Give ’em a serve Julia. If there is one area of administration where state governments have clearly been in charge for over a century it is primary and secondary education, so it would have been quite appropriate for Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, wearing her Education Minister’s hat, to play just a little of the blame game with her State Labor colleagues about the latest official figures showing that school retention rates dropped in 2007 for the second year in a row. Back in 2005 the apparent Australia-wide retention rate calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of students moving from years 7/8 to year 12 peaked at 75.3%. Since then it has fallen to 74.7% in 2006 and 74.3% in 2007. Ms Gillard could have given some of her well practised scorn to the NSW Labor Government whose education system, on this measure of the retention rate, is the worst of all the major states – just 69.7% compared to the ACT’s 85.2%%, Victoria’s 80.1%, Queensland’s 78.5% and South Australia’s 72.7%. When NSW can just beat the pauper State of Tasmania with its retention rate of 65.4% it has absolutely nothing to be proud of. The only good news about the Northern Territory figure of an appallingly low 61.7% is that the apparent retention rate for Indigenous students has increased Australia-wide from 36.4% back in the year 2000 to 42.9% in 2007. One puzzling aspect of the falling retention rate is that it has occurred while the ratio of students to teachers in the nation’s secondary schools has also fallen.

Students to Teachers Retention Rate %
2005 16.2 75.3
2006 16.0 74.7
2007 15.9 74.3

Does reducing class sizes really help? Perhaps that is something Ms Gillard should ask her State Labor Ministers as she sets about meeting the pledge of the Rudd Labor Government’s Education Revolution to lift retention rates to 85% by 2015 and to 90% by 2020.

The wise Aristotle. I know one swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy. I know because Wendy Craik of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission reminded me so yesterday when she reported on the continuing dire state of her Basin. Still, there is a little joy in the latest updates by the Bureau of Meteorology on the rainfall and temperature pattern of the just ended summer and my daily study of what people read on the internet tells me that the weather tanks are high. So here are maps summarising what has happened over the last three months:

A cooler and wetter summer for most of us at least makes a change from reading about the incessant march of global warming even if the respite is but temporary.

No solos in this government. With his approval rating sky high there is no reason to suppose that Kevin Rudd is of a mind to change his style but surely it must be a little galling to his Cabinet colleagues the way the Prime Minister keeps pushing himself in to the limelight. Solo performances are not on the agenda of this very presidential style of Prime Minister. Have a look for yourself at the list of announcements on the PM’s website. There is hardly a statement of significance about anything from upgrading a naval fuel installation in Darwin to a Teen Dental Plan to yesterday’s upgrade of the Ipswich motorway where the Rudd name does not at least share pride of place. The theory is that Prime Ministers are first among equals. This one is just first.

Eat a whale, save the planet. Defence Department boffins will be scrambling for a copy of the latest edition of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s journal Reform which ALRC President, Professor David Weisbrot AM, says is becoming a social and legal issue, as well as an important economic one – the treatment of animals. Defence has a little problem with a rapidly expanding eastern grey kangaroo population on its former naval transmission station site in Belconnen. It planned to capture the animals and release them well clear of their current very suburban home but the Department of Territory and Municipal Services of the ACT Government has, the Canberra Times reports, scuppered the relocation plan by refusing to grant export permits to Defence for kangaroos to be moved across the ACT border into NSW. Culling, the polite military term for killing kangaroos, was the planned alternative strategy but the animal rights movement is now well and truly on the warpath. Reading the articles in Reform “Arguments in favour of basic legal rights for nonhumans” (Steven Wise; President, Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights Inc., Coral Springs, Florida, USA ); and “The treatment of feral animals” (Graeme McEwen, Barristers Animal Welfare Panel) is surely now called for. As for the Danish whaling advocates who are campaigning on the slogan “Eat a whale, save the planet”, they surely would benefit from studying “Animal rights activists’ case against the animal industries” (Tom Regan, American philosopher and animal rights activist)

The Daily Reality Check

Collingwood is being greedy and trying to grab Olympic Park land and gunshots at Kings Cross at 4am are celebrating the rugby league lads having a night out in Sydney. The footy season will soon be upon us and sport can take its rightful place in the reading habits of the nation. In the meantime, give yourself something light to think about. Like this picture from the Sydney Daily Telegraph:

Is this the real Death Star? That is the question posed this morning as the Tele discovers the elegant rotating pinwheel system, named WR104, in the constellation Sagittarius about which University of Sydney astronomer Peter Tuthill has issued this dire warning: “Sometimes, supernovae like the one that will one day destroy WR104, focus their energy into a narrow beam of very destructive gamma-ray radiation along the axis of the system. If such a “gamma-ray burst” happens, we really do not want Earth to be in the way.”

And don’t think you can console yourself with the belief that this is just a tabloid beat-up. That noble journal of record The Canberra Times reports Dr Tuthill’s discovery with the warning the death star could explode “relatively soon” even though, when it does, the dreaded gamma rays might miss us. Real news like that makes those other stories this morning about housing affordability and the like pale into insignificance. There was one difference, though between the Tele’s and the Canberra Times’ account. The Tele had Dr Tuthill telling its readers “I can’t help a twinge of feeling that it is uncannily like looking down a rifle barrel” while the dour Times pointed out that “relatively soon” in astronomical parlance means any time within the next few hundred thousand years. You can find an unvarnished report on WR104 on the University of Sydney’s website.

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

Rudd puts limits on political donations – Chris Hammer, The Age
Newspoll: Nelson and Coalition at all-time low – Dennis Shanahan, The Australian
Mac attack over Labor meal deal – Angela Saurine, The Daily Telegraph
Farewell to full employment – Peter Martin, Canberra Times
Unions campaign for super wage deal – Mark Skulley and David Crowe, Australian Financial Review