Category Archives: culture wars

Punishing parents won’t stop truancy: why Rudd and Gillard are wrong

On ABC you may read Unleashed: Punishing parents won’t stop truancy by Brian Burgess.

The recent policy announcement of the Rudd government to reduce welfare payments to parents whose children truant from school reflects a concern with a significant issue, but completely misses the mark in how to address it.

Truancy affects 20,000 children and is a complex and multi layered problem. It can occur in any household, not just welfare dependant ones. If a policy of this kind was to be expanded to include all families, which you think in fairness it should, then how would it look? Would we see a tax levy on non-welfare families, or perhaps as a kind of incentive, we could include tax credits for families whose children do attend? These suggestions are obviously simplistic and probably unworkable yet they are in the same vein as the government’s policy suggestion.

Truancy is currently addressed by a range of initiatives designed to engage students in their learning and families in their child’s education. For example with young children in low socio-economic areas where the family may have had no successful personal experience with education the co-location of maternal health centres and pre-schools with the primary school develops connectedness and trust and breaks down some of the barriers to successful engagement with families. Other current initiatives include parenting programs run with the school’s participation where parenting skills are encouraged and an appreciation of the importance of education is developed. Many schools employ staff to build relationships with parents to try and understand and emphasise with their needs and so gain their support…

Then I note that Jim Belshaw has addressed the issue:

Assume that we have a single mum totally dependant on welfare with a thirteen year old daughter, fifteen year old son. I have not been able to check the exact figures, but this family will be receiving per fortnight something like $348 in Family Tax Benefits plus $546 in parenting payments for a total of $894.

This is not a lot of money. If they are renting in the private market place the family will attract some Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Outside regional areas, this family probably cannot afford private rental.

Assume that they are paying $400 per fortnight for a three bedroom cottage. This will attract $126 in rent assistance. After rent, their fortnightly net income is $620 or $44 per day.

They may be in social housing. In this event, they are either not eligible for rent assistance or in NSW, Victoria and Queensland will have it included in rent.

Social housing applies income based rents. This family will pay 25% of income plus 15% of Family Tax Benefits, giving a fortnightly rental of $189. Now the family has a fortnightly net income after housing costs of $705 or $50 per day.

Think about it for a moment. This family has between $44 and $50 to spend per day, or between $15 and $17 per person. Not a lot, is it?

Assume that our fifteen year old son is difficult and is playing truant. Mum loses her income for thirteen weeks.

If they are renting privately they lose their house. If they are in social housing, their rent will drop to minimum, $5 per week in NSW. They will keep their house, but starve.

Call that a reality check! Well done, Jim.

Kevin and Julia: think again! What you have so far come up with on this one is populist nonsense that would have done Howard and Nelson proud. I am very disappointed in you both and am putting you on detention until further notice.

Not entirely unrelated is Spell it like it is | spiked on English/ESL (top 100 language blog!) today.


See Schools asked to dob in truants to Centrelink.

Education Minister Julia Gillard introduced the controversial bill to Parliament today.

The bill will enable parents’ welfare payments to be frozen for 13 weeks if their child does not go to school.

Ms Gillard told Parliament that only a small amount of parents will be affected and the Family Tax Benefit payment will be protected.

“Parents with children of compulsory school age who are affected by the measure will need to provide Centrelink with details about their child’s school enrolment,” she said. “Consistent with current responsibilities, state education authorities and non-government schools will be responsible for monitoring school attendance. In those cases where children have unsatisfactory school attendance and their parents do not take reasonable steps to work with the school to address the situation, the education authority or school can choose to notify Centrelink. The bill has been carefully developed to ensure that mechanisms are available to minimise any adverse effects on parents and their families as an outcome of suspended income support payments,” she added.

However, Ms Gillard also says that in extreme cases, if no further proof is given by a parent after a suspension that they are making their child go to school, payments may be cancelled altogether.

But parents who can show they have taken “reasonable steps” to get their children to go to school will not have their welfare payments suspended, Ms Gillard said.

“Some children, particularly young adults do not have satisfactory school attendance despite concerted actions by parents,” she said. “Under the measure, parents who are taking reasonable steps to ensure their children attend school will be considered to be satisfying their requirements.”

The proposed measures will be initially trialed at eight sites in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.* The scheme will be evaluated in 2010 before it is rolled out nationally…

* Subtext: Indigenous communities…

On the other hand, this is not quite as draconian as first feared… It is, however, likely to add to the burdens of some of the most marginal and dysfunctional people/families without any guarantee of success.


The Daily Telegraph | Breaking News from Sydney, NSW and Australia | The Daily Telegraph

As a pensioner I buy the papers sometimes, not every day. There is always the online version, though I am still old-fashioned that way. Then of course there is the option of reading the Juice & Java’s copies while having my daily coffee, though that can be a bit competitive. This morning I was stuck with The Daily Telegraph, Sydney’s Murdoch tabloid.

First thing I notice is that the online version gives prominence to Gay sex scandal teacher quits.

A SENIOR teacher at an exclusive $15,000-a-year Sydney private school has resigned after students viewed naked pictures of him on a gay dating website…

The link beside the story to Sex case teachers gallery doesn’t give you what you may have expected…

In the print version the prominent story — Olympics aside (“Rice says Phelps has a great body” — agreed!) — is more significant, and did give me pause for thought: NSW children reveal Home Alone fears of kidnaps, attacks.

CHILDREN left to fend for themselves after school because their parents are forced to work have told of their stress, with some fearing being kidnapped or attacked.

Surveyed for a NSW parliamentary committee, the children aged 14 and under said they did not feel safe caring for themselves in the community and told how they wanted to be able to hang out with their peers in areas supervised by adults.

Submissions showed both parents and children are concerned there is no after-school or holiday care for high school children who are forced to stay home alone after school.

Many are using local libraries as de facto childcare centres…

There are genuine social concerns here.

Then there’s Tim Blair: Mother of all hotties goes cold on lovers. It is a witty piece about climate change, and we all know where Tim Blair stands on that — not that he is well-known in scientific circles for his expertise in the meteorological sciences, but then I would be the first to admit that Tim and I are equally incompetent in the field so we both offer second-hand views. Tim knows, of course, that it is all a load of old cobblers, and that Tim Flannery, and worse still, Al Gore, have no idea… He does have an eye for irony, does Tim:

The latest case of Mother meanness is so beautiful its almost transcendent. Earlier this year a film company shot a global warming-themed telemovie in Sydney. Scorched – starring Georgie Parker, Cameron Daddo and Vince Colosimo – is meant to depict events in 2012, when there has been no rain for 240 days and the whole place is toast.

So the production crew went out looking for hot, horrible locations. Cue Mother Earth and that playful sense of humour. “It began raining in Sydney and didn’t stop,” reports online movie mag Urban Cinefile.

Scorched director Tony Tilse couldn’t believe it.

“Unfortunately, it was like Ireland,” he said. “Everything became green, the trees were blossoming.” How dreadful.

Which is funny, I admit. But it also means bugger-all.

Perhaps Tim did read 16 August 2008 – New Scientist last week. If so he would have read:

…Crudely, short-term weather is determined by the chaotic dynamics of shifting weather systems, while long-term climate is increasingly ruled by the accumulation of human-made greenhouse gases. The medium term, it now appears, is dictated mainly by ocean cycles, and there is growing confidence that these cycles can be predicted years ahead. If so, there could be big benefits…

Yet there is a political sting in the tail of this good news story. Some medium-term forecasters are predicting that natural oceanic oscillations will push the world towards modest cooling, or at least a cessation of global warming, in the next five years or so. There is a danger that this could take the pressure off politicians to tackle greenhouse gas omissions, and make it harder to convince people of the urgent need for action…

…Even the prospect of a cool 2008 has prompted a spate of claims that the whole global warming story is a hoax.

We can expect more of the same. It’s all nonsense, of course. Even a decade of planetary cooling would not change the long-term prospect of a warmer world. The decade-long oceanic oscillations will come and go, but the carbon dioxide we are putting into the air will stay there for centuries.

It is essential to get this message across. Fluctuations in temperature will be just that — ripples on a swelling tide of warming. On the timescale of an electoral cycle the world may not be getting hotter, but politicians have a responsibility to take the long view.

So, I would argue, do newspaper opiniocrats.

See the appropriate box in the side bar if you wish to follow these issues further; there you will find people much better qualified than Tim or I.


Compare Former head of CSIRO’s division of space science says global cooling may be on the way. Read it very carefully — it is interesting. Read it in the light of the New Scientist quote above. Read some of the comments and see how some folks have unjustifiably seen the article as proving that climate change is not a problem…


Writing Politics | Q&A | ABC TV

Writing Politics | Q&A | ABC TV last night was pretty good.

The show features author and academic, Germaine Greer, former NSW premier and author of My Reading Life, Bob Carr, deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop, The Australian newspaper’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan and curator and critic, Marcus Westbury.

What I find interesting is the way this show causes some people to out themselves, Greg Sheridan being a case in point last night in response to Germaine Greer’s forthright characterisation of both the Qu’ran and the Bible as pernicious bullshit. On the subject of her recent book — see the link to her name above — Greer’s passion was palpable and in its way admirable. Dessicated she certainly is not. Greer “outed” herself as a Marxist, by which she meant that for her reality precedes ideology. I would agree that reality precedes language, and ideology no doubt is a language phenomenon, but I would not agree that material conditions are all. My feeling is that Marxists oversimplify the world as surely as fundamentalists of all kinds do. I cannot imagine, by the way, Greer being comfortable in any political party, let alone a Marxist one. The view of most panellists that revolution is often disappointing, too, is one I share. And I hate to admit that Julie Bishop comes across in circumstances like these as considerably brighter and more appealing than her politics, and many of her past political actions, might make her seem. Bob Carr I find an enigma for all sorts of reasons… Marcus Westbury really had little to say.

Westbury aside, as he did not have the chance to shine, I also began thinking in a terribly Leavisite fashion — my lit crit 1960s version dies hard — about first and second rate minds. There was only one first-rate mind on that panel: Germaine Greer — love her or hate her.

That accolade I would also award to George Monbiot and George Lakoff, to name two I have blogged about lately. I would not award the medal to Barbara Victor, whose The Last Crusade: Religion and the Politics of Misdirection (London: Constable, 2005) I have been reading lately. In fact, I think the book is a “liberal” mirror-image of the genre of Melanie Phillips’ Londonistan — probably sure to please those who like its thesis already, but really rather shallow. Yes, it contains some great vignettes of fundies at their most stupid and/or dangerous, but its historical survey of the rise of fundamentalism in the USA is both jejune and inaccurate. As Richard Bartholomew notes in the review I have linked to:

The Last Crusade gives the distinct impression of being a journalistic potboiler knocked off in a hurry, which is a great shame, as it could have been a significant contribution. I found it contained a lot of useful information, but I kept wondering about the accuracy of the material I was reading.

Much more satisfactory is, just to cite one example, British Catholic writer Clifford Longley’s Chosen People: the big idea that shapes England and America (Hodder and Stoughton 2002) — which is all the better, I might say, for not being Marxist.

That brings me to an article in the UK journal Prospect, offered today by the Arts & Letters Daily. When I first saw Edward Luttwak’s “A Truman for Our Times” and read its intro — The received wisdom is that President Bush has been a foreign policy disaster, and that America is threatened by the rise of Asia. Both claims are wrong—Bush has successfully rolled back jihadism, and the US will benefit from Asian growth — I thought “Oh noes!!! Greg Sheridan in disguise!” But then I read the whole thing, and I think I was wrong. I am still not sure I would go along with the thesis, but I do have to respect much of the argument…

You may read a PDF of Luttwak’s article, should the Prospect link not work: A Truman for Our Times.


The spell of the Games masks the critical questions | | and a book review

Yes, I like so many at one level sat back and enjoyed the spectacle of the Beijing Opening Ceremony, as indeed one might. Even if there was a bit of high tech trickery with those 29 marching feet — we saw a preprepared digital version of the first 28 apparently — it was worth watching. However, in the cold light of Tuesday in Surry Hills articles like The spell of the Games masks the critical questions deserve to be read. Will such spectacular waste ever happen again?

THE Olympics have a strange power. While the Games are being played, much of the world appears spellbound, never more so than at the start of these Games. China’s Olympics are as much about announcing China’s place in the world as they are about fit young people running, swimming and jumping. Its opening ceremony was an astonishing display of no-expense-spared technical precision and choreography, paying homage to China’s history and proclaiming a bright future. It was watched by billions of television viewers, (almost 6 million in Australia) and cost tens of millions of dollars to produce.

Most of us are happy to sit back and enjoy it, basking in the success of Australian athletes and appreciating the performances of international stars. But, at the risk of being boring while Olympic fever is upon us: is this all a bit much? Was there not a sense during the spectacle that one of its drivers was an insistence this ceremony, and these Games, must be better, more expensive, more awe-inspiring than any before? Will London, which hosts the Games in 2012, now have to go one better or feel like a loser? Is this, really, what the Olympic movement is about?

The question of cost is being asked in China, although only by the brave. Bao Tong, a former senior Communist Party official who was jailed for seven years for his support of the Tiananmen Square student protesters and who has been under house arrest since his release, asked whether China could afford the Games. “There are at least 200 million people in China who still earn less than $US1 a day and you (the Government) are splurging all that money and mobilising everyone to hold a fancy Olympics,” he told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post

For “tens of millions” read “billions” — whether US or UK usage is followed…

Then too see The destruction of old Beijing: Going, gone from The Economist.

IN A few short years China’s Communists have used the excuse of the Olympic games to level the medieval city built by the great Ming emperor, Yongle. Beijing was long Asia’s ecumenical Rome, but its 2,500 or so religious sites are now reduced to a few dozen temples mainly for tourist consumption. The Communists have also destroyed Beijing’s social fabric, cutting through rich threads of community habit, shared memory and (what always infuriated them) subversive resistance to the madder impulses of higher authority. In different ways, these three books are superb guides to a Beijing that heart-wrenchingly is no more.

 The way it was (pic on right)

Jasper Becker highlights the breathtaking cynicism of this orgy of destruction; even the Cultural Relics Bureau formed a property-development company to pull down buildings in its charge. Yongle had used 200,000 convicts and press-ganged peasants for his project. Today a peasant-labour force of 1.3m has worked on 7,000-odd giant construction sites that have killed, in a hushed-up way, between 2,000 and 3,000 migrant workers a year. As for the city’s residents, Beijing’s average life expectancy is now well below the national average, thanks to smog and urban stress. So much for the promised clean, green “People’s Olympics”…

Which by a rather indirect route brings me to my first book review today: George Monbiot, Heat (Penguin pb edition 2007). As that reviewer says:

You can’t fault him for ambition…

The ultimate irony of Heat is that his prescription is probably the only one that can save this planet from the scourge of global warming, but that, as simple, direct and painless as it is, this prescription has about the same likelihood of actually coming about as a snowball’s chance in hell. Or, perhaps I should say, a snowball’s chance on Earth after Monbiot’s brave, well-researched, and ingenious ideas have been forgotten.

Young George really is a bright chap — and I say young George as he was three years old when I began my teaching career, which makes me feel what I am, a living fossil!

“I am not writing this book to confirm what you believe is true… As always, I seem destined to offend everyone.”

Another reviewer quotes that honest and provocative remark from Monbiot’s book and draws our attention to the website that accompanies the book. I am about to add that to the relevant box in the side bar here!

One of the great advantages of Heat is Chapter 2: “The Denial Industry”. It is devastating and thoroughly documented too. It should be read by everyone, really! What you then make of Monbiot’s proposals — and he is steadfastly “can do” I have to say — I will leave to you. It is rather beyond, to say the least, what is currently on the Rudd government’s agenda.

To get a taste of Chapter 2 look at Monbiot on the obviously rather dopey Melanie Phillips, as seen on the book’s website in Bluffers Corner. Melanie, Miranda — yes, the cap fits…

Go too to

Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it.
Tell them something new and they will hate you for it.

Better than a cold shower. And we had better get used to them too… If we’re lucky.


Money and Trees – the green stuff | Q&A | ABC TV

Money and Trees – the green stuff | Q&A | ABC TV gives more details on who was on last night’s program. Tim Wilson is the guy from the dreaded IPA. In an article in The Oz last year (7 March 2007) — it is on his site if you are patient enough to find it as he has no search facility there — he said: Debate on gay marriage has been suffocated by a failing to consider why government is regulating marriage in the first place. And that is the thought he developed last night.

You see, the argument runs that marriage is actually no business of the government. All the government has to do is register all kinds of unions in a non-discriminatory way. If churches wish to define marriage as a sacrament — and that doesn’t apply to Protestants, incidentally, for whom the only sacraments are baptism and holy communion — then so be it, but people would choose — as they do anyway — a church wedding or not. Nothing to do with government. It also follows that any church that decided gay marriage was consistent with its reading of Christianity — as increasingly some churches are doing, controversial as that might be — then they were free to do so, and people were free to have such a ceremony if they wished.

That’s not a million miles from the position put by Justice Michael Kirby in a talk I heard at ACON some years ago.

It is certainly worth thinking about. Perhaps it cuts the Gordian knot?

Never thought I’d commend an IPA type though…

Mind you, I didn’t like what he had to say on the night’s main topic.


The bleeding obvious is still news to too many…

That was my initial thought as I read Freedom 2 b[e] :: View topic – …the death of alex…, which came my way through Anthony Venn-Brown’s latest newsletter, though this forum post is itself a couple of years old.  The writer is a gay Christian and the occasion of the text was a resignation speech delivered at a Christian school.

I have been involved in Christian education for over 15 years. It has been an amazing privilege to impact the lives of these kids and even more so now that they’re adults as some choose for me to continue to be part of their lives. As an art teacher you have a strangely close relationship as kids grapple with trying to best conceptually express some very personal ideas. Sometimes I feel like a therapist. The opportunity to produce major events and to have artistic licence with crazy creative teams has been fun for me. I really appreciate Sue taking a chance with me with my marketing suggestions and very casually telling the Exec to change the college’s name …and the blank expressions when I told them that their logo needs to be more organic! …and also for trusting me with Senior School and the strong team who has built this big HSC boat and have confidently set sail in choppy shallow water…

I find myself in a strange situation where as a gay Christian in a non inclusive Christian environment, I feel a little like the character Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady where she is from a working class background but trained to mix with the upper class. Towards the end of the story Eliza discovers, to her horror, that now after her training …she doesn’t appear to fit in either group! I have come to the same horrifying conclusion that I don’t really fit in. In the same way, being gay all my life but also a Christian for 24 years, I find that I can no longer live with the internal conflict between my sexual orientation and a Christian culture that views me as sick, dysfunctional or some kind of super sinner…

After 15 years, it has only since being at Charlton, I now realize that Christian education is not ready for the Iain Wallaces [the writer’s name] of this world at this point. I tell others that Charlton has the most caring staff I have ever experienced, but it is actually here that I…

– have been told to word advertisements in a way that gay Christians won’t apply for jobs.
– have been told by a staff member that all gay people are diseased
– have read the hatred of gays in most of the job applications …and we seem to be ok with this.
– have been told by a staff member that all faggots should be shot in the head

As Christians we have been trained to be black and white. The greyer cultural issues of the Bible are treated as some sort of threat. The church has changed its position over the years often embracing a new understanding but never actually admitting we got it wrong. We have to concede that it has not been Christians but the scientists and social commentators who have helped us see new truths about God and the Bible. For example, we know now that…

– mental disorders and epilepsy are not actually demon possession
– black people do not suffer under the OT’s ‘curse of Ham”
– women ‘deserve’ the relatively recent basic privileges of voting, holding office, manage a business or a school, preach or pastor a church.
– the OT and NT’s approval of human slavery is no longer acceptable.
– there are many good reasons for divorce other than infidelity
– killing other people because they worship other gods is intolerable …yet we seem to be more okay with men holding guns than with men holding hands…


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Death of Free Internet? And other cautionary tales on "free enterprise" and lying more generally…

Death of Free Internet is Imminent – Canada Will Become Test Case « Dandelion Salad is one of the posts that have hit the top at WordPress at the moment, and I can see why. Is it inevitable, or will the open source spirit that sustains projects like WordPress at the moment find work-arounds? I did appreciate this bit:

…The free transfer of information, uncensored, unlimited and untainted, still seems to be a dream when you think about it. Whatever field that is mentioned- education, commerce, government, news, entertainment, politics and countless other areas- have been radically affected by the introduction of the Internet. And mostly, it’s good news, except when poor judgements are made and people are taken advantage of. Scrutiny and oversight are needed, especially where children are involved.

However, when there are potential profits open to a corporation, the needs of society don’t count…

At present, the world condemns China because that country restricts certain websites. “They are undemocratic; they are removing people’s freedom; they don’t respect individual rights; they are censoring information,” are some of the comments we hear. But what Bell Canada and Telus have planned for Canadians is much worse than that. They are planning the death of the Internet (free) as we know it, and I expect they’ll be hardly a whimper from Canadians…

That should be “there’ll be” of course… And some may see more than a bit of the conspiracy theorist in the entry, but contemplate what it says nonetheless.

Another cautionary tale emerged over several months in the Sydney Morning Herald — as pointed out there today, and acknowledged by the ABC, but the amazing example of the ugly face of capitalism they had revealed was beautifully summarised on last night’s Four Corners:


Go and weep!

After which came an excellent Media Watch dealing with the media excess on World Youth Day — wonderful as that event proved to be beyond all the hype — and the reactionary excess of The Usual Suspects. The story on that follows:

mw21.7 wee aus editorial e

Again, do take the trouble to investigate.

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Posted by on July 22, 2008 in Australia, awful warnings, British, Canada, climate change, culture wars, current affairs, environment, globalisation/corporations, right wing politics, TV, weirdness, www