Sunday, August 12, 2012

An unempirical Asian languages debate

It takes an enormous effort for an English speaker to learn an Asian language and Australia has about a million people of Chinese origins anyway, many of whom do speak a Chinese language.  So we already have all the intermediaries to China that we could want

A recent article in The Age typifies the unempirical nature of the debate about Asia literacy.  The article cites Professor David Hill from Murdoch University as warning of the ‘dismal educational, economic and security consequences’ that will result from the ‘decline in the number of students studying Asian languages.’

Given how bold such a claim is, one would expect details of what these ‘dismal consequences’ might be. No such explanation is offered.

Later, Professor Kent Anderson, Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) at the University of Adelaide, is quoted as saying that Australia needs to improve its language education because we compare poorly with Asian and European countries, where they teach students the ‘mother tongue, plus two foreign languages.’

The article fails to note Professor Anderson’s key omission: As well as not offering as much language education as Asian and European countries, Australia does not have as much of a need to teach languages. Unlike most Asian and European countries, Australia’s national language is also conveniently the world’s lingua franca.

Those in favour of teaching more students Asian languages need to provide a sound educational rationale. Failing that, we should not let an unempirical debate about Asia literacy scare us into thinking that current language programs need to be expanded.


Queensland Attorney-General to try and overturn legal decision on motels having to host prostitution services

THE Queensland Government will try to overturn a legal decision in favour of a sex worker who claimed a ban on her operating out of a regional motel was discriminatory.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found the operators of a Moranbah motel had breached the Anti-Discrimination Act by denying  a sex worker a room.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said the government had concerns about the decision and had requested Crown Law advice.

"The Government stands on the side of business owners and supports their ability to make decisions about what does or does not occur on their premises," said Mr Bleijie.

"If a conflict exists between the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 and the Liquor Act 1992, the Government will change the laws to ensure this inconsistency is resolved.  "This will also give certainty to our business owners that they are in control of their establishments."

He said he was seeking legal advice on whether the government could intervene in any appeal the motel owner may wish to make, or appeal the decision directly.


Labor government puts web surveillance plans on ice

A CONTROVERSIAL internet security plan to store the web history of all Australians for up to two years has been stalled by the federal government until after the next election.

Security bureaucrats have drafted legislation to expand internet surveillance and security powers, but Attorney-General Nicola Roxon decided to first refer a discussion paper to a parliamentary committee.

Senior intelligence officials, who have been pushing for the increased powers, complain the legislation will be delayed until after the election due next year.

The national security discussion paper released last month by Ms Roxon canvasses proposals for compulsory internet data retention, forcing people to give up computer passwords, streamlining telecommunications interception approvals, and enhancing stop and search powers for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

A senior national security official told Fairfax Media yesterday that Ms Roxon's decision to refer the proposals to the parliamentary joint committee for intelligence and security was symptomatic of "the risk adverse character of the government".

"These reforms are urgently needed to deal with a rapidly evolving security environment, but there isn't much appetite within the government for anything that attracts controversy," the official said.

National security community dissatisfaction with Ms Roxon comes as Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday announced a long delayed review of federal and state counter-terrorism laws introduced after the 2005 London terrorist bombings.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday a committee led by retired NSW judge Anthony Whealy, QC, would review legislation governing control orders, preventative detention and "certain emergency stop, question and search powers held by police". The review had originally been scheduled to commence in 2010.

Attorney-General's department briefing papers released under freedom of information legislation show that when Ms Roxon took office as Attorney-General last December, her department had already prepared an "exposure draft" of amendments to Australia's security and intelligence laws.

Subject to Ms Roxon's agreement and consultation with the security watchdog, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, it was proposed by her department that the draft legislative package be considered by the National Committee of Cabinet in February, and the full cabinet in May.

However, the department also warned that amendments to surveillance powers "usually draw media and public attention" and that "the scale of changes being developed will mean that it is highly likely that there will be significant public interest".

In a recent interview, Ms Roxon said she was "not yet convinced" about the merits of the proposal for compulsory data retention that would enable intelligence and security agencies to examine a person's internet usage.

A spokesman for Ms Roxon has confirmed she rejected the approach of her predecessor, former attorney-general Robert McClelland, who had approved the development of the legislative package.


Carbon tax price hike jolts Anglican Church Grammar School electricity bills

THE carbon tax has begun hitting Queensland small businesses, including a Brisbane private school which faces a $70,000-a-year hike in its electricity bill.

Six weeks into the carbon tax regime, price hikes are starting to hit hip pockets as power bills drop into letterboxes.

Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry president David Goodwin said the "weird distortions" were becoming apparent.

"We are finding that ordinary supermarkets like the local IGA may be up for up to $15,000 on the carbon tax alone if they have to re-gas their giant refrigeration system," Mr Goodwin said. "Somehow these guys are going to have find ways to cover these extra costs."

The Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie) faces a 30 per cent increase in electricity for the month of July, well above the 9 per cent increase predicted by the Federal Government.

Headmaster Jonathan Hensman said Churchie had struggled to become energy-efficient, employing everything from external louvres to power factor connection mechanisms to stop power leakage. Now he estimates the school will have to find an extra $1400 a week to meet the cost of the carbon tax.

"Given what we have done it's a bit disappointing," he said.

He said that in the post-GST environment, passing on the cost to parents through higher fees was not an option.

Electricity broker Peter Phillips said several schools were reeling from the steep increases.

A spokesman for federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the average rise would be 9 per cent, and consumers had been compensated for businesses that passed on the cost of steeper rises.

The carbon tax component for Churchie for the month of July is $5600 - about 15 per cent of the entire bill of $38,000.

The school negotiated low-cost power through Mr Phillips, but now estimates it will have to find about $70,000 a year extra to cover the tax.

Mr Phillips, owner of Mantel Solutions, said many high-end users used brokers to secure cheap electricity discounts of up to 50 per cent over the average householder. But brokers could not secure concessions to the carbon tax.

The Federal Government predicted businesses may face steeper hikes and had compensated households, the spokesman said.

"That is why we are providing households with tax cuts, higher family payments and pension increases to meet the increase in the cost of living, which Treasury estimates will be an increase in the CPI of 0.7 per cent," he said.

"Businesses concerned that they are being charged too much for electricity should consider shopping around for a better deal."

Queensland Energy Minister Mark McArdle seized on the bill as an transparent example of how the carbon tax impacted commercial electricity bills.

"For most domestic customers the price of the carbon tax is hidden in the total cost of the electricity tariff," Mr McArdle said. "In the case of market contracts, such as this, each of the components that make up a bill is clearly identified.

"It shows that off-peak energy is attracting an 80 per cent increase directly related to the carbon tax."


Electric car sales lose spark around the world and in Australia

SALES of electric vehicles have been so slow that Mitsubishi has temporarily halted production of two cars.

The slow global take-up of EVs has been mirrored in Australia, with only 18 sold privately this year and 45 sold to government and business.

After sales of less than 1000 each, Mitsubishi has now temporarily stopped producing the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn, which are rebadged versions of its i-MiEV. In Australia, Mitsubishi has sold only 12 i-MiEVs this year and none last month.

This follows disappointing global sales for the Nissan Leaf, which has sold 51 here this year, and the Chevrolet Volt, which goes on sale next month with a Holden badge.

While many blame high prices  Mitsubishi i-MiEV retails at $48,800, Nissan Leaf at $51,500 and Holden Volt at $59,990  Australian industry figures point to a lack of government subsidies.

Fuel economy campaigner and former Australian Rally champion Ed Ordynski said the issue of subsidies for electric vehicles was "way too bogged down in politics".

"I don't think we'll see changes until there is a shake-out of local manufacturers," he said, pointing out that local manufacturers had no plans to produce electric vehicles, although several Australian companies are converting conventional cars to electric power.

"I don't think the government will offer incentives to produce locally, so subsidies for electric vehicles would only be for full imports and that isn't going to happen."

BMW Group Australia boss Phil Horton said government incentives would be a "relatively easy thing to do" and not necessarily expensive.

He suggested incentives such as cheap or free tolls, use of transit lanes, cheaper parking spaces and discounts on registration and stamp duties.

"Unless they take some steps to encourage electric vehicles, people won't buy them," he said.

BMW is about to release its ActiveHybrid 5, followed by a 3 Series model later this year, a 7 Series early next year, with  a full electric car, the i3 in  2014 and a plug-in hybrid i8 after that.

"But there doesn't seem any interest from the government to do anything to encourage their take-up," Mr Horton said.

The BMW ActiveHybrid 5 will be among the highlights of a GreenZone Drive today on the Gold Coast.


1 comment:

Paul said...

In practical terms (as in real world use), today's electric cars are not much better than those of one hundred years ago.