Why NZ needs to follow weapons ban with broad review of security laws


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Within a week of the Christchurch terror attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
AAP/David Alexander, CC BY-SA

John Battersby, Massey University

Up until Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement of a ban on military-style weapons yesterday, New Zealand had a system of licensing firearms holders and used a process of application, vetting, reference checks and attendance at firearms safety lectures.

Knowledge of the Firearms Code was required and tested. A firearms license holder was able to then legally acquire any number of firearms. New Zealand has not set up an arms register since the Arms Act was enacted in 1983.

There is no tally of how many firearms are in New Zealand, and no log of how many firearms any individual may have. There is an estimated 1.3 million firearms legally owned in New Zealand, and nothing beyond speculation about how many illegal weapons have found their way in.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces a ban on military style semi-automatic weapons and assault firearms.



Read more:
Will the New Zealand gun law changes prevent future mass shootings?


Loop holes in gun laws

With a certain class of license, military style semi-automatic weapons (in unlimited numbers) could be acquired legally. Some 14,000 of these weapons are thought to be legally owned in New Zealand.

Loop holes in current legislation abound. These make it possible to modify weapons and obtain large magazines, and even to buy armour-piercing bullets. Why, in a peaceful, democratic and open society, does anyone need a military-style automatic weapon and armour piercing ammunition?

Prime Minister Ardern has shown the decisive leadership we should see from a leader who genuinely cares about the people she leads. She has finally grasped the nettle, exploiting the current situation to drive through the changes New Zealand should have made 23 years ago following the Port Arthur massacre. She has outwitted those who might oppose her move, because there is no argument that anybody could muster now that would in any way resonate with the vast majority of New Zealanders.

Ardern has announced the ban on a number of weapons, signalled changes to the firearms licensing regime and the need to keep tabs on the national recreational arsenal. But there is a tough road ahead.




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When gun control makes a difference: 4 essential reads


Rural, recreational use of firearms

Politicians have an unquestioning faith that legislation is sufficient, but it is largely impotent without adequate resourcing for the enforcement of new rules. With only an estimate to work on, New Zealand Police (the administrators of firearms regulations) will have to identify and locate the owners of these weapons and implement the buy-back and amnesty that will be required.

Many owners will give them up. Their humanity will outdo their desire to have them, but the shocking reality of panic buying of semi-automatics since the Christchurch tragedy signals that clearly there are those who will seek to subvert the government’s intent. Police will have to investigate those who fail to cooperate, safely seize the weapons and prosecute the offenders.

Most firearms license holders in New Zealand do not own military style semi-automatic weapons. Many are rural, recreational hunters or use their weapons on ranges. They look after their weapons responsibly, secure them safely, own them legally and use them at no risk to the general public.

Most who own semi-automatic weapons are no different. We should not demonise a section of society simply because of the horrific, obscene and brutally inhuman actions of one lonely individual who no more represents gun owners than he does any other group of New Zealanders.

Illegal weapon imports

But this is not the issue. The issue is that the privilege of owning a certain class of weapons is not worth the terrible cost of 50 people being gunned down in prayer. New Zealand is already seeing the steady illegal importation of firearms, often tied to the increasing movement of illicit narcotics. Banning semi-automatics will increase the demand for the importation of these weapons illegally, adding extra pressure on law enforcement agencies.




Read more:
Why overhauling NZ’s gun and terrorism laws alone can’t stop terrorist attacks


For a ban on military style semi-automatics to have meaning, New Zealand’s long coast line, its airports and sea ports, through which illegal commodities are moving, will need resources that allow fit-for-purpose enforcement powers, people and tactics.

The changes New Zealand will now make will not guarantee it will be free of terrorism in the future. Other countries have much stricter firearms regulations, having taken far stronger measures years ago, but they have still suffered terrorist attacks. Firearms reform is one small step for a country that will need to address a plethora of gaps in its security approach.

New Zealand’s terrorism legislation is inadequate. It was found wanting when police attempted to apply it in 2007 during the “Urewera raids”, but charges could not be laid then. New Zealand’s then Solicitor General David Collins described the Terrorism Suppression Act then as incoherent and unworkable. How New Zealand manages social media needs review, and the traditional minimalist approach to national security will no longer suffice.

New Zealand has faced security crises before during the Russian scare in the 1880s and the second world war in the 1940s. It has often been caught out doing “too little, too late” to be saved only by its distance from any potential threat. The internet has extinguished that distance. It has brought the ills of the rest of the world to us. It is already too late. We must ensure that what we do now, is not too little.The Conversation

John Battersby, Police Teaching Fellow, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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It’s the right time to review the world’s chemical weapons convention


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Chemical weapons in civilian attacks;: Novichok decontamination work in the area where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found poisoned and unconscious in Salisbury, UK.
Shutterstock/Amani A

Martin Boland, Charles Darwin University

The chemical weapons convention (CWC) is one of the most successful arms control treaties in existence. It outlaws the production, stockpiling or research on offensive lethal chemical weapons.

Yet chemical weapons have recently featured in the news – such as the recent Novichok poisonings in the UK – and the convention is facing questions.

The 193 signatory nations to the convention will assemble from November 19 this year at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for the latest periodic review of the chemical weapons convention.

As reported today in Science, this is an important opportunity to get some key things back on track.




Read more:
What we know about Novichok, the ‘newby’ nerve agents linked to Russia


The chemical weapons convention is a legacy of the end of the cold war. The collapse of the Soviet Union reinvigorated the long-dormant chemical weapons control process. This culminated with most nations signing and ratifying the chemical weapons convention, which came into force in 1997.

Each nation is responsible for the destruction of its own stockpile of weapons (either alone, or with the help of others), with compliance monitored by OPCW. So far about 96% of declared stocks of chemical weapon agents have been eliminated, including all of Russia’s declared stockpile.

Fit for the mid-21st century?

Most nations accept that chemical weapons are an anachronism, with only limited military value against an enemy of similar technological sophistication.

But there has been a rise in recent years in the use of chemical weapon agents against civilian populations, as in the Syrian civil war, and as tools of assassination, such as in the murder of Kim Jong-nam and the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in the UK.

So are chemical weapons climbing out of the grave we thought we had consigned them to?

What is a chemical weapon?

It’s important to clear up a common misconception about the chemical weapons convention and how it handles lethal chemical agents.

Under the convention, the use of the pharmacological effects (what the chemical does to the body) of any chemical to achieve a military outcome (death or permanent disability) makes that a chemical weapon.

This means that novel agents, such as the Novichok (or A-series) chemicals alleged to have been used against the Skripals, are illegal, not because of their structure but due to the attempt to use them to kill.

This definition can create some complexities. If we take as a given that many chemicals are potentially lethal – it’s the dose that makes the poison – how do you regulate compounds that are likely to be used as weapons?

How should these be distinguished from those that could be fatal, but aren’t typically applied for ill-purpose? For example, the anticancer drug mustine – also known as nitrogen mustard – is a schedule 1 weapon under the chemical weapons convention (under the codename HN2).

Police action or short cut to new weapons?

Riot control agents are those such as pepper spray, 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (better known, slightly erroneously, as CS-gas). These compounds are designed to cause the victim discomfort. But the effects dissipate soon after the victim is removed from exposure – similar to if you get capsaicin in your eyes while cutting chillies, you can wash the compound away with lots of water or milk.

These agents are only lightly regulated under the chemical weapons convention. Their use is allowed as part of normal law enforcement, but prohibited in war.

Different to these, incapacitating agents are defined as those that cause the victim to lose consciousness, or otherwise become systemically incapacitated – but the effects of these are not reversible by removing exposure.

Examples include chemicals that cause massive sensory hallucinations and prevent the victim from recognising reality.

There is much debate about the ultimate safety of riot control agents, but in general they are seen as safe unless incorrectly used. On the other hand, a Russian incapacitating agent is believed to have caused many of the fatalities during the 2002 Moscow theatre siege.

So how can these agents be legal, while the agent used in Salisbury is immediately considered illegal? What is an appropriate level of chemical force that should be acceptable when applied to a person as part of civilian policing?

What level of research into, or stockpiling of, such compounds would suggest the goal is no longer to develop countermeasures, but is part of an offensive chemical weapons program?

The CWC was written to outlaw these things, but has its success only moved the goalposts? These are open questions that the review should address.

Responsibility of scientists

Questions about how responsible a scientist is for the use of their work probably go to Fitz Haber and beyond. The 1918 Nobel Prize winner is generally considered the father of modern chemical warfare for his suggestion that the Imperial German Army use chlorine, the first lethal chemical weapon of World War I.

Today there are several questions about how scientists should interact with the world, using their knowledge to educate the public through the media, while avoiding drawing attention to possible misuses of that knowledge (or allowing their messages to be manipulated to cause panic).

Is it a greater good for society for me to explain that nitrogen mustard (from the example above) treats cancer, than the risk that someone will now try to steal some mustine from the oncology clinic to misuse it?

There is also the problem of dual use technologies. These are techniques that can equally be used develop a new pharmaceutical, or could be applied to develop a new nerve agent.

How much regulation of day-to-day research and commerce is acceptable to prevent those who would do us harm having access to materials and knowledge?

In the 20 years since the ratification of the CWC, we have made discoveries and improved access to technologies that may make it easier to create a truly effective improvised chemical weapon.

The chemical weapons convention has almost reached the initial goal of the signatories, the elimination of chemical weapons. Now the convention needs to move with the times, to prevent backsliding from the prevailing culture that considers chemical weapons to be unspeakably barbaric.The Conversation

Martin Boland, Senior Lecturer of Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Six things Labor’s review of tertiary education should consider


Geoff Sharrock, University of Melbourne

In March, Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek outlined Labor’s plan to review the architecture of the post-school education sector if elected next year. She said they would look at whether current qualification structures, the mix of institutions, and financing models are still fit for purpose.

The Mitchell Institute has highlighted incoherent policy across the higher education and VET sectors – a legacy of short-term fixes and poor state/federal co-ordination. The latest fix is last year’s freeze on teaching grants in the higher education sector. Meanwhile, the VET sector has seen falling TAFE enrolments and VET FEE-HELP loan rorts.




Read more:
Vocational education and training sector is still missing out on government funding: report


A Labor review would seek to “put TAFE and unis on an equal footing” while restoring demand-driven funding. What should it consider?

1. Look beyond a 2020 vision

Any “2020” vision shaped by near-term budget or electoral considerations risks (at best) partial policy fixes. Earlier reform attempts have mixed subsidy cuts, fee hikes and Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) changes, many of them rejected as unfair.

A 2030+ vision is needed to reset post-secondary education as a platform for knowledge-era nation-building. In this future, most Australians will need to up-skill and re-skill across their working lives. And as now, the sector will serve many related aims: as a booster of innovation, an export industry and a channel for global engagement.

2. Work back from the future of work

Recent reports conclude that Australians aren’t facing an “end of work” future where robots take our jobs. Instead, we are seeing old job destruction, new job creation and (mostly) the transformation of existing jobs to focus more on non-routine tasks, both manual and cognitive.


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Meanwhile, post-school credentials, especially bachelor degrees, are becoming mainstream pathways into the Australian workforce. The authors of this recent future of work report conclude that:

Education and skills remain essential, as partial insurance against technological unemployment, as a basis for innovation and competition, as a contributor to individual resilience and adaptability to change, and as a bulwark against further deepening of inequalities in opportunity.

3. Learn from other systems

But what kind of education and skills is less clear. In international comparisons, Australia looks strong in bachelor degrees. But some systems, such as Canada with its large community college sector, are stronger at the sub-bachelor level. A review should test whether we have the right mix for our future labour market, which types of qualifications should be demand-led and how these are to be financed.


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Some systems focus more on upper secondary vocational credentials. Offering these on a demand-led basis implies a different profile of post-compulsory provision, perhaps with a more diverse mix of institutions.


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Some systems have strong industry and government support for a broader vocational sector with clearer pathways into work. In Australia, post-school pathways should be clearer into initial credentials and jobs, and into flexible “lifelong” learning for mid-career up-skilling.


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4. Consider new types of credentials

Since 2012, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms have promised mass scale yet personalised degree level learning, at very low cost. At the same time we’ve seen wide experimentation with new types of micro-credentials. These represent the accomplishment of short study, training or project assignments, often focused on enterprise skills. Small and stackable units of learning may count for credit towards a degree. Or supplement one by certifying wider sets of capabilities valued by employers.

As portfolio careers become mainstream, a subset of the emerging streams of micro-credentials that specify what learners know and can do in more detail will gain wider acceptance.



The Conversation, based on The Future of University Credentials by Sean Gallagher, 2016, CC BY-ND

A formalised system could offer more portable credit across education sectors and providers, and wider recognition across employers and industries. This may be a better fit for the idea proposed by the Mitchell Institute in 2015 for the government to provide younger cohorts of students a standard entitlement for upper vocational as well as degree level programs.

Or the idea proposed by the Business Council of Australia last year to provide every Australian a capped Lifelong Skills Account that could be used to pay for courses at approved providers across the tertiary spectrum over the person’s lifetime.

In each case a key aim is to ensure that young people in particular choose post-secondary courses and skillsets with clear aims in mind, without being diverted or disadvantaged by funding anomalies.

5. Learn from mistakes

Along with lessons from VET FEE-HELP, Australia may learn from the UK experience with big funding cuts combined with big fee hikes in 2012. This lifted university revenue per student but also landed many graduates in major debt for decades. This has raised serious questions about value for money at English universities.

In 2014, plans to deregulate uni fees in Australia assumed competition would limit price hikes while HELP loans kept study costs fair. This “market” solution failed to see how open-ended loan entitlements in Australia can lead to major debts where much of the cost is eventually met by taxpayers.

6. Settle structure, then governance and who funds what

RMIT’s Gavin Moodie has argued a joint review by state and national governments is needed to integrate VET and higher education policy. Industry engagement is needed also, to help define future needs and support more work-integrated learning.

A Labor review should rethink the future structure of post-secondary education then reconsider who finances what level of qualification.

The ConversationFinally, we’ll need an independent body to oversee tertiary education, and plan for the long term.

Geoff Sharrock, Honorary Senior Fellow, Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Gonski review reveals another grand plan to overhaul education: but do we really need it?


Glenn C. Savage, University of Western Australia

Today’s release of the report from the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (also known as Gonski 2.0) proves sceptics both right and wrong. In many ways, the report reflects a smorgasbord of popular ideas that have been doing the rounds for some time.

These include Professor John Hattie’s mantra that young people should gain “a year of learning growth from a year of schooling”, along with other claims about the importance of quality teachers, early years learning and school leadership.




Read more:
Gonski review attacks Australian schooling quality and urges individualised teaching approach


One could be forgiven for seeing these arguments as yawn-worthy: not because they’re wrong, but because they have been repeated ad nauseum.

Despite this, the report is also deeply radical in scope and vision, especially in its focus on overhauling core aspects of curriculum, assessment and reporting.

In doing so, it places significant faith in the power of data, evidence, technology and personalisation of learning to drive improvement, and help the nation cast off the shackles of its “industrial model” of schooling.



The Conversation/Federal government, CC BY-ND

A radical rethink of curriculum, assessment and reporting

While the report makes recommendations across a variety of areas, its most radical lie in the areas of curriculum, assessment and reporting. Central to these is an argument that the current national curriculum, which is organised into year levels rather than levels of progress, leaves some students behind, fails to extend others, and limits opportunities to maximise student learning growth.

This strongly echoes recent work by Professor Geoff Masters. He has argued for a re-visioning of the way we assess students to better focus on student growth.

The report portrays the traditional year level curriculum as a relic of the 20th century industrial model of schooling, ill-suited to producing adaptive and personalised learning experiences. Instead, it argues for a shift away from the year level curriculum. It recommends that over the next five years, the national curriculum be reformed to present both learning areas and general capabilities as “learning progressions”.

This will ensure, the report argues, individual student achievement can be better understood and catered for, rendering schools more agile and adaptive to personal needs.

Accompanying this major change is a recommendation to introduce new reporting arrangements that not only focus on attainment, but also highlight “learning gain”. This is designed to ensure young people and parents don’t just have information on where young people sit relative to so-called “lockstep” level years. They would get more tailored information about individual progress.

What else does it recommend?

The report makes a number of other recommendations to supplement these major changes, including but not limited to:

  • Establish a national research and evidence institute to coordinate and disseminate best practices. This is essentially identical to Labor’s promise to create an Evidence Institute for Schools if elected.

  • Develop an online and on-demand formative assessment tool, to be based on revised national curriculum learning progressions. This would help teachers monitor student progress in real time and better tailor teaching.

  • Introduce a national Unique Student Identifier for all students to be used throughout schooling. This would enable the consistent tracking of students if they move between schools or systems.

  • Prioritise literacy and numeracy, particularly in the early years, to ensure young people have the necessary foundations.

  • Conduct a comprehensive national review into years 11 and 12, with a focus on objectives, curriculum, assessment provisions and delivery structures.




Read more:
An education research institute won’t take politics out of the classroom


These proposed changes, particularly those resting on technological advancements, will powerfully open the door to edu-businesses. They will also create new opportunities for edu-preneurs whose work seeks to profit from translating “what works” into action in the classroom.

We need to be careful not to stray too far from addressing inequalities in Australian schooling through re-distributive funding.
Shutterstock

Do we need another grand plan?

The idea that a radical national overhaul of curriculum, assessment and reporting is the primary way to stop Australia’s declining student achievement feels a bit Groundhog Day.

This was exactly the logic that drove the creation of the national curriculum in the late 2000s, and led to other unprecedented national reforms. These include NAPLAN, the My School website, and national teaching standards.

The problem is, despite time, resources and investments committed to revolutionising Australian schooling, these grand designs have done nothing to stop declining student achievement.

So, before we charge forth into the reform wilderness, serious debate should be had about whether these radical plans pass muster, and whether it’s worth the investment to put Australian schooling under another round of major surgery when the last round had minimal impact.

As part of this, we need to (once again) question whether the contemporary reform fever does any more than treat symptoms while deeper structural conditions continue to ensure, as the original Gonski report put it, unacceptable links between a young people’s socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of achievement.

We need to be careful not to stray too far from where the first Gonski report started out. That is: addressing inequalities in Australian schooling through re-distributive funding.

This is not to suggest pursuing personalised or adaptive learning is a fruitless endeavour. But all the personalisation in the world means nothing without a commitment to equality of opportunity for all young people.

Oh… and will it ever actually happen?

There are significant political hurdles to be overcome before the report’s recommendations can be translated into action.

This endeavour will begin on Friday, when federal education minister Simon Birmingham will meet state and territory education ministers to discuss the report. Nearly all the recommendations relate to state responsibilities. The federal government needs to secure their support to translate the recommendations into a national response.

Birmingham faces state ministers, not to mention senior bureaucrats, who are already suffering reform fatigue from the last decade of national reform – many who have limited appetite for further major changes. It’s also very likely for resistance to come from within schools, where long-standing habits and cultures are difficult to break.

Ultimately, the whole Gonski debate started with money, and that may very well be where it ends. The federal funding of schools will be a crucial tool in Birmingham’s bargaining kit and will largely determine whether the report’s recommendations come to fruition.




Read more:
The passage of Gonski 2.0 is a victory for children over politics


The ConversationThat said, even money might not be enough this time around. What is now at stake is not just some tinkering at the edges, but a monumental rethink of the teaching and learning process.

Glenn C. Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Sociology of Education, and ARC DECRA Fellow (2016-19), University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Gonski review attacks Australian schooling quality and urges individualised teaching approach


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Gonski review into the quality of Australian schooling has highlighted declining academic performance and recommended school education be radically reformed to tailor teaching and assessment to individual students.

The damning report, released on Monday, says the decline is widespread and “equivalent to a generation of Australian school children falling short of their full learning potential”. In a blunt criticism, it finds “many Australian schools are cruising, not improving”.

Among the constraints in the schooling system are “inflexibility in curriculum delivery, reporting and assessment regimes, and tools focussed on periodic judgements of performance, rather than continuous diagnosis of a student’s learning needs and progress”.

The review proposes the development of “a new online and on demand student learning assessment tool”.

This would enable teachers to assess, regularly and consistently, the progress of the individual student, and give them suggestions about strategies to assist that student.

“There is compelling evidence, in Australian schools and internationally, that tailored teaching based on ongoing formative assessment and feedback are the key to enabling students to progress to higher levels of achievement”.

The review into achieving educational excellence, chaired by businessman David Gonski, who headed the landmark inquiry under Labor into school funding, was ordered by the Turnbull government after it embraced the Gonski needs-based model. The government legislated last year for $25.3 billion extra funding over a decade.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement that his government had accepted in principle the latest Gonski report. Many of its 23 recommendations fall within the states’ jurisdictions and state ministers will be briefed on Friday.

The recommendations in “Through Growth to Achievement” include that all students have a number (Unique Student Identifier) throughout their schooling to track their progress better; the Australian Curriculum be updated based on individual student growth rather than fixed-year levels; greater priority be given to literacy and numeracy in early schooling years; and principals have the autonomy to lead learning in their school communities.

The review also urges strengthening the attractiveness of the teaching and school leadership professions, with clearer career pathways and better recognition of expertise.

The report says that since the start of the new century “Australian student outcomes have declined in key subjects such as reading, science and mathematics. This has occurred in every socio-economic quartile and in all school sectors (government, Catholic and independent).”

“There is also a wide range of educational outcomes in the same classroom or school, with the most advanced students in a year typically five to six years ahead of the least advanced students. Such disparity in learning outcomes is at odds with the goal of equity in education for all students,” the report says.

“Australian education has failed a generation of Australian school children by not enabling them to reach their full learning potential. Dealing with this situation requires a significant shift in aspirations, approach, and practice, to focus on and accelerate individual learning growth for all students, whether they are lower performers, middle ranking or academically advanced”.

The review says “Australia still has an industrial model of school education that reflects a 20th century aspiration to deliver mass education to all children”.

This focusses on trying to have students attain specified outcomes for their grade and age, then moving them in lock-step to the next year. It is not designed to stretch all students to achieve maximum learning growth every year, and it doesn’t encourage schools to continuously improve, the review says.

“Australia needs to start by setting higher expectations for students, educators and schools, and rejecting the idea that there are natural performance plateaus.‘”

The review urges a national research and evidence institute be set up to share best practice.

Targeting the problem of “cruising schools”, it says this is one of the causes of stagnating student results.

Cruising schools are those that “maintain average achievement from year to year, but do not improve”.

“This is a significant issue”, the report says. About 30% of primary schools cruise from year to year rather than improve their results at the same rate as similar schools. “Cruising schools achieve outcomes above minimum standards, but deliver lower rates of learning growth than comparable schools where students have similar backgrounds in terms of parental occupation and education.”

The review says that among the priorities of the schooling system should be to “deliver at least one year’s growth in learning for every student every year”. It stresses the importance of early learning, and engaging parents as “partners” in their children’s education.

It says that without a national Unique Service Identifier “the educational history of the student does not transfer automatically from one school to another, meaning that the new school is starting from scratch in attending to that individual’s learning needs”.

Students should be encouraged to give more feedback about their education, the report says, and schools should partner with local industry and community organisations.

An inquiry should be held into years 11 and 12 schooling “to make sure it is contemporary, and adequately prepares students for post-school employment, training, higher education and to live and proper in a rapidly changing world”.

The ConversationThe Gonski panel acknowledges the difficulties of achieving reform in a federation. “However, we cannot let the challenge of delivery daunt our ambition”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia’s record on racial equality under the microscope



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The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has begun its two-day review of Australia’s record on racial equality.
Shutterstock

Fiona McGaughey, University of Western Australia

Overnight in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) began its two-day review of Australia, asking government representatives to explain their progress in promoting racial equality and tackling racism.

The CERD notified the government in advance of the key focus areas of the review. Not surprisingly, these include the situation of Indigenous people, and of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; racist hate speech and hate crimes; and human rights and anti-racism protections in Australia’s laws and policies.

What is the CERD?

Australia has ratified seven of the nine core human rights treaties. Each treaty has its own treaty monitoring body, like the CERD, comprised of independent experts who are nominated by governments but do not represent them.

These bodies monitor states’ compliance with their international law obligations as set out in the treaty, primarily through periodic reporting.

Most recently, Australia received criticism from another one of these bodies, the Human Rights Committee, which highlighted shortcomings in relation to Indigenous rights, treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and the lack of a national bill of rights.


Read more: UN slams Australia’s human rights record


It is often overlooked that of these nine core treaties, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), was actually adopted before any of the others. The CERD became operational in 1970, and ICERD is now the third most commonly ratified UN human rights treaty, with 177 states signed up.

Australia and CERD – the background

The CERD last reviewed Australia’s record in 2010.

The recommendations made in 2010 contained 21 specific actions for the government. These included the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as First Nations Peoples, supporting the proper performance of the Australian Human Rights Commission, appointing a Race Discrimination Commissioner, and addressing Indigenous contact with the criminal justice system.

Like many other UN human rights bodies, in 2010 the CERD also recommended that Australia review its mandatory detention regime of asylum seekers, with a view to finding an alternative to detention and ensuring that the detention of asylum seekers is always a measure of last resort.

Another recommendation in 2010 was that Australia criminalise the dissemination of racist ideas and incitement to racial hatred or discrimination.

In this regard, Australia has formally limited its obligations by having a reservation to the relevant article of the treaty. Reservations allow states to commit to treaty obligations, but with caveats.

Despite criticisms of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and suggestions that the federal parliament may even have exceeded its external affairs power by going further than was required by the ICERD treaty, the reality is that Australia lacks comprehensive criminal sanctions against incitement to racial hatred. Many other countries have such criminal laws in place.

On Tuesday in Geneva, the government will continue to seek to convince the CERD that it has made progress on these recommendations. It could refer to the appointment of a Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, for example Where it has not made good progress, it will be expected to provide explanations.

The last two reviews of Australia by the CERD in 2010 and 2005 were carried out in typical diplomatic mode – the review is called a “constructive dialogue”.

However, Australia’s review by the CERD in 2000 is famous in human rights circles, as there were unusually heated exchanges between Philip Ruddock and one of the committee members.


Read more: With a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Australia must fix its record on Indigenous rights


The events were captured by Spencer Zifcak in his book, Mr Ruddock goes to Geneva. Subsequently, the then foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said:

… if a United Nations committee wants to play domestic politics here in Australia, then it will end up with a bloody nose.

Australia has more recently also rejected the authority of UN human rights bodies, but conversely has just been appointed to the UN Human Rights Council and will take up its seat in 2018.

The Human Rights Committee, one of the aforementioned seven treaty bodies, is sometimes confused with the Human Rights Council – a completely separate UN human rights body. The Human Rights Council is the key UN human rights body, a more politicised entity.

Who actually holds Australia to account?

Being subject to reviews by international human rights bodies is important for the upholding of human rights in Australia – we are currently the only sestern democracy lacking a statutory or constitutional bill of rights.

Also, unlike many other states, we are not part of a regional human rights framework.

Several interested parties made submissions to the CERD and delegates are in Geneva for informal briefings with the committee members. They will inform the committee of the key concerns they have about the government’s progress. NGOs have already made the committee aware of the situation on Manus Island.

My research has found that such submissions can be quite influential and help shape the recommendations eventually delivered by the committee. However, mechanisms to ensure the government implements the recommendations are lacking.

Therefore, those in civil society with an interest in racial equality, NGOs, academics, trade unions and others should be aware of the recommendations and encourage the government to progress their implementation.

What happens next?

The CERD will finish its review of Australia today, which should be available to view via webcast.

The ConversationIn a few weeks, the committee will hand down its concluding observations, containing recommendations for the Australian government.

Fiona McGaughey, Lecturer, Law School, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Politicians: please ease off on ‘announceables’ until after the electricity market review



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Current political intervention in the energy market is haphazard and disconnected.
chriscrowder_4/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

David Blowers, Grattan Institute and Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute

A series of dramatic events over the past year, most notably the September statewide blackout in South Australia, have revealed an electricity system under strain, and left many Australians worried about the reliability of their power supply. The Conversation

In response, state and federal politicians have announced a series of uncoordinated and potentially expensive interventions, most notably the Turnbull government’s Snowy Hydro 2.0 proposal and the South Australian government’s go-it-alone power plan.

Yet all of these plans pre-empt the Finkel Review, to be released early next month. Commissioned by state and federal governments and led by Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel, the review is expected to provide a new blueprint for the National Electricity Market (NEM).

Clearly, Australia is struggling to manage the transition to a zero- or low-emission electricity grid, and some commentators have concluded that the NEM is broken.

In our report Powering Through, released today, we argue that it is too early to give up on the market. But what we really need is substantial market reforms, rather than piecemeal government investments in various energy projects.

Australia’s troubled transition

The problems are everywhere. Consumers have been hit with a 70% hike in real-terms electricity bills over the past decade, and there is more to come. Wholesale prices for electricity in most eastern states were twice as high last summer as the one before.

New vulnerabilities continue to emerge. The headline-grabber was South Australia’s blackout – the first statewide blackout since the NEM was formed in 1998 – but there have been other smaller blackouts and incidents too.

Poisonous politics means Australia is also failing to stay on track to hit its 2030 climate targets. The mixed messages on climate policy; the seemingly ad hoc public investment announcements; the threat of direct intervention in the activities of the market operator – all of this has created enormous uncertainty for private investors.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking: Australia has enough electricity generation capacity for now, but more will be needed in the decade ahead.

The energy market is in a difficult transition.
georg_neu/Flickr, CC BY-NC

First, do no harm

There is currently an acute danger of politicians panicking and rushing into decisions that will only push electricity prices higher, and make the task of reducing Australia’s emissions harder.

Already, federal and state governments are committing taxpayers’ money to new energy investments. This is premature, with the Finkel Review’s recommendations not yet released. Stampeding white elephants loom ominously on the horizon.

Given the current uncertainties, it is vital not to grasp for expensive “solutions” or to lock in plans too soon. We do not yet know what technology mix will be needed in the future. Maintaining flexibility through the transition will ensure we can take advantage of the best solutions as they emerge.

‘No regrets’ short-term reforms

There are some “no regrets” moves that can and should be made, to address the short-term risks to the electricity system and buy time to resolve the longer-term ones. Australia should build on existing low-cost mechanisms before making major capital investments or redesigning the market.

The immediate challenge is to reduce the risk of blackouts next summer, in South Australia and Victoria especially. Most blackouts happen because something in the system breaks. Some simple changes to the market rules, like the recent AEMO and ARENA announcement to pay consumers to cut their electricity use, would make a big difference to managing equipment failures when they inevitably arise.

To ensure reserves are on hand, some mothballed generators should be recalled to service. Pleasingly, Origin Energy and Engie have already struck a deal to enable the restart of the second turbine of the Pelican Point generator in South Australia.

The longer-term task

The cheapest and most effective way to reduce long-term risks is to rebuild investor confidence. That requires Australia to agree, finally, on a credible climate policy. A carbon price is the best such policy, but any bipartisan policy that works with the electricity market and is capable of hitting Australia’s emissions targets will be a vast improvement on what we have now.

The transition to a zero-emissions electricity sector will be difficult. Even given a credible climate policy, there are still questions as to whether the current electricity market will be able to meet our future needs. And that’s without even mentioning the gas market, which is frankly a mess.

Politicians should begin by adopting pragmatic market reforms and giving clear direction on climate and energy policy. At the very least, they should wait until Finkel delivers his recommendations.

Hopefully the Finkel Review will define Australia’s energy security and emissions reduction needs, and provide a strong platform for politicians to work from. If so, a competitive market will find the cheapest path to a reliable and low-emissions electricity future.

The danger is that partisan politics will make the best policies untenable. If that happens, we can expect the blame to be shifted onto the market, which will be described as having “failed” – but the truth is that it will have been systematically (if not quite intentionally) destroyed.

More likely still is that governments give up on the market without giving it a chance. Scott Morrison’s budget promise of new federally owned power generation set a worrying precedent. If recent announcements deter private investors, still more government investment will be needed, which will shift yet more risk and cost onto taxpayers.

There’s a real danger of politicians focusing on “announceables” and shying away from the market reforms that will make the biggest difference to the affordability, reliability and sustainability of our electricity supply.

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute and Kate Griffiths, Associate, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull announces schools funding and a new Gonski review


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Turnbull government is seeking to seize the political initiative on schools, with a substantial funding injection and the appointment of David Gonski – who delivered the 2011 landmark schools report – to chair a “Gonski 2.0” review on how to improve the results of Australian students. The Conversation

A day after announcing university students will pay more for their education, Turnbull unveiled an extra A$18.6 billion in funding to Australian schools over the next decade, including more than $2.2 billion in this budget for the first four years.

Turnbull said that, under the government’s plan, “every school will receive Commonwealth funding on a genuine needs basis”.

At a joint news conference with Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham, Gonski – who is a personal friend of Turnbull’s – said he was very pleased the government accepted the fundamental recommendations of the 2011 report, particularly the needs basis. The proposed injection of money was “substantial”, he said.

Turnbull and Birmingham said the plan would ensure all schools and states moved to an equal Commonwealth share of the Gonski-recommended Schooling Resource Standard in a decade. The federal government would meet a 20% share of the standard for government schools, up from 17% this year, and 80% for non-government schools (currently 77%).

Birmingham said 24 non-government schools stood to lose money (there would be some transition money for a couple of these schools with a large number of students with special needs). They are among some 353 presently over-funded schools which will be worse-off under the plan than they would otherwise have been. Australia has more than 9,000 schools in total across the government, Catholic and independent sectors.

Pete Goss, the school education program director at the Grattan Institute, said: “We still need to understand all the details but the overall shape of the package is very encouraging.

“The minister has set a clear 10-year goal of getting every school funded consistently by the Commonwealth. The additional funding will help ease that transition.

“Some schools that have been on a great wicket for a long time will lose out – and so they should. This is a gutsy call and it is the right call.”

Goss said he understood there had been “an internal debate” in the government to arrive at this plan.

The announcement is a substantial turnaround for the government, which had previously planned more modest funding, and refused to embrace the final two years of Gonski.

But Turnbull was in full Gonski mode on Tuesday: “This reform will finally deliver on David Gonski’s vision, six years ago, after his landmark review of Australian school education,” he said.

Turnbull is trying to take some of the shine off Labor’s political advantage on education which, with health, was at the heart of its 2016 election campaign. Next week’s budget will attempt to neutralise some of the Coalition’s problems on health, which saw Labor run its “Mediscare” at the election.

Birmingham said that over the next four years there would be growth in Commonwealth funding of some 4.2% per student across Australia – “importantly, most of it geared into the government sector where need is greater and the gap to close in terms of Commonwealth share is larger”.

He said the government would legislate the decade-long program, and impose conditions to ensure states did not lower their funding. “We will be expecting states to at least maintain their real funding,” he said. “This is about real extra money to help Australian schools and students.”

What Turnbull dubbed the “Gonski 2.0” review will recommend on “the most effective teaching and learning strategies to reverse declining results, and seek to raise the performance of schools and students”.

It will advise on how the extra Commonwealth funding “should be used by Australian schools to improve student achievement and school performance”, Turnbull and Birmingham said in a statement.

Another member of the original Gonski panel, Ken Boston, will also be on the review, which will report to Turnbull in December.

The government says its new arrangements will replace the patchwork of agreements left by Labor.

But Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said this was “a smoke and mirrors, pea and thimble effort to hide the fact that instead of cutting $30 billion from schools over the decade, this government will cut $22 billion from schools over the decade”.

“The big picture here is that in the 2014 budget, Tony Abbott promised a $30 billion cut to our schools and in the 2017 budget, Malcolm Turnbull wants a big pat on the back for changing that cut to a $22 billion cut,” she said.

“A week out from the federal budget this is taking out the trash,” she said. “They want clear air on budget night.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/yzp4x-6a4d89?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

2015 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.