Saturday, June 12, 2021

AGL unveils plan to transform Liddell coal site with solar, hydro plant

Australia’s biggest power supplier, AGL, is proposing to build a solar-and-hydro energy facility at the site of its Liddell coal-fired power station in NSW once the plant closes down in 2023.

AGL has been collaborating with Melbourne-based developer RayGen on an Australian-first “concentrated solar thermal” project, which uses a field of rotational mirrors to capture sunlight and stores the energy in water reservoirs. As more coal power exits the market in coming years, advocates of the technology say it could be an alternative to gas and big batteries in supporting renewable energy uptake.

Construction has already begun on a $27 million solar-hydro plant in Carwarp in Victoria’s north-west, while the second phase of the project is being planned at the Liddell site in the Hunter Valley, where AGL also plans to build a large-scale battery system.

“The value of those existing thermal generation sites need to be repurposed over time,” AGL managing director Graeme Hunt told The Herald and The Age. “This is the kind of thing we think fits quite nicely.”

The Victorian plant, which has received $15 million funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, will be able to deliver 4 megawatts of solar generation and 50 megawatt-hours of storage to dispatch green electricity into the grid when needed. The companies aim to scale the project up 100 megawatts.

“We believe the technology can be just as successful in the Hunter region,” Mr Hunt said.

AGL’s two proposed facilities come as the looming 2023 closure of the Liddell coal-fired power plant has renewed debate about Australia’s energy transition. The Morrison government is ramping up warnings that NSW and Victoria could face blackouts or price spikes without more investment in so-called “dispatchable” power assets. These facilities typically include facilities such as gas generators, batteries or hydro, which are able to supply on-demand electricity in times when weather conditions for wind and solar power are unfavourable.

Last month, it was announced that the Commonwealth-owned Snowy Hydro would build a 660-megawatt gas generator at Kurri Kurri, NSW, to replace AGL’s Liddell plant in 2023. This sparked criticism from climate advocates against expanding the use of fossil fuels, as well as energy industry leaders, who pointed out that regulators do not foreshadow a meaningful future supply shortfall that would warrant the dramatic market intervention of a giant taxpayer-funded gas plant.

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Commonwealth’s funding for RayGen built on an earlier $3 million in support last year, and demonstrated the government’s focus on backing new technologies that could deliver reliable and affordable power to Australians.

“With one in four Australian homes having solar, making sure our solar assets are backed up by dispatchable generation is vital for energy grid stability and shoring up our long-term supply.

Australia’s ‘energy future’ is suddenly upon us: Origin, AGL
“The government is backing technology, not taxes, to meet our emissions-reduction targets without compromising our energy affordability or security.

Longer-duration energy storage projects have been identified as a priority under the federal government’s strategy to develop and commercialise low-emissions technology.

Mallee MP Anne Webster said Victoria’s north-west was blessed with abundant sun and land that could be utilised for renewable power generation.

“New and improved technology for renewable energy generation is essential as we move to renewables making up a greater proportion of our energy supply,” she said.


Solar-hydro energy plant to be built on Liddell coal-fired power station site

A new wrinkle on an old idea: solar thermal. They never work. The Ivanpah project in CA ended up using more power than it generated

A renewable solar-hydro energy plant to be built on the Liddell coal-fired power station site in the NSW Upper Hunter is being hailed as an investment in economic opportunity and livability in the region.

AGL, which operates the soon-to-close Liddell site, has engaged Australian energy firm RayGen to develop the new plant, which will harness mirror-style, solar-charging technologies to store energy in water reservoirs.

The plant will run in conjunction with a battery storage facility, which AGL also intends to build on the Liddell site.

"It's a great utilisation of existing strengths in terms of the proposal to use the transmission networks that the Hunter has," Joe James from the Hunter Joint Organisation said.

"It's [also] a great market signal in terms of investment and reallocation of old industrial sites for new uses."

AGL and RayGen are building a $27 million plant in Carwarp, in north-western Victoria, using the same technologies that will be used for the Hunter plant.

"So our new approach to solar is we have a field of mirrors that focusses sunlight onto a tower," RayGen's head of business development, Will Mosley, said.

The towers, which are about the height of football-stadium lights, are covered in solar panels that are about 2,000 times more powerful than regular household panels.

"[The storage] relies on the heat that we capture from the rear of the panels as a by-product … and we actually store that energy as a temperature difference between two water reservoirs," Mr Mosley said.

The water in one reservoir is heated up to about 90 degrees, while the other sits at close to zero degrees, creating what is known as a "thermal gradient".

The water is then used to produce energy through a turbine.

"The difference is instead of boiling water, we boil a very small amount of ammonia, which spins the turbine, but we keep the ammonia and recapture it and condense it back to a liquid using the cold water storage," Mr Mosley said.


Debunking Dark Emu: did the publishing phenomenon get it wrong?

Sutton is one of Australia’s leading anthropologists. A gifted linguist, rigorous, sometimes controversial, a debunker of myths who stood, grief-stricken, in the little cemetery at Aurukun, on the west coast of Cape York, in September 2000 and began to think the thoughts that gradually formed themselves into his heretical essay and then book, The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus, which exposed the gulf between progressive ambition and dysfunctional reality in Aboriginal communities.

It is a new book, just completed, that we meet to discuss – a rebuttal of one of the most popular Aboriginal histories of recent times, a publishing phenomenon, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, in which Pascoe argues that Aboriginal people in pre-colonial Australia were not “hapless wanderers across the soil, mere hunter-gatherers” – his expression – but were “in the early stages of an agricultural society”, were not “simply wandering from plant to plant, kangaroo to kangaroo in a hapless opportunism”, but were early farmers who tilled the soil, sowed crops that they irrigated, harvested and stored, altered the course of rivers, built dams, sewed clothes, and lived for long periods in substantial dwellings, sometimes made of stone.

First published in 2014, Dark Emu has won some of the nation’s richest and most prestigious literary awards, including the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing and both the Book of the Year and the Indigenous Writers’ Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, where the judges declared that Pascoe was “without peer in his field”.

Pascoe claims to have discovered Aboriginal ancestors on both sides of his family, including the Palawa people from Tasmania, Bunurong from Victoria and Yuin from the south coast of NSW. Some Aboriginal people have embraced him, others have not. The conservative magazine Quadrant, whose editor Keith Windschuttle has accused historians of fabricating the extent of colonial violence, called him a “fauxborigine”. A vitriolic website, “Dark Emu Exposed”, was created by “a collective of Quiet Australians from many walks of life who question, and want to hold to account, authors who appear to be rewriting our Australian history to progress their own particular, political narrative”.

It is into this fraught arena that Sutton and his co-author, archaeologist Keryn Walshe, now step with Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. And their rebuttal of Dark Emu, published next week by Melbourne University Press, is damning. In page after page, Sutton and Walshe accuse Pascoe of a “lack of true scholarship”, ignoring Aboriginal voices, dragging respect for traditional Aboriginal culture back into the Eurocentric world of the colonial era, and “trimming” colonial observations to fit his argument. They write that while Dark Emu “purports to be factual” it is “littered with unsourced material, is poorly researched, distorts and exaggerates many points, selectively emphasises evidence to suit those opinions, and ignores large bodies of information that do not support the author’s opinions”.

“It is actually not, properly considered, a work of scholarship,” they write. “Its success as a narrative has been achieved in spite of its failure as an account of fact.”

The Sutton/Walshe book is not the first criticism of Dark Emu. Australian National University anthropologist Ian Keen has said that Pascoe’s evidence for Aboriginal farming is “deeply problematic”, although he also believes that some of the criticism has been used to support a racist agenda. Christophe Darmangeat, a lecturer in social anthropology at the Sorbonne in France, wrote that in Dark Emu Pascoe mixes “perfectly proven elements, others possible but more doubtful, others very improbable, and finally frank fabrications, firing on all cylinders by handling concepts and facts with a disarming casualness”. Quadrant published a polemical book, Bitter Harvest, against Pascoe’s claims. But Sutton and Walshe’s Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? is the most forensic and best credentialled examination and repudiation of Dark Emu.

Over his long career, Sutton has been credited with explaining Aboriginal art to the world in the sophisticated catalogue that accompanied the landmark Dreamings exhibition to America in 1988. He has written or contributed to 20 books, and about 200 anthropology and linguistics papers. He has been an expert anthropological researcher in 87 Aboriginal land claims since 1979. When barrister Ron Castan presented the landmark Wik case to the High Court in June 1996, he brandished a 1000-page anthropological report entitled Aak, the Wik word for homeland, written by Sutton and others, which he said would be the foundation for the argument.




Monday, June 07, 2021

‘Grandparents need the backyard’: Boomers deepen housing crisis by staying in empty nests

This is an old controversy. Should an eldery couple be allowed to keep the home they built to accomodate a family? Economists point to it as an inefficient allocation of resources and say the old couple should sell up.

Forcing that however would be a major denial of property rights and would generate great resistance. So the problem is likely to remain in in some form

There is a of course the California solution: Set property taxes so high that it would strain the resoures of retirees and thus give them an economic incentive to move. We all know the response of Californians to that, however: Proposition 13, an immensely popular initiative that capped property taxes to more affordable levels. So high taxes will be strongly resisted too.

The most that could be done would be to eliminate some of the high costs of moving -- such as taxes on the sale of property.

A well-located family home in Sydney has become a hotly contested prize. At auctions each weekend buyers fork out millions of dollars for one. But a growing share of those family homes are not actually occupied by families.

As the population ages and lifespans lengthen, older couples and singles are staying put in spacious dwellings for longer.

That means fewer family homes in well-located neighbourhoods become available to those they were designed for: couples with young children. As a result, an army of prime-age workers and their kids must settle a long distance from the city’s most dynamic job hubs, such as the central business district. Others opt for a small home closer in, or resign themselves to forever renting close to work.

“If older residents ‘occupy the crease’ it makes it harder to house new younger families in those locations close to jobs,” says Terry Rawnsley, an urban and regional planner at KPMG.

This housing mismatch is already creating social and economic challenges and is set to become more acute as the ageing of the population accelerates.

So many reasons to stay put

Lilyfield empty nester Dana Reed knows running a large, underused home is costly but can’t see a better alternative.

From an investment point of view, she said she was better off parking her money in her four bedroom house than in the bank. But beyond financial reasons, she wants to hold on to the home for her children.

“It’s always a worry if they can’t get onto the property ladder. We want them to have somewhere to come home to,” said Mrs Reed, 53. “I’m struggling to find a reason why we would either downsize or move out that’s not us moving out to a retirement location.

“From my point of view, we’ve got a lot more options by hanging onto the place as long as we can rather than downsizing or doing something before we retire in full.”
Henny Stier, principal buyer’s agent at OH Property Group, says the cost of childcare is another reason many Baby Boomers hold onto the family home.

“With childcare being so expensive, there are a lot of people who are taking care of grandchildren so the grandparents do need the backyard, the spare bedrooms,” Ms Stier said.

Rebecca Bissett owned a home in Epping until last year but still chose to move to her parents’ place in Hunters Hill with her husband and three children while they searched for an appropriate housing upgrade.

“Instead of renting, my parents have a really large home and we thought we’ll move in with them. We were wanting to upgrade in the Putney [and] Concord area,” Ms Bissett said.

Terry Rawnsley says the lifestyle preferences of Sydney’s retirees have shifted. “In past generations, as people hit retirement age they were thinking about moving up the coast or into a retirement village, and when that happened it opened up housing for new people to move in,” he said.

“There are still some people doing for sure, but in the current Baby Boomer generation more people seem to be staying put because of the lifestyle it provides, like the cafes and other amenities ... they seem to be more tied to an urban lifestyle than perhaps previous older generations were.”

Rebecca Bissett said her parents, who are retirees, have no intention of downsizing because they love their space and the neighbourhood.

“They’re in good health. They’re only young themselves, in their 60s and they’re in a good area. They don’t want to move,” she said. “I don’t envision them ever selling the home. They built that themselves. It’s their dream home.”

“For many, retirement is the trigger to shift from the empty nest family home but that is being delayed because in a knowledge economy older people can keep working a lot later in life,” said social researcher, Mark McCrindle.

The high quality health services in inner Sydney are attractive, and there are also many barriers to downsizing.

A recent Grattan Institute report on housing affordability concluded the failure to build more medium-density housing in established suburbs means older people lack downsizing options in their local area.

Tax and welfare settings also discouraging empty-nesters from moving.

Because primary residences are not included in the age pension means test, pensioners may lose some or all of their pension if they downsize. Another disincentive is stamp duty on the purchase of a smaller home. A NSW government proposal to replace stamp duty with an annual land tax aims to reduce disincentives for moving, although this change has not yet been implemented.


Australian lobsters back on the menu as Chinese 'grey trade' fires up

Australian lobster fishermen shut out of mainland China appear to be selling millions of dollars' worth of crayfish to the once-booming market via unofficial "grey channels", trade experts say.

Commercial fishers across the country were left reeling in November when China appeared to impose an unofficial ban on Australian lobster exports that had been worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The suspension effectively stopped the trade with China, which had been buying more than 90 per cent of lobsters exported from Australia.

But figures released by the body representing Australia's biggest lobster fishery in WA show a sharp rise in export volumes thanks to the so-called grey trade.

The term refers to the distribution of goods through indirect channels.

According to the Western Rock Lobster Council, crayfish exports from WA to Hong Kong rose from negligible levels last October to more than 300 tonnes in March.

There was also a significant jump in shipments to Taiwan, though it is understood much of that demand was driven by the lower prices for lobsters.

Dr Scott Waldron, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland's school of agriculture and food science, said it was "highly unlikely" that increased consumer demand in Hong Kong could account for the sharp rise in exports to the territory.

Dr Waldron said it was more likely that Hong Kong was being used as a port to reroute exports into mainland China.

"Maybe if lobster is cheaper then consumption in Hong Kong might have increased a bit, but not nearly to the magnitude you're talking about," he said.

"So the vast majority of that would be transhipped through Hong Kong and then taken over the border as informal imports through this grey trade."

Though grey trading had become less prevalent since the introduction of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement in 2015, Dr Waldron said many other commodities, including lobster, had been sold to the world's biggest market through unofficial channels in the past.

Among them were wine, citrus, mangoes and beef, he said, while bulk commodities such as timber and sugar had previously gone through conduits including Myanmar.

With Australia and China's relationship strained, Dr Waldron said there was a chance grey trading could increase in other commodities as well.

Trade expert Jeffrey Wilson, from the Perth USAsia Centre, said exporters typically resorted to the grey trade when trying to avoid "some kind of government-imposed trade barrier".

After 12 months of the trade war, Australian farmers and miners are warned that relations with China may not normalise — but many have already started to find success in new markets.

Mr Wilson noted many Australian agricultural producers had been hit with trade strikes from Beijing in the past 12 months and that there were "no good alternate export options to China in the short term".

He said grey channels were often the only way exporters could "keep their connections with Chinese partners alive while sanctions are in place".

"While there are many ways to do it, an illustrative example is 're-exporting'," Mr Wilson said. "If you cannot export a product directly to the desired market due to a trade barrier, you instead export it to a third country, get it repackaged and issued with a new certificate of origin and then sent to the desired market."

Grey channels 'not illegal'

Mr Wilson stressed that such trade "circumventions" were not illegal and should not be confused with "black trades", which involved corruption such as bribery or false declarations.

But he said grey trading tended to be "frowned upon under international trade law".

"As it undermines the intent of trade policies, many trade law instruments contain provisions allowing governments to prevent circumvention from occurring," he said.




Sunday, June 06, 2021

Uni chief wants free speech laws to help scared Aussies

A university chief is demanding new laws to safeguard free speech, warning that Australians are “self-censoring’’ because they are scared of saying the wrong thing.

Professor George Williams, a constitutional lawyer who is deputy vice-chancellor of the University of NSW, said Australians have no legal right to free speech.

He called on the federal government to introduce a “free speech statute’’ for the entire community.

“Free speech needs to include the right to say things that people disagree with and may find offensive,’’ he said.

“My concern is that the free speech problem goes a lot deeper than universities.

“As a society that wants to genuinely search for the truth, we’ve got to be open to debate and discussion and difficult conversations.

“Democracy entails dissent, disagreement and robust discussion and you’ve got to be able to speak freely.

“We do find an increasing danger of self-censorship … it has a chilling effect on what people say and do.’’

Professor Williams said the High Court only gave an implied right to free speech.

His call came as Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge threatened universities with legislation to force them to safeguard freedom of speech and academic inquiry.

“You cannot pursue truth without freedom of expression,’’ he told the Universities Australia conference in Canberra on Thursday. “You cannot create knowledge without freedom of academic inquiry.’’

Mr Tudge told vice-chancellors there are “no more excuses’’ to fully adopt a code for free speech, drawn up by by former High Court Chief Justice Robert French more than two years ago.

“I want to see the model code implemented fully this year, with no more excuses,’’ he said.

“If it becomes apparent that universities remain unable or unwilling to adopt the model code, I will examine all options available to the government to enforce it – which may include legislation.’’

A federal government review in December found that 33 of Australia’s 42 universities had signed up to the code - yet only nine were “fully aligned’’.

Six universities had policies that did not comply with the code – the University of NSW, the University of Technology Sydney, Monash University, James Cook University, the University of South Australia and Federation University Australia.

UNSW adopted the code in April, but went even further to protect free speech by leaving out a clause that lets universities ban guest speakers deemed to “fall below scholarly standards’’.

Universities have been rocked by a series of scandals over “woke’’ teaching of issues such as climate change and gender studies, and intolerance of academics or students expressing diverse opinions.

The University of Queensland spent $280,000 on legal advice to discipline student Drew Pavlou, who led protests against China’s influence at the university last year.

A top marine scientist, Professor Peter Ridd, was sacked from James Cook University after criticising science linking climate change to coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

A court ordered the university to pay him more than $1.2 million in damages and penalties, but it was overturned on appeal.

The High Court will hear Professor Ridd’s challenge to the appeal on June 23, in a landmark case that will test academic freedom.

The federal government has been pressuring universities for years to safeguard freedom of speech – even changing the Higher Education Support Act in March to replace the term “free intellectual inquiry’’ with “freedom of speech” and “academic freedom’’.

Mr Tehan’s latest threat would legally compel universities to guarantee freedom of speech by students, academics and visitors to campus.

British universities face fines for failing to protect free speech on campus, under British Government legislation being debated in its parliament.

Mr Tudge also called for more face-to-face lectures for domestic students still locked off campus a year after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He is concerned that some fee-paying students are still not allowed on campus at all, or have had lectures cut to an hour each week.

Mr Tudge told vice-chancellors they should “not forget’’ that universities were initially established to educate Australians.

“I am still hearing from too many students or their parents who tell me that their usual student experience has still not returned – that they may only have one contact hour or none,’’ he told the conference.

“For this year, we must see a focus in our universities on how to enhance the classroom and learning experience of Australian students.

“And this must start with a return to the previous face-to-face learning, where Covid rules allow.’’

With international students locked offshore indefinitely, Australian universities have enrolled 5 per cent more domestic students this year.


‘Right-wing backlash’: Church group to make religious freedom an election issue

The Morrison government has placed religious freedom back on the political agenda, as Attorney-General Michaelia Cash restarts meetings with key stakeholders and church groups embark on a lobbying blitz to shape and enact the laws before the election.

Freedom for Faith, a lobby group run by law professor Patrick Parkinson, is organising a “religious freedom weekend” for June 11-13. Priests will use sermons to preach the need to protect religious freedom and parishioners are being urged to lobby their MPs about the urgency of the issue.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has restarted talks about the government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has restarted talks about the government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

The group has also secured a meeting this week with Senator Cash, who has re-engaged with the issue after the pandemic put it on the backburner last year under predecessor Christian Porter.

As it stands the Religious Discrimination Bill would prohibit discrimination based on faith and provide greater freedom to individuals such as Israel Folau, as well as religious organisations and charities, to act on their beliefs.

For example, the proposed law makes it unlawful for a company with revenue above $50 million to limit an employee’s ability to express their religious views outside work, unless the employer can show this is necessary to prevent “unjustifiable financial hardship” to their business.

Senator Cash told a Senate estimates inquiry on May 26 that she had conducted one formal meeting about the Religious Discrimination Bill, as well as several conversations. She would not disclose who the meeting was with.

“The Attorney-General and her office are engaging with numerous stakeholders about this bill to ensure that all views are carefully considered,” a spokesman said. “It is important that we get this legislation right.”

The bill arose from recommendations of former Howard government minister Philip Ruddock’s religious freedom review in 2018, but has been repeatedly delayed. A separate Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into exemptions that allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQI students has also stalled, pending the passage of the bill.

On May 20, in a written answer to a question on notice from Labor senator Deborah O’Neil, the Attorney-General’s department revealed it had not conducted any consultations on the bill, nor related legislation, since January 2020.

In a missive to MPs, Professor Parkinson and fellow Freedom for Faith board member Pastor Mark Edwards urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to heed his election commitment to people of faith.

“We are disappointed that after the Ruddock committee heard from so many of us, pouring considerable time and resources into submissions and attending hearings, that so little of consequence resulted from the committee’s work,” they wrote.

“We are disappointed that two years after an election promise by the Morrison government to provide at least some protection for religious freedom, no bill has yet been introduced into Parliament. We understand the impact of the pandemic, but we now ask that the Parliament make it a priority.”

One of the key issues is the extent to which religious organisations will retain their ability to hire and fire staff who align with their values and beliefs - for example, religious schools or aged care homes being able to sack gay teachers or gender diverse nurses.

In a bid to make it an election issue, Freedom for Faith challenged any MP who disagreed about the need for strong religious freedom laws “to make their position clear to all voters so that they can decide at the ballot box whether we should vote for them”.

After Labor’s shock election loss in 2019, frontbencher Chris Bowen said the party needed to tackle its problem with religious voters who felt alienated from the progressive side of politics.

A rally hosted by Community Action for Rainbow Rights was held at Sydney Town Hall yesterday, primarily protesting against an anti-trans bill by NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham. But it was also directed at the federal bill.

Organisers said the bills were part of a “right-wing backlash against the gains won by LGBTQI people” when marriage equality was legalised.


Schools told to declare climate emergency, ‘boys and girls’ phrase banned

Teachers are being told not to use phrases like “girls and boys”, “normal’’ and “other’’ in class – but they should make students aware of “superdiversity’’ and “declare a climate change emergency’’ as a way of “telling the truth’’ about our “climate breakdown’’.

The instructions form part of a new suite of education policies laid out in a guidebook designed by academic boffins.

The book called Building Better Schools with Evidence Based Policy, edited by Mon­ash University staff, was ­released in April.

It contains a series of pro-forma policies for schools to implement across a range of educational issues from learning to read to alcohol abuse.

The book’s 40 chapters ­include one called Declaring a Climate Emergency and states doing so “is a concrete indication of a school’s willingness to commit to telling the truth about the reality of climate breakdown”.

“An associated policy should be used to bring the school community together, drawing on the energy, ideas, and capacities of the school community, even though the policy is likely to be demanding and far-reaching,” it reads.

In response to questions from The Daily Telegraph about whether or not it was the role of schools to instil a political stance in children, the chapter’s author, academic Alan Reid, said parents were free to disagree with the policy.

“But a school can also listen and challenge particular viewpoints, and make clear what stays at the school gate, so to speak, given what the social contract on education is,” Mr Reid said.

A separate chapter on raising awareness on “superdiversity” told teachers to stop using phrases such as “English as a second language” and instead use the term “emergent ­bilingual”.

Superdiversity is the way different aspects of one person’s diversity interacts with one another, the book states.

That chapter also instructs teachers to “actively embrace diversity’’ and will specifically focus on discouraging unhelpful social concepts such as “normal” and “other”.

Critics of the book include author and radio personality Kel Richards, whose recent book Flash Jim detailed the development of convict language in Sydney. He said trying to remove concepts like “normal’’ from the classroom was futile.

“The word ‘normal’ is still going to be in the language,’’ he said. “Whatever they do in the classroom, whatever they say, whatever report comes out, the word ‘normal’ will still be there and we’ll still have a use for it.”

It was a similar story for ­replacing terms like “English as a second language’’.

“If you have one language and you’re learning English as a second language, I’m sorry, that’s a fact,’’ he said.

But the chapter’s co-author Dr Ruth Fielding told The Daily Telegraph: “When we only focus on English, it undermines the potential of people who are skilled in multiple ­languages to develop their ­English skills.”




Monday, May 31, 2021

Tread carefully on sexual consent - some of these ‘reforms’ are dangerous

By Stephen Odgers

The NSW government has stated it will change the law relating to consent to sexual activity, making it easier to obtain convictions for sexual offences. Those changes will be based on recommendations made in a report last year by the NSW Law Reform Commission, all of which the government says it “supports, or supports in principle”.

Under current law, consent means “free and voluntary agreement”. It may be withdrawn at any time and consent for one sexual activity is not consent for another. However, convictions are often difficult because trials are usually “word against word” – one party’s version of events against another’s – and guilt for any crime must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller with sexual assault campaigner Saxon Mullins and NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman, announcing the proposed changes to sexual consent laws.

As a barrister who has practised in the area of criminal law for three decades, I support some of the Law Reform Commission’s proposed changes, but I see great danger in others. I certainly support cultural change in this area, but not by criminalising behaviour that does not involve serious misconduct or deserve the imprisonment that flows from conviction.

One proposed change that is troubling is that “free and voluntary agreement to a sexual activity must exist at the time of the sexual activity”. The commission has acknowledged this means a person cannot give advance consent. So even if a person told their sexual partner that he or she wanted to be woken from sleep by some form of sexual touching, this could not be regarded as consent to that sexual activity. Does the NSW government really support that principle?

Another concerning proposal is that a person “does not” consent to a sexual activity if there are behaviours including, for example, “verbal aggression, begging and nagging, physical persistence, social pressuring, and emotional manipulation”. How many people would be at risk of prosecution after a bitter break-up on the basis that they had “begged” or “nagged” for sex? Whatever moral judgment might be made about such behaviour, does the government really support a change to the criminal law that would require it to be held that there was necessarily no consent in such circumstances?

The commission also proposes that a person “does not” consent to a sexual activity if “participation is dishonestly procured by a false representation or upon a false pretence, known by the maker to be false when it was made”. Assume that a person says to another, falsely, “I am not married” or “I will leave my current partner” and that induces the other person to participate in sexual activity.

Such dishonesty may be morally wrong. However, it is not usually a crime to tell fibs or even blatant lies. Does the government really support the principle that any lie told to procure sexual activity will constitute a serious criminal offence?

Yet another of the proposals is that “a person does not consent to a sexual activity if the person does not say or do anything to communicate consent”. This would mean, even if a jury is satisfied there was free and voluntary agreement to sexual activity in the mind of the complainant, it would be required to find there was no consent because it was not actually “communicated”. Does the government really support that principle? Should an accused be convicted even if the complainant admits that he or she consented?

It is also proposed that an accused person should be deemed to “know” that consent is absent if a belief in consent would not be “reasonable”. The necessary “fault element” for this serious crime would be satisfied by a test of negligence. Even accepting that it is appropriate to impose criminal liability on the basis of negligence, it is plainly desirable that this be done by a separate offence with a lower maximum penalty. The current maximum penalties for sexual assault offences range from 14 years to life imprisonment.

The government has gone one step further than what the Law Reform Commission proposes by stating that any belief in consent “will not be reasonable if the accused did not say or do anything to ascertain consent”. This will effectively require everyone engaging in sexual activity to ask – by words or some comparable form of communication – for consent for each and every sexual act. How reasonable is that expectation? Will a raised eyebrow be enough? A quizzical look? Even assuming that it is generally desirable that such steps be taken, should failure to comply with that requirement necessarily result in conviction for a very serious criminal offence?

Even if the complainant has given every appearance of consent, or has plainly consented to one form of sexual activity, a jury will be required to convict because the accused did not actually ask for consent for another form of sexual activity.

Does the government really appreciate the significance of this change to the law? A jury will be required to convict an accused person of a very serious crime even if the jury accepts that the accused honestly believed there was consent and accepts that – apart from the omission to “say or do anything to ascertain consent” – it was reasonable for the accused to have that belief.

The criminal law is a blunt and brutal tool of social education. A legitimate desire to bring about desirable cultural and societal change must not be at the expense of criminalising behaviour that does not involve serious misconduct or deserve severe punishment.


Rob was bashed, Aaron was raped and Martin ended up living in the roof at his work to escape his wife: Australian men terrorised by female partners share their harrowing stories

Martin never thought he'd end up living in the roof space of his workplace at 48 years of age.

The father from Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-north coast moved out of the house he shared with his partner after she tried to choke him.

He claims an AVO taken out on him by his now ex-partner was based on her false allegation of assault. Martin said he was trying to remove her from the house after she attacked him while their young son slept.

'I'd just been assaulted by her jumping on my back and trying to choke me, so I called the police,' Martin told Daily Mail Australia. 'But she said I pushed her first and the police walked in front of me and said, "if she’s got a mark on her, you’re going to jail".'

Martin is now locked in an ongoing custody battle for his son and despairs at not being able to live with him. 'I was the one who got up to him at night, took him for walks, totally did the dad thing,' Martin said.

'Someone needs to hear our voice. I don’t condone what some of these blokes are doing (in domestic violence incidents) in any way, shape or form, but being on the other side, the way I’ve been treated, I see how they get to that state of mind.

'There's nothing else left.'

Rob left his partner while she was pregnant with their second child because she was repeatedly hitting him to the point where friends' couches were preferable to the family home.

'She was physically violent, she was emotionally violent,' the Brisbane man said.

'She made three significant attempts to finish me off, with knives and with a car.

'It was alcohol that unlocked the physical violence in her… she just used to hit me a lot. She used to punch and kick me in the nuts, it would carry on for hours.

'Her favourite party trick was when I'd go to sleep in the spare room, which was unlocked. She was an insomniac so she'd come in every 20 minutes and pull me out of the bed by my feet, and this would continue until 2am or 3am. Then she'd fall asleep and now, you're not sleeping.'

The focus on domestic violence in Australia is rightfully on women, with one murdered by a current or former male partner every week in Australia.

The Facebook page Counting Dead Women Australia reports that 13 women have died due to family and domestic violence in 2021. It was 56 in 2020.

Victims such as Hannah Clarke, Karina Lock and Fabiana Palhares are now recognisable names across Australia after their horrific deaths at the hands of their partners.

But women's violence towards male partners is not given prominence despite being a part of Australia's domestic violence problem.

One man a month died at the hands of a current or former partner from 2012-2014, and two men were hospitalised each day after being assaulted by their spouse or partner in 2014-15 (compared with eight women a day in the same period).

Daily Mail Australia spoke to men who described serious acts of violence and coercive control by female partners.

What emerges from their accounts is a shared sense of shame and humiliation when reporting the abuse, a common reaction of disbelief from police, lawyers and courts to their claims, and an almost total absence of support services.

These men allege physical injury, sexual violation, emotional torment, coercive control and falsehoods designed to make them look like the perpetrator.

Faith Tkalac started a #justice4jari campaign after her son Jari Wise was hit and killed by a car driven by his former partner Melissa Oates at Huonville, south of Hobart, in February 2020. Oates was arrested at the scene and charged with four breaches of a police family violence order.

In April 2021 she was convicted of dangerous driving and imprisoned for eight months.

Oates had been three times over the legal limit and wasn’t wearing her glasses, a condition of her licence. She left the scene and returned to a house where she and Wise had attended a party, where she pointed out the damage to her van to friends. She had returned to the scene of the fatality by the time police arrived.

Ms Tkalac has since become a fervent advocate for recognising that men can also be victims of domestic violence but once they complain, are diverted into 'perpetrator' treatment programs.

'Where does all the funding go?’ Faith said.

'If a man rings up for some help… just say my Jari had made a phone call, he probably would have been asked, "What caused you to carry on like this? What has caused your behaviour?"

'Then they'd refer you to a service that can help "correct" your behaviour.

'There are no services for men, there isn't anything.'

West Australian man Aaron said the final straw in his relationship was when his wife inserted an object into him while he was asleep.

'She raped me and I left the relationship a day later,' Aaron told Daily Mail Australia.

'Throughout our entire relationship she was sexually abusive.

'She tried to get me to have sex with her friends in front of her. For my 40th birthday she hired a prostitute, took me to a brothel and wanted me to have sex with the woman in front of her.

'She had a tracking app put on my phone, she had all the passwords for my social media, including my business social media, my computers for work…'

Aaron claims he has been prevented from seeing any of his children because of a restraining order taken out against him.

'There's now been eight attempts at trial and more than $400,000 spent to keep me away from my children,' he said.

'The only ones I can now fight for are my two youngest. They won’t even entertain me seeing any of my other kids.'

Craig Bennett recently described his experience as a victim of domestic violence in a submission to the NSW Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control.

Bennett described a 'journey of physical, verbal, spiritual, financial and emotional abuse' after he collapsed at work with viral encephalitis and was hospitalised for two months.

He told the committee he was constantly taunted by his wife because he was unable to work due to the illness.

'A real man wouldn't be begging his wife for money but would be out working instead of being a lazy x-y-z,' he reported her saying.

'I was denied a shower chair because "real men do not sit in the shower",' Bennett continued.

'I would have to sit on the shower floor and crawl out and hoist myself up on the toilet to stand up. The number of times she would verbally mock me for not being a "real man" as I was sitting there and say, "Why don't you do everyone a favour and kill yourself?"

'She would refer to me as "big bad daddy" to the kids because I was "too lazy to work". She would sharpen knives in the kitchen saying one day she would stab me if I did not go back to work.'

In other tragic cases, Brisbane fashion designer Katie Anne Castel, 38, killed her husband Jarred Castel, 35, when she threw a 20cm kitchen knife at him which hit him in the chest in 2017.

Mr Castel had arrived home later than expected, sparking an argument. Ms Castel was slashing her own arms and said she’d kill herself before she threw the knife at her husband. He died from blood loss as a result of the wound.

Ms Castel was sentenced to nine years jail for her 'deliberate and very dangerous' act in 2019 but was given early parole eligibility in 2020 after appealing the length of her sentence.

'Domestic violence is growing, unfortunately, in our country,' Jarred's father Tony said after Ms Castel's sentencing.

'The statistics… the impression is that it is men beating up women, it goes the other way as well and it doesn't matter the gender, we've got to protect our people.'

His siblings testified in court that their brother’s wife had been 'psychologically abusing' him by alienating him from friends and family. This is a common refrain among male victims of female domestic abuse.

Sydney man Jeff Lindsell died from burns suffered when he was caught in a fire while he slept at Gymea in 2017. His former partner Amanda Zukowski was charged with his murder after being accused of lighting the fire.

Zukowski was found dead in non-suspicious circumstances in January 2020, three weeks before the trial was to begin.

Mr Lindsell's mother Kathy later told the local paper: 'We had no idea Jeff was in a DV relationship because he kept it secret. We should have realised when his personality changed and he withdrew from his family and friends.'

His sister Corinne added, 'It upsets me that domestic violence by women against men is viewed as less significant. I don't understand why a man's life is less important.'

For the first time, a Senate Inquiry into Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence has recommended any national plan should reflect the diversity of victim-survivors, including men.


New Zealand to side with Australia in Beijing barley tariff dispute

Queenstown: New Zealand has thrown its support behind Australia’s ongoing trade dispute with Beijing in a significant political signal that the trans-Tasman allies remain unified in dealing with China’s economic coercion and growing influence in the region.

The decision of the New Zealand government to be a partner in the World Trade Organisation dispute on significant tariffs on barley imports coincided with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit to Queenstown for critical bilateral meetings with his counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, on Monday. The talks will be dominated by China and its increased assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

The two leaders touched noses and foreheads in a Maori “hongi” — a traditional indigenous welcome which is a symbol of unity and “sharing the breath of life” for the first time since February last year prior to both nations slamming closed their borders.

Mr Morrison rejected assertions the alliance was splintering over differences on how to approach China after relations became strained in recent months after Australian officials said they were blindsided by Wellington’s reluctance to put pressure on Beijing on trade and human rights issues. He said on Sunday night both nations were committed to a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

“We are Five-Eyes partners, I mean we are part of ANZUS. We are and have been alongside each other in favouring a world that favours freedom for a very long time,” Mr Morrison said.

He said the countries shared values and common interests and wanted a region where sovereign states could pursue their interests free from coercion. Mr Morrison also flagged extending the travel bubble to other Pacific nations including Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

Leaders gather for the annual Australia-New Zealand leaders’ meeting in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Leaders gather for the annual Australia-New Zealand leaders’ meeting in Queenstown, New Zealand. CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES

Hours before Mr Morrison arrived, the New Zealand government announced while it had not been asked to join the WTO action, it would participate because the dispute would be critical to the effective functioning of multilateral rules-based trading system.

Ms Ardern said on Sunday evening that as two sovereign nations New Zealand and Australia will not always see every issue in the same way and “often will see and do things differently.”

“(But) an increasingly complex geo-strategic environment family is incredibly important, and Australia, you are a family,” Ms Arden told a room full of trans-Tasman business leaders.

“And so I cannot imagine a more important time for us to just continue to build and strengthen those ties.”

Diplomatic relations between Canberra and Beijing are at their lowest in decades, with China imposing more than $20 billion of tariffs in response to a number of Australia’s moves including calling for a global inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 and banning Chinese telecom giant Huawei from its 5G rollout.

Beijing has imposed a range of tariffs and trade strikes on Australian products including 80 per cent duties on barley because it said Australia was dumping the product there below cost, hurting domestic producers. In December, Australia took the row to the WTO which on Friday agreed to establish a dispute settlement panel.

New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor said it was important to New Zealand and its exporters that trade rules were fairly applied and the country had joined over 60 such disputes over the years.

“New Zealand was not asked to join as a third party, however we have been a third party in over 60 WTO cases since 1995 and it’s not unusual for us to join actions disputes when we see challenges to international trade rules,” he said.

China has become a problematic topic in the trans-Tasman alliance over the question of how to handle the growing assertiveness of Beijing, with several recent public statements from New Zealand ministers frustrating the Morrison government.

In December, New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta offered to mediate a truce between Australia and China and said both parties needed to “concede in some areas where they are currently not seeing eye to eye”. Months later, Mr O’Connor suggested Australia should speak with more “respect” and “diplomacy” towards China.

Ms Mahuta’s rhetoric has shifted in recent weeks and is now warning Kiwi exporters should look to diversify their trade.

“We cannot ignore, obviously, what’s happening in Australia with their relationship with China. And if they are close to an eye of the storm or in the eye of the storm, we’ve got to legitimately ask ourselves – it may only be a matter of time before the storm gets closer to us,” she told The Guardian last week.

New Zealand’s move to support Australia follows comments by the European Union’s top diplomat in Canberra which urged China to have a “proper discussion” with Australia over its multibillion-dollar trade disputes.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan flagged a second WTO dispute with China – this time over punitive wine import tariffs introduced last year.

“That is something we’ve got under active consideration,” Mr Tehan told ABC TV’s Insiders on Sunday.

“We’ve had detailed discussions with the wine industry on this, and from the outset, we’ve always said that we would take a very principled approach when dealing with these trade disputes, and if we think our industry has been harmed or injured, we will take all necessary steps and measures to try to address that.”




Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The labyrinth of bureaucracy behind our country hospitals’ horror stories

Dr Aniello Iannuzzi below rightly blames bureaucracy as being behind the hospital problems. But his scattershot approach loses point becuse he fails to concentrate on the key problem: Staff shortages

Wenever I am admitted to a Brisbane private hospital, I am always amazed by the number of staff in my ward. There are always nurses standing around waiting for something to do

So, clearly,staff are available if you pay them what is needed

Specifically, what is needed is to fire enough bureaucrats to pay sufficient nurses

After 25 years as a doctor in rural NSW hospitals, I can attest to the scandals and horror stories emerging from a state parliamentary inquiry into regional, country and remote health services: a teenager with an infected toenail dies of septic shock after being turned away three times from an an emergency department; “tea ladies” check in on newborn babies because there are not enough nurses; doctors threaten to quit en masse because their working conditions are so dangerous.

Naturally, it is the alarming stories from the front line – from the patients, families, doctors and nurses – that capture the headlines. Now we must address the causes.

Chief among them, I have come to learn, is the labyrinthine bureaucracy running NSW Health and the local health districts. The inquiry has come about because communities and health workers are sick and tired of managers in NSW Health and the LHDs stubbornly denying there is a problem.

That is why, when the inquiry came to Wellington, I testified that the principal problem is one of governance. Until that is cleaned up, nothing will improve.

NSW Health’s management structures are bulky and opaque. To progress up the hierarchy, one needs to pledge undying support to the organisation, often needing to bend personal, clinical and ethical standards along the way. When a patient or clinician at the coal face raises a concern, makes a suggestion or files a complaint, management usually activates to ignore, frustrate, bury, lose or deny. It’s like dealing with a big bank, telco or insurance company.

This explains why a CEO of a local health district or senior manager in NSW Health can be technically honest when denying knowledge of adverse patient outcomes, missing medications or the shutting of essential services. The labyrinth has done its work and protected the organisation. Plausible deniability. Spin.

It is at least heartening that the inquiry involves most NSW political parties – because the problems are chronic and systemic and have festered under the watch of Labor and Coalition governments.

No. 1 is understaffing, which puts pressure on rosters and over-reliance on locums and agency staff. There are not enough beds, which causes “bed block”, and there is an inability to divert ambulances when that happens. Administrators are detached from clinical care and managers are overly concerned about ticking boxes for performance indicators rather than ensuring adequately resourced and safe facilities. Investigations meant to analyse system failure are too often weaponised to shift blame onto clinicians, leaving administrators untouched.

To some extent these problems are encountered in cities, but Australia’s geography is cruel. When one runs out of basic antibiotics, there is not a pharmacy supplier in the next suburb or a courier the next day. When a patient drives 100 kilometres to an emergency department to discover there is only a video service, it can be another 100 kilometres or more to a town with a doctor. When a surgery or pharmacy shuts, the ripple effect on a small district’s economy and social capital is devastating.

At the inquiry we heard powerful evidence from Bathurst Council: even in such a large regional city, a lack of health workers has negative economic and social impact. Imagine what it means for a town like Dunedoo, population 750.

We’ve had inquiries before, and recommendations, yet rural health continues to atrophy and the decision-makers are never to blame.

All too often NSW Health assumes good clinical practice can be made more efficient by curtailing or omitting critical steps: making the time to take a patient’s accurate history, perform an adequate examination, consider and investigate the possible diagnoses, and properly inform the patient about the management plan. Hence we see understaffing, poor stocks of medicine and medical equipment and the promotion of telemedicine at the expense of in-person clinicians.

For those of us left in the small hospitals, we turn up to work to find new forms to complete and more data to report. Management’s priority, it often appears, is that staff attend to these tasks ahead of real patient care.

Of course, we need more money, more beds, better medicine and equipment, more staff. The states often blame federal governments for these problems. There is certainly a place for more federal money but we should not exonerate NSW Health on this account. Without better governance the money will remain poorly spent, the equipment misdirected and the clinicians unwilling to work and give their best.

While we always need to recruit more health workers to the bush, there are plenty in the bush who make a conscious decision not to work for NSW Health.

Earlier this year, senior managers of our LHD and the Rural Health Commissioner were in Dunedoo for a community forum organised by the Warrumbungle Shire Council. They suggested the Dunedoo community should be more welcoming to health workers. Oh? So it’s the community’s fault? It was nothing short of insulting and outrageous. All NSW residents should be outraged.


A corrupt corruption watchdog

image from

The untouchable MacSporran

Serious questions are being raised about the role of the Crime and Corruption Commission in Queensland, and rightly so, writes Des Houghton.

It is hard to see how Crime and Corruption Commission chief Alan MacSporran can survive the legal tempest now swirling around him.

A third adverse report against the crime watchdog lobbed this week at the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Commission.

And a historic scandal involving a former ALP cabinet minister is coming back to haunt him after revelations the CCC failed to interview key witnesses.

The latest report to challenge the CCC’s “untouchable” status is a 73-page legal tome compiled by three prominent silks who say the CCC exceeded its authority, and worse, in the handling of the Logan council debacle. It discusses how evidence was gathered in compiling fraud charges against seven councillors who were later cleared. The report names names. It is explosive.

The report is a submission from the Local Government Association that I suspect will force the parliament to consider requesting MacSporran stand aside pending a judicial inquiry.

Now is not the time for Annastacia Palaszczuk to attempt to bury it. Indeed, she may welcome a media distraction from her own political inadequacies in hospitals and policing.

The Logan report must be made public, and quickly. The seven councillors who were cleared of fraud were unfairly denied a chance to contest the local government elections. They deserve justice and are owed compensation. And their community deserves answers.

In the past MacSporran has been chastised by the editorial writers for suggesting the CCC had the right to say what newspapers should and should not publish. That was bonkers.

Ill will against the corruption watchdog continues to grow.

Recent CCC critics are a diverse mob and include the esteemed Clerk of the Parliament Neil Laurie, former premier Campbell Newman, popular Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, former police commissioner Ian Stewart, and influential Local Government Association Queensland chief Greg Hallam. Can they all be wrong?

Hallam is a man of towering intellectual ability whose advocacy has been measured. He won’t talk.

Newman did. He went in hard, accusing the CCC of pursuing small and “esoteric” investigations and prosecutions while criminal gangs flourished. Mr Newman claims the CCC is “out of control and unaccountable … An organisation with extraordinary powers chasing mouse poop whilst criminal gangs and organised crime have flourished”.

Newman was commenting after the CCC last week released its Investigation Arista report that found the Queensland Police Service “engaged in discriminatory recruitment practices” in a drive for women to make up half of all new police recruits.

“These groups are back in business now quite clearly,” Newman told The Australian. “Why haven’t the CCC done something about either the gangs or the lack of police action?

“Instead, they have spent their time pursuing esoteric prosecutions of local government officials and worrying about gender targets in the QPS.”

Member for Burleigh Heads, Michael Hart, said allegations of corrupt conduct he raised in Parliament in 2018 were not properly investigated by the CCC even though he had provided investigators the names and phone numbers of witnesses and a tape recording.

The saga began when Hart told Parliament: “Of real concern is the allegation that Rob Schwarten had major renovations done to his Rockhampton houses by JM Kelly in 2009 and 2011. In particular, I am told that a JM Kelly contractor painted his Kinka Beach house, known around Rockhampton as the beach hospital, and the cost of that contracting work – about $26,000 – was not paid by Schwarten but was added as a variation to a government contract.

I have heard this from a number of credible people in Central Queensland and both the government and Mr Schwarten have some very serious questions to answer about this. These questions are deserving of a thorough and rigorous examination.”

Schwarten said the allegations were untrue and denies any wrongdoing. The Kelly companies previously denied doing free work for Mr Schwarten.

In a recent submission tabled in Parliament, Hart said the witnesses he provided had not been contacted, even though the CCC assured him they had been.

He told the House he was first contacted by the CCC in February 2019. In October he was told the case was closed.

“The investigation took 11 months and during that time I was unable to speak further in parliament on this issue.

“Eventually it was reported in the media that Mr Schwarten declared he had been cleared by the CCC.”

Hart said there was not a proper investigation.

“I supplied the CCC with a list of names and contact numbers of persons who provided the information which my speeches to the parliament were based on.’’

In a letter dated October 17, 2019, the CCC advised the investigation was closed and that their “inquiries included interviews of witnesses”, he said.

“I have since been contacted by a number of the people on the supplied list who tell me the CCC has not spoken to them at all.’’

So the CCC not only failed to properly investigate serious allegations, it misled the courageous MP who saw it as his duty to raise the alarm. Why did the CCC run dead? MacSporran should be hauled before the parliamentary committee to tell us.


The ‘difficult choice’ new NSW schools’ boss made for her daughter

The new head of NSW’s 2200 public schools says she sends one of her two daughters to a private school because she believes in parents’ rights to make the best decision for their children.

Georgina Harrisson, who was named as the new secretary of the NSW Department of Education on Monday, is a career bureaucrat who has spent 20 years working in government agencies in Australia and the United Kingdom, including the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.

This is her first position as the head of a government department. She takes over from former ABC managing director Mark Scott, who will begin as vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney in July. Ms Harrisson said she could “not be happier or more proud” to take on the role.

Ms Harrisson has a daughter in kindergarten at a Sydney public school, but her older daughter attends a high-fee independent school in Sydney’s north. “I’ve made a choice that’s really worked for my own child,” she said.

“I can understand that people would want to know that I am supportive of the system. My youngest daughter is in kindergarten in a public school. I will make the right decision for my own children as every other parent would.

“It’s a difficult choice but one that every parent makes in the interest of their own child.”

Mr Scott’s daughters also attended private schools, but they had graduated by the time he took on the Department of Education position. Both of NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell’s daughters attend their local public school.

Ms Harrisson will face significant challenges, such as a shortage of teachers, particularly in key areas such as maths; a student body with complex needs; and a workforce frustrated by low pay, long hours and a lack of career progression.

There are 120,000 staff on her payroll and 850,000 students under her watch.

She faces her first wages negotiation later this year, against a Teachers Federation that is putting significant resources into a campaign to lift salaries and improve conditions, which began with a year-long inquiry by former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop.

“I’m not a teacher and I don’t pretend to be,” Ms Harrisson said. “We are listening to our workforce. They have an affiliation with their employers as much as they do with their representatives and I want to make sure we are out there listening to what teachers say they need.

“The government has a wages’ policy, our role in that is quite clear. There’s a whole load of things in that Gallop report around the where and how teachers are spending their time. We want to ensure we are engaging in constructive dialogue with the federation.

“Ultimately we are accountable to every student in every classroom. I think meeting students’ expectations is our biggest challenge.”

Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos wished Ms Harrisson well and said she faced significant challenges, such as teacher shortages, “crippling workloads” and the under-funding of public schools compared with private schoo




Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The bigots are out in full cry about the Sikh religion

See the passion here

where broadcaster Chris Smith said: 'I don't think it's hard, it's not 1621, it's 2021, it is Australia, it is modern day. You don't put knives in the hands of immature human beings.' What sort of backward religious belief is this in the modern day? It's dangerous.'

The kirpan is an issue in most countries but banning it is asking Sikhs to abandon their faith. Compromises are usually reached, such as mandating that it should not be sharpened

A fiery debate has erupted on the Today Show about whether children should be able to take religious weapons to school after a teenager was allegedly stabbed with a kirpan in Sydney - as the NSW Department of Education bans the practice.

A teenage boy who nearly killed a classmate during a playground fight was legally allowed to carry the 'knife' he used in the attack on the school's grounds - because it was classified a 'religious weapon' by the education department.

The sword must be carried by baptised Sikhs at all times to remind them of their duty to 'uphold and defend the truth courageously' and was permitted on school grounds in NSW at the time of the alleged attack.

Karl Stefanovic on Tuesday admitted it was a 'difficult one' to debate as it was 'school safety versus religious freedom'.

Former opposition leader Bill Shorten, who was also appearing on the show, then interjected urging for caution.

'I'd be careful about saying the Sikh's have got a backward religious belief,' he said.

'I think it's not an easy issue but we've got to be careful because it's a different religion to what we are used to.'

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell on Tuesday morning announced religious weapons would be banned at public schools across the state from Wednesday.

'That will come into place from tomorrow,' she told 2GB's Ben Fordham.

'I feel much more confident knowing that we put that than in place as a policy … while we work through the legal issues that exist with the act.'

The ban will apply to all students, staff and visitors to NSW public schools.

'In the interim I've also asked the department to send advice out to our schools today updating our policy to say that knives for religious purposes will be banned in government schools,' Ms Mitchell said.

Ms Mitchell had spoken to representatives from the Sikh community about the stabbing and they were distressed, she said.

'We need to act and I think that's in line with community sentiment and it's also in line with my responsibilities as minister,' she added.

'I have to make sure that our schools are safe places for our students and staff and that's why we need to take this action.'

Her announcement comes after the alleged stabbing incident at Glenwood High School in Sydney's north-west on May 6.

The 14-year-old boy allegedly stabbed another male student, 16, twice in the stomach with the miniature sword called a kirpan.

The 16-year-old boy was rushed to hospital while the other student, 14, was charged with two counts of wounding a person with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

He is on bail and is due back in court in July. Meanwhile, his alleged victim was only released to hospital on Monday, 11 days after the attack.

At the time of the alleged attack he kirpan was exempt from the NSW Education Department's ban on knifes as school.

The policy states that students caught with other types of knifes face suspensions of up to 20 days and even being expelled.

The kirpan, which looks like miniature sword and is generally kept in a holster, is considered one of the 'five k's' of Sikhism.

The others are maintaining Kesh through uncut hair, wearing a Kara (steel bracelet), carrying a Kanga (a wooden comb) and wearing Kacchaera (cotton underwear).

A paper submitted by the Australian Sikh Association seeking an amendment to the Anti Discrimination (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 claimed Sikhs were often discriminated against for carrying a kirpan.

The Australian Sikh Association also claimed three 21-year-old Sikhs were discriminated against while attending an interfaith public event at NSW Parliament House in 2016.

A boy allegedly stabbed at Glenwood High School on May 6 is yet to return to school. Pictured are police at the scene +10
A boy allegedly stabbed at Glenwood High School on May 6 is yet to return to school. Pictured are police at the scene

They said the trio were refused entry due to carrying their Kirpans, as staff explained there was protocol in place which required any practicing Sikh to obtain prior approval to visit with the weapon.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was shocked to learn students could take knives to school and said it didn't pass the 'common sense test'.

Ms Mitchell earlier said she and Attorney-General Mark Speakman were urgently reviewing the operation of laws relating to children carrying knives for genuine religious reasons.

'Student and staff safety has to come first, and that's why I have asked for advice and I think we have to look at that exemption, and if there is more we need to do,' Ms Mitchell said.


China’s not winning its trade war with Australia

It must be a source of increasing frustration for China’s bureaucrats that its own economic successes are overwhelming their efforts to sanction Australia for our less than diplomatic commentary on the origins of the pandemic and China’s treatment of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region.

While the sanctions on barley, wine, lobsters, coal and other products have bitten, they have been far more than offset by China’s insatiable demand for iron ore and LNG and the spiking prices – in iron ore’s case, soaring prices – of both.

If this is a trade war, Australia is winning its first phase quite handsomely.

The iron ore price is above $US200 a tonne and LNG prices have rebounded from the pandemic to levels last seen two years ago.

In coal, the Australian producers have responded to China’s bans by shifting their exports elsewhere, particularly to India. While the producers might not be getting the same prices as before, China is being forced to buy lower quality coal at higher prices while its competitors benefit from the windfall of high quality Australian coal at lower prices.

It’s not that China hasn’t tried to do something about its reliance on Australian iron ore and LNG.

Last month it announced a series of changes to tariffs on raw materials used in its steel industry to encourage imports of pig iron and scrap steel, along with moves to reduce domestic steel production and encourage domestic iron ore production.

In the context of record steel production – and a function of China’s success in recovering quickly from the worst of the pandemic last year and the strengthening economic recovery emerging in other major economies – the measures are likely to have only modest effects.

In the longer term scrap metal might have a more material role in China’s steel industry – China wants to double production from its electric arc furnaces over the next four or five years – but its ambitions will have only modest impacts on its demand for iron ore and iron ore prices in the medium term.

Along with a crackdown on iron ore futures trading last week – the authorities vowed to punish market manipulation – the actions helped slightly lower the iron ore price, from more than $US230 a tonne to around $US210 a tonne. Iron ore started this year priced at less than $US160 a tonne, having traded down to around $US60 a tonne just over a year ago.

China’s reliance on Australian iron ore for almost two-thirds of its steel industry’s requirements and Vale’s continuing struggles to restore production after its tailing dam disasters and pandemic-related disruptions in Brazil means there is little it can do to curtail purchases of Australian iron ore without hurting its steel industry and economy.

Even if it can develop new sources of supply, with the giant Simandou resource in Guinea the most obvious, they would be higher-cost (development of the infrastructure for Simandou could cost the best part of $US20 billion), are nearly a decade away and would in any event probably represent only about 10 per cent of China’s existing demand.

The big Australian producers – Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue – are the low-cost producers and have a significant cost advantage over Brazil because of their proximity to China and therefore their lower shipping costs.

Recognition of that freight advantage and the move to index-related – market, rather than contract -- pricing of iron ore in the last decade transformed the market for iron ore, undermining the leverage buyers had when determining the volumes and prices of contracts in the past.

LNG has different issues. Australia is almost neck and neck with Qatar as the world’s leading producer as China looks to LNG to reduce its usage of coal for energy production.

Despite the damage it has done to some export categories with its tariffs and other sanctions, China hasn’t been able to hurt the Australian producers of the two big commodities that really matter.

China could buy more LNG from Qatar and the US (it has a commitment under the Trump era trade truce to buy more LNG from the US, is in talks with Qatar about taking equity in the world’s biggest new project and has been expanding its relationship with Turkmenistan) but LNG is an internationally-traded commodity and demand within the Asia Pacific is strong enough for Australian cargoes to be redeployed elsewhere, as has happened in coal.

A subsidiary complicating factor is that China’s state-owned energy companies have big, multi-billion-dollar equity stakes and long term contracts with the major Australian LNG exporters, so damaging the Australian industry would damage China’s own SOEs.

Two of the three big export projects on Curtis Island in Queensland, for instance, have Chinese SOEs as foundation shareholders and customers.

Sinopec has a 25 per cent interest and was the foundation customer in the Origin Energy-led GLNG consortium while CNOOC has a 50 per cent interest in the first train of Shell’s QGC project. PetroChina is a partner with Shell in the Arrow Energy joint venture. Woodside has long term contracts with Chinese companies.

China has been trying to withdraw the pandemic-related stimulus it injected into its economy last year as part of a wider effort to deleverage and decarbonise and improve the productivity of its industrial base.

That includes efforts to limit steel production. It has targeted a reduction in steel output from the record 1.2 billion tonnes it produced last year and has threatened mills that don’t conform to its directives.

That hasn’t, however, stopped production from setting monthly records this year, probably because the mills are experiencing strong margins.

There’s also a suspicion that China is building up its stocks of vital commodities amid rising geopolitical tensions which, if true, might mean the spikes in commodity prices have a transitory element to them.

It is not in the long term interests of either Australia or China for the diplomatic and trade relationships to continue to deteriorate but in the meantime, despite the damage it has done to some export categories with its tariffs and other sanctions, China hasn’t been able to hurt the Australian producers of the two big commodities that really matter.

Indeed, apart from its purchases of near-record levels of Australian iron ore and LNG at, in iron ore’s case, near-record prices, its actions have prompted Australian companies -- from wine makers to coal miners to LNG exporters – to seek out new markets and reduce their dependence on China which, given the recent relationship, is probably a positive for Australia’s long term national interests.


Qld Catholic schools commit to being 100 per cent powered by renewable energy by 2038

More than 100 Queensland Catholic schools are set to “go green” after striking a deal to be 100 per cent powered by renewable energy. Here’s when they aim to achieve it.

Under the new arrangement with energy provider ENGIE Australia & New Zealand, Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane buildings – including 115 schools and family services sites – will soon be powered by green electricity.

Brisbane Catholic Education deputy executive director Doug Ashleigh said the long-term electricity supply agreement, which comes with zero net carbon certification, was a crucial step in the sector meeting its renewable energy goals.

“We educate our students about the importance of environmental sustainability, so it is great to show that we are modelling this by moving to renewable energy sources to power our schools,” Dr Ashleigh said.

He said he also considered it a “win for school budgets”, due to the reduced power costs.

Among the schools set to make the switch was St Augustine’s College in Greater Springfield, putting the school well ahead of schedule to meet the entire city’s target of 100 per cent renewable power by 2038.

Archdiocese of Brisbane property and building director Patrick Lane-Mullins described the move as a “great step forward in reducing our carbon footprint”.

“It will result in the majority of the larger energy-consuming assets being not only under the single service provider, but also being 100% renewable,” he said.

ENGIE ANZ has multiple wind farms across the country as well as solar and gas projects.

Executive general manager Andrew Hyland said the company was working with a diverse range of businesses to go green, and the deal with BCE should serve as an example to other education authorities.

“Schools and public buildings are at the centre of our communities and play an important role in leading our net zero energy transition,” he said.


Presbyterian Church of Queensland in receivership

A Christian church organisation has gone into receivership in a move set to shock thousands of employees, students, aged care residents and congregations.

The church said it had applied to the Supreme Court of Queensland to place its legal entity – PCQ a Letters Patent Entity (PCQ) - into receivership.

Moderator of the PCQ, Reverend Dr Philip Strong, said the decision to enter receivership was regrettable but necessary to ensure that PCQ can continue providing important services to the Queensland community for the long term.

“While our team has worked hard for more than a year to restructure the operations, historical contractual arrangements have made this extremely challenging. While making the decision to appoint a receiver is a difficult one, we believe it is the best next step,” Reverend Dr Strong said.

“I know that today’s announcement will be unexpected for our congregations, employees, residents, students and the community. Our priority has always been and will continue to be their wellbeing.”

PwC Australia’s (PwC) Michael Owen and Phil Carter were appointed receivers of PCQ’s legal entity by the Supreme Court of Queensland late in the evening of 12 May 2021.

“Our immediate priority is to work closely and constructively with PCQ and its stakeholders while we undertake a review of the entity’s affairs pursuant to the order of the Court,” Mr Owen said.

“We plan to continue to operate the services that PCQ provides across the community on a ‘business as usual’ basis while we conduct this review, and we will update stakeholders further once this initial assessment has been completed.”

PCQ’s aged care facilities, schools, congregations and other community services will continue operating while the receivers gain a better understanding of the organisation’s position.

Together with the congregations, PCQ’s ministries include PresCare, a provider of residential aged care and Presbyterian ministry services, the Queensland Theological College (QTC) and Fairholme College, a school in Toowoomba.

PresCare recently contracted the sale of its residential aged care facilities in Maryborough and Rockhampton to the Apollo Care Alliance.




Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Private schools will pocket an extra $1.7 billion in federal grants next financial year; State-funded universities are the big losers

All schools will share in record spending of $24.4 billion next year, the federal budget papers show.

But a bigger share of spending will go to private schools, which charge parents up to $30,000 a year in tuition fees.

Private schools, including Catholic and elite grammar schools, will receive $14.7 billion in 2021/22 – up $1.7 billion, or 13 per cent from 2020/21.

Public schools, which educate two-thirds of Australian children and get most of their funding from state and territory governments, will receive $9.7 billion in federal funding – up $675 million, or just 7.5 per cent.

The spending gap closes over four years, with funding for private schools soaring 28 per cent to $16.7 billion by 2024/25.

Government school spending will rise 26 per cent to $11.4 billion.

Funding for private schools is artificially low in 2020/21 because the federal government let schools use $815m in advance, to pay for higher COVID-19 costs in 2019/20.

Boarding schools with a high proportion of Indigenous students will be handed $16.6 million in 2021/22 to “remain financially sustainable’’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Literacy and numeracy tests for would-be teachers will be expanded, at a cost of $1 million a year, to weed out graduates who cannot pass a basic maths and English test.

Universities, forced to shed thousands of staff after the financial blow of losing fee-paying foreign students due COVID-19 travel bans, received little extra assistance in the federal budget.


Police hiring spree found to be discriminatory, 200 eligible men miss out

Police discriminated against men in a female-focused hiring spree that saw 200 men who should have been hired miss out on a job.

The bombshell finding is contained in a Crime and Corruption Commission report tabled in parliament today into a female recruitment strategy employed by the Queensland Police Service under then-Commissioner Ian Stewart between December 2015 to October 2018.

“The discriminatory practices saw different standards applied to female and male applicants, with females selected in preference to male applicants who had performed to a higher standard across entry assessments,” the corruption watchdog found.

“The investigation shows around 2000 male applicants were subject to discriminatory assessment practices which prevented them from progressing through the recruitment process over approximately an 18-month period from July 2016 to the end of 2017.

“If the various discriminatory practices had not been implemented, the CCC estimates approximately 200 more meritorious male applicants would have been successful in their attempt to join the QPS.”

The CCC found that while there was “insufficient evidence” to support criminal action, there was evidence that warranted disciplinary action.

“The CCC plans to take action in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) … against one or more of the (persons of interest) seeking a finding of corrupt conduct,” the report said.

The CCC alleges staff in the recruiting section were so intent on achieving the gender equity targets that they lowered standards and allowed female recruits to progress even though they had failed certain entry requirements.

“By late 2017, in order to achieve the target of 50 per cent female recruitment, some female applicants were approved for progression by methods including:

* lowering the required standard for female applicants on cognitive assessment (including for female applicants who had already previously been told they did not meet the required standard),

* allowing female applicants who had failed aspects of the physical assessment to progress and

* allowing female applicants who had previously been assessed as not suitable on psychological grounds to progress.”

The Courier-Mail broke the news in January 2020 that an investigation was under way after allegations were made of “irregularities” within the recruitment process.

At the time, a QPS spokesman confirmed a review had taken place and an investigation had begun.

“As a result, allegations of irregularities associated with some past police recruiting processes were identified,” the spokesman said.

“These allegations are now subject to investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission and QPS Ethical Standards Command

“In the meantime, the QPS has put mechanisms in place to ensure confidence in more recent and ongoing recruiting processes.”

A statement released by the Queensland Police Service said disciplinary action had been taken against three people and a fourth had since left the service.

“Two QPS employees and a Public Safety Business Agency employee have been suspended as part of an internal disciplinary process,” the statement said.

“Another person identified in the report has since left the QPS.”

Commissioner Katarina Carroll said the QPS accepted the CCC report and would implement all recommendations as a matter of priority.

“The QPS became aware of concerns around recruiting practices following a change of leadership at our executive level and the concerns were immediately reported to the CCC in November 2019,” Ms Carroll said.

“We have fully co-operated with the CCC investigation.

“The conduct alleged in this report is completely disappointing and can I reassure the public that this alleged behaviour does not meet the standards or expectation of our Queensland Police officers and dedicated staff.”

Ms Carroll said six women had been identified as having not met the minimum standards to enter the academy.

But she said all six graduated successfully having met all the required standards to become a police officer.

“While the CCC report identifies that this misconduct ceased in January 2018, I have asked Assistant Commissioner Charysse Pond to conduct a complete review of the QPS recruitment practices to strengthen transparency and to ensure this does not happen again,” Ms Carroll said.

“I am committed to independent, transparent and impartial entry testing for all prospective police recruits.

“When I was sworn in as Commissioner, I said that while it is important to be inclusive and diverse, we should always take the best possible applicants regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

“The public as well as our own police officers rightly expect no favours or preferential treatment for any applicant.”


Teachers oppose state-wide educational assessment

They are afraid it will show them up as incompetent

Costing millions of dollars every year, education experts have told The Courier-Mail NAPLAN is outdated, misused, and causes undue angst to kids, parents and teachers.

Queensland Teachers’ Union president Cresta Richardson said the majority of teachers “loathe” the test and most feel the testing method is “broken”.

”The message from members is clear – NAPLAN in its current form needs to go,” she said.

“It is the Union’s view that in the face of a federal government that, despite the views of the profession that standardised testing is an ill-informed practice that provides little educational value to students, is determined to keep some form of the test in place, the high stakes nature of the program needs to change.”

Ms Richardson said many teachers were pressured to “teach to the test”, with NAPLAN results even used for performance management of staff.

University of New South Wales Professor of Educational Policy Pasi Sahlbeg said his own young son, set to undertake NAPLAN for the first time this year, was “afraid and doesn’t want to go to school”.

“On his first day of school this year he heard about NAPLAN – it’s been such a traumatic experience already and it’s affecting his learning,” he said.

“Australia is the only country to hold onto a census high stakes assessment – we are a bit of an outlier.

“We need clarity on the aims and the purpose of NAPLAN. “The original intent of NAPLAN was to be a low stakes assessment – not anymore.”

Professor Sahlberg said a more effective way of taking the pulse of students’ literacy and numeracy skills would be a sample-based assessment – an idea the teachers’ union also backs.

“Parents should opt in for their students to participate in NAPLAN and the withdrawal form should be made more easily accessible for parents, not hidden behind firewalls as has been the practice this year,” Ms Richardson said.

University of Newcastle Associate Professor Jess Harris said students often felt anxious about the NAPLAN tests.

“It (has become) a high stakes test and it can have significant stress impact on teachers, members of the school and on individual students,” she said.

But the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting authority who oversee NAPLAN say this year’s test may be the most crucial one to date, given it was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief executive David de Carvalho said the test provided key information on how well students were learning the essential skills of reading, writing and mathematics.

“With the cancellation of NAPLAN last year and the interruption of schooling because of COVID the community is eager for information about the impact on learning in literacy and numeracy and the effectiveness of remote teaching and learning,” he said.

“Literacy and numeracy are critical elements of learning and it is important to understand how each student is progressing in establishing these foundations.

“The NAPLAN tests provide valuable information to all schools about the performance of their students, and support the ability of schools to focus teaching on areas of need.

Mr de Carvalho said it was up to the adults in children’s lives, including their parents and teachers, to ensure kids keep “NAPLAN in perspective”.

“The best way you can help your child prepare for NAPLAN is to reassure them that NAPLAN tests are just one part of their school program, and to urge them to simply do the best they can on the day,” he said.