Monthly Archives: August 2019

Australian Politics 2019-08-31 15:47:00


Australia downgrades outlook for Great Barrier Reef to 'very poor'

OK.  I guess I should say something about this rubbish, as nobody else is stepping up to the plate so far.  For a start, note that this is prophecy, not a factual report.  They are prophesying that the reef will deteriorate.  Given the erratic influences on the reef (unpredictable cyclones, unpredictable starfish attacks, sea-level oscillations etc), this is simply a stab in the dark. Many things could happen and nobody knows which will.

Secondly this is not a report of any objective measurements. It is "based on a qualitative assessment of the available evidence."  Note: qualitative, not quantitative.  It is in short simply an expression of opinion from people with a vested interest in alarm

And pointing the skinger of forn at global warming is the silliest thing of all.  Where does the reef flourish best?  Where does it display the greatest biodiversity?  In the far tropics.  In the WARMEST parts of the reef waters. Corals LIKE warmth.  Global warming would be GOOD for the reef.  We live among madmen

Australia downgraded the Great Barrier Reef's long-term outlook to "very poor" for the first time on Friday, as the world heritage site struggles with "escalating" climate change.

In its latest five-yearly report on the health of the world's largest coral reef system, the government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority singled out rising sea temperatures as the biggest threat to the giant organism.

"The significant and large-scale impacts from record-breaking sea surface temperatures have resulted in coral reef habitat transitioning from poor to very poor condition," the government agency said.

"Climate change is escalating and is the most significant threat to the Region's long-term outlook.

"Significant global action to address climate change is critical to slowing deterioration of the Reef's ecosystem and heritage values and supporting recovery," it said.

But the agency added that the threats to the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) reef were "multiple, cumulative and increasing" and, in addition to warming seas, included agricultural run-off and coral-eating crown of thorns starfish.

The agency said the outlook downgrade from "poor" in 2014 to "very poor" now reflected the greater expanse of coral deterioration across the massive reef, notably following back-to-back coral bleaching events caused by sea temperature spikes in 2016 and 2017.

"The window of opportunity to improve the reef's long-term future is now," it said.

The conservative Australian government has faced criticism from environmentalists for favouring an expansion of its massive coal mining and export industry over action to curb climate change.

The United Nations had asked to receive the latest update on the reef's health by December so that it can determine whether the site can retain its world heritage status when UNESCO next considers the issue in 2020.

The reef is estimated to be worth at least $4 billion (£3.3 bn) a year to the Australian economy - serving as a magnet for tourists and emblem of the country. 


The Great Barrier Reef is not dead ... long live the reef

By Sussan Ley (Sussan Ley is the Australian federal Minister for the Environment)

A fortnight ago I was on the reef, not with climate sceptics but with scientists, the country’s lead reef agencies, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science and accredited master reef guides.

Their advice was clear: the Reef isn’t dead. It has vast areas of vibrant coral and teeming sea life, just as it has areas that have been damaged by coral bleaching, illegal fishing and crown of thorns outbreaks.

To help the reef, its wildlife and the 64,000 jobs it supports, we need to recognise both realities.

There are those who will not be happy unless we declare the reef dead in the name of climate change, just as there are those who want to claim that nothing out of the ordinary is taking place. As a minister who respects the science, who has consulted over many weeks with reef experts from the park authority, the Institute of Marine Science and the innovative Great Barrier Reef Foundation, I do not subscribe to either position.

We have the best managed reef ecosystem in the world. We have a massive job to do in protecting its future and we are getting on with that job.

The Great Barrier Reef covers some 346,000 square kilometres and the tourism experience you will find snorkelling from Cairns and other locations such as  the Whitsundays remains awe-inspiring.  The reef is showing us that it has the capacity to regenerate from impacts such as cyclones, bleaching and crown of thorns starfish outbreaks.

But it also faces enormous challenges if we do not take action. Reducing threats from rising sea temperatures, poor water quality and crown of thorns outbreaks are critical in protecting its future.

I trust the scientists who tell me that climate change is the biggest single threat to the reef, just as I trust those who tell me of the things we can do, and are doing, to make the reef more resilient.

The Morrison government is taking meaningful action to reduce global emissions. The $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package will deliver the 328 million tonnes of abatement needed to meet our 2030 Paris target.

From an environment perspective, my focus is on the things we can do on the reef and in its catchment, from the work with farmers addressing water quality to the protection of marine park areas, the control of crown of thorns starfish, collaboration with local communities and traditional owners, and the investment in new technology to improve coral spawning success and adaptation to warmer environments.

The federal government is investing $1.2billion in the reef, including $443 million through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which will in turn attract significant private-sector investment in innovative reef protection partnerships. Already there are some significant gains in terms of crown of thorns control, partnerships with landholders and increased marine park compliance and surveillance.

The full benefit of many investments and management strategies already under way in the park are still to be realised through our monitoring systems.

We need to continue to accelerate our actions in these areas, as well as invest in steps to reduce plastic and waste in our waterways.

The Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Plan – endorsed by the United Nations World Heritage Committee – is a world-leading strategy for a marine protected area. I hope to see it gain more momentum as we work in partnership with all tiers of government, the private sector, NGOs, traditional owners and the wider community.

The Australian and Queensland governments are investing $2 billion in the future of the reef, working with many partners including independent scientific panels, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the CSIRO.

Our investment in innovation through the foundation has enormous potential to deliver forward-looking conservation projects for the reef, with significant scope for private sector partnerships.

This is anything but a head-in-the-sand approach and it is in stark contrast to those who would rather rush to declare the reef dead than look at the steps we can take – and are taking – to preserve it into the future.


Universities have lost their way as homes for free speech

In 2016, the Collins English Dictionary ranked “snowflake generation” as one of those annoying new phrases for the year. It is time to bury it. It’s a beat-up and, worse, it is an unfair slur on the current generation of students.

That is the good news from a forthcoming research report by the Institute of Public Affairs into the state of free speech on campus. Far from being snowflakes, it turns out kids are not the problem.

But the bad news is that there is, most definitely, a free speech crisis on campus. The results show that universities are failing students, boys in particular, and this institutional dereliction of duty raises questions about the relevance and sustainability of universities in the 21st century.

Instead of speaking to univer­sity administrators and academics, the IPA commissioned a survey from independent market research company Dynata, asking 500 students to agree or disagree with a series of statements about free speech, diversity of views and so on. Importantly, students joined the survey groups without knowing they would be asked about free speech on campus.

The first point to note is that 82 per cent of students said they should be exposed to different views even if they found them challenging or offensive. And free speech is not a political issue. Of those who said they should be exposed to different views, 86 per cent of Greens supporters were concerned and 82 per cent of Labor supporters were worried, as were 82 per of Coalition supporters.

And those noisy anti-free students who try to shut down views they don’t like? They are tiny in number. With only 2.2 per cent of students disagreeing with the statement that they should be exposed to different views, why on earth are university leaders so pusillanimous in dealing with them? After riot police had to be called, it took a nine-month investigation for the University of Sydney to discipline a student organ­iser of the protests that tried to stop Bettina Arndt from speaking at a function last year.

The next set of numbers point to a truly depressing state of free speech crisis on campus. A little more than 41 per cent of students said they sometimes were unable to express their opinions at university. Just under a third of students had been made to feel uncomfortable by a university teacher for expressing their opinion. And 59 per cent of students said they sometimes were prevented from expressing their opinions on con­troversial issues by other students.

This last figure should cause students to rethink their claimed commitment to a diversity of views. You can’t, on the one hand, say you support different views on campus, even if they are challenging and offensive, and on the other hand make students expressing different views feel uncomfortable. A genuine belief in free speech means defending the right of people you disagree with, even vehemently, to speak freely.

The other damning results show that students are going elsewhere to express their views and to learn about different ideas from others. More than 47 per cent of students said they felt more comfortable expressing their views on social media than at university, and 58 per cent of students said they were exposed to new ideas on social media more than they were at university. Almost 45 per cent said that social media played a bigger role in shaping their views than what they learned at university.

This raises serious questions about the diminishing relevance of universities for students who are keen to be exposed to diverse opinions, so keen that they are seeking out other platforms for different ideas.

The learning environment at universities is letting down young male students in particular. The survey results reveal a consistent gender gap between male and female students when it comes to feeling free to express views. Most concerning, 44 per cent of male students (compared with 23 per cent of female students) said they had been made to feel uncomfortable by their university teacher for expressing their views, and 47 per cent of young male students (compared with 38 per cent of young female students) said they sometimes felt unable to express their views at university.

Time to bury another myth, then: the one about boys hogging discussion in the lecture theatre and in the tutorial room. Maybe this sharp gender gap should be no surprise given a recent workshop at the University of Melbourne where organisers wanted white male students, and anyone who looked like a Liberal voter, to remain silent in tutorials. It turns out that the students wrapped in their identity politics on campus didn’t need to make that demand because many boys are self-censoring. It hardly needs pointing out — or maybe it does today — that this kind of self-censorship is not a healthy learning environment for male or female students.

The IPA’s survey also explains why Jordan Peterson is a cultural rock star among young men. The gender gap is pronounced when it comes to those students who feel more comfortable expressing their views on social media (56 per cent of male students compared with 41 per cent of female students), and those who say they are exposed to more new ideas on social media than at university (65 per cent of male students compared with 54 per cent of female students).

Young male students are disproportionately looking elsewhere for a more diverse range of opinions, and for a space where they can express their own views. Again, this should be no surprise given the phenomenal popularity of long-form podcasts and YouTube conversations, by left-liberals such as Dave Rubin to more conservative ones such as Peterson and Ben Shapiro.

The terrific news is that students don’t have short concentration spans when they are listening to views that challenge the orthodoxy. In fact, the next generation of leaders, teachers, lawyers, scientists and engineers want to learn; this survey shows they are hungry for ideas.

What an indictment on the university sector in this country that these students, especially young men on campus, rely on social media, not their own campus, to challenge their views and, ultim­ately, to form their opinions. And don’t imagine these findings are akin to a young conservative man feeling stifled in the audience of the ABC’s Q&A. The gender gap uncovered by this survey is reflected among young male students across all political persuasions. In other words, the lack of free speech on campus transcends politics.

It is also clear that open intellectual inquiry is unhealthy across university faculties, not just in arts and humanities. Among the 500 students, 234 students are studying science and technology, and 40 per cent of them said their teachers sometimes unnecessarily inserted political content into their courses. These areas should be the least political. But again, are we surprised? After all, James Cook University unlawfully sacked esteemed physics professor Peter Ridd for asking questions that challenged the climate change orth­odoxy on campus.

And these findings are only slightly below the percentage of all students, 45 per cent of whom said university teachers sometimes unnecessarily inserted political content into their courses.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced his plan to work with the university sector to collect student feedback on diversity of opinions on campus and whether students felt empowered to voice nonconformist views. “I believe universities want to know if students and staff are afraid to discuss certain topics,” Tehan said. We can test that by watching how university vice-chancellors respond to the IPA’s findings.

Their reaction to the French report into the state of free speech released in April points to disheartening default settings: they told us they were committed to free speech; that any other suggestion would be ludicrous because they were universities after all; then they did nothing to explore what in fact was happening on campus. Worse, they turned their noses up at evidence collected by others. By not mentioning the French report they prayed it would go away and, when pushed to respond, they grabbed one titbit — a line from the report that said there was no free speech “crisis” — so they could quickly resume normal programming even though French made clear there were problems around free speech that universities must confront.

Like a recalcitrant child, some VCs eventually signalled they would consider adopting some version of French’s model code on free speech. Even then, as French noted, adopting a code is no substitute for changing the university’s culture.

For example, following a Senate estimates inquiry late last year, Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence was reported as being “galled” that Liberal senator Amanda Stoker prised from federal education bureaucrats a new-found focus to hold univer­sities accountable for obligations they have under the law to be ­places of free intellectual inquiry.

This latest research by the IPA shows those laws are not working.

Yet, in response to Stoker’s line of questioning, Spence told one newspaper: “Have you ever heard of a more shocking waste of public funds?” Yes. Last year $17.5 billion was provided to universities by taxpayers, many of whom have not been to university. How extraordinary that it needs saying, let alone enforcing, that each university drawing on public funds should be an oasis of free intellectual inquiry, offering a range of diverse and challenging opinions, so that fee-paying students don’t need to go elsewhere to feel comfortable expressing their views.

The days of university vice-chancellors paying lip service to free speech are coming to an abrupt end. As evidence mounts, with more people, including students, contesting the ability of universities to be places of genuine learning, taxpayers should expect university funding to be strictly tied to their ability to foster diversity of opinions. That we need such measures at all, and given the history of intransigence among university VCs, we also need to start planning for the next phase of learning, offering new avenues for higher education and deciding whether universities should be publicly funded at all.


Scott Morrison slams new transgender toilets in Prime Minister's office and orders them REMOVED - calling them 'over the top political correctness'

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has slammed a toilet sign encouraging staff to use the bathroom which 'best fits your gender identity'. The sign was installed at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's office in Canberra. 

'PM&C is committed to staff inclusion and diversity. Please use the bathroom that best fits your gender identity,' the sign read. 

Mr Morrison has slammed the sign as 'political correctness over the top'. 'Honestly this is why we call it the Canberra bubble, it's ridiculous ... It will be sorted out,' he told 2GB Radio.  

'I don't think this is necessary. I think people can work out which room to use, 'It is political correctness over the top.'

He has spoken to the department officials about the sign and said he expects the note to be taken down. It is unknown when the sign was put up.

The PM&C's website said 'promoting diversity and inclusion is critical' in order 'to achieve our goal of best supporting government and improving outcomes for all Australians'.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Reverse Engineering the Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism is one of the earliest, most complex computers ever devised. Built over 2,100 years ago and recovered from an underwater Roman shipwreck a little over a century ago, this ancient clockwork bronze didn't yield its secrets until the early 2000s, when a cutting edge 3-D X-ray tomography machine the size of a van was transported to Athens to scan the device, which itself could fit in a small box.

PBS' Nova 2012 documentary featured what the X-ray analysis found. We've embedded the full 46-minute documentary below, but we've set it to start at the 16:07 mark, where the first five minutes from this point of the video reveals the researchers' major discoveries about what the device was designed to do and how it worked.

The rest of the documentary is fascinating, where the researchers found astronomical calculations lurking within the gears of the device, which was used to model the cosmos as the Greeks knew it and to predict future events, such as solar eclipses.

Since we're on the cusp of a holiday weekend, we'll share a much shorter video (it's only a minute long) that's somewhat connected, in which the rotation of the Earth over a three hour period is revealed against an unmoving celestial background fixed on the Milky Way:

Previously on Political Calculations

Australian Politics 2019-08-29 15:47:00


This top university is giving women 10 bonus points on their ATAR if they apply for STEM degrees like IT or engineering

The unending bigotry of the Left.  Always favouring one group over another.  Why does it matter which degrees women do? Why can't they be allowed to be different?  The push to make everybody equal is insane.  Women now get more degrees than men anyway

Women who apply for undergraduate degrees in engineering, IT and construction at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) will be given extra points toward their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) as the university aims to boost the number of women in Australia’s STEM sector.

Women who apply for undergrad degrees in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology or apply for the construction degree in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building will get 10 adjustment points on their score, giving them an extra lift up if they are gunning for a spot at the university.

While adjustments won’t change your ATAR, it will change your selection rank when you apply for uni, meaning you stand a chance of getting into one of those STEM courses at UTS if you were just a few points shy.

UTS told Business Insider Australia in an email that in order to be eligible for the adjustment points, applicants “must be a female domestic student who has achieved a minimum ATAR of 69.00 (not including any other adjustment factors) applying through the Universities Admission Centre.” They also have to satisfy all the other application requirements in the course description.

The move is designed to get more women to consider degrees and careers in industries that have been male-dominated for years.

According to UTS, women make up only 13% of the engineering workforce, 28% of IT roles and 11% of positions in the building and construction sector. These stats are even worse when you consider that women make up more than half of all Australian undergraduate students (58%).

Arti Agarwal, Director of UTS Women in Engineering and IT (WiEIT) said there has been little progress in the number of initiatives designed to support more women in engineering, IT and construction. The WiEIT program provides weekly drop-in sessions for students, networking events and a mentoring program that pairs students with industry experts.

“We need our education institutions to encourage girls and women at all levels, and create a stronger ‘pipeline’ to acquire the skills and knowledge to build successful careers in dynamic areas,” she said in a statement.

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Board approved the extra points and the process will be available for the 2020 intake of students.
Keeping women in STEM positions

The Australian Academy of Science, together with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering developed a ‘Women in STEM Decadal Plan’ to attract and keep women in STEM industries.

Unveiled in April 2019, the plan calls for a “bold” and “sustained” effort across the whole STEM ecosystem to keep women in those industries. And that, of course, includes the education sector.

Justine Romanics, National Manager for Professional Diversity and STEM at Engineers Australia said, “We need to be disruptive – what we have been doing is not working.”

“It’s time to flick the switch. We need to show the benefits that greater diversity will create for everyone – for individuals, for teams, for organisations, for the profession.”

According to the Decadal Plan, the STEM gender gap becomes measurable in high school. In the final year of high school, the report said more young men choose to study advanced and intermediate maths, physics and chemistry compared to young women.

That trend then continues into tertiary education, with women becoming underrepresented in certain STEM courses. According to the report, they account for less than 25% of participants in engineering, computing, physics and astronomy.

Once women finally get into the STEM workforce, they are hampered by systemic barriers such as gender-based discrimination, bullying and harassment and gendered expectations around caring responsibilities.

“All of these issues combine to lead to a significant reduction in the proportion of women at every stage of professional progression in STEM fields, particularly in research and industry,” the report said.

And amid all the challenges women face in the sector, the report said one of the main reasons they choose to leave is lack of career progression.

Jessica Massih, a fifth year Civil and Environmental Engineering student from UTS, said supporting young women into tertiary studies and while they are studying, helps them believe they have a role in the industries.

“Once you are at uni, you have to do the same subjects, same assignments, and work just as hard to get good grades and opportunities,” she said in a statement. “Getting there is just the start.”

So for the young women already working hard to get a spot in engineering, IT or construction degrees at UTS, the extra points will be the icing on the cake.

And hopefully they can stay the course once they’re in.


State or climate — an easy choice

Looking at remote sensing data from NASA’s satellites across the past two decades, the Earth has increased its green leaf area by a total of 5 per cent, roughly 5.5 million square kilo­metres — equivalent to the size of the entire Amazon rainforest.

Who knew?

Certainly not French President Emmanuel Macron. In an alarmist tweet featuring a photo of an Amazon fire said to have been taken 30 years ago, he told the G7 leaders conference: “Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest — the lung which produces 20 per cent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire.” Well, not really. Atmospheric scientists claim that even though plant photosynthesis is ultimately responsible for breathable oxygen, only a fraction of that plant growth actually adds to the store of oxygen in the air. Even if all organic matter on Earth were burned at once, less than 1 per cent of the world’s oxygen would be consumed.

No doubt the Amazon fires are worrying. However, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicates that total fire activity across the entire Amazon Basin this year seems relatively unexceptional. Indeed, NASA observed on ­August 21: “It is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low ­humidity. Time will tell if this year is record-breaking or just within normal limits.”

Nevertheless, with the next UN Climate Summit due on September 23, it’s time to ring the alarm bells. Before each UN climate action conference the media rhetoric ramps up and new evidence of an existential threat is provided. A blazing Amazon rainforest is perfect propaganda ­material. But then, as British scientist Philip Stott observes: “In essence, the Earth has been given a 10-year survival warning regularly for the last 50 or so years.”

Still, CNN obediently turns NASA’s cautious observation into a catastrophe, declaring: “Amazon rainforest is burning at an unprecedented rate.” NBC News despairs: “Amazon wildfires could be game over for climate-change fight.” And, predictably, The New York Times fails to mention that while today’s fires are significantly worse than last year’s, they appear close to the ­average of the past 15 years.

For Macron, the Amazon fires give him ammunition to attack someone he dislikes, right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s unfiltered style has seen him dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics” and, like the US President, he attracts condemnation for his attitude, ­especially on climate change.

It’s true, since coming to office in January, Bolsonaro has moved Brazil further away from climate action and Brazil’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. Critics argue his government has weakened the institutional and legal framework that helps fight deforestation and lessened the participation of pro-environment groups. Indeed, before Bolso­naro coming to office, Amazon deforestation had declined almost 80 per cent in a little more than a decade. Now the Brazilian President is opening up previously protected areas to private ownership. He believes forests and forest protection are impediments to Brazil’s economic growth and that his critics are leading a “disinformation campaign built against our nation’s sovereignty”.

Indeed, Brazilian farmers ­believe they have a right to burn. They see fires as a natural part of life. Most fires are agricultural in nature; smallholders burning stubble after harvest or clearing forest for crop land. For this, Don­ald Trump is also blamed. Toby Gardner, director of non-government organisation Trase, reckons the huge growth in Brazil’s farms is because of Trump’s trade war that “sent China, the top buyer of US soybeans, shopping in South America”.

But while international condemnation is directed at Brazil, what largely goes unreported is that the worst fires are in Bolivia. But then Bolivian President Evo Morales is of the hard left and seeking a fourth term in office. Unlike Bolsonaro, Morales talks the global warming talk. In 2010 he hosted a summit to tackle “the threats of capitalism against life, climate change and the culture of life”. Having politically correct credentials gives him a free pass. He can approve oil ­exploration and fracking in indigenous territories. All 11 of the ­nation’s protected areas have been opened for oil and gas exploration. But still Morales is spared criticism.

Of course, Bolsonaro’s threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and his abandonment of Brazil’s offer to host a key Latin America and Caribbean climate week on the grounds “the event only serves as a platform for NGOs … which has nothing to do with climate change” did nothing for his global standing.

Nor with Macron, whose relationship with the Brazilian is now toxic. A proud Bolsonaro accuses Macron of having a “colonialist mentality”, while the Frenchman calls him a liar over a broken pledge to fight global warming. Macron says he will block efforts to seal a major trade deal with Brazil. Now the relationship has completely broken apart after a Brazilian supporter posted an insulting comment about Macron’s wife that Bolsonaro re-tweeted.

Such are the politics of climate change. Like the US, Brazil believes its national interest lies outside the Paris Agreement. It is not alone. Countries such as Bolivia, Poland and others, including Aus­tralia, find it increasingly difficult to balance domestic priorities with the economically crippling demands of their Paris commitments.

Something will have to give. Environmental awareness is one thing but outsourcing sovereignty is something else. Amazon fires have exposed what has long been suspected. Despite international agreements and peer group coercion, in the end nations will pursue their self-interest. With the passing of each survival deadline that decision becomes easier.


NAPLAN results spark further calls for overhaul of student testing system

There seems to be a lot of blaming the messenger here

Victoria is leading a push for an overhaul of the NAPLAN school testing system, proposing a job certificate to help engage students and a change to the ages of test-takers, to combat flagging results in high schools.

National preliminary figures for the 2019 tests showed while primary school students had small lifts in average scores in some areas, results were stagnant for most categories.

Nationally, Year 7 and 9 students slid backwards on the baseline score in writing and Year 9 students' scores were flat across the board.

The results, released this morning, are further ammunition for critics of the assessment scheme, with three states, including Victoria, already leading a review into the tests.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan conceded there was "further work to do" in bringing up literacy and numeracy scores.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said Year 9 was "the most difficult" cohort to engage in their education. "If they don't see the relevance in the test, they're not going to take it seriously," he said.

In a bid to boost engagement, he has proposed linking the tests to a literacy and numeracy certificate for Year 9 students to show would-be employers.

"We need our Year 9 students to think 'OK, this test means something, I'm going to give it my best shot, and I'm going to give it my best shot because I'm going to get a certificate that's going to go into my careers portfolio'," he said.

A newly-established advisory committee of principals from government, independent and Catholic schools will begin assessing the proposal.

The National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy, better known as NAPLAN, is standardised testing taken by students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across the country.

The tests have proved controversial, particularly their move from pen and paper to online, which has seen widespread computer glitches affecting students and concern over the legitimacy of the results.

The three largest states — New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria — are running a review of the system, which has been operating in its current form for more than a decade.

Mr Merlino said he had asked the review to consider changing the target students to those in years 4, 6, 8 and 10. "It makes common sense to me," he said.

Any recommendations made by the states' review would need to be accepted by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

'Let's not blame the tests,' Tehan urges.  Mr Tehan said he wanted to work with states and territories to make sure they kept "their eye on the ball" to improve secondary school results.

His Opposition counterpart Tanya Plibersek said the Government had shown a "a complete failure to address the problems in our schools". "Of course the Federal Government has a responsibility here," she said.

The Australian Education Union (AEU) seized on the results to renew its criticism of online NAPLAN testing, which it said was plagued by issues that "fundamentally undermine the credibility of the data".

"Despite whatever story ACARA tries to spin, this data is so seriously compromised it should not be relied upon by education departments, schools, parents, and the broader community," AEU acting federal president Meredith Peace said.

"Teachers and principals cannot trust NAPLAN or the results it has produced."

Mr Tehan defended the system and said Australians would not know about problem areas without them. "Let's not blame the tests. Let's make sure that we understand what the results are and where we need to put the work in," he said.

ACARA CEO David Carvalho said the results were reviewed by independent measurement advisory experts before their release and results should be interpreted "with care".

Despite the flagging results for Year 9 students, Victoria's primary schools led the country in seven out of 10 different measures. Across the country, there was an upturn in all student writing results compared to 2018.

"NAPLAN results for 2019 in writing have shown a pleasing improvement from last year, and it is a trend we would like to see continue, given the decline in recent years across all year levels," Mr Carvalho said.

Students and schools will receive their individual results next week.


Liberal Party architects of SSM bill back Christian Porter’s religious protections bill

The Liberal Party architects of Australia’s same-sex marriage laws have broadly backed Scott Morrison’s religious discrimination bill.

North Queensland MP Warren Entsch led the push towards the legislation of marriage equality from within the Liberal Party when it returned to power in 2013. WA Senator Dean Smith wrote the bill that was ultimately passed after 7.8 million Australians voted in favour of same-sex unions.

Today’s draft Religious Discrimination Act partly exists to address concerns from religious Australians who feared same-sex marriage could encroach on their beliefs and rights.

Senator Smith and Mr Entsch both said Attorney-General Christian Porter’s decision to avoid enshrining freedom of religion and instead molding his laws in the image of other anti-discrimination was the right move.

“I wholeheartedly support the introduction of a religious discrimination bill,” Senator Smith told The Australian.

“Pursuit of a religious discrimination bill was initially proposed by the Senate Select Committee which examined same sex marriage and has been comprehensively examined and endorsed by the Ruddock Review.

“Substantively the draft bill is a faithful expression of the Government’s response to the Ruddock Review released in December last year.

“The case for a positive rights approach has been poorly made and the Attorney-General is correct to have rejected the idea as inconsistent with Australia’s legal approach and fraught with inherent legal risk.

“Australia’s anti-discrimination architecture has served Australians well and enjoys broad endorsement across the community and it would be careless to dismantle it now.

Mr Entsch told The Australian today he was pleased the Attorney-General had avoided a freedom of religion bill, but he was still to read the full bill and wanted to consult with LGBTI groups.

“This bill is always what was intended. That’s what the Ruddock Review recommended and it couldn’t be anything else, otherwise we’d need a whole other review,” he said.

“I have to say Mr Porter has been good and he’s always kept me up to scratch. There is no reason to think the Attorney has done anything other than his absolute best on this.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has unveiled laws to protect Australians from discrimination on the basis of their religious belief, but the laws do not go as far as many church leaders want.

The Attorney-General’s Religious Discrimination Bill will take the form of similar anti-discrimination laws on gender, age, race and disability, and be brought before parliament in October.

It will not be a broader “religious freedom” act which Mr Porter said today would be too vague and lead to courts ultimately deciding what rights matter more in Australia.

“Australia has a strong anti-discrimination framework with specific protections for people against discrimination on the basis of their age, sex, race and disability,” Mr Porter said.

“This draft Bill released today extends those protections to provide protection for people against discrimination on the basis of their religion or religious belief, or lack thereof.

“The Bill would make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life. The Bill does not create a positive right to freedom of religion.”

The Religious Discrimination Act would create a new Freedom of Religion Commissioner and provide comprehensive protection on religious belief and activity.

“Whilst there will always be competing views on issues such as this, the government considers the draft Bill presented today strikes the right balance in the interests of all Australians,” Mr Porter said.

“Consultation has already been undertaken through my office and the office of the Prime Minister with a range of stakeholder groups, including religious organisations.

“Further consultation with a wide range of stakeholders will now follow the release of the Bill and I look forward to working constructively with interested parties in settling a final Bill over the coming weeks. The first of these consultations will take place next week.

“I expect the Bills can be introduced in October and considered by both the House and Senate before the end of the calendar year, allowing time for a Senate inquiry.”

Some religious leaders boycotted the speech by Mr Porter at Sydney’s Great Synagogue because of his inclination against a broader act enshrining freedom of religion.

Mr Porter today said he was always opposed to such a broad law and this religious discrimination bill would provide courts with a better structure by which to weigh up religious issues.

He also said that some religious leaders did not understand the fallout any religious freedoms bill could entail.

“Aside from not being what was recommended from the extensive consultative analysis of the Ruddock Review, or indeed what was taken and promised at a full federal election, there are several obvious problems with the positive rights approach,” he said in Sydney.

“At several points of the consultations, I might respectively say, on this issue it appeared people had not thought through the positive rights approach — including those in church groups who were calling for it.

“I have always found vague and unconvincing ... a list of rights and leaving the courts to determine the outcomes.”


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Breitling Navitimer – a stylish watch in flawless execution

Breitling Navitimer

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Falling New Home Prices, Mortgage Rates, Spark Housing Rebound

Fueled by falling new home prices and falling mortgage rates, the U.S. new home market is experiencing a rebound in its fortunes.

Starting with falling new home sale prices, preliminary and revised data reported by the U.S. Census Bureau for July 2019 shows that the average and median sale prices of new homes sold in the United States have continued a downward trend into mid-2019.

Median and Average Monthly U.S. New Home Sale Prices, January 2000 through July 2019

Focusing on median new home sale prices, the next chart presents the trailing twelve month average of these prices to smooth out month-to-month volatility in the data to identify trends since July 2012, which marked the beginning of a prolonged surge in median new home prices.

Trends in Trailing Twelve Month Average of Median U.S. New Home Sale Prices, July 2012 through July 2019

There have been three major trends during that time, each characterized by a relatively steady rate at which median new home sale prices rose, but with the rate of increase declining in each phase. The last upward trend saw prices escalate at an average rate of $930 per month from September 2015 to October 2018, after which the trend broke down and new home sale prices began falling instead. Had this last trend continued, we estimate that trailing year average of median new home sale prices of $318,483 shown in the chart above would be about $20,000 higher.

But that trend didn't continue, with median new home sale prices falling sharply as the median household income in the U.S. has risen, which has combined to make new homes in the U.S. the most relatively affordable they have been since August 2013. We can see that in the following chart showing the ratio of the trailing twelve month averages of median new home sale prices and median household income, where the median new home in the U.S. has dropped to be five times the median household income.

Ratio of Trailing Twelve Month Average and Median New Home Sale Prices, January 1976 - July 2019

But it's not just home prices that have been falling in the U.S. Mortgage rates have also been falling since they peaked at 4.87% in November 2018, where at 3.77% in July 2019, they are now more than a full percentage point lower than they were at that time. The following chart shows the evolution of 30-year conventional mortgage rates from July 2012 through July 2019:

30-Year Conventional Fixed Mortgage Rates in U.S., July 1971 through July 2019

The combination of falling prices and falling mortgage rates means that new homes have become considerably more affordable than they were at the end of 2018. New home buyers are responding to the stimulative effect of these changes, with the number of sales increasing dramatically in recent months. The following chart presents our estimate of the market capitalization of the new home market in the U.S., where we've multiplied the average sale price of new homes sold in the U.S. by the number of new homes sold.

Trailing Twelve Month Average New Home Sales Market Capitalization, Not Adjusted for Inflation and Adjusted for Inflation, January 1976 - July 2019

In nominal terms, the preliminary estimate of the trailing year average market capitalization of new home sales in the U.S. is the highest it has been since March 2007. That there has been a sharp uptick in the U.S. new home market capitalization is confirmed by examining the trajectory of its year over year growth rate.

Year Over Year Growth Rate of Nominal and Inflation-Adjusted Trailing Twelve Month Average of New Homes Market Capitalization, January 2000 - July 2019

This latter chart also reveals that the U.S. new home industry's market cap was effectively shrinking between July 2018 and April 2019, which was becoming a drag on the U.S. economy. That situation has only recently reversed in the months since.

The question now becomes what will it take for that momentum to be sustained?