Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gillard's Asian language plan is straight out of her behind.  No brain involvement in the matter at all

There is a reason why so many high school students drop out of Asian languages - they're just too hard.  And anyone who knew anything about the matter would have told her that  -- if she had asked

Language learners of Australia, let's be honest: we are not going to become a nation of Mandarin speakers overnight as Prime Minister Gillard would like us to be.

As for her Asian white paper and its lofty goals for language studies and Australian high-schoolers, I wonder if we are thinking this through enough?

We're making a mistake if we think we can coerce high school children into learning Asian languages because, frankly, they are difficult for children with an untrained Anglo ear.

As Michael Maniska, the principal of Sydney's International Grammar School, told Lateline on Monday night, when you start learning a European language you can expect to have to invest 600 to 700 hours before you attain the basic level of proficiency. To attain that same level of proficiency in Mandarin or Japanese you have to invest 2100 to 2200 hours, according to the US Foreign Service Institute.

This is where the latest white paper on a cultural and economic interchange with Asia falls flat.

Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language in their teens or later, no matter how enthusiastic they are, knows how hard it is to learn it "cold". That is, without exposure as a preschooler.

For anyone over the age of 12, the intonations, grammar, sentence structures and colloquialisms of another language seem like an Everest to master. That's why you see older people maintaining accents even if they've emigrated in their teens.

This learning hurdle is as true for high school students as it is for business people who are told by their bosses to buy a few language tapes (or search the internet) to learn some of the lingo for that overseas posting.

In the past, for English speakers, it's been relatively easy to learn a foreign language. European languages such as French (the dominant diplomatic pidgin), Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German, shared the same Roman alphabet and many words. Those wanting to learn Greek or Russian had greater hardships, as the alphabets were different, though there were a few strands of familiarity that still crept through, both in alphabets and in word usage.

But Chinese and Japanese both use different alphabets and very subtle juxtaposition of symbols to create nuances in their written languages. This subtlety also extends to the tonal nature of their pronunciation and vocabulary, where it's much easier to make mistakes than in the European languages. That is why high school students drop out of Asian languages - if offered - at a high rate. They're just too hard. It is rare that an 18-year-old without an Asian background will sit the HSC in an Asian language.

I'm bilingual - German and English - and they're the only languages that remain imprinted on my mind.

In young adulthood I learnt three other languages. Two, French and Spanish, proved easy for pronunciation but difficult for grammar. Both dropped away without any use.

There were two real killers learning as a teenager: grammar and pronunciation. For grammar, you had to get your head around German sentences like: "Ich bin zu den Laeden gestern gegangen." (I have to the shops yesterday went.) For the Romance languages, you have elaborate subjunctives.

Although translation devices will never replace a competent, on-the-ground teacher who acts as a translator and mentor, there are both good and bad ones at the touch of a mouse or an app. You just have to choose the right one.

So is it realistic to make Asian language learning a priority for our schools? The sentiment's fine; it's just very impractical. Besides, we have a great pool of people in Australia who already speak so many Asian languages due to our diversity. Just hop on a western Sydney train line and you'll hear them speaking their native tongue.

Business people who travel from Shanghai to Singapore, or from Tokyo to Taipei will tell you time and again that unless you're on the pointy end of trade, people in Asia won't want you to practise your dodgy local language skills on them: they want to practise their YouTube versions of English on you.

You're there to talk business or science or education, so stick to what you're good at, unless you have the magic ear.

A vision for an exchange between Australia and Asia is laudable. Where curiosity and a greater cross-cultural understanding thrives, the economy will automatically follow. Pushing it with stumbling Mandarin-speakers is just an artificial construct.

Spending billions on languages and scrambling to find the teachers isn't the answer for Australia. Spending billions on better, egalitarian education, and fostering research beyond digging holes in the ground, is.


Mainland removed from zone for asylum seekers

THE flow of asylum-seeker boats has surged by more than a third since the reintroduction of the Pacific solution, leading the government to adopt a further measure of excising the Australian mainland from the migration zone.

More than 5700 asylum seekers have arrived since August 13, the cut-off date from when the government has warned boat arrivals could be sent to Nauru or Manus Island for processing.

That compares to 4300 over the same period before the cut-off, a 39 per cent increase in boats and a 32 per cent increase in people.

The Houston report commissioned by the government and released on August 13 warned that the Pacific solution alone would not stop the boats and all its recommendations should be implemented.

The recommendation to excise Australia from the migration zone was adopted by the government yesterday.

This means anyone who arrives on the Australian mainland by boat will be sent offshore for processing to Nauru or Manus Island.

Presently, they are processed onshore and receive bridging visas and limited work rights.

The measure was once so controversial that, six years ago, the Howard government backed off trying to introduce it following a revolt by Liberal moderates. In a sign of how the politics has changed, Labor's Melissa Parke was the only person to voice concern when the legislation was put to caucus yesterday for approval. She questioned whether the move was consistent with Australia's international obligations.

The Coalition slammed the government as hypocrites but is likely to support the legislation.

However, two Liberal moderates, Russell Broadbent and Judi Moylan, said they would cross the floor and not support it.

Since 2008, after Labor was elected, only 211 people have reached the mainland by boat whereas more than 28,200 have reached islands such as Christmas Island, which are already excised from the migration zone.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said excising the mainland was necessary because more people are expected to try to reach the mainland to avoid being sent to Nauru or Manus Island.

"These are difficult decisions for everybody but we do need to have in place a properly integrated system which says to people there's a safer way of getting to Australia," he said.

Mr Bowen also tabled legislation yesterday appropriating money for the $1.6 billion asylum seekers will cost the budget this financial year. This includes $1.2 billion in costs detailed in the midyear budget update last week and another $267 million taken from the contingency reserve for initial construction costs on Nauru and Manus Island.

Mr Bowen said excising the mainland did not contravene Australia's obligations under the UN Refugee Convention but refugee advocates were outraged.

The human rights lawyer Rachel Ball said the excision was without precedent for a country signed on to international conventions.

"Excision is an affront to justice and the rule of law," she said.

The Labor Left is uncomfortable with the policy direction. Senior figures have sought a dialogue with Mr Bowen to ensure it is at least kept abreast of changes and can monitor them.


Students suspended following comments on Facebook page

The Principal sounds rather high and mighty but the school does appear to be a rather violent one so maybe that is relevant.  Some  posts do appear to have been genuinely abusive.  Suspending students over it is pretty dubious however.  Should we not expect a school to try education instead?

A GOLD Coast principal has launched a crackdown on cyber bullying, suspending any student who posts abusive messages on a school Facebook page.

Southport High School principal Steve McLuckie has suspended several students behind a series of vicious cyber attacks on the Facebook page.

The move has divided education heavyweights and the school community.  Some parents say the principal is going too far and limiting their children's right to free speech, but supporters praise Mr McLuckie for taking on "trolls".

"I am not backing away from this," Mr McLuckie said.  "We are taking a stand. This type of bullying and harassment should not be tolerated."

The offensive messages have been posted on Facebook page Souhtport (sic) High Memes which has more than 500 "likes".

Other posts ask students to name which teacher is their least favourite, sparking a tirade of abuse from past and present students.

The page was created on August 23 and Mr McLuckie yesterday confirmed several students had been suspended.

"It is not a private page, this is a public page," he said.  "The comments are inappropriate and will not be tolerated. If you are going to be inappropriate, then we will take action.  "Bullying and harassment will simply not be tolerated, and we stand by that."

Mr McLuckie said the students were posting highly offensive material on a public page and had to understand it was unacceptable.

"We, as a society, do not put up with anyone putting people down and belittling them," he said.  "As a society we do not accept that, and we are trying to educate and train students to be a part of that society."

Parents have had a mixed reaction to the school's tough stand, with some completely unaware that their children were posting the offensive material.

Mr McLuckie said several parents and students had apologised, but not everyone was supportive.

One mother, who asked not to be named, had two students at the Southport school and said they had a right to free speech.  "They haven't done anything wrong. They have posted on a Facebook site - so what," she said.  "They have accessed the site in their own time. The school has no right to punish my children for what they do in their own time.  "That's my job. The school is out of line."

The Southport High School is not the only meme page - hundreds of the Facebook pages have popped up around the country.


Coalition mocks Labor's 'on track' surplus

The Federal Opposition is mocking the Government's economic strategy, accusing it of walking away from its promise to deliver a budget surplus this financial year.

Labor is no longer guaranteeing it will achieve a surplus, instead saying it is "on track" to achieve the $1.1 billion surplus forecast in last week's budget update.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey says the Government will abandon its commitment.  "Every time, they try and look for a different word," he told Parliament.  "You get your promise, you get your guarantee, you get your road map, but this is a government that has not delivered a surplus.  "It's now planning to have a surplus - 'maybe we'll get there, we hope to get there' - I mean it is a scene out of Thomas the Tank Engine."

Treasurer Wayne Swan points to Labor's record in the financial crisis.  "When our country was threatened we saved it," he said.   "And who voted against that? Everyone over there."

He says it is impossible to predict what the global economy will do and the Government will take decisions to protect jobs.

The Coalition interrupted Question Time to try and condemn the Government over the issue, but lost the vote 67 to 69.

Government frontbencher Anthony Albanese says the Coalition is being hypocritical because it has not promised to support budget spending cuts.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Julia Gillard's Asian Century plan causes divisions in Labor

JULIA Gillard faces a backlash from elements in her own party over key aspects of her plan to reach out to Asia with more free trade and easier immigration.

Outspoken Labor Senator Doug Cameron said he was concerned about the expansion of free trade agreements canvassed by the "Asian Century" White Paper and called for a "a proper critical analysis" within caucus.

He demanded the Government explain how it would protect Australian wages and conditions as it embarked on "economic integration".

Labor faces further turmoil over its policy to allow mining companies to sponsor foreign workers in bulk.

A committee of 14 Labor MPs is set to today debate a plan drafted by Senator Cameron to further restrict the use of migrant workers through enterprise migration agreements and 457 visas. The plan, which has already caused Labor MP Andrew Leigh to quit his role as deputy of the committee, will also call for more regulation of conditions for fly in, fly out workers.


Questions over "Asian" white paper implementation

Critics are questioning how the Federal Government plans to implement its Asian Century white paper, particularly whether there are enough teachers and diplomats to fill the roles required.

The white paper, released on Sunday, outlines 25 major objectives - all aimed at building stronger ties with Asia.

They call for Australia to be listed in the top five countries for ease of doing business, and they say every student should have the chance to learn an Asian language throughout their education.

The review focuses on four key languages dubbed the priority languages: Chinese, Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese.

The director of the Asian Studies Program at the University of Sydney, Adrian Vickers, says it is a good list, but he wonders why it has taken so long to identify the growth potential in Australia's relationship with Asia.

"The Asian Century is already well underway. Shouldn't we have been planning for that quite a while ago?" he said.

"I think we've got a lot of catching up to do. And particularly in terms of the ways that, in my own sector say, Asian universities are racing ahead.

"If you look at all of the international rankings, Asian universities are climbing up very quickly.

"And certainly the rapid advances in technology, in social change, in political change in Asia are things that we are struggling to keep up with as a nation."
Audio: Questions over Government white paper (PM)

Professor Vickers says there is a lack of money and no resources to do implement the white paper properly.

He says the attempts to increase language levels come at a time when students are deserting university language programs.

"Given that a lot of universities are seeing the teaching, say, of Indonesian as not economically viable.

"Two other universities in Australia recently have attempted, or thought about, cutting the program altogether because they're not getting enough money or there are not enough students to make it viable.

"If you translate that across the board, it's hard to see how market forces are going to give you the student numbers to keep language programs going."

Targets for the Asian Century include:

 *   By 2025, Australia's GDP per person will be in the world's top 10, up from 13th in 2011, requiring a lift in our productivity.

*    This will mean Australia's average real national income will be about $73,000 per person in 2025 compared with about $62,000 in 2012.

*    Globally we will be ranked in the top five countries for ease of doing business and our innovation system will be in the world's top 10.

*    By 2025, our school system will be in the top five in the world, and 10 of our universities in the world's top 100.

*   All students will have continuous access to a priority Asian language - Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.

*    Our diplomatic network will have a larger footprint across Asia supporting stronger, deeper and broader links with Asian nations.

*   Our leaders will be more Asia literate, with one-third of board members of Australia's top 200 publicly listed companies and Commonwealth bodies having deep experience in and knowledge of Asia.

A parliamentary committee has also raised questions about whether Australia's diplomatic network is up to the job of supporting them.

The sub-committee says the Department of Foreign Affairs has been under-funded for the past 30 years.

Chairman Nick Champion says Australia lacks a significant presence in many areas, including Asia.

"Well it's mainly resources. If you put resources in, you'll get more posts. And one of the things we just lack is presence in many places, particularly in Asia, particularly in Africa,"

Mr Champion says what is needed is a white paper into diplomatic representation.

He says an external review of DFAT itself is needed and there should be an increase of 20 diplomatic posts around the world.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr says extra funding for DFAT would be welcome but he is confident there are enough diplomatic positions already to meet the goals of the white paper.

"Australia is punching above its weight in diplomacy," he said.

"You've got our biggest embassy in Jakarta. You've got successful Australian diplomacy in East Timor, in Myanmar and Mongolia, and among the 10 ASEAN nations.

"In the last few weeks we had visits from Singapore, from Korea, Myanmar, Thailand, The Philippines, Japan; the ASEAN secretary general. Our diplomacy is moving ahead very strongly."


Uncool, but grammar should rule the schools

The nation's English teachers must be rubbing their hands with glee regarding the recent debate about the definition of feminism, sexism and (gasp) misogyny. It has made consulting the dictionary kinda cool. Even the head of the Macquarie says it's livened things up a little in the office, with the editors busy musing about the evolution of the terms and how to update the newest edition.

I just hope this newfound interest in our language extends into a nationwide clean up day to remedy our discourse from glaring grammatical blunders. Before I go on, I must declare that as a Gen Xer, we were blighted from the beginning.

Apparently, in the 1970s, our baby boomer teachers thought "to heck with bras and virginity before marriage, and while we're at it, this grammar palaver is really uncool, man. Let the words be free, unshackled from conventional rules." Right on dude. What seven-year-old wants to have their story about Uncle Bob's sheep that got away on the weekend sullied with worries about past participles and the like?

So we traipsed through the hallowed halls of academia, blissfully unaware of terms like dangling modifier, conjunction and adjectival clause. Sure, we learnt the basics. Capital letters. Full stops. A couple of commas ("To mark a breath for the reader") were thrown in for good measure. Probably the most remembered rule was: don't end a sentence with a word like of. Oops. That last one is a fragment, which you'd only know nowadays, because it ends up with red underline on your word processor.

I was always regarded as "Good at English". That is, comparative to my physics marks, I was an absolute genius. But years later, I found myself at a professional writing course and the first thing we did in the compulsory editing 101 subject was to take a grammar test. "Bring it on!" I thought, fully expecting to blitz the exam.

I scored three out of 20. Most of my classmates scored less than 50 per cent and we looked around in horror at each other. This was a selective course in graduate writing. How the heck could we be turning in that sort of result?

"It's not your fault," our teacher said soothingly. "Grammar was taken out of the curriculum in the '70s and '80s," she said. What?! That's like saying addition was taken out of the maths curriculum.

Later, at the pub, our shock turned to anger, then denial. "What the hell does it matter anyway?" we cried. "We've got this far. We're all 'Good at English'. Who cares if we don't know where to put commas, when it's all said and done, around a non-restrictive phrase?"

Well, it does matter, I hate to say. Once you know what it is you didn't know, you cross the Rubicon. You're born again. And everywhere, you start to see wanton neglect of that which you now hold so precious. On a daily basis, I'm confronted with assaults to my newfound grammatical piety.

First, there seems to be an apostrophe for every occasion. As a writer for hire, I'm often called in to add a spit and polish to corporate copy. The number of times I see an apostrophe plopped in the wrong context is extraordinary. It's KPIs, not KPI's.

A legitimate use of the apostrophe is for a possessive noun, or in easy speak: if the thing you're writing about owns the thing you're referring to, you bang an apostrophe in before the 's'. The book's title. The King's Speech. Tick. The meeting is in five minute's. Wrong. "The biscuit's are here for everyone". Observed in a corporate kitchen, this induces a ghastly shudder as one reaches for the last remaining Kingston.

So, I offer one more tip for those for whom grammar was just a word added to the name of an expensive school. I'm on a personal mission to eradicate the chronic misuse of "amount", where "number" is the apt and grammatically correct choice.

The rule is: If you can count it, don't use "amount". Television journalists are the worst offenders. "The amount of people here today is absolutely unbelievable." Uh-uh. People can be counted, therefore it should be: "The number of people here today…" The amount of hyperbole in sports reporting? Yeah, that's OK.

I welcome debate about the meaning of our political verbiage. While we're at it, let's start a campaign to help grammar get its groove on like it's 1975.


Adults conceived via IVF are well-adjusted with a positive perception of their environment

ADULTS who were born through IVF are just as well-adjusted and satisfied with life as those conceived naturally, the first longitudinal study into IVF children's quality of life has found.

The only significant difference discovered was that young IVF-conceived adults had a more positive perception of their environment, including of their safety, finances and learning opportunities.

Melbourne researchers surveyed about 1100 adults aged 18-29, half of whom were IVF-conceived, measuring 26 life quality factors including satisfaction with relationships, medical treatment needed, sleep and moods.

The research also took into account the person's work status, birth weight and their parents' financial situation.

The findings were presented at the Fertility Society of Australia's annual conference in New Zealand yesterday.

IVF experts say the findings are an important validation that the procedure is safe for children's social and psychological health in the long term.

The first generation of IVF babies are now starting to have their own children, including through artificial fertilisation.

"The results aren't surprising, because there's no doubt these kids were wanted," said Melbourne IVF's medical director Dr Lyndon Hale.  "Common sense suggests that these kids would have lots of input from their parents."

The study was a collaboration between researchers from Monash and Melbourne IVF, the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, the Jean Hailes Research Unit, the Royal Women's Hospital and the University of Melbourne.

The mother's smile says it all

Bianca and Matt Smith's two children, nine-week-old Mason and 22-month-old Isla, were both long-awaited arrivals with the help of Melbourne IVF.  Ms Smith, 35, said that after years of trying to conceive naturally, she was investing her energy in raising happy, well-adjusted children.

"You long for them for so long. You spend a lot of money and time going through a lot physically and emotionally, and it's all worth it," Ms Smith said.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Private schools not just for wealthy according to figures by independent report

ABOUT half of Queensland's richest families sent their children to state schools last year instead of the private sector, a report released today shows.

The report also found independent schools had a slightly higher percentage of children from the state's poorest families in its student population than the Catholic sector.

Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) executive director David Robertson said figures in ISQ's "Research Report: Income Levels of Families with Students in Queensland Schools" - compiled using 2011 Australian census data - busted a myth that its sector only served the wealthy.

He said the figures also raised the question of whether the children of high-income state school parents, who could afford to pay more for education, should receive less money under the new school funding model. The ISQ report states 48 per cent of families earning more than $2260 per week - or $117,520 a year - sent their children to a state school, compared to 28 per cent to Catholic schools and 24 per cent to Independents.

"Of those students from families with incomes in the highest decile ($3278 per week), 39.7 per cent attended government schools, 30.1 per cent attended Catholic schools and 30.3 per cent attended independent schools," the report stated.

"This pattern of the Government catering for more of the highest-income families than either independent or Catholic schools was replicated at both primary and secondary levels."

The one exception was in secondary for the highest wage bracket of more than $3278 per week - $170,456 plus a year - with the independent sector schooling 37.5 per cent of those children, compared to 32.5 per cent in the state sector.

At the other end of the income bracket the report found "19.6 per cent of students attending independent schools were from families that earnt less than $1,108 per week, compared to 18.1 per cent for Catholic school students and 36.0 per cent of government school students".

Mr Robertson said there had been significant growth in independent schools catering for disadvantaged families and they would be able to cater for more if funding arrangements were more equitable.

"It would be a surprise to many that close to 10 per cent of students from families with a weekly income of less than $488 per week attended independent schools," he said.

Mr Robertson urged the Government to closely examine the data "which clearly dispels some public myths" before deciding on the nature of its school funding reform.


Corrupt bureaucrats

A corruption watchdog says an investigation into allegations of bribery and kickbacks at public authorities and local councils across New South Wales has uncovered widespread corruption.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has been investigating claims that staff from a number of councils accepted gifts from suppliers to encourage them to keep placing orders with their companies.

The commission's report found it was common practice in some places - with gifts including ipads, vouchers, clothing and holidays.

Although the investigation only looked at 14 local councils, and the then Roads and Traffic Authority, the report has made corruption recommendations that apply to all councils, stating that the problems are systemic.

The commission also made corrupt conduct findings against 41 people.

It will forward the findings of its investigation to the Director of Public Prosecutions this week, recommending that nine of those involved face charges.


Facts favour nuclear-powered submarines

Australia’s $40 billion project to replace six Collins Class submarines with 12 Future Submarines is at risk of failing. In addition to the potential gap between the retirement of the Collins Class and the commissioning of the Future Submarines, unsolved problems with the Collins Class threaten the viability of our future submarine fleet.

Australia’s diesel-powered Collins Class submarines are expensive and unreliable. These problems are likely to be inherited by any Australian-designed Future Submarine, which is why Australia must explore leasing the US Navy’s nuclear-powered Virginia Class attack submarine.

Nuclear-powered submarines can travel faster and farther, and remain deployed for much longer than their diesel-powered rivals; they also operate more powerful sensors, systems and weaponry.

Despite these advantages, the government has refused to consider the nuclear option, instead preferring to substantially redesign an existing diesel submarine. The same process gave us the Collins Class; we don’t need to repeat the mistake to know the likely outcome.

Each Collins Class submarine costs more than $110 million a year to maintain and operate, with total costs for the six submarines likely to exceed $1 billion a year by 2021. Nor has the higher cost meant greater reliability. Typically, no more than two Collins Class submarines have been available for deployment. The rest have been in maintenance or awaiting repair of serious defects.

By contrast, the Virginia Class submarine costs the United States approximately $50 million per submarine per year and is proving very reliable.

The acquisition costs are lower too. The upfront cost of leasing eight Virginia Class submarines (together with establishment costs) is $23 billion to $27 billion, substantially lesser than the $40 billion estimate for the diesel-powered Future Submarines.

Arguments against nuclear-powered submarines don’t add up. The defence minister cited self-reliance as the main reason for rejecting nuclear-powered submarines. However, the Collins Class submarine was the poster child for self-reliance and it is hardly a success story.

Moreover, Australia depends heavily on foreign defence companies (and their Australian subsidiaries) for the development and sustainment of its platforms now, and that dependence will only increase given Australia’s declining defence budgets.

The United States has agreed to give nuclear submarine technology to Canada and the United Kingdom in the past. As Australia is an important ally and has close defence ties with the United States, the latter would seriously consider a request from Australia for nuclear-powered submarines. Leasing submarines would also increase the effective force level of the United States and its allies, and take some of the pinch out of proposed budget cuts.

Safety concerns and skills gaps are also important considerations, but these are manageable issues. What is important is getting the best submarine we can for the money the government is willing to spend. On that basis, Australia must consider nuclear-powered submarines.


Queensland Health leaves trainee doctors out of work

HUNDREDS of trainee doctors have not been re-hired by Queensland Health, sparking fears the medicos will be left "driving taxis and washing windscreens" while patients languish on waiting lists.

Up to 500 doctors in their final years of training at state tertiary hospitals were recently sent emails telling them "you have not been selected for a position with Queensland Health in 2013".

The news has outraged doctors' groups and comes at a time when patients are waiting up to five years to be seen by specialists before they even have surgery.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Alex Markwell said postgraduate doctors in their second, third and fourth years were the workhorses of public hospitals.

"We've never seen anything like it in Queensland. We've got doctors and they are being told to go away," she said. "Doctors need training and do not graduate 'ready to use'."

She said the State Government had given hospital and health boards their budgets and a directive on how many people they could hire.

Queensland Health deputy director-general Michael Cleary said it was too soon to determine how many doctors would not receive positions in Queensland Health, but he doubted it would be 500.

Professor Cleary said it was expected more jobs would be offered later in the year because doctors usually applied for more than one position, leaving a vacancy for another.

He said Queensland Health had offered jobs to 4400 doctors next year, more than in previous years.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said Australia was still recruiting large numbers of overseas-trained doctors to fill junior medical officer positions.

In 2011-12, 1260 applications for 457 Class visas were granted by the Department of Immigration for junior medical officer positions.

"You're going to have (locally trained) doctors driving taxis and washing windscreens," Dr Hambleton said.

In the meantime, patients are left waiting for specialist treatment. Bundaberg retiree Carmel Daniel, 67, has waited two years for a specialist doctor to operate on her twisted, broken arm.

A letter from the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital recently advised her that the specialist doctor needed to treat her was on holidays for three months, and was booked up to almost Christmas.

Data provided to The Sunday Mail under Right to Information laws showed almost 200,000 were waiting to see a specialist in 2010.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Asia to be core part of school education

Given Australia's geographical location and trade patterns this is reasonable enough -- as long as our own history and and culture plus the history and culture of our major country of origin -- Britain -- is also covered.  I don't see Muslims (for instance) disrespecting their own history and culture so why should we?  And the Chinese and Japanese would laugh at any idea of prioritizing the cultures of other countries over their own

ASIAN studies will become a core part of Australia's school curriculum under the federal government's ambitious plan to capitalise on the region's growing wealth and influence.

The government on Sunday released its long-awaited Asian Century white paper, a policy blueprint that sets out how Australia can increase integration with Asia over the coming decade and beyond.

The document reveals a number of targets for the nation over the 13 years to 2025, aimed at ensuring Australia fulfils its ambitions and competes effectively within Asia.

By 2025 Australia's gross domestic product (GDP) per person will be in the world's top 10, up from 13th last year. That would lift Australia's average real national income to about $73,000 per person in 2025, compared with about $62,000 now.

The school system will be in the top five in the world, and 10 of its universities in the world's top 100.

The paper places a heavy emphasis on education, saying Asian studies will become a core part of the Australian school curriculum.  All students will be able to study an Asian language and the priorities will be Chinese Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.

Australia's leaders will also be more Asia literate, with one-third of board members of the top 200 publicly listed companies and commonwealth bodies to have "deep experience" in and knowledge of Asia.

The Australian economy will be more deeply integrated with Asia, with Asian trade links to be at least one third of GDP, up from one quarter today.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the document lays out an ambitious plan to make sure Australia grows stronger by capitalising on the opportunities offered by the Asian Century.

"The scale and pace of Asia's rise is staggering, and there are significant opportunities and challenges for all Australians," she said in a statement on Sunday.

"It is not enough to rely on luck.  "Our future will be determined by the choices we make and how we engage with the region we live in. We must build on our strengths and take active steps to shape our future."

Australia should be in the top five countries for ease of doing business by 2025, the white paper says.

Its diplomatic network should have a larger footprint across the region.

While the white paper sets out what actions governments can take, it also calls on businesses and communities to play their part.

New work and holiday agreements between Australia and its Asian neighbours will mean more opportunities for work and study in the region and to take up professional opportunities.

Financial markets will be better integrated, allowing capital to flow more easily across borders.

The government will enter into a National Productivity Compact with the states and territories, focused on regulatory and competition reform.  "We want to ensure that Australia is as competitive as it can be," Finance Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.

The compact is expected to be agreed at the next meeting of the Business Advisory Forum between business leaders, prime minister and senior ministers.

The white paper also reinforces the need to attract skilled migrants and students from Asia.

The government is expanding its network to support online visa lodgment, multiple entry visas and longer visa validity periods and is streaming the student visa process.

Seven of the top 10 source countries in Australia's migration program are in the Asian region, including India, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.

Students from Asia already account for about 77 per cent of the more than 550,000 international enrolments each year.

In agriculture, the government says Australia's primary producers can benefit from rising demand by Asia's middle classes for high quality food and farm product.


Royal Australian Air Force warns military personnel not to send gift-wrapped presents to Afghanistan

THE Air Force has warned staff against wrapping gifts for military personnel serving overseas in Christmas paper due to "cultural sensitivity".

A Flight Lieutenant based at RAAF Base Pearce near Perth sent an email to staff and cadets encouraging them to send Christmas care packages to Australians deployed in the Middle East Area of Operations this festive season.

After the usual warnings about not sending alcohol or pornography and some helpful gift ideas the officer offered the following packaging advice.

"Contents should be securely wrapped in stiff brown paper (no Christmas wrapping due to cultural sensitivities, please) and clearly addressed to: Australian Defence Force Member AFPO 60 Australian Defence Force NSW 2890."

Presumably he was concerned that bright paper featuring Santa Claus, a reindeer or baby Jesus might offend some Muslims.

Defence said it did not even have a policy on Christmas wrapping paper, but was aware of the "cultural sensitivity" issue.  "We are aware of advice posted on a Defence web site and are taking steps to correct the information in the public domain," it said.

It is not clear if it was aware of the comments before News Limited asked several questions about the email late last week.

Opposition defence personnel spokesman and former army officer Stuart Robert said someone had lost the plot.  "This is a case of political correctness gone mad. The Grinch this Christmas will be the government if it doesn't right this wrong," Mr Robert said.  "On the back of 'no beer for Christmas' it's now no Christmas for Christmas."

The now infamous email told RAAF staff that the most popular gifts for troops overseas were; "Lollies, beanies, gloves, hand cream, chap sticks and lip balm, crossword puzzle books, newspapers (any date), magazines, including sports, Women's Day, home and gardening, Street Machine and similar. Packets of cappuccino sachets, Tim Tam biscuits and Christmas puddings."


Criminals reoffending while doing community service

CRIMINALS sentenced to community service are committing crimes every month while they should be cleaning up Queensland.

Shock figures show 62 per cent of offenders, or 1147 of 1840, broke the law while on the orders in the past financial year. That's almost 100 a month.

Instead of working in jobs such as sorting clothes at Lifeline, and council natural revegetation and graffiti removal projects, they've been caught committing fraud, breaking into homes, stealing cars, assaulting police and using drugs.

They originally fronted courts on assault, stealing, prostitution, vandalism, graffiti, drug and traffic-related charges but were spared jail time.

Despite committing crimes and being sent back to court, many remained on the orders.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers told The Sunday Mail criminals were "making a mockery of the system" and called for harsher penalties.

Since 2008-09, 77 per cent of people on community service reoffended 6018 out of 7772.

Twenty per cent of orders were terminated in 2011-12 after people failed to meet court-imposed conditions.

The overall order completion rate was 2102 of 3499 orders or 60.1 per cent.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said in a statement: "It is always concerning when offenders treat a community service order with contempt and it is something I will continue to monitor."

Queensland Corrective Services manager of operational practice Jo Dansey said the reoffending was a concern but it was a reality when there were no supervision or intensive rehabilitation programs involved.


Pork barrelling along, singing a song

In the aftermath of Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), the discussion has focused on big ticket items such as the mining tax, company tax, baby bonus, and private health insurance.

But MYEFO also provides a detailed list of government patronage to favoured organisations. The Australian Ballet received $2 million to build a new production facility in the Melbourne suburb of Altona, which also happens to be in the prime minister’s electorate of Lalor.

Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie also did well out of the MYEFO pork barrel: the Moonah Arts Centre received $4 million; the New Town Bay Centre for Rowing Education got $2.5 million; Wellesley Park got $1.2 million to upgrade its sporting facilities; and Hobart received $3.4 million towards energy-efficient street lights.

Millions are going towards restructuring businesses. Alcoa Australia is receiving $42 million to restructure its Point Henry Aluminium Smelter; Australian Paper’s mill in Maryvale, Victoria, is getting $9.5 million to establish a ‘de-inked pulp facility’; and the Boyer Mill in Tasmania is getting $28 million to help diversify its production so it can ‘produce magazine grade paper’.

The sports sector too was on the gravy train. To help the Football Federation of Australia prepare for the 2015 Asian Football Cup, which will cost taxpayers more than $55 million, the government forgave FAA’s $4 million debt to the Commonwealth. Two million dollars went towards building a multicultural centre for the Greater Western Sydney Giants, and a half million dollars went to install a synthetic hockey pitch at the Centre of Excellence for Hockey in Western Australia.

Think tanks didn’t miss out either: $4 million went to the Lowy Institute to set up a G20 Studies Centre, and $7 million for ongoing support to the United States Studies Centre and to set up an office at the University of Western Australia. The government will also spend $12.1 million over four years to establish the ‘Centre for Workplace Leadership’.

Not all announcements in the MYEFO were bad. The cuts to middle-class welfare and the Export Market Development Grant program, which subsidises the marketing of exports, are welcome. However, this MYEFO clearly shows the government gravy train is chugging along quite nicely.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Asylum rioters rewarded with visa to stay in Australia

ASYLUM seekers convicted of participating in riots that caused more than $5 million damage to the Christmas Island detention centre have been handed protection visas to stay in the country.

Just one of seven offenders convicted over the riots had his visa application rejected by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on character grounds.

Three men found guilty of offences relating to the March 2011 riots - in which accommodation and administration facilities were burned down and rocks thrown at police - have been granted protection visas to remain in Australia.

Two others convicted were found not to be refugees and another has a current protection claim but is appealing against his conviction. Six of the seven remain in Australia.

At the time of the riots, Mr Bowen talked tough about the 200 participants, most of whom had their faces covered. Only 22 were charged, leaving just seven with convictions.

"Again, a group of around 200 protesters seem to think that violent behaviour is an acceptable way to influence the outcome of their visa application or influence government decision-making," he said at the time.

A month after the riots, Mr Bowen said he was toughening the character test provisions "to make it very clear that anybody who commits an offence, regardless of the penalty, regardless of the sentence, while they are in immigration detention will fail the character test and can be denied a permanent visa".

It has been revealed to parliament that the three rioters given protection visas received a warning on their character assessment before being handed their visas.

The character test clearly states if an asylum seeker has been convicted of an offence while in detention they fail the test. Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said that the rioters' visa applications should have been rejected.

Australian Federal Police and dog squad in riot gear prepare to relocate asylum-seeker detainees within the detention centre on Christmas Island, following the March riots.

"Minister Bowen has proved himself a soft touch on our borders at every opportunity," Mr Morrison said.

"Every chance he has had to send a strong message on our borders, he has rolled out the welcome mat.

"The fact that he granted permanent visas to those who rioted and burnt sections of detention centres to the ground on his watch is a disgrace."


Testing the new teacher - the plan to lift classroom quality

TEACHER graduates should be tested on literacy and numeracy skills, ability to communicate and passion for teaching before fronting a classroom, the Australian Centre for Educational Research said.

ACER chief executive Geoff Masters said quality teaching was the key to lifting achievement levels in Australian schools, a key goal of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Governments must enhance the status of teachers so the best and brightest are attracted to the profession and admission to teacher education programs is highly competitive, he said.

"Teaching can be highly rewarding, but is also increasingly complex," Professor Masters said.

"Teachers must keep abreast of rapidly changing technologies and provide support for a wide range of personal and social issues that students now face. Work of this kind requires highly skilled, caring individuals."

Speaking ahead of World Teacher Day today, Prof Masters said one way governments could enhance the status of teachers was to ensure that teacher graduates met minimum national standards of literacy and numeracy, as well as the standards for teaching these skills.

Second, make entry to teacher courses more competitive by reducing the number of teachers trained and setting higher hurdles for course admission.

Governments should also develop research-based descriptions of effective teaching practices, provide professional learning to develop practices and recognise and reward great teaching.

High-performing school systems also assess interpersonal and communication skills and the candidate's commitment to teaching as a career.

The state government has released a discussion paper on improving the quality of teaching amid concerns that it is becoming an easy career choice.

As a way of attracting quality people to the profession, responses have suggested a minimum ATAR requirement, increasing teacher wages and universities being more willing to fail unsuitable candidates.

Education department Director-general Michele Bruniges, Board of Studies president Tom Alegounarias and Institute of Teachers chief executive Patrick Lee will make recommendations to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli early next month.


Aboriginal MP lashes gas hub protesters

THE first indigenous woman elected to an Australian parliament has come out swinging against Browse gas hub opponents, saying the Broome community is not divided over the proposal and it's only a small but vocal group causing all the fuss.

Outgoing Kimberley MLA Carol Martin has told the West Australian parliament that she supported a bill underpinning the Woodside-led Browse project because many indigenous people in the Kimberley region believed it would benefit them, not just state revenues.

Premier Colin Barnett has long argued that a land agreement signed with native title claimant groups, which included a substantial benefits package, was "the most significant act of self-determination by an Aboriginal group in Australian history".

Ms Martin agreed, saying Aboriginal people needed to take control of their own destiny.

The Kimberley's indigenous communities were still mired in abject poverty, she said, and they did not want to keep living with a welfare model that was not only humiliating and demoralising, but made some young people feel as if they did not have a future, leaving them contemplating suicide.

After being colonised by "the British", "do-gooders", "missionaries" and "industry", indigenous people were now being colonised by "the bloody greenies" who opposed the hub, who should "go and check the headstones".

"They have loud voices, they have the media on their side and they have bands," she said, referring to a recent, free John Butler concert in Broome that anti-hub activists said had been watched online by "tens of thousands in over 65 countries".

The organisers of the event did not ask the shire for a permit and interfered with an annual surf competition at Cable Beach, Ms Martin said.  "How disrespectful is that?" she asked.  "These people stuffed it up."

Those who attended the concert were not necessarily opponents of the gas hub, she said.

Ms Martin said she thought it was wrong that some activists had threatened Browse staff and police had been criticised for sending officers to Broome to protect them.

"The public has a right to know what is happening; these people are being assaulted on their way to work and at work.  "It is disgraceful. I do not support people who break the law, get arrested, and then stand as if they are some sort of martyr."

Ms Martin said the "200 people on the news" were not the 17,000 people who lived in the area.

Mr Barnett on Thursday said Ms Martin's speech was one of the most moving and passionate he'd heard in parliament.

It "might not suit the politically correct media that we have" and "an essentially urban, middle-class Australia".

"She talked about the famous, the rich and famous who would come to the Kimberly in a self-righteous way as if only they cared about the environment or only they cared about the whales or only they cared about the dinosaur footprints," he told parliament.

"And implicit in that is an attitude that we see too often ... that somehow this state is a redneck environment, that we don't care about heritage, that we don't care about the environment, and somehow we're not capable enough to look after marine life in the Kimberley."


Big fadeout for Greens in ACT

The ACT Greens slipped into deeper electoral trouble last night with updated vote counting showing for the second night running that their leader Meredith Hunter is heading for defeat.

And history is against Ms Hunter in her Ginninderra electorate, where no independent or minor party MLA has ever lasted more than one term.

Last night's updated interim preference figures show the Greens heading for a near wipeout, losing three of the four seats they won in their historic 2008 showing.

Last night's update has Labor challenger Yvette Berry in front of Ms Hunter for the fifth seat in the northern electorate in a result that would see the new assembly made up of eight Labor MLAs, eight Liberals and the Greens still hanging on to balance-of-power with one member in the chamber.

In Molonglo, senior Labor frontbencher Simon Corbell was ahead, for the second night running, of fellow ALP challenger Meegan Fitzharris but the Liberals' education spokesman Steve Doszpot has fallen behind his party colleague, newcomer Elizabeth Lee.

Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury remains ahead of his colleague Caroline Le Couteur for the seventh Molonglo seat, and in Brindabella the Liberals' Andrew Wall still leads Green Amanda Bresnan for the fifth seat in the southern electorate.

Labor also nudged back into a narrow lead over the Canberra Liberals in the popular vote yesterday by just 55 votes across the territory, with 85,532 votes to the Liberals' 85,477.

Both Labor leader Katy Gallagher and her Liberals opponent Zed Seselja have claimed success in the popular vote as they have sought since Saturday's election to bolster their chances of forming government.

Vote counting will resume this morning and is not expected to be finished before tomorrow night, and it could even be Sunday before Ms Hunter and the other candidates in tight races know their fates.

But Ms Hunter's task in holding her seat is made more complex by the electoral history of the Ginninderra electorate.

Since its creation before the 1995 election, no independent or minor party MLA has managed to hold a seat in the Belconnen-based electorate for more than one term.

The first election, in 1995, established a pattern with the ALP and the Liberals each winning two seats and the final seat going to the Greens' Lucy Horodny.

Ms Horodny did not contest the 1998 election and independent Dave Rugendyke was elected in Ginninderra on a social conservative ticket.

In 2001 Mr Rugendyke was replaced by Australian Democrat Roslyn Dundas, who in turn was beaten in 2004 when Labor managed to get three MLAs elected in Ginninderra.

But in 2008, the ALP failed to retain their third spot and the final seat went to Ms Hunter, who now looks in grave danger of becoming another one-term MLA.

But Ms Dundas, now director of the ACT Council of Social Service, says she believes it is simply changing times that lie behind the inability of smaller players to last in Ginninderra.

"My election in 2001 was at a time when there was a real feel for a need to change and a focus on supporting women to get elected and a focus on big social issues that hadn't been treated in step with what the community was feeling," Ms Dundas said.

"But then in 2004, Jon Stanhope as chief minister did what party leaders do in seats, gathering more than 30 per cent of the votes, which made it hard for prefer-ences to flow to small parties.

"Then in 2008, we saw a reaction to [Labor] majority government which was then a swing back to the non-old parties … That's the great thing about democracy, new ideas will come forward and people will respond to those new ideas."

Ms Dundas says she believes the Greens now find themselves in such deep trouble because they failed to promote themselves as a party that had been in the Legislative Assembly for 17 years.

"There's been a Green in the ACT Parliament since 1995 … but the campaign they ran this year was much more short-term than that," she said.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Black parents walk out on their children

This is something Aborigines have always done.  They "lose" children. If they turn up at a place with six children in tow they are likely to leave with five -- and not notice it.  Mostly the kids catch up by themselves eventually but it is obviously a survival mechanism for the parents that is left over from hunter-gatherer times when food was short

CHILDREN have been left abandoned in hospital for up to a year in the Central Queensland community of Woorabinda as parents lose interest in their welfare, an inquiry has been told.

Rockhampton lawyer and former nurse Katina Perrin said she had seen kids who arrived with burns or violence-related injuries end up so close to hospital staff they went to weddings.

"I have seen situations where they were page boys at doctors' weddings," Ms Perrin told the child protection inquiry which sat in Rockhampton this week.  "It is very different out there, it is very sad."

Ms Perrin worked as a nurse in the community during the 1990s said she still had occasional contact with Woorabinda, west of Rockhampton, while working as a lawyer in child protection.

Alcohol abuse was the prime cause of community problems which manifested themselves in all areas of life including teen pregnancies and violence, she told the inquiry.

Ms Perrin said many parents in the community had no idea how to raise children because they had not learnt the skills from the previous generation.  "They don't know how to be a parent, they may not even want to be parents," she said.

When child safety officials removed a child from a family in Woorabinda the child lost not only their family but their entire community because there were no facilities in the community to care for the child.  "There is no family-of-origin contact ... the family are often not even seeking that contact because of alcohol issues," she said.

Ms Perrin conceded things may have improved in the community but she doubted there was even a will to improve life among the locals.  "I just think it is about complete apathy - not just about birth control but about everything in their lives," she said.

Ms Perrin said she had been told recently of a Woorabinda woman with serious alcohol abuse problems who had been sent to rehabilitation and was now sober.  "'But she said - 'I don't want to be sober'.

"Even intelligent people still choose to go back to that lifestyle.  "How do you assist? I don't know."

The inquiry is due to hear evidence in Ipswich next Tuesday.


"The Sydney Morning Herald" and "Melbourne Age" are going broke

Rupert Murdoch will be amused

The head of Fairfax Media has told shareholders that revenue continues to shrink and the outlook is "impossible" to predict.

Fairfax has sought to assure shareholders that the company is doing everything it can to adapt to the shift to digital media.

At its annual general meeting in Melbourne, chairman Roger Corbett said Fairfax even considered selling off its flagship metropolitan newspaper business.

Chief executive Greg Hywood says revenues are down 7.5 per cent in the last six weeks compared with last year and it is "impossible" to offer guidance on future earnings.

"But at Fairfax Media we have a clear strategy to negotiate our way through this perfect storm of cyclical weakness and structural change," he told shareholders.

In August, Fairfax announced a $2.7 billion annual loss and slashed nearly 2,000 jobs in a major overhaul of its operations.


Gillard's mining tax fails to raise any revenue in first three months

THE Federal Government has raised zero revenue from its mining tax in the first three months, putting its promised budget surplus at risk.

Falling commodities prices mean major miners BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata have no liabilities under the minerals resource rent tax (MRRT) for the financial year to date, and the industry has warned global economic forecasts could seriously reduce their company tax contributions.

The Australian reports the federal government did not receive any money from the MRRT by Monday's payment deadline.

The government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, released earlier this week, cut predictions for the MRRT revenue from $3.7 billion to $2 billion for the 2012-13 financial year.

Lower commodities prices, a high Australian dollar and falling mining profits means tax payments from the big three miners, which account for more than 90 per cent of mining revenue, will be significantly lower.

A spokeswoman for BHP told The Australian: "The MRRT is a profits-based tax; the level of company liability for it will naturally vary each year.

"In working out what MRRT we are liable for in any year, there are a number of variable components . . . The structure of the MRRT is exactly the same since it was announced in 2010 and it was then that Treasury forecasts were made about likely MRRT receipts."

But Labor frontbencher Simon Crean said the lack of revenue from the MRRT in its first three months is not a cause for concern.

"It was never projected to raise (revenue) in the early part ... because these mining companies are making massive infrastructure investments, which are tax deductable," Mr Crean told the Nine Network.

"Arguing that this is a failure based on the first three months is just ludicrous."

Mr Crean said the surplus would "absolutely" be delivered as promised.

The mining tax blow comes as Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces a potential battle with the Labor caucus over a report from a committee of MPs condemning cabinet's policy of fly-in fly-out foreign workers in the mining industry.

A confidential draft report of Labor MPs has called on the Prime Minister to appoint an industry watchdog to ensure more local workers are used in the mining industry.

A copy of the draft report, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, has also accused cabinet of not spreading the benefits of the boom to Australians, by giving too many concessions to foreign mining companies.

It also called on Ms Gillard to appoint a special cabinet minister to redraft the government's current policy, demanding stronger commitments to use Australian labour ahead of foreign workers.

The report's finding have already led to the resignation of the committee's deputy chairman, ACT MP Andrew Leigh, after a dispute over the committee's findings.

The committee was set-up following the government's special deal to allow billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart to bring in 1700 migrant workers.

Caucus sources said Dr Leigh strongly disagreed with the findings and quit in protest.


Ill-educated youth

Knowing the times tables obviously so yesterday

I GO to a gym for my daily constitutional. I love it – lots of mature women like me, trying to compensate for years of now-abandoned bad habits taken up when young and seemingly invincible. And no one laughs at us as we run, crunch, lunge and cycle furiously, sweat pouring down our faces into nooks and crannies that younger women have yet to develop.

The lockers at my gym are tiered vertically in threes: small, small and large, with large at the bottom. Recently I asked the receptionist (a nice young woman and long-term employee who is usually a personal trainer) for a key for a large locker because I was carrying a number of packages, as well as my gym bag. "Oh," she said, "the keys aren't labelled that way. I don't know which keys are for large lockers."

I suggested that given they were in vertical rows of three, with large lockers at the bottom, any locker number that was a multiple of three would be a large locker. She looked at me as though I had asked her to explain Pythagoras' Theorem. Then she offered me a key for locker No. 20. I said no, that would not be a large locker. Next, she offered me the key for No. 26, assuring me that one would be a biggie. Wincing slightly but still smiling, I decided to humour her, and took the key to the locker room where I noted, not unexpectedly, that No. 26 was a middle row, small locker.

Still smiling (almost giggling, in fact) I broke the bad news and suggested she give me the key for No. 27. Alas, that one was already taken. For a moment, I waited for her to come up with 24 or even 30, but nope, she was now leaving it it to me to choose a number, which I did – 18 – an effortless multiple of three that my kelpie, Bluey, could have calculated easily.

This was a pleasant enough, easygoing encounter, but I must say I was astounded that this young woman seemed not to know simple multiplication. Are times-tables not taught in schools these days? No one could accuse me of being a mathematical genius, but really, this is kid stuff. I did wonder how she would cope with counting exercise repetitions when on PT duty, but perhaps there's a phone app that does the job.

When I was a gel back in the day, we had to learn multiplication tables parrot-fashion. It was tedious at the time but people never forgot them. A minor skill, but one that has come in very handy in the intervening (ahem) decades. I can recommend it.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Homework controversy

Working by yourself is an important part of learning and that is what homework is for

HOMEWORK has no benefit for very young children and only small benefits for those in upper primary, academics say.

Their comments come after France announced last week it was planning to ban homework altogether for children under 11.

Controversy around homework is set to reignite with the launch of a new book today urging reform of homework policies in Australia.

Central Queensland University professor Mike Horsley, co-author of Reforming Homework: Practices, Learning and Policies, said research showed students who did the most homework on international exams performed the worst, while those who did the least performed the best.

Fellow author and University of Sydney professor Richard Walker said Australian students needed more challenging homework that gave them some autonomy and control.

"A lot of homework in schools is just drill and practice worksheets that students get to take home and that is really of no benefit to students," he said. 

"There are a whole lot of ways in which the quality of homework can be improved. I think there is a very strong case that (younger) students should be doing other things."

Prof Horsley said they were not calling for a homework ban.

"We argue that far too much homework involves tasks kids can already do and isn't challenging enough," he said.

"Instead, there is scope for less homework that is of a higher quality and more highly structured."

Education Queensland's homework policy states Prep pupils generally aren't assigned any, while Years 1 to 3 students could have up to one hour each week. From Year 4 homework can be set daily, with Year 4 and 5 students set "up to but generally not more than 2-3 hours per week".

"Homework in Year 8 and Year 9 could be up to but generally not more than five hours per week."

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said homework remained "the subject of significant debate" and individual school communities needed to make their own decisions on whether to use it.

"I don't necessarily accept the view 'it is not good to do just drilling', in that practice is an important part of the whole learning process. For some children sight words and doing word lists is an important part of the process of picking that learning up," Mr Bates said.

"To have anybody from outside come in and say this is how homework will be done is totally unacceptable because it has to fit within the school's ethos of learning. It is equally valid for a school to decide to have no homework or to have regular weekly homework."


Qld govt publishes 'waiting, waiting' list

MORE than 230,000 Queenslanders are waiting to see a specialist to determine if they need surgery, new data shows.

The Queensland government says it has released for the first time the true picture of the state's hospital surgery waiting lists by revealing the number of outpatients waiting to see a specialist.

The data published at shows 232,043 people in Queensland are waiting to see a specialist who will decide if they require surgery.

More than 130,000 patients are waiting to be put on the surgery waiting list, about 81,500 for specialist medical care and about 17,000 for other health needs including psychiatry.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg is calling it the "waiting list for the waiting list".

"This isn't the surgery waiting list. It is the wait to get on the surgery waiting list," Mr Springborg said in a statement.


Another "Green" firm folds -- messily

The Federal Court is being asked to decide who owns more than $600,000 worth of solar credits left after a Canberra renewable energy firm went into administration earlier this year.

Enviro Friendly Products owed more than $750,000 when it went into administration in January.

Liquidator Worrells Solvency and Forensic Accountants wants the court to direct how to deal with the solar credits, known as STCs.

Issued by the Commonwealth government's Clean Energy Regulator, they are trading at a little over $30 a certificate and collectively are worth more than $600,000.

Klaus Matthaei, one of 260 customers issued with certificates, said customers included pensioners who had borrowed money to buy solar panels or solar hot water systems and still had quite a lot to pay back.

In documents filed with the court, Mr Matthaei has raised concerns that many customers were unaware of the court proceedings, and that he had tracked down 59 other customers who had little idea of what was happening.

Also, Mr Matthaei said 15,000 STCs worth $475,000 were missing and those funds should be reimbursed before any other creditors were paid.

He told the court the remaining STCs should be treated as separate from the assets of Enviro Friendly Products and administered by the eligible beneficiaries and the profits distributed among them.

"The cost of the missing STCs should be claimed from the liquidation of the company and if necessary from the assets of the directors," he said in his statement to the court.

Mr Matthaei told The Canberra Times he and his wife spent about $24,000 on panels and believed they would get back $8000 from the credits over 18 months.

Worrells Solvency partner Stephen Hundy said customers were entitled to a certain number of certificates depending on the size of solar hot water or solar panel systems they bought.

They had been given the option of assigning their rights to an agent.

EFP was a registered agent and some of those rights could have been assigned to the company to create certificates.

He said the company indicated to customers they would register the 21,000 certificates and hold them on the customers' behalf, even though they were registered in the company's name.

"The first thing we need the court to find or direct, is whether they were certificates held in trust for the customers.

"As the liquidator, we're not putting any positions forward, we have simply put facts before the court and provided options how to deal with certificates, and because different customers are affected in different ways.

"Some no longer have certificates in the system. Some still have them in the system, in the company's name."

Mr Hundy told The Canberra Times earlier this year factors contributing to the demise of Enviro Friendly Products included changes to the ACT government's feed-in-tariff scheme, which ended abruptly in May.

At the time the government said the feed-in tariff contributed to growth in the ACT solar market, and interest was mostly driven by the high level of assistance from the federal government's solar credits program.


Queensland's past a focus of Qld. curriculum reforms

STUDENTS will learn more about Queensland history in state schools under the new national curriculum to be rolled out next year.

History will be taught as a stand-alone subject in Queensland primary schools, with the national curriculum subject rolled out in all Prep to Year 10 classrooms across the state from Term 1, 2013.

It follows the introduction of the English, mathematics and science national curriculum in Prep to Year 10 this year.

While history is currently covered under Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) in state primary schools, Education Queensland (EQ) assistant director-general Mark Campling said individual schools made decisions around SOSE time allocations.

"It has been a long time since we have specifically taught history in our primary schools," he said.  "I think it is a great step forward."

Mr Campling said writers of EQ's Curriculum into the Classroom (C2C), Australian Curriculum support documents, included lessons about Queensland when they could.

"Where there is an opportunity to learn more about Queensland, we do that," he said.

"For example, when they talk about colonisation, we then are able to take the concept of colonisation and actually take it from the Queensland perspective and talk about the Moreton Bay Settlement."

Mr Campling said students would learn history topics next year which in Years 3 to 6 might have been missed by some schools under SOSE.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said the new history curriculum would be a challenge for primary school teachers but they would be supported by C2C.

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said a greater level of professional development was still needed around the new history curriculum and he hoped teachers would be given time to do that by the start of the next school year.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Uranium mining go-ahead in Queensland a blow to the Greens

THE State Government's snap decision to overturn a 23-year ban on uranium mining paves the way for an $18 billion industry, thousands of jobs and $900 million in royalties.

Premier Campbell Newman's announcement yesterday came just 11 days after writing to the Australian Conservation Foundation saying he had "no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland".

Green groups have slammed the move, labelling it dangerous, rushed and made with little or no consultation.

Mr Newman said the backflip was sparked by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's trip to India to open negotiations on uranium exports, which put the issue back on the agenda.

He said the world had moved on from the conflict the issue caused decades ago when the ban was put in place and he had personally never been opposed to uranium mining.

"It was not until the events of last week where we said 'this is crazy'," Mr Newman said.  "South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia are all in the game and the Prime Minister and her ministers are urging us to overturn the ban," the Premier said.

"In fact, Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson urged Queensland to overturn the ban, back in June.  "Why do we have this position given our own party is extremely supportive?"

He said the only real surprise had been the strong views in support from the Labor Party.

Mr Newman said he took the option of a policy review to yesterday's Cabinet meeting in Goondiwindi but Ministers urged him to go further and were "adamant" that the ban be overturned.

"There has been serious public debate about the issue over the course of several months," Mr Newman said.

But the Government is facing criticism it rushed the decision without consultation after going to the polls claiming it had no plans to lift the ban.

Green groups said it took less than 11 days for Mr Newman to change his mind after he wrote to the Australian Conservation Foundation on October 11 stating that the Government's position was "crystal clear" and it had "no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland".

Mount Isa City Council recently called on the Government to resume uranium mining, to reinvigorate the area and offer employment.   Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady said the lifting of the ban allowed explorers to move in and search for deposits and that could lead to discoveries of other commodities.

Cr McGrady - a former Labor mining minister - defended the Premier.  "What Mr Newman said was that uranium mining was not high on his list of priorities," he said.

"It's come down now to making a decision on uranium and he's done so because he realised there's jobs involved and royalties for the State Government."

Cr McGrady said his council had only last week called for Mr Newman to "at least instigate an inquiry as to whether there should be a uranium industry in Queensland".

A three-person committee will be named shortly to oversee the recommencement of uranium mining.

The decision even took the mining industry by surprise because it had been expecting a preliminary review.

But the Queensland Resources Council said it seemed that when there was "no marching in the streets" following the call for a debate on the issue the Government decided to move ahead.

Chief executive Michael Roche said the Government's decision would provide a strong boost to the regional economies of the north and northwest.

"It will create jobs and economic opportunities, including for indigenous Queenslanders," Mr Roche said.

He said three mines in Queensland would generate about 1000 permanent jobs and 2500 in construction. Most would be in the Mt Isa-Gulf area.

The estimated economic value of uranium in Queensland is $18 billion and a royalty of 5 per cent would deliver $900 million in royalties.

Several companies have spent years exploring for uranium in Queensland, speculating the ban would be overturned. Summit Resources has spent about $40 million in recent years in exploration in Queensland.  Its share price spiked dramatically yesterday when the decision was announced.

However, it is likely that it will take at least four years for any project to get developed because of the strict environmental approvals needed from both the State and Federal governments.

A hazardous materials port would also have to be built to cope with the exports.

Queensland's last operating uranium mine, Mary Kathleen, about 80km west of Mount Isa, closed in 1982 after 30 years in use.

The Goss Labor government won office in 1989 with a policy of no new uranium mining, an effective ban that has applied ever since.

Ironically on the exact same day in Brisbane in 1977, 371 people were arrested at an anti-uranium protest in Brisbane, including a Labor senator.


Must not be critical of whites who claim to be black

Gerard Henderson

"There are people who get jobs, and are claiming benefits, who claim to be Aboriginal because they have a great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather" ... Anthony Mundine.

I'm with boxer Anthony "Choc" Mundine - in his most recent battle, at least. Last Thursday, during a media conference to publicise his forthcoming International Boxing Federation world middleweight contest with Tasmanian Daniel Geale, Mundine questioned his opponent's Aboriginal identity.

Mundine said he "thought they wiped all the Aborigines from Tasmania out" and added Geale had "a white wife and white kids". He later apologised for both statements. However, he did not resile from his comments about identity and declared yesterday: "There are people who get jobs, and are claiming benefits, who claim to be Aboriginal because they have a great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather. That, I think, is wrong."

Mundine's recent comments about Aboriginality have been denounced by journalists and others, most notably by the Tasmanian indigenous activist Michael Mansell. He linked Mundine's attitude with that of the Ku Klux Klan and claimed his position resembled a "neo-Nazi type of thought". According to Mansell, Mundine is in need of re-education since his comments were "worse than what Andrew Bolt said" last year.

Mansell is an extremist, as is obvious from his statement that Mundine is not welcome in Tasmania until he issues a grovelling apology. Yet Mansell's position reflects a pattern in left-wing thought in recent years to call for the silencing of opponents from both the right-of-centre (like Bolt) or even the left-of-centre (like Mundine).

In his rush to censor Mundine, Mansell seems to have forgotten that, in the past, he himself has raised the issue of Aboriginal identity. On August 26, 2002, Four Corners ran a program titled "Blackfella, Whitefella" concerning disputes in Tasmania as to who was indigenous. Mansell told the reporter Quentin McDermott anyone who wanted "to participate in elections that are set up for Aboriginal people … should be able to satisfy the criteria that they are, in fact, Aborigines".

That was a decade ago. Now Mansell says calls for individuals to meet certain criteria before claiming to be indigenous is profoundly racist. What's changed? Well, it's possible that the likes of Mansell have taken comfort from Federal Court Judge Mordy Bromberg's decision in the 2011 case of Eatock v Bolt concerning what were called "fair-skinned Aboriginal people".

Bromberg found Bolt had made a number of factual errors in his comments on the "fair-skinned Aboriginal people" whom he had offended. But the judge went further by criticising the "tone" of Bolt's columns in the Herald-Sun, which had included "mockery and inflammatory language" and threatened "social harmony". Yet Bolt's comments last year were not more threatening to social harmony than Mundine's outburst last week.

Moreover, there is an issue of social policy involved. Professor Henry Reynolds stated it when interviewed by Four Corners in 2002. He argued that when "identity becomes the basis for a claim on the rest of us - that is, on the state or on the taxpayer - we all have to be concerned".

Last week, after upholding complaints against the broadcaster Alan Jones, the Australian Communications and Media Authority entered into an agreement with 2GB. As a result, Jones will be subjected to a form of re-education. He will be trained on "factual accuracy" and broadcasting "other significant viewpoints".

It's true 2GB has not one left-of-centre presenter for any of its key programs. But it's also true the ABC has not one conservative presenter or producer or editor for any of its prominent outlets. What's more, senior ABC management refuses to correct errors in documentaries broadcast on the ABC - as I have documented on my Media Watch Dog blog. Yet there is no call for the ABC to be re-educated with respect to fact-checking or to present other significant viewpoints.

It's surprising just how many academics and journalists are seemingly indifferent to demands to limit free expression. On October 12, Lateline ran a debate between Rod Tiffen (who was a paid consultant on the media inquiry of Ray Finkelstein, QC) and Campbell Reid (from News Limited).

The presenter Emma Alberici agreed with Tiffen that there was no big deal in the fact the ultimate sanction recommended by Finkelstein was jailing journalists - since editors could simply do as they were told by the proposed news media council. So, that's all right then, apparently.

Despite the fact there would be no right of appeal against a decision of the NMC and despite the fact the NMC would be chosen by senior academics who have historically been deficient themselves in overseeing plurality in the social science departments of universities which, like the ABC, resemble conservative-free zones.

Sure, Mundine may have offended some last week. But he did strike a blow for free speech in a society in which there is a growing demand to censor unfashionable opinion.


Kokoda a war myth?

A PROMINENT military historian has cast doubt on the legend of the Kokoda Track, questioning the significance of the WWII campaign in a move that has outraged veterans.

In what is viewed by Kokoda Diggers as a stinging insult, professor of defence history David Horner said it was a myth that the Japanese were going to invade Australia, adding the nation had developed a tendency to exaggerate the significance of military battles due to the reverence in which Gallipoli was held.

"It's all the Anzacs' fault," Prof Horner said. "Gallipoli was one of our most significant military campaigns (and now) everybody wants to be an Anzac. Everybody wants a medal. Everybody wants to be recognised ... every child gets a prize. If you fought in a battle, it has to be a battle that was really important. Whatever you do has to be given more credit and be seen as being more significant."

Defending the statements, made during his speech as part of a two-day celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign at the Australian War Memorial last month, Prof Horner said Japanese records show troops in PNG did not intend to come to Darwin and questioned whether Australian troops were as outnumbered as previously thought.

"The (Kokoda) campaign did not save Australia from invasion by the Japanese," he said.  "The original orders were to come to Port Moresby (but) Japanese orders were to stop after crossing the crest of the Owen Stanley range."

His claims have been slammed by Kokoda veterans and opposing experts.

An angry Bob Iskov, a 92-year-old veteran of the Kokoda campaign, said he knows the Japanese were bound for mainland Australia.  "I was part of a battalion which was sent to attack a village outside Gona," Mr Iskov said.

"I heard voices and so I took cover and saw three Japanese officers walking down the track towards me. I shot them and when we searched them, the colonel had maps on him, including maps of Darwin and its defences. Was he coming here to play golf?"

Bestselling author and Kokoda Foundation member Patrick Lindsay said the Japanese campaign had always intended on coming to Australia.  "I've interviewed 17 Japanese veterans of Kokoda and, without exception, all said they were coming to Australia," Mr Lindsay said.

Prof Horner stressed it was not his intention to lessen the memory of Australia's Diggers.  "They deserve every bit of credit and respect but as a historian I have to state what is accurate," he said.


Pregnant women turned away

OVERWHELMED public maternity hospitals are rejecting bookings for pregnant women, forcing them to find hospitals further away or switch to expensive private care.

In a trend being investigated by the Victorian Health Services Commissioner, staff at the recently expanded Werribee Mercy Hospital have told several local women this year that the hospital is too full to book them in for antenatal care.

This is despite a $14 million redevelopment that opened eight new maternity beds and four special care nursery cots last year to cater for a surging population of young families.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said she had also received complaints from women who had been turned away from the Royal Women's Hospital, which cared for more than 7000 births last financial year despite being built for 5000.

Ms Wilson said she was particularly concerned about women being denied public maternity services close to home and said the government needed to invest in growth corridors, particularly in Melbourne's west.

"The west is one of the fastest growing districts in the world. There are new suburbs springing up and there are young people buying houses and moving in, but the health services are not keeping up with that spurt of growth. Unless we do something about this quickly there are going to be big problems," she said.

Doctors told The Age the shortage of beds at Werribee and the Royal Women's was affecting Sunshine Hospital, which was now taking many additional bookings despite a lack of birth suites. They said it was also causing many women to be discharged home one day after birth, jeopardising post-natal care.

Last year, Victorian Auditor General Des Pearson revealed more than 200 women had given birth at Sunshine's emergency department due to a shortage of space in its maternity unit. The audit also found the Department of Health had failed to manage maternity services across the state during soaring demand over the past decade, particularly in the booming northern and western suburbs.

While the state government has funded Sunshine Hospital to build two new birthing suites this financial year, which will bring its total number to 12, Western Health's director of clinical services for women and children, Associate Professor Glyn Teale, said the hospital needed five more to bring it up to par.

"On the basis of the averages around the state in the Victorian Auditor General's report, we need in the region of 17 birth suites rather than 12," he said.

Executive Director of Mercy Public Hospitals, Linda Mellors, acknowledged Werribee Mercy was turning some women away, but would not say how often this was happening.

"Demand is constant and booking requests sometimes exceed the hospital's ability to ensure that every pregnancy is managed safely and appropriately. When this is the case we may need to refer the booking to another local hospital," she said in a written statement.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Women's said it referred women living outside of its local area who did not have a complex or high risk pregnancy to their local maternity hospitals because they had to prioritise

those needing specialist care. When asked how the hospital was delivering 2000 more births than it was built for, the spokeswoman declined to say whether beds had been added, but said there was "appropriate capacity".

President of the the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Rupert Sherwood said public hospitals needed to be funded in line with growing demand because maternity units were already running efficiently.

"A lot of the slack has already been taken up," he said.

"If a service gets overwhelmed, the risks to individual patients increase. You can't help that when you're dealing with large numbers … the potential for errors increases."

Dr Sherwood said while Victorian women were still getting excellent care in the public system compared to other countries, the average length of stay had reduced to about two days for women giving birth, meaning some would be sent home with problems, especially with breastfeeding.

A government spokesman said it had funded three new neonatal intensive care cots this financial year and had established a new Ministerial Perinatal Services Advisory Committee to help plan neonatal and maternity services for the state.