Friday, August 18, 2006

Australia in the club

The Bush administration has indicated it will support Australia developing a uranium enrichment industry, despite the White House's policy to restrict new entrants to the world nuclear club. In response to John Howard's campaign to ensure the existing nuclear powers do not lock Australia out of future nuclear development, a senior US official has said "special rules" apply to Australia and Canada. Dennis Spurgeon, assistant secretary for nuclear power at the US Department of Energy, said Australia and Canada were likely to be given special consideration because they would play a pivotal role in a new nuclear suppliers club the US is trying to establish. "I think Australia, and Canada for that matter, play a special role in world nuclear affairs because obviously you are two countries that have the majority of economically recoverable uranium resources," Mr Spurgeon said in an exclusive interview with The Australian yesterday.

Asked if this gave Australia and Canada a strong bargaining chip in negotiating their entry into a new nuclear club, he replied: "Exactly. So in any discussion, you have to take into account the facts as they lay." "I think Australia is viewed as a totally reliable and trustworthy country, so I don't think there is any issue there whatsoever."

The Government has launched an inquiry, headed by former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski, to examine the economics of expanding Australia's uranium mining sector, becoming involved in uranium enrichment and establishing a domestic nuclear power industry. It comes after the Bush administration unveiled last year the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which is designed to restrict the number of countries enriching uranium to existing players such as the US, Britain, China, Russia and France.

But under the GNEP, nuclear fuel would be shipped to feed energy-hungry developing countries and the spent fuel taken back to the supplier so it could not reprocessed and used for weapons. Its clear aim is to prevent nuclear proliferation as witnessed in rogue states such as North Korea and as fears grow that Iran's civilian nuclear push is simply a cover for nuclear weapons manufacture. It is also designed to promote a fuel source that does not produce greenhouse gases.

But the plan caught the Howard Government off guard and it was one of the main issues the Prime Minister raised with US President George W.Bush on his trip to Washington in May. Mr Howard then travelled to Canada to discuss the GNEP program with counterpart Stephen Harper. Last month, Mr Howard told The Australian he was not suspicious of the initiative "but I'm keen to keep an eye on it and keen to ensure it doesn't damage Australia's position".

The GNEP policy, as it stands, would freeze Australia out of the enrichment club and presents an awkward policy conflict between Australia and the US. Mr Spurgeon admitted the GNEP policy as envisaged presented an "unusual situation" in relation to Australia and Canada. "Any time you make a general rule you always find maybe it doesn't apply in all circumstances," he said. "The United States depends on, and wants to continue to have, a very close partnership and working relationship with Australia. "We end up with a little bit of an unusual situation here because the policy is really designed to try to help countries like Vietnam, for example, to be able to have the benefit of nuclear energy without needing that kind of enrichment plant and without needing a reprocessing facility."

Keen to assuage fears that Australia would not be dealt a bad hand in the program, Mr Spurgeon added that future discussions with Australia "comes down to the way in which we might jointly agree on a path forward for implementing the principles contained in GNEP". "But it is just that. It's a discussion. It's not a dictation in any manner of speaking. "We are pleased Australia is looking at nuclear energy and does want to be an active partner as we attempt to increase the use of nuclear energy worldwide in a responsible way." He stressed he was not in a position to make a definitive comment on what the administration's position would be on Australia enriching uranium, saying that was for the State Department to comment on. However, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Non-proliferation declined to comment.



Australian history teaching has been labouring under decades of Leftist neglect and misrepresentation so the Federal government is pressing the State governments to restore some balance. Three articles below:

Feds threaten: Restore history study or lose funding

State governments will be under pressure to reinstate history as a compulsory separate subject in schools or risk losing nearly $13 billion in federal funding as a summit of experts meet in Canberra today. But in launching the history summit last night, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop told the 23 participants she was not in favour of "creating some form of an official" history. "We start, however, with a strong view that Australian history should be a compulsory stand-alone subject during some period of high school," she said.

The history summit, which was flagged by The Australian last month, has been convened by Ms Bishop in response to John Howard's call in January for a "root and branch renewal" of the teaching of Australian history. "Debate is healthy, but too often in the past decade the extremes in the history debate obscured the sensible centre and left others - not the least our children - to simply switch off," Ms Bishop said. "But let me assure everyone that we are not in the business ofproducing some form of official history."

The Government is worried that school students are losing any sense of Australian or world history as a result of the rise of cross-disciplinary subjects with titles such as Study of Society and its Environment. The Prime Minister and Ms Bishop want compulsory history subjects taught from kindergarten to Year 10, with Australian history the focus of Years 9 and 10.

Participants in the summit include former NSW premier Bob Carr, conservative commentator Gerard Henderson, historian Geoffrey Blainey and The Australian editor-at-large Paul Kelly. By inviting what she calls the "sensible centre" of the history debate, Ms Bishop hopes to avoid the summit becoming hostage to the "history wars".

But in an opinion article in a Melbourne newspaper on Tuesday, Melbourne University history professor Stuart McIntyre, who was invited to the summit but cannot attend, suggested it would endorse the view that "only one story can be told and that it should be drilled into all young Australians".

But Henderson dismissed that argument yesterday. "I think the presence of Geoffrey Bolton or Bob Carr or Inge Clendinnen indicates this is going to be a discussion which will focus on the importance of narrative history, but also looking at different traditions," he said. "Both the conservative tradition and the social democratic tradition have an interest in getting our history right and seeing it is not captured by ideologues."

The summit should give Ms Bishop the ammunition she needs to make stand-alone history a condition of the next four-year education funding agreement with the states - expected to be worth nearly $13 billion for state schools and $29 billion for private schools. Those at the meeting will also advise her on the additional resources that will be required, which could include online curriculum materials and brush-up courses for teachers. In a pointed reference to the school syllabus in Queensland, Ms Bishop said: "History is not peace studies. "History is not social justice awareness week. Or consciousness-raising about ecological sustainability. History is history, and shouldn't be a political science course by another name."


History should be compulsory

Another report of Ms Bishop's remarks:

Australian history should be a compulsory, stand-alone subject at some stage during high schooling, Education Minister Julie Bishop said last night. Opening Australia's History summit, Ms Bishop said she hoped the meeting would help to define the body of historical knowledge that should be taught to all Australian students. "Yes, there will be controversy but I would hope we can find agreement on the main currents and big themes in our national story," she said. "I believe that students should be given a good grounding in key dates, facts and events of Australian history. "They should be organised within the framework of a narrative or story. "Big themes like the role of enlightenment values, such as scientific progress, religious freedom and secular government in shaping our colonial experience. "The development of parliamentary democracy, up to and including Federation, should be taught.

"So too should the impact on our national consciousness and social institutions of involvement in global conflicts - including the first and second World Wars. "I want to echo what the Prime Minister said in January about the importance of indigenous history as part of the whole national inheritance. "We need to think seriously and speak honestly about how we bring this inheritance to life and weave it into the national story."

Ms Bishop said Australians also needed to ask themselves why so few children knew the nation's rich and unique national story. "Whatever the reasons, the situation is not good enough," she said. Ms Bishop added that "by the time they reach leaving age, most students in Australian schools will have experienced a fragmented, repetitive and incomplete picture of their national story". Many teachers at primary and secondary school level were left floundering in a "local patchwork curriculum where Australian history is often regarded as an optional extra".

The Canberra summit is being attended by some of Australia's leading historians including Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Professor Geoffrey Bolton, chancellor of Murdoch University; Ms Jackie Huggins, deputy director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at the University of Queensland; and former NSW Premier Bob Carr


The past is prologue: Australian history should not be taught as tragedy or farce

An editorial from "The Australian" newspaper below

Addressing the dinner opening today's Australian History Summit last night, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said: "History is not peace studies. History is not social justice awareness week. Or consciousness-raising about ecological sustainability. History is history."

She is exactly right. Yet for too long Australian history, when it is taught at all, has been used as an excuse to indoctrinate students in politically correct fads rather than give them a solid grounding in the factual and narrative history of their nation. In many states, Australian history is taught as part of something called Studies of Society and the Environment. In the ACT, "gender equity" is a key "curriculum component" informing what the territory's educators call the study of "time, continuity and change". Most other jurisdictions are no better, replacing history with outcomes-based education gobbledegook.

The end result is students turned off by history who graduate without any concrete sense of how Australia became the nation it is today. The only exception is NSW, where, thanks to former premier Bob Carr, history is taught as a discrete subject in secondary schools by teachers who have actually studied the stuff. In bringing together a raft of historians and thinkers in Sydney today to discuss the teaching of history, the Howard Government is sending a clear message: our history matters, has been ignored for too long and deserves to be taught as a stand-alone subject to every Australian child.

From the moment it was announced, the summit has been targeted by left-wing historians fretting that the push for the teaching of narrative history - names, dates and context - is a plot to indoctrinate unsuspecting children with Liberal Party orthodoxy. Nothing could be further from the truth. And in attacking the summit, these critics reveal much about themselves. Guy Rundle laughably wrote on the Crikey website that the summit's participants were strongly biased toward the conservative Right. But Mr Rundle is so far to the Left that when he looks to his right he sees 95 per cent of the population polishing their jackboots. He even derided Mr Carr, as well as this newspaper's Paul Kelly, as "right activist(s)", something that was surely news to them.

Meanwhile, the University of Melbourne's Stuart Macintyre complained that the history controversy stemmed from a "pernicious campaign" waged by The Australian against postmodernism and moral relativism. To that we plead guilty: the teaching of Australian history is indisputably taught from postmodern perspectives. Mr Macintyre, a former communist and intellectual father to a generation of postmodernists, bears partial responsibility for this. It was, after all, Mr Macintyre who once famously applauded the overthrow of "the tyranny of the fact".

Parents and their children deserve better than curriculums guided by historians whose motto is to never let the truth get in the way of a political agenda. There is no golden age of Australian history teaching to harken back to. Fifty years ago, Australian history was taught very much through a British prism, and children in suburban Sydney or Melbourne were taught more about the Stuart kings than the prime ministers of their own nation. And the experience of Australia's original inhabitants, both good and bad, was written out of the history books completely.

But the movement to correct these errors and injustices that began in the 1980s was fundamentally flawed. In replacing the British perspective with an essentially postmodern one, Australian history as it is now taught is simply a story of victims and oppressors. Thus James Cook's landing is no longer the finish line of a historic voyage but rather the beginning of a long and shameful narrative of invasion and dispossession. And Anglo-Saxon Australians, while treated as the ignoble conquerors of a 40,000-year-old civilisation at home, are overseas portrayed as little more than cogs victimised by the greater evil of the British imperial war machine. A relentless and negative focus on the "stolen generations" ignores the fact that many Aborigines received education and training as a result of their removal, which itself was part of the standard practice of Christian churchmen of the time. And indigenous culture is sentimentalised to the point where its more brutal or negative aspects cannot be taught. These are all flawed efforts to impose today's values on yesterday's events. Australia and the world finds itself in a uniquely dangerous moment in history; one that the students of today will inherit. They will be far better equipped if they understand the present cannot change the past, but that knowledge of history can help build a better future.


Blacks get private property rights

Three decades of watertight Aboriginal land rights ended in the Federal Senate yesterday in a revolution expected to impact on Queensland indigenous communities. Northern Territory Aborigines will now be permitted to "sell" off entire townships on 99-year leases after the overhaul of the historic NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act introduced by former prime minister Gough Whitlam. The new regime is designed to kick start an enterprise culture in Aboriginal communities and may pave the way for the Queensland Government to introduce similar measures.

But James Ensor from global community aid organisation Oxfam has described the legislation as "deeply unpleasant". And the Federal Opposition said it displayed a fundamental lack of respect for Aborigines and their property rights.

Queensland Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Mickel said he wanted to look at the new federal laws more closely before commenting. However, both Mr Mickel and Premier Peter Beattie supported Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson's calls for more private land ownership among Aborigines as the path to economic empowerment.

The laws, still subject to minor amendment, allow NT Aborigines to lease parcels of land to an NT Government entity which in turn can sub-lease the land to others. Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough says the laws are voluntary. But critics fear land grabs by developers and bribery by governments who could demand a lease in exchange for essential services.

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation fear a precedent has been set for states to follow. "The real difference between these laws and the laws of the past 30 years is that NT Aborigines do not support them," a spokesman said. Labor's Indigenous Affairs spokesman Chris Evans said the Government had displayed a fundamental lack of respect for traditional land owners.


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