Thursday, October 12, 2006

Islamic insanity in Australia

A religious feud between a Muslim father and his teenage daughter may have sparked a bloody domestic dispute on the Gold Coast which left the man's wife dead and him fighting for life in hospital. Police are investigating suggestions the violence erupted after the 17-year-old girl told her father she wanted to opt out of the Islamic faith and convert to Christianity. The girl's mother is believed to have stepped in to protect her daughter, only to be fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife. Neighbours reported hearing "blood-curdling" screams before the hysterical girl ran half-naked from their Southport home unit covered in scratches.

Police later found the body of the girl's mother, 41, inside the blood-smeared unit. Her husband was taken to the Gold Coast Hospital with a stab wound to the chest. He was last night in a critical condition under police guard.

Neighbour Caitlin Dalton was taking out the rubbish about 7pm on Monday when she heard "loud, huge, terrifying screams" coming from the unit complex. "She (the teenager) was yelling, 'Help me, help me, they're trying to kill me'," Ms Dalton said. "Everybody heard the screams but we couldn't work out which unit they were coming from. Then this girl emerged in the stairwell hysterical and crying. "Her clothes had been ripped off, she was just in her underwear and she had quite severe scratches down her arm and across her back."

Ms Dalton said that as residents tried to comfort the sobbing girl, she told how she had wanted to "convert from the Islam religion . . . and obviously her father didn't handle it very well". "She said her parents were really strict," Ms Dalton said.


Department-store chain takes legal action against feminist

David Jones has begun legal action against a feminist academic who this week accused major retailers of "sexualising" children in their advertising. Furious David Jones chief executive Mark McInnes telephoned the Canberra-based Australia Institute yesterday, demanding it remove all references to his company from a report on "corporate pedophilia". The report claimed that David Jones, Myer and high-end children's labels Fred Bare and Frangipani Rose "sexualised" children by posing them like adults, with hips tilted and lips slightly parted. David Jones threatened that unless its name was removed from the report on the institute's website within two hours, it would instruct its lawyers to take action.

"It was pure corporate bullying," said Australia Institute director Clive Hamilton. Mr McInnes confirmed that the call took place but said: "It was not bullying. It was a courtesy call, which is more than they offered us. We were protecting our reputation and our legal rights. "They have accused us of something that we regard as abhorrent. We will not be used by them to further their agenda."

The Australia Institute report, by academic Emma Rush, caused an outcry as merchants, advertisers and publishers rushed to protect their corporate images. As well as photographs of child models, Dr Rush was critical of the bralette sold by some stores; kiddie lip gloss called Wet Shine advertised in Barbie magazine; and videos shown on Video Hits with women writhing about in short shorts. Bralettes are bandeau-style bras sold to eight- and nine-year-old girls. "The stores say there is demand because girls are reaching puberty earlier, and because girls are bigger now, and they need a bra earlier," Dr Rush said. "But there is no doubt they market these bras to children."

Sydney mother Louise Greig was baffled and upset to be included in the "corporate pedophilia" report for photographing her daughter Georgina to promote her business, "tween" clothing label Frangipani Rose. Ms Greig said the report said "much more about Dr Emma Rush than it says about us". "The idea that you can look at a photograph that I've taken of my own daughter and think, that's pornography - what goes though that woman's mind?" she said. "What kind of planet does she live on, that she would think such sick thoughts?"

Ms Greig said she felt ill whenever she thought about the way Dr Rush had described her nine-year-old daughter as "leaning forward, with legs astride. Both pose and angle are reminiscent of porn shots". "The more I think about how the authors have psychoanalysed and viewed my daughter's photo in a pornographic sense makes me feel sick to the stomach," Ms Greig said. "I feel defamed and vilified but thankfully my daughter is too young and innocent to understand that she has been exploited by Emma Rush."

Dr Rush said the children in various catalogues and magazines were instructed to adopt "come-hither" expressions, with legs apart and slightly open, glossy lips. She said boys in David Jones ads "are smiling, looking like fairly natural children". But "four of the six girls" in one David Jones shoot "are pouting" or have "sultry expressions". Mr Hamilton said the institute "undertook the research into sexualisation of children in the public interest and in response to widespread concern about the issue".


Curriculum choice would force reform

Canberra should engineer an end to the states' monopoly control of the syllabuses taught in schools

If a high quality, teachable curriculum were drafted by Australia's best minds and most outstanding teachers, it would no doubt be highly attractive to most Australian parents. Julie Bishop is leading a crucial national debate about curriculum standards. Her determination to improve curriculum is to be applauded, and hopefully the federal Government will oversee the development of new high quality curriculum available for adoption around Australia.

The Australian Government is probably the only government that can bring together the necessary elements to achieve this. Its greatest challenge, however, will be to have such a curriculum actually taught in schools run by the states. The temptation, which brought former education minister John Dawkins unstuck in the early 1990s, is to negotiate the curriculum with the same people used by the states. This would sink the enterprise from the start. There will be no high quality national curriculum if it has to be negotiated with the states and territories, and there will be no purpose in developing such a curriculum unless schools are allowed to offer it.

The answer is to end each state's insistence on a monopolistic position in its schools for its own curriculum. The concept of one curriculum imposed on every school is outdated. Bishop is right to say a national interest in curriculum is not a matter of replacing the states' monopoly with a national monopoly. This will prove to be the key policy point. In developing its curriculum the Australian Government may well need to use its power to require the states and territories to permit schools to choose any accredited curriculum, including one developed by the national government. In doing so, Canberra will gain the freedom to develop the curriculum it wants, using its own preferred people and processes, the best it can find, and avoiding reliance on the states being willing to have the national curriculum replace their own.

By requiring the states to abolish the privileged position of their own curriculums - developed by people the community has never heard of - the federal Government will be free to develop the curriculum it believes will gain the respect of most parents (and teachers) and have that curriculum adopted by schools. Giving schools the choice will also sidestep the risk that a future national government will simply replace one national curriculum with another, perhaps with one that shares the flaws evident in present state offerings. If schools have the right to choose the curriculum they will offer, the choices of parents will determine the issue, not the decisions of one political level or one bureaucracy.

More important still, allowing schools to choose their curriculum will end the capacity of any fad or ideology to gain control of the mechanisms for developing curriculum, thereby imposing itself on every school and student. The prospect of having a monopoly over the school curriculum is surely one of the great motivating forces that attracts the faddists and the ideologues.

Ending the monopoly of state curriculums will establish accountability by schools to parents for the curriculum they teach, an accountability parents would welcome, and one very much in harmony with the federal Government's philosophy of choice in education. Schools will no longer be able to blame a curriculum imposed on them for student and parent dissatisfaction.

Enabling schools to choose a national curriculum if they wish also goes a considerable way to solving the problem, identified by the Prime Minister, of families moving interstate and finding a substantial lack of continuity in what their children are being taught. If schools in each state are free to choose the national curriculum, parents moving interstate will be able to choose a national curriculum school whose curriculum will be the same as that of many schools in other states. Ending the monopolistic position of state curriculums is not quite as radical as may appear. The principle of parent choice of curriculum has already been accepted.

Instead of the state curriculum, schools can now use the International Baccalaureate, and that curriculum has not been negotiated with the unions or the states. It is an internationally accepted curriculum with high academic standards that some students prefer to do because its assessment is recognised internationally. It is not a big jump to allow schools to choose a national curriculum as well. The states would resist giving parents the option of a high quality national curriculum at their peril, and the Australian Government would doubtless welcome a political battle on the point.

The case of the IB is instructive, because it shows it is possible for schools to offer more than one curriculum. It also shows that schools can use curriculum to attract parents and establish a reputation for quality. Choice of curriculum by schools does not mean that we have to accept lack of comparability across the country. The issue here is not curriculum, but standards and assessment. The other element in the package of reform in this area needs to be national standards and national assessment. We already have national literacy and numeracy standards. National assessments can provide key mechanisms of accountability, and can be designed to cope with curriculum diversity. There are good international examples that make the point.

For decades, Australian students wanting to study in the US have sat something called the Graduate Record Examination that has tested their general abilities and their learning in areas such as maths and science and the humanities. The tests have had enough credibility to be significant in admission to the best universities in the world. These are assessments. They are not curriculums, and they assume that students have not studied the same curriculum. They are designed to find out what students have learned against common standards from the enormous variety of curriculums they have actually studied.

We could have national assessments of that kind in Australia, and the same assessment could be administered in every state and territory. Curriculum choice is therefore entirely compatible with assessment systems that enable parents and the community to determine what and how well students have learned, and to compare the performances of schools and school systems.

There are real possibilities for the production of new high quality curriculums outside the historic institutional battles between school systems, teacher unions and universities, drawing on the best minds in each subject area, and the best evidence-based teaching experience. In principle this can be done by private think tanks and organisations as well as (or better than) by government authorities. It is most likely to happen if the principle of choice is further extended in relation to curriculum.


Some Australian intellectual history

By Greg Sheridan

The battle against totalitarianism, the great Czech novelist Milan Kundera once remarked, is the battle of remembering against forgetting. It is remarkable how much, in Australia, the great political battle of the second half of the 20th century - the battle for democracy against communism - has been forgotten. And if it is remembered at all, it is the people who fought for tyranny - the communists, the pro-communists and the friends of the communists - who are lionised in endless ABC documentaries, affectionate memoirs and taxpayer-funded conferences.

If you stood up for Stalin, as Manning Clark did, if you mounted the barricades for Mao, like former external affairs head John Burton, if you cheered for Ho Chi Minh's right to liquidate the Vietnamese landlord class and his successors' right to build a gulag of re-education camps, as Jim Cairns did, then you are a moral hero.

If, on the other hand, you tried to help Soviet or Polish dissidents, took an interest in the plight of Catholicism in China, cared about non-communist Vietnamese, then you were clearly a black-hearted reactionary, doling out your lies only for corporate gold and acting ultimately in the service of the CIA.

Thus it was an act of historic truth-telling that John Howard lavished praise on Quadrant magazine at its 50th anniversary party this week. Quadrant has always been a small magazine, its circulation never rising above a few thousand. It got fitful, minor support from a few corporates and, as it turned out, unknowingly, a tiny subsidy from the CIA; perhaps the best use the CIA ever put its money to. But its impact has been immense. Many people contributed to Quadrant's success, none more so than Richard Krygier. A Jewish refugee from Poland, he embodied everything that was grand and magnificent about Quadrant.

Quadrant came into being as a literary and intellectual magazine with a strongly anti-communist bent. Its pages were always disputatious and full of internal bickering; there was never an orthodox line. But its larger vision, of the glory of Western civilisation, integrated both its anti-communism and its celebration of culture at the highest level. These were the two great qualities of Quadrant: that it subjected communism in all its manifestations to the most searching intellectual scrutiny and that it always aimed at the best of high culture.

Quadrant was a child of the Cold War. As such, it was a wartime alliance of not naturally compatible allies. There were deeply intellectual European social democrats such as Krygier and Frank Knopfelmacher, orthodox Catholics such as James McAuley and B.A. Santamaria, anti-communist trade unionists such as Lloyd Ross and Laurie Short, a very few establishment business and legal figures such as John Latham, great poets such as Les Murray and Vivian Smith and novelists such as C.J. Koch. When the Cold War ended, the wartime alliance flew apart and Quadrant, under the editorship of Paddy McGuinness, has transmogrified into a more normal, high-quality conservative magazine.

It is hard now to recall just how exotic Quadrant was in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. This came mainly from its East European component. There was an urbanity and cosmopolitanism about these people that was highly unusual in Australia. They took it as natural that you engaged culture at its highest level but also engaged politics from an anti-communist point of view. This was mere political hygiene, their start point, not their end point, whereas so many Australian intellectuals, especially the self-consciously nationalistic, were a provincial imitation of the leftism of New York and London.

I had a particular love of Krygier, who related to me always as a kindly uncle. He was responsible for me going into journalism. More than 30 years ago, still a teenager, I attended a conference of the Australian Union of Students at Monash University. I was disgusted by its leftist extremism and drove back to Sydney in a burning fury. I wrote, as youth does, full of passion and purpose but with no idea of where I might publish. A friend put me in touch with Richard, who was happy to meet a callow youth with no credentials at all. He read my article and said he was sure Quadrant would publish it, but why not try to get it into The Bulletin instead?

Krygier got me an interview with the then editor of The Bulletin, Trevor Kennedy (who was a great editor), and to my astonishment and delight the piece appeared in the magazine the next week with a slash line on the cover. It was the most thrilling moment of my life. But what followed was more important: a couple of decades of deep involvement with Quadrant, the highlight of which undoubtedly was the Quadrant dinners. These were remarkably democratic. They were cheap and the food was pretty ordinary. No one was ever cut off from speaking; eminence was given no quarter. It was just whether you had something worth saying, as we discussed the crisis of modernity, Soviet policy in Europe, the role of writing in modern films, development models for Papua New Guinea; anything, really, that appealed to the group. And the finest intellectuals in the world - Leszek Kolakowski, Sidney Hook, Malcolm Muggeridge - when they visited Australia always came and talked to Quadrant.

By the '80s, Howard was a reasonably familiar figure at Quadrant functions, certainly the most familiar figure of senior politicians. This is a paradox about Howard. Although, somewhat like Dwight Eisenhower, he purposely projects the image of the plain man, he has always had a lively interest in the world of ideas. This made him unusual among Liberal politicians. Howard understood at some level that to win the battle of policy, you had to win the battle of history and fundamental ideas. I haven't always agreed with Howard's ideas - such as his views about Asian immigration in the late '80s - but he has grown and changed.

He is, of course, foremost a pragmatic politician who sees ideas as part of the political battle, but he has an unusual familiarity with them. As PM he has successfully waged the culture wars with the electorate. But he seems at times, with the exception of Tony Abbott, to be the only member of his cabinet who really understands what's going on. In his Quadrant speech he rightly bemoaned the continuing dominance of the soft Left.

This is evident in the universities, in many school syllabuses and in the ABC. But this is also a poor reflection on the Howard Government itself. After 10 years in office it has done precisely nothing to change the culture of the ABC.

Labor in office appoints its mates to powerful institutions. So do the Liberals. But Labor's mates much more often understand the politics of institutional change, whereas Liberal mates are often business types who know nothing at all of intellectual combat. As a result, there can be a hollowness to long periods of conservative rule, where the society does not get more diverse institutions as a result. Instead the Left, sinecured and cosseted at every point by taxpayer funds, falsely paints itself as bravely standing up to the conservative government.

Howard runs an infinitely more competent government than did Billy McMahon or John Gorton, but it is worth remembering that it was under those conservative prime ministers that the Left took its stranglehold on Australian institutions.


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