Sunday, September 16, 2018

Only the 'best and brightest': Government cracks down on poorly skilled migrants and dole bludgers amid plan to axe more visas

Poorly skilled migrants will struggle to receive immigration visas amid the government's plan to crackdown on dole bludgers.  Only the 'best and brightest' immigrants will be welcomed into Australia, according to the Saturday Telegraph. Scraping through the 99 different types of visas, those that attract welfare-dependent migrants could face the firing line.

The government has already made steps to weed out poorly skilled migrants by axing the 457 visa in April 2017. The decision almost halved the number of foreign workers and raised the average salary.

Foreign workers were paid an average of $110,000 in the past financial year - an increase of $15,000 - while almost half the amount of skills visas were approved. Almost 70,000 skills visas were approved at the height of the 457 visa program.

Less than 35,000 were approved in the past financial year.


ABC groupthink distorts debate we need to have

It hasn’t been a good week for ­racist, climate-change denying, bullying misogynists. We don’t have a lot of good days, but thanks to Serena Williams, Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Mark Knight we have just been through the ­seventh circle of hell for speaking our minds.

The vile labels are absurd, but this is the sort of silly abuse people now expect for ventilating sensible opinions, such as daring to suggest Knight’s cartoon of Williams’s US Open tantrum was an amusing caricature, proposing that female MPs publicly smearing a loosely defined group of politicians as bullies ought to offer some specifics or arguing that electricity price cuts are more important to Australians than emissions reductions. Airing main­stream, right-of-centre views out of step with the green-left zeitgeist of social media and the public broadcasters triggers outrage rather than arguments.

Many slurs are anonymous but the conversation has become so debased that some people forget themselves and normal standards even under their own name.

A bloke by the name of Harley Stumm, who apparently runs a theatre company in Sydney, took to Twitter to wish me a “slow and painful death” because I argued the “racist” cartoon controversy was more about “activist social media outrage” than real issues.

Still, feral behaviour on social media is neither here nor there in the overall scheme of things. What should concern us is how this often reflects the default position in mainstream media — especially the public broadcasters but also much of the press gallery and left-of-centre publications — dangerously distorting national debate. The lack of diversity of thought would be worrisome enough but the way the groupthink coagulates around extreme and irrational views is frightening.

If we can accept that these hardline views are valid — that it is plausible to argue Knight’s cartoon was racist, emissions reductions are more important than power costs or that male Coalition MPs are bullies — then any rational assessment must also concede that the opposite points of view are also legitimate.

Actually, the facts and all indications of mainstream opinion strongly favour these counter views. I don’t want to rehash the arguments here but suffice it to say Knight’s body of work shows his cartoon was no more than a caricature aimed at highlighting poor sportsmanship; rising emissions globally mean our cuts do not improve the environment; and if sexist bullying were endemic in the Liberal Party, people such as Bishop would have raised it years ago.

Still, the point I want to make is not who is right but that clearly different views exist; there is a wide range of valid opinions on these issues aired daily across the nation. Yet the perspectives you get from much of the political media are stuck in those green-left views that drive and thrive on social media outrage. Given we pay for public broadcasters and they are required under law to provide objective and pluralistic coverage, let us concentrate on the ABC. Aunty has 4092 people on the payroll and 67 per cent, or 2763, of them are content makers; half of those in news.

Its annual report says: “Diversity is one of the ABC’s key strategic drivers.” So 2.5 per cent of its staff are indigenous and 51 per cent are women. Terrific. But what about diversity of ideas, perspectives, ideologies or opinions? How can it be that when there is such robust debate about incendiary allegations of racism in a cartoon, a scan of views from ABC journalists and hosts provides only one take?

Immediately endorsing the racist charge, Radio National host Jonathan Green tweeted that Knight was a “good man” who should apologise but later said he regretted the “good man” reference. “I compare it to anti-Semitic cartoons that are equally no longer tolerated,” tweeted fellow RN presenter Patricia Karvelas, turning the volume to 11. “The imagery is denigrating.” ABC News Breakfast host Virginia Trioli tweeted in response to the Herald Sun’s defiant front page reprinting the full gamut of Knight’s hilarious caricatures. This was “one of the greatest examples of the Straw Man Fallacy” Trioli had seen.

Extreme and wrong-headed as these views may be, they are worthy of debate. But why are they all the same? How can it be that an issue that divides opinion across the nation finds only one reaction in the corridors of the national broadcaster? Did no one at Ultimo or Southbank think the cartoon was funny or that the hyperventilated response smacked of bigotry by seeing racism where there was none or opportunistically looking to make an example of someone?

The Liberal bullying claims were taken up with a gusto and lack of scepticism by ABC TV’s leading reporters, Laura Tingle and Andrew Probyn. What they lacked in specifics they have made up for in video re-enactments.

Can a counter view be found at the ABC, some who might contend that these were typically blunt exchanges in the heat of a leadership battle and that there could be an element of political payback in the allegations? Not from RN commentator Paul Bongiorno, who has dubbed the Coalition “misogynistic”, or from The Drum host Julia Baird, who has “written a PhD on media sexism” and said “Liberal women are, finally, and spectacularly, rebelling”. Nor would it come from chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici, who tweeted in favour of female quotas, making the common but fallacious argument that the Coalition already has cabinet quotas for Nationals.

Again, all this is fodder for spirited and intelligent debate, but why do ABC voices all turn one way like so many school fish?

Climate change is the bellwether because it involves avoiding the facts. Whether you are a climate catastrophist or a hardened sceptic, the reality is that we know global carbon emissions are still growing substantially; their expansion alone dwarfs Australia’s total emissions, let alone whatever we cut. Logically, then, the disruption of our energy system in favour of renewables and the consequences we have seen on price and reliability demand serious policy debate. Yet despite a fascination for the broad topic, the ABC never recognises this reality.

It pretends daily that any mechanism to reduce emissions is correct; it has backed an emissions trading scheme, carbon tax, renewable energy target, national energy guarantee and emissions intensity plan. It often suggests our emissions reductions will save the Great Barrier Reef and reduce droughts and bushfires. This is absurd. What we do will have no discernible impact, especially when global emissions keep rising.

There was no sense of this reality when Leigh Sales interviewed the Prime Minister this week and asked why climate change wasn’t a “top policy priority”. It took a school student guest on Q&A to inject some logic. “The thing is that the two major emitters of carbon emissions is the USA and China, and as we are speaking right now, China is building coal-fired plants across the world and the US has just pulled out of the Paris Agreement,” said Joanne Tran, perhaps surprising many ABC viewers.

The ABC has been so committed to some version of emissions reduction policy that it is rewriting political history. Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG was the catalyst for leadership upheaval and climate and energy policy is still so divisive that the government promises to focus only on prices while deifying the Paris targets. There are obvious reasons the government wants to avoid debating what has torn it apart but journalists and commentators are supposed to ignore these wounds and pick at the scabs.

Instead, ABC audiences are being told the leadership change was about nothing. Tingle dismissed it as putting “lipstick on a pig” and suggested to the Nationals’ Darren Chester that “there is no real change in policy here, is there?” Surely even ABC journalists are on to this sophistry. Turnbull was forced to surrender his NEG policy the day before the spill, losing much authority, and now Morrison has dumped the policy altogether. It is disingenuous for ABC analysts to champion climate and energy policy, suggest it should be a top priority, then pretend nothing has changed when it is scrapped.

There should be plurality rather than corporate views across journalists, platforms and programs at the ABC. That groupthink forms around such jaun­diced and ideological views is a worry. Similar groupthink exists on border protection, same-sex marriage, Donald Trump, Brexit, indigenous recognition and other issues. All are worthy areas for public debate. The ABC should be able to look at issues from different perspectives without hollering for the Institute of Public Affairs.

With so much to discuss it is a pity that a wide range of opinions and endless relevant facts are often reduced to binary choices in a polarised, digital media world — and everyone at the ABC chooses the same side.

Please alert me to exceptions that may prove the rule.


Students set for shift to ‘radical’ 21st century curriculum

Australian students are set to be taught fashionable but contentious 21st-century skills, ranging from critical and creative thinking through to “mindfulness”, “gratitude” and “resilience”, with moves under way for a radical redesign of the national curriculum.

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority has started a review of the curriculum that is understood to draw heavily on the recent Gonski review, an OECD future of education project and the work of a US-based “futurist” who has been contracted to help “modernise” the mathematics curriculum.

The push has attracted criticism from ACARA’s recently retired chairman, Steven Schwartz.

“The 21st-century skills movement is the latest in a long line of educational fads,” Professor Schwartz said. “In each case, early enthusiasm gave way to disillusion. The problem is always the same: children cannot learn to be critical thinkers until they have actually learned something to think about.”

ACARA chief executive Robert Randall alluded to the review during a University of NSW lecture last month. He revealed the next iteration of the curriculum would be out within two years.

It is understood work is centred on two objectives: bringing 21st-century skills — referred to as general capabilities in the curriculum but also known as “soft skills” and “generic competencies” — to the fore of what is taught in classrooms; and incorporating equally contentious learning progressions that have been linked to a proposal to replace student achievement, including A-E grades, with “gain” as a measure of a student’s success.

Both were endorsed by businessman David Gonski in his ­recent review into educational ­excellence

Former ACARA director of curriculum Fiona Mueller, who resigned late last year after two years in the role, exposed the ­review in a recent online opinion article. She lamented the “fixation on 21st-century competencies” and “lack of broadminded, transparent and objective leadership on the part of local decision makers”.

Approached by The Weekend Australian, Dr Mueller said she was concerned that work under way amounted to a redesign of the curriculum by stealth. “You might call (it) a rather stealthy shift in approach, and the implications for students, teachers and other stakeholders are absolutely enormous,” she said. “What they are talking about is actually another radical shift in teaching and learning.”

Despite ACARA’s frequent ­assurances that any changes to the two-year-old curriculum would be “refinements”, it recently commissioned the US-based Centre for Curriculum Redesign, headed by self-­described education thought leader and futurist Charles Fadel, to work on a new maths curriculum.

It was referred to on ACARA’s website in July under the obscure heading “Australian Curriculum: Mathematics recognised as global leader”.

More detail was available on the CCR’s own website. A July 24 media release reveals the project would lead to the ­creation of a “world-class ­mathematics ­curriculum” that paid ­explicit attention to “21st century competencies” that addressed the “learning needs of students for life and work in the 21st century”.

Mr Randall was quoted as saying that the project would be used to “inform any future refinement to the Australian curriculum in mathematics and to help guide improvement to ACARA’s overall curriculum design and development process”.

Hailed by many as a panacea to declining educational results — both locally and when compared with international counterparts — the general capabilities received a big tick in the Gonski report, which described them as “critical to equipping ­students with the skills necessary to successfully live and work in a changing world and are increasingly sought after by employers”.

Positioned in the national curriculum with eight core learning areas, such as English, maths, science and history, there are seven general capabilities: literacy, numeracy, ICT capability, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, intercultural understanding and ethical understanding.

The degree to which teachers embed them in their subject teaching is not known.

Australian Catholic University research fellow Kevin Donnelly, a former secondary school principal who conducted the government’s 2014 review of the curriculum, said the push to elevate the role of skills and capabilities in education was a worldwide trend, driven by “globalist groupthink” about “changing times” and preparing students “for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems that have not yet been anticipated”.

It is also a major theme of the OECD’s Education 2030 position paper, The Future of Education and Skills, in which ACARA was heavily involved. The report, ­released this year, features a long list of “constructs” of competencies currently under review that could find their way into the curriculum, such as adaptability, compassion, equity, global mindset, gratitude, hope, integrity, motivation, justice, mindfulness, resilience, respect, purposefulness and trust.

“Such competencies represent a content-free approach to the curriculum that is guaranteed to further lower standards and ensure that Australian students continue to underperform and leave schools morally and culturally bereft,” Dr Donnelly said.

Centre for Independent Studies senior research fellow Jennifer Buckingham also questioned the push, describing it as “well-intentioned but misguided”. “Of course it is important for young people to be able to collaborate, communicate and think critically and creatively, but there is absolutely nothing new about that,” Dr Buckingham said.

“What is new is the idea that these things can be taught by schools as a set of generic skills or capabilities disconnected from disciplinary knowledge. Good evidence suggest that this is a fool’s errand.”

A spokesman for ACARA confirmed that the organisation was engaged in work designed to inform the next generation of the national curriculum, but any ­action would require the endorsement of all education ministers.

The spokesman said that the recommendation in the Gonski report relating to the development of learning progressions built on ACARA’s recent work in producing literacy and numeracy learning progressions, which “help teachers locate the literacy and numeracy development of their students and identify what development should follow”.

The spokesman said the CCR contract, to design a new maths curriculum, was worth $215,000.


Chris Bowen steps up on ATO small business tax abuse

Australians from every corner of our land should thank the ALP’s shadow minister for small business Christopher Eyles Guy Bowen.

He has become the first major party politician to recognise that Australia’s biggest employment generators -small business and entrepreneurs - need a proper tax appeal process.

As it is, the Australian Taxation Office’s widespread abuse of small business gets worse every day. The ATO’s latest stunt is to try to wipe out husband and wife partnerships in trades like plumbing, electricians etc.

I’ve quoted Bowen’s full name in recognition of this achievement and the fact that he has added small business to his role as shadow treasurer; a move long overdue.

More than two years ago in The Australian (along with Self Employed Australia) I first alerted the community to the small business abuses being conducted by the ATO and the fact that there was no appeal process. I am so grateful that I am longer alone and have been joined by The ALP and Bowen, the judiciary, the Inspector General of Taxation, the small business ombudsman, the ABC, and the Fairfax press. I can’t think of any issue that has united such a wide sector of the community.

It’s totally ironic that the Coalition, which desperately needs the support of small business in next year’s election, has sat on its hands and done nothing to curb the ATO’s blatant abuse of small business. Offering tax cuts becomes a joke.

As shadow treasurer, Bowen realises that unless the abuse is stopped, it will affect confidence in the total taxation system. The ATO has the capacity to investigate only a relatively small portion of tax payments. The ATO abuses will inevitably, in time, cause loss of confidence in the system (perhaps when the ALP is in office), which will devastate government revenue. The ALP has announced that if it wins the next election it will establish appeal process against ATO determinations by establishing a second ATO Commissioner and office for appeals, reporting to the Commissioner of Taxation.

It’s a proposal that was canvassed before the ATO abuses got out of hand. Had it been introduced, say, two years ago, it might have been sufficient. But I believe the bad, anti-small business culture in the ATO is now so deep that the ALP remedy will work only for a short time.

Let me illustrate with a real life example. If you want to stop abuses in banks, power companies or the churches, it is useless to establish an appeal process that reports to the chief executive the organisation that is committing the abuses.

Even if the CEO is not part of the abuses, in time the abusers will get control of the appeal processes. And yet that’s exactly what the ALP is proposing. I am sad that, having isolated the problem, Chris Bowen has not understood that no person could be CEO of an abusing organisation and CEO of the appeal process.

Nevertheless, Bowen deserves full marks for recognising the looming crisis.

The ALP opinion polling has shown that although small business is the Coalition’s natural support base, through gross ineptness it has allowed the ATO to abuse that base, enabling the ALP to now take the initiative and gain points.

But the Coalition is lucky that the ALP has not quite got it right, so it still has an opportunity.

Unfortunately, in government, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is not the small business minister. Michaelia Cash is new to the small business portfolio, although she is in the inner cabinet and her experience in handling the CFMEU will be invaluable in tackling the ATO.

So if Labor hasn’t got it right, and the Coalition is yet to act, what’s the solution?

The first element of the solution is to have a totally independent small business appeal body where there are no lawyers. The best organisation to embrace that task is the Inspector-General of Taxation.

A totally separate small business appeal body is absolutely not negotiable. Unless the ALP or the Coalition is prepared to do that, then it’s better to do nothing and wait until the overall revenue is hit forcing the government of the day to take proper action to restore confidence.

A second mechanism is to make taxation prosecution part of the attorney general’s department, as it is in all other government jurisdictions. That would be a wonderful thing for the nation, but it’s a big step to take.

The Coalition government has stuck its head in the sand for the last two years. That said, I believe that former financial services minster Kelly O’Dwyer was very close to appointing the Inspector-General of Taxation as an independent appeal body. Then came the leadership spill. Somewhere in the morass is a Treasury report on what to do about the abuses.

Back in May 2016 - yes 2016 - I wrote this commentary in the lead up the July 2016 election:

"It’s now time for one or both of our major political parties to tackle the biggest single hidden issue in the election campaign — the way the tax office is treating the small- and medium-sized business community.

Large corporations have the resources to take the tax office to court so tax officials know they must follow the law or end up in court. The issues in this area usually involve the application of the law to complex transactions.

But small enterprises simply do not have the resources to fight court cases, so the tax office is able to set its own rules and those rules can be different to what the law says.

In the same article, I said:

"The Inspector-General needs to be given wider powers and more staff or a new body should be set up".

At that time I did not understand the depth of the issue, but I could smell that there was a cultural problem in the ATO. And from day one, I have emphasised that I am not defending tax avoiders, but rather those who have honestly tried to comply but have been caught in the ATO anti-small business culture against where there is no appeal because it costs too much.

It’s been a long journey and I thank my readers for their patience but finally the politicians are going to take notice. Thank you, Chris Bowen.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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