Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Crucifix banned

A Christian teenager has been banned from wearing a crucifix by her school. Jamie Derman, 17, told News Ltd newspapers she was stunned when told to remove her crucifix or she could be suspended. A Sunbury Downs Secondary College student, Ms Derman's cross is outlawed as part of the multicultural college's new rules on jewellery and dress. But churches have criticised the ban, saying it discouraged students' religious aspirations.

Ms Derman said she felt discriminated against. "I am angry, confused and upset," she said. "I honestly believe I should be allowed to acknowledge (my Christianity). Being told to take it off hurts. It cuts really deep." The cross had sentimental value because her baptism gifts were missing, Ms Derman said. "I can't understand why it is not all right for me to wear a cross," she said. "I honestly felt like crying."

Her father, Gordon, said the ban was the equivalent of ordering a female Muslim student to take off a religious head dress. "Nobody should take offence to anybody wearing a religious sign," Mr Derman said. "She has a right to wear it. I believe it is discriminatory. If we had a Muslim girl come wearing a headscarf, nobody would say `boo' about it."

A reasonable demonstration of one's faith was something Australians should rejoice in, said Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne auxiliary bishop Christopher Prouse. "People's religious aspirations need to be respected," Bishop Prouse said.

Sunbury Downs principal Brett Moore said teachers had enforced the new dress code. "It is not my decision, it is the policy," he said. "Necklaces should not be visible."


Leftist calls for merit pay for teachers

At midnight last night, Australia lost another of our youngest and brightest teachers to the British education system. Luke Hall, 23, a maths and science teacher from country Victoria, hopped on a jet for a new life working in London. His departure and that of thousands of other teachers each year has led to calls by Labor backbencher Craig Emerson for a model that would allow all state school principals to pay teachers more money for good performance instead of seniority.

According to previously unpublished data obtained by Dr Emerson, Australia is experiencing an exodus of teachers, with 8400 teachers leaving our shores in 2004-05, twice the number who left a decade earlier. Even after taking account of foreign teachers coming to the country, Australia has lost more than 18,000 teachers in the past decade, whereas before then there had been a small net gain.

Dr Emerson says that to stem the trend, Australia must introduce performance pay in all state schools. Under his model, which will anger unions, principals would get more money to attract and retain the best teachers. "The principal could offer extra money to a teacher or teachers that the principal wants to retain, or offer extra money to teachers that the principal wants to attain from other schools," he said. "The principal knows who the best teachers are because other schools are after them."

Under Dr Emerson's plan, the state education departments would enter into an arrangement with principals to give them "greater discretion to pay the best teachers more". Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has already proposed granting cash bonuses to teachers who produce outstanding results. But Dr Emerson opposes her model, arguing it is too bureaucratic. [Good to hear from a Leftist]

Emerson's book Vital Signs, Vibrant Society, launched in April, contains a suggestion that extra money be given to needy schools to attract teachers at higher wages, but he did not go as far as to suggest that all school principals be given more.

After six months working at Bright P-12 College, 310km northeast of Melbourne, Mr Hall will join a growing number of teachers leaving for better pay and different experiences. Mr Hall said he felt teachers were undervalued in Australia. "When I got the contracts I thought 'Jeez, that's all right'. It's much better than what I get here," he said. [He might get a shock when he finds what unruly pupils he gets sent to work with in Britain -- "inner-city" students] I think it would get more frustrating (the pay) as I go into it longer. I think that's why a lot of people tend to drop out of it after a few years."

Dr Emerson said at a time of acute skill shortages, Australia could not afford the ever-worsening exodus of teachers. Most teachers start on a salary of about $43,000 to $45,000, with NSW teachers receiving slightly more, averaging $48,000 to $50,000. The incremental rises stop after eight or nine years, reaching a top salary of about $68,000.


Federal bias against sick men in Australia

Men are being denied free access to a cancer drug, even though it is available to female patients. Women fighting breast cancer can get the chemotherapy drug Taxotere (docetaxel) free on prescription under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. But men with prostate cancer who don't have private medical insurance have to pay almost $3000 for each treatment. Some patients need up to 20 treatments, making it impossibly expensive for many. Taxotere is the only chemotherapy drug proven to extend the lives of men with incurable prostate cancer.

Leading urologist Prof Tony Costello said 3000 men died every year from the disease in Australia. "A significant proportion would be candidates for the drug," he said. Tony Gianduzzo, Queensland chairman of the Urological Society of Australasia, agreed: "It would be nice to have it available for those men who would benefit."

They agreed men were victims of their failure to lobby as effectively as women did. "Men have been pretty poor advocates for their own cancer," Prof Costello said. "It's up to people like us who have to look after these folk to lobby for the drug to be made available on the PBS."

Taxotere was made available for breast cancer patients in 1997. Two years ago, it was discovered that it could also be used to treat men with malignant prostates - the biggest cause of cancer deaths in males. The treatment has been found to extend the lives of prostate patients by an average two months more than standard treatments, and up to two years in some cases. For breast cancer patients, the average increase was 2.2 months.

Federal Labor frontbencher Wayne Swan, who was successfully treated for prostate cancer five years ago, backed the push for the drug to be made freely available. "There is a strong case for the listing of this drug. I would give the doctors all the support I possibly could," said the Member for Lilley, on Brisbane's northside. "It certainly looks like there is a double standard in its use, and you can only assume the decision was financial, not medical."

A spokeswoman for Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said an application by the manufacturers of Taxotere for it to be added to the PBS for prostate cancer treatment had been rejected. "It's up to them to try again," she said. "The Government doesn't go touting for drug companies to apply." The Federal Government spent $157 million in 2004-05 subsidising several breast cancer treatments.


Taxpayers pay to re-create a swamp

Taxpayer funds will be used to buy back environmental water flows from irrigators to help restore one of Australia's most environmentally significant wetlands. Federal Parliamentary Secretary Malcolm Turnbull yesterday announced the allocation of $13.4 million from the Water Smart Australia scheme to free about 15,000 megalitres of water for the internationally recognised Macquarie Marshes in central NSW. The funding will be matched by the NSW Government, which in July allocated funds to buy back 30,000 megalitres of water for the marshes.

The marshes have become little more than semi-arid bush as water flows have dwindled through the 150,000ha of river red gums and reeds since 2001. They are the victim of competition for land and water from the nearby grazing and cotton industries coupled with drought. As the drought has worsened, the two primary producers have been feuding over who is to blame for the environmental mess. Graziers are accused of over-stocking and siphoning off water for their own use without paying for it, while cotton growers are accused of coveting an over-allocation from the upstream Burrenjong Dam.

Mr Turnbull was joined yesterday by local MP and former National Party leader John Anderson to seek a compromise that will effectively mean taxpayers fund the water flows needed to help the marshes. Mr Turnbull said the scheme would provide a model for the Water Smart program to address other environmental problems around the nation. "Our landscape is designed to cope with significant fluctuations in rainfall, but there is no doubt we are going through a drying and heating period that means we are going to have the problem of coping with less rain. We've got to be careful not to exacerbate it."


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