Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Classism in Australia is 'real'. Meet the crusaders calling it out

This is just a Left-wing whine from the ABC. It makes its case entirely by argument from example. You can prove just about anything that way

Let me turn the tables by using a different example, my own. My father was a lumberjack, just about the humblest occupation known. And he was a punchy redhead, well within the sterotype. So my schooling was terminated after junior school and I received no support from my parents from that time on.

So was I thereby condemned to a humble life of no distinction? Hardly. I earned a doctorate, achieved academic distinction and became a millionaire

It's possible that I was from time to time a target of class prejudice but I was never aware of it. I was always aware of being treated as an individual, often with respect

So who is typical? Myself or the whiners rounded up by the ABC? There is no way of telling. The entire article is a castle built on sand with no hint of real scholarship. I would happily tell them about sample surveys and pychometrics if they cared to listen

When Amanda Rose stepped up on stage to speak at a business conference six years ago, she didn't get the introduction she was expecting.

The MC described her to the crowd as being "from Parramatta — but that's OK because ... she's gorgeous. She's smart and she is dating a politician".

She felt humiliated. And it wasn't the first time.

"I've dealt with the stigma my whole life and, as a businesswoman, it's still there," she tells ABC RN's This Working Life.

At the same event, she was instructed by organisers not to "admit" to her Western Sydney roots.

Her experience defies a belief held by many Australians.

About 57 per cent of Australians who participated in the Australia Talks National Survey 2021 believe the perseverance and diligence of hard work pays off regardless of the circumstances they've been born into.

However, the proportion of people who believe hard work makes all the difference has fallen since 2019, when it was 69 per cent.

Despite the shift, it seems the old adage about all Australians being given a "fair go" is still deeply entrenched in the Australian psyche.

So does going to the right school really matter, do employers really care what suburb you're from and, if there are different social classes, is it possible to move between them? We asked those that have experienced classism.

Hard work doesn't always pay off
"Here's a Blacktown boy turned good."

"Haven't you done well for yourself?"

Rose, founder of business and women's network Western Sydney Women, says phrases like these are just some of the ways people flag another's social class.

They reflect an attitude she has found to be rife in her work environments.

Rose says she was "blocked so much" in the business world because of her connection to Western Sydney that she decided: "Screw this, I'll start my own network".

She's cautious about overcoming the challenges. "[The] one thing I believe we can't change is classism. We can change everything else," she says.

Class plays a huge role at work

Diversity Council of Australia chief executive Lisa Annese agrees class barriers are "real" and argues they are missing from the national conversation about inclusion.

Too bogan, too privileged?

A stand alone run down house against a bush backdrop
Have you ever been judged for where you live? Postcode stigma is rife in Australia — and the people who live in affluent areas aren't immune.

"We know that if you went to a certain school, if you went to the right universities, you have the right networks, then you're much more likely to be successful in Australian business," she says.

She says social class is defined by a number of factors including a family's wealth, a person's education, personal and professional networks, job and income.

While Australians often "deny that class even exists", it has the greatest impact on opportunities and inclusion in workplaces, Annese says.

Fighting and working harder

Author and journalist Rick Morton knows what it's like to feel different from others because of class.

Morton grew up in poverty in country Queensland, and says it became apparent early in his career he'd "have to fight harder" and "work harder than everyone else just to be in the same position".

"We all want everyone to have a fair go to be treated equally but it's not the case in practice," says Morton, who has written about his experience in the memoir, One Hundred Years of Dirt.

When he moved to the Gold Coast at 18 on a university scholarship tied to a newspaper cadetship, he says he was "unequipped" for the change.

"I had no idea, not just no money but no idea about how money functioned," Morton says.

"I had no cultural capital. I didn't know how to have conversations with people who were from ... the 'right' schools. I didn't grow up with the 'right' books in my house."

He remembers struggling to pay for rent, food and bus fares while being unable to manage the workload of university and work.

Years later, while working for a major newspaper, he began writing about people living in poverty and realised most of his work colleagues looked at those issues from positions of privilege.

"What I was trying to do was knit together some kind of understanding for people who have never lived any of the things I tried to convince them of and so it was really difficult."

In editorial meetings while discussing the federal government's plans to charge patients a $7 GP co-payment, editors dismissed how much the charge would mean to some people.

"I remember thinking $7 is literally the difference between whether [my mum] can eat or not in any given week," Morton says.

Both Morton and Rose believe speaking up is a powerful tool for change.

Morton says in the past he's been "terrified" to voice concerns or ideas but he now realises the people around him wouldn't have minded a debate.

Rose suggests a different approach to shifting stigma around class.

"Do not expect people to accept you," she says.

"The most powerful thing you can do is not care about what people think but start to speak up about who you are, where you're from and be proud of it."


Senate deal signals path to deal on new nuclear waste site

Decades of wrangling over laws to store Australia’s nuclear waste have come to an end, clearing the way for a remote site to replace city facilities that are running out of capacity as nuclear medicine becomes more common.

The federal government backed down on a key feature of the bill to gain Labor’s support in the upper house on Monday, removing a provision that named Kimba in South Australia as the new storage location.

The outcome is crucial to the long federal dispute over a new storage facility to take waste that is currently sent to Lucas Heights in the southern suburbs of Sydney, the location of Australia’s only nuclear reactor.

The amended bill leaves it to the federal minister to choose the location in a compromise agreed to by Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Labor counterpart Madeleine King.

But the changes also set up a judicial review of the location if there is a dispute over the minister’s choice, setting up an avenue for opponents of the Kimba site to challenge the decision in the courts.

Mr Pitt has warned capacity will run out at Lucas Heights by 2030 as more Australians rely on nuclear medicine to treat cancer and other illnesses, creating a crisis if Parliament cannot agree on a new location.

The Labor caucus agreed last week to leave the negotiations on the bill to Ms King and the party’s federal leadership team, with social services spokeswoman Linda Burney among those who backed the move.

The Senate agreement ends four decades of disagreement on nuclear storage but does not lock-in Kimba as the new site, even though 62 per cent of the local community voted in favour of the proposal in a community ballot run by the Australian Electoral Commission last year.

Kimba mayor Dean Johnson has met Labor leader Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to convey the community’s support for the facility, which would be built at Napandee, a farm on the Eyre Peninsula.

The bill passed the Senate late on Monday by 43 to 13 votes with majority support from the Coalition and Labor.


Great Barrier Reef operators slam UN recommendation to list reef as 'in danger'

Reef tourism operators say they are bewildered by a draft recommendation to list the Great Barrier Reef as "in danger", saying the world's largest living organism is "healthy" and "beautiful".

The World Heritage Committee, which sits under UNESCO, has proposed moving the reef to the list because of the impact of climate change, and will consider the decision at a meeting in China, which is the chair, next month.

"Has anyone from UNESCO prior to COVID actually flown out here, gone to areas in the Great Barrier Reef and had a snorkel?

"Did they wake up, have a coffee and think: Here's a great idea, let's label the Great Barrier Reef as 'in danger'?

"Yes the reef has had its challenges with crown-of-thorns starfish and cyclones but the reef is healthy and rebuilds itself."

The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, a non-profit group that represents reef tourism operators, said it was also surprised about the recommendation to list the reef as "in danger".

"Yes, the reef has got its challenges and the tourism industry does not deny that and that's why we work so hard to operate at high environmental standards and play a role in monitoring the health of the reef and feeding that information back," Mr Phillips said.

"The reef is a big, beautiful diverse place and it is certainly not a lost cause.

"These sorts of listings are demoralising and it also has an impact on tourism, people don't want to go out and see something that they think is dead."

Mr Garden said any recommendation to list the reef as in danger would have a negative impact on tourism.

"It's not just Cairns or the Great Barrier Reef that it will have an impact on, it's Australian tourism as well," Mr Garden said.

"People will say, hang on, the reef is dying or dead so we won't worry about going to Australia."


Monday, June 21, 2021

How the Torres Strait's culture, geography and colonial experience is shaping crime and justice

At last some gradual official recognition is being given to the realities of the Torres Strait people. Officialdom is at last beginning to recognize what people in the Far North have always known: That Aborigines and islanders are two very different races with very different characteristics. The do-gooders insist that they are all "indigeous" and therefore all the same but that is the ignorance of people who cannot see past brown skin.

The Torres Strait people are Melanesians -- from nearby New Guinea. They are not from Australia at all and tend to have a low opinion of Aborigines. They are seagoing and maintin gardens to feed themselves, something virtually unknown among Aborigines.

In Far North Queensland where I grew up, there were always both Aborigines and Islanders around. We knew both well.

Aborigines mostly lived in welfare housing on the dole while the islanders were often buying their own homes, for instance. And the difference in temperament was stark. Islanders were big cheerful healthy men always ready for a song who would look you in the eye and shake your hand -- very desirable citizens. I will forbear comment on how we saw Aborigines.

In the Torres Strait, it can sometimes take hours, even days, for police to arrive after a crime's been reported. And often, by the time officers step foot on the island, the situation has been resolved.

Research shows islands in the Torres Strait, which stretch for 150-kilometres from the northern-most tip of Queensland to the coast of Papua New Guinea, have lower property crime rates than many non-Indigenous communities.

A recent Australian Institute of Criminology report debunks the generalisation that all Indigenous communities are riddled with crime.

John Scott, one of the report's authors, says the Torres Strait region's crime figures are similar to those of "a relatively well-off white agricultural community on the mainland".

"And it's beset by the same sorts of crime problems as we'd expect to find in that type of setting," Professor Scott tells ABC RN's Law Report.

According to the report, between 2001 and 2018, crimes against a person such as assault were lower in the Torres Strait region than in Queensland Aboriginal communities, but higher than for the whole of the state, while property offences were slightly lower than the Queensland average.

Professor Scott says while the region is economically disadvantaged, like many country communities, it has high levels of "social capital" that may be keeping crime down. This includes cultural mediation, community involvement and support as well as long-practiced traditions.

"We argue that in explaining these rates of crime, you've really got to understand the high levels of social capital that exists in the Torres Strait," Professor Scott says.

"Social capital is something that's not really identified with Indigenous communities in this country, which ... is a real error." 'We're not all the same'

Queensland Magistrate James Morton, who is a Torres Strait Islander, says it's important that Indigenous communities across Australia are not grouped together.

"The notion that every Indigenous person is the same, I find that is a long-dated colonial view of things," Magistrate Morton says.

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Factors like location, community and culture all have an influence on crime rates, he explains.

Magistrate Morton, who co-authored the Australian Institute of Criminology report, says family and long-standing traditions continue to be a large part of island life providing structure and a community harmony.

But belonging to a smaller communities can be a "double-edged sword", he says.

Shame, embarrassment and family dynamics appear to keep overall crime rates low, while people are less likely to report domestic violence.

What justice looks like in the Torres Strait

C'Zarke Maza, the Torres Strait regional manager of the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal service, says communities often deal with their "own issues" before matters are retro-fitted into the mainstream legal system.

Each island has its own community justice group made up of elders who apply protocols and customs when dealing with a crime.

They never deal with allegations of domestic violence.

The justice groups were set up in Queensland as a response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

They provide cultural information reports at sentencing and during bail hearings, as well as contribute to unique forms of local justice like cultural mediation.

Mr Maza, a descendant of the Meriam people of Murray Island and Yidinji people near Cairns, says each group operates differently.

He says while cultural mediation exists in other areas of Australia, the practice has been adapted for the Torres Strait way of life.

"It's where the elders get together with the offender, with the victim, and pretty much they mediate using traditional island practices that have existed from time immemorial," Mr Maza, who is based on Thursday Island, says.

Charges for low-level offending, like wilful damage or low-grade assault, are struck out of court and dismissed after successful mediation.

Mr Maza says the process has seen a reduction in repeat offenders.

"It is certainly quite confrontational for them being face-to-face with a victim," he says.

"Normally they [the complainant] are put on the sidelines and the police end up taking over but this way they have a say and their voice is heard through the process.

"This empowers the justice group elders because really it's recognising the position and the power that they play in the communities."

Professor Scott, the head of Queensland University of Technology's School of Justice, believes the region's colonial experience, geography and history of community policing continues to shape it.

He says colonisation was "less impactful" in the Strait compared to other parts of Australia where people were displaced by the pastoral industry.

"A lot of people still speak English as a second language. The culture is still relatively intact," he says.

Other contributing factors, he says, are the remoteness of some islands and literally having nowhere to run if you commit a crime.


Should the Crime and Corruption Commission be abolished?

Fire MacSporran

Has Queensland’s crime watchdog become a mangy mongrel that needs a bullet behind the ear?

More politely, should the Crime and Corruption Commission be shut down, or have its powers curtailed for its own protection and ours?

Before I tell you what I think, we must consider the CCC’s botched Logan council prosecution that destroyed careers and hurt families.

It is perhaps the biggest failure of the CCC since it came into being as the Criminal Justice Commission in 1989 as the post-Fitzgerald gatekeeper.

The Logan investigation was described as a “travesty of justice” by Sunshine Coast mayor Mark Jamieson, the president of the Local Government Association of Queensland.

“Lives, reputations and careers have been ruined and a duly-elected council wrongly dismissed,” he said.

Member for Ryan Julian Simmons told federal parliament the Palaszczuk government must also shoulder some of the blame.

In calling for CCC chairman Alan MacSporran to stand aside, Simmons said the Queensland Government was warned the charges against the seven councillors would not hold up.

He said: “At the time the fraud charges were laid by the CCC the independent legal advice from multiple senior counsel ALL advised the criminal charges had no chance of success.

“This was all presented to the Queensland Government at the time but despite all that the democratically elected council was dismissed.’’

Now Robert Setter, the Queensland Public Service Commissioner, has highlighted what may be the CCC’s greatest failure in the fight against corruption inside government.

In a worrying submission to a parliamentary committee he said the CCC he often referred corruption complaints back to government departments that were entirely ill-equipped to deal with them.

“Concerns have been raised about the referral of corrupt conduct matters by the CCC back to agencies with no, or very limited, capability to handle them, or where the allegations involve the chief executive or member of a board,’’ Setter said.

Clerk of the parliament Neil Laurie echoed similar sentiments. He warned public confidence in the CCC was undermined when it referred complaints against police back to police to investigate.

I also suspect CCC routinely fails to fully investigate complaints directed at the Queensland Cabinet and the union-controlled public service.

There is perceived political bias (to me, anyway) in favour of the ALP. This was evident when Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was found to be in contempt of parliament over her threats to strip Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) MPs of staff.

The CCC said there was “prima facie” evidence Palaszczuk breached the Criminal Code. But it let her off, referring the case back to the parliamentary committee where Labor has a majority and the Premier would never be sanctioned.

Palaszczuk’s former deputy Jackie Trad and her Transport Minister Mark “Mangocube” Bailey likewise escape sanctions after becoming embroiled in allegations of wrongdoing.

All power is held on trust. The Logan debacle has shaken our trust in the CCC.

With phone tapping powers and a star chamber where any citizen is compelled to give evidence, the CCC may give the appearance of a secretive super force that can act with impunity.

The union, described in parliament and the courts as a criminal organisation, said the CCC was rotten to the core.

The CCC had become “a blunt instrument used by employers to intimidate workers and public officials”, said union secretary Michael Ravbar. His union would know all about intimidation.

The rise of bikie gangs, union thuggery and government corruption is precisely why the CCC should be retained with its coercive powers.

The watchdog remains an imperfect model. That does not mean it should be stripped of its power to uncover wrongdoing.

Without crime watchdogs like the CCC, the Gordon Nuttalls and Eddie Obeids will come slithering back.

Our crime watchdog does not require a bullet behind the ear.

It needs our help.


Cheap whisky with a Hobnob on the side: What does the Australia-UK free trade deal mean for you?

Treating yourself to a McVitie’s Hobnob dipped into a cup of tea could soon be even sweeter as the price of British biscuits is set to fall.

Or if you’re after something stronger, the cost of a glass of Scotch whisky is also on the rocks.

These are just some of the benefits of a deal struck in London this week, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his British counterpart Boris Johnson swapped English Penguins for Australian Tim Tams, Marmite for Vegemite and Blue Label Johnnie Walker for Penfolds wine.

The UK government expects the agreement will save British households up to £34 million ($62 million) collectively each year, or about $2.23 each, due to lower costs for Australian goods including confectionery, swimwear and wine.

So how much will Australians save at the till?

The full details of the in-principle deal are yet to be provided, but based on what information has been publicly released, there are several cuts to tariffs on UK goods exported to Australia. Lower costs for manufacturers and exporters typically results in lower prices for consumers.

Ceramics, whisky, biscuits, pharmaceuticals, cars, machinery and tractors are among the products expected to be cheaper in Australia due to the removal of tariffs. There have also been suggestions British cheese and some clothing brands, such as Burberry, could cost Australians less due to the deal. The UK government estimates $7.9 billion worth of exports into Australia will have tariffs removed.

But determining exactly how much cheaper these items might become is tricky. For instance, there is currently a 5 per cent tariff on distilled spirits including whisky and gin.

If the full 5 per cent was realised as a discount, this would be a $5 reduction on a $100 bottle.

A submission from the Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association to an Australian Productivity Commission review into tariffs in 2000 argued the 5 per cent charge on imports to Australia applied to distilled spirits added a “mere 0.84 per cent” to the retail price of a litre bottle of Scotch Whisky.

But don’t hold your breath for a cut in cost for your favourite tipple to appear any time soon.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Australia national ambassador, Matt Bailey, said the organisation was “excited” about the deal that appeared to be a step in the right direction, though they need to see the details.

“While we don’t expect to see immediate changes in pricing across the board, we do see at least some better flexibility in the importation of great Scotch and other international whisky as a result,” Mr Bailey said.

The 5 per cent tariff also applies to biscuits. A reduction of this size could cut the cost of a 300-gram packet of oat-filled Hobnobs by 15 cents to $2.85. At the moment the same size packet of local Anzac biscuits costs $3.

The UK Department for International Trade says cheese exports currently face tariffs worth up to 20 per cent, while British clothes sold in Australia are slugged with a 5 per cent duty.

Big-ticket items could have more meaningful price reductions. A Parliamentary Committee report on trade with the UK previously found vehicle imports from the UK to Australia were worth $1.5 billion in 2015-16. This included more than 40 makes and models, including Jaguar-LandRover, Mini, Honda, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin and Nissan.

The latest MINI Cooper S Countryman with all the mod cons will set a new car owner back about $68,000. If the tariff directly translates into a 5 per cent price cut, this could be a $3400 saving.

For Australian businesses, the agreement will not affect the nation’s single largest export to Britain.

Of the $15.9 billion of merchandise exports to Britain from Australia in 2019-20, more than $12 billion was in gold.

Most gold exports are not made physically, as valuable slivers of the precious metal are easily lost in transit. Ownership is transferred among investors who hold most of their gold in vaults beneath the Bank of England in central London.

British purchases of gold soared to record levels in the wake of Brexit over fears the event would weaken the UK economy. It has remained at elevated levels, in part due to uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


A woman who refused more than $800,000 to drop her sexual assault complaint was financially destroyed and faced jail in the legal blowback

Former Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) official Narelle Dawson-Wells was charged with perjury and spent three years in court before prosecutors realised their key witness had lied on oath and hired a controversial former cop to dig dirt on her.

The ABC can reveal details of the flawed prosecution, which some lawyers say is a cautionary tale for women pressing sexual assault charges.

One legal expert said the case highlighted one of the problems with rape and sexual assault trials in Queensland — that it is often the complainant who is actually put on trial.

Ms Dawson-Wells' allegations against 'Mr Smith' — not his real name for legal reasons — put him on trial for sexual assault several years ago.

He responded with a legal fightback that turned the tables on his accuser, who was charged with perjury for denying a "previous sexual relationship" with him.

But police failed to disclose evidence that Mr Smith had lied to them and WorkCover, which ultimately sank the case that came down to his word against hers.

Ms Dawson-Wells, who lost her career and life savings in the legal fight, has campaigned for official scrutiny of her case since charges were dropped four years ago.

The wife of former state attorney-general Dean Wells was a clinical psychologist who worked at the CMC as a deputy director until 2009 before the alleged assault.

"I couldn't get my head around what people who I had so respected had done to me," Ms Dawson-Wells said. "[I was] ruined. I had a high-paying job, I owned a beautiful home. Sold my home — I had to sell up everything and it's been financially horrific.

"And it was so humiliating. My little girl with two small babies re-mortgaged her home to pay legal fees.

"I had nothing left so I had to represent myself in court. And I came to the point where I thought I couldn't cope anymore. It was too hard."

$830k offer to withdraw complaint

Before he was charged, documents seen by the ABC show Mr Smith offered Ms Dawson-Wells $830,000 to withdraw her criminal complaint.

She said she refused "because it wasn't right".

Mr Smith had already hired private investigator Mick Featherstone to find information to discredit the account of his accuser.

Some of this fed into a six-day cross-examination that left her standing as a witness in his trial in tatters.

"[Mr Smith] hired a top barrister. I was mocked. My career was minimised. It's a process where they will rip you apart and humiliate you on the stand," she said.

Mr Featherstone took statements from witnesses, including two former CMC staff who had been stood down after Ms Dawson-Wells blew the whistle on a controversial child sex abuse survey.

Mr Smith's lawyer then lobbied police to charge his accuser. Ms Dawson-Wells was charged in 2014. "I thought I'd be sexually assaulted in jail and there would be no escape," she said.

It took prosecutors three years to realise they had problems.

The arresting officer had finally handed over Mr Smith's statement to his lawyer before his trial, which revealed two "provable" lies.

One was to police about his use of a sex toy.

Prosecutor Michael Cowen wrote in a 2017 memo to Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Byrne: "If he has lied about that, what else has he lied about?"

Mr Smith also admitted lying in a declaration to WorkCover about not being alone with Ms Dawson-Wells on the night of an alleged assault.

"I believed I needed to deny everything to protect myself [and] saw Narelle's WorkCover claim as a trumped up way of trying to get money out of me," he said in a statement to his lawyer.

Mr Byrne said this meant "on any view, the totality of the evidence evidences a willingness on [Mr Smith's] part to tailor evidence as it suits him".

Mr Featherstone was also charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice in another case, which "could further taint witnesses who first gave an account to him, before giving a statement to police", Mr Cowen said.

The charge was dropped this year but Mr Featherstone still faces charges over an unrelated investment scam.

The prosecutor concluded: "[Mr Smith] is so undermined as a witness there is no prospect of conviction."

He said Mr Smith told him it was "very hard to accept the fact that [one] small error of judgment on my behalf could make it so easy for her to avoid conviction".

Ms Dawson-Wells obtained the memos through a 2019 Australian Defence Force (ADF) inquiry into the conduct of prosecutor Mr Cowan, by then the ADF's chief judge advocate.

"I just thought to myself, if he had just taken the time to read the evidence that he had before him [or] had access to, I would never, ever have had to go through what I went through," she said.

The ADF report remains confidential.

'Very unusual for it to go as far as it did'
An internal police investigation of a female detective's handling of the perjury matter found she had potentially broken the law by failing to disclose a required document that revealed his lies.

But senior police decided a prosecution was not in the public interest as there was no evidence the detective had acted corruptly. "Her punishment was a chat with a senior colleague," Ms Dawson-Wells said.

A police spokesman said "the outcome of that investigation [was] overviewed by the Crime and Corruption Commission".

Bond University law professor Jonathan Crowe said he thought it was unusual for prosecutors to go after a man's accuser based on his evidence and "very unusual for it to go as far as it did".

"It's not clear that it's a case that would have a great prospect of success … and it does make you wonder about the circumstances that led to that occurring."

Professor Crowe said the saga highlighted other legal loopholes he hoped would be addressed by a state government taskforce on women's experience of the criminal justice system, including "cross-examination practices that we see from defence barristers [that] I think, cross the line beyond what's necessary to get at the truth".

"For anybody, regardless of your circumstances or background, being aggressively cross-examined over multiple days about small details of your evidence [in an alleged sexual assault] is a very onerous and upsetting process."

Professor Crowe said community awareness of other tactics, such as the use of private investigators, was "one of the contributing factors to the low rates of reporting of sexual assault, as well as low conviction rates".

Mr Smith did not respond to interview requests or questions.

His lawyer declined to comment.




Thursday, June 17, 2021


There is no end to the perverse relationships that one reads about. There are innumerable relationships between men and women that depart radically from the "happily ever after"

I thought I might mention two such relationships that struck me as particularly perverse.

The first concerns the lovely lady below who was recently abandoned by her husband. She is Emily Jane O'Keeffe, a radio star on the Gold Coast.

image from

It completely bemuses me that any man could split from such a woman -- good-looking, bright, intelligent and completely in love with her man. She did everything to get him back but he was adamant.

There were even two gorgeous children involved. You can read all about it here

The second case has not made it into the media but occurred among people I know. It is just about the opposite of the case above. A wife had been very dissatisfied with her husband even though he was in most ways a perfectly nice man and very supportive to her.

She became more and more destructive in her behaviour as a means of expressing her dissatifaction. Then one day while he was out she burnt their house down!

So did he take the hint? Not at all. He was all concern for her and promptly arranged alternative accomodation for them. His rationale? He still loved her!

It's all beyond me.

And now for something completely different:

Police have charged a 53-year-old Kangaroo Point woman with murder after she allegedly stabbed her ex-husband to death in a Brisbane street last night.

Police will allege the woman stabbed him multiple times when he returned to his home in Ward St, Newmarket, about 7pm.

It is understood the stabbing occurred in front of the 51-year-old victim’s child, who is reported as being 10 years old.

Police will allege the woman stabbed the man in the back and neck, before he stumbled down Ward St and collapsed.

Neighbours rushed to his aide but he died at the scene. The couple split in 2013

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

There’s a lot at stake as the maths wars erupt

A new maths curriculum, released by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority in April has revived the “maths wars”. They are being waged alongside the “history wars” and the “reading wars”, also reinvigorated by the authority’s April curriculum releases.

One side argues that the way we used to teach, emphasising memory and mastery, was more effective, while the other contends that new ways of teaching will leave students better equipped to deal with the modern world. These arguments go back at least a century – actually much longer – and have become intertwined with ideology. In the middle of the last century, many of the old ways of teaching were swept aside because they were suspected of being authoritarian, perhaps even causing authoritarian tendencies. As US academic Miles Simpson argued in his 1972 paper, “education will reduce authoritarianism only when the educational system emphasises cognitive rather than rote learning or is manned by non-authoritarian teachers”. Children forced to chant their times tables and Latin declensions were out; investigative learning was in. The anti-authoritarians characterised memorisation as rote-learning, devoid of understanding.

Each of the curriculum wars has its own particular slant. In maths the debate is over whether to instil knowledge through repetition or encourage a problem-solving approach. Greg Ashman, head of Mathematics and head of research at Ballarat Clarendon College in Victoria, arcs up at the term “rote learning”. Ashman is one of a group of maths professors and teachers who penned an open letter to curriculum authority chief executive David de Carvalho expressing profound concerns with the emphasis in the current draft curriculum on open-ended enquiry, “without the systematic building of coherent knowledge”. The letter laments that learning “the basics” is delayed and devalued. “The content of the mathematics curriculum, even for the lower years, is the result of millennia of human endeavour across cultures around the world,” the letter writers argue, “It is neither fair nor realistic to expect students to retrace this journey with a few pointers and inquiries in a few hours per week.”

The letter points out that Singapore, a country praised by the Australian authority for its emphasis on problem solving, has an early focus on basics. In my personal experience, Australia is unusual in not expecting children to memorise the foundations. Many years ago I was moved from Year 2 in an Australian school to Year 2 in a German school, where the children all had their times tables up to 12 off by heart already. I taught my son counting by leaps and made a game of times tables as soon as he could count, but a society which relies on parents to teach the basics can’t rely on equitable outcomes.

The maths wars are still in their infancy, while the reading wars are almost concluded. “Parents notice reading failure and start to engage professionals,” says Ashman, “In contrast, we don’t place such a premium on maths. It’s socially acceptable to say ‘I was never very good at maths’ in a way that few would casually remark ‘I was never very good at reading’.”

But evidence didn’t prevail in the reading wars overnight. The dispute here revolves around whether small children should learn to break words down into chunks in order to be able to sound out unfamiliar words – the phonic approach – or whether they should learn sight-recognition of whole words. According to Dr Jennifer Buckingham, now researcher and director of strategy at Multilit, the evidence has long been in. She has been working on the problem since 2000 – intensively since 2013. After all those years, phonics checks are finally becoming part of the curriculum and there is a widespread acceptance that the evidence overwhelmingly points to the use of phonics. Meanwhile, untold numbers of children will have fallen through the cracks. I know of two girls who struggled to learn to read until they were finally put into the Multilit program in years 3 and 4 respectively. Imagine the education they have missed out on in the interim. They may never make up for that lost time.

The “history wars” have been framed as a debate over recognising the Indigenous experience of colonisation, but historian Greg Melleuish is more concerned that focusing on a right and a wrong version of history will leave students unequipped to encounter the world. “What you learn if you study history is that people are flawed – they set out to do one thing and end up with another result. History should tell you something about the complexity of human nature.” Melluish is concerned that the way history is now taught is encouraging authoritarianism. “Studies indicate that the more educated a person is, the more dogmatic they are. You need to teach history properly to counter dogmatism.”

It was an unfortunate coincidence that, just as the curriculum authority was poised to release the latest draft curricula, my son’s school sent out a newsletter quoting Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: “Learning is never done without errors and defeat.”

Lenin’s errors and defeats cost many innocent lives. The Russian revolutionary’s “errors” included mass famine. He presided over the Red Terror, purging political opponents and social undesirables. Between several hundred thousand and several million deaths are attributed to him.

Without the basics, the danger is that our ignorance can lead us back to authoritarianism.


Australian resources minister attacks ‘green activists’ for trying to ‘cripple’ fossil fuel companies

Keith Pitt urges oil and gas producers to fight back against groups such as Greenpeace by quantifying the sector’s contribution to the economy

Australia’s resources minister, Keith Pitt, is urging oil and gas producers to turn the “spotlight” on environmental groups campaigning against an expansion of the fossil fuel industry on climate change grounds.

Pitt will use a speech to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference in Perth on Wednesday to rail against “activism” that “ignores the fact that resources development in Australia is carried out safely and responsibly and that Australia’s economy was built off the back of the resources sector”.

According to speech notes circulated by his office in advance, the resources minister will declare it is “clear that the courts and bureaucratic processes are being used by green activists to delay major projects and potentially cripple companies”.

He will single out Greenpeace for special mention. Citing figures from the charities commission, Pitt will say Greenpeace “raised more than $18.5m in donations and bequests and $1.1m in government grants in 2019-20 in Australia alone”.

“Nearly 25% of expenses related to fundraising and 39% were in staff costs – so rather than protecting the environment they are mostly focussed on protecting themselves,” Pitt will say.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter hit back. “The very reason that millions of Australians support the work of Greenpeace is to take the action on climate change that minister Pitt’s government has not only resoundingly failed to do, but actively blocked for the past seven years.

“Greenpeace is a movement of people. If these climate-wrecking oil and gas giants at this conference want to rise to minister Pitt’s challenge and attack the people of Australia for caring about nature and the future of our kids, we are ready. Because for as long as big climate polluters threaten the future, we will stand in their way.”

The resources minister will argue demand for LNG is growing in the face of global pushback from environmental and shareholder groups and Australia intends to remain at the “forefront of the LNG sector” for decades.

He will tell the conference the government plans to develop the North Bowen and Galilee basins in central Queensland for gas extraction. “We know that the Bowen Basin is a major coal-producing area but it also has immense potential for gas”.

Pitt will urge oil and gas producers to fight back against “green activists” by putting “facts” before the Australian public, including quantifying the sector’s economic contribution to the country “and indeed facts about the activist’s campaigns – the spotlight should be on those organisations for a change”.

The resources minister will also flag concern about banks and insurers stepping back from financing fossil fuel projects. Pitt triggered a parliamentary inquiry, chaired by fellow Queensland National George Christensen, after a public commitment from ANZ to step back from business customers with material thermal coal exposures – market signalling that sparked consternation within the Nationals.

After the ANZ’s statement last October, the agriculture minister, David Littleproud, called for a boycott of the bank, and the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, declared the bank’s plan “virtue signalling”. Christensen has previously denied the link between climate change and the severity of natural disasters.

In the wake of the ANZ fracas, Pitt originally instructed the joint standing committee on trade and investment growth to grill financial regulators, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, as well as the banks, about their plans to pull back on lending or insuring mining projects because of climate change.

But the inquiry stalled after the joint standing committee – in a rare rebuke – deferred making a decision about whether to proceed with Pitt’s original ministerial referral. The stalling reflected a view among some Liberals that the inquiry should not be a witch-hunt against banks managing carbon risk.

Pitt subsequently broadened the terms of reference, asking the committee to investigate finance for all export industries. He said the adjustment was a strengthening of the original terms of reference.

The banks and their lobbying arm, the Australian Banking Association, have used new submissions to Pitt’s parliamentary inquiry to implicitly rebut claims from senior Nationals that their actions amount to moral posturing or virtue signalling.

The major banks and the ABA have pointed out that current carbon risk practices – namely, disclosing information relating to climate exposures and calculating the potential risk of climate change on their balance sheets – are requirements driven by international governance setting bodies, of which Australian regulators and Australian companies are members.

Pitt will tell the APPEA conference on Wednesday the inquiry led by Christensen will “inquire into and report on the approach and motivations of our financial institutions regarding their investment in Australia’s export industries”.

APPEA has used its submission to the inquiry to argue that environmental groups have “over recent years focused their activism on shareholders and finance sources, like superannuation funds, banks, and other lending facilities” – and have been able to exploit an “information asymmetry”.

The submission says since 2017, shareholder activist groups collectively have submitted 92 resolutions “pertaining to climate change, governance (to facilitate greater shareholder climate change activism) or political lobbying (as it pertains to climate change)” – with nearly 40 resolutions relating to APPEA member activities.

APPEA contends this activity “conveniently ignore[s] the body of evidence that demonstrates the role that natural gas is playing in delivering lower carbon energy security to growing population centres, particularly in our own region” and commitments by the gas industry to the United Nations sustainable development agenda.

APPEA is the peak national body representing upstream oil and gas explorers and producers active in Australia. Member companies account for more than 90% of Australia’s petroleum production.


Australian grain exports doing well -- without China

SEEDING is close to completion across Australia with above average rainfall in Western Australia setting up the season.

Assuming this season is above average, and we have a large exportable grain surplus, it is worth having a look at where Australian grain exports have gone this season.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics export data from October 2020 to the end of March 2021 have Australian canola exports at 2,059,399 metric tonnes with an additional one million tonnes expected to be exported to the end of the marketing year (September 2021).

Of the estimated 3mt destined for export, Europe is expected to take the lions share of 2.4mt.

Most canola exports have made their way into Europe (as seen on the map) due to low production in the European Union (EU) last year.

Australia has been able to capitalise on this supply gap in the EU while also diversifying its export destinations having picked up business into the likes of Ukraine, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.

The European Union Monitoring Agricultural Resources (MARS) recently revised EU canola (rapeseed) yield estimates higher despite recent cold spells.

Even with increased production this season, European harvest is unlikely to impact remaining Australia canola exports as very little canola is left unsold.

At a global level, oilseed supply is very low while demand is increasing as feed demand rises and biofuel production ramps back up.

These supply and demand fundamentals have elevated Australian forward canola prices to record highs during May.

In the past couple of weeks old and new crop prices have come off their highs due to volatility in offshore oilseed futures, however the supportive drivers are still there underpinning the market.

These decile 10 prices and favourable seasonal conditions have seen a record canola crop planted this year with Western Australia alone estimated to have planted 1.5 million hectares.

If Western Australia can average 1.5 t/ha for canola, then it will reach record production.

While there is still plenty of time left in the season, here's hoping the 2021-22 season is one for the record books.

Australian wheat and barley export tonnage is expected to be above average in the 2020-21 season with strong international feed demand driving exports.

Australian wheat exports are currently anticipated to reach 21.5mt for the 2020-21 marketing year according to Australian Crop Forecasters' recent supply and demand report.

Barley exports are already exceeding estimates with 7mt set to be exported by the end of September.

Approximately half of this is destined for Saudi Arabia, whose insatiable demand has provided an important export destination for Australia, somewhat replacing the tonnage that used to go to China, albeit feed barley not malt.

South East Asia has also been an important market with Australian barley exports up 92 per cent year-on-year into this region.

This increased demand for barley is primarily due to the high cost of other feed grains (corn), which has made barley an attractive substitute.

The same goes for Australian wheat with increased demand from the South East Asian region seeing over half of Australia's wheat exports end up there.

The 2021-22 season is looking favourable for Australian grains with good weather, strong pricing and robust international demand providing optimism.




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.”