Monday, December 18, 2006

Far-Left Education wrecker finally out

Embattled West Australian minister Ljiljanna Ravlich has been demoted as part of a major frontbench reshuffle announced by Premier Alan Carpenter. Ms Ravlich has been removed from the education portfolio, which goes to Environment Minister Mark McGowan. The environment portfolio will shift to junior minister Tony McCrae, who also takes on responsibility for the new portfolio of climate change and retains disability services. Ms Ravlich has been given the more junior portfolios of multicultural interests and citizenship, youth and government enterprises.

Mr Carpenter acknowledged 2006 had been a tough year for Ms Ravlich but denied she had been out of her depth in education. "Nobody stays with portfolios forever,'' Mr Carpenter told reporters.

John Bowler has lost the resources portfolio to Francis Logan, who retains responsibility for energy and also takes on industry and enterprises. Mr Carpenter said Mr Bowler was not demoted because of perceived links to disgraced former premier Brian Burke, which Mr Carpenter characterised as ``smear and innuendo''. Mr Bowler has been given responsibility for local government, employment protection and racing and gaming.

Sheila McHale lost the indigenous affairs portfolio to Michelle Roberts, but retains tourism and culture and the arts. Eric Ripper [Ms Ravlich's "partner"] retains the deputy premiership and treasury and takes over responsibility for state development from Mr Carpenter. Mr Carpenter took on responsibilities for trade, innovation and science.


Lara Bingle in Strife over Married Footballer

Lara Bingle was the face of a big and controversial Australian government tourism promotion recently so she has become something of a household name. Now we may be seeing where fame leads. She appears to fancy a controversial Australian footballer. The footballer concerned -- Fevola -- has (or had) a very nice looking wife (below)

But it looks as if Lara has had a boob job (before and after pictures below?) so he might have been tempted.

Interesting that the two ladies look a lot alike. Story here


News that the University of Sydney will soon possess the sole remaining chair in Australian literature signals a genuine crisis in our literary culture. In Australia we seem to be witnessing a disinheriting of the national mind - the alternately rapid and gradual, wilful and accidental disappearing of our literary heritage, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf. I say "our" advisedly, for this heritage, which stretches back to medieval times, is certainly ours, as much as Henry Lawson or Patrick White is. The language of Milton's long poem Paradise Lost is still the tongue of people living today in this country. Milton's works are the birthright of anyone who understands English.

The state of literary education in Australia may be even more dishevelled than Rosemary Neill's sorry story, "Lost for words" (The Weekend Australian Review, December 2-3) made out. That article pointed up a lack of commitment to the teaching and professional study of acknowledged classics of Australian literature. I suspect, however, that the formal study of literature generally is imperilled at most levels of the educational system. How much classic English literature of any kind is now vigorously and creatively taught by well-trained experts anywhere in Australia? If Christina Stead and A.D. Hope are becoming invisible in many schools and universities, the picture is unlikely to be different with Chaucer or Shakespeare, Blake or Wordsworth, Austen or the Brontes, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott or Toni Morrison. I mention only English-speaking authors. I doubt Euripides, Dante or Chekhov are faring any better than English-language ones. How many graduates can enjoy foreign authors in the original? How many children have had opened to them the wonderful Aladdin's cave of our myths and fairytales, rhymes and stories?

Explaining what has led to the disarray of literary education in this country is difficult. I offer one explanation, which takes me back to my epigraph. Milton gambled that, should he write a great poem, succeeding generations would "not willingly let it die". They would feel a responsibility to introduce new readers to this awesome example of the power of theimagination. During perhaps the past century, schools and universities were places in which this attitude of care for the cultural monuments of the past was cultivated. But, worryingly, and for complex reasons, the commitment of our society to the project of tending the cultural and literary heritage seems to be waning. We are in danger of losing that attitude of care that all authors who hope to be read in the future rely on, the attitude that transmits works of literary genius to future readers and writers. Our educational institutions need firmly and confidently to rediscover their role as indispensable stewards of the literary and cultural heritage. Nothing less than the future of Australian literature is at stake.

For if the formal study of great literature, ancient and modern, is neglected, the outlook for literary creativity here is dim. A significant literary culture needs educated readers, discriminating and cosmopolitan critics, informed editors and sound scholars. Every substantial creative writer was once an enthusiastic reader. No readers, no writers. And knowledgeable, passionate readers do not just happen. They are formed by schools and universities that know their mission to include the expert teaching of the best that has been written.

Milton trusted Paradise Lost would survive. People would understand its value and not recklessly let it fall into oblivion. But contemporary Australian poets, novelists and playwrights have reason to be pessimistic about the long-term survival of their works, no matter how excellent those works may be. For we seem to be shrugging off our curatorial responsibilities towards the literary tradition. We can hardly, then, expect "after times", as Milton put it, carefully to study and teach the works of our present-day writers.

Reversing the disappearance of our literary heritage will require wise and bold leadership from university administrators, politicians, educators of all kinds and public servants, and the support of all who love imaginative writing. A first step should be a comprehensive audit of the state of literary education in Australia.


An anti-family tax and welfare system

Working mothers are a bunch of mugs. That's the only conclusion I could reach after filling out the Government's 20-page childcare rebate claim form to find I'd save $1.20 a week off my childcare bills. It was the first and only taxpayer-funded family welfare benefit I had ever applied for and I decided I would be insulting myself if I went ahead with my claim.

Last week a House of Representatives committee on work and family balance found that Australia's shambolic childcare subsidy system was the reason up to 20 per cent fewer mothers work in Australia than overseas. And the families punished the most by this ridiculous system are those 640,000 middle income families who earn between $60,000 and $100,000 a year. If the father in these households in Sydney earns the average wage of $1217.28 per week, it is not worth his wife going out to work. She could earn $591.84 per week if she worked for three days at the average wage. But after tax and childcare costs for two children are taken out of her wage and her family tax benefits are reduced because of her earnings, the family is only around $54 per week better off. That's right, she gets to keep 9 per cent of her earnings.

And the reason she ends up with so little is that Government subsidies only cover about 15 per cent of her childcare bill. If she waits another 18 months, she might be lucky enough to get the Government's 30 per cent childcare rebate, but a subsidy that turns up 18 months late is not much help when she's actually paying the childcare bills. Proof of this is the fact that two thirds of the families eligible for this rebate, promised at the last election, haven't even applied for it. The only reason most women using childcare are working is to keep a foot in the office door so they'll have a job when their kids reach school age and work becomes an economic proposition again.

The House of Representatives committee says the remedy is to make all childcare fees, including nanny wages, tax deductible. And it has called for the fringe benefits tax to be removed from childcare so employers have an incentive to deduct childcare fees from their employees' income before tax. Quite rightly, the report attacks a tax system that lets you salary package a mobile phone, a car and a laptop computer, but doesn't recognise childcare costs as a necessary work related expense.

Aegis Consulting, which gave evidence to the committee, has a model which shows that a working mother's tax and childcare bill could be slashed by up to $8000 a year if she were allowed to salary sacrifice her out-of-pocket childcare costs after receiving childcare benefit. This is based on a family income of $80,000 with two children in care. It shows that the Government would make $586 million in extra taxes if such a move encouraged even a modest 50,000 extra women back into the workforce, as it did in Britain.

The Prime Minister's response to this inquiry is to claim that childcare costs are already close to fully tax deductible under his 30 per cent rebate system. Eighty per cent of taxpayers pay no more than 30c in the dollar tax, he says. But what he and his Treasurer Peter Costello refuse to see is that their 30 per cent rebate, which turns up 18 months after you pay your childcare bills, is too late. Childcare centres bill parents every fortnight or every month - they need their subsidies then, not 18 months down the track, and not as a lump sum once a year.

Removing the fringe benefits tax from employers who contribute their staff's childcare bills is much better than a simple childcare tax deduction. It helps families on middle incomes, not just the super rich, who will be the only ones who will benefit from making childcare tax deductible. Lower income earners, those families on less than $34,000 a year, are still likely to be better off under the current childcare benefit system. This inquiry has defined the problem with the current system and suggested a range of solutions - but don't hold your breath waiting for action.

Daily Telegraph reader Mary Lou Carter this week asked what was the point of having women MPs if they didn't get off their bums to help working mothers? The only times women MPs had crossed party lines to act as a group was on anti-family issues like abortion, she said. "When do you think one of the many women in Parliament will see her way clear to bringing a private member's Bill with a view to easing the lot of working mothers of young children?" she wrote.


Conclusions of Australian Gun Law Report disputed

Below is a press release from CLASS -- the Coalition of Law Abiding Sporting Shooters (Australia) -- dated December 14, 2006. It refers to a research report that was also criticized on this blog on 15th.

The results of a recently released report into Gun Law Reform in Australia since 1996, prepared by Philip Alpers and Simon Chapman and published in Journal of Injury Prevention, have been vigorously disputed by a pro-gun activist group, whose membership includes Doctors, academics and researchers. President of CLASS Action, Peter Whelan summarised the complaints:

"When Prime Minister John Howard forced through his Gun Control Laws, he admitted, "I can't guarantee that these laws will prevent another mass murder." For the Prime Minister and others, to now claim otherwise in retrospect is the height of audacity and arrogance", commented Whelan.

Since 1996, there have been several mass murders, such as the Childers backpackers' fire, the Snow Town murders and several cases where parents killed their children and themselves, by car exhaust." "The fact that those mass murders were not carried out with a firearm, makes them no less a tragedy, but this report ignores such events", explained Whelan. "To credit the 1996 Gun Laws with a drop in death by firearm is to blatantly ignore all the other influencing factors, which have occurred in Australia, during the past ten years!"

Whelan referred to a report issued by the Australian Institute of Criminology, (Facts and Figures 2005) which highlighted that Serious Assaults have been increasing at 6% per year, since 1995, which was FIVE TIMES the population increase! A.I.C report no. 46, Homicide Monitoring, stressed that advances in emergency medical care had helped serious assault victims who would otherwise have died. Whelan explained that, "To claim that the gun laws saved those lives, is an insult to those in the Medical Profession, who work so hard to efficiently save the lives of victims of crime." "Furthermore, the OECD report 2005, found that Australia ranked number one among developed countries, in crime victimisation.

Australia now has an estimated 200,000 private security guards, most armed with handguns, on patrol at our railway stations, clubs and shopping centres. The report makes no reference to the effectiveness of those armed guards, on having reduced the likelihood of mass murders."

Other conclusions referred to in the report are also in error, claimed Whelan. "To say that taking a semi-automatic (multiple shot) firearm from someone intent on suicide, will somehow stop that person committing suicide, is bordering on stupidity! Firstly, suicide with a firearm involves a single shot! Secondly, a depressed, suicidal person will find another method, be it rope or car exhaust, if a firearm isn't available.

The many reports of suicides, following the 1996/97 buy back, as gun owners witnessed their family heirlooms, or favourite shotgun crushed, are confirmed in the figures contained in the Alpers and Chapman report. Whelan explained, "Non-firearm suicide rates increased dramatically, in the years 1997 and 1998. The rate per 100,000 pop. had been around 10.00, but in those two years it increased to 12.91 and 13.09! We would expect that those who supported the gun crushing program would spare a thought for the families of those who died so needlessly after having been accused of being criminals." "If the $One Billion wasted on gun crushing had been spent on improvements in Mental Health and Suicide Prevention programs, the Australian Community would have been a lot better off", claimed Whelan.

CLASS Action, along with other shooting groups, also disagree with the reference contained in the report to "removal of 700,000 guns", which were destroyed during the buy back. "Most gun owners who had to hand in an old banned, semi-automatic rabbit rifle, or fox gun, received over-valued amounts in payment. They simply used that money to buy a new gun and in many cases bought two or three new guns, so they could continue to enjoy their sport." explained Whelan.

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