Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: December, 2017

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 26 December, 2017

MYEFO’s promising balance sheet due to the cuts made to welfare and universities

The Lib/Nats Coalition government’s mid-year budget update announced last week in its MYEFO (the amusing but confusing acronym for the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook) loudly trumpeted a larger surplus of $10.2bn in 2020-21, revised up from $7.4bn, but the small print made it clear that this was due to new cuts to higher education and family payments.

The Turnbull government did its best to demonstrate that the larger than expected surplus was due to an improved economy, but the reality is very different.

For example, historically-weak wages growth is weighing on the budget, with wages in both the public and private sectors being more subdued than expected six months ago, with one consequence being that nominal GDP growth has been revised down to just 3.5% in 2017-18, from 4% in May.

More worryingly the government has used the end of year Treasury update to unveil cuts to welfare, family payments and new cuts to the university sector worth $2.1bn.

Indeed, the government has abandoned a higher education package outlined at the May budget and replaced it with cuts worth $2.1bn. The revised package will see students having to repay debts once their income reaches $45,000.

Thankfully many community sectors have not taken these cuts, which were sneaked through in the glow of its Bennelong by election (quasi) success, lying down

The Universities Australia chairwoman, Margaret Gardner, said the freeze amounted to a “real cut” in funding – due to inflation – even if universities simply maintain current student numbers.

“And for universities that are still growing their student numbers to meet the needs in their local communities and regional economies, this will be an even deeper cut,” she said.

We in the Riverina need to note that Australians who live in regional areas are only half as likely to have a degree as city dwellers and would therefore be most likely to miss out.

The Group of Eight universities chair, Peter Høj, said the government was treating the sector like a “cash cow to be milked for budget cuts” rather than a means to improve the career opportunities of young people.

The shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, accused the government of “mortgaging the future and attacking one of the sources of Australia’s long-term economic prosperity, our higher education sector”.

Australian Greens federal party room leader Richard Di Natali wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade when he said that “The Turnbull Government has got just that little bit meaner with today’s budget, which unfairly targets young people, struggling families and newly arrived migrants with $6 billion in cuts.”

Truth is the Government would like us all to believe that everything is rosy, but here’s what they’re not telling you: wages remain stagnant, there’s a household debt-bomb ticking away, and inequality is growing because of the Coalition’s blind faith in trickle-down economics.

As Di Natali said, “The government has a choice: boost wages for people or give tax cuts to the few and hope for the best.”

Most of today’s politicians enjoyed a free university education, affordable housing and secure jobs with steady wage growth waiting for them when they graduated. None of this will be available to the current generation of young Australians unless we dramatically change course.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed for today, 19 December 2017

Private schools the big winners from Gonski 2.0

Private schools are set to get more than they need under Gonski 2.0, newly released Freedom of Information documents reveal.

This led me to question whether private schools should receive public funding. I followed this by asking myself if in fact we need private schools at all. l’ll address these difficult questions later in this column, but first of all let’s look at a little more detail at the windfall private schools are about to receive.

Catholic and independent private schools are set to get more than 100 per cent of their needs from governments under the new “Gonski 2.0” plan, official documents released under Freedom of Information show, reported Peter Martin in the Sydney Morning Herald.

In NSW, 110 private schools are expected to receive more than 100 per cent of the so-called schools resourcing standard from governments, up from 65 schools in 2017. By 2027, when the Gonski arrangements are fully implemented, 212 private schools will receive more than their total needs from governments.

Why this is so demonstratively wrong is that the funding model increases the number of overfunded private schools while failing to adequately support public schools. This can’t be considered fair by anyone’s reckoning.

As Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said “This is the proof of what so many have suspected- Liberal/National governments are not friends of our public schools. Australia already has a school system that entrenches inequality and this will make that injustice worse.”

Now to address the thorny question of the need to publicly fund private schools, and the even more difficult question about whether we need such schools.

The question about publicly funding private schools is quite easily answered, because it is a resounding ‘No’. It is indeed an oxymoron, for private schools aren’t public, and so shouldn’t be able to benefit from the public purse. They are in effect double-dipping.

The legitimacy of private schools is a more complex issue, but ultimately there is no justification for them. As SMH columnist Elizabeth Farrelly pointed out, the $53 billion we pour into the into a system can only divide us, for it “buys a system that deliberately tribalises children before they can read”. Tribalising children before they outgrow training wheels can only encourage class-based and religious sectarianism.

And all that effort leaves us with a system that year by year makes us less well educated. Across the board, public and private, quality is low and falling, with consistently dropping international test scores in literacy, maths and science.

There is a claim that private schools ease the burden for the public system. This is spurious, for each private school student sucks up almost two-thirds as much as each public one. Before the benefit of their fees, that is.

This is manifestly unfair. Private schools heighten inequality, privileging the privileged, hogging the teaching talent and siphoning off kids already equipped with reading backgrounds, so depriving the public system of beneficial peer-to-peer learning.

Let’s see what happens if private schools are banned. Forty years ago, Finland stunned the world by nationalising schools, revering teachers, ending streaming, entering school late, shrinking the school day, reducing homework and extending holidays – then topped every test. Dr Pasi Sahlberg, who as minister designed the Finnish system, will move to Sydney next year, to teach. Let’s learn from him.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 12 December 2017

A week to celebrate but also a week for lamentation

What a week it has been. Some things to celebrate, such as Same Sex Marriage legislated for, and some to lament, such as President Trump’s unilateral decision to declare Jerusalem the exclusive capital of Israel, and to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

While Parliament was busy congratulating itself on the passage of the SSM bill I could not but remind myself that this was the result of the peoples’ overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote in the recent postal survey, and that Parliament could have passed similar legislation years ago, and indeed, had many opportunities to do just that. So don’t congratulate yourself too much Mr Turnbull, as most people can see you didn’t have the fortitude to take on the troglodytes in your party when you should have.

The ramifications of Trump’s decision will take a while to play out, and though of course they can’t be good, I will hold off commenting, in part because it wouldn’t surprise me if he quickly followed one foolish and inflammatory decision with another, namely his Two State solution peace plan. Given the rumours of it being a one-sided pro-Zionist scheme I hope it never sees the light of day.

So instead I’ll devote my column to something worth writing about, Professor Gillian Trigg’s sensible and humane analysis of our offshore detention regime on ABC TV ‘s Q&A program last week.

The former human rights commissioner described Australia’s offshore detention regime as designed to “break” refugees, warning the inhumanity on Manus Island had reached such a point that “as a nation, we have to respond”.

Labor senator Lisa Singh, whose party reopened the offshore detention centres in 2012 said they may not have done so if they had known the situation would reach this point.

Echoing Triggs, she said the government’s refusal to accept New Zealand’s offer to take 150 men suggested they wanted people to suffer or die.

That predictably provoked outrage from Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who labelled the comment as “highly offensive”.

But Triggs, a vocal critic of the policy, said the evidence suggested otherwise. “This program is designed to break these people. And to send them back,” she said.

Triggs went on to say said offshore detention regime had now become Australia’s shame. “It’s a difficult decision for both political parties,” she said. “But I think the inhumanity has reached a level where we, as a nation, have to respond.”

There was also some action on this issue in Parliament too, when a motion moved by the Greens’ Nick McKim and supported by Labor passed the Senate, calling on the government to support New Zealand’s offer to accept 150 men from Manus Island.

Commenting in the House of Representatives Adam Bandt, Green MP for Melbourne also noted that due to government sloppiness “The House passed a Greens motion calling on the government to accept New Zealand’s offer to take some of the refugees who are currently languishing on Manus,” he said.

However, through a tricky procedural move, the government got a ‘do over’ and voted again.

One MP said he missed the first vote on Manus because he was ‘detained’. If he went to Manus he would find out what detention really looks like. If such MPs can’t be bothered to turn up and vote for liberty, then they need to get out of Parliament. And take the whole rotten government with them. It is time to evacuate Manus now.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 5 December 2017

Bad news for both whales and chooks last week

Last week we were finally able to see the much-delayed stomach churning footage of what happens during a Japanese whaling hunt in an Australian whale sanctuary, evidence that the federal government did not want us to see.

After a five-year freedom-of-information battle, marine conservation group Sea Shepherd has obtained unreleased footage, shot by Australian customs officials, which reveals in distressing detail the killing of a minke whale by a so-called Japanese “research” ship.

The federal government fought to have the footage kept secret, arguing that it would harm relations with Japan, prompting accusations it prioritised diplomatic interests over protecting the whales and representing the views of Australians who want the annual killing spree stopped.

Now the footage has finally been released Sea Shepherd Australia managing director Jeff Hansen has demanded the government honour a pre-election pledge to send a customs ship to Antarctica to police the hunt, which takes place in Australian waters in contravention of international laws.

Unfortunately, many of us are not surprised to find that since coming to power the Coalition has not dispatched any such vessels. Sea Shepherd announced last August that it no longer had the resources to send its boats to prevent the hunt.

Sadly, our federal government only seems capable of mounting platitudes rather than sending ships to do the policing. Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, for example, could only manage to say that Australia had moved two successful motions at the last meeting of the International Whaling Commission to increase the international scrutiny of “scientific” whaling.

Thankfully not all politicians are as ineffective as Mr Frydenberg. Greens spokesperson for Healthy Oceans, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, welcomed the release of the Australian Government footage obtained under Freedom of Information request by Sea Shepherd.

He added “This footage lays bare the brutality that is whaling. These whales are being killed and die slowly and in pain, sometimes drowning in their own blood. This slaughter happens for no legitimate reason and should be condemned.

 “Going into summer, when Japan is about to slaughter 333 minke whales, in our waters and against international law, the Australian Government must outline their strategy to stop this happening” he concluded.

Whales weren’t the only animals to feature in the news last week. Chooks got a mention too, though unfortunately minus the visuals that might make people sit up and take notice, though perhaps some will remember footage of a couple of weeks ago that showed a Victorian factory chook farm boiling its fowls alive.

I’m referring to the draft national Standards and Guidelines for the Welfare of Poultry that were released for public consultation last week, guidelines quite rightly condemned by Greens animal welfare spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon.

“It is inexcusable that the draft guidelines and standards have simply continued the cruel conditions that over 700 million chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and other poultry are currently subjected to,” Senator Rhiannon said.

“For example, there is no effort to end the use of battery cages and limit stocking densities for chickens. The pain caused by trimming sensitive beaks is ignored, and the standards for housing and slaughter are completely inadequate” Senator Rhiannon concluded.

These draft standards ignore the science that confirms the cruelty of existing poultry enterprises.

As Senator Rhiannon has rightly said, and more than once, “It’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.