Monday, July 01, 2019

Dumped from the Writer's Festival

Bettina Arndt

Writer's festivals have long been a joke in this country - well known as lovefests of ideologues preaching feminist and leftist claptrap to their rapt devotees. Even Germaine Greer found herself banned from a writer's festival last year for daring to challenge the party line on rape.

 Imagine my surprise when I received an invitation recently to appear at this year's Canberra Writer's Festival, to speak about my new book #MenToo. I happily agreed to take part in two panels, one on "Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing" - supposedly on the consequences of #MeToo - and the other on women over 50.

Yesterday, Michaela Bolzan, the Artistic Director of the CWF wrote excitedly informing me of the "super" panel they'd put together for the first women/men panel:

* There's self-described "card-carrying feminist", our former Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs.
 * Domestic violence campaigner and journalist Jane Gilmore, known for her anti- male bile.
* LGBTIQ activist, advocate for Safe Schools, and former GetUp campaign director, Sally Rugg, currently embroiled in a campaign to take down rugby player Israel Folau for posting his religious views on social media.
* And writer David Leser whose virtue-signalling article (and forthcoming book) produced the title for this panel. "Why is it that men have killed, enslaved, scarred, diminished and silenced women of every age, race and class, on every continent, for so long?" Leser ponders. I advise you to read the rest and marvel at the stupidity and misandry of this man.

So that was the "super" panel now proposed to talk about women and men in the age of #MeToo. There was no longer any pretence of including balance in this proposed orgy of male-bashing - I was dropped from the panel and asked to moderate the session. Ditto the panel on women over 50, where I was asked to moderate a panel which included - wait for it - the dreaded Jane Caro, now notorious for her foul-mouthed election night tweet accusing "truculent turds" of sending Australia backwards by voting conservative. Her anti-male tirades are equally well known.

Unsurprisingly, I have pulled out of the event, pointing out I have no interest in being a punching bag for this line up of loonies and their followers. But it says a great deal about the huge waste of government funding supporting this divisive rubbish. The Canberra Writers Festival is supported by the ACT Government, ACT Libraries and ABC Radio Canberra plus there's an annual grant from ACT Labor of $125,000.  How about some of you lobbying these organisations to provide more balanced discussion at these events?

Via email

Nothing but downsides in demand-driven education

I have never been a fan of demand-driven university enrolment, a system that involves “qualified” students being guaranteed a subsidised place in higher education.

For years the universities called for its introduction — and why wouldn’t they? — while making reference to dodgy estimates of “unmet demand”, defined as those “qualified” students who were unable to secure a place at university.

You might ask why I put qualified in inverted commas. The reason is that what constitutes qualification for entry to univer­sity is a movable feast.

Some may think a very decent Year 12 score is the least that should be expected. But, these days, passing the final year as measured by an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank of over 50 is optional when it comes to getting into uni.

In my view, it is entirely appropriate for taxpayers to place limits on the amount of money that should be allocated to subsidise undergraduate students. In other words, the spending should be capped and adjusted only to accommodate predetermined factors such as population growth.

Obviously there are opportunity costs associated with spending more on higher education tuition subsidies (and, of course, all types of government spending).

The additional spending could be directed to other activities that yield higher social benefits or it could be returned to put-upon taxpayers.

In this context, higher education advocates will point to the evidence, which is not beyond dispute, that spending on universities generates high rates of return, with some estimates above $10 for every $1 spent.

But here’s the point: these estimates are for average returns, and what we are interested in, in the context of this discussion, are marginal returns — the additional benefits that flow from spending more money on undergraduate tuition subsidies.

It’s worth looking at the figures here. Between 2009 and 2017, the period during which demand-driven enrolment operated, the number of domestic bachelor degree students rose by about one-third. Government spending increased, in real terms, from $6.4 billion in 2009 to $9.3bn in 2017, an increase of 45 per cent.

The Productivity Commission recently has assessed the demand-driven system and has issued a mixed report card.

But reading through the analysis, it’s actually hard to see very many upsides, only downsides, particularly in the context of the amount of spending involved and the outcomes for the students themselves.

Some of the most important findings include the fact universities have accepted much less qualified students as a result of the new funding system.

The additional students who were accepted into the system had much lower levels of literacy and numeracy than the cohort as a whole and most of them had ATARs below 70. (And, as noted, some had ATARs below 50 and were accepted into teacher education courses!)

And here’s a very depressing but unsurprising finding: the additional students had much higher dropout rates than other students. According to the Productivity Commission, “by age 23 years, 21 per cent of the additional students had left university without receiving a qualification compared with 12 per cent of other students”.

Surely the appropriate response is “what a waste” and note that many of these young people will have collected some Higher Education Loan Program (the old HECS) debt in the meantime, to be paid off during their working lives or written off.

To be sure, there was some increase in the participation of “first in family” students whom the Productivity Commission deemed to be disadvantaged. But for young people living in rural and regional areas and young indigenous people, there was no change in their participation.

It’s worth considering what has been happening in the graduate ­labour market in response to the expansion in the number of ­subsidised undergraduate places.

In short, there has been a ­collapse in graduate salaries as well as a marked deterioration in the employment prospects of graduates.

Consider median graduate starting salaries. Before the introduction of the demand-driven enrolment, these salaries were about 80 per cent to 82 per cent of male average weekly earnings. They are now closer to 75 per cent.

And when we look at employment outcomes, we observe a sharp fall in the proportion of graduates securing full-time work — from about 85 per cent to 70 to 75 per cent. Note also that a higher proportion of graduates report that their degrees are largely irrelevant to their work.

It is also worth noting that the HELP loan book is valued at $46bn and is expected to grow to $53.2bn by 2022, an increase of more than 15 per cent. There is little doubt that a reasonable proportion of this debt — perhaps up to 20 per cent — eventually will be written off.

That the Coalition government decided to pull the plug on demand-driven enrolment was not entirely surprising, although the reasons for this, as well as the replacement arrangements, do not exude much confidence in terms of rational decision-making.

The refusal by the Senate to pass measures to reduce certain spending on higher education forced the government to use non-legislated means of achieving the same outcome while putting in place a complex deal for universities, pending a review in a few years.

The clear message that the Education Minister should be giving university administrators is that there will be no return to the open-ended and wasteful demand-driven enrolment.

The Productivity Commission concludes that “while universities will be the best option for many, ­viable alternatives in employment and vocational education and training will ensure more young people succeed”. This point was always obvious, notwithstanding the universities’ spiel about the need for problem-solving, cognitive skills in the future.

Given the content of the cour­ses into which many of these additional students were accepted and the dismal record on economy-wide productivity during the period in which the number of graduates has swelled, the jig is surely up on this line of argument.


‘Harm' getting out of hand

No one likes to harm others. But today the call to ‘avoid harm’ is getting out of hand. And more often than not, begs the question.

Back in the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill saw the of prevention of harm as setting the limit on the coercive power of the state when he wrote “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (On Liberty 1859). Mill was seeking to increase human freedom with his harm principle.

Today saying something is harmful is increasingly the one-stop shop to attempt to criticise and shut down, be it, for example, NAPLAN testing, the same-sex marriage plebiscite, the recent Vatican statement on gender, or much that goes on in schools and universities. The inflation of what is considered ‘harmful’ — however well intentioned — is having the effect of decreasing human freedom.

It is not a simple issue. On the one hand, there can be real harm, and our society is rightly far less blasé about many dangers than in the past. Think of such disparate areas as industrial safety and child abuse.

On the other hand, one of the reasons for the popularity of talking about harm is that it seems to provide a common ground and a simple test in a society otherwise lacking an agreed moral framework.

However, that is an illusion. What counts as harmful is rarely objective or straightforward, but depends on a wider, often unacknowledged, context. For example, not all distress or pain is harmful. Is it harmful to me to be told by you that I have cancer? Or that I should repent? That depends whether you are an oncologist. Or whether divine judgment is a real thing.

And it is so with many of the appeals to harm. They so easily beg the question by subtly importing hidden claims about human life and society as to be practically useless.

Saying something harmful is not the end, but the beginning of a conversation.


University bans mention of how long Aborigines have been in Autralia

Science lecturers at the University of New South Wales have been told to stop telling students that Indigenous people's arrived in Australia 40,000 years ago.

In a letter sent to staff the lecturers were told that it is 'inappropriate' to teach dates and they should say Aboriginals have been here 'since the beginning of the Dreamings' because that is what indigenous people believe.

A set of classroom guidelines were circulated in the science faculty this month which alerted the scientists to the existing language advice, according to The Weekend Australian.

Aboriginal people are thought to have arrived in Australia via land bridges from the north about 50,000 years ago. 

It is generally accepted among scientists, however, that Indigenous people, like the rest of the world's human population, migrated from the African continent.

In 2018, a UNSW research centre in the science faculty said Indigenous Australians 'arrived soon after 50,000 years ago, effectively forever, given that modern human populations only moved out of ­Africa 50,000-55,000 years ago.'

The inclusivity language guidelines were approved by a working group involving dean Emma Johnston.

The guidelines say teaching a date for the arrival of Indigenous people 'tends to lend support to migration theories and anthropological assumptions.'

Many indigenous Australians see this sort of measurement as inappropriate the guidelines claim.

'The Aboriginal people I've worked with are enormously interested in the scientific evidence,' University of Wollongong ­archaeologist Richard Fullagar told the publication.

He did, however, also say that Aboriginal people he has worked with have sometimes told him that it is their cultural belief they have been here forever.


Labor’s tax stance depends on crossbench: Gallagher

The Morrison government has demanded Labor stop its “verbal gymnastics” and support its flagship $158 billion personal income tax cuts plan, as opposition finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher suggests her party will not finalise a position until it knows how the crossbench will vote.

In a messy interview on Sky News today, Senator Gallagher was unable to say if Labor’s caucus — which meets tomorrow — would formalise its position on the tax cuts legislation, due to be debated when federal parliament returns this week.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Labor’s failure to support the Coalition’s full tax cut package would be a lasting “stain on the Labor Party”.

“Labor ought to come clear, come clean tomorrow and make sure they declare that ultimately they will pass this tax relief agenda because the failure to deliver tax relief for hardworking Australians will be a stain that will haunt Labor and Anthony Albanese all the way to the next election if they block this agenda,” Senator Birmingham said.

“I heard they might even wait to see what the position of the crossbench are until Labor makes up their mind about whether or not they’ll support our tax cuts. Well come on let’s be real. The Australian people may have decided that Labor weren’t fit for government but now they’re showing they’re not even fit to be the opposition.”

Senator Gallagher this morning conceded Australians earning $200,000 were not the “top end of town” but insists the parliament should reject the final stage of the government’s personal income tax cuts because they do not stimulate the economy now and are too generous for high-income earners.

Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg will this week try and ensure low and middle income earners quickly receive the $1080 tax cut they were promised in the April budget.

Senator Gallagher suggested Labor would wait to see what support the government received from the Senate crossbench before deciding how to vote on the full package.

“If and when the government is able to get a deal with the crossbench, and that’s not for certain at this point in time, we would have to take decisions based on what was happening at the time,” Senator Gallagher told Sky News.

“We have to be able to make decisions in the parliament as situations unfold, sometimes that doesn’t mean you can bring the whole caucus back together.

“Around stage three we’re worried on a couple of fronts. One is the affordability of it, can the budget actually afford this in four or five years’ time? We don’t know what will be happening. The situation has already changed from the election in terms of the economic outlook.

“We do wonder whether that allocation, it’s a huge part particularly of the second unlegislated lot of tax cuts, going to the highest income earners which would show they’re the group that are less likely to spend it in the economy.”

Asked if Australians earning $200,000 should be characterised as the “top end of town”, Senator Gallagher said: “No I don’t, I think a lot of my constituents would be earning incomes of that.

“Let’s have an argument around affordability of tax cuts in the near future, not the medium future, which is what we’re being asked to do.”

Australians earning more than $180,000 will receive less than a third of the Turnbull and Morrison governments’ $324.6 billion personal income tax cuts, according to Parliamentary Budget Office modelling.

Labor supports stage one of the plan to deliver the $1080 tax cuts and wants to speed up stage two to bring forward benefits for Australians earning more than $90,000 from 2022-23 to 2019-20.

It is unsuccessfully trying to convince the government to defer a decision on stage three, which from 2024-25 lowers the tax rate from 32.5 per cent to 30 per cent for Australians earning between $45,000 and $200,000, because it does not have “the same impact on the economy now”.

“It’s a lot of money where it’s not clear about how it’s going to be paid for and when you look at it in those individual years in 2024-25, that stage three is about $19bn a year,” Senator Gallagher said.

“That is a lot more than we pay for a whole range of services … (and) it certainly has no stimulatory effect on the budget … I don’t think the government is trying to explain it as a stimulus on the economy then (in five years), they’re talking about it as addressing bracket creep.”

Josh Frydenberg declared Senator Gallagher had confirmed “what we already about the Labor Party”.  “They are instinctively opposed to tax relief for hardworking Australians, even after the Australian people sent them an unequivocal message at the election,” the Treasurer said.

“Anthony Albanese should drop Bill Shorten’s losing strategy, cut his losses and stop denying the Australian people the tax cuts they voted for.”

Labor and the Greens are opposed to the entire package but the government is edging closer to a deal with the Senate crossbenchers.

The Coalition, which requires the backing of four out of six crossbenchers when it does not have the support of Labor or the Greens, has locked in South Australian senator Cory Bernardi’s vote and is set to have two votes from Centre Alliance but it will also need Jacqui Lambie’s support to legislate the package.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has repeatedly said she will oppose the full plan.


 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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