Friday, January 30, 2015

It's just not cricket

Jenny Lindsay

Is there no escaping the nanny state telling me how to live my life!

The Australian summer holidays is a time to relax, overindulge, forget about the problems of the world and watch some cricket.  If you were, like us, watching sport on television in regional NSW, SA, NT or Queensland you were forced to endure lectures about, among other things, how you should help someone get home safely if they have been drinking, that sexual preference has nothing to do with playing sport, and that alcohol is bad for pregnant women.

The ads were endless and were played during virtually every ad break over the five-day test! there is apparently no money in advertising real products in the country.

In the past year or two, regional television ad breaks were populated with short segments highlighting the beauty spots in various regional towns around Australia.  These ads were the TV equivalent of muzak - banal and mildly annoying - but as least they were not preaching at me.

Every one of the ads this past season undoubtedly had a worthy message, but they are also examples of the subtle undermining of civil society.  It is saying that we as individuals, families and communities are not capable of coming to the right conclusions about what behaviour or action is appropriate.  The constant chiding and advising diminishes us as human beings.

As a parent I knew there was a time when I had to let go and allow my kids make their own decisions, whether I thought they were right or wrong. The state is acting like a parent who never lets go.  It assumes we are incapable of making the right decision in any situation whether it be how we drive, how and where we drink, how we communicate with people and how we choose to live our lives.

I'm back in Sydney now.  The Australian Tennis Open is on and I'm cheering the ads that are trying to sell me fast food, car insurance and phone plans.  Whether I make the right choice or not is not the point.  The point is that it is my choice.


School funding mess no surprise

The key findings of the latest OECD report Education Policy Outlook 2015 - that school funding in Australia is a mess and school performance is stagnant or declining - will be surprising to precisely no-one.

The report says that school funding in Australia "lacks transparency and coherence", and it is difficult to determine how individual schools are funded. This is despite a "comprehensive and independent" review of school funding which led to the development of a new federal funding model embedded in a new education act, and detailed funding agreements with the states.

It is possible, at least, to now work out how schools are funded if you have sufficient time and interest - but it is not easy. And since the current federal government has decided it will not implement the funding model in full, things will change again from 2017.

A certain amount of complexity in school funding is the inevitable result of having two levels of government providing funding to three distinct school sectors in eight states and territories. It is difficult to envisage how it would be possible to make funding more uniform and consistent in any kind of incremental way that tries to appease all interests. A more coherent school funding system will come about only through a brave and radical change to a student-centred voucher system, in which all children are allocated an individual educational entitlement they can use at any school.

Fortunately, improving the literacy levels of Australian students does not depend on funding reform. It requires one thing only - for teachers to use proven, evidence-based reading instruction in the early years of school and to provide effective interventions for struggling readers. Regular readers of ideas@thecentre will be familiar with this argument.

However, one of the most striking things about the OECD report is how strongly Australia features. Australian governments have been very busy with educational policy reform over the last eight years or so, and their efforts have largely been focused on the right things, from the OECD's perspective at least, things like increasing school autonomy, improving teacher quality and developing school leadership.

Whether or not Australia's initiatives to achieve these goals will be effective are, as yet, not known and possibly never will be,  since another key finding of the OECD report is that trillions of dollars have been spent internationally on education reform without rigorous evaluation to determine whether they have worked.  Australia is no exception.


Stop the state 'playing Dad'

Gary Johns has argued that compulsory contraception is needed to stop women having children and relying on the state to support their families.

A better way to address this form of welfare dependency is to bring the outdated parenting payment system into line with modern ideas about women, work and family.

Prior to the 1970s, there was no welfare for single mothers. Having children outside of marriage was considered socially unacceptable, and traditional social values were upheld by the draconian policy of forcing unmarried mothers to give up their babies up for adoption.

The presumption was that women without breadwinning husbands would be unable to combine child rearing with paid work. Forced adoption was therefore intended to prevent unmarried mothers and their children inevitably requiring public assistance.

The social revolution of the 1960s rapidly altered social attitudes to sex, marriage, and children. This led to the introduction in 1973 of the 'supporting mothers' pension, which meant unmarried mothers no longer needed to give up their children for financial reasons.

The right of single mothers to receive welfare was hailed by the feminist movement for liberating women from the patriarchal institution of marriage and eliminating economic dependence on men.

But, ironically, the state was called on to step into the place of absent husbands and fathers because the sexist presumption remained that women could not combine paid work and motherhood.

These days it is increasingly common for women with children - whether married , divorced, or single - to work outside the home.

We no longer think that a mother's place is in the home... unless they are on parenting payment!  Why should only some mothers choose not to work and receive a guaranteed taxpayer-funded hand out until their youngest child turns eight?

Parenting payment is an anachronism. Sole parents should only receive the family tax and childcare benefits that all families qualify for. Those who do not work should receive Newstart and be subject to the mutual obligation requirements designed to encourage the unemployed into work.

Stopping the state from 'playing Dad' would remove the incentive to have children - an incentive created by the more generous, and activity-test exempt, parenting payment. This, in turn, would encourage women to take a more responsible attitude to their fertility.

A policy that made combining work and motherhood mandatory would promote Johns' objective of ending welfare-dependent parenting without getting into the messy business of compulsory contraception.



Three current articles below

How a garden pest is slowing Sydney’s progress: Projects stymied by green tape protecting frogs, bats and snails

GREEN tape protecting endangered plants and animals is delaying projects worth billions across the state, with contractors forced to search for snails, count bat colonies and protect pygmy fish.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal green tape delays will impact the north coast’s Pacific Hwy upgrade, while preparations of the Badgerys Creek airport site are likely to be affected by a list of 45 threatened species ranging from eastern bent-wing bat to the red crowned toadlet.

North West Rail Link contractors were told to search for the cumberland plain land snail before construction on the $8.3 billion rail link began.

The snail — which looks similar to the exotic garden snail — has already been identified as a “high risk” threatened species on the Badgerys airport site.

Endangered plants are also afforded high priority on major road and rail projects, with buffer zones put in place, while seeds are being collected on the North West Rail Link for replanting.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt last year slapped 26 conditions on the 155km Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Hwy upgrade that’s already four years behind schedule. Mr Hunt imposed strict conditions to protect the pygmy perch and giant barred frog.

He also ordered the RMS to implement a Ballina Koala Plan despite three separate reports already compiled by experts on fauna, fish and flora. Mr Hunt said the Abbott government was working with NSW to deliver a “one-stop shop for environmental approvals”.

Under the proposed new structure, duplication and red tape would be phased out, but as the months drag on and with no timeline on when the streamlined process will be in place, major projects are expected to be delayed under the old system.

Mr Hunt’s spokesman confirmed the Badgerys Creek Environmental Impact Statement would include threatened species such as birds and bats, which have already been identified as being vulnerable to plane strikes.

NSW Planning Minister Pru Goward said the government was frustrated efforts to “streamline approvals” had been blocked in the Senate.

National Roads & Motorists’ Association president Kyle Loades said the group was concerned the highway upgrade’s 2020 deadline would not be met.

Mr Loades said protecting the environment was important but there was a community “expectation that it is done within reason”. He highlighted the danger of delays to key road projects surrounding Badgerys Creek, saying while it was appropriate to investigate the impact the roads may have on “local colonies of bats and birds”, western Sydney residents should not have to experience the same delays that has slowed down the Pacific Hwy upgrade.

Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott said high environmental standards were important but should not “unnecessarily hold up major projects”.

“Governments at all levels need to redouble efforts to reduce overlap and inefficiency in planning approvals laws, including environmental approvals,” Ms Westacott said.

A Transport for NSW spokesman said three North West Rail Link environmental impact statements were approved between 2012 and 2014 and as part of that process there was no change to the route alignment and construction of the rail project was “ahead of schedule”.

A WestConnex spokeswoman said EIS documents for the M4 widening and M5 interchange pledged to conduct “pre-clearing surveys” prior to construction.

The WestConnex project had searched for threatened species including bats and the green and golden bell frog.


Greens slam conservative Qld  government's casino plan

One wonders what this has got to do with the environment.  Just another anti-people push

THE Newman government's decision to green-light three new casinos for Queensland reeks of backward thinking and a "third world" approach to development.  THAT'S according to the Greens, who have slammed the Liberal National Party on the scheme, two days out from Saturday's election.

The state government is fielding expressions of interest from parties interested in securing approval for one of three new integrated resort developments.  One site is slated for the Queen's Wharf precinct in Brisbane, with two more proposed for regional Queensland.  The government announced last year these approvals would come with casino licences.

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said extra casinos would turn Queensland into "the problem gambling state" of Australia, and instead the government should look at creating jobs in fields like renewable energy and eco-tourism. "Let's actually invest in Queensland's brains and capitalise on our natural beauty," Ms Waters said.

She says if Queenslanders want to gamble they are more than welcome to do so at the state's four existing venues.

Ms Waters' federal colleague Richard Di Natale says the Newman government's commitment to casinos and coal industries, rather than new sectors and technologies, has hallmarks of a "third-world dictatorship".

Local candidate Kirsten Lovejoy says art shows, festivals and new parklands - not poker machines - should be brought in to revamp the Queens Wharf entertainment zone.

Expressions of interest for the Integrated Resort Developments close on March 31.


Peer-reviewed study shatters claims that wind turbines are “safe”

Australia’s leading acoustical engineer Steven Cooper found that a unique infrasound pattern, which he had labelled “Wind Turbine Signature” in previous studies, correlates (through a “trend line”) with the occurrence and severity of symptoms of residents who had complained of often-unbearable “sensations”.

These include sleep disturbance, headaches, heart racing, pressure in the head, ears or chest, etc. as described by the residents (symptoms generally known as Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS), or the euphemism “noise annoyance” – ed). (1)

The acoustician also identified “discrete low frequency amplitude modulated signals” emitted by wind turbines, and found the windfarm victims were also reacting to those.

The Wind Turbine Signature cannot be detected using traditional measuring indexes such as dB(A) or dB(C) and 1/3 Octave bands, concludes his study. Narrowband analysis must be used instead, with results expressed in dB(WTS).

He suggests medical studies be conducted using infrasound measurements in dB(WTS) in order to determine the threshold of what is unacceptable in terms of sound pressure level.

The findings are consistent with the official Kelley studies published in the US more than 30 years ago, which showed that infrasound emitted by early, downwind turbines caused sleep disturbance and other WTS symptoms (2). These studies were shelved, upwind turbines were designed, and the regulatory authorities simply trusted the wind industry’s assertion that the new models did not emit dangerous infrasound. The Cooper study now proves they were wrong.

Another conclusion of his study is that the Danish method used for measuring low-frequency “noise annoyance” near wind farms is inadequate. So are the wind turbine noise standards applied to wind farms in Victoria, Australia and New Zealand, known as New Zealand Standard 6808. Just as inadequate are all other standards regulating “annoyance” near wind farms around the world. They simply don’t take infrasound into account.

The Waubra Foundation, Dr Sarah Laurie, Dr Nina Pierpont, Dr Robert McMurtry, Ms Carmen Krogh, Dr Michael Nissenbaum, Dr Chris Hanning, Dr Jay Tibbetts, Dr Sandy Reider, Dr David Iser, Dr Amanda Harry and scores of other medical practitioners and researchers from around the world are vindicated by this benchmark study, as are the residents reporting WTS symptoms themselves, many of whom have had to regularly or permanently abandon their homes.

Regarding the future, Steven Cooper recommends that further studies be conducted in order to establish “a threshold to protect against adverse impacts.” (1)

He also writes: “the vibration surges described by some residents as disturbance during the shutdown could be attributed to wind gusts exciting resonances of the blades/towers and requires further investigation“. (1)

This is a turning point. The wind industry can no longer claim that their machines do not emit enough infrasound to affect residents, nor that health professionals publicising the problems and calling for further research are causing the suffering, nor that wind farm victims are causing their own woes (the often-used argument that “it’s all in their heads” – i.e. the “nocebo effect”). Yet the wind industry and its abettors had clung to that straw despite the numerous accounts of ill-effects on animals. (3)


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