Sunday, September 06, 2015

Lies about homosexual propaganda film in NSW schools

“IF a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a famous philosophical riddle about the nature of reality.

When it comes to the parallel universe occupied by the NSW Education Department, you may as well ask: if a parent makes a complaint and no one wants to acknowledge it, did it ever exist?

This is the dishonesty at the heart of the Gayby Baby controversy. Someone is pretending Burwood Girls High School received not a single complaint from parents about its plan to screen the documentary on same-sex parenting to all 1200 students last Friday.

The Sydney Morning Herald is party to that lie. In a story yesterday titled, ironically, “The truth behind the Gayby Baby ban”, the newspaper claimed: “No formal complaints from parents about the film have been received by the school.”

This is the same line run by the department last week until confronted by The Daily Telegraph with evidence of numerous complaints by parents to the school, including emails, phone calls and proxy complaints via three religious ministers.

The department eventually acknowledged the truth — it had received complaints from parents about the screening in school time.

“Burwood Girls High School has received and continues to receive a number of contacts, including both complaints and supportive comments,” a department spokesman said. So what exactly constitutes a “formal complaint”?

According to the department’s Complaints Handling Policy Guidelines, complaints from parents about screening Gayby Baby would automatically be treated as “informal”. “All minor complaints and disputes should be resolved promptly and without using formal procedures.” It was up to Burwood Girls High to decide whether the complaints it received from parents would be managed “formally”, in which case, “there are three types of formal procedures used, depending on the nature of the complaint — remedy and systems improvement, negotiation, and investigation”.

In other words, the school defined whether the complaint was “formal” or “informal”, not the parent. Conveniently in this case, Burwood Girls High decided the complaints were not “formal”. Then it decided that if a complaint was not “formal” it was non-existent, and that line was fed to pliant media.

Yet there is overwhelming evidence of phone calls and emails from parents to the school, which have been verified by The Daily Telegraph. For instance, this email to principal Mia Kumar: “Dear Ms Kumar, please provide parents with an option to opt out of the documentary for their child and advise us of the activity/activities our child will be doing during the screening of the documentary.”

Even on my 2GB radio show on Sunday, listener Suzy from Bexley said: “I have two girlfriends and they have children at Burwood High. They were outraged, absolutely outraged, that the school was going to show this film and the parents were not asked for their permission. So I don’t know what they’re talking about no one complaining. My friends were out there and getting other parents with the same feeling and they were completely outraged about it.”

Presbyterian minister Mark Powell also says “it’s not true” there were no complaints by parents. “The reason I know it’s not true is because I personally know a number of people, myself included, who rang the school to complain. Maybe there’s a technical difference between ‘complaining’ and lodging a formal complaint but that is what we were trying to do,” he said.

Last Monday, Reverend David Maher called a public meeting to discuss the screening, attended by 15 parents and citizens “with a number of other parents sending their apologies”. “As a direct result of that meeting Rev Maher wrote to the school on everyone’s behalf and personally delivered the letter to the school. So the fact is, lots of people complained.” But the school and the department redefined reality.

The great shame is that instead of calling out this lie, The Sydney Morning Herald perpetuates it.


Documentary on Australia's elite SAS regiment goes beyond the stereotypes

Humour and intellect are not the traits typically associated with soldiers in Australia's elite Special Air Service regiment. But those are the characteristics that stood out to Bruce Horsfield, the creator of a documentary series on the SAS being launched on Thursday.

The Australian SAS - The Untold Story, which has been 20 years in the making and is officially supported by the SAS, offers a rare glimpse into the highly secretive regiment.

It details the soldiers' gruelling training regimes and treacherous missions, and explores how post-traumatic stress disorder takes its toll on both the soldiers and their families.

"On selection they look for the person you are, the core personality traits," Dr Horsfield said.

"That's why there's so much sleep deprivation, food deprivation, because you're very quickly reduced to your essentials and the core personality traits start to emerge."

Yet at the same time, the regiment is surprisingly "laid back", said Dr Horsfield, himself a former special operations soldier as well as a retired honorary professor at the University of Southern Queensland.

"My background is university and I have to say, being in the officers mess … you have a far more congenial intellectual atmosphere than I've found at many of my university gatherings."

Humour is the other stand-out characteristic. The "capacity to laugh when you're uncomfortable" is what sustains operations when they go pear-shaped, Dr Horsfield said.

"SAS operate in very small teams, so if you have any personal friction it tends to be far more consequential.

"To get into the SAS, it doesn't matter if you're Superman or Batman or Spiderman ... if you don't have a sense of humour they won't take you."

The series claims to go beyond stereotypes to examine the organisational culture of the regiment, and the hostility and mistrust it faced from other sections of the Australian Army.

"What I hooked into was how successful this organisation is. I've worked all my life in organisations, public and private, that find managing change so difficult," Dr Horsfield said.

"We're all getting meaner, tougher, more confused, and yet SAS have got their perceptions clear, their brains organised and they work like hell on their missions."

He denies that the official support of the SAS has influenced the documentary's content.

"I had editorial and creative freedom, there's no doubt about that. No one sat there saying we want it this way or we want it that way."

The first 10 parts in the series were released on DVD in 2012 but new material has since been added.

Governor-General and former Defence Force chief Peter Cosgrove will officially launch the series in Canberra on Thursday.


Charter schools in Australia?

This week rang with howls of indignation from the usual suspects (unions and public education lobbies) railing against Dr Jennifer Buckingham and me for attempting to destroy public education as harbingers of the neoliberal apocalypse.

Our crime was having released a research report on charter schools, which are publicly-funded, privately managed schools. The report makes the case, with evidence, for why charter schools should be introduced by government as a fourth school sector under the public school umbrella.

It was a little bewildering to hear that, for some people, schools that are public in every way that matters are supposedly Trojan horses for privatisation.

For me, what matters is that public schools are open to everyone and they are fully-funded, with no tuition fees paid. This is to ensure that all children can access a quality education, regardless of their circumstances. In keeping with this notion, as well as the evidence, the report supports the creation of charter schools with these enrolment principles.

Nobody has ever successfully argued that universal access to education means centralised and uniform provision, managed by bureaucrats. Under the charter school model, schools would be managed by organisations which have the capacity to respond to the challenges of unique school communities. Teachers who worked well with their students could be paid more, rather than the reward for their success consisting of being assigned to a less challenging school. Where there is a desire for a vocationally-focused education alongside the traditional core subjects, schools could deliver that.

What could be more in keeping with the spirit of public schooling – schooling for all – than schools that are able to better serve their students, parents, and communities?

It seems that equity in education provision isn’t really what the self-styled defenders of public schools are concerned about. If the nature of the criticism is anything to go by, it’s more about protecting the vested interests of unions and bureaucrats alike. Our public school system, and the students who have no choice but to attend, are worse off for it.


The Jug man has a burst of realism

Says Australia can easily weather the Chinese economic downturn

Speaking to Guardian Australia ahead of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, Krugman, a renowned columnist at the New York Times, predicted the slowing Chinese economy would hurt Australia, but said the country should not get “too hysterical” about it.

“It’s not helpful to have the price of commodities that Australia exports go down … that said, Australia is a big, very diverse economy, it has other exports and it has a flexible exchange rate. So if you look at what’s happened in the past couple of years – certainly Australia has taken a hit from weakness in its exports but it has also had a major depreciation of the Australian dollar and that offset a lot of it.

“These kind of adverse shocks of exports always hurt, but its only catastrophic if either you have no recourse – so if [for example] you’ve give up your own currency then you’re in trouble, and if you’re very vulnerable financially – if you’re very heavily indebted in foreign currency then you’re vulnerable. But last I looked Australia has neither of those characteristics.”

Krugman added: “I think in the end you’re likely to see what is going on now in China is something like what happened with the Asian financial crisis. And Australia was extremely successful at riding out that storm and maybe you’re not as good this time, but I think that you don’t want to get hysterical about this.

“Australia, like Canada, is a country that has the wrong exports and is kind of in the wrong place in the world right now, but has a lot of other strengths.”

“If Australia is having problems with selling stuff to the rest of the world it has a pretty straightforward answer, namely it’s got a floating currency. The Aussie dollar goes down and pretty much takes care of itself, so Australia really doesn’t need to worry about that.

“And maybe Australia should be doing better in some industries than it is maybe there should be some policy [on that] but the idea that the economy is likely to suffer from some generalised problem with competitiveness is just wrong.”


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