Sunday, March 29, 2015

Citizenship classes ‘anti-Western’

School students will be taught that Australian citizenship “means different things to different people” in a national civics curriculum that was criticised yesterday for its polit­ically correct tone. Kevin Don­nelly, the education academic who co-chaired the Abbott govern­ment’s national curriculum review, complained yesterday of an “anti-Western bias’’ in schools, citing a history textbook that tells students to compare medieval Christian Crusaders to the 9/11 ­Islamic terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centre.

A word-association game based on the term “jihad’’ is also included in a teacher resource document distributed to the nation’s high schools.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority said yesterday it was working to “rebalance the curriculum’’ in light of the review, which had recom­mended a “back to basics’’ emphasis on literacy and numeracy, more rigorous subject content and a greater focus on Australia’s ­Judeo-Christian heritage.

Plans for a “repetitive and vague’’ teaching of civics drew criticism yesterday from constit­utional law expert Anne Two­mey, who reviewed the curriculum’s civics and citizenship component.

Professor Twomey said many first-year law students came out of high school with no knowledge of or interest in government or polit­ics. “The students I teach exhibi­t an astounding lack of understanding of how government works, and a complete lack of interest,’’ she told The Weekend Australian yesterday. “They’re engaged with Facebook and have no connection with the world they live in. It’s quite alarming.’’

Professor Twomey, who heads the Constitutional Reform Unit at the University of Sydney, said the school curriculum should teach students the nuts and bolts of citizenship, voting, government and democracy. “All the citizenship teaching along the lines of ‘we all have to be nice to each other and work together’ is fine, but it keeps repeating the same line about having to accept other people and get along together that is being pushed­ ad nauseam.’’

Dr Donnelly, who is director of the Education Standards Institute and a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University, said yesterday the history curriculum portrayed Islam in a sympa­thetic manner while criticising aspects of Christianity.

“If you’ve got a clash of civil­is­ations replacing the Cold War as one of the main drivers of international relations, the kids need a balanced view of two of the most significant religions, Christianity and Islam,’’ he said. “If kids don’t get an objective, balanced view, out of that ignorance is what can lead to terrorism.’’

Dr Donnelly said the history curriculum had a “very pejorative view of Christianity but the references about Islam are all positive’’.

“There’s a lot of discussion about slavery implying it was all Euro­pean and American, but no recognition that Islam in the Mediterranean (during medieval times) had one of the most widespread slave trades,’’ he said.

“Muslims were going ashore in what is now France and Italy and taking Christians as slaves.’’

Dr Donnelly said one textbook used in Australian classrooms, the Jacaranda-published SOSE Alive 2, describes the World Trade Centre attackers as “terrorists’’.

It then asks students to answer the question: “Might it also be fair to say that the Crusaders who ­attacked the Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem were also terrorists?’’

Dr Donnelly described as “misleading and one-sided’’ a teacher resource book published by the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies at Melbourne University, in collaboration with the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, in 2010.

The Learning from One Another publication suggests a word-association game using “jihad’’.

“Ask students to respond to the world ‘jihad’ by suggesting anothe­r word they associate with the term,’’ it states. “Emphasise that there are no wrong answers.

“The Macquarie Dictionary, for example, describes it as a ‘spirit­ual struggle’ and for most Muslims the term relates to their personal struggle to follow God’s path.

“At times, it can also involve armed fighting, often in self-­defence, should that be necessary.’’

Dr Donnelly also attacked a “subjective, relativistic’’ definition of citizenship in a draft of the civics and citizenship curriculum, which is awaiting final endorsement from state and territory education ministers. The draft states that “citizenship means different things to people at different times and depending on personal perspectives, their social situation and where they live’’.

“This is reflected in multiple perspectives of citizenship that reflec­t personal, social, spatial and temporal dimensions of citizenship,’’ it says.

Dr Donnelly said the document failed to “state with any certainty what it means to be an Australian’’.

It also ran counter to the citizenship pledge of “loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey’’.

An ACARA spokesman said yesterday the draft document provided “broad direction’’ to guide the writing of the curriculum.

Professor Twomey also questioned the definition of citizenship, which she said ought to be a technical term.

“They’re looking at citizenship as having some sort of sociological meaning in terms of belonging,’’ she said yesterday. “I’m not terribly keen on shoving ideology down people’s throats.

“So long as you equip students with information on how the system of government works, they can work things out for themselves and develop their own ideas.’’

In her official review of the civics curriculum last year, Professor Twomey described it as “repetitive and vague’’ and advised the government to make it “more informative and less ideological’’.

“There are really only so many times that one can be told to be respectful of the identities of others, discuss how different factors affect the formation of identities, and discuss notions of ‘shared values’,’’ her report concluded.

“(The curriculum) should focus on building up the knowledge and understanding of students of the system of government and the skills to participate in it, so that they are empowered to perform their role as citizens in an informed and competent way.’’


Australia's Environment Minister seeks public view on greenhouse gas target

 Australia on Saturday said it was inviting views from the public on what the nation's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target should be post-2020, before it announces the goal mid-year.

As countries prepare for a crucial UN climate meeting in Paris later this year, Australia said it was determined to reduce emissions -- but not via a carbon tax such as that imposed on industry by the previous Labor government.

"We're inviting the public to contribute to the discussion of what our targets should be," Environment Minister Greg Hunt said.

The announcement comes ahead of this year's meeting in Paris, which groups together 195 nations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In a statement with Hunt, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said countries had agreed to propose post-2020 emissions reduction targets well in advance of the November 30-December 11 meeting.

The talks are designed to further the UN goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Australia has previously said it will release its target "mid-year" and it confirmed this on Saturday, meaning it will miss the loose end-March deadline for "those parties ready to do so".

"This government is committed to tackling climate change through direct action measures and will announce Australia's post-2020 emission reduction target in mid-2015," Abbott said in the statement.

With its use of coal-fired power and relatively small population of 23 million, Australia is one of the world's worst per capita greenhouse gas polluters.

In an issues paper seeking submissions by April 24, the Australian government said it would consider projected economic growth and the nation's mineral resources among other issues in coming up with its target.

"The scope and nature of other countries' targets -- so that our target represents Australia's fair share and does not put Australia at a competitive disadvantage to our key trading partners and the major economies" would also be a consideration, it said.

Conservation group WWF-Australia welcomed the public consultation but said the issues paper was out of touch with science.

"Australia's pollution reduction target should be based on what the science is telling us is needed," said climate campaigner Kellie Caught.

"At a minimum this should be consistent with the global goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees."


Gina Rinehart says low iron ore prices mean that government must cut its burdens on the industry

Gina Rinehart has rejected a suggestion from the chairman of Fortescue Metals Andrew Forrest that big mining companies should collude to cap iron ore production.

Speaking in Hong Kong last night, Mrs Rinehart said it was impossible to control the falling iron ore price and customers would go elsewhere if Australia did not supply it at the best price.

Mrs Rinehart's slapdown caps a bad week for Mr Forrest, who is being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission which has warned even the suggestion might risk civil and criminal sanctions on cartels.

"If only we could do something about that falling iron ore price. Well, we can't," Mrs Rinehart said.  "If Australia doesn't supply iron ore there's other countries who will."

The mining billionaire used Mr Forrest's controversial comments to hammer home previous messages that Australia is a high cost country with unnecessary regulation.

"We need to do what we can to cut Australia's high costs. That's where the Australian Government can come in or should come in," Mrs Rinehart said.

"They need to recognise soon that they need to come to the party and recognise falling commodity prices and cut the horrific expense of their regulations and compliance burdens."

Mrs Rinehart's rejection of the proposal follow a stinging rebuke yesterday on the production cap idea from Rio Tinto's chief executive Sam Walsh.

Mr Walsh told a Minerals Council lunch in Melbourne that it was a "harebrained scheme".  "I have no idea what was going through Andrew's mind at the time he raised the issue," Mr Walsh told the conference.

Mr Walsh said he was in favour of free trade and an open economy, and could not see how Mr Forrest's plan would be in the national interest.  "There have been a number of comments about whether Rio colludes with others. Well, let me assure you, we absolutely do not," he said.

Mr Walsh noted that mining was a cyclical industry, and the key is to have top quality resources to survive whatever the global cycle throws at companies.

"I'm not sure the Chinese customers of Andrew appreciated his comments anyway," he said.

Despite the ACCC's investigation, Andrew Forrest is not backing away from his comments.  However, he has told The Australian Financial Review they were private comments, made in a private Shanghai Club under Chatham House rules.

Mr Forrest said the comments were designed to force a more controlled approach to production given that his competitors BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have been ramping up the volume of iron ore pulled from the ground, and a halving of prices.


$600,000 legal bill for public servant's motel sex romp

Taxpayers spent more than $600,000 defending a workers' compensation claim from a "libidinous" public servant injured while she had sex in a motel room on a work trip.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz revealed the cost of the claim on Wednesday as he moved to make changes to the federal workplace insurer aimed at cracking down on "rorting and malingering," by Commonwealth bureaucrats.

Legislation introduced to the Parliament on Wednesday can save federal government agencies up to $50 million in their insurance premiums each year by making sweeping reforms to the much-maligned public service compensation scheme.

The infamous "sex-in-a-motel claim" rumbled on for six years after the woman suffered lacerations to her nose and mouth as well as "psychological injuries" when a glass light fitting was pulled from the wall of the motel room as she had "vigorous" sex with a local man in Nowra in November 2007.

The bureaucrat, whose identity is protected by the courts, eventually lost her case in the High Court but left the Commonwealth with a legal bill topping $600,000, including the costs of the bureaucrat's own lawyers and barristers.

Senator Abetz said on Wednesday that the case highlighted much that was wrong with public sector workers' compensation.

"The flaws in the system were highlighted in lurid terms by the infamous "hotel room sex case", where a Commonwealth public servant successfully sought workers compensation for an injury sustained on a work trip, after hours, while engaging in sexual activity," the minister wrote in The Canberra Times.

"Thankfully the decision was ultimately overturned by the High Court, but at significant cost to the scheme, which had to pay more than $600,000 in legal costs to defend the spurious claim, including for the legal costs of the libidinous claimant."

Senator Abetz said his reforms would help turn Comcare into an insurer that helped get injured public servants back to work, rather than paying them to stay at home.

"The amendments will help get more people back to work and back to health, while at the same time providing extra support for those who really need it," Senator Abetz said.

"Under the changes, there will continue to be compensation benefits until pension age, and lifetime medical where required.

"Rather than reduce the timeframe for support, the Government has chosen to target spending more carefully."


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