Friday, November 10, 2023

The silent Australians

Last Friday night, the ‘specials’ on the menu at Burwood’s RSL sold out fast.

Not just because they were great value for money in these penny-pinching times, but because many of the quietly-spoken early diners who rose respectfully when the Last Post sounded were there to join with others and to affirm a choice that they’d made earlier this month.

That choice was to say ‘No’ to the Voice – the ‘modest proposal’, as spruiked by the Prime Minister, that was neither modest nor a proposal. If passed it would have been a far-reaching mandate for unimagined change that was never specified in the run-up to October 14.

The event was not a celebration for many. It was more a feeling that a dangerous political manoeuvre had been circumvented; a few people said, not gloatingly but with a kind of thankfulness, ‘They won’t try it again for a while.’

These were not folk from the affluent Teal-voting suburbs of Sydney who said ‘Yes’ to the Voice. There, ‘Yes’ votes meant little more than gestures of virtue-signalling.

In John Howard’s battler suburbs, where small businesses scrape along to survive, the ‘Yes’ vote was a leap into the unknown. The people that had come along to this thank you for campaigning event – including those who worked at the pre-poll booths, letter-boxing, scrutineering – were from all over. One woman had come from the Central Coast and would catch the late train back to Gosford, then drive another hour home.

Others had come from the mountains, many by public transport or elderly gas-guzzlers; no BMWs in the car parks… They wanted to hear from Warren Nyunggai Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price (her message from London unfortunately was scrambled in transmission and had to be read, without vision, by Mundine).

Over mini quiches and spring rolls, they met again. Men and women who first met as like-minded strangers who were now, in a way, companions-in-arms – a multiracial, multi-lingual multi-complexioned crowd.

In the space of ten minutes, I spoke to Australians of Greek, Hungarian, Indian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese heritage. They did not appear to be, as Indigenous Minister Linda Burney famously hinted at in that hot mic incident, ‘unbelievably racist’.

Certificates were handed out, including one to Pradeep Pathi, former endorsed Liberal candidate for Greenway, and stalwart of the Telegu Christian Fellowship. Local MPs made speeches, all mercifully short. People shook hands, exchanged addresses, and offered lifts.

Australians come together when they feel the need – over sports, bushfires, floods and this, the referendum that would have divided the nation by race.

A former Canadian, now an Australian academic, speaking on the ABC – where else? – labelled those who voted ‘No’ as ‘racially compromised’ and ‘secret assimilationists’ with an ‘assimilationist agenda’. I’d disagree with him on all those counts.


NBA great Andrew Bogut slams Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for 'telling boys they are toxic simply because of how they are born'

Andrew Bogut has hit out at Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for 'telling boys they are toxic' in a social media rant.

Bogut, 38, a former NBA championship winner with the Golden State Warriors, is a vocal critic of the government and regularly posts about 'woke' culture.

On Thursday, the Australian took to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, to hit out at Albanese's pledge to 'help young men learn to have healthy, respectful relationships' with women.

He wrote: 'Dear @AlboMP 'I'll raise my two boys to be good people, without telling them they could be toxic because of their gender.

'I'll raise them without your Gov funded lackies telling them they are toxic simply because of how they are born. 'I will however raise them to know just how toxic Governments are.'

It is not the first time the basketball legend has discussed controversial subjects. Earlier this year, he was labelled 'transphobic' after claiming a 'biological male' will be playing in women's basketball this season.

'Word is NBL1 South Women will have a biological Male playing this upcoming season. Are you ok with sacrificing the sanctity of Female Sport in the name of 'inclusion'?,' he wrote.

'#GirlDads where are you? The hashtag is trendy until action is needed.'

It quickly ignited a storm of controversy, with some labelling him 'transphobic' and misogynistic, while others shared his outrage.

AFLW and NBL1 star, author Saraid Taylor, was scathing of Bogut, sarcastically thanking him for his 'concern', and labelling him 'transphobic' for his views.

'Hey, thank you so much for your concern about the sanctity of women's sport. It seems genuine,' she said, in a brutal takedown on his social media post.

'If you wouldn't mind using your energy to highlight legitimate issues women athletes face, instead of perpetuating transphobia, that would be so appreciated!

The furious star athlete then slammed Bogut for revealing what club he believed the 'biological male' played for - which was followed by a stream of outrage directed towards the club.

'This is so wildly irresponsible. It makes me sad reading the majority of comments you receive on your tweets,' said Taylor.

'Does it make you sad? Or do you enjoy the power you have to cultivate hatred in the world?'


War in Gaza tests free speech limits at Sydney University

The Gaza conflict is testing the limits of freedom of speech on campus after Sydney University warned that it won’t tolerate support of Hamas’ attack and the vice chancellor moved to ban a pro-Palestinian student meeting, dividing opinion among academics.

Jewish groups have welcomed the approach and have urged other universities to follow its lead, saying it’s calmed tensions on campus.

Sydney University vice chancellor Mark Scott wrote to staff and students on October 26, in what was a marked shift from previous communications on the war, saying the institution “will not tolerate any pro-terrorist statements or commentary, including support for Hamas’s recent terrorist attacks”.

Last week, Scott also moved to shut down a planned student meeting titled “Palestine: the case for a global intifada”, saying it could be reasonably interpreted as supporting terrorism based on its promotional posters.

The action has prompted anger from some academics and students who say the university has shown an anti-Palestinian bias.

But Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Peter Wertheim praised the university’s response and wrote to Scott to thank him. “The reports we’re getting from staff and students is that it has actually had a calming effect on the whole situation on campus,” he said. “The number of academics who think they should be free to endorse a listed terrorist organisation is fractionally small compared to the overall number of academics in Australia.”

But in an open letter to Scott responding to an all-staff email, politics professor John Keane said many believed the vice chancellor had an “eerie” pro-Israeli bias.

“It is founded on silence about such ugly matters as non-stop aerial bombardment, the illegal use of white phosphorus bombs on civilians, settler violence, bulldozers wrecking the homes of fearful innocents, death by suffocation,” the letter read.

‘While we all support intellectual freedom … sane people draw the line at the advocacy of genocide.’

It prompted a flurry of “reply-all” emails from academics who were divided in their support or rejection of Keane’s sentiments.

Sociologist Salvatore Babones responded by saying Hamas was “a genocidal organisation intent on the destruction of the Israeli people”. “While we all support intellectual freedom … sane people draw the line at the advocacy of genocide,” he wrote.


Surge in foreign students puts nation’s best interests to the test

Existing arrangements of dubious benefit to Australia


Last week I wrote about the unexpected surge in the number of migrants coming to this country and its impact on the housing market.

The largest group by far among overseas arrivals is international students who undertake a variety of courses at different levels, with 50 per cent undertaking university courses and one-third attending vocational education.

It’s worth taking a look at the numbers to understand how large the recent inflows have been and note the impact of changing regulations attached to international student visas. The key figure is the number of temporary student visas on issue.

According the most recent figures there were 665,000 visas in September, the highest number ever recorded. The pre-Covid peak was 555,000 – in other words, 100,000 fewer. Note here that a decade ago there were 340,000 temporary student visas on issue.

While India and China are the source countries with the largest numbers of international students, rapid growth is apparent from Bhutan, Pakistan, Nepal, Colombia, The Philippines, Brazil, Thailand and Vietnam.

The university with the highest number of international students is Monash, although Sydney has the highest proportion of international students at close to 50 per cent. It is interesting to note that the universities with the highest number of international students are in Sydney and Melbourne and include the University of NSW, RMIT, Melbourne and Deakin.

The overall story is one of runaway and uncontrolled growth in international student numbers, pumping up population growth and putting pressures on the cities to which they flock. A very large number of these students intend to stay in Australia permanently or for at least a decade.

Recent changes to the student visa conditions have made Australia an even more attractive destination given the guaranteed graduate visas and liberal work rights attached to student visas. The additional resources given to the Department of Home Affairs have sped up significantly the process of granting visas.

The federal government recently decided that bachelor degree graduates could stay for four years, up from two; masters graduates could stay for five years, up from three; and PhD graduates could stay for six years, up from four. International students no longer are required to hide their ambition to stay in the country to obtain a visa

So what should we think about the rapid growth of international students? Is this an example of a successful new export industry generating jobs and higher incomes for Australia? Should the government facilitate this industry? Alternatively, should the government consider a range of restrictions to ensure the flow of students is more manageable and the quality of the students is as high as possible? Should we expect international students largely to return home?

Just on a point of definition, it is a bit of a stretch to call international student education an export indus­try generating foreign cur­rency, as is the wont of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Notwithstanding the visa conditions in relation to financial capacity, most international students have to work here to pay student fees and living expenses. There is no sense in which this is an export activity.

University administrators are fond of claiming international students generate all sorts of benefits for local students as well as the universities themselves. In point of fact there are many anecdotes to the effect that the educational experience of local students has suffered significantly.

Think here overcrowded tutorials with students who don’t speak English well and assignments for groups formed by lecturers to include international students.

There is also some evidence that the English language skills of international students don’t always improve during their time in Australia as they mix only with those from their own countries.

Needless to say, the additional revenue from international students has been welcomed by the universities. Their leaders make the point that the (perceived) failure of the federal government to fund their activities properly has left them with no choice but to accept more international students.

We have seen some of the results in the form of an extremely well-paid and growing cohort of university administrators and lavish new buildings and facilities.

Money also has been spent on research to lift the international rankings of Australian universities, in part to guarantee the flow of new international students. Weirdly, the percentage of international students is part of some of the ranking calculations.

We know a lot less about international vocational education – there are substantial numbers of private colleges, some of dubious quality. We do know that students from China enrol disproportionately in the top universities, with students from other countries over-represented in lower-ranked (and cheaper) universities and vocational colleges.

It is much easier for international students to obtain a visa for study at a university than vocational education. There is a much higher rate of rejection for vocational education applicants.

As a result, migration agents have been advising students to apply to study at a university and then switch to the much cheaper vocational education option. In fact, some of the vocational colleges are mere ghosts set up to facilitate this manoeuvre. The government has attempted to clamp down on this trick.

When it comes to what happens to international students when they graduate, the work of Bob Birrell and Katharine Betts has demonstrated that international graduates of Australian universities who stay are much less likely to hold professional or managerial positions relative to their local counterparts.

This is an important finding because it puts paid to the notion that international students are important in filling skill gaps: most of them actually work in semi-skilled jobs.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that for many international students, obtaining a student visa is a relatively straightforward means of achieving permanent residence in Australia and easily beats being an illegal entrant to other developed economies. It may involve some upfront expense, but the scope to earn money by virtue of the liberal (and essentially unpoliced) work rights is a huge attraction. To be sure, there is scope for international students to be exploited as workers here but that may have been the case for them back at home.

What we really need is a rigorous assessment of the benefits and costs of international education for the country to assess where we go from here. It’s time to apply the brakes and ensure the visa arrangements, as well as the conduct of our educational institutions, work for the national interest rather than for sectional ones.




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