Monday, August 13, 2012

There is something good in the Anglosphere

Our Foreign Minister can be very emphatic. Bob Carr told an audience last month it is "too risky" for Australia "even to glance in the direction of talk of an Anglosphere".

That is, to even think about talking about the deep relationship we have with the English-speaking world would be international relations suicide - we would offend our neighbours and lose our friends.

It was clear who Carr was criticising. His speech didn't mention the Opposition Leader, but Tony Abbott is a big fan of the Anglosphere. Earlier this year, Carr's predecessor Kevin Rudd was explicit: Abbott's belief in the Anglosphere is one reason he must be kept out of government.

But Abbott is right. Our heritage is not something to be ashamed of. It is not a coincidence the oldest surviving democracies are in the Anglosphere. Or that a tradition of liberty, stretching back to the Magna Carta, has given English-speaking nations a greater protection of human rights and private property. We ought to be proud, not bashful. Sure, it's more fashionable to talk of the "Asian century". But the Anglosphere will shape Australia's cultural and political views for a century. It's a shame only conservatives feel comfortable talking about it.

To accept that old relationships should endure isn't to close us off from the Asian century. Instead, the acceptance will allow us to engage that future more confidently.

Because the Anglosphere is not about the language. It is about a collection of values - individual liberty, the common law, parliamentary democracy and open markets - we share with Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the US. It recognises that different nations are joined by a common political culture. Carr and Rudd can protest all they want: the existence of that common culture is beyond question.

Yet in his speech, Carr threw every barb he could at the Anglosphere, dragging up the spectre of Pauline Hanson. This is a standard trope when anybody raises our English-speaking heritage - a suggestion that conservatives are not so much interested in the Anglosphere, per se, but the Anglo-Saxon race.

That charge is total nonsense. The English-speaking world includes the most successful multicultural nations. All but Britain and Ireland are built almost entirely on immigration. And their success is entirely due to their institutional heritage - a liberalism that says all people, regardless of background, can peacefully coexist under a legal system that treats them neutrally. It is thanks to our inheritance that Australia's multiculturalism functions as well as it does. We must not forget the former while we pursue the latter.

And spruikers of the Asian century ought to be cautious. A highly praised book was published in 2005 titled Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century. That didn't work out. Likewise, the Asian century may turn out very different from what our best and brightest predict.

For instance, if China's economy takes a dive, the region may well be led by India - a country almost as big, certainly more free, and more closely integrated with Australia.

Geography is less important than ever. And regions are less important than ever. Globalisation, technology, and near-zero shipping costs have taken care of that. The 21st century will be about relationships and ideas, not proximity.

The Labor Party's intellectuals have said for decades Australia must assert its independence. You know the drill. We must not play deputy sheriff for the US. We ought to pursue a strong, self-sufficient foreign policy. We must be confident in our identity.

So it's bizarre to hear our Foreign Minister claim that Australia should downplay its historical relationship with the English-speaking world - not because that relationship doesn't exist, but because simply stating it might offend our neighbours.

You would think that was the opposite of what a confident nation should do


Welcomed with open attitudes

By Eliza Sum

I LOVE the disbelieving reactions from Australians when they find out that I'm not one of them and have spent half my life elsewhere.  A common response is: "What? But you're more Aussie than I am!"

It's true. I'm an alien - albeit a legal one - and spent more than half of my life growing up in tropical Singapore before moving to suburban Geelong as a 15-year-old.

But despite my red passport and inherent love for laksa, I feel more welcome Down Under than in my birth country.

This, it seems, puts me at odds with Dr Stanley Chiang, the Victorian Chinese Community Council president, who believes Asians are still treated as foreigners.

"As soon as people see your face, they say, 'Where do you come from?'," he was reported as saying in yesterday's Herald Sun.   "Unfortunately, in Australia people still tend to think you're not Australian - if you look Asian you can't be Australian, which is not right," Dr Chiang said, adding the attitude could be traced back to the White Australia policy.

I've met hundreds of people from varying walks of life through high school, university and my work as a journalist, and can confidently say that Dr Chiang's views go against most of my experiences with Australians in the past nine years.

Almost all my friends and colleagues are Caucasian. So I like to think I have a pretty good handle on the Aussie lifestyle and outlook, which has been nothing but warm, cordial and embracing regardless of my skin colour.

Despite the perceived racism in this country, I've never been called a "chink" (not to my face, anyway), and have even been dubbeda "true-blue Aussie" on occasion.  That's pretty welcoming, don't you think?

I still remember my first day of year 10 public school as an awkward tomboy - it was already the early noughties, but I was one of only two Asian females in the entire student population.

A group of girls in my year level went out of their way to befriend me, even though I was shy, quiet and hyper-aware of my foreign accent.

As we grew closer, they gently ribbed me about my inability to pronounce the "th" sound, (froth became froff, three was tree), but it was all in jest.  I gave as good as I got, teasing them when they failed to stomach spicy food and couldn't use chopsticks at my family's dinner table.

Still, life as an Asian in a mostly Anglo regional town wasn't without challenges and the occasional insensitive, ignorant comment.

One day at school, a boy I'd never met asked if I arrived on a boat. Naively, I asked a classmate: "Does that mean they think I'm poor and can't afford a plane ticket?"

That was especially awkward, confusing and hurtful, but I moved on from it.

Today, I write for a regional newspaper, barrack loud and proud for the mighty Cats and love feeling the sea breeze in my hair down at Bells Beach.

I've travelled to every mainland state, panned for gold at Sovereign Hill and trekked around Uluru.

I adore Australians and their unique sense of humour and chronic inability to take anything seriously.

And even though I haven't developed a taste for beer or Vegemite, and can't stand on a surfboard to save my life, I feel more at home in Oz than anywhere else.

Yes, I still identify with being Singaporean but just don't see any point in the us-versus-them mentality that so many Asians have adopted, especially among older generations.

"My father says the Aussies will always treat us as second-class citizens just because we're Asian," an international student once friend moaned.  "He would never let me work here."

Sure, I can't change my skin tone, eyes or the colour of my hair, but I can control the way I behave - I don't feel like a foreigner because I don't act like one.

I'm comfortable in this country whether I'm screaming like a banshee at Kardinia Park while rifling into a bucket of hot chips, or tucking into a delicious yum cha lunch in Chinatown with my parents.

People occasionally ask where I'm from, but I don't get shirty when they do.

Of course, the odd idiot who lets fly with puerile remarks will still exist, but my experiences of good Aussies outweigh any fleeting moments of racism.

My fellow Asians, it's time to let go of the identity insecurity, educate the ignorant ... and maybe even share a laksa or two with them.


Tasmanian trade-off: jobs or trees

These are good times for Tasmanian trees but less so for Tasmanians.

Gunns, formerly the island state's biggest company, this week all but ended its eight-year battle to build a $2.3 billion pulp mill in northern Tasmania. With it goes potentially thousands of jobs.

And tomorrow, state and federal ministers meet yet again to try to salvage a $276 million "peace deal" between loggers and conservationists to end three decades of the "forest wars."

Although unrelated, the two events highlight the challenges facing Australia's least populous and poorest state, unkindly dubbed by one West Australian MP "the Greece of Australia".

While comparisons to Europe's crisis epicentre may be stretching it, the economic gulf between Tasmanians and the mainland has lately been growing deeper and wider.

July's figures out today show the island's 6.5 per cent jobless rate is the nation's highest - albeit a sizeable improvement on a much worse showing in June at 7.4 per cent.

In the most recent full-year national accounts, covering 2010-11, Tasmania's growth lagged all but flood-hit Queensland. The 0.8 per cent expansion rate was barely a third of Victoria and NSW, which like Tasmania, share little direct benefit from the mining boom.

The median Tassie household generated weekly income of $948, according to the 2011 census, roughly three-quarters of the national average. That gap would have been greater if the Commonwealth hadn't been funding about 60 per cent of the Tasmanian state budget, roughly double the rate in Victoria and NSW.

The demographics aren't encouraging, either.

For years, younger Tasmanians have flocked interstate in search of work and education, while older Australians headed to the island for retirement, leaving Tassie with the highest average age.

Along with the ageing population, about one in four claim some form of disability, the country's highest ratio, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics....

Few dispute Mr Eslake's call for Tasmania to move from low- to high-value products and services. Many, though, question how fast such a transition can be made.

Speed, in other contexts, may be the problem, says Neil MacKinnon, chief executive officer of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He says Tasmania's government is "rushing too fast" towards environmental agreements and "locking up" too much of Tasmania's dormant wealth.

If too much forest is quarantined, "it's an asset turned into a liability”, Mr MacKinnon argues.

"There's very large assets there. One of the concerns... is if those assets are not going to be able to be managed profitably, the eventual outcome will be degradation as nobody will be able to look after [the forests]."

Mr MacKinnon questions an assumption in some political quarters that Tasmanians can replace their jobs in old “brown” industries with new “green” ones.

"One of the concerns is that people will have been employed in the forestry industry for many years and it's difficult for them given their education levels and age to convert out of what you might call heavy industries to high tech.

“I think there's no doubt that we are in a transition period but it needs to be a sensibly staged transition... That might be over a generation. In the meantime we need to take advantage of existing standing assets. There's minerals to be mined ... there's opportunities for the commodity industries."

Conservation proponents, though, argue that protecting ancient forests preserves them for future generations and retains important carbon sinks. And they remain important attractions for mainlanders and overseas visitors.

The proposed forest pact also guarantees sufficient timber supplies for industry's needs - some say, too much.

Another emerging flashpoint is the push to save most if not all of the Tarkine wilderness in the state's north-west. The region holds a range of minerals that mining companies are clamouring to extract.

Gunns pushing up roses?

Somewhat ironically, it was the decision by Gunns, the state's major processor of native forest sawlogs and woodchips, to exit native forestry - after years of battles with conservationists - that served as a key prompt for a state and federal push to restructure the industry.

Gunns, founded in 1875 and one of the country's oldest companies, had pinned its future on developing a pulp mill that it said would create as many as 3100 jobs. Since it would use plantation timber, it no longer needed access to great swathes of forests.

While securing most of its environmental permits, though, Gunns has failed to arrange the necessary finance.

Its own viability has not been helped by what it described this week as the "substantial decline in stumpage prices" that will force it to cop a $700-$800 million write-down.

The wording on its statement implies that the high dollar and low global pulp prices make the mill unviable. So much, in other words, for value-adding.

Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's talks over a forest pact, Tasmania will need to look beyond the trees for viable job creation.

One sure bet, then, is that while there are trees to be chopped and minerals to be dug - and not enough alternative work - passions on both sides of the issue are unlikely to subside.


Cairns Base Hospital condition critical

ALMOST 800 patients at risk of bowel cancer are being forced to wait up to 10 months for a procedure at Cairns Base Hospital, despite a recommended wait time of no more than 30 days.

Cairns and Hinterland Health Service District CEO Julie Hartley-Jones said there were 791 Category 1 patients waiting to have an endoscopy or colonoscopy, which checks a person’s stomach or bowel area for cancer or other disease with an endoscope. Cancerous polyps can also be removed via an endoscopy, if detected early.

The wait exceeds a Queensland Health recommendation that any Category 1 patient undergoing an elective surgery should only wait up to 30 days.

Ms Hartley-Jones said overcrowding pressures on the hospital had forced the extensive wait times.

"The delay is due to the sheer volume of referrals for endoscopies including a surge of referrals from the highly successful bowel cancer screening awareness program," she said.

The hospital was able to send 83 endoscopy patients to Cairns Private Hospital for treatment to ease waiting list pressures after receiving special funding. She said the board would meet next week to discuss the situation as part of its review of service priorities for the State Government funding of $3.75 million.

A reader of The Cairns Post, who asked not to be named, alerted the paper to the situation after her husband, a Category 1 patient, was told by hospital staff he would have to wait up to eight months. However, because of his condition, he waited only six weeks.

The reader also raised concerns about the way in which patients recovering from endoscopy surgery were managed.

"It was seven o’clock at night in a clinic only set up for day patients and the queue of beds with inpatients was running up the corridor waiting for the last day procedure patients to finally wake up and come out of the tiny recovery area," she said.

"It was organised ‘people soup’, with an army of porters with equipment and bedding on trolleys queuing to come in with stuff needed for the night. The whole lot goes in reverse as the sun goes up."

Ms Hartley-Jones said the endoscopy recovery day unit was used by inpatients for overnight stays, but the planned 12-bed flex-bed unit would help prevent this in future.

She also said the overnight stays did not affect the number of endoscopies performed.

Senior Medical Staff Association secretary Paul Howat said the waiting list was a serious issue for patients as well as hospital staff.

"If you have a long waiting list and some of those patients have cancer, then there’s obviously a delay in diagnosis and a delay in treatment," he said.

Dr Howat said Townsville Hospital had four full-time gastroenterologists compared with Cairns’s one, despite both cities having similar populations.

"We don’t blame the administration, they’re given a budget and that’s all they can do," he said.

"It largely comes down to one person trying to manage a very large problem, rather than three or four specialists."

Dr Howat said the hospital could increase the operating hours of its second endoscopy room from two to five days a week, if funding and extra staff were available.

There are 65 endoscopies performed at Cairns Base Hospital each week.


Top schools ban homework on weekends and holidays

Probably a reasonable balance

AT least two of WA's top private schools have banned homework for younger children at weekends and during school holidays "to allow kids to just be kids".

The policies are in line with international expert Phil Beadle, author, trainer, speaker and a former UK Teacher of the Year, who says the traditional form of homework is akin to abuse for primary school children.

Presbyterian Ladies' College has ruled out homework at those times for Years 7 and 8, and Methodist Ladies' College does not advocate "traditional" homework for primary pupils.

Mr Beadle, who is in Australia as a teacher-in-residence at Sydney's Knox Grammar School, told The Sunday Times this week: "We blithely accept homework as an intrinsic part of schooling, despite the fact that everyone (teachers and students) hates it.

"No educator is in receipt of hard, incontrovertible evidence that homework is entirely necessary. However, any parent will tell you that at certain ages it has an enormously destructive effect on family life."

PLC principal Beth Blackwood said homework remains "an area for debate".

"For every piece of research that says homework is beneficial, there's another piece that says it's not," she said. "I think there are other benefits of homework not just achievement orientated.

"It's about developing good study habits and skills, developing self-direction, organisational skills, independent problem-solving, and it's also about parents getting involved in the schooling process.

"With that research in mind, we did look at our homework policy for the middle school. We were trying to strike a balance between the benefits of homework and having some homework but also allowing the girls to just be girls, and to have down time, and family time and time for recreation."

Ms Blackwood said she expected Year 12 students to complete at least 18 hours of homework and study each week, but expectations on younger students were not so high.

"It is not that effective in primary school and yet parents will judge schools by the amount of homework that is given," she said. "I think the most important thing is getting that balance." At MLC, based on research indicating that traditional homework does not work in younger years, primary school students are encouraged to read every day and engage in 30 minutes of nature play or outdoor activities.

"Our main objective is to move away from the negative connotations of home learning and celebrate true learning," the school said. "The second objective is to challenge today's technocentric society and move children away from spending too much time watching TV, playing computer games or surfing the internet.

"We want students to learn because it's enjoyable, stimulating and worthwhile. We have designed a new approach towards home learning that encompasses our philosophy of nurturing academically able and emotionally confident young women."

For students in Years 7 to 9, MLC recommends one, 1 1/2 and two hours of study each weeknight respectively, but homework is not set over long weekends or holidays, and a 24-hour deadline is usually avoided.

Mr Beadle said homework for primary school children should be illegal. He believes children would benefit more from "developing a love of reading and writing for fun", than homework.

"I think all children have a right to leisure and joy," he said. "Making their after-school life one in which they are compelled to obey the dictate to slave for something that is almost entirely intangible could be argued to be abusive.

"Yes, after a certain age, you will be unable to complete the essay in class time. Yes, after a certain age you will need to broaden your knowledge at home but really the most important thing you can receive at home is love and care and perhaps a love of reading.

"Spending your home life, constantly engaged, at the age of seven, in compulsory acts of negligible benefit should be illegal."

Education Department statewide services acting executive director Martin Clery said every public school set its own homework policy and there was no "blanket rule".

Many schools encouraged younger students to read every night with their parents to boost literacy and develop a joy for reading, but it was not technically considered homework. However, the department expected homework, when set, to relate directly to school work and "increase accordingly" throughout the year groups.

Education Minister Peter Collier said "primary school aged children don't need to be doing hours of homework each night" but it should be balanced with family time and revision of school work.


1 comment:

Paul said...

One of the big problems at Cairns Base is the poor management of the transition from regional country hospital to major centre. Many people in positions of responsibility are hold-overs from the small hospital era and they think and manage in small hospital terms. The Endoscopy debacle is real and ongoing and the place is under management (nursing certainly) that should be retired and renewed but the public sector culture of job-until-you-die prevents any of that happening. An added problem is the use of the Endoscopy recovery suite (more like cubby-hole) to house overflow patients from the Emergency Department, blocking the area's use for its intended purpose on many days. On a brighter note the new Intensive Care Unit opens to the Press today, and we formally move into it tomorrow. Its one small step in an expansion that should have occurred twelve years ago when they last refurbished. At that time they actually reduced the size of the place under the influence of health care academics who thought that medicine needed a more "community-based" focus. That went well.....