Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Fix the schools first

Labor knows that better educational outcomes do all manner of good, for the national economy and social cohesion. It also fits neatly within the party’s ethos, which is why if the Albanese government does become a long-term one, education reform could be one of its central achievements – if it sees this reform process through.

But we do need to ask hard questions. How well qualified are prospective university students for the studies they are about to embark on? Sadly, the answer too often is that many simply are not. Not in terms of basic literacy and numeracy, just for starters.

This points to the need to prioritise improving standards within the primary and secondary schooling sectors, but that doesn’t have to come before embarking on higher-education reforms.

The Australian Universities Accord interim report points out that the expected uplift in univer­sity students needed to fill the jobs of the future will largely happen in the 2030s and 40s, not this decade.

That leaves a small window to fix primary and secondary education in time to get prospective university students to where they need to be. It also allows time for university reforms to be carefully crafted and implemented.

The most alarming revelation attached to this week’s release of the interim report was Clare’s observation at the press club that during the past six years there had been a decline in the percentage of high school students completing year 12. How that escaped greater attention during the life cycle of the last Coalition government is perplexing.

The public school system, outside of selective schools, is underfunded and underperforms compared with the private sector. This affects the disadvantaged students the minister wants to increasingly usher into the university system. He’ll be setting them up to fail or lowering tertiary standards if they get that opportunity without the groundwork of first lifting standards at school. So we need to watch closely what happens there.

Once at university, what’s the purpose of obtaining a higher education? Like it or not, learning for the sake of intellectual advancement ceased to be a national priority long ago. The state simply sees universities as an extension of the school education system and a prerequisite to getting a job. Or, put differently, as degree factories with the purpose of giving the workforce the skilled applicants it needs and wants.

I don’t want to be too negative in making this point. It’s a global reality that is a consequence of the sector having been opened up; had it not happened most of us never would have received the benefit of access to higher education in the first place. And there are still areas of study offering classical learning.

Indeed as we survey recent ethical breaches across the business sector it’s not a stretch to see vocational benefits of learning philosophical principles at university, perhaps even the need to embed such units into courses not automatically linked with such study.

The interim report is light on when it comes to the important role of universities as institutions of higher research. We are told there is more to come on this front. It is the research that goes on in these so-called ivory towers that accounts for not only all manner of innovative advancement to benefit the modern world but also dictates the global university rankings of our institutions.


Beijing scores an own goal in brutal trade assault

Beijing’s brutish lunge at economic coercion may have harmed some of our primary producers, but it had an infinitesimal impact on exports and the broader ­economy.

If anything, it’s been an inglorious own goal for our largest trading partner – denying Chinese consumers our wine, lobsters and beef, and factories raw materials, while galvanising Australia and other free nations not to be intimidated by Sino trade aggression.

Coercive actions impose a cost, one some nations are prepared to bear if they get tangible benefits. We’re still standing and have cracked new export markets, while China has lost incalculable global prestige for this and other clumsy moves in the “wolf warrior” era.

In the first year of the pandemic, Beijing slapped punitive tariffs on Australian barley and wine; banned beef from some local abattoirs; put wheat and lobsters through more inspection hoops; ordered mills to stop buying our cotton; banned timber from certain regions; and banned some coal imports on environmental grounds.

Now in an economy-wide simulation, the Productivity Commission estimates China’s punitive actions reduced our gross domestic product by 0.009 per cent, less than one-hundredth of 1 per cent or about $225m in today’s dollars.

Sounds hefty, but Australia’s GDP is about $2.5 trillion. So the loss of output from China’s trade assault was like shutting down our economy for 48 minutes, or one-half of a Matildas’ game (with injury time).

There’s a 0.4 per cent loss in ­national purchasing power – known as “terms of trade” – but since early 2020 the world has given us a 25 per cent pay rise on this score.

In global trade, when a shock occurs and one door closes, others open, relative prices change, and consumers, government and the owners of capital adjust to the brave new world.

In its model, the commission explains in its recently released Trade and Assistance Review, China’s prohibitive tariffs reduce the prices Australian producers receive and leads Australian exporters to reallocate production to domestic and foreign markets.

Of course, the value of Australian exports of the five affected goods modelled – cotton, seafood, coal, wine and wood – declines.

This leads to a reduction in outputs and a reallocation of resources away from the production of these goods.

In the simulation, the prohibitive tariff reduces the value of Australia’s total exports to China by 6.7 per cent.

As China’s demand for Australian exports declines, prices decline. This makes the targeted exports more attractive to other trading partners, who increase demand for Australian exports by 2.2 per cent.

This trade diversion results in a tiny decline in the value of Australia’s total exports. Globally, there is no appreciable net effect on trade, but China’s imports from other sources increases.

The reduction of China’s demand for the affected Australian products reduces the demand for inputs to these products, which in turn reduces their price, and therefore the cost of production in Australia.

“This makes Australian products cheaper in world markets: lower production of exports to China is offset by higher production of exports to other destinations,” the review said.

“Increased production attracts foreign capital. The inflow of foreign capital offsets the decline in GDP that would have occurred, had there been no reallocation to other destinations.”

This small inflow of foreign capital means Australia’s real GDP remains stable although some of that income goes to foreigners, so our gross national product falls by one-hundredth of 1 per cent.

The commission’s review found Australian exports proved to be mostly resilient against China’s onslaught: barley and coal exporters were successful in finding other markets, for example. The value of beef and wheat exports to China did not see significant falls – likely due to the partial nature of the measures.

Some businesses paid a heavy price. There were big falls for lobsters and wine for Australian producers whose exports were centred on the Chinese market.

“That said, after initially increasing exports to their original markets, wine exporters developed new markets,” the review said. “In the case of products with limited perishability, like wine, the costs to exporters might be from deferred sales rather than not being able to sell the good at all. And some exporters may have even enjoyed an increase in the value of stock that ages well.”

Now you can take issue with the free-trade boosterism of the commission’s approach but it accords with developments in the real world.

The pain is concentrated in the targeted sectors. An important caveat is the analysis “does not take into account the costs to those directly targeted businesses of seeking new markets”.

Within Australia, the most noticeable effects are that resources are reallocated from affected producers in the primary sector to the rest of the economy. In the model, manufacturing is a beneficiary, with increased output.

That said, the simulation shows (surprise, surprise) a flexible international trading system is important in facilitating adjustments needed to minimise the effects of the trade sanctions.

“Despite short-term costs, there are often long-term gains from diversification, which supports supply chain resilience and risk management,” the commission said. “Overall, reducing Australia’s exports of the affected products results in a reorganisation of economic activity globally and within Australia.

“Although there are some costs, they’re relatively small once all economies have adjusted.”

As they say in diplomacy, looks like China may have to use honey rather than vinegar to get a win.


No campaign stands by Gary Johns amid controversy

Some overdue straight talking from Gary

The No campaign against an Indigenous voice to parliament is standing by Gary Johns despite growing calls for him to resign or be sacked over a series of comments and proposals that include blood tests for Aboriginal welfare recipients and a public holiday celebrating intermarriage between black and white Australians.

Liberals for Yes co-convener Kate Carnell and NSW opposition health spokesman Matt Kean, also a Liberal, said Mr Johns should quit or be forced out of his role as president of leading No organisation Recognise a Better Way because of his “repugnant” views.

It comes as a video emerges of Mr Johns, a former Labor minister in the Keating government, speaking at the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation’s Christmas party last year, in which he said: “As I have said at some places in Sydney, looking out over Sydney Harbour, words to the effect of – if this was an invasion, it was a bloody good one.

“Because we have built a wonderful liberal society which would never have been built but for a civilisation arriving here, overtaking people who were our forebears. We all were hunter gatherers but we moved on.”

In his 2022 book, The Burden of Culture: How to Dismantle the Aboriginal Industry and Give Hope to its Victims, Mr Johns sets out “16 ways to save lives and overcome Aboriginal colonisation”.

They include abolishing all annual Indigenous celebrations, including NAIDOC week, in favour of a single day commemorating the 1967 election; starting an annual event celebrating intermarriage as it is “the most common form of relations between black and white Australia”; and making all benefits and programs that are specific to Indigenous people conditional on a blood test for Indigenous heritage.

READ MORE: Settlement by whites ‘a gift to Aborigines’ | The Indigenous voice to parliament is a bad idea on so many levels
Mr Johns defended the comments on Sky News on Monday night and said he had nothing to apologise for, adding he’d prefer not to have a race-based system but if one was in place then blood tests were needed.

Leading No campaigner Warren Mundine said Mr Johns was an important part of the No campaign and he was comfortable with him remaining on the No side, despite disagreeing with some of his views.

“Gary Johns is like any other Australian. He’s entitled to his viewpoints and I’m a great believer in free speech. Now me and him, we will have discussions about that and we disagree on different angles of it but there’s no way I’m going to be calling for him to step down,” Mr Mundine told Sky News.

“Just because people complain about him and that, at least he’s honest about his approach to these things and I’m very pleased to have him on our committee and to have him as an adviser to us.”

Ms Carnell said the voice referendum was not about these sorts of things.

“We do think that the leaders of the No campaign should really publicly say to Mr Johns that this is simply unacceptable and possibly he should resign as a board member of the No campaign,” she told Sky News.

In an earlier statement, Ms Carnell said: “The statements made by Mr Gary Johns last night calling for all recipients of Indigenous benefits to be blood tested, and for the introduction of a national public holiday celebrating intermarriage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, are deeply disturbing comments that should have no place in Australian political debate.

“there should be no room in this important debate for statements that evoke deeply discredited and racially discriminatory policies and practices that have been left in the dustbin of history.”

Mr Kean and NSW opposition multiculturalism spokesman Matt Coure said Mr Johns’ remarks, including a 2007 comment that Aboriginal people would “find acceptable a period in jail as a respite from a distraught life”, had no place in the national conversation.

“His views are repugnant to everything this country stands for - fairness, decency, and respect for our fellow Australians. If Mr Johns refuses to resign from the board of the official No campaign today, the No campaign should do the decent and honourable thing and fire him,” they said.

Victorian Labor senator Jana Stewart, a Mutthi Mutthi and Wamba Wamba woman, has also called on the No campaign to explain whether it thinks Mr Johns’ views “are acceptable and, if not, why does he remain on their campaign committee.”

The Australian revealed last week that Mr Johns said in June that most Aboriginal people were “grateful for that gift” of modernisation and defended the work of churches and their involvement with the Stolen Generations, in comments made while campaigning against the voice.


Manjimup truffle season 'outstanding' with global demand 'off the charts'

Another truffle season in southern Western Australia has peaked, with producers saying demand for the lucrative fungus from international buyers is continuing to grow.

In the small timber town of Manjimup, 300 kilometres south of Perth, Al Blakers has been shipping his truffles to restaurants, chefs and suppliers as far as France, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Canada, the US and South Africa.

The retail prices for the fungi can range from $2,500 to $3,000, and are sought after by high-end restaurants worldwide.

As well as harvesting his black truffles, Mr Blakers Manjimup Truffles distributes product for other truffieres across the region.

"We've had a very good season so far ... quality has just been outstanding," he said.

"Everybody's having pretty bumper crops, and while we're exceeding what I was expecting, the good thing is we've found other markets to move it into and we haven't had a problem shipping it all.

"Demand is just off the charts overseas. It has been since the start of the season."

Down the road at Stonebarn Truffiere, owner Dion Range has also been experiencing a successful harvest.

"It's looking very good so far … I have no doubt that we'll be comfortably up on last year's figures," he said.

"People are loving the aroma, and the quality is probably better than we've ever seen, despite a large amount of rain we've had this season so far."

"The demand is probably stronger than it's been," he said.

"We've taken on a few more customers that we wholesale truffles to overseas and I can only see the demand increasing.

"More people are learning about truffles and more people are buying truffles, which supports the price, so there's no price pressure."

Mr Range calls Manjimup a "hidden bit of heaven" and said the conditions in the region are perfect for black truffle production.

"The microclimates, the soil types, the temperature ranges, and the rainfall time and quantity here really suit the black Perigord truffle very well," he said.

"Nobody knew when the first truffle trees were planted in the area whether it would work, but it's turned out to be very successful here.

"The averages in terms of mature truffle production in the Manjimup Shire are substantially higher per number of trees than the French and the Spanish Truffle.

"We are onto something and we're very lucky."

Mr Blakers believes demand for truffles from his part of the world stems from the quality and also recent tough seasons for the French-grown product.

"I think our big boost this year is that they had such a bad season in France last year with the drought and because they don't irrigate like we do," he said. "I'd say they're in big trouble again with the temperatures they are copping now."

The unpredictable nature of harvesting a product like truffle does make things difficult for producers to plan ahead.

"Are we going to finish early? Are we're going to see another rush period? You just don't know because you've never seen it before," Mr Blakers said.

"But the quantity this season has been quite unbelievable.


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM -- daily)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)

http://jonjayray.com/blogall.html More blogs


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