grammar and syntax when writing in English.

The other factor that drives the increased readiness to cheat is that where students pay for their education, and where they believe they are likely to fail, there is a clear material incentive. It may cost a couple of hundred dollars to buy an essay, but the expense is much higher if you have to repeat the course/unit, especially for fee-paying overseas students.

If buying essays is a problem, plagiarism is a bigger one. It can begin at school, where overworked teachers find it difficult to deter lazy cut-and-paste habits, and can continue into post-school education. Much has been written about universities' use of plagiarism detection software, but this is by no means fail-safe. Not all sources are searchable, but more importantly university misconduct processes are so time consuming that many academics would rather avoid them and find other grounds to fail a student's work when they suspect cheating. Many are, like careworn old school cops, frustrated when students evade the rap on appeal, or receive lenient punishment.

So in this age of drag and drop, of online trade in essays, exams are something of a last resort: not ideal but a better way to test ability than the alternatives. They do not suit the students who suffer a form of stage fright under exam conditions but there are things we can do to mitigate this – give them much more time than they should ordinarily need, and even provide them with sample questions beforehand.

Those of us from universities that embrace the "anywhere-anytime" world of blended learning are being encouraged to use online assessment. Why, we are asked, do all students need to be simultaneously in the one place when sitting an exam? Earlier this year for the first time, I set a web-based 30-minute quiz that could be started by students at any time in a 90-minute window in the comfort of their study or bedroom (or on their smartphone in the shopping mall if they wished). This seemed to work reasonably well, but there is really no way for us to prevent collusion unless students are gathered together in a room under conditions of invigilation.

But this is the era of the sovereign educational consumer whose satisfaction is paramount. Those of us who work in universities know that, in a system where funding follows student demand, we have jobs only because they choose to study with us. But is there a tension between student satisfaction and scholarly rigour?

Academic promotion and career prospects depend on students approving of our work. Teaching evaluation surveys are now completely standard, even required in many universities. Obviously those with lively and compelling teaching techniques perform better in these surveys but it is also true that lecturers who lavish praise on their students, evaluate them highly, are themselves more likely to receive higher ratings.

The most damaging thing about the revelations of systematic cheating is that they undermine public confidence in the integrity of universities, suggesting that mediocrity has displaced meritocracy. In the deregulated environment being proposed by Christopher Pyne, this is only likely to get worse. If a degree is primarily a market commodity, and where universities rely more and more on the profits from selling that commodity, then it stands to reason that it will be a struggle to maintain academic standards.

The various scandals from the vocational education sector - where overseas students pay hefty fees for sham courses to fulfil their visa requirements – are salutary. They might provide a taste of what is to come for universities. Maybe the only solution is to get back to basics.


Mexicans seem to be the latest group who must be shielded from imitators

Imitation is often said to be the sincerest form of flattery but Leftists don't seem able to  consider that

It was to be a Mexican fiesta, complete with sombreros and ponchos. But Sydney University's annual staff Christmas party will be without a theme this year after students and academics complained it was racist.

The university's vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, has been forced to email all staff and tell them to ignore the suggested theme and dress code on the invite, which was sent to hundreds of staff.

"Some of you have since written to me or other senior members of the university to express concern about the theme of the party, particularly in light of recent tragic events in southwest Mexico that you may have seen reported in the media," Professor Spence wrote in his email.

"Our celebrations will proceed on 10 December, but I have today asked the event organisers to amend our plans so that the party has no particular theme."

Eden Caceda, an office-bearer with the university's Autonomous Collective Against Racism, told Fairfax Media that students were deeply offended by the invitation.

"We found it to be culturally insensitive, especially considering the horrible events that happened lately with the 43 children in Mexico," Mr Caceda said.

Mexican gang suspects have confessed to slaughtering 43 missing students and dumping their charcoaled remains in a river.

"We felt the vice-chancellor was perpetrating insidious stereotypes about Mexican people and its culture."

Mr Caceda, a second year arts student, said some people had suggested that the collective's stance was taking political correctness too far.

"I would say that is not the case. If you have any Mexican heritage in you, you would see this party as offensive and uninformed.

"I am Hispanic and I have some traditions from Mexican culture and the vice-chancellor's invite said 'bring your own sombreros and ponchos', which reduces Mexican culture to just a costume," Mr Caceda said.

"My family has a poncho and it is really important to us, and these people are treating it like a costume."

Mr Caceda said the collective managed to have a Day of the Dead party cancelled last year. The Day of the Dead remembers family and friends who have died.

"There is a push back on the idea that you can turn any culture into a dress-up," Mr Caceda said.


Being saved by strangers is not the same as being stolen

SENATOR Nova Peris could help explode the “stolen generations” myth that now menaces Aboriginal children.

Why menaces? Take the first protest ahead of this weekend’s G20 summit in Brisbane. Brisbane’s Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy held a “Stop Stealing Our Children” rally to protest against another “stolen generation” — the alleged taking of thousands of children just because they were Aborigines.

Some 14,000 Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care, and “Aunty” Rhonda told ABC radio welfare workers were too quick to remove them. “They need to leave them alone and leave them there.”

In fact, Aboriginal children are eight times more likely to be abused or neglected, and leaving them could kill them.

Indeed, children in Western Australia and NSW have died after social workers refused to remove them to avoid repeating the “stolen generations”.

One 10-year-old girl was even taken from her loving white foster family by welfare workers concerned she’d been “stolen” from her culture and was returned to Aurukun, where she was again pack-raped.

Yet the “stolen generation” is a myth. No academic or Aboriginal group has yet met my challenge to produce even 10 names of children stolen just for being Aboriginal.

Even so, no politician dares question the myth for fear of seeming racist. But Peris could. This Northern Territory Labor senator has Aboriginal ancestry and more licence to speak the truth.

True, Peris’ official Labor biography does state: “Her mother, grandmother and grandfather are all members of the ‘stolen generations’.”

But she could correct that. After all, the Federal Court found in its famous “stolen generation” test case the “evidence does not support a finding that there was any policy of removal of part-Aboriginal children such as that alleged” — at least in the territory.

Moreover, in an interview with activist Anne Summers, Peris said her mother, Joan, and three siblings were actually sent to a Catholic mission after their mother developed typhoid and couldn’t look after them.

Joan later chose to stay with foster parents in Adelaide, and when she returned to Darwin found her mother was a very heavy drinker.

The same interview told how Peris’ grandfather, of Aboriginal and Filipino descent, was given up by his mother.

To be abandoned by your mother is tragic, but to be saved by strangers is not to be “stolen”.

Such language feeds a myth that kills. Let’s rescue the truth — and the children.


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