Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Waste Watch

Why have one when you can have two for twice the price?

That's the attitude our government usually takes towards our federation, with the Commonwealth government time and time again duplicating bureaucracies federally in order to manage state responsibilities.

The latest example, a new Commonwealth government approval process for coal seam gas  projects that essentially duplicates existing state regulations, will cost taxpayers $10 million a year and employ 50 new staff.

This is not to say our state governments are doing a good job at reducing expenditure.

Echoing Sydney's rainbow pedestrian crossing, the Queensland Government has spent $19 million on a racetrack in Toowoomba: $12 million to lay down a drought-proof synthetic track and another $7 million to rip it up again and lay the natural stuff.

And as part of sandbagging efforts in Mackay (the political kind), the Queensland government spent $7.4 million on another racetrack to prop up the re-election prospects of the local MP. 'Wastetrack' might be a better word for it.

Despite the Commonwealth's substantial debt and deficit, our politicians will announce novel and imaginative ways to spend more of your money on projects of dubious value during the upcoming federal election campaign.

They are already giving it a red hot go.

The Commonwealth has provided a $250,000 grant towards the 'Mortels Sheepskin Tourist Centre' which will have displays for tourists 'focussing on the history of sheepskin manufacturing'. No doubt it is destined to become one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

But credit where credit is due. One welcome development is the announcement that the Australian Electoral Commission will scrap its national tally room for a saving of $1.2 million a year.

The above is  a press release from  the  Centre for Independent Studies, dated   8th.  Enquiries to  cis@cis.org.au.  Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Dangers in push for university education equality

    by: Kevin Donnelly

DOES every secondary student, regardless of ability, motivation or intelligence, have the right to go to university, and does increased participation, especially from disadvantaged students, compromise standards?

Newly appointed Higher Education Minister Kim Carr appears to say "no" to the first part of the question and "yes" to the second. In a recent interview Carr is quoted as saying that the dramatic increase in enrolments since the ALP government introduced a demand-driven system may have compromised quality.

Carr states, "given the strength of growth in demand, it is appropriate to (think about) quality and excellence" and "we need to consider refocusing government investment to get the best possible use of public money".

Carr's reservations are in striking contrast to Julia Gillard's belief, when education minister, that millions must be spent increasing the proportion of disadvantaged students entering university from 16 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020, and that increased enrolments would not lead to falling standards.

In a March 2009 speech in response to the Bradley review of higher education, Gillard argues that equity is an important moral issue and that the "hoary old conservative argument that equity and standards are incompatible is nothing but a myth".

In addition to establishing a National Centre for Student Equity and offering universities additional funding linked to enrolling greater numbers of disadvantaged students, Gillard argued in favour of positive discrimination for university selection.

Gillard is wrong. However unpopular it might seem, not all students have the ability or intelligence to cope with or benefit from a university education.

As US academic Charles Murray argues in Real Education, "academic achievement is tied to academic ability" and not all students have the same level of ability.

Take the subject of English. As someone who taught in Victorian secondary schools for 18 years, marked Year 12 papers and was a member of the Panel of Examiners, the reality is that students' language ability ranges from very poor to excellent as measured on a scale of 1 to 10.

Those students at the lower end of the scale find it impossible to cope with the demands of a university course as proven by the number of universities around Australia that now have bridging courses and remedial classes in areas like essay writing.

And concerns about falling standards are nothing new. A 2002 study titled Changes in Academic Work, involving interviewing academics at 12 universities, concludes that "almost one out of two of our respondents thought that the intellectual quality of incoming students had declined, and that this was a change for the worse".

The federal Labor government's decision to impose quotas for disadvantaged students only compounds the problem. As noted by the Group of Eight's Policy Note No 3, February 2012, the push for improved equity has led to a dramatic increase in the number of students with Australian Tertiary Admission Rank scores of 50 or less entering university.

Between 2008-11, offers to students with ATARs less than 50 doubled, representing "nearly 20 per cent of all growth in offers to school leavers". As a result, in teacher training courses, for example, it's not unusual for students with ATARs as low as 50 to be accepted.

Gillard's argument that all students are entitled to a university education, in addition to compromising standards, is guilty of privileging academic studies over vocational education and training.

ALP governments and the cultural Left, since the late 60s and early 70s when technical schools were closed around Australia, have long argued that a university education is the preferred option.

Ignored is that an apprenticeship or trade can be a valued, rewarding and challenging career. Also ignored is that the fact a working class student might prefer a trade to a degree does not prove the education system is elitist and inequitable.

The fact that trade and skills courses have been treated so poorly in terms of prestige and funding explains why, compared to many other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, Australia has such a low level of participation.

Based on 2010 figures the percentage of population aged 25-64 with vocational qualifications in Australia is just under 20 per cent compared with Finland, one of the top performers in international mathematics and science tests, where the figure is closer to 40 per cent.

While attractive to those on the cultural Left whose mantra is equity and equality of outcomes, the argument that universities should be open to all belies a levelling down, egalitarian philosophy that is counterproductive.

Far better is an education system based on meritocracy where only those considered capable are allowed entry. The alternative, as argued by the author and philosopher Iris Murdoch, is to promote a non-selective system, one that makes "the teaching of accuracy and truthfulness harder at all levels" and that will "produce people who imagine they are educated when they are not".


Schools defend right to expel homosexuals

A bid to overturn controversial laws allowing private schools to expel students simply because they are gay has been rejected by some faith-based schools as a threat to their religious freedom.

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich will soon introduce a private member's bill to State Parliament to abolish the law, which he says could be used against highly vulnerable teenagers.  "It is already so hard to come to grips with your sexuality," said Mr Greenwich, who is gay.

Under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, it is unlawful for education authorities to refuse admission to, or expel, a student for being gay, lesbian or transgender.

Private schools and colleges are explicitly exempt from this law.

The bid to remove those exemptions is expected to be opposed by most religious school authorities, who told The Sun-Herald that, while there are few, if any, examples of students being expelled on the basis of their sexuality, it was important to retain the exemption to preserve their religious freedom.

The exemption is similar to many that exist in federal anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations, including schools.

Ian Baker, acting executive director of the NSW Catholic Education Commission, said the fact that so few, if any, cases of students being expelled were widely known was testament to the fact schools tended to treat such students with sensitivity.

"It speaks for itself," he said. "It's exercised with great caution and consideration. The objective is not to punish, but to protect the rights of those families who send their child to a school based on a religious faith.

"We couldn't agree to the exemptions being removed unless we could be assured that there's an alternative way of guaranteeing freedom of religion, which is an internationally recognised human right."

Laurie Scandrett, chief executive of the Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation, agreed: "Most private schools have a religious ethos, they stand for something, and if these exemptions were removed that would break down the ability of these schools to maintain whatever their particular ethos is."

But Justin Koonin, from the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said he questioned why schools wanted the laws if they did not use them. "It's not just that the student can be expelled, they can be discriminated against within the school environment, and the school doesn't have to do anything about it."

In a submission to the recent Senate inquiry into federal anti-discrimination laws, the Human Rights Council of Australia argued that organisations that are wholly or partially funded with public funds, including religious schools, should not be granted exemptions on religious grounds. "It is reasonable for the state to require public funds to be expended and applied wholly in accordance with principles of nondiscrimination," it said.

The most recent national report on same-sex-attracted young people found school was the most common place they experienced abuse.

While in opposition in 2011, Greg Smith, now NSW Attorney-General, was open to reviewing the law.

"I personally think it is something that should be reviewed, looked at with a view to perhaps changing it. Times have changed," he said.

Mr Smith is on leave but a spokesman for the acting Minister for Justice, Brad Hazzard, said the "government will consider Mr Greenwich's bill following its introduction as it does with all private member's bills".

Not all religious education authorities were opposed to removing the exemptions, though.

"While Jewish schools jealously guard against any incursion into our ability to teach the Jewish religion in a manner consistent with its tenets, and consider those tenets and that ability fundamental to our existence," said Len Hain, executive director of the Australian Council of Jewish Schools, "we do not see any practical limitation, or the imposition of any practical burden on that ability from the amendments deleting the specific exclusions to the Anti-Discrimination Act."


Qld. Government heads to Supreme Court in bid to block pay rise for public servants

Great to hear!

PROTESTERS have marched on the Government's executive building in George Street to voice their dissent at the LNP's move to block an interim pay rise for public servants just days after awarding MPs a $57,000 pay rise.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek and his fellow ministers this morning defended the pay rise as they headed into a Cabinet meeting.

"What people need to realise is that when you factor in the changes to our allowances and the payments to the parties that have been halved, there's no net cost to the taxpayer," he said.

Mr Langbroek said public servants were being let down by their union leaders.  "They're the ones who are resisting the attempts to sort out a deal at the industrial relations commission," he said.

Transport Minister Scott Emerson would not say whether he would support a Private Members' Bill that will be introduced by Katter MP Shane Knuth aimed stopping the pay rise.

"The pay is linked by the tribunal to the Federal Parliament. It's up to parliament to make that decision," Mr Emerson said.

 PROTESTERS have marched on the Government's executive building in George Street to voice their dissent at the LNP's move to block an interim pay rise for public servants just days after awarding MPs a $57,000 pay rise.

The group chanted "LNP listen up, Queensland has had enough" as Cabinet met inside.

Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams told the crowd the government should have acted 12 months ago and never awarded MPs the 41 per cent pay rise.

"This single increase is more than the average Queenslander earns in a whole year," Mr Battams said.  "It's about time they did to themselves what they have been doing to us for 18 months."

He described the move to block an interim 2.2 per cent pay rise for public servants as the height of hypocrisy.


1 comment:

Paul said...

I never liked school much anyway.