Sunday, October 25, 2020

Alan Jones: COVID causes a global crisis of freedom

Sky News host Alan Jones says COVID-19 is not, and has never been, a pandemic:

I am forever an optimist. But there is certainly a crisis in this country and, indeed, in the Western world. It’s a crisis of trust, because we also face an economic crisis, a mental crisis, an unemployment crisis, business viability crisis, an aviation crisis, a crisis in the arts industry — the list is endless, all a derivative of strategies addressing a virus which are utterly out of all proportion to the nature of the problem.

As a result, we learn this week that Millennials in democracies throughout the world are more disillusioned with their system of government than any young generation in living memory. This is a survey of nearly five million people.

Roberto Foa, the study’s lead ­author from the Centre for the Future of Democracy at Cambridge Uni­versity, was quoted as saying: “This is the first generation in living memory to have a global majority who are ­dissatisfied with the way democracy works …”

David Kemp is a former federal Liberal MP, a colleague of mine in a Prime Ministerial office, and one of the most formidable defenders of liberal traditions. He wrote recently: “The corrupting effect of political power and self-interest has so clearly outed itself. The pandemic has highlighted some simple and sometimes harsh truths about ourselves, our leaders and our democracy … The most important truth is that, as individuals, we suffer, and some of us die, not from the virus, but from the lack of freedom to express and achieve our values and pursue our dreams.”

Rightly, argues David Kemp: “These disturbing occurrences underline how vital our civil liberties, democratic processes and constitutional constraints are to our wellbeing as a people and a nation.”

Well may we ask if we will ever get them back. Section 92 of the Constitution guarantees that intercourse among States should be “absolutely free”. No section of our Constitution was more rigorously debated leading up to Federation in 1901 than Section 92. Our Federal government refuses to go to the High Court to defend our Constitution. If our national government won’t, who will?

The “science” is thrown back at us to justify what is nothing more than totalitarian behaviour.

John Tierney, in City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute of Policy Research, which is a leading free-market think tank, wrote recently of lockdowns and of Anthony Fauci, the White House adviser, whom Donald Trump has roundly criticised: “He and politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, profess to be following the science. But no ethical scientist would conduct such a risky experiment without carefully considering the dangers and monitoring the results …”

When a politician says that this is all because of “the science”, why you can only have 10 here and 20 there and 300 there, and you can’t stand, you can only sit and you can’t sing, and you can’t shake hands — never has a single piece of paper been presented that provides an epidemiological justification for what we are being told to do.

Yet, the World Bank estimates that the coronavirus recession could push 60 million people into extreme poverty, which inevitably means more disease and death.

President Trump argued this week: “People are tired of COVID. I have the biggest rallies I have ever seen ... ­people are saying “whatever, just leave us alone.”

As Henry Ergas wrote, clinically this month: “Every new case leads the evening news, reinforcing its image as the Grim Reaper. One might have hoped that the experts would set the picture straight.” Well, despite my protestations, no politician in this country has ever, and I repeat ever, quoted the World Health Org­anisation’s daily statistics — 99 per cent of cases are mild, 1 per cent serious or critical.

Indeed, as I write, in the whole of Australia, there are 17 people in hospital. But lockdowns persist. Everywhere. Not just Victoria.

No debate, no justification. Just do as you’re told or cop the consequences. Seriously, what country are we living in? Politicians should hang their arrogant heads in shame.

Mind Medicine Australia has put together a report, documenting the consequences of the response to this virus. And, among other things, it ­argues that, over the next five years, the additional cost to the Australian economy from those suffering from heightened psychological distress who remain employed, but at reduced productivity, is estimated at $114 billion; that modelling from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre suggests the COVID-19 pandemic will contribute to a major surge, 25 per cent in suicides with an increase of up to 30 per cent among young people aged 15 to 25.

The greatest metaphor of the alarmism, fear and hysteria that has overtaken our country and, indeed the world, is the use of the word “pandemic”. This is not a pandemic. It was never a pandemic.

It doesn’t matter which country you take — the US, with 328 million ­people, Sweden with 10 million people, or outfits like Italy, France, the UK, Spain and Australia in between — the statistics of people who are said to have died from coronavirus, (and remember, many of these people may have died with it not from it) nonetheless, the percentage of the population who have died is basically the same in all of these countries is 0.07 per cent.

Australia is an island continent with 25 million people. If we had not had Ruby Princess and international travellers, we could have easily ­escaped the whole show. But even so, deaths are 0.0035 per cent and look at the price we are now paying.

I have, for months, cited one international authority after another, who has argued the strategy is wrong.

Professor Joe Kettner, from Manitoba University, who said: “I have seen pandemics, one every year. It’s called influenza and other respiratory illness viruses. I have never seen this reaction and I’m trying to under­stand why.”

Professor John Ioannidis, the Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health at Stanford University (and think of those mortality figures I have cited) has said: “If we had not known about a new virus out there and had not checked individuals with PCR tests, the number of total deaths due to “influenza-like illness” would not seem unusual this year.

“At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average. The media coverage would have been less than for an NBA game between the two most indifferent teams.”

We are in a social, economic and moral sewer, because we have failed to listen to world authorities.

A fed-up and disillusioned Australia is cheering when Professor Kemp ­argues: “The authoritarianism of those whose philosophies are based on ­centralised power and imposed conformity has been unmistakeable … it’s time for the Prime Minister to recognise … that giving priority to his relations with those who abuse their power and disrespect their citizens is not consistent with the strong lead that the ­nation needs.”

Our collective plea is, get out of our way, leave us alone and give our country and our freedoms back to us.

The West’s booming new religion

This week, Britain’s Equalities Minister delivered a speech we probably wouldn’t hear in our federal parliament. That’s a shame because we could do with some home truths about a booming wokeness movement that is deeply flawed.

During a House of Commons debate on Black History Month, Tory minister Kemi Badenoch, an immigrant of Nigerian heritage, exposed the blind adherence of schools to simplistic slogans of the Black Lives Matters movement.

“I want to speak about a dangerous trend in race relations that has come far too close to home in my life and it is the promotion of critical race theory — an ideology that sees my blackness as victimhood and their whiteness as oppression,” she said. “What we are against is the teaching of contested political ideas as if they are accepted facts. We don’t do this with communism. We don’t do this with socialism. We don’t do it with capitalism.”

Badenoch said that some schools have decided to openly support the anti-capitalist Black Lives Matter group “often fully aware that they have the statutory duty to be politically impartial”.

“Black lives do matter. Of course they do,” said Badenoch. “But we know that the Black Lives Matter movement — capital B, L, M — is political. I know this, because at the height of the protest, I’ve been told of white Black Lives Matter protesters calling — and I apologise for saying this word — calling a black armed police officer guarding Downing Street a ‘pet n …’.”

When Badenoch entered the British parliament in mid-2017, she was hailed by sections of the media as the smartest of the crop of new MPs. And maybe only a woman of colour could rise in parliament and say we should stop pretending BLM “is a completely wholesome anti-racist organisation”. ‘There is a lot of pernicious stuff that is being pushed and we stand against that,” she said.

“We do not want to see teachers teaching their pupils about white privilege and their inherited racial guilt. And let me be clear, any school which teaches these elements of critical race theory as fact, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. There is a similar propensity in Australian schools to present BLM in simplistic, and misleading, terms as a wholesome anti-racist movement.

For example, at Ballarat Grammar, a weekly chapel service in week eight of term three, delivered as a video package to students, was devoted to the BLM movement. After an introduction where the school chaplain describes social movements as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, a number of students read scripted statements extolling the virtues of the BLM movement. Students call for reparations for invasion. They talk about white privilege. They detail the terrible treatment of some Indigenous Australians within the justice system.

Students should bring complex and difficult issues to the attention of other students. Genuine learning will, at times, cause discomfort. But the video package for Ballarat Grammar students, and posted on the intra-school website, is a mickey mouse version of the BLM movement. It makes no attempt to recognise BLM as a political movement, which, like every political movement is complicated, sometimes inconsistent, and not figured out from a handful of scripted platitudes. Students are not stupid. Teachers, and preachers, respect them far more by allowing them to explore how political movements can be both significant and far from perfect.

Students have come of age in an online world. So there has never been a greater need to help them be discerning, curious, even sceptical of what they come across in their digital world. So why package up the BLM movement as a Hallmark card?

Defunding police, for example, has become a crude mantra of the BLM movement. It ought to be contested, even at schools, lest students imagine that mantras are a substitute for thinking about complex issues.

As Ballarat Grammar was compiling its BLM chapel video, the BLM website stated its aim to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family”. Though deleted from the website in mid-September, how does this anti-family view fit with the chaplain’s claim that the BLM movement is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit?

Parts of the BLM movement are radically political, vehemently anti-capitalist and aimed at dismantling the liberal order. It’s not hard to find video footage of black-clad BLM protesters standing over diners at restaurants, chanting “white silence is violence”, demanding that all people raise their fists to show solidarity with their chosen agenda.

If this was just a case of dumbing down education, that would be bad enough given the woeful results of Australian students in international educational rankings. But if educators are not giving students the warts-and-all truth about the BLM movement, how will kids learn to separate some very sound aims from some deeply authoritarian traits? Ballarat Grammar’s chapel service could have offered students the chance to consider a deeply ethical question: when, if ever, do the ends justify the means?

Imagine a school classroom where high school students are asked to consider whether Western lives matter? Where they are challenged to think whether we should kneel for French teacher Samuel Paty? Where they are asked to consider what Italian journalist Guilio Meotti said during the week after the civics teacher was beheaded for discussing the Mohammed cartoons in his classroom: “This French teacher was the victim of the most ferocious racism that circulates today in Western democracies, that of fundamentalist beliefs against ‘infidels’.”

Alas, not just schools offer unthinking support for the BLM movement. Corporations and all kinds of other groups salute it too as part of their commitment to “diversity and inclusivity”. This commitment, part and parcel of a wider wokeness agenda, is another quasi-political movement that, like the BLM movement, could do with a splash of scepticism and analysis.

Parading virtue is not the same as doing good. No organisation should need a highly paid team of D&I “experts” to prove it supports inclusivity and diversity. Nor should it need pages of turgid D&I policies to understand that no person should be discriminated against on the basis of sex, sexuality, creed, culture or race.

But the D&I industry has become the perfect Trojan horse for more opportunistic activists to demand special status and privileges for groups they deem special. And timid CEOs and boards are swallowing it, lock, stock and barrel. Most companies have D&I statements drafted by D&I “officers”, D&I KPIs drawn up and monitored by more D&I “professionals”, D&I workshops run by D&I “experts”. It is, as Time magazine reported late last year, a booming industry: a 2019 survey of 234 companies in the S&P 500 found that 63 per cent of diversity “experts” were appointed during the past three years.

What a terrific lurk. No skills or formal qualifications required. Learn the D&I lingo, master the art of bullshit, and you’re on your way to a lucrative career with guaranteed work from company executives and board members looking to mimic each other with expensively drafted drivel about diversity and inclusion.

Woke D&I flunkies are paid handsomely, for example, to advise companies to establish their diversity and inclusion credentials by encouraging employees to “bring their whole self to work”. Most of it is for show. And much of it is as deeply flawed as the BLM movement.

What if your whole self includes a Christian or Muslim view of traditional marriage or homosexuality? Rugby Australia famously told Israel Folau not to bring those bits of his whole self to work, nor to express them on his personal social media accounts. Then he was told not to come to work at all.

James Cook University is another organisation that, according to its website “encourages diversity.” “JCU has an extensive program in place to encourage diversity,” it says. JCU places “diversity messages” in its recruitment advertising — such as this: “We are enriched by and celebrate our workplace diversity and welcome applications from candidates of all backgrounds and abilities.”

But when it comes to the university’s core business, diversity and inclusion is a crock. Rather than defend the diversity of academic opinions, JCU sacked physic professor Peter Ridd, claiming he acted in an uncollegial manner when he challenged the quality of climate research by a JCU academic.

More and more, the D&I industry resembles a new religion for our secular age. Corporate executives throw shareholder money in the D&I collection plate to signal their virtue.

Even worse, whereas older, traditional religions are learning to become more tolerant of difference, the D&I industry is not there yet.

Restrictions hinder housing affordability

Restrictions on new building are one of the main reasons housing is so expensive, especially in Sydney. Local councils want to make this worse.

Ku-ring-gai Council, in Sydney’s affluent North Shore, recently voted for “no increase in housing numbers or building heights” in defiance of state government targets.

Several other Sydney councils, including Ryde, Canterbury Bankstown and Randwick have called for reductions in the housing targets.

These calls are ostensibly in response to a reduction in population growth following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alister Henskens, the local state member, argues that, because of the pandemic, “no new housing may be required in the next 5 years in Ku-ring-gai as there is likely to be an excess of housing supply over demand in Sydney in the medium term.” Many other politicians have made similar claims.

There are three problems with this argument.

First, it ignores Sydney’s long history of under-building. This has accumulated to a large shortage. The NSW Productivity Commission’s recent Green Paper estimates that since 2006 housing supply has fallen short of underlying household formation by 70,000 dwellings.

This shortage is expected to grow to 170,000 dwellings by 2040. These projections take into account the pandemic and current building targets.

Second, a more relevant way to gauge the need for housing is to compare sale prices with supply costs. Homebuyers in Sydney are paying $350,000 more for the average new apartment than it costs to supply.

The unaffordability of housing is further evidence of a housing shortage. High housing costs are an unavoidable consequence of supply restrictions like those of Ku-ring-gai council.

Third, the construction industry is already undergoing a sharp contraction. However, unlike hospitality, entertainment and many other industries that have been hit by the pandemic, construction is a “COVID-safe” activity. It is an area of the economy that can be readily and safely expanded to reduce unemployment.

Unlike industries being supported by fiscal stimulus, market-rate housing provides goods of lasting value that households really want.

With high prices and negative real interest rates, now is a great time to be building houses. The construction industry can rapidly create jobs at no cost to the taxpayer.

All that is needed is for planners to get out of the way.

The alternative of letting the local councils reduce their targets will make housing even more unaffordable.

University to shift teacher training to postgrad diplomas

Back to the future. No more dummy teachers: Students with poor High School marks no longer admitted

The University of Technology Sydney has abruptly shelved its primary teaching degree, saying it was losing money and struggling to attract students because of government-imposed academic standards for trainee teachers.

The decision – which the university describes as a "pause" – comes as a new federal university funding scheme, beginning next year, reduces fees for education degrees to address a looming teacher shortage.

UTS' BEd (Primary) degree has been removed from the 2021 University Admissions Centre guide. Hundreds of students who listed it as a preference have been individually contacted to be told it is not available, multiple sources told the Herald.

The dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Alan Davison, wrote to the school of education late last month listing the reasons behind the decision.

There was not enough interest in the degree, its ATAR was low compared with competitors, and the school of education was not generating enough high-visibility research, he wrote in an email seen by the Herald.

"There is continued impact on load [student numbers] from increasing federal and state standards requirements, [such as] those wishing to enter a teaching degree require a minimum standard of three Band 5 HSC results," the email said.

Professor Davidson’s email said UTS’s vice-chancellor and provost had asked him to take "prompt action" to pause the degree, and explore the possibility of offering a postgraduate primary education course instead.

"As you are aware, undergraduate teacher education at UTS has been a major loss maker, and that must be addressed with some urgency," he wrote.

Students studying the degree will finish it, and there will be a small first-year cohort next year of deferred and repeating students. The secondary education degree has also been cancelled with UAC, and will be offered as a masters degree.

A spokeswoman for UTS said the pause would allow a review of the course in the first half of next year, "leading to a decision on its ongoing viability," she said.

One in 10 trainee teachers fails required literacy and numeracy tests

The decision was made before the federal government’s changes to student fees passed the Senate on October 8. "The challenges facing the area predate, and are unrelated to, the recent government funding changes," the spokeswoman said.

Under those changes, student fees for education degrees will drop by almost $3000 to encourage more students to study teaching. However, the government will not match the amount of money universities will lose due to the lower fees, so teaching – like nursing and engineering – will attract less total funding per student.

Michael Thomson, the state secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union, said UTS was due to replace its existing primary teaching course with a new one in 2021. Staff had been working on that course for at least a year.

"They were quite shocked when the announcement came that they were putting it on pause," he said. "What does a pause mean? People are concerned that this decision was made a bit ad hoc."

Mr Thomson said staff found out about the change two days before voluntary separation applications closed. "If they’d had this information beforehand, it might have influenced what they did," he said.

Like many universities, UTS’s revenue from international students has been hit hard by border closures related to COVID-19.




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