tip off

Kevin and Malcolm can afford to wait

Crikey readers weigh in on the big issues of the day.

Ruddbull on ice

John Richardson writes: Re. “Crikey says: Kev and Mal show a no-hope bet“ (yesterday). So, Crikey believes that the leadership ambitions of Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull are on ice “indefinitely”, due to the simple fact that neither man has been able to garner the support of the majority of their colleagues.

My thesis is that things will change rapidly after the next election: no matter who wins. Whoever the loser is, they will be dumped as quick as a flash by their current supporters, including party machine apparatchiks, who will be entirely unforgiving and ruthless in pursuit of their own ambitions.

The newly elected prime minister will then find himself/herself facing an opposition leader who will be immeasurably more popular than the leader of the government. It surely won’t take long for the ambitious backbenchers on the government side of the aisle to realise that they will have to change leaders if they don’t want to fall prey to the long, slow death of a thousand cuts by opinion poll.

In the meantime, both Rudd and Turnbull can afford to wait, with all the pressure on both Gillard and Abbott.

Preventative health worries

Brooke Sawyer, communications director at the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, writes: Re. “Dear preventative health wowsers: stop taking the piss” (yesterday). Bernard Keane’s article has a few errors to be corrected. We’re not sure where his number for the “$9 million Australian National Preventive Health Agency” comes from — the annual budget for the Agency is $5.4 million.

Also, the description of the Agency’s discussion paper is incorrect. The Commonwealth government requested the Agency’s advice in relation to the public interest case for a minimum price for alcohol in Australia. Our draft advice, to which all stakeholders are now invited to further put their views, is that a minimum price should not be introduced into Australia at national level (this view is not dependent on further research) but that a minimum price may be useful at a more local level, for example as is occurring in Alice Springs where the local retailers have introduced it.

Further, we did not propose an increase (or decrease) in wine taxation. We made a draft finding that the current Wine Equalisation Tax, by its very nature as an ad valorem (value) tax, preferences cheaper wine. For a well-articulated recommendation on rational alcohol taxation (including wine), people might want to access that section of the Henry Tax Review.

In praise of school chaplains

David Edmunds writes: Re. “Shutting the school gate on God: a teacher’s view” (Monday). In the early 1990s the school I was working in decided to accept the offer from a church group to fund a part-time chaplain. Over the following 15 years in which I worked in this school I found the experiment, as it then was, to be overwhelmingly successful.

Of course there was some angst about accepting the offer for all the reasons that Chris Fotinopoulos gave in his piece yesterday.

My reason then for arguing in favour of the chaplain was that public schools have been progressively reducing opportunities for students, through the reduction in extracurricula activities, financial constraints on what can be done during the day and the ever-growing and stultifying administrative requirements of teachers who want to do anything with their students.

I should add that I am an atheist, but accept that Judeo-Christian beliefs and culture pervades our society.

The people who were placed in our school overwhelmingly made a positive contribution. I am not aware of the training they were given prior to their appointment, but they saw their role as supporting students, not as proselytisers.

Our chaplains were placed in our student services team that worked on an informal case management system. Students come with the full range of problems from severe mental illness to intractable stupidity, and their issues were dealt with by the school counselor, student services teachers, deputy principals, the principal and so on, as the case suggested, and in many cases, as the students chose.

All of the chaplains appointed over the years accepted that their role was to support students, to demonstrate their religious commitment through kindness and decency, and they were very good. There may have been students who were wary of their religious background, but I was never aware of them.

They ran a small Christian fellowship group, which fitted into their tiny office. They did not evangelise, simply made themselves available. While I might view this stuff as codswollop, many don’t and it provided a service for our students.

There have been news reports about extreme fundamentalist groups abusing the system to place divisive evangelist people in schools. In the school I worked in they would have lasted about 10 minutes. If the system falls over, it is more than likely that this will be the cause, and that would be a pity.

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