Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Australian education blighted by bureaucracy and political interference
The criticisms below by an experienced Australian teacher are fair enough but I have grown tired of comparisons with Finland. As experienced IQ researcher Edward Dutton sets out in detail, Finns have a considerable IQ advantage -- with an average of 105 on some calculations. (Dutton works in a large Finnish university so he is close to the data). And IQ is the best predictor of educational success. We will never do as well as they do. But there is still, of course, plenty of room for improvement
Phew. School holidays. A chance to recover from a typically frenetic first term and take stock. It's been busy, in and out of the classroom.
Inside the classroom, it's been business as usual. Preparing lessons, marking, dealing with parental expectations and trying to blend the diverse backgrounds of our students into harmonious classes.
We've just finished writing reports, making sure that we have reached "outcomes" that are incomprehensible to parents and students but fulfil a bureaucratic need for accountability.
Instead of giving our students marks or, God forbid, rankings, we have disguised their results in generalities so their parents are saved from facing the truth about their children's real progress. We aren't allowed to tell it how it is.
Even though we've been drowning in a sea of paperwork we've done our best to come up for air and actually teach our students. We've tried to give them one-on-one tutelage but the size of our classes has made this impossible.
Then there are the NAPLAN tests that we aren't meant to prepare our students for but do because "bad" results will reflect badly on our schools and give those who want to bag us a free kick.
On top of this we've been filling in the host of forms that make taking students on excursions, to sporting events and into the woods prohibitive.
Into the woods? That's where William Doyle's son was sent when he spent some time in a Finnish school. Doyle wrote that his son was given a compass and told to find his way back to school. In Australia his teachers would be hauled over the coals for abrogating their duty of care let alone failing to comply with risk-management strategies.
Why is this relevant? Because there has been a lot going on outside the classroom too. With an election looming and school funding well and truly on the agenda, we are having yet another debate about how to lift our educational standards.
Politicians and commentators who haven't been inside a classroom since they left school (apart from photo ops) have been pontificating about what is wrong with our schools.
The clarion call is, of course, "we need better teachers".
Better teachers? Better at what? Filling in forms? Disciplining oversized classrooms? Raising standards with inadequate resources? Does this imply that teachers like me aren't any good?
Hot on the heels of this comes the lament that we are falling behind the rest of the world: "why can't we be as good as the Finns?"
I'll tell you why. The Finns don't spend their time arguing about who should fund their schools. They don't waste any ink on public versus private arguments. They don't bag their teachers.
As Doyle discovered they regard their teachers as "the most respected and trusted professionals next to doctors". That's not the case here.
I have yet to find out what is wrong with the training, just that it needs to be "better".
Finnish teachers complete masters degrees. Our unis and colleges are lucky to receive adequate funding to enable them to complete any sort of training. They are forced to lower entrance scores to attract students who will pay the HECS fees that fund the courses. It's Pythonesque.
We want "better" training but we don't want to pay for it.
Not only are Finnish teachers respected and trusted, they are recognised as being the experts when it comes to education because they actually work at the coalface, not in an office.
I haven't even mentioned comparable pay rates because a country that can't find the will and resources to implement a report that every educator in the land backs is never going to pay teachers what they deserve – let alone the kind of salary that will attract the "best and brightest".
We are still arguing over class sizes when the Finns make opportunities for one-on-one teaching by having manageable class sizes.
The Finns have virtually discarded standardised testing. We have become more and more reliant on NAPLAN results for meaningless and costly data that enables us to identify the "best" schools.
We actually have great curriculums, as impressive as anyone's – we just don't have the resources to implement them.
We burden our teachers with piles of pointless assessment procedures that mask our students true results but satisfy bureaucrats' need for "accountability".
As for sending our students into the woods with compasses, we won't let them get a bus to a cricket game without a 10-page risk assessment.
Spare me the comparisons. We know exactly how to lift our educational standards. It was outlined in the widely revered Gonksi report. Until we are capable of putting our children's needs in front of anything else we will continue slipping down the educational league table.
It's got nothing to do with "better teachers". It's got everything to do with "protecting our children from politicians".
NT fracking ban looming
The Northern Territory government says the new regulations it's developing for mining will be more transparent and put the onus on companies to prove they're doing all they can to minimise any risks from fracking.
But environmental groups say companies can't be trusted to do that unless there's something in it for them.
The Senate Select Committee on Unconventional Gas Mining is sitting in Darwin on Tuesday, following previous hearings in Queensland and NSW.
Shale gas fracking is a big issue for the NT as it heads to an election in August, with Labor promising a moratorium if it wins, which has caused uncertainty in the local industry and raised concerns that it will cost more jobs.
There has been a groundswell of anti-fracking sentiment across the NT even as the current Country Liberals government talks up the economic benefits.
It says the science is in, and that there have been no reported instances of fracking in the NT causing any water contamination.
A report it commissioned in 2014 found there was no need for a moratorium if there was proper regulation in place, and the government is developing a new regulatory framework which it says will require companies to go above and beyond to minimise any potential risks, rather than meeting a prescribed minimum standard which may not adequately forsee all potential risks on every project.
"Built into this is significantly more transparency and stakeholder engagement through that approvals process than has ever been present before, so that everyone does have, we believe, a greater level of transparency and therefore hopefully confidence in the processes we're implementing," said Ron Kelly, CEO of the NT Department of Mines and Energy.
But all scientific reports on the practice say the industry is only safe if a robust regulatory regime is in place "and we're not there yet", said David Morris, principal lawyer with the Environmental Defenders Office NT.
Until that is developed, he supports a moratorium, he said.
"The other thing I have significant concerns about is the capacity of the regulator in an environment where we have a huge amount of onus placed on the operator to do the right thing," Mr Morris said.
"I'm not sure that history tells us we should have a great deal of confidence in oil and gas operators doing the right thing, unless they're required to or they see an incentive in doing so."
Labor ignored property negative gearing warnings
Labor proceeded with its controversial policy of limiting negative gearing to new homes despite opposition Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen being warned last July that such a move would push down house prices and hit economic growth.
UPDATE: Liberal minister Josh Frydenberg has ridiculed opposition treasury spokesman Chris Bowen’s “dog ate my homework” excuse for not disclosing his knowledge of economic modelling that predicted curbs on negative gearing would push down house prices and hit economic growth.
The Australian has confirmed that accounting and financial advice firm Bongiorno & Partners last year commissioned BIS Shrapnel to conduct an analysis of the effect of limiting negative gearing to new houses and communicated key findings to Mr Bowen’s staff and then Labor financial services spokesman Bernie Ripoll.
BIS Shrapnel’s report — which found limiting negative gearing to new houses could lead to lower house prices, rent rises of up to 10 per cent, cost the budget more than it saved and cause unemployment to rise — sparked a political furore when it was publicly released last month.
The identity of the firm that commissioned the report was not released at the time, prompting Mr Bowen to claim it was by “an anonymous vested interest”.
In attacking the document, Labor did not reveal it had received the advice last year from Bongiorno & Partners while it was developing its negative gearing policy.
“Whoever’s commissioned it, they know who they are, but then they’ve put it out on the newspaper anonymously, you’ve got to have the courage of your convictions when you’re in these policy debates,’’ Mr Bowen told ABC Radio National on March 3. He claimed that “whoever paid for it” should get their money back.
The Australian has been told the report was intended to be an economic document rather than a political document to inform policy development on the negative gearing issue.
Bongiorno & Partners is the same firm that commissioned research in 1983 as then Labor treasurer Paul Keating considered disallowing negative gearing. The report was ignored and negative gearing was abolished in 1985. In 1987 the then Labor government reinstated negative gearing.
Staff working for Mr Bowen were briefed last July on the key findings, while Mr Ripoll was sent the report after a meeting with Tony Bongiorno, a partner from the accounting firm, at the ALP national conference last July.
After the report was publicly released last month, Labor seized on its finding that neither rents nor dwelling prices displayed any notable change of behaviour or deviation from trend during 1985-87 during Mr Keating’s abolition of negative gearing. But Mr Bowen dismissed its warnings that it could push down housing prices and increase rents.
“It is a poor excuse for analysis,’’ Mr Bowen said on March 3. “It was commissioned by an anonymous vested interest who won’t even put their name to it. I mean that’s how much faith they have in it. And whoever paid for it she (sic) would get their money back because it is an atrocious piece of political propaganda, it is not analysis. It does not bear any scrutiny.’’
When The Australian asked Mr Bowen last month if his office had been briefed on the report, he said: “Lots of vested interests try to lobby the government and opposition about policy. Unlike the government, Labor puts the national interest ahead of commercial self-interest. Scott Morrison may fall for a fatally flawed and compromised report, I do not.
“From the start, media reporting of this BIS ‘analysis’ should have included a discussion of who commissioned it. Failure to do so is irresponsible.”
Asked again yesterday whether his office was briefed on the report, in light of the fact it had been commissioned by Bongiorno & Partners, Mr Bowen said: “From the start, media reporting of this BIS ‘analysis’ should have included a discussion of who commissioned it. It is totally unsurprising to see big negative gearing consultants or property interests commission ‘analysis’ to attack Labor’s sound policy proposals. It doesn’t matter whether it was Bongiorno’s accountancy firm or a property company who commissioned this dodgy research, the reason the Building Industry Services Shrapnel blew up in Scott Morrison’s face was because it didn’t stand up to 30 seconds of scrutiny.
“What happened to Scott Morrison’s public desire when it came to dealing with the ‘excesses’ of negative gearing? Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison can stand with powerful vested interests when it comes to negative gearing reform, Labor will happily stand with young Australians looking for their first home. Unlike the government, Labor puts the national interest ahead of commercial self-interest.”
Labor plans to limit negative gearing to new dwellings from July 1, next year with existing investments grandfathered. After that date existing houses and share income could be offset against investment income but not against wages and salary income.
It also proposed halving the capital gains tax discount on assets held for more than 12 months from 50 per cent to 25 per cent.
The BIS Shrapnel report assumed the change was restricted to limiting negative gearing to new houses and assumed a start date of July 1, this year. It did not factor in the capital gains tax change.
The BIS Shrapnel report predicted higher rents would push 70,000 households into “rental stress’’, where they are paying out more than 30 per cent of their incomes on housing costs.
Median rents of $510 a week would need to rise by $73 a week in Sydney to provide an investor who had lost the benefits of negative gearing with an equivalent return.
Melbourne’s median rent of $370 would have to rise $56, Brisbane’s ($375) by $32, Adelaide’s ($280) by $29, Perth’s ($415) by $30, Canberra’s ($375) by $28, Hobart’s ($280) by $10 and Darwin’s ($465) by $20.
BIS Shrapnel found limiting negative gearing would result in “a short-run correction in real prices due to lower investor demand”.
“However, it will result in higher rents than would be expected with negative gearing,’’ the report said. “Landlords will require higher yields to compensate for the lost negative gearing concessions.”
The report said it was unlikely prices would fall enough to restore rental yields to compensate for lost negative gearing concessions. But a fall in prices would reduce the feasibility of development, causing construction to fall and rental supply to dry up.
Dingo tried to snatch toddler after biting infant on remote WA beach
A dingo has bitten a toddler through her nappy and tried to snatch her from a remote beach in Western Australia's Kimberley region.
The girl's alarmed parents chased the dingo away after the Friday night attack which broke the child's skin but did not draw blood.
The family were having a picnic on the beach while holidaying at Cape Leveque when the dingo attacked, first grabbing the child's teddy bear before biting her.
The child's mother, Christine Dwyer, told ABC radio the dingo tried to drag her daughter backwards but "only got six inches".
"She tried to crawl away and was crying, and it just ran back in and grabbed her on the back and buttocks," Ms Dwyer said.
Resort staff had been very helpful, shooing away the dog and taking them to nurses to clean up scratches and puncture wounds, she said.
The attack comes nearly 36 years after Azaria Chamberlain was killed by a dingo in Uluru in a case that attracted the attention of the nation, after her mother Lindy was convicted of murder and jailed but released after three years when that decision was overturned.
Australia lifts iron ore outlook, forecasting rising prices until 2021
The head of Australia's mining giant BHP Billiton says there's more volatility ahead for Chinese-driven commodities, and it's time to look beyond iron ore.
Australia, the world's top iron ore shipper, is bullish about prices for the next five years even as China produces less steel.
Iron ore will average $US45 ($A60) a metric ton in 2016, the Department of Industry said in a quarterly outlook on Friday, raising its outlook from $US41.30 projected in December. As high-cost miners close, Australian producers will boost shipments, and prices will rise to $US56 next year, $US61.40 in 2018 and keep on rising to $US64.70 in 2021, the department estimated.
The commodity has staged a surprise rebound in 2016 as China's policy makers signalled they are prepared to support growth in the largest user. While the advance has not swayed many sceptics, with banks including Goldman Sachs reiterating bearish forecasts, Australia projects that its giant low-cost producers, together with Brazil's Vale, will claim a greater share of global trade and prices will climb.
In for the long haul: Australia remains bullish on iron ore even as Chinese demand wanes.
In for the long haul: Australia remains bullish on iron ore even as Chinese demand wanes. Photo: West Australian Government
"The increased exports is a result of continued closures in the Chinese domestic industry," said Daniel Hynes, senior commodity strategist at ANZ Banking Group in Sydney. "This is a fair assessment of the market over the medium to longer term," he said, citing the price outlook.
The forecasts by the department refer to spot ore with 62 per cent content free-on-board Australia. The raw material delivered to Qingdao port in China rose 0.2 per cent to $US54.70 a dry ton on Thursday, according to Metal Bulletin. Iron ore soared 23 per cent in the first three months, capping a quarter that witnessed a record one-day jump of 19 per cent on March 7.
As China slows and policy makers shift the economy toward consumption and away from investment, steel production and demand are both shrinking in the country that accounts for about half global supply. Steel output in China will drop to 781 million tons this year from 806 million in 2015, the report forecast. By 2021, China's output would be down to 706 million tons, it said.
Iron ore cargoes from Australia will probably increase to 846 million tons this year and 881 million tons in 2017 as billionaire Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill venture ramps up operations, according to the department. Over the medium term, exports may be supported by an expansion of production from the country's largest producer, Rio Tinto, the department said. By 2021, shipments may be 926 million tons, it said.
The Roy Hill project in Western Australia's ore-rich Pilbara is targeting output of 55 million tons a year. It began exporting in December and last month dispatched its first China-bound cargo.
"New low-cost capacity is expected to be commissioned over the projection period, which is expected to further displace higher-cost producers," the department said. "Growth in supply from Australia in the short term is largely attributable to the anticipated increase in production from Roy Hill."
Australia and Brazil, the two biggest suppliers, will account for about 90 per cent of global trade by 2021, up from 77 per cent last year, it said. Even as demand for steel wanes, China's imports may exceed 1 billion tons this year and remain at about that level for the next five years, according to the report. The country will probably purchase 98 per cent of its iron ore needs from the seaborne market by 2021, up from 83 per cent in 2015.