Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Migrants put to test

Migrants striving to be Australian citizens will be forced to sit a test and sign a pledge committing themselves to Australian values that could include the idea of "mateship" and "having a go". Prime Minister John Howard yesterday released new details of the proposed 30-question examination and an accompanying statement of "shared Australian values". The statement - that must be signed - will include a commitment to freedom, fair play and equality, as well as respect for "parliamentary democracy" and "the rule of law". But Mr Howard went further and said most people would agree that Australian values included mateship and "the concept of having a go".

All migrants aged between 18 and 60 applying for citizenship will have to sit a computer-based test which will contain between 30 multiple choice questions randomly chosen from a selection of 200. Mr Howard strongly denied the new procedures were aimed at stopping some people from gaining citizenship. "It is not designed in any way to keep some people out," he said. "It is designed not as some kind of Trivial Pursuit, but it is designed to ensure that people understand and have a working capacity in the national language, which is English."

Mr Howard's undersecretary for immigration, Andrew Robb, said migrants could sit the test as many times as they needed to, and anyone found to be illiterate could apply to be assessed in different ways. "A practical, commonsense test will serve to enhance the value of Australian citizenship as something worth striving for," Mr Robb said.

In a surprise move, the signed statement on Australian values will also need to be filled out by people coming to Australia on temporary visits where they could stay longer than 12 months. This means that foreign students, and others coming for more than a year, will need to sign the commitment. It will also have to be filled out by people seeking permanent residency. Mr Robb said before leaving their home countries, migrants will be given material outlining the values and laws of Australia.

The concept of a citizenship test was first revealed by Mr Robb in September but has been refined and approved by Cabinet after more than 1600 responses to a citizenship paper. Mr Robb says the new procedures will go into place as soon as legislation is drawn up and passed by Parliament. Opposition leader Kevin Rudd said last night he wanted more details on the proposal before deciding his stance on it.


Howard defends citizenship test

A new citizenship test for migrants was not a step towards reintroducing a racially discriminatory immigration policy, Prime Minister John Howard said today. The Federal Government announced yesterday that migrants who wanted to become Australian citizens would have to sit an English test and a general knowledge test on Australian society. The 30 test questions, drawn from a pool of 200, will cover topics such as history, system of government, sporting traditions and mateship.

But the election-year policy, announced a year to the day after racial violence exploded at Sydney's Cronulla beach, already faces opposition from moderates on the Government's back bench. Mr Howard said today the test was needed. "I think there is a view in the Australian community, a very strong view, that we need a greater emphasis on the things that unite us rather than the things that make us different," he said on ABC radio. "By all means, respect cultural and ethnic diversity. We will retain a non-discriminatory immigration policy. We will not be discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity or nationality when choosing new migrants."


What a laugh: "Public pupils excel in VCE results"

So pupils at one school do well in their final high school exams and that is credited to the government school concerned. No mention that it was Asian kids who did well. They tend to do well in ANY school in Australia. But we can't mention race, can we?

A suburban public school has rocketed up the VCE tally board, with four of its year 12 graduates achieving the "perfect" tertiary ranking of 99.95. The result puts Glen Waverley Secondary College second in the state for perfect ENTERs, behind Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School, where five students had the top ranking. Glen Waverley's quartet of perfect ENTERs also places it ahead of elite private schools, including Xavier College, Ivanhoe Grammar and Melbourne Grammar.

Principal Gerry Schiller said while the school had produced many bright students in recent years, they had fallen just short of the 99.95 mark. "After five or six years of being near but not quite there, to achieve it four times over is a wonderful result - for the school and for the students," he said.

One student, Ashray Gunjur, was still in bed yesterday morning when his mother logged on to the internet for his results. "My mum had sort of 'stolen' that letter which has my student number and my PIN," the 18-year-old said. "I looked at the score and my dad was there. He said: 'What happened to the other .05?' I think he was joking." Ashray's method of celebrating his results was perhaps a little unorthodox - the teenager headed straight back to bed. "It probably hasn't sunk in. I don't think 99.95 was ever in my spectrum of possibilities. I don't think I'm like these other geniuses here."

The other "geniuses" among Glen Waverley's class of 2006 include Aaron Chock, whose anxiety over results day woke him up at 1 o'clock and 3 o'clock yesterday morning. When he accessed his score at 6.47am, it was "a dream come true". Srigala Navaratnarajah attributed part of her success to choosing subjects that she enjoyed. "If you really love your subjects, then you will succeed because it keeps motivating you." The 18-year-old, who achieved a perfect study score of 50 in international studies and physics, said the friendly competition within the school was also a factor. "Every year we see people do extremely well, and we don't think anything is out of our reach."

Classmate Tianhong Wu, who read Japanese Manga books during the year as a break from schoolwork, said she looked on her 99.95 as a good start for university. "It just gives me a lot of confidence and I feel there isn't anything that's too hard, as long as I try." The four star Glen Waverley graduates want to study medicine at university next year, and Tianhong, Aaron and Ashray have all been offered scholarships to study at Monash University.


Reality debunks myths about Australian private health insurance

Some comments by a health insurance spokesman. Health insurance in Australia is normally taken out by individuals directly in Australia -- rather than through the employer, as in the USA

With the introduction to Parliament on Thursday of the Government's legislative changes aimed at broadening the scope of care for which private health insurance funds can pay, it is a good time to reflect on what benefits broader health care may provide, and why things need to change.

The National Health Act was introduced 50 years ago, but medical practice has altered dramatically (for the better) over those 50 years. However, until now this Act has constrained the health funds from providing some of the most appropriate care options for members. People who are opposed to improvements in the system are acting against the interests of those 10.2 million Australians who have chosen to take out private health insurance. The consumer expects to receive the most appropriate health care in the most appropriate setting. It is common sense that expanding the opportunity for an efficient private health insurance industry to cover the full range of modern treatments will result in improvements in clinical outcomes. Innovative care options, offering perhaps a substitute for expensive hospital care, or a shortened length of time spent in hospital - or even preventing people from going to hospital in the first place - could be introduced.

The truth is that the proposed private health insurance legislation allows for all these options, thus providing a modernised framework to deliver the most exciting advances in health care in 50 years. However, myths abound, which promote a different story. So, what are these myths about the present and the proposed systems?

The first, and most common, myth about the present system is that the 30 per cent rebate offered to Australians who have taken out private health insurance is a waste of public money, providing no benefit to the public system. The facts tell a different story. Figures showing the number of public beds available per 1000 uninsured Australians (ie those Australians reliant on Medicare), indicate that the 30 per cent rebate has freed up 1.3 beds per 1000 people (see chart). These "extra" beds are now available in the public system for Australians without private health insurance to use -- a direct benefit flowing from the 30 per cent rebate.

Equally, those Australians who have chosen to take out private health insurance in fact are utilising their insurance (thus relieving pressure on the public system), with an additional 900,000 operations per annum being performed in private hospitals since 2000 (the year the rebate was introduced). All Australians know the public system could not cope with another 900,000 admissions each year.

Another myth is, of course, that those people having private insurance, and undergoing treatment in the private system, don't really need that treatment. In fact, private health funds pay for more than 50 per cent of the surgical procedures performed in Australia. This includes 54 per cent of major procedures for malignant breast conditions, 55 per cent of chemotherapy treatment, 64 per cent of major joint replacements and 68 per cent of same-day mental health treatment - procedures that can be life-saving. Without the 30 per cent rebate, there would be an immediate influx of these non-discretionary surgical procedures into the public system.

In the face of criticism as to whether the "value proposition" of private health insurance is accepted by Australians, one needs only to realise that over the last 12 months the number of Australians taking out private health insurance has grown by 220,000. Pleasingly, the most recent figures show the percentage of 20 to 35-year-olds with private health insurance (traditionally a market regarded as rejecting private cover) has grown by 2.1 per cent in the September quarter. Another myth debunked.

So, what of criticism - such as that from Stephen Leeder (Weekend Health, November 25) - that the broader health care legislation will advantage those with private health insurance over those without? This is another myth ripe for debunking. Leeder and other critics of private health insurance would be interested to know that the Advanced Community Care Association of South Australia (an organisation delivering excellent out-of-hospital care in the public system) spoke at the annual conference of the Australian Health Insurance Association, and it was lauded for its initiative. There is a strong possibility that a model used in the private sector may emulate a model such as this from the public system. The fact that such a system is already operating successfully in South Australia's public hospitals is not only a credit to the organisation, but also a direct rebuttal to the claim that such options will be available only in the private sector.

However, if such an innovative program were implemented, allowing privately insured patients being treated in public hospitals to be treated in a more appropriate setting under a broader health care initiative - and in the process, freeing up resources and beds for other public patients with myriad other illnesses - most would judge this to be a good thing, both for the privately insured patients and for the public system which will have more resources available. To suggest otherwise seems perverse. Via these newly introduced legislative reforms, private health insurance will be provided with a great opportunity to advance the health care of Australians, and the benefits will flow to both components of the mixed health care system that operates in Australia. The private health insurance industry is excited about the possibilities. The changes are positive, and are worthy of widespread support. If people look past the rhetoric of the myths they will find a private health insurance industry which is capable of, and intent on, delivering improved health outcomes for consumers.


Who is to blame if Australian blacks die young?

According to the article below, it is the fault of white Australians. No mention that large numbers of Australian blacks (Aborigines) destroy their own health from childhood on. As kids, many sniff dangerous substances for the "high" and as adults many spend most of their days blasted out of their brains with alcohol.

In the usual way, the article also conflates Aborigines with Torres Strait Islanders -- Australia's other black race. But Islanders have no more problems in Australia than whites do. They are not remotely in as bad a way as Aborigines. Both races were primitive when the white man came but the Islanders (Melanesians) were gardeners, whereas the Aborigines were hunters and gatherers.

The article below is implicitly a call for behaviour modification -- very authoritarian. Aborigines are to be prevented from making "bad" decisions about their own lives -- even though those decisions are perfectly reasonable within their own culture and background. Even many decades under missionary supervision did not give Aborigines "white" values. Both Lenin and Hitler originally presented themselves as do-gooders. Do gooders are never very far from Fascism

The figures paint a staggering reality. Indigenous men and women die 17 years earlier than other Australians. Indigenous children are dying at almost three times the rate of non-indigenous children. Many indigenous people suffer chronic diseases, which are entirely preventable and have virtually been eliminated in the non-indigenous population. Indigenous access to primary health care remains extremely poor.

These are not mere statistics. These people are real Australians who are suffering and dying daily. They are someone's grandparents, parents, children, brothers or sisters, aunties or uncles. Indigenous Australians want the situation to change, but we need support and encouragement to make this change.

The situation is perverse and illogical for a country of Australia's social and economic standing. How can the majority of the Australian population enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, and yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples endure a health situation comparable with many Third World countries?

For many Australians, out of sight is out of mind, or their view of indigenous Australia is clouded by negativity in the media. Politicians wax lyrical about human rights injustices throughout the world, but seem to disregard what is taking place in their own back yard. How can such inequality and injustice take place in a country where everyone is supposed to be treated equally and given a fair go?

Because make no mistake, the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a national shame. We stand diminished as a nation and as individuals by ignoring the plight of our fellow Australians. It is simply not acceptable for governments to continually state that the situation is tragic, then to say it should be treated with urgency and then fail to put in place targets, funding and timeframes to address the issue.

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