Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Labor internal angst at Kristina Keneally's call to lower immigration

Kristina Keneally's call to give Australians "first go" at jobs by cutting temporary migration has won cautious support from unions but divided Labor MPs who are worried the home affairs spokeswoman was freelancing with policy aimed at more conservative voters.

Several of Senator Keneally's colleagues privately voiced frustrations on Sunday about her decision to write an opinion piece arguing against the "lazy approach" used by governments to prop up economic growth through immigration and suggested that the overall migrant intake could be less under Labor. Other MPs publicly defended Senator Keneally, arguing that Australia's use of temporary migrants was a debate that needed to happen as the nation recovered from the coronavirus crisis.

In an opinion piece for The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age on Sunday, Senator Keneally said Australian workers must "get a fair go and a first go at jobs", and the country had an unprecedented chance to overhaul the immigration system, particularly the temporary worker intake which was not capped. It was not the first time Senator Keneally has called for the government to look at temporary migration, but it was her strongest suggestion yet that the overall number of migrants would be lower under Labor.

"The post-COVID-19 question we must ask now is this: when we restart our migration program, do we want migrants to return to Australia in the same numbers and in the same composition as before the crisis? Our answer should be no," she wrote.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said on Twitter that too many employers had used the temporary visa system to avoid hiring local workers and were exploiting people whose visa status and security depended on their employer. Ms McManus argued this had led to systematic wage theft. Victorian Labor MP Ged Kearney, former president of the ACTU, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age she welcomed the debate on whether to overhaul the immigration system.

"I think we really do need to have the conversation and get the balance right – and it may need to be a lower overall intake, but the focus should be on temporary migration and increasing permanent migration," she said.

Immigration is a vexed issue for Labor with the party occasionally being accused of over-compensating in response to Coalition attack campaigns over border security. Bill Shorten, when he was leader in 2016, caused controversy with an “Australia First” television advertisement which featured almost all white people and pledged that Labor would “build Australian first, buy Australian first and employ Australians first".

Multiple senior Labor sources confirmed the issue of whether to restart a debate on the size and composition of Australia's immigration program had been discussed at shadow cabinet level but no decision had been made on a change of policy. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese did not respond to a request for comment.

"This is still just Kristina's view at this stage, not the party's," one shadow cabinet source said.

Senator Keneally, who emigrated to Australia from the US, also caused frustration among senior Labor MPs because they were blindsided by her opinion piece. It wasn't featured in the original talking points circulated by Mr Albanese's office to MPs on Sunday morning. A second round of talking points - the party's message on the topical issues of the day - was sent out later in the day which included Labor's position on immigration.

One Labor MP from the Left faction, which tends to support a more-open approach to migrants and refugees, said they were concerned about being accused of "dog-whistling".

"We don't have a problem with the call to look at temporary migration, but we don't have to sound like Peter Dutton while doing it," he said.

Another Labor MP said: “This is a very sensitive issue. The ALP has torn itself apart over this issue in the past. This is an issue that needs to be handled very sensitively."

Labor's education spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said immigration was an important part of Australia's multicultural make-up, but Labor's view had always been that the number and composition of the intake should be in the national interest.

“Immigration is a really important part of our economic success story. One of the reasons the Australian economy has been growing at all, frankly, in recent times is because of strong immigration numbers," she said.

Victorian Labor MP Julian Hill said the COVID-19 crisis had exposed the Morrison government's failure in migration policy, "and in particular the massive explosion in temporary migration".

“Morrison has tried an enormous con job trumpeting a fake cut to migration, which is really just sleight of hand cutting valuable permanent migration while lower skilled permanent migration explodes," he said.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge accused Senator Keneally of not having a consistent position on temporary migrants.

"She wants to give temporary migrants welfare payments so they can stay in Australia, but now says she doesn’t want temporary migrants," he said.

Senator Keneally said in her piece that although migration would be a key element to the way the Australian economy recovered from the pandemic, changes had to be made to the current system which had resulted in an over-reliance on temporary workers.

The setting of limits on the migrant intake may be moot point for years with Australia's immigration to take a serious hit coming out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week revealed Australia's net overseas migration numbers would drop by 85 per cent in the 2020-21 financial year, compared to 2018-19 numbers.


Year 12 given priority as schools plan return - but not all parents are happy

NSW public high schools are encouraging year 12 students to return to school full-time from next week as independent schools increasingly resume normal classroom operations.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants students at school one day a week from May 11 but high schools are prioritising year 12, with many providing full-time classroom teaching from next Monday.

Newtown Performing Arts High has written to parents telling them school resumes full-time for year 12 from May 11, while Killara High is open "each day for those year 12 students who wish to attend".

Other high schools − Sydney Girls, Tempe and Greystanes − have allocated at least three or four days.

Their decision comes as a growing number of independents schools, including St Andrew's Cathedral School, are asking year 12 students to return five days a week from next week.

Headmaster Dr John Collier said: "Parents have overall received this very well."

But parents across the state have mixed views about the safety of returning to school and using public transport. Those with year 12 students were more concerned about the loss of up to six weeks of HSC preparation time.

Anne-Maree Williams from Peakhurst said she was glad to be sending her 18-year-old son Jack back to his secondary Catholic college because he was in his crucial final year.

"He needs to be back in the classroom with his teacher and learning with his mates because it is the most important year," she said.

Keeli Cambourne from Nowra said she was keen for her son Archie Lasker, 17, to return to complete his HSC and wishes schools had not gone into lockdown.

But a mother from Ryde, an area that has experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, said her daughter in year 7 was"really unhappy about going back to school".

The mother, who did not want her name published, said her daughter felt like children were "being used like guinea pigs", and that it was impossible to socially distance in the high school corridors.

A Southern Highlands mother of two teenage boys, who also did not want her name published, said she liked the idea of her sons returning for social reasons, but felt anxious about the potential health risk. "I will send them and follow the rules. But I'll feel anxious," she said.

A spokesman for Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said: "We deliberately gave our 2200 NSW public schools the flexibility to implement the return to classrooms in a way that benefits all their students. These individual school plans are examples of principals using this flexibility to provide for all their students while prioritising their HSC students."

NSW P&C Federation president Tim Spencer said parents had very mixed views about sending their children back and many saw online learning from home as "treading water".

The Australian Parents Council, which represents parents of children at independent schools, said "many are fearful about sending their children back to school for face-to-face teaching".

President Jenny Rickard said she had received mixed views from parents but "predominantly it is expressing concern".

Parents were also concerned about risks associated with the risk of infection on public transport.

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said teachers were concerned and "looking closely" at infection outbreaks in New Zealand and Victoria where a teacher at a primary school has tested positive for coronavirus.

The concerns of teachers and parents were raised as federal Education Minister Dan Tehan admitted he had overstepped the mark and withdrew his comments after accusing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of a “failure of leadership” for not reopening schools.

Melissa Socrates from Sydney's northern beaches said while she had faith in government assurances that it was safe for her to send her three children back, she still felt slightly worried about the safety risk.

"I am relatively comfortable with them going back. I'm a little bit apprehensive but I'm comfortable with the way the schools are approaching it in terms of the social distancing and staggering the years coming back," she said.


$300m clean energy fund to back fossil-fuel hydrogen projects
The Morrison government has committed $300 million to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and instructed it to invest in new hydrogen energy projects including those powered by fossil fuels.

The move makes clear the government's position on the debate over the potential to develop an emissions-free hydrogen industry powered exclusively by renewable energy.

"Gas and gas transmission networks already play an essential role in energy reliability, but gas has even more potential as a resource to produce and transmit hydrogen," said Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor.

Renewable energy advocates, along with Labor-led governments in Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT, argue fossil-fuelled hydrogen should be barred from public funds, which should flow to “green hydrogen” powered by renewables. State governments contribute to regulation of the energy sector through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

But crucially for Mr Taylor, he secured majority support at the November COAG meeting to develop a hydrogen industry under a "technology-neutral" approach including all power source options.

Hydrogen has emerged in recent months as a key element of the Morrison government’s emissions reduction strategy, which Mr Taylor said would be based on a "technology investment road map".

Mr Taylor said his goal was to back projects that could reach a long-term goal of producing hydrogen at $2 a kilogram – the point "where hydrogen becomes competitive with alternative energy sources in large-scale deployment across our energy systems".

The announcement of the Advancing Hydrogen Fund follows a crash in the global oil market crash. The fall has flowed on to lower gas prices, which Mr Taylor said “provides us with an opportunity for strategic economic stimulus”.

The government has estimated an Australian hydrogen industry could create more than 8000 jobs and generate about $11 billion a year in GDP by 2050.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has said a domestic hydrogen industry could underpin an energy export boom for Australia, and Australia should develop it using renewables and fossil fuel to avoid the risks associated with reliance on any one fuel source.

"By producing hydrogen from natural gas or coal, using carbon capture and permanent storage, we can add back two more lanes to our energy highway, ensuring we have four primary energy sources to meet the needs of the future – solar, wind, hydrogen from natural gas, and hydrogen from coal," Dr Finkel said.

"Think for a moment of the vast amounts of steel, aluminium and concrete needed to support, build and service solar and wind structures.

"What if there was a resources shortage? It would be prudent, therefore, to safeguard against any potential resource limitations with another energy source."

In time, green hydrogen could take over and drive a net zero emissions global economy, according to Dr Finkel.

The Advancing Hydrogen Fund will provide debt or equity finance to commercial projects requiring $10 million or more in capital, which Clean Energy Finance Corporation chief executive Ian Learmonth said would fill market gaps created by "technology, development or commercial challenges".

Mr Taylor recently announced a $70 million fund for green hydrogen project development through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.


Principal who ignored official advice and told parents to keep their children home from school is stood down from her job

A school principal has been stood down after she went against official advice and told students to stay at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Friday, Bronwyn White, principal of Halls Head College in Mandurah, Western Australia, sent an email to parents, advising that only children of essential workers and those unable to stay home come to school for the start of Term Two.

'We cannot adequately apply physical distancing and safety requirements if we have the entire College community recommencing Week 1. We simply do not have the physical space required with 1,450 students,' Ms White wrote.

But on Tuesday, she was forced to retract her statement by the WA Department of Education and replaced by an acting principal for the new school term. 

Halls Head College teachers said they had great respect for Ms White and were 'shocked' by the Department's decision to stand her down. 

'Everyone supported her (Ms White's) decision and understood her reasons for sending out the email,' one teacher told The Mandurah Mail.  'Teachers don't know how to find the space if all students return. It's just not right that she has been stood down because of this.'

Meanwhile, Western Australian Secondary School Executives Association president Armando Giglia told ABC radio the department was going through usual processes. 'Bureaucracy is bureaucracy,' Mr Giglia said on Thursday. 'She had the best interest of the students at heart - nobody denies that.'

Ms White's conflict with the Department of Education began on Friday with her email to parents, advising only certain students come to school at the start of term.

For the first week of term (April 29 to May 1), she advised only children of essential workers or those unable to stay at home attend school.

She also said only Year 11 and 12 students should return for the second and third weeks.

This goes against the WA Department of Education has encouraged all students to return to school ever since its initial announcement on April 17. 'From Wednesday 29 April, public schools are open for all students whose parents/carers choose to send them to school. Students at school will be taught a face-to-face program and timetable,' the Department's website reads.

'Year 11 and 12 students are strongly encouraged to attend to learn in classrooms as they are at a critical point in their schooling.'

On Tuesday, Ms White apologised to parents via email and retracted her advice as it 'was not in line with Departmental expectations'.  'I apologise for any confusion created by the letter sent out last Friday,' she wrote.

'I need to retract the letter sent last week that was not in line with Departmental expectations. I am writing to confirm that school is open for all students to attend.

'The expectation is that school will be running as per normal. All classes will run Face to Face with a normal timetable operating and both at home and online learning will also be accommodated.'

The Department stood down Ms White and replaced her with acting principal Alen Kursar, who will take her place indefinitely. 

Ms White was noticeably absent from the start of the school term on Wednesday.


 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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