Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Murdoch University will review its controversial decision implemented last year to stop offering majors in maths, physics and chemistry, according to new vice-chancellor Andrew Deeks

Sanity returns. Crazy Finnish lady gone to Ireland. Lucky Ireland

He distanced himself from the decision made in 2020 under former vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen, saying “it was perhaps a particular view of the management at the time”.

“It wasn’t a view of the broader academic community,” said Professor Deeks, who started as vice-chancellor in April.

The changes, which also curtailed Murdoch’s engineering degrees, abandoned the majors previously offered in maths, physics and chemistry in favour of offering less specialist STEM subjects more broadly.

The Australian Institute of Physics and the Royal Australian Chemical Institute – both accrediting bodies for university courses – said at the time that they “strongly objected” to the move.

Professor Deeks, who is by background a civil engineer, said the maths, physics and chemistry majors had been suspended rather than cancelled completely.

He said he had asked to see the business case for bringing them back, as well as other subjects such as Indonesian, radio, theatre and drama that were cut as part of Covid cost-saving measures.

“I’ve put the challenge to the heads of discipline right the way across the university to go back and have another look at this and see where it makes sense,” Professor Deeks said.

“I’ve said to bring back programs if they will work or to bring back replacements which are enhanced for the current age.”

He said Murdoch would not be focused solely on STEM but “more of the STEAM concept (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) of ensuring we have that engagement with the humanities and social sciences”.

In an interview with The Australian Professor Deeks said Murdoch University was now on a different course to when it sued a whistleblower staff member, Gerd Schroder-Turk, in 2019 after he questioned the university’s standards and revealed that international students who were not academically ready for their courses were being enrolled via a questionable education agent.

The university withdrew the action against Professor Schroder-Turk, a physics academic who is also a member of the university’s governing body, in 2020.

“I think that was a very unfortunate incident in the university’s history. There were obviously some failings which were revealed at that time,” Professor Deeks said.

“The university’s taken very strong action on the back of that and has put in place robust processes to ensure the quality of all the students that we’re admitting, and especially the international students and especially students that would be coming to us through agents.

“We’re no longer working with the particular agent concerned.”

He said he was meeting regularly with Professor Schroder-Turk, who continues as a member of the university’s Senate.

”It was an unfortunate decision by the then management at the university to pursue one of its academics legally. I can assure you that under my watch we will not be going in that direction.” Professor Deeks said.

As proof of the university’s new direction he pointed to the fact that the higher education regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, had renewed Murdoch’s registration for the full seven years in March after last year limiting it to four years registration while it demonstrated “the effective implementation of improvements”.


Australia to be hit hard by European attempts to hurt Russia

Business leaders have warned companies face “apocalyptic’’ damage from spiking gas prices as motorists confront months of pain at the bowser, with petrol to ­remain above $2 a litre, driven by Europe’s oil blockade on Russia.

The rise in energy costs, coupled with a predicted 10 per cent rise in food prices, threatens to deepen cost-of-living pressures and extend a surge in inflation, which reached a 20-year high of 5.1 per cent in the March quarter.

The rise in global oil prices to above $US120 a barrel came after the European Union said it would ban all imports of Russian oil by ship in retaliation for the Ukraine war, a move that would block about two-thirds of Russia’s oil ­exports.

The Australian Energy Market Operator on Tuesday scrambled to impose a cap on gas markets in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane after wholesale prices soared 80 times normal levels.

Anthony Albanese said briefings with Treasury and finance included issues of cost of living. “We will give proper consideration with proper advice to any policy moves that are made,’’ he said, “but we’ve been very conscious about the issue of cost of living.’’

The spike in wholesale gas prices followed a cold snap that drove demand higher, exacerbated by last week’s collapse of energy ­retailer Weston Energy. The rise in energy prices came as David Williams, an investment banker specialising in agribusiness, predicted food prices would soar 10 per cent this year.

Speaking ahead of The Australian’s Global Food Forum, Mr Williams said many producers would need to secure price rises to cover soaring input costs.

“One-off significant increases in grain costs will drive food inflation and increase the cost of stock feed and therefore beef and other proteins. The effect of this will be that the unbelievable success of ­increasing incomes in developing countries will now be undermined by pushing people back into poverty and starvation for others,” Mr Williams said.

“Compounding all this, I expect to see significant increases of up to 10 per cent in many food companies’ costs from Covid-related effects alone.”

Mr Williams said there would be a “perfect storm” with the failure of a large part of the Chinese crop because of floods at the same time as India halted wheat exports and some Canadian farmers cut back their plantings — all while Ukrainian exports stalled due to the Russian invasion.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox warned that persistently higher energy costs had the potential to devastate energy-­intensive industries.

“Apocalyptic rises in energy prices threaten chaos for industry and pain for households,” Mr Willox said. “They demand a national, integrated and strategic response. With Europe announcing further steps today to wean itself from Russian energy, we can ­expect international factors to sustain high energy price pressures for years to come – especially in natural gas.”

Mining companies are among the biggest fuel users in Australia, with Fortescue Metals Group alone consuming up to 450 million litres of diesel each year to run its fleet of giant trucks and diggers in the Pilbara. However the rise in energy costs will be a boon for Australian oil and gas producers, with analysts estimating that each $US10-a-barrel rise in the global price of oil would add up to $US500m in earnings to Woodside Petroleum and Santos.

Australian Logistics Council chief executive Brad Williams warned that the compounding pressures felt by logistics firms across rail, road and air would ­inevitably feed through to even higher consumer prices.

“Most businesses operate with low margins, which means they have limited capacity to absorb significant and ongoing price increases,” Mr Williams said.

“Labour shortages, exacerbated by international border ­closures and heightened with Covid and influenza absenteeism continue to put cost pressure on the supply chain. It is inevitable these costs will be felt across the supply chain, including at the consumer end.”

RBC Capital global energy strategist Michael Tran said the EU’s decision to ban member states from purchasing Russian crude and refined products by sea had moved European action from “virtue signalling” to “up-ending” the global oil trade.

“This policy is perhaps a foreign policy win for the West, but it will prove economically inflationary for all nations involved, given that the reshuffling of global flows is likely to be structural as long as the war remains a slow burn,” Mr Tran said.

The price of 91-octane unleaded fuel once again breached $2 a litre earlier this month, despite the 22.1-cent fuel excise cut delivered in the March budget.

CBA commodity analyst Vivek Dhar said he expected the Brent crude price to average $US110 a barrel by the end of September, and to ease only to about $US100 by the end of the year.

Mr Dhar said movements in the Australian dollar would influence how high oil prices would translate to the bowser, but added that “the risk is that we stay around $2 a litre”.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has said the Albanese government is “unlikely” to extend the excise cut beyond September, pointing to its $2.9bn six-month price tag in the context of huge, ongoing levels of debt and deficits.

While rising energy costs have lifted inflation, analysts predict the national accounts figures will show the economy expanded by 0.7 per cent in the March quarter, and by 3 per cent over the year. A big drag from net exports – as a result of disruptions to mining exports and a solid lift in spending on imported goods – is expected to be offset by a stronger than anticipated boost from government spending and business inventories, underpinned by robust domestic ­demand.

ANZ senior economist Felicity Emmett projected that the national accounts’ broader measure of worker pay – including bonuses, overtime and allowances – would paint a more positive picture of household income growth.

The widely quoted wage price index pointed to only 2.4 per cent growth over the year to March, but Ms Emmett said business profit figures, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday, suggested average hourly earnings for workers jumped by 2.6 per cent in the March quarter, and by 5.3 per cent over the year. “Today’s data suggest that 2022 got off to a solid start, and that a tight labour market is feeding through more quickly into wages than the wage price index suggests,” she said.


Labor deliberately designed climate policies to thwart Greenies

New Energy Minister Chris Bowen insists voters gave Labor a mandate to deliver its “ambitious” climate plan, warning independents and Greens that his crossbench-proof climate policy won’t require negotiating an end to coal and gas.

Greens leader Adam Bandt is demanding that Labor step up its climate targets, including a ban on new coal and gas projects. However, Bowen said he deliberately designed the party’s Powering Australia climate policies so they could be implemented without the support of the Senate, where the Greens hold the balance of power.

“In relation to the Senate, a lot of the stuff in Powering Australia doesn’t need legislation; there’s a lot of stuff we’ll just be getting on with,” he told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Labor has committed to legislating its target of hitting net zero emissions by 2050 – a goal with bipartisan support. However, it has not promised to do the same for its 2030 target, which is to cut greenhouse emissions by 43 per cent from 2005 levels, even though that is the party’s preference.

No new laws are required to implement the key elements of Labor’s Powering Australia climate policy over the next three years.

“We designed that very deliberately so that we would have scope to just get on with the policy and not get bogged down in the climate wars,” Bowen said.

He has designated two areas to do the heavy lifting in Labor’s first term in government under the Powering Australia plan.

One involves tightening the Safeguard Mechanism, which lay dormant under the Coalition government, to impose caps on Australia’s 215 biggest polluters.

The other is a $20 billion Rewiring the Nation fund that will pour money into the electricity grid and expand its capacity so that it can handle a near-tripling of renewables, which are expected to comprise 82 per cent of the grid by 2030.

Bowen said Labor’s win, which delivered the party a majority in the lower house, represented a mandate for the climate policy it took to the election. Bending to the Greens’ demands to veto coal and gas projects would be a betrayal of the electorate, he said.

“I find that argument just a little bit odd,” he said. “The [Greens’] argument goes something like this – to oversimplify it: ‘Congratulations on winning the election. The first thing we’d like you to do is trash the policies you took to the election.’ ”


My son was found not guilty

Bettina Arndt

Last week, a long ordeal finally ended for an ordinary Australian family. Their son, Lucas, was found not guilty of sexual contact with a child. The female judge who delivered this verdict said she believed Lucas’ version of events – not the vile accusations that led him to spend seven months in prison, nor the vicious rumours in the local paper describing him as a ‘pedo’ and leading to death threats on social media.

I’ve just made a video with Lucas’ mother, Debbie Garratt, a brave woman who has made the considered decision to go public with what happened to them, to warn other parents of dangers awaiting young men in this hypervigilant anti-male culture. Her story suggests we are reaching the point where it is just too risky for men to take jobs caring for children.

Debbie is actually a step-mum to Lucas, but he’d had been part of their large, blended family since he was a small child. He was in his early twenties when he decided on a career in childcare, a prospect which made his parents somewhat nervous, but they knew children had always flocked to this easy-going, considerate young man and he thrived in the job, with families often seeking out his babysitting services after hours.

One evening in August 2018 he was babysitting for a family he knew well, having cared for their children many times, including the five-year-old girl he’d looked after since she was a toddler in nappies. During the evening, he noticed the little girl seemed to be ‘fiddling’, apparently bothered by an irritated vulva. When he found her scratching herself half asleep in bed, he quickly swiped the area with a baby wipe, hoping the moist towelette would ease the irritation.

It didn’t occur to him that this could create a problem until the police came and interviewed him at work the next day. It transpired that early that day the little girl had mentioned to her mother that, ‘Lucas licked me.’ The mum went on high alert, told the girl to stop talking, screamed for her husband, and then subjected the child to a grilling, recorded on an iPhone.

In her verdict, the judge commented that the parents’ reaction contributed to setting in place the whole disastrous sequence of events that followed, which sadly included the girl being interrogated at the police station and taken for internal examinations. When initially questioned by the police, the child denied that Lucas had put his head near her vulva, or even that he had touched her, but these negative responses were omitted from the evidence used for the charges and not conveyed to the child’s parents.

I hope you will listen to this whole extraordinary story as there are important lessons to be learned.

It’s quite something to hear how the legal aid barrister sold out this young man, bullying him in a corridor outside the courtroom, telling him he had to plead guilty to avoid further distress to the child, convincing him that he was bound to be convicted and this was the only way to get a reduced sentence.

Any parent would identify with Debbie’s emotion as she describes the result – Lucas was convicted and simply whisked off to prison. They weren’t even able to find out where the authorities had taken him for ten days, by which time his guilty plea was all over the newspapers and social media alive with advice about hanging the ‘scumbag animal’.

We can all imagine the family’s relief when the judge affirmed Lucas’ version of events, stating a number of times that the child must have been mistaken. This was not a case of the accused being found not guilty due to insufficient evidence but rather, a female judge determining a male was to be believed. And that’s quite something.

What’s inspirational is Debbie’s advice to Lucas during the years he spent living at home with his parents, unable to get a job, and nervous about leaving the house. Debbie would make him come with her to the supermarket, telling him to ‘put your head up’ and demonstrate to everyone that he had no reason to hide away. ‘It’s important not to be caught in shame,’ she told him.

But the same applies to parents. Most parents like Debbie, even after their sons are found not guilty of this type of allegation, get caught in shame. The whole ordeal is so overwhelming that they choose to just hide away and try to get on with their lives – which is perfectly understandable.

How rare it is for someone whose child has slipped the noose to come out fighting, willing to subject herself and her family to still more public scrutiny in the hope that others will take heed.

A word of caution – I know some people reading this will be shocked at the naivety shown by Lucas. Many smugly assume their own children would have the good sense never to touch a child in that way, even though the judge agreed this had been done ‘for hygienic purposes and in good faith’. Men today know good faith isn’t enough to protect them.

Yet in this current climate, with false allegations rampant, all men working with children are at risk, however they behave. Talk to a few teachers and you hear the stories. Like the newly graduated teacher working in a school in Port Macquarie who ran into problems with a female student who refused to finish the assignment he’d set for the class. ‘If you try to make me, I’ll tell them that you touched me,’ the little miss told her teacher. He was lucky. He reported her to the school principal who suspended her. The teacher’s story was believed because she was a known troublemaker but it could easily have turned out badly for him instead.

It’s a tragic irony that just as the world is finally waking up to the damage to children who miss out on masculine influence in their lives, the moral panic over sexual abuse is driving away the very few men still working with them – men who play a particularly vital role for kids in single mum households. Naturally, this sad state of affairs receives no public scrutiny




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