Friday, October 20, 2006

More politicized "history" teaching

A group that believes the Howard Government could have prevented the deaths of 353 asylum-seekers in the sinking of the Siev X in 2001 is on the verge of selling a case study to schools for use in modern history classes. Year 11 students would be asked to answer whether the drownings were the result of the federal Government's policies as part of the case study, prompting allegations that students were being steered towards a "politically correct" conclusion.

Modern History students would study a number of disputed claims, including whether or not the Australian navy sabotaged the boat before it left Indonesia, if the Siev X Secondary School's Case Study Committee does sell the case study to schools.

The principal of St Aloysius College in Sydney, Father Chris Middleton, told The Australian yesterday the school was considering using the program, to be launched in federal parliament today by child psychologist Steve Biddulph.

Students at schools that decide to use the case study will view primary source documents and be asked: "Was the sinking of the Siev X and subsequent loss of life preventable?" Students would also be asked to describe how statements by a former immigration officer and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer about whether the government officials sabotaged boats "contradict each other". The case study relies heavily on the documentary film Punished not Protected and two books - A Certain Maritime Incident and Dark Victory - which are highly critical of the Government, prompting criticism that the proposal is biased.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the material was "an outrageous attempt to disguise a political agenda as school curriculum". "It is a bizarre mix of unfounded allegations and rumour presented as fact, and is clearly intended to influence the opinions of school children rather than educate them with a factual version of events," Ms Bishop said. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said students should be "presented with the facts as we know them rather than any biased presentation".

Siev X Case Study spokesman Don Maclurcan, who is studying for his PhD in nanotechnology, said the case had polarised people and so would sharpen students' analytical skills. "I hope that students would come out of this with a greater knowledge of how government works, what our policies are in terms of immigration and refugees, and a knowledge of things that have happened in relation to our borders in the last five years," Mr Maclurcan said. He said the organising committee had "made every effort to set aside our own conclusions in order to assemble a balanced set of reading materials that present the many viewpoints offered". He said the material was developed "in consultation with the NSW Boards of Studies" but the board denied this yesterday.

The director of the National Centre for History Education at Monash University, associate professor Tony Taylor, said recent events were difficult to tackle in the classroom. "These debates can become more emotional than rational. Skilled teachers can deal with this successfully but it does take a lot of experience," he said. "As for conspiracy theories, it's always difficult to prove a negative; that is, to prove that there isn't a conspiracy."

Education critic Kevin Donnelly slammed the case study, saying it implied a "predetermined answer" about the tragedy. "Students are being directed towards a politically correct response that it could have been prevented and that the Government is responsible," he said. "This is just another attempt at an issues or theme approach to history which quite rightly has been condemned as failing to give students a comprehensive understanding of the background and overall narrative."

But Nick Ewbank, president of the History Teachers Association, backed the case study. [He would] "All history is about the weighing of evidence and the interpretation that can be placed on the given facts. Obviously, this particular case is fairly controversial but we shouldn't be shying away from controversial issues," he said.


Nutty Greenie in Australia

When David Suzuki launched into an impassioned plea for Australia to combat climate change no one was safe yesterday, not even the chef who cooked his lunch. During his hour-long National Press Club address, the renowned environmentalist swore repeatedly -- despite his speech being broadcast live on ABC TV -- criticising everyone from John Howard to his own supporters in the audience for eating the salmon and rice. "You all sat here and chowed down on farmed salmon and obviously you don't give a s--- about what you're putting into your body," the 70-year-old bellowed.

Speakers and guests at the weekly press club address are fed. The award-winning Canadian ate his meal. "You know what a farmed salmon is, it's filled with toxic chemicals," he said. "I know Tasmanian salmon, those are not Tasmanian salmon. Those are Atlantic salmon that are brought and raised in cages in Tasmania."

Dr Suzuki said Australia was a disappointment to the world because it had not ratified the Kyoto protocol, a pact between industrialised nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2012. He said as a result, Australia had no credibility as a "responsible global citizen". "I've always thought of Australia as caring about being responsible international citizens, and by rejecting Kyoto, Mr Howard declares that Australia is an international outlaw, not to be bound by these kinds of treaties the rest of the world agrees to."

Dr Suzuki said the global media was more interested in reporting on celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson, than climate change. He said if he abused the Prime Minister he would get better coverage. "If I were to say -- I'm not saying this, but if I were to say -- 'John Howard is an a---hole', I might even get a 10-inch column (in a newspaper)."

Dr Suzuki slammed Australia for allowing rice and cotton farming, and went on to condemn the Government's $350 million drought package for stricken farmers as an "ad hoc, knee-jerk" reaction. He went on to praise -- sarcastically -- Mr Howard for acknowledging global warming. "Mr Howard has now acknowledged that global warming is happening. Thank God, it's about time," Dr Suzuki said. "So 'boom', right away the solution is nuclear power. This guy ought to be booted out of office for that kind of approach to the problem, I mean, it's crazy."


Why men are paid more

Bettina Arndt writes:

Every few years the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases data about the gender wage gap. And every time the Labor Party announces the sky is falling in. The fact that men earn more than women is presented as proof that the country is going backward under Howard. The white picket fence is rising up to capture us all.

Everyone who participates in this farce knows full well that these wage-gap statistics are meaningless. So, what if the average woman in Australia earns $300 less per week than the average man. That statistic fails to take in account the hours worked. In fact, the average Australian Joe Blow works almost twice as many hours as the average Jenny Blow, according to data HILDA, the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey. Since he's putting in twice as many hours, I hope Joe Blow would earn far more.

Not only does he work far longer hours, he's also far more likely to take on hazardous jobs such as mining, construction, trucking, he's more likely to be willing to move overseas, or to an undesirable location on demand and has trained for more technical jobs with less people contact. In fact, the wage gap hasn't much to do with discrimination, or conservative governments trying to keep women in their place. Differences in the way men and women behave in the workplace largely determine how much they earn.

Women are more likely to balance income with a desire for safety, fulfilment, flexibility and proximity to home. These lifestyle advantages lead to more people competing for jobs and thus lower pay. Wage gaps tend to disappear when women put in the same hours and have the same experience, training and work history as men. In Australia, similarly trained men and women under 30 show similar earnings. It is only in the older age groups that wage gaps start to widen, according to Mark Woden at the Melbourne Institute.

Yet men and women still tend not to have the same training. A London School of Economics study of more than 10,000 British graduates found the men started off earning 12 per cent more than the women. The reason? Most of the women had majored in the social sciences, while many men chose engineering, maths and computing. While more than half the women said their primary interest was a socially useful job, men were twice as likely to mention salary.

Similar patterns emerge here. Graduate women in Australia, who move into traditional male professions, often start off earning more than men. For instance, the average starting salary for female geologists in Australia is $60,000 compared to $52,000 for men. When women go into potentially high-earning careers, many end up earning far less than their male colleagues because of the way they structure their working lives. Look at female doctors. To get into medicine, these women were as ambitious and hard-working as any of their male colleagues. But a few years down the track it's a different story. Current figures show a female GP works in her paid job only 63 per cent of the hours put in by a male, although clearly many face a second shift at home.

Women are making choices. Yes, these choices are constrained by their family responsibilities. That's the reason they work those shorter hours and seek the lower paid, but more flexible work closer to home. Australian women still choose to take time out when their children are young, then return to part-time work. They miss out on financial rewards but are more content. The latest HILDA survey clearly shows women working part-time are more satisfied than full-time working women. The part-timers are far happier with their work-life balance and just as satisfied with their jobs as the full-timers. In fact, more than half the women working full-time want to work fewer hours while just over a third of the part-timers want to work more.

Yes, there are still glass ceilings, pockets of discrimination, but the major reason men earn more than women is the trade-offs women choose to make. So, the next time Anne Summers bleats about wage gaps, you'll know she's trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Wage gap talk is a con job.


Victoria police on display

One of Victoria's most senior detectives joined four of his former drug squad colleagues in jail last night after being found guilty of supplying 2kg of pure pseudoephedrine to slain underworld figure Mark Moran. Ending an extraordinary legal saga that linked corrupt police to key figures in Melbourne's bloody gangland war, detective senior sergeant Wayne Strawhorn was yesterday convicted of trafficking the amphetamine precursor and faces 25 years in prison.

The disgraced officer insisted his deals with criminals were part of an official drug-dealing strategy - a program that is now blamed for fuelling the underworld war that claimed at least 30 lives. Jurors in the Strawhorn case were told of intricate connections between police and Melbourne's crimelords including murdered figures Lewis Moran and Alphonse Gangitano and fugitive Tony Mokbel. And for the first time, The Australian can now detail the extent of the corruption in the disgraced drug squad, with a series of court-ordered suppressions lifted following the Strawhorn conviction.

The police already secretly jailed for serious drug dealing include David Miechel, who was caught red-handed stealing close to $1 million worth of ecstasy with police informant Terrence Hodson. Hodson was later murdered with his wife in their Melbourne home at the height of the city's gangland killings.

The other major convictions that can be reported for the first time centre on three police from the now-disbanded drug squad's heroin-busting unit - Stephen Cox, Glenn Sadler and Ian Ferguson. Ferguson was jailed in April while Cox and Sadler were found guilty last month of conspiring to traffic a commercial quantity of heroin. Ferguson is serving a maximum 12 years in jail, while Cox and Sadler are yet to be sentenced.

Strawhorn's drug-trafficking conviction yesterday came after his first trial was aborted and a second ended with the jury undecided on a verdict. The Victorian Supreme Court cases have stretched over years and have cost millions. And despite the guilty verdict, part of the case may yet continue, with prosecutor Ray Elston refusing to tell judge David Habersberger yesterday whether police would press ahead with a retrial on one charge of trafficking on which the jury was "hopelessly deadlocked".

Strawhorn was found not guilty yesterday of three counts of trafficking drugs in a supply chain police claimed stretched to the Bandido Outlaws Motorcycle Club. He was found not guilty of threatening to kill the police ethical standards inspector who investigated him. Though the prosecution could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Strawhorn trafficked amphetamine precursor chemicals to the Bandidos, the evidence that proved Strawhorn's links through ex-police officers to the Moran crime family were strong enough to sustain a conviction.

Through another corrupt drug squad policeman, Stephen Paton, Strawhorn ordered that 2kg of pure pseudoephedrine be purchased from Sigma Pharmaceuticals - a $340 transaction. The black market value of pseudoephedrine was $10,000 a kilogram. Strawhorn's trial heard that through two former police officers with links to the Morans, the drugs made their way into a laboratory run by a close associate of Mark Moran, who manufactured drugs with the slain gangland figure. But the drugs ended up back in the drug squad - in the same packaging as when Strawhorn sent them down the chain to the Morans - when police raided the associates' home after Moran's murder on June 15, 2000. The court heard that Strawhorn recognised the bag, dipped his finger into it, and placed the powder crystals in his mouth. "That's pseudoephedrine," he said.

Strawhorn was the architect of the controlled chemical delivery program, which was unpopular with many senior police from its inception because of its corruption potential. He convinced the police establishment in 1995 to implement the program, which aimed to leave an evidence trail to amphetamines kingpins. But the program was canned by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon - who also disbanded the entire drug squad - when she took the helm of the Victorian force in 2001.

Miechel was supposed to be part of Victoria's new era - a clean drug investigation unit that replaced the corrupt drug squad. Instead, Miechel is sitting in Ararat jail in central Victoria, serving a 15-year sentence for stealing a commercial quantity of drugs with Hodson. On September 27, 2003, Hodson and Miechel attempted to steal from a house in Oakleigh, in Melbourne's east, the night before it was to be raided by the Major Drug Investigation Unit. A neighbour phoned the police, and Miechel and Hodson were arrested by the dog squad.


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