Tuesday, February 05, 2019

PM bows to pressure over refugee medical transfers

Scott Morrison has bowed to demands for an independent medical review panel to vet asylum-seeker transfers from regional processing centres to Australian health facilities as the government faces the risk of a historic ­defeat on the floor of parliament next week over Kerryn Phelps’s medivac bill.

The surrender comes amid increasing public concern over the treatment of refugees and threats by Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers to strip the government of decision-making powers over medical transfers.

The Prime Minister only last week warned that should the bill pass with the support of Labor, it would be the first step in dismantling offshore processing and a weakening of border security.

In December, Mr Morrison ­attacked the bill claiming “we ­already have doctors” assisting in the treatment of asylum-seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.

With the likelihood the government could lose a vote in the house, Mr Morrison has adopted a key concern of several independents and will establish an independent panel of doctors to review decisions made by the ­department. The Australian has been told the opposition plans to pressure the government over a snap election if it loses a vote on a matter of “vital importance”, which, under parliamentary rules, can constitute a loss of confidence in the government.

Mr Morrison was expected to brief key independent MP Cathy McGowan, whose support would be critical if the government is to avoid being defeated on the bill.

The Australian has confirmed Mr Morrison’s policy went to the National Security Committee of Cabinet but not full Cabinet

It involves the creation of an ­independent Medical Transfer Clinical Assurance Panel, to be chaired by the commonwealth Chief Medical Officer.

It would include a nominee of the chief executive of Foundation House with torture and trauma counselling experience, a nominee of the Australian Medical Association and two nominees of the department’s Chief Medical Officer, one of whom will hold current mental health clinical experience.

The panel, appointed by the Immigration Minister, would be able to review assessments currently undertaken by the department on the medical needs of asylum-seekers. The panel cannot overturn decisions but can refer them to the Department of Home Affairs for reconsideration.

The Coalition, which announced yesterday the final four child asylum seekers on Nauru will be transferred to the US, will argue its model would ensure the government still retained overall oversight of medical transfers, maintaining the current nat­ional ­security architecture.

An inpatient mental health unit is also in the process of being set up in the Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby for acute cases.

In a letter expected to be sent to Bill Shorten today, and seen by The Australian, Mr Morrison has warned Labor of the dangers of backing a bill that would ­effectively hand border security over to two doctors. “I appreciate that Australians are seeking greater assurance about the healthcare that is being made available to those who continue to live in PNG and Nauru,” Mr Morrison says in the draft letter. “In the context of these issues, I also write to once again urge you to reverse your support for Senate amendments to the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018 to be considered when Parliament resumes.

“The changes you are now supporting in the amendments from the Senate changes will effectively end offshore processing as a useful component of our border protection regime. The advice from our security agencies is very clear …

“The reason that the amendments passed by the Senate will end offshore processing is simply that they take the final decision of who comes to Australia out of the hands of the elected government of this country. The amendments permit individuals on Nauru and Manus to gain entry to Australia on the say-so of any two doctors in this ­country.”

Mr Morrison offered the Opposition Leader briefings from the Chief of the Defence Force, secretary of Home Affairs and commander of Operation Sovereign Borders on the dangers of the bill.

Dr Phelps, the architect of the bill who claims that her campaigning on the issue helped her win the Wentworth by-election, yesterday welcomed the expected removal of children from Nauru but said the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming.

Dr Phelps, who won Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat from the Liberals in October, said the government was forced into ­action by community pressure.

At present, medical transfers are decisions made by the department’s transitory persons’ committee and the assistant commissioner, Detention and Offshore Operations Co-ordination, which have a delegation to transfer an individual for medical treatment at any time. The panel will provide bi­annual reports to the joint standing committee on migration but has immediate oversight to review decisions by the department.

Mr Shorten said Labor would pursue the issue when parliament returned on February 12.

The vote — which was delayed after stalling tactics were employed in the Senate during the last day of parliamentary sittings last year — looms as a key test for the Morrison minority government.

The House of Representatives practice says there are two ways in which the lower house can withdraw confidence. The first is by a “direct vote of censure of or no confidence in the government” while the second is “by defeat on an issue central to government policy”.

Following defeat on a matter of “vital importance”, a government may then choose to resign. While there has never been a successful vote of no confidence against a government in the House of Representatives, on eight occasions gov­ernments have either resigned or advised a dissolution following their defeat on other questions.

A Labor source said : “If they are defeated on it and Morrison decides to not go to the Governor-General, he would then have to explain why (the bill) is not of vital ­importance”.


Should the nanny state cap your calories?

After a summer break filled with well-earned indulgence, you may be starting your New Year’s resolution to diet.

But it could soon be the government’s responsibility to control your calorie intake — if we’re inclined to play copy-cat on a ludicrous proposal under consideration by the British government to cap the number of calories in restaurant meals and ready-made meals from supermarkets.

Hilariously, even a benign-sounding tuna and cucumber sandwich sold by the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain would become illegal under the scheme — as it would top the mandated 550 calorie limit.

But while it is tempting to joke about the idea, if it’s implemented in Britain, it is certain the health lobby will turn its sights on Australia.

After all, Australia tends to adopt Britain’s policies as quickly as their BBC costume dramas. A tax on sugary drinks — another poorly-targeted policy introduced in Britain last year — has been the subject of ongoing debate in Australia.

Of course, obesity is a serious problem in many developed nations — including Australia — but the causes are complex and the solutions are not straightforward.

More than 5 million Australians are now classified as obese. And obesity places a strain on our health system, with taxpayers bearing much of the cost of treatments for related problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But there is little evidence that capping calories in meals would be worth the huge regulatory cost to the food and restaurant industries.

After all, capping calories does nothing to directly prevent people from consuming too much; a pea-sized pizza could simply be followed by a mega Mars bar.

Furthermore, obesity is sadly more prevalent in lower socio-economic households — who are less likely to afford expensive restaurant meals. So why make the whole restaurant industry pay for a poorly-targeted policy?

If governments feel compelled to combat obesity, they should at least focus their policies directly on children at risk, as childhood is often where lasting food and exercise habits are formed.

But don’t be surprised if by next New Year, dining out is a lot less fun.


Enquiry-based learning isn’t evidence-based

You have to wonder how many times something has to be tried before people stop calling it ‘innovative’ and ‘new’. Especially when it has fallen short of expectations as often as enquiry-based learning.

Decades of research has shown the student-centred approach — where there is a focus on students discovering new information for themselves with minimal structure and without teacher guidance — to be less effective than teacher-directed instruction.

In New South Wales, some alternative (but not new) models of schools are opening up. In some cases, schools like this may have been successful (especially in more socially-advantaged areas), and it’s possible that new schools opening up under this model will be great schools — we all wish them the best and want them to succeed. But it’s important to question if this educational approach would be beneficial or practical for all students or across the entire school system, particularly when the evidence suggests that it won’t be.

We may hear success stories about how revolutionary new schools have done away with the ‘industrial model of schooling’ in favour of a ‘whole-child’ approach, but often when you dig deeper the story is far less clear.

A 2018 OECD report found enquiry-based learning in Australia is associated with significantly lower science scores in schools with a poor disciplinary climate, and not associated with significantly higher science scores even in schools with good disciplinary climates. In contrast, the report concluded that teacher-directed instruction is positively associated with student science results, across almost all countries — and this is regardless of school funding, classroom disciplinary climate, and student proficiency and socio-economic background.

And a recent meta-analysis — which considered the findings of over 300 studies across 50 years — showed that direct instruction has significant positive effects on student achievement across all subjects and non-academic indicators, including for disadvantaged students. The implication is that direct instruction is practically always a beneficial teaching practice.

Generally favouring teacher-led direct instruction over student-centred enquiry-based learning isn’t a ‘back to basics’ approach or defending the ‘old’ against the ‘new’. It’s simply following the evidence where it leads.


The shaky state of religious freedom in Australia

I learned four important — but somewhat dispiriting — things while taking part in the ABC Radio National’s God Forbid discussion of religious freedom last week. (I was joined by two fine academic lawyers – an atheist from Melbourne and an Anglican from West Australia.)

* Everybody agrees that religious freedom is a good thing but disagrees about whether there is any danger to it in Australia. The truth is that there is a relatively high level of religious freedom here in this county’s robust common law tradition — not through government legislation. But this is vulnerable as the country undergoes massive social change.

* While some religious communities will, to various degrees, accommodate the sexual revolution, there will always remain a substantial ‘recalcitrant’ minority who will not do so, and yet still want to have a place in the public life of this nation. It is still not clear if and how this will be achieved.

* Antidiscrimination law is as much the problem as the solution. Antidiscrimination law protects individuals, but unless very carefully crafted can prevent religious communities and institutions from maintaining the religious character which constitutes them in the first place. The overuse use of the word ‘discrimination’ itself doesn’t help as it too often begs the question by implying any act of selection is bad. This is what is called a ‘persuasive definition’ where the word used prejudges a conclusion without argument.

* Any successful attempt to remove the funding of religious schools that ‘discriminate’ would amount to removing government funding from religious schools altogether. Admittedly it has been done before. In the late nineteenth century all the colonies removed previous state funding to religious schools completely. It was restored by the Menzies federal government in 1964. Maybe that is a question that could be reopened, but not as an accidental outcome of an antidiscrimination debate.

My conclusion is that this issue isn’t going away anytime soon. And given the poor quality of the debate on the release of the Ruddock Report in parliament late last year, and now with so little time before the federal election I am pessimistic about much being achieved for quite a while, if ever.


 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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