Posts Tagged Julia Gillard

Why I don’t care about the Gillard-Abbott sexism war and neither should you

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...

As readers will probably have figured out, I like to follow Australian politics. As you may have guessed (and those who know me would know), I also like to talk about Australian politics. People I associate with know this, so they tend to engage me whenever an issue in Australian politics catches their attention — I even have some friendships based around these conversations.

So when there is a huge scandal in Australian politics that the whole world is talking about, I expect that it will come up somewhere. Sure enough, a lot of people have been asking me about Julia Gillard’s now world-famous speech calling Tony Abbott a misogynist. My answer has surprised a few people, so I now feel the need to write a post and justify it. Simply put:

I don’t really care.

It just doesn’t really interest me. I watched a recording of the speech and got bored after a couple of minutes. Since it was such a big thing, I went back and watched the rest later, but now I just want that 10 minutes back.

So why this uncharacteristic apathy? Well, I don’t really see this as anything new. The issue that was much more important/interesting was the resignation of Speaker Peter Slipper because of the revelation of lewd and offensive text messages that he sent his former staffer.

The Slipper issue I care about. In fact, I might care enough to write a whole post on the right to privacy and the dilemmas that this kind of situation brings up (ie should someone be forced to resign over what were really private comments, no matter how offensive they were?)

Gillard’s speech? Well, the reaction says it all really. Below are a few responses from friends on my Facebook and Twitter feeds (for obvious reasons, I am not mentioning any names and have slightly edited some of the comments for length):

Wow go Julz! She schooled Abbott #likeaboss

Julia Gillard strikes me as the sort of university feminist who screams “chauvinist pig!” when you hold the door for her and “woman-hater!” if you just let it swing back in her face.

Look, I just had to post it. Fucking brilliant. I could watch this over and over again. … There should be a whole channel devoted to this one video.

I look forward to the rude shock that the lefties who are currently engaged in self-congratulation and saying how amazing Gillard’s performance yesterday was will receive when they realise voters havn’t fallen for her BS…

Yes, Tony Abbott, you were just destroyed.

Gillard stands by Thomson after prostitute revelations. Now stands by Slipper after texts. Yet says Abbott is misogynist. #chutzpah

Amazing speech by our PM. Showing some serious leadership.

And so on.

What was really remarkable about these comments were that there was a very clear divide, but it was not on gender lines, nor was it even on the lines of people who are generally feminist versus people who aren’t. The responses that I have seen were split exactly down party lines. Labor supporters loved it, Liberal supporters mocked it.

And there is the reason why I find the whole thing boring.

Gillard’s speech was not a scathing attack on Abbott to expose his deeply held sexism, and neither was it a blatant display of hypocrisy in defence of a real misogynist.

What was it? An uninspiring partisan response to a successful partisan power-play. It was smart PR — a very clever way to divert the public conversation away from the Slipper debacle.

Abbott was trying to embarrass the government while also taking away the vote that they had from Slipper being speaker, Gillard was trying to defend her majority by recycling old allegations at Abbott.

I have annexed a breakdown of the arguments that Gillard used at the end of this post, but more important than what was there is what was missing: there was absolutely nothing about Abbott’s record in office or any policies that he has proposed which harm women, it was a purely personal attack on Abbott’s character. There is no real policy issue at all and it contributes little to the Australian debate, it’s just boring.

That is why its effect will never be anything other than to provoke cheers from Labor supporters and jeers from Liberal supporters. It was not aimed at ‘exposing Abbott’, so much as spurring-on people who already don’t like Abbott. The Liberals had a bit of a coup when Slipper’s text messages were made public and Labor countered with a clever diversion to mitigate the damage. Yawn.

Until I started this post, I had been filtering out the discussion around this issue. It has joined the categories of things that set-off my mental killswitch — like the carbon tax, Gillard “backstabbing” Rudd, and anything that uses the phrases: “clean energy future”, “working Australians”, “great big lie”, there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”, ”
fair go”, “getting on with the job” etc etc.

Now that I am done, I am free to go back to not caring. Trust me, that’s a relief.

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Gillard’s arguments:

Transcript of Julia Gillard’s speech.

He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros. The Leader of the Opposition says “If it’s true, Stavros, that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”

And then a discussion ensues, and another person says “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son.” To which the Leader of the Opposition says “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”

Then ensues another discussion about women’s role in modern society, and the other person participating in the discussion says “I think it’s very hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of women,” to which the Leader of the Opposition says, “But now, there’s an assumption that this is a bad thing.”

I have looked for a full transcript of this discussion and I can’t find it anywhere online. Abbott was not expressing a viewpoint in those comments, they were inquisitive and hypothetical. In context, they could well be completely innocuous. Then again, they may not be, but I will not make up my mind until I am shown a full transcript. A couple of soundbites extracted from a whole conversation is not sufficient to condemn anyone.

Anyway,

This is the man from whom we’re supposed to take lectures about sexism. And then of course it goes on. I was very offended personally when the Leader of the Opposition, as Minister of Health, said, and I quote, “Abortion is the easy way out.” I was very personally offended by those comments. You said that in March 2004, I suggest you check the records.

Doesn’t convince me. Whatever Abbott’s stance may be on abortion policy, there is no reason why he has to personally support it.

I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of this carbon pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…” Thank you for that painting of women’s roles in modern Australia.

Gotta hand it to the PM, this one is pretty convincing. I am very reluctant to attribute anything to a “gaffe“, but this does show that Abbott harbours a degree of subconscious discrimination. But then, there is the whole “gaffe” issue.

And on:

And then of course, I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…”, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair.

That I don’t agree with. I have no doubt that an unmarried male Prime Minister would be attacked on the grounds that he was unmarried.

I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.” I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s bitch.

Now that is just spurious. So Abbott was photographed standing next to the wrong sign at an anti-carbon tax rally, what does that have to do with anything? I have seen several prominent Labor and Green MPs standing next to the flags of terrorist organisations and nobody batted an eyelid.

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On the carbon tax: doing the PM’s job for her

The best argument that Julia Gillard seems to have come up with in defence of her carbon tax is that Abbott won’t be able to repeal it because Labor will block his attempt, as well as spruiking the pre-emptive bailouts her government has decided to give to everyone.

Right.

Well, there are also points like this:

Sensible Australians will see carbon pricing as a change for the better | The Australian.

Did you know the Chinese company Suntech, whose chief executive Zhengrong Shi was educated at the University of NSW, became the world’s largest producer of silicon solar modules in 2010? Or that in 2010 global investment in generating renewable energy such as solar and wind power overtook investment in generating energy from fossil fuels?

Well, fortunately for the Chinese government, it doesn’t have to spend much money developing companies like Suntech because it allows workers to be kept in on-site barracks and work 48-hours straight for less money than Gillard probably spends on breakfast. That makes Suntech a lot more viable than it would be in a country where joining a trade union wasn’t a good way to disappear of the face of the planet. But then, people my age don’t care about democracy anyway, so maybe the Chinese model is a good idea.

Let’s throw another company into the mix: Solyndra. Here’s a good piece from Juliet Eilperin in Wired a little while ago that describes that whole kerfuffle:

Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust | Wired Magazine | Wired.com.

In 2005, VC investment in clean tech measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The following year, it ballooned to $1.75 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association. By 2008, the year after Doerr’s speech, it had leaped to $4.1 billion. And the federal government followed. Through a mix of loans, subsidies, and tax breaks, it directed roughly $44.5 billion into the sector between late 2009 and late 2011. Avarice, altruism, and policy had aligned to fuel a spectacular boom.

Anyone who has heard the name Solyndra knows how this all panned out. Due to a confluence of factors—including fluctuating silicon prices, newly cheap natural gas, the 2008 financial crisis, China’s ascendant solar industry, and certain technological realities—the clean-tech bubble has burst, leaving us with a traditional energy infrastructure still overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels. The fallout has hit almost every niche in the clean-tech sector—wind, biofuels, electric cars, and fuel cells—but none more dramatically than solar.

That, right there, was what happens when the government artificially props-up an unviable industry. The government was committed to Solyndra, so had to keep pumping money into it, even when it started to become obvious that they were just never going to be as competitive as they had hoped. A few billion taxpayer dollars later and the now gigantic Solyndra imploded, leaving hundreds of people without jobs and an entire industry in ruin.

Now to pick-up on a point in today’s Australian editorial:

Carbon debate is taxing but falls short of targets | The Australian.

Given that Mr Abbott has subscribed to the same carbon reduction target as the government — cutting Australia’s emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 — the framing of the debate in this fashion pushes the onus on to him to produce more substance. His “direct action” policy relies on the government picking winners rather than the market seeking out least-cost abatement, so it is bound to be less efficient than a trading scheme, and therefore more costly on the economy. Mr Abbott should not escape by simply pledging to repeal the carbon tax. He must show how he can meet his target without creating a large burden on the budget. Scepticism about his ability to do this abounds, especially given he promises to provide tax cuts for families and business, while scrapping the carbon and mining taxes.

See, the Coalition’s “direct action policy” is not dissimilar from the policy the US was following when the whole Solyndra thing broke out. Tony Abbott is essentially arguing that the government should be funding carbon-saving ideas in order to reach the emissions target that he agrees we should have. The carbon tax is a prima facie tax, but the direct action scheme is an indirect tax. After all, someone has to foot the bill for the hundreds of millions of dollars that would actually be required to implement it, and no prizes for guessing who that is (hint: me and you).

Why the government hasn’t been using this as an argument is beyond me. Whatever flaws its policy may have, it’s vastly superior to the Coalition’s (and ironically, more in-line with the Coalition’s general ideology than the Coalition’s policy is).

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Mental asylum: on refugee processing and protections

There have been two undeniable tragedies over the past few days as two boats carrying asylum-seekers have capsized en route from Indonesia to Australia (fortunately, the latest one seems to have been rescued fairly effectively and the loss of life was far less, although there was still one dead and three still missing). As most readers would know, this has re-sparked the gigantic debate about Australia’s asylum-seeker policy – which has reached a fervour not seen since… the last time this happened.

There seems to be consensus that the government has to “do something” to “stop the boats”. Just what that means exactly is under fierce debate. There are three main options being pushed, so I figured that I would summarise these for all you lovely people and then give some quick thoughts on the right way to go.

1. The “Pacific Solution”

This is the Liberal Party’s pet policy – they want to replicate what was done under then Prime Minister John Howard and then Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock. This solution is designed to provide strong disincentives for people to attempt to reach Australia by boat.

It’s kind of a two-pronged assault. Firstly, anyone who arrives in Australia unlawfully and then claims asylum will be given a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) – meaning that they are permitted to remain in Australia until it is no longer dangerous for them to be in their country of origin, at which time they will be deported “home”. This is supplemented by opening an Australian-administered asylum-seeker detention centre on a tiny Pacific atoll called Nauru, so that no one who tries to reach Australia unlawfully by boat will actually reach Australia and there are no guarantees of ever getting there.

2. The “open arms” solution

I call it that with my tongue in my cheek. This is the line being pushed by the Greens and various “refugee advocates”. At its core, the argument is that any form of offshore processing of refugees is cruel and so we should process them all in Australia and let them into the community as soon as possible.

Typically, for the people who are advocating it at least, this is a very nice and well-meaning policy but is a little detached from reality and would create huge problems if put into practise. The biggest problem is that, contrary to this narrative, not all “boat people” are just really nice, desperate people who are fleeing horrible persecution to make a contribution to our great, multicultural nation. Some of them are that, but some aren’t. In fact, the easier it seems that it is to get into Australia, the more likely it is that people who are not genuine refugees will come over.

Once someone destroys their travel documents (as these “boat people” are want to do), it is very difficult to figure out exactly who they are. This results in a small but significant number of these asylum seekers fleeing not persecution for their race, religion or politics, but for their involvement in organised crime – or even terrorism. Ignoring that element of them is dangerous, it would take just one bomb on a major piece of infrastructure and the public reaction would mean that our borders are sealed permanently (not to mention the horrible loss of life that it would inevitably entail).

3. The “Malaysia Clusterfuck Solution

This was the brainchild of the Gillard Labor government and requires a little background. The most important thing to know is that the Pacific Solution worked – boats had essentially stopped coming in 2007 when Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister. The new ALP government then set-about dismantling the Howard/Ruddock policies, which they had been calling “inhumane” for years, and boats promptly began coming again and have been increasing ever since.

When running for the 2010 election, Julia Gillard – aware of the political difficulty that these boatloads of asylum seekers presented for her government – announced an “East Timor Solution”. This claimed to provide the same effect as the Pacific Solution, but was supposed to be somehow different because East Timor is a signatory to the Refugee Convention (a weak argument as the Nauru centre was Australian-administered, so it was not really material whether or not Nauru had signed the Convention). Regardless, it transpired that Gillard had not seen fit to run this little idea past, you know, the East Timorese. Suffice to say it didn’t go very far.

After East Timor collapsed, the government was desperate for a solution and began floundering. They then had the genius idea of announcing that they would negotiate a solution with Malaysia after they approached Malaysia, but before they had actually negotiated a solution. Malaysia was calling all the shots and they knew it, so they eventually agreed on a kind of asylum-seeker trade: they send 4,000 Burmese Christians in exchange for 800 (presumably) Iranian and Afghani Muslims from Australia. They hate Christians, we hate Muslims, everybody wins.

After the huge outcry in Australia regarding the way refugees are treated in Malaysia (let’s just say that it involved caning of bare buttocks), the government did get Malaysia – not a signatory to the Refugee Convention – to agree to respect the refugees’ rights. In an explicitly non-binding agreement.

Problem for the government was that the Convention is annexed to the Migration Act and explicitly referred to in the provisions allowing asylum-seekers to be processed offshore, so the High Court ruled that the decision to implement the Malaysia Solution was not made according to the power conferred on Chris Bowen, the Immigration Minister, which requires that the rights and protections of refugees under the Convention are respected. The government then tried to remove these protections, but this was (thankfully) blocked by pretty much everyone else in Parliament.

Offshore in general

So here comes the real analysis (woohoo!). The most common argument against offshore processing (chiefly the Pacific Solution) is that it made no real difference and the number of unlawful arrivals in Australia is just a reflection of global trends (see, eg, this). This claim has absolutely no basis in any fact or evidence. The numbers speak for themselves really. Consider this table first from the Australian Parliament:

Year No arrivals
1999 3721
2000 2939
2001 5516
2002 1
2003 53
2004 15
2005 11
2006 60
2007 148
2008 161
2009 2726
2010 6555
2011 4565

Now, look at this table from the UNHCR:

Share of main receiving countries of asylumseekers in total number of applications

Countries 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
United States 15% 13% 13% 15% 17%
France 9% 9% 11% 13% 12%
Germany 6% 6% 7% 11% 10%
Italy 4% 8% 5% 3% 8%
Sweden 11% 6% 6% 9% 7%
Belgium 3% 3% 5% 6% 6%
United Kingdom 8% 8% 8% 6% 6%
Canada 8% 10% 9% 6% 6%
Switzerland 3% 4% 4% 4% 4%
Turkey 2% 3% 2% 3% 4%
Austria 4% 3% 4% 3% 3%
Netherlands 2% 4% 4% 4% 3%
Australia 1% 1% 2% 3% 3%
Greece 8% 5% 4% 3% 2%
Norway 2% 4% 5% 3% 2%

That is very clear evidence that Australia’s number of asylum seekers has not been keeping up with global trends. To the contrary, the number of asylum claims in Australia relative to the rest of the world has tripled since 2007. I don’t need to bother with more sophisticated statistics (although many have), anyone who looks at that data without blind bias can see that something made Australia far more attractive to asylum seekers in 2007 than it had been before.

On the other hand

I now have to write what is possibly the most difficult thing that I have ever written on this site.

Here goes…

Greens leader Christine Milne has a point.

Australia takes a negligible number of asylum seekers from Indonesia and Malaysia (somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60p/a) – the two sources of these boats. Both of these countries are not good places for refugees and in Malaysia they are actually persecuted, meaning that they still have refugee status and (as mentioned before) it is illegal to deport any refugee back there.

Disincentivising the journey is all very well, however it will not work so long as the incentive to come is still stronger. The refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia know that they have almost no hope of ever being resettled, they cannot go home and they cannot stay where they are. Getting on a boat is their only hope and while that remains true, they will continue to come.

The solution requires that incentive to be changed as well. Australia needs to substantially increase the number of refugees that we take from Malasia and Indonesia, it’s as simple as that. Once we are taking several thousand a year, they will know that they would probably make it here eventually if need be and the UNHCR camps would look more appealing than our detention centres.

To summarise

Given all of the above, here is the ideal solution in my opinion:

Combine the Pacific Solution and the surprisingly lucid Milne solution. Have a processing centre on Nauru (which, by the way, does great things for the impoverished island nation as well) but also commit to taking a few thousand asylum seekers from Indonesia and Malaysia each year. It will make the boat journeys seem unappealing while providing another option for the truly desperate people in Indonesia and Malaysia.

And no deportation to Malaysia. I was almost throwing my iPad against the wall this morning while Gillard was on it trying to sell that solution as though it is really the humanitarian thing to do. She was advocating for the removal of all the refugee rights under the Convention as ratified in Australian legislation, simple as that. It is disgraceful and inhumane – no amount of spin will change that. The principle of non-refoulement lies at the very core of the refugee framework, which means that you cannot deport someone fleeing persecution to a place where they will still be persecuted. According to Gillard and Bowen, refoulement is the humane choice. Go figure…

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Union progression towards White Australia

I recently had a long conversation with a Union representative who was trying to convince me that I was wrong about the Australian Union movement. As I explained, my thoughts are generally that I am theoretically in favour of an organised workforce and I have no qualms with workers coming together to demand certain rights – but this is no longer what the Union movement is (which is the reason I capitalise the “u”).

From my perspective, Australian Unions are mostly opaque, bloated, entrenched organisations that represent a very small portion of the workforce. Their institutionalisation and the extend to which they are favoured by successive Labor governments have given them hubris, to the point where they seem to care more about perpetuating their own existence than actually doing anything in the interest of Australia’s workforce and spend a lot of time playing political games instead of concentrating on their nominal mission.

What bothers me the most is the dogmatic adherence to certain anachronistic principles because these used to be good for “workers”. I see absolutely no self-reflection and no desire to reevaluate the policies of the movement in light of the world that we live in. As I have noted before, this has resulted in Australia having ridiculous penalty rates and bad teachers.

Well here’s yet another example, which follows this post:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told: migrants or the mine | The Australian.

In an increasingly bitter dispute over the management of the mining boom, ministerial splits are emerging within the Gillard government and unions have started a racist campaign to hound West Australian-based minister Gary Gray from his seat. …

Yesterday, five unions ran a full-page newspaper advertisement in Mr Gray’s seat of Brand, south of Perth, alluding to high levels of indigenous unemployment and accusing the Special Minister of State and former ALP national secretary of not standing up for “Aussie jobs”.

Joe McDonald, the assistant secretary of the West Australian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, accused Mr Gray last night of betraying Australians and vowed to run a union campaign to get rid of him.

“He’s betrayed the people of his constituency,” Mr McDonald told The Weekend Australian. “He’s betrayed them. He should pack up and piss off. If the union movement puts a politician in, they shouldn’t forget where they came from and if they do then we should piss them off and put someone else in.”

Last night Mr Gray, who won his seat with a margin of just 3 per cent in 2010, said EMAs, for which projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 jobs are eligible, would create “many, many mining jobs for Australians”.

Note that the story calls the campaign against Gray “racist”. I don’t like when a news story editorialises like this, but in this case I don’t see a lot of other ways to describe it.

The CFMEU is notionally a “progressive” Union, yet its officials are spouting rhetoric that would not have been out of place during the days of the White Australia Policy. I am also disgusted by the way that McDonald is threatening to remove Gray from Parliament if he doesn’t “play ball”.

This is the tragedy of Australia’s major social democrat party being beholden to these groups; it is also a problem that the Union rep in the conversation that I mentioned above did not seem to understand. The current system of preselection means that we get exactly the wrong people into Parliament. A few conversations between key people within the Union movement or the ALP can be enough to get someone a safe seat for life – the process is completely opaque and prone to corruption and abuse. Once there, do/say the wrong thing and upset the wrong people and goodbye – no matter what the public may want. (Incidentally, this is not a partisan issue. Union movement aside, the same principle holds for the Liberal party.)

So now we have a situation where the Government is being pressured from inside to bow to xenophobic demands and prevent people who want to come to Australia and contribute to the country’s economy from doing so. They are also using arguments like this gem from Senator Doug Cameron:

Good jobs for Aussies is not a miner matter | thetelegraph.com.au.

Since when was it unreasonable to expect that highly profitable mining companies should provide Australian workers with the skill upgrading, training, travel support and accommodation to ensure they have genuine access to employment opportunities?

I am constantly amazed by the Union mentality that the way to achieve these demands is for the Government to force mining companies to provide them. What is preventing the Unions from doing something useful like developing their own training programs and apprenticeships, investing in the development of mining towns to allow workers’ families to move there, or forming recruitment initiatives to connect their members with the mining companies to fill employment vacancies? (Note: I’m aware that some do this already, but obviously not very well, or else there wouldn’t be an issue.)

Why do they think that playing the political system to force the mining companies to do it would be a better idea?

I am shocked by the silence from people I know who are generally pro-immigration and usually speak-out against xenophobic rhetoric like this. Even the Greens are behind the migrant workers idea – and they think that Australia is overpopulated and the world is ending.

Clearly, there is something wrong here. I could go on, but plummeting membership figures speak for themselves. It is paramount that we introduce stronger requirements for Union transparency and accountability and remove the disgraceful Rudd/Gillard industrial relations reforms that force workers to be represented by organisations that they have no intention of joining. Otherwise, backwards thinking may just win the day yet again.

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Revolutionising our education through funding?

The data has it: Australia is falling behind. We are losing out in our children’s reading, maths and science scores, being beaten by most of East Asia, Canada and New Zealand — and we don’t like losing to New Zealand! So what are we doing about it? Apparently, commissioning a highly respected corporate director to write a 250-page report on how we can make our system better; well David Gonski came through and the results were released yesterday. Here, in his own words (published in the Fairfax papers), was the thrust of it:

The race is on, and Australia is losing ground.

On average, socio-economically advantaged students are achieving better outcomes than disadvantaged; metropolitan students are achieving better than rural and remote students; and disabled students are falling behind their peers. This is not acceptable in Australia, where we take pride in giving everyone a ”fair go”.

… The funding system that sustains our three school sectors – government, Catholic and independent – is complex, confusing, opaque and inconsistent across states and territories, and obscures educational goals and accountability.

… That’s why the review panel has proposed Australia adopt a Schooling Resource Standard that would have two elements: the amount of per-student investment required to provide a high-quality education, plus loadings targeting disadvantage.

The Sydney Morning Herald editorialised that the school funding system has become as bad as it is due to no planning and developing over time for less than ideal motives. However, Gonski’s recommendations are not politically viable at this time.

Politics 1, Gonski and schools 0.

His review was asked to find a way to fix school funding, state and federal, which has grown piecemeal over decades into a Heath Robinson-like contraption – a fundamentally unfair one, a product of temporary fixes and vote-buying.

… Gonski was hamstrung from the start by the requirement that any change produce no losers. Inevitably, it had to recommend that the government spend a lot more on schools to bring the disadvantaged up to the level the privileged attained long ago. Given the tight federal budget and the promise of an early return to surplus, the government cannot contemplate Gonski’s recommended $5 billion-a-year funding boost … So like a child asking for the impossible, Gonski has been told: “We’ll see.”

Sister paper The Age agreed with the Herald, but spent a lot more time congratulating itself for being agreed with by Gonski and stressing the “inequality” in the system and less time on the realpolitik of the reform.

As usual, the most sophisticated analysis came from The Australian, which praised the more “clear and transparent” system that Gonski proposed, but also noted a few other factors:

Reversing educational decline | The Australian.

As with the present system, parents of students in the wealthiest fee-paying schools would continue to carry a heavy burden — funding state schools through their taxes and paying the fees for their own children, who would receive only about 20 to 25 per cent of the “schooling resource standard” in government subsidies under the proposed model. Contrary to the claims of public sector teachers’ unions, non-government schools are excellent value for taxpayers.

Despite the intense interest in the Gonski report and governments’ responses, education authorities should focus on the need for reform in the selection, training, mentoring and career structures of teachers. Such improvements would create a far more significant education revolution than reorganising the funding system.

For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t understand the argument for Government subsidising private education, it’s really quite simple. Say it costs the Government $15k a year to publicly educate a child, it costs $30k at a private school and the parents can only afford to spend $25k. If the Government subsidises the child’s education by $5k, the child will go to the private school — which gives the child a better education and gives the Government $5k more to allocate to public education.

Also, the parents are paying taxes that go to the education system and, without subsidies, receiving no money back — so essentially, they are subsidising the education of other children while being forced to spend even more on their own child’s schooling, which hardly seems fair to them. To see this explained using a barbeque analogy, click here.

The limits of Gonski

I am not actually convinced that Gonski’s suggestions would improve the education system that radically. I will disclaim that I have not read the report, so please correct me if I’m wrong on any point.

The Australian and the Herald both cited the Rudd/Gillard ‘Building Education Revolution’ as a reason why the Gonski review may have trouble getting through Parliament, and with good reason. The BER was a very good example of how throwing money at something doesn’t make the problem go away.

In NSW at least, there are already a lot of different schemes that give extra funding to disadvantaged and Indigenous students and gives teachers incentives to work in them, yet this does not resolve the problem. Yes, these are poorly thought-out and haphazardly implemented, but the point remains. I have personally seen a school with only impoverished Indigenous students that had unbelievable facilities, including $10,000 basketball nets, yet had some of the lowest outcomes and highest drop-out rates in the state.

More important than how much money is given is how the existing money is spent, other factors also affect education. Here are a few other things we may need to think about:

Teacher salaries?

Take this graph (via The Dish):

Ignore the diagonal line through the middle, that is what us mathematicians call a weak correlation and an example of how statistics are poorly used in policy debates. There is clearly something else going on given the number of outliers. In fact, we do very well on this scaled — Finland, Australia, the UK and the USA all spend around the same amount, yet there is a clear difference in outcomes and Australia seems to achieve very high outcomes relative to dollars spent.

Upbringing

This is something that money cannot really change and is, to a large extent, the elephant in the room. As much money as the Government may throw at disadvantaged children, if they are not interested in learning or if they are not given an environment in which they can learn, they will not learn. To give the example, again, of the school referenced above, the parents of those children had no interest in their being educated, meaning they only went to school if they genuinely wanted to be there (not many did). Add to that growing up in a house with no books, that does not have the newspaper delivered every morning and without any kind of informative dinner table discussion (or indeed, without a dinner table) and a few thousand dollars for the school makes little difference.

That is in extreme example, but I still have a point. To back that up with some actual (admittedly American) data, here’s Charles Murray:

The Truth About Income Inequality in America – Charles Murray – Business – The Atlantic.

The reason that upper-middle-class children dominate the population of elite schools is that the parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children. Among college-bound seniors who took the SAT in 2010, 87 percent of the students with 700-plus scores in the math and verbal tests had at least one parent with a college degree. Fifty-six percent of them had a parent with a graduate degree. The children of the well educated and affluent get most of the top scores because they constitute most of the smartest kids. They are smart in large part because their parents are smart.

That brings us to the role of homogamy — interbreeding of individuals with like characteristics … homogamy has increased at both ends of the educational scale — college graduates grew more likely to marry college graduates and high school dropouts grew more likely to marry other high school dropouts. In 1960, just 3 percent of American couples both had a college degree. By 2010, that proportion stood at 25 percent.

… The bottom line is not subject to refutation: Highly disproportionate numbers of exceptionally able children in the next generation will come from parents in the upper-middle class, and more specifically from parents who are already part of the broad elite.

That said, there is a counter-argument that a more integrated education system pulls-up the scores of disadvantaged children while not significantly affecting the advantaged. See Andrew Sullivan (again) for a summary and follow the links to see an interesting discussion around this issue. I may look into this more at some point in the future to see how good the data actually is.

Meanwhile, if the key recommendation for fixing Australia’s education system relies on funding redistribution, I am not extremely hopeful. Having had the unfortunate experience of going through HSC in NSW, even in a well-funded school, I can say first hand that there is a lot more to address.

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Them’s Fightin’ Words

The so-called “Malaysia solution” is dead in the water, taking with it whatever hope Labor had of being reelected in the next decade. With poll ratings at historic lows and still dropping, it would take something drastic to change the fortunes of Gillard and Co.

So what if that’s not so crazy? Maybe something drastic is exactly what is needed. Think about it this way – the biggest tragedy of the High Court stopping us from sending asylum seekers over to Malaysia because apparently Malaysia doesn’t respect “human rights” enough for some people is that we have lost face with Malaysia. It’s not a good look for Australia, the superpower of the Asia/Pacific region, to have a crummy little country like Malaysia looking all indignant and complaining to everyone that we don’t keep our promises.

After all, we had an agreement, right? 800 Iranians and Afghanis for 4,000 Burmese. Fair trade. Now we have to take the Burmese and we still have all these damn Afghanis sitting around with nowhere to ship them off to.

We want these guys

What would not only give the Gillard government the popularity bump that it needs, but also help our great nation look like we’re the shit once more? Put that way, the answer seems glaringly obvious:

We need to invade Malaysia!

Seriously, what could possibly go wrong? Malaysia doesn’t have any money! There’s no way they could possibly compete with all of those pricey American fighter jets that we have gathering dust in the outback somewhere. And special forces? Australia has the best in the world baby, those Malaysians got nothin’. It’d be over in a day, then we can send as many of these goddamn terrorists asylum seekers there as we wanted. What would the Malaysians do about it? Cry to mama?

We don't want these guys

More to the point, everyone around would know that you don’t fuck with the Aussies. And history has shown time and time again that nothing boosts the old approval ratings of politicians than a good war, especially if they can declare victory! It makes for a great photo-op and, as we all know, photo-ops win elections.

All this can be ours

I for one am looking forward to being able to use the newly-enslaved people of Malaysia for simple tasks that I can’t be bothered doing at the moment. I’m also looking forward to adding a few new exotic holiday destinations to Australia’s repertoire – it’d be great for our tourism industry. Plus, there are heaps of natural resources just sitting there for the taking.

Finally, Australia doesn’t really have any great victories under its belt. Our greatest achievement was getting our ass handed to us by Turkey. We need a better excuse to go out and get smashed – one that doesn’t require us to still be lucid enough at dawn to stand and watch some dudes walking past. We can turn ANZAC day into the day of mourning that it deserves to be and rather celebrate our nation’s military prowess on Malaysia Victory Day, hopefully somewhere in the July-October public holiday dry season.

So Gillard, Smith, Rudd, quit sitting there with your head in your hands (or your hospital pillow) and start drafting that declaration of war. Australians need you. The world needs you.

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Gillard holds her own against Jones

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was interviewed on 2GB this morning by Alan Jones and he went above and beyond his regular “shock jock” style. She was 12 minutes late to the interview and he berated her about this pretty aggressively. He continued being disrespectful the whole interview, addressing her as “Julia” or “PM”.

Even with this, Gillard managed to hold her own. She managed to actually shut him up a few times and speak over him, which is no mean feat, not many people can do it.

I encourage you to listen. It’s pretty spectacular.

2GB Media Player – Julia Gillard on the carbon tax.

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