Stand strong against uni pressures

Brian Mitchell writes: Re. “The kids aren’t alright: budding journos struggling with English” (April 21, item 3). When tutoring first-year journalism students at a leading Australian university I was staggered by the poor grasp of English amongst both international and local students.

I was regarded by students as a hard marker and it was quietly suggested to me by colleagues that I revise my assessments. Apparently I was not fitting the parabolic standard for fail, pass and distinction (not that the levels were named in such simple, easily understood terms).

I ignored the suggestion and continued to mark as I saw fair. Nothing more was said or done about it and I did not suffer as a consequence. I do wonder, however, whether I would have been more open to the suggestion to massage marks if academia had been my bread and butter and paying my mortgage, instead of being the casual gig that it was. I can only hope not.

Academics feeling “pressured” into passing students who should fail have an obligation to live up to the higher standard expected of them. If they permit standards to fall because they’re worried about keeping their jobs they are not fit to hold the posts they have been entrusted with.

Who is beating up who?

John Thompson writes: Re. “Rundle: the beat-up goes on as Quadrant attacks Behrendt” (April 21, item 6). Now I’m starting to get confused. Is it possible that Rundle prefers flogging dead horses to s-xually abusing them?

Methinks, he doth protest too much. If it is “less than weak — a bad-taste tweet”, then why does he have to have three long articles in four days, flaying anyone who has the temerity to criticise Larissa Behrendt?

One wonders why he has returned to his patronising criticism of Bess Price, instead of arguing Behrendt’s case on its merits. He is happy to refer to Price’s frequent flyer miles and, quite gratuitously and without foundation, refer to her eating a yuppie sandwich at Qantas Club. However, he takes offence at one of Behrendt’s critics questioning her documented, accelerated progress in academia; even those of us who are in favour of positive discrimination feel that it is worthwhile to not blindly accept all such appointments; particularly when such recipients of favour give us cause to question their subsequent behaviour.

One wonders how long it will be before Rundle expands his criticism to include former co-chair of the Reconciliation Council, Jackie Huggins, for her statement that “even though people might have some Aboriginal ancestors, they could not be genuine Aborigines if they had been brought up in white suburbs without any engagement with an Aboriginal community”. It was not said about Behrendt, but it is getting dangerously close to home.

Carbon tax: what now?

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Yes Labor, this is as good as it gets” (April 21, item 1) I don’t know where Bernard Keane gets his certainty from. It seems questionable to suggest that the best course for an unpopular minority government is forge ahead with a carbon price, a reform that seems only likely to appeal to the 10% of the electorate who vote Green and who won’t be won over to Labor anyway, and that presents an easy target for a conservative opposition adept at negative campaigns. To make matters worse, a carbon price won’t do anything directly to combat climate change and is premised on a faith in the infallibility of market mechanisms that should have been discredited by the GFC but clearly hasn’t been.

Roger Davenport writes: It is interesting to see that the list of companies objecting to a carbon tax is growing day by day. In its current form manufacturers will become less competitive due to extra administration costs

It will add another level of bureaucrats in the civil service who will become a further burden on the tax payers, more money going up in smoke. The proposed form of this tax will do little for the environment. It is interesting to note that currently The Banks are supporting the tax.

I hate to be cynical, but as I see it, they just look at it as another revenue stream, trading carbon credits.

Bill Williams writes: After demonstrating the very best of his writing skills, Bernard Keane suggests that Labor’s  “only goal must be to limp along and try to get in place a carbon price, a mining tax, activity-based funding and performance information for hospitals and get the budget back to surplus.”

No wonder Labor is in trouble if this low level of ambition for governance is all that pro-Labor Canberra insiders can come up with. Bernard’s disappointing conclusion to his well-crafted preamble made me feel exactly the same way that he so amusingly described Wayne Swan’s budget speech:  “that the rabbit [ I hoped] he was going to pull out of his hat” at the end of his critique was, in fact, already dead.

If Julia Gillard follows Bernard Keane’s advice then her government’s rabbit, too, is already dead.

Here’s 10 tactics Julia Gillard could consider to get her government across the line at the next election:

  1. Do another U-turn on the carbon tax, right now and abandon it. She can use the same argument that she used the first time: that circumstances have changed, in particular the US position. Tell Australia that she thought she was doing the right thing but that she sees her job as serving the Australian people and that clearly a majority of Australians do not want a carbon tax. If she had the courage to reverse her course she would win back more voters than she would lose. Sure, it’s risky, but less so than her present path.
  2. Replace the carbon tax with a commitment to zero population growth for Australia as Australia’s first step in responding to carbon pollution (and all the other symptoms of too many humans including various other pollutions, fisheries depletion, deforestation, environmental degradation etc).  Use this commitment as a rationale for taking a stronger position on queue jumping asylum seekers.
  3. Take to the election a plan to reduce all income tax to zero over 20 years, through the creation of a sovereign wealth fund which invests in Australian companies and to which 5% of all government income receipts would be invested — combined with a reduction in government expenditure of 5%  to fund the investment implemented like an internal tax on government activities.
  4. Start publicly expressing serious concern about the high Australian dollar, and the impact of the dollar on Australia’s exporters generally and especially on our non-mining exporters. Do everything in her power to get the dollar lower as quickly as possible. In fact she can’t do much but she would win the respect of many people currently unlikely to vote for her, without alienating those that will anyway.
  5. Adopt the Green’s policy of abandoning HECS for undergraduate courses. Point out that if a tax discourages carbon pollution, why should we have one on education? One of the most important the primary tasks of Australia’s universities should be to educate our next generation. Export income from education is desirable but not the highest priority.
  6. Make the Murray-Darling basin a higher priority and directly challenge the South Australian water mafia who have successfully bluffed most Australians into believing that even during extreme drought their lower lakes should be artificially filled with fresh water while the sea is kept out via man-made barrages. Abandon the water buy-back and simply reduce all water entitlements, that are permanently traded, by 5% as part of the legal requirement for the water trade until the overall allocation reduction target is achieved.
  7. Abandon the “free-trade” mantra and replace it with a “reciprocal trade” commitment: we will abandon artificial restrictions to trade, but only with trading partners who reciprocate. Apply and demand “reciprocity” as a core value we demand in all practical aspects of our relationships with other nations.
  8. Fulfil Labor’s promise to the Business Council of Australia to implement a national infrastructure audit to evaluate all of the infrastructure projects currently requiring government  funds in order to be implemented in terms of their relative merits and potentially contribution to Australia’s long term prosperity.  The NBN is a very desirable infrastructure project but was it the most deserving, or merely the one that Labor thought would help it get re-elected? Australians are much smarter than Paul Keating’s “tea leaf reading, focus group driven polling types” (who still seem to be writing the script for Gillard’s ‘real’ self) assume. A major infrastructure project like the NBN would receive much wider approval from mainstream Australians, even those who don’t think its expense is justified, if it had been the recommendation of an independent evaluation such as that recommended by the BCA.
  9. Draw attention to and take positive action to Australia’s high tolerance for alcohol and obesity. Make alcohol abuse and obesity key public health issues. Dramatically expand the role of the Australian Institute of Sport to include directly impacting every school in Australia.
  10. Take a more direct leadership role. Speak directly to Australians just like Anna Bligh did during the floods. Imagine, for example, if Julia Gillard called on every Australian family, via an address to the nation, to reduce their carbon footprint by consuming  electricity and petrol consumption?  Imagine if all the time, energy and money had been invested in education aimed at behaviour instead of in a trying to implement a new tax that will most likely cause her to lose government anyway?

Peter Fray

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