Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Howard: Arab world 'must accept' Israel

The Arab world must recognise Israel's right to exist if the world is to ever live in peace, Prime Minister John Howard said today. But he cautioned that Israel must accept the establishment of a Palestinian state if the region and the world is to move forward. In a keynote speech to a security conference in Canberra today, Mr Howard also warned the United Nations must take a firm line with Iran over the country's push to develop a nuclear capability if the international organisation was to reassert its credibility.

Mr Howard said that the aftermath of the war in Lebanon demanded that all nations refocus on lasting peace in the Middle East. "There must be unconditional acceptance throughout the entire Arab world, without exception, of Israel's right to exist in peace and security behind recognised borders," he said. "The entire Arab world - including Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas and in addition Iran - must give up forever the idea that the Israelis can be driven into the sea."

The prime minister said that Iran's nuclear ambitions must be brought to heel by a united international community. "Iran's behaviour - in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 - needs to be met with resolve by the international community," Mr Howard said. "While Australia is committed to finding a diplomatic solution, the UN needs to act quickly and decisively to ensure its credibility."

Mr Howard said that Australia's fight against terrorism would take many years and his government would take the front foot in the war on terror around the world. "The most immediate security threats to Australia in 2006 come from the interlocking networks of terror, arms proliferation and fundamentalist ideology," he said. "The struggle against Islamic terrorism and violent extremism will be a generational one."

Mr Howard said Iraq and Afghanistan were vital battlegrounds for Australia in the war against terrorism, and warned coalition forces had long, hard fights ahead of them.


Citizenship test backed by the people

Australians overwhelmingly support a test for citizenship that includes not only an English language test but also questions about our history and way of life. Despite fears that a proposed citizenship quiz for migrants using English would discriminate against non-English speakers, more than three-quarters of Australians agree there should be such a test. According to a Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, 77 per cent of respondents agreed there should be a test on language, Australia and our way of life. A majority, 53 per cent, supported the idea "strongly" and only 19 per cent were against such a test.

During the past two weeks, when the proposed citizenship test and the issue of "Australian values" have dominated the political debate, the Coalition's support has improved but the ALP still holds a clear margin on two-party preferences. The Coalition's primary vote rose two percentage points to 41per cent and Labor's vote went from 41 to 42 per cent. Although Kim Beazley faced strong criticism from within his own ranks over his support for a citizenship test, the ALP has kept a 53 to 47 per cent lead over the Coalition on second preferences. The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader both supported a citizenship test that involved a quiz on Australian values.

The Government has released a discussion paper, which raises the prospect of doubling the citizenship qualifying period to four years and demanding that migrants sit a quiz that tests English language as well as a knowledge of Australian history and institutions. The Government has not put forward a draft test but Mr Howard said it would not be "a tablet from the mountain" and there would be a commonsense approach taken.

Mr Beazley has backed off from his earlier suggestion that visitors to Australia, including tourists, would have to sign a pledge on their visas upholding Australian values. After being criticised within his own party for the suggestion, Mr Beazley said any such test would apply to people intending to be "permanent residents".

The Newspoll survey found clear majority support for a detailed citizenship test in every demographic group, with the highest levels of support among the oldest voters and Coalition supporters. Nine out of 10 Coalition supporters backed the idea of a test and only 7 per cent were against. The lowest levels of support were among those aged 18-34 and Labor voters, both on 70 per cent. Regional areas showed strong support, with 80 per cent backing a citizenship test with an English component, compared with 75per cent in the capital cities.


Education reform: A clarion call for the sake of our kids

There is a sleeping issue at the next election for a political party with intellectual courage-the corruption of the social sciences curriculum in our schools. The article published in The Weekend Australian by Professor Ken Wiltshire from the University of Queensland (In defence of the true values of learning) should become a clarion call for vigorous intervention by the national government on behalf of the interests of parents and children.

There is a golden lesson from the History Summit held in Canberra several weeks ago-once the truth of what is happening in our schools is documented and tabled on the bar of public opinion, the reform is irresistible. There is no substitute for transparency. Most state governments surrendered this responsibility many years ago. In some cases this retreat assumes epic proportions. As Wiltshire says, Western Australia's experiment in outcomes-based education has failed and Queensland has "absolutely no external assessment in the entire preparatory year to Year 12 spectrum". This means they have "no way of knowing what standards their schools are achieving".

The decision from the History Summit was that history should be re-established in schools as a core academic discipline. This is anathema to progressivist education philosophy and the decision will be fought by the progressive lobby. Yet history should be the start not the end of this cultural conflict, pivotal to the way children are taught. Addressing the impact of the critical literacy movement in the English curriculum, Wiltshire says: "Key aspects of their mantra include deconstructing texts; no longer considering texts to be timeless, universal or unbiased; focusing on the beliefs and values of the composer; and working for social equity and change".

In his assessment of what this movement is providing Australian school students, Wiltshire says: "There is not much of a positive nature in this line-up: it is at best negative and at worst nihilistic. School is for basics and knowledge, certainly accompanied by critical thinking, but not in a milieu where all is relative and there are no absolutes for young people who do not have the intellectual maturity to cope with the somewhat morbid rigour of constant criticism and questioning of motives. If you go on deconstructing for long enough you will become a marshmallow or a jelly".

At heart, critical literacy theory is an ideological construct. It is politics disguised as education. It is rationalised as assisting students to become "active participants in a democratic society". The truth about the critical literacy agenda was exposed 18 months ago when the President of the NSW English Teachers Association, Wayne Sawyer, said the Howard Government's 2004 election win showed that teachers were failing in their mission. The issue here is an ideological disposition that has no place in the schools (nor does any conservative agenda with the same rigidity). The reality is that critical literacy theory survives in the English curriculum only because it is not subject to the transparent analysis valued by a democratic society.

Over the past several years the Federal Government has proposed a series of curriculum changes. It needs to redouble those efforts and propose new mechanisms to review and reform school curriculum. The State Governments are the guilty parties and they know this. The discredited defence mechanisms that this is about Canberra's interference or John Howard trying to impose his own values just won't wash anymore. This is about our kids and it should be treated with urgency and on merit.


A Greenie dictatorship?

Every property in the Waverley local government area in Sydney may be required to install solar roof panels under a plan being considered by the council to make it "a world leader in climate change solutions". The council's sustainability committee "will explore ways to integrate key environmental targets and initiatives throughout the organisation and the Waverley community". The committee will comprise councillors and experts on building sustainability and climate change.

The Mayor of Waverley, Mora Main, put up the idea in a mayoral minute, unanimously supported by councillors, directing the committee to advise on maximising solar energy. "Moving towards a 'solar Waverley' may soon see all our rooftops sporting solar panels," she said. The committee will advise on:

* A brief for a study to assess and characterise the total potential for rooftop solar energy in Waverley.

* The application of solar hot water and space heating, passive solar design and photovoltaics to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

* Changes to the council's planning rules to prevent overshadowing of useable solar-capture space on neighbouring structures.

* Regulation to ensure development applications maximise the uptake of solar power.

The council says each municipality has a responsibility to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. "As developments in solar technology take it ever closer to cost competitiveness with coal, distributed renewal energy becomes a realistic component of Australia's energy supply," it says in a background paper.

Waverley's move will not find favour with everyone. The Productivity Commission recommended in a report on energy efficiency last year that federal, state and territory governments and the Australian Building Codes Board should examine ways to stop local governments creating variations in minimum energy efficiency standards for buildings. The Federal Government has supported this finding. "Determining effective energy efficiency requirements for houses requires specialist knowledge that is more likely to be available to national bodies than to local governments," the commission said. "The effects of such requirements are predominantly experienced outside of the local government area. In addition, the costs associated with local government area-based variations in energy efficiency standards are potentially higher than for state and territory-based ones. This is because they can cause a higher degree of regulatory fragmentation and uncertainty."

In an earlier report on building regulation the commission warned against the erosion of national consistency of building regulation by local governments through their planning approval processes. A feature of an agreement being developed between the federal, state and territory governments on the building code will - "as far as practicable" - restrict any changes to the code to those arising from geographical, geological and climate factors. The agreement provides for state and territory governments to seek similar commitments from local governments. The Federal Government does, however, recognise the role of local government in developing and trialling new approaches to address climate change "in a context of cost-benefit assessment".

Source. For more Greenie nuttiness from Waverley, see here or here

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