Australian Politics 2022-10-05 06:01:00


Sikh's bid for weapons act amendment rejected in Supreme Court

Sikhs are often in trouble over this. But it is part of their faith. Religious accomodations are extended to Muslims and Aborigines. Why not Sikhs?

The state government has dismissed a Supreme Court application which would allow knives to be carried into Queensland schools for “genuine religious purposes”.

Court documents have revealed the director of an Australian religious group had applied for the state’s weapons act be amended in the Queensland Supreme Court.

The application was made by Kamaljit Athwal, the director of the Sikh Nishkam Society of Australia, who said the weapons act prevented her and others from entering Queensland schools for educational purposes.

According to the court document, Ms Athwal is an initiated as an Amritdhari Sikh and has been the society’s director since 2010.

Initiated Sikhs are required at all times to wear or possess five mandatory “articles of faith” which include an undergarment, a small wooden comb, an iron band, have “un-cut” hair covered by a turban and a ceremonial sword.

The sword, known as a Kirpan, is made of steel or iron and is usually worn underneath clothing on a sling.

Ms Athwal argued in the court document that if a Sikh were to remove any of the articles of faith they must go refrain from eating or drinking for a period of time.

“That would extend to the removal of the Kirpan to enter school grounds,” the document read.

Ms Athwal said she and other initiated Sikhs had been excluded from school drop-offs and pick-ups, from attending assemblies, meeting teachers, attending school activities and conducting work on school groups.

Further, Ms Athwal contended her ability to vote at government elections at her local school had been deprived.

Under the weapons act, a person must not physically possess a knife in a public place or a school unless the person has a reasonable excuse.

Maximum penalties including one year’s imprisonment.

The state government acknowledged the difficulties initiated Sikhs faced however, on September 30 it dismissed the court application


'I am being shamed for choosing to stay at home with my kids'

The government wants me in the paid workforce. I get it, the post-Covid economy is out of shape and we have a long way to go. Never mind my three children under four. The nation needs me and we have childcare centres these days so I really have no excuse. Childcare subsidies form Labor’s single biggest budget commitment. I guess it’s time I got a real job. Almost every time I turn on the telly, it’s there again, another story about getting more women “back to work”.

It’s puzzling because I thought I already was working.

I’m on call 24/7. You wouldn’t believe the clientele – so demanding and completely unreasonable at times. The youngest is now crawling so at any given time someone is hungry, busting, tired, crying or trying to get in the toilet or the fire or the bin.

There are many high points – a two-year-old’s emphatic rendition of Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys. Competitions doing burnouts on their bikes. Overhearing my son sounding out a word. I love it, but I have no doubt it really is hard work because of the mental and physical exhaustion I experience at the end of each day. And I know it’s essential work because it must be done – all else springs from foundational tasks of caring.

It’s just not the kind of work that counts, apparently.

Women have become great big dollar signs in the government’s bid to rebuild the economy, but I wonder about the true cost of both parents working longer hours. More childcare isn’t helping us balance care work with paid work, it simply enables us to replace care work with paid work.

I have serious reservations about using “workforce participation” as a measure of gender equality when the work I do doesn’t count. It’s a race I can never win.

Incentivising men to do more of the unpaid care work is the true equaliser, but instead we are intent on treating women as the problem. I don’t want gender equality if it is simply a ­process of erasing everything that is inherently female.

With another childcare rebate on the way in July, and childcare subsidies having almost doubled to $11 billion since my eldest was born in 2015, I get a definite sense that I’m not pulling my weight.

Not “participating”. The benefits of entering paid work again are not lost on me – I could contribute to my super and our increasing living costs. I’d feel part of the community and have better future job prospects. I might enjoy a sense of solidarity by joining the 67% of other parents who have children under the age of three in formalised care.

I’m just having some difficulty finding one of the “high quality” childcare facilities the government is always banging on about – 30% of the centres in my local area aren’t meeting the National Quality Standards for childcare.

Nationwide, 11.2 % of centres have applied for waivers to continue operating with a staff shortage. Two in three early childhood educators in Victoria are considering leaving their role because their work is woefully underpaid, starting at $20 an hour, and culturally undervalued. The sector expects to be short 40,000 staff next year. Staff turnover is through the roof. My closest centre is 40km away so I’d want to be on good coin because I will be chugging the diesel.

Something just doesn’t add up.

My return to paid work is incentivised by higher family benefits for dual-income families than single-income families in Australia, yet we don’t seem to have adequate systems in place for someone else to look after my kids while I engage in “paid” work. Am I not doing the government a favour by keeping my kids out of overwhelmed childcare centres until the situation improves?

Why isn’t access to a parental caregiver in the first three years being prioritised in any policy, particularly in the context of a childcare skills shortage and inconclusive research about the impacts of formalised care for children under three? This need not encroach on anybody’s ability to outsource childcare if they wish, it’s just about transparency and genuine choice.

The government already knows that family policy marginalises parents who choose to care for their own children full time and makes them feel like freaks of society, because they commissioned a research paper which drew these conclusions more than eight years ago. The paper, Parent-Only Care in Australia, examined the views of parents choosing not to outsource the care of their babies and young children amid an increasing trend of policies incentivising them to ­return to paid work.

La Trobe University researchers found the reasons parents gave for opting to assume full-time caregiving roles – bonding, being there for a very young child, emotional ­development, breastfeeding, and overwhelming concerns about the quality of childcare – were very much validated by the evidence. It found that not only was the political agenda tone-deaf to these concerns, but it actively targeted “women with young children, who have had lower than average rates of workforce participation”.

The paper argued the folly of such shortsighted economics by pointing out the long-term social and economic costs of poor-quality childcare. And yet the government has steamrolled on, either reluctant or unable to do anything about it. Probably a bit of both. It’s the “modernity paradox” on full display, a term coined by psychologist Daniel Keating and early childhood development expert Clyde Hertzman in 1999. The better we seem to get at wealth creation, the worse off our children seem to be. Limitations or quality constraints seem inevitable when carrying out child-rearing on an industrial scale.

Is this what we really want?


Longer school day, master teachers could solve Australia's education productivity problem

Changing the length of the school day and employing master teachers are among the solutions the Productivity Commission has put forward to improve the performance of Australia's education system.

Australia is spending more than ever per student on education and yet national literacy and numeracy achievement is stagnating.

A new report by the Commission investigates why this problem exists and what can be done across the school and higher education system to solve it.

One in five Australians have low basic skills, impacting on their job opportunities, capacity to learn further skills and wages.

Productivity Commission deputy chair Dr Alex Robson said the while spending had grown, Australian students' results were not improving.

"One of the issues could be that the best practice is not becoming common practice," Dr Robson said.

"So diffusing what works and, just as importantly, what doesn't work in the classroom in different circumstances, that's one of the things we focus on."

The report said classroom teachers spend much of their working time on low-value administration tasks that could be reduced or reassigned to support staff.

Technology also has a role in relieving this burden and improving student outcomes but it needed to be introduced carefully.

"It's not a silver bullet... there's a digital divide where some schools have access to the technology and others don't, but then also in terms of how it's used and what's more effective in different circumstances," Dr Robson said.

An increase in the numbers of support staff and lower student-to-staff ratios don't appear to have had any impact on student results.

The report suggests improving consistency of professional development for teachers and employing master teachers to spread best practice teaching across schools.

It also suggests trialling more radical changes, such as extending the length of the school day or adopting the United Kingdom's model of academy schools to improve under-performing public schools.

"Maybe some of these more forward-looking ideas are possible solutions, but we're definitely not saying that that's the exact answer," Dr Robson said.

The report also suggests a HECS-style system for vocational education could reduce some of the up-front costs and disincentives for students to go down that path that could be more appropriate for their career ambitions compared to university.

The commission was highly critical of the changes to university course fees under the Coalition's job ready graduates reforms, stating that price signals for in-demand fields didn't work under the income-contingent loan system.

The commission is seeking feedback on the report by October 21 and will hold roundtable discussions.


Coal is booming but you won’t hear about it at the ABC

Having seen the disastrous economic and social outcomes of Europe’s energy crisis, Australia, perversely, perhaps uniquely, is determined to inflict similar damage on itself. The decisions of the Queensland government, and AGL, to get rid of coal-generated electricity by 2035 will likely be, if implemented fully, disastrous.

I say “likely” because it’s possible that some great technology fix may show up in the meantime. But based on what we know of technology today, these moves mean much higher electricity prices and in time almost certainly unreliable supply and intermittent crises.

Nothing is certain, of course, least of all the future. But if as a nation we wanted to replicate the European mess, this is the way we’d go about it.

There are times in Australia when the plain truth is so unfashionable that almost no one speaks it. Here is one simple truth about Australia. We are a wealthy society – with first-class hospitals, affluent universities that can indulge their postmodern critical theory nuttiness, modern transport, modern if ineffective defence forces, a vast welfare system and everything else – for one reason: we make an enormous amount of money exporting commodities.

But the anti-fossil fuel sentiment has become so great that now there is a corporate wariness even about gas exploration and development. Yet we are completely dependent on coal and gas ourselves, as well as for export income. Incidentally, substituting gas for coal has been the main way many developed nations have actually reduced their greenhouse gas emissions.

However, remark this central fact which is never allowed into the debate. Coal is booming. That’s right. Coal is booming.

I am indebted to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute website for highlighting two recent international reports that make this clear, one from the International Energy Agency and one from BloombergNEF. No rhetoric or argument could be as powerful as the facts. So let me offer you a selection of facts from these reports.

Last year, global coal-fired electricity jumped a staggering 8.5 per cent, far in excess of the 5.6 per cent rise in total global power generation. Overall, never in human history has more electricity been generated by coal.

Yet how many times per day do we hear on the ABC that the world has turned away from coal? Whenever I’m on an ABC panel and point out that coal is booming, I cause the most terrible conniptions among my fellow panellists and ABC hosts. It’s as though I’ve committed a morally shocking crime of modern heresy speak. But there’s something else. Their view of climate change is religious but, while fervently religious, it’s also intellectually fragile, and if they admit certain unarguable facts, such as global coal use, the whole dogmatic structure underlying their world view threatens to collapse. Thus the moral panic in the reaction.

But I digress. Some more fun facts. The majority of countries pledged to phasing coal out altogether actually increased their coal-fired power production in 2021. Coal, in fact, accounted for the majority of the global net energy increase in 2021. It’s not only in Australia that climate change happy-talk bears only a glancing relationship with reality.

One of the special wrinkles in the Australian debate is the way we ignore Asia. Here are the 10 top countries, in order, for coal power expansion in 2021: China, India, Vietnam, South Africa, The Philippines, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Japan. Eight out of 10 of those nations are in Asia. Economic growth is still centred much more in Asia than anywhere else. Power usage tracks economic growth, and coal use tracks overall power usage. Those basic equations haven’t changed.

When people talk airily about the world transitioning away from fossil fuels, what they are really describing, so far at least, is that Europe has cut fossil fuels a bit and is in crisis as a consequence, while the US has partly moved from coal to gas.

There’s a lot of renewable energy being installed as well, vast amounts in fact. If your story is only about the uptake of renewables you can produce an alternative set of facts that seem pretty impressive. But you can’t pretend that coal, gas and other fossil fuels have suffered absolute decline. In 2021 coal surged not only absolutely but also proportionally.

It’s also fair to remember that 2021 was a special case. The world economy was recovering from Covid, droughts produced shortages of hydro-electricity and Russia caused high gas prices in Europe. But every year is a special year. Not only that, the long-term trends do not suggest the world is ditching coal either. Indonesia relied on coal for 49 per cent of its power in 2012 and 61 per cent in 2021. The Philippines went from 39 per cent coal power in 2012 to 59 per cent in 2021. Indonesia and The Philippines are high-population, big-growth economies as far as the eye can see.

Of course they themselves are small fry compared with China and India, still the fastest-growing big economies in the world. Between them they accounted for 83 per cent of new coal power in 2021. According to Climate Action Tracker, China increased its greenhouse emissions by 11 per cent from 2015 to 2021. In the same period, the US, that world imperialist neoliberal terrible progenitor of every Western ill, which moreover was ruled for most of that time by Donald Trump, reduced its emissions by 6 per cent. Much of that was switching from coal to gas. Yet the Australian green-left demonises gas almost as wildly as it demonises coal.

Coal provided 64 per cent of China’s energy in 2021. Despite being told endlessly by wish-fulfilment-addicted government climate agencies that China is committed to action on greenhouse gases – I’ve often in ABC appearances encountered that amiable chimera, the China national carbon market – China is expanding coal massively.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Global Energy Monitor assessing that by July 2022 China had 258 separate coal-fired power stations, involving 515 individual units, proposed, permitted or under construction.

Further, the vast majority of zero-emissions energy the world does have is either nuclear or hydro. Chris Bowen scoffs at nuclear energy. He might want to let France’s Emmanuel Macron in on the joke. The French President won re-election promising 14 new nuclear power plants. France gets 70 per cent of its electricity from nuclear and is the world’s biggest electricity exporter. Nuclear is much more reliable than hydro. Sometimes it doesn’t rain, and some countries, like Australia, are topographically difficult for hydro.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan deserves praise for introducing a bill to remove the legal prohibition on nuclear energy in Australia. Our greenhouse emissions are down to about 1 per cent of the world’s total.

Bankrupting our economy won’t help the global climate. We should gradually reduce our emissions and replace high-emissions energy with lower-emissions sources such as gas, or zero-emissions sources such as nuclear. And before that, we should occasionally allow the facts to participate in the debate.