Thursday, May 21, 2020

How scrapping ‘free’ childcare will hurt providers, parents and children

In recent days both the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Education Minister Dan Tehan have indicated that the “free” childcare arrangement they initially promised for six months may be shelved as early as June 28.

To understand why this will be catastrophic for parents and centres you only have to look to the comments the PM himself made when announcing the rescue package.

“Child care and early childhood education is critical,” Prime Minister Morrison explained.

“Particularly for those Australians who rely on it so they can go to work every day, particularly those who are working in such critical areas. I don’t want a parent to have to choose between feeding their kids and having their kids looked after, or having their education being provided.”

He continued: “This virus is going to take enough from Australians without putting Australian parents in that position of having to choose between the economic wellbeing of their family or the care and support and education of their children. I won’t cop a situation where a parent is put in that place with their kids.”

If the government proceeds with its reported plan to pull the rug out on free childcare and “snap back” to the old system on June 28 that is precisely the situation many parents will face.

And other children will no longer have access to the education and support their early learning currently provides – not necessarily because of their parent’s positions – but because up to 86 per cent of childcare centres will be at risk of closing if the old system is suddenly switched back on.

The government’s own review of its rescue package was reported yesterday and it indicates that 86 per cent of centres said the package had stopped them from closing its doors. All of those centres will be in jeopardy without the current relief in place.

According to the government review, attendance rates at centres across the board are currently just 63 per cent of ordinary times, which is well below break-even point, and not viable. Without the lure of free care, operators are expecting those numbers to drop further still.

Given more than 600,000 Australians lost work last month alone it’s highly unlikely parents will be able to afford the same level of care now that they could three months ago.

The government intervened in April because parents were fleeing from centres in droves, driven by either health concerns related to the pandemic, or drastically changed financial positions, or both.

The health risk of COVID-19 is certainly less now than it was in April, but the devastating economic damage this pandemic has unleashed remains alive and well – and is unlikely to be repaired any time soon.

Charging full fees again will place unsustainable economic pressure on parents who are already squeezed; many will no longer be able to afford access to the education and care their children deserve.

Without children enrolled close to pre-COVID-19 numbers this vital sector’s ability to survive will be compromised.

The Prime Minister has said free childcare is not sustainable. But withdrawing this relief early and attempting to snap back while we are still in the midst of the economic fall out of this health crisis is not sustainable either.

Providing “free childcare” is costly and not perfect. But it won’t cost Australia nearly as much as it will if the early childhood education sector falls over altogether. We cannot afford that collapse – not for our economy, our communities and least of all our children.

Instead of unwinding this reform we need to strive for better and spend the next few weeks and months ensuring the early childhood education and care sector is strong enough to emerge from COVID-19 not just intact, but better than ever. For children, educators and families.


Turnbull left us a dud school curriculum

In his recent memoir, A Bigger Picture, Malcolm Turnbull presents an ego-centred, delusional account of the way he single-handedly solved the school funding issue and ensured Australian students’ dismal performance in international tests would improve.

Wrong on both accounts. Not only was the Gonski 2.0 funding model flawed, inequitable and guilty of penalising low-fee schools, especially Catholic, but the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools also proved to be a dud calculated to dumb down the curriculum further, ensuring even lower standards.

Chapter 40 of the former prime minister’s book centres on the May 2, 2017, press conference announcing a new school funding agreement titled Gonski 2.0, named after the report’s chairman, David Gonski, and the intention to appoint Gonski as chairman of the education review.

Turnbull lauds the event as a political masterstroke as Gonski had been chosen by the ALP’s Julia Gillard when education minister to review school funding and the “I give a Gonski” slogan was a key plank in the left-leaning Australian Education Union’s campaign to attack conservative governments.

By securing Gonski’s involvement, Turnbull boasts: “I’d ensured that all those ‘I give a Gonski’ posters, banners, corflutes, T-shirts and hats were heading to the recycling bin. Because we didn’t just ‘give a Gonski’, we had his support: he was standing right next to me as we announced our new school funding policy.”

While Turnbull writes he had settled the funding wars as schools now had a model that was “genuinely national, consistent and needs-based”, nothing could be further from the truth.

Stephen Farish, the expert responsible for developing the methodology employed by Gonski 2.0 to quantify how much funding non-government schools received, admitted it “clearly isn’t working”. Under Turnbull as prime minister wealthy independent schools were treated the same as low-fee, less privileged Catholic schools.

Even worse, Simon Birmingham, the federal education minister at the time, and Turnbull knew the Gonski 2.0 funding model was inequitable as months earlier the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria had published a paper — Capacity to Contribute and SES Scores — proving the model reinforced disadvantage.

Significant is that the analysis and conclusions reached by the CECV paper subsequently were endorsed by a commonwealth review of school funding chaired by Michael Chaney that concluded the Gonski 2.0 model was so corrupted it had to be replaced by a more equitable way of deciding funding to non-government schools.

By ignoring the CECV’s paper, in addition to endorsing a flawed funding model, Turnbull also demonstrated how politically inept he was by igniting a nationwide campaign led by Stephen Elder, then executive director of Catholic Education Melbourne, arguing for a more equitable funding model.

In addition to launching Gonski 2.0, Turnbull announced the curriculum review to try to achieve excellence in Australian schools by identifying the most effective way to raise standards.

Describing Gonski’s experience and qualifications to determine how to overcome Australia’s academic underperformance as measured by international tests, Turnbull called Gonski “my old school friend, debating partner and neighbour” and “one of Australia’s leading capitalists and a director of banks”.

Not mentioned in Turnbull’s book is that the eventual report published in March 2018 was flawed, substandard and guaranteed to lower standards further.

Instead of explicit and rigorous year-level standards where students would be graded and evaluated in terms of performance, the review embraced costly and unproven educational fads such as progression points and developmental learning. Students would no longer pass or fail as the focus turned to formative assessment and personal growth.

The report also undervalued what American academic Jerome Bruner described as teaching “the structure of the discipline” in favour of content-free, vacuous so-called 21st-century generic competencies.

The review ignored findings by the National Research Council in the US in the acclaimed publication, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, that a “fundamental understanding of subjects” was essential if students were to become “self-sustaining, lifelong learners”.

Jennifer Buckingham, then a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, wrote at the time that “the solutions posed in this report will take us further in the wrong direction. If implemented, the Gonski 2.0 report will just be another chapter in the story of Australia’s sad educational decline”.

It’s understandable why failed politicians such as Malcolm Turnbull want to ensure their version of events dominates the historical record. But A Bigger Picture shows how he failed Australian schoolchildren.


No longer a joke: Why Australia's COVID-19 inquiry campaign won the day

Australia's role in landing an independent investigation into coronavirus was dismissed by Beijing as a joke. Our transgression was not in the substance of the argument but in speaking out of turn.

This uppity island nation of 25 million marshalling support for an independent inquiry infuriated Beijing.

The long standing trade relationship between Australia and China is under strain after the coronavirus halted imports and exports, forcing Australia to look inwards to develop manufacturing.

Good fortune, effective government policy and the public's embrace of social distancing measures had put Australia on course to suppress the virus before any other middle power. Seeing a diplomatic opening, Australia stuck its neck out and pushed for the inquiry.

More significantly, it acted on the rhetoric and began building a coalition with Europe. The prospect of an alliance with the Trump administration had been poisoned diplomatically by White House claims of a "Wuhan lab virus".

This was a historic move by Australia.

Overnight, almost a month to the day since Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne first lobbied for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, the motion to establish one passed the World Health Assembly unanimously.

There were no objections. The resolution had the largest number of co-sponsors in history -137 countries in total for a motion that will examine both the origins of the coronavirus and the role of the World Health Organisation.

The last time Australia had played such a prominent international role was in 2015, when then foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop led calls to establish an MH17 inquiry after 298 people were shot out of the sky by a Russian-Ukrainian missile. The coronavirus has killed more than 300,000 and decimated the global economy.

China accused Australia of running a politically motivated campaign in April. Two trade strikes would follow in early May. They were of course, unrelated, we were told. About $1 billion in the barley and beef trade is now affected.

By Sunday, more than 60 countries had signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution. Its fate was sealed. For Beijing, it was much more preferable for the European Union to be seen as leaders of the resolution than those upstarts Down Under.

Europe has gravitas that Australia does not. Our negotiators recognised this early when they latched the first terms for an independent inquiry onto the draft of a European Union motion on April 29. It was happy to concede the lead, allowing countries to back the call without choosing "sides" in the rancorous three-way dispute between China, the US and Australia. China became one of the last dozen co-sponsors on Tuesday night, just before the vote.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian emphasised the European Union’s role this week after being asked about Australia’s push. "The EU submitted a draft resolution on COVID-19 to this year’s WHA, and the parties reached consensus on the content of the draft resolution after thorough discussion," he said.

"This is a slap to the face to countries like Australia - the most active player in pushing forward a so-called independent probe into China over the coronavirus outbreak, which was then rejected by the international community," China's international state media arm The Global Times said on Tuesday.

Behind the bluster, the reality is found in the actual motion.

The final text of two key clauses in the motion, OP9.6 and OP9.10 are identical to the draft motion agreed to by the European Union and Australia over the weekend. The same document was signed by China on Tuesday.

They establish a mechanism to identify the source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population and "an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the WHO's response to COVID-19" at the "earliest appropriate moment".

Compromise and negotiation saw any direct reference to China removed and terms such as "investigation" transformed into "review", but the substance of Australia's argument largely remains intact.

In fact it is far stronger now that the one initially agreed to by the European Union member states in April. That motion would have focused much more broadly on the "lessons learnt from the international health response to COVID-19".

No doubt questions still remain. China will use its weight, funding of the WHO and influence over developing countries to interpret the "earliest appropriate moment" as only once the pandemic has passed. That could be years away.

The footnotes of the motion reveal the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme will be engaged "as appropriate" to oversee inquiry into the WHO response.

The existing WHO committee consists of seven members drawn from national governments, non-governmental organisations, and the UN system, outside of the WHO itself.

Can they be truly independent inside an organisation that has shown itself to be caught and occasionally paralysed by the rising rhetoric and volatile funding of its two largest members?

But the significance of clause OP9.6 of the resolution should not be understated. The clause allows for scientific and collaborative field missions to enter China to determine the origin of the disease and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, those sites where the virus makes the fateful leap from bat or bird or pangolin to human.

China, which is not named, will argue that the same inspectors should be allowed to enter the US, having pushed the unfounded theory that the disease might have originated there.

The US will likewise argue that inspectors should be allowed into the Wuhan lab, a theory that is also unproven.

So they should. Both superpowers have signed the motion.


Angus Taylor says it is not Australia’s policy to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, despite signing up to the Paris agreement, because the Morrison government will not adopt a mid-century target in advance of a plan to achieve it.

The energy minister said on Tuesday that signatories to the Paris agreement, including Australia, had agreed to hit net zero “in the second half of the century”. But scientists say in order to meet the central Paris goal of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C – a commitment Australia adopted in 2015 – signatories need to hit net zero by 2050.

A new review of the government’s climate policies headed by former Business Council of Australia president Grant King notes that “like other signatories to the Paris agreement, Australia has agreed to adopt progressively more ambitious targets beyond 2030 and has endorsed the agreement’s overarching long-term goals, namely to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2C – and if possible below 1.5C – by achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible in the second half of the century”.

Major business groups, including the Business Council of Australia and the Ai Group, say Australia should adopt the net zero by 2050 target. Earlier this month the Ai Group called for the two biggest economic challenges in memory – recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and cutting greenhouse gas emissions – to be addressed together, saying it would boost growth and put the country on a firm long-term footing.

Every Australian state has signed up to net zero emissions by 2050, and these commitments are expressed either as targets or aspirational goals.

But asked on Tuesday whether net zero by 2050 was the federal government’s policy, Taylor said: “No.”

“Our approach is not to have a target without a plan,” Taylor told the ABC. He said technology improvements would drive significant reductions in emissions “and we’d love to be able to achieve net zero by 2050, but ultimately that will depend on the pathways of technology to deliver that without damaging the economy”.

The King review has recommended new approaches to reducing pollution including paying big emitters to keep their emissions below an agreed limit, and allowing businesses to bid for funding from the government’s climate policy – the $2.55bn emissions reduction fund – for projects that capture emissions and either use them or store them underground.

The King review proposal to pay emitters to remain below their baseline looks like a voluntary carbon trading mechanism. The review says the idea “could be achieved by crediting emissions reductions below baselines and providing for the sale and purchase of … safeguard mechanism credits by the federal, state or territory governments or through voluntary transactions in carbon markets”.

Despite that clear description in the review, Taylor contended initially on Tuesday the proposal was not a form of voluntary carbon trading. He said the review proposed a “carrot” to give companies an incentive to overachieve on their pollution reduction commitments.

The Coalition has spent a decade opposing carbon pricing, and it abolished the emissions trading scheme legislated during the Gillard government. Rightwingers in the Liberal party also moved against Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in part because he pursued a policy to reduce emissions in the electricity sector.

But after first saying the King proposal was not a form of carbon trading, the energy minister then argued that principle was “nothing new”. “You can trade Australian carbon credit units now. There is nothing new with that, that’s a pre-existing system we have through the emissions reduction fund.”

It is unclear whether some of the proposals in the review would garner majority parliamentary support, but Taylor said some of the proposals might be able to be achieved without changing legislation.


 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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