Tuesday, December 19, 2006


(A recent study has shown that the Brits do not match what they do to their alleged environmental concerns. It seems to be similar in Australia. Holden is the Australian tentacle of General Motors. Their biggest-selling model is the Commodore, available as a straight six or a V8)

Australians bought a record number of V8-engined cars last month despite growing fears of global warming and uncertainty over petrol prices. One in four Commodores and Statesman/Caprices sold in November had a 5.7-litre V8 under the bonnet. As a percentage of total Holden sales, it was the highest number of V8-engined cars sold since the company began keeping reliable records in 1991. Holden spokesman Philip Brook said V8s usually made up less than 20 per cent of sales. More than 1440 V8-powered cars were sold by dealers last month -- the highest number sold since 2002.

"It's certainly something we're happy about and those figures are driven by private sales, because fleets don't tend to buy V8s," Mr Brook said. "They're not designed to be just basic transport. If you love driving, the V8 is the sort of car you'll be attracted to." Holden also believes the fuel price issue has died off in the past few months. "The sort of customers who buy V8s are a bit less price sensitive, both with the price of the car they are buying and the running costs, but people have also got used to payingover $1 a litre for fuel," Mr Brook said.

Josh Budd, 26, of Bellevue Hill, bought a new HSV R8 ClubSport last week. "It's the Aussie way - buying a big V8," he said. "I love the sound, the look and the performance I've always loved Bathurst and the whole V8 thing."

It's a similar story at Ford Performance Vehicles, the majority of which are powered by V8 engines. The company smashed its all-time annual sales record in November, with a month left to set a new mark.


An old-fashioned school system shows its worth

Though the PISA criteria are rather weak

Teenagers in NSW are outperforming students from all other states in reading, mathematics and science and are among the best in the world. Landmark analysis of test results has enabled experts for the first time to compare the Australian states on student academic achievement, taking account of differences between the education systems. Leading academic researchers Gary Marks and John Cresswell have found that differences between the states are "larger than generally assumed" and cannot be attributed to socio-economic and demographic factors.

For NSW the analysis - based on the Program for International Student Assessment for 15-year-old students in 41 countries - is good news. Mr Marks is Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research and Mr Cresswell works for the OECD based in Paris. "Generally, student achievement in reading, mathematics and science is higher in NSW than the other states once demographic and grade differences are taken into account," they said. "Of concern is the increased likelihood that students from Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania have in only reaching the lowest OECD proficiency level in reading.

The analysis emerged as 66,185 students across NSW this week prepare to receive HSC results. Australian students consistently have scored well in the PISA tests, only being outperformed in literacy by Finland. But a valid comparison of the achievements of the individual states has not been available until now because researchers have not factored out the differences in education systems. About 12,500 Australian students are tested under PISA for their logical thinking and application of reading skills, mathematics and scientific understanding to everyday problems.

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said yesterday the state's success had not happened by chance. "The model of schooling that has been developed in NSW is based on consistent and enduring principles," she said. Within NSW, test data shows Catholic and independent schools are outperforming public schools in literacy and numeracy in Year 3, Year 5 and Year 7. But the Department of Education claims direct comparisons of the sectors have limited value because public schools have a more diverse student population.


Poor Australian civics education

The Howard Government says people who want to be Australian citizens should sit a test. The test would cover history, symbols, values and our system of government. But how would Australians do in the same test? Did you know the national floral emblem is the golden wattle or that the national gemstone is the opal? Can you do more than mutter our national anthem? Most of us remember that "We've golden soil and wealth for toil" and that "Our home is girt by sea", but what about the mysterious second verse? I'll give you a hint, it begins "Beneath our radiant Southern Cross, We'll toil with hearts and hands". Then we get to the hard stuff. Try answering these questions:

DOES Australia have a written Constitution?

WHAT is the top court in Australia?

DOES Australia have a Bill of Rights?

WHEN did Aboriginal people get the vote?

I'll give the answers later. Many, if not most Australians, would fail a test on our history, law and government. Even when we think we know, what we do know comes from the United States: from their TV shows such as Law and Order. I see this first-hand through teaching Australia's best and brightest law students. They may get over 99 in their final school exams, but they can fail to answer some of the most basic questions. Now, to the answers.

Yes, we do have a written Constitution. This is despite a survey taken in 1987 for the Constitutional Commission that found that 47 per cent of Australians were unaware of it.

Australia's top court is the High Court. Unfortunately, a 1994 report on citizenship by the Civics Expert Group found that more than a quarter of those surveyed nominated the Supreme Court instead. This is, of course, the name of the top court in the US.

Australia does not have a Bill of Rights, yet most of us think we do. A Roy Morgan poll taken for Amnesty International last July found that 61 per cent of us thought so. If the US has one, it seems people think we do.

This survey revealed more mistakes than earlier surveys. If anything, our knowledge of ourselves is worse.

Most Australians think Aborigines got the vote in 1967 after a referendum that changed the Constitution. That referendum did delete sections of the Constitution that discriminated against indigenous people, such as one that stipulated Aboriginal natives could not be counted in the census. However, they got the vote five years before. The law was changed by the Menzies government in 1962.

If you are like many Australians, the odds are that you have done poorly on this test. And this shows why more education is needed about government and history.

One of the reasons governments fail to do their job is because people simply don't know enough to hold politicians to account. That makes it easier for our elected representatives to avoid scrutiny and deflect blame. It would be good for new citizens to know all this, but before we ask them, we should take a hard look at ourselves. New citizens should know how our systems works, but so should we. We need more investment in education so we all know how to be good Australians.


Australian sun and lifestyle lures the Brits

With at least 1.3 million resident Britons, Australia is the leading destination for UK expats. And many of those who go say they won't be coming back. Australia is a lifestyle superpower. The stunning climate, the celebrated beaches, the foaming surf, the carefree joy of tossing a marinated shrimp onto a glowing barbeque. No wonder that so many Brits dream of making the fabled 'Lucky Country' their adopted home.

Australia certainly has it problems. There are water shortages, surprisingly high rates of depressive illnesses and a real gambling habit. But they do not appear to loom large in weighing the well-known pros of an Australian existence with the less-publicised cons.

Better still, the Australian government is being particularly welcoming right now to Brits with the right qualifications wanting to live the Aussie dream. With a population of just 20 million people, the economy faces a chronic skills shortage. To sustain its present levels of growth, the economy needs an influx of skilled workers - skilled workers who ideally speak fluent English. With Britain offering that pool of labour, it is a win-win for both parties. So Australia has been welcoming British skilled workers in record numbers over the past three years. In 2005, 21,780 UK nationals left Britain to settle in Australia, a 30% rise on the year before. The number has doubled over the past three years. Three out of every four migrants who arrive here from Europe are British, and for the past three years the United Kingdom has been the major source country for migrants coming to live in Australia.

Australia's point-style system of immigration, soon to be adopted by the UK itself, acts both as a bridge and a barrier. Workers with trades and skills, from electricians and plumbers to doctors and mechanical engineers, are given additional points and priority processing by the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Workers lacking the correct skills - like journalists, for instance - have to find others routes of entry, such as being sponsored by an Australian company or falling in love with an Australian partner or spouse. Immigration laws have also been relaxed to allow foreign students at Australian universities to settle in the country if they can arrange a job for themselves after graduating.

Shaun Quigley and his wife Rachel emigrated to Cairns, Queensland, almost five years ago, and have not regretted it for one moment. With a family of three, they are convinced Australia is the ideal place to bring up their children. Shaun works as an air charter broker for Independent Aviation, a position he describes as his dream job. Rachel is a physiotherapist.

"Rachel first came here when she was in her early twenties as a trained physio," says Shaun. "She got about the maximum score under the points system. She literally walked into a job and got residency in Australia." Rachel's hospital has been particularly active in recruiting Brits. This October, when a hospital in Stoke-on-Trent announced job cuts, it moved quickly to offer posts to laid-off staff. After placing advertisements in the local paper, which attracted a hundred applicants, 84 people were eventually offered posts.

"Cairns is hardly the big smoke but it's pretty idyllic," says Shaun. "There's no graffiti and you never hear about knifings and stabbings. We even made the mistake of leaving our front door open when we went home for five weeks to Britain. "When we got back things were just as we'd left them."

Dr Peter Logan moved to Australia in March last year. An accident and emergency consultant, he had grown increasingly disillusioned with the National Health Service back in Britain and decided on a new life in Queensland. His wife, Sarah, an intensive care nurse, is Australian, and they now plan to spend the rest of their lives in her homeland rather than his.

Thanks to his qualifications, getting a job in Australia was straightforward. Queensland welcomes British medical care staff with open arms. Only the other day, Peter was working in the Accident and Emergency Department of the Royal Brisbane Hospital alongside three other Brits. "There's definitely been a marked increase in UK doctors showing up in Queensland," says Peter. "I think my peer group is pretty disillusioned with the state of things at home [in the NHS]. "The pay is about 15-20% better and that buys you significantly more. Back home, all we could afford was a box on a housing estate. "Recently, we have just bought a big plot of land, 20 minutes from the centre of Brisbane, where we now plan to build a house with its own pool. We can even afford a private education for our two children."

He admits there are downsides to living in Australia. "Obviously, we are a long way from home, and even though I get to see more of the children now, the children don't get to see much of their grandparents. "The culture here is slightly homogeneous. You can't nip off to Paris for the weekend. And I really miss old architecture, walking past a medieval church."

Relaxing at his home overlooking the ocean just after completing a round of golf, Andy Griffiths described how his new life differed from his old. He worked as a youth and community manager in Derby, where he was the victim of assault in the workplace and a victim of crime at home. He is now an assistant manager at the National Geographic store in a Sydney suburb. "Compared to life back home, this is idyllic," he says. "We sometimes look at the website of the local paper back home and see all the assaults and all the vandalism. You don't get any of that here."

Andy's wife, Lesley, is a nurse, and interviewed for a job on a four-way conference call while sitting in her dressing gown on a cold night in Britain. Some 80% of the nurses that she works alongside at her hospital in Sydney are immigrants. And the most interesting thing to about all of the people we interviewed? None of them plan to return home.


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