World Wrap: Did 2013 Carry Us Closer To Doomsday?

AT THE END of another year, I am for once unashamedly deferring; 2013 has been a difficult year across the world, and whilst I am an optimist when it comes to world affairs, I am also a realist. Did 2013 bring the world a little closer to a nuclear apocalypse? Today we consider a piece by British-American historian Dr Tim Stanley, and his summation of the year behind us — and its messages for the year ahead.

For once I’m not going to say much; I know I threaten often to be brief, only to find a 1,500 word essay on my screen when I have finished. Today I seek only to share — it is New Year’s Eve, after all — and to offer a few thoughts and some opinion.

The article I am linking to today by Dr Stanley appeared yesterday in the UK in The Telegraph, and I have chosen to share it because it not only evaluates the state of global affairs through conservative eyes, but considers them through the dual prisms of two distinct (but complementary) threads of conservative thought.

I urge readers to read it: makes a lot of sense.

There are a lot of the same subjects in Dr Stanley’s piece that we have touched on in this column: the benefits of globalisation and economic liberalism; the need to ensure wealth remains able to be created; the dangers of socialism; and some consideration of the value of conservatism, and why that noble school of thought applies as much today as it did in the days of Locke and Burke, and more recently expressed by the likes of Friedrich Hayek.

And Dr Stanley devotes much of his article to themes we talk about here whenever they are appropriate: specifically, the ever-volatile nature of global politics, and how easily a miscalculation could lead to trouble on an unprecedented scale; to be sure, these concerns cover much of his article, and I think it important to note that issues we have talked about here — the potential for military confrontation with Russia in Syria, the danger of North Korea, and the military adventures of China and their ramifications, to recall a few — are equally taken on by others in a mainstream context across the Western world.

Dr Stanley’s piece is written for a British audience, and conspicuously so, but it could as easily have been penned with Australian eyes in mind. Rather than pick it apart and talk about it in detail, I will be interested in any reader comments today: the discussion, such as it is, will flow from these, and I will involve myself in any debate that arises as those who do so peruse his article, and share their thoughts.

Is the glass half empty, or half full?

 

I should also like to take the opportunity to thank all readers of The Red And The Blue for their readership, loyalty and referrals during 2013 — in the full knowledge, of course, that many do not share my views, or the principles of conservatism that inform them. No matter: the brief here is to present issues for political discussion at the level of the “everyday Joe,” free (as far as restraint allows me!) of highbrow jargon or bogging down too far in advanced concepts that typically turn people off politics, and to get people talking about them. Our readership has increased by more than 350% this year, for which I thank you, and I ask you to invite those around you with an interest in the matters we talk about here to trial the site and to get involved in the conversation.

Politics is all around us, and not just confined to Canberra, or Spring Street, or the Melbourne Town Hall, or the equivalent of these where you live: it affects everything we do, and shapes our lives; in turn (and even if many fail to realise it), it is also directly shaped by each of us.

 

I trust all readers enjoy a festive New Year celebration tonight; be safe, and by all means drink (but leave one in the fridge at the end of the night for tomorrow, so to speak): my drop of choice at present is comprised of some fine beers from Bavaria (in breach of my usual red wine and Islay single malt habits) and I intend to enjoy several of them. Once the festivities are over, I look forward to picking our discussion up again later in the week.

GP Visits: Just Stop The Silliness Over A $5 Co-Payment

IT SEEMS CLEAR — using the trusty political principle that a controlled leak is the best way to announce something — that in the 2014 federal budget, the Abbott government will introduce a $5 co-payment on bulk-billed GP visits to help repair the country’s finances and to discourage “doctor shopping” and oversupply. It mightn’t be ideal but it is responsible: whether it is or isn’t, a dose of perspective is required — especially where the ALP is concerned.

I guess it’s a modern phenomenon and a reality of the proliferation of social media that as I set out to write this piece, I’ve had an argument with someone I don’t know — and who doesn’t know me — over this issue on Facebook; I already knew this would be an explosive political issue if improperly handled, and that brief exchange proved it.

The news (and I think we can call it “news,” despite Abbott government “refusals to speculate” on the matter) that the Commission of Audit charged with identifying budget savings will recommend the introduction of a $5 co-payment for bulk-billed visits to a general practitioner — and that that recommendation will be adopted — represents what is obviously not an ideal scenario, but a responsible and reasonable one nonetheless.

Like any controversial change to long-established procedure, this one has positives and negatives, but before we get to those, there is one key point that simply must be hammered home: whether by me in this column, or by the Abbott government figures charged with implementing and selling it.

That, very simply, is that the introduction of a $5 co-payment for a GP visit is not a health policy change: it is an impost to help fix an ungodly economic quagmire, created and presided over by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and represented as far milder than its official presentation in government documentation admitted, and bequeathed to the new Liberal government — which must either fix the Commonwealth budget, and quickly, or risk Australia sinking into the same European-style debt crisis that has virtually bankrupted several once-mighty members of the EU bloc.

And it has to be hammered home because this is not an assault on health, or an evil scheme to rob “the poor” of their health services, or some miserly and doctrinaire policy from a conservative government to demolish Medicare; it is one of a series of measures to fix the federal budget, which is unsustainable as a result of mismanagement by the last Labor government.

The fact that it is already known that pensioners and health care card holders will be exempted altogether from paying the new $5 fee should take an awful lot of the wind from the sails of those who seek to make mischief out of it for petty political purposes. The fact families will be given an exemption for the first 12 consultations each year should disperse even more of it.

Wild predictions of the imminent demise of Medicare and the eternal bogey of “a step towards a two-tiered US-style health system and away from universal healthcare” — always bandied around with such enthusiasm by the Communist Party Greens and the Labor Party should be recognised as just that: wild, and wildly irresponsible at that.

It is true the policy is being crafted with one eye on discouraging the practice of so-called “doctor shopping,” which is to be applauded.

It is also aimed at reducing oversupply: not just by people with runny noses or itchy toenails turning up at GP clinics for consultations (and prescriptions) that will make no difference to their condition, but also by doctors who forward book multiple “progress” consultations that could as easily be handled by a practice nurse, or to pocket a second payment for spending 90 seconds providing the results of completely normal pathology tests, or similar pretexts to charge patients unnecessarily (although I have no problem with a doctor — with abnormal test results in hand — insisting on seeing a patient; in such a scenario it would be negligent not to do so).

A $5 co-payment also reflects the rather brutal reality of an ageing population that the raw total number of GP visits is increasing rapidly — with fewer and fewer people paying the Medicare levy to fund them.

But like any change of this nature, there will be those who are impacted, and for the record my own family may well fit that category. But I return to the point that the change is one of a raft of measures that will soon be implemented to close a yawning chasm in the national accounts that is sucking in foreign money — and racking up debt — at the rate of a billion dollars a week, and that the alternative scenario of the country defaulting on loans and having creditors call in their money is a far more worrisome prospect than being forced to part with $5 to see a doctor.

And it isn’t the abolition of bulk billing; with the gap between Medicare rebates and standard consultation fees currently sitting at an average $36, $5 is hardly an impost to split hairs over.

Doctors’ Reform Society head Dr Con Costa has said that the introduction of a co-payment would result in heavier traffic through the emergency departments of public hospitals, whilst Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton has correctly pointed out that public hospital emergency departments are a more expensive forum in which to see general practice than GP clinics.

I would suggest these gentlemen have overlooked one very big handbrake on the problem they identify: the triage system in place in most public hospitals in this country, where incoming patients are assessed by highly qualified nursing staff and assigned a category ranking from 1 to 5, with 1 being a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate attention and 5 being…well, something that can wait.

I think that most people in category 4 or 5, after their first couple of experiences of waiting three or four hours or longer, will quickly decide it’s not worth quibbling over $5, and go to see their GP the next time a minor medical niggle strikes.

All that aside, however — and to put it bluntly — there is already too much bullshit floating around over this. It is irresponsible and counterproductive, and it should stop.

The Labor Party — ever ready to deploy the cheapest and pettiest of political tactics to score points, quickly waded into the fray yesterday, describing the co-payment as “a tax on taking sick children to the doctor,” which quite plainly, it isn’t.

Senator Penny Wong (who is apparently acting opposition leader at present) described the proposal as a “real problem” despite the real problem being the mess her government made of the books — a Labor legacy which Wong, as Finance minister under Julia Gillard, has some nerve in seeking to deflect responsibility for.

“What we don’t need is a new tax on taking your family to the doctor and what we don’t need is more pressure on our public hospital system,” Wong was quoted in the Fairfax press as saying — and the theme of “clogged” hospitals seems to be one the ALP is readying to run hard on: it’s cheap and easy to spout that kind of rubbish, but it ignores the likely corrective impact of the category 4/5 scenario I have described.

Apparently, according to Wong, the co-payment is also a dastardly, sinister new tax that was dreamed up by the Liberal Party in advance of the September election and hidden from public view: this theory is absolute rubbish, of course, but the ALP has never been an entity to allow the truth to get in the way of its petty political point scoring efforts.

And of course — according to Wong — the status of the co-payment as a hidden tax makes it “a broken election promise.”

This kind of is thing certain to be ramped up in the weeks ahead, and it shouldn’t be. Certainly, a bit of perspective wouldn’t go astray.

As I said to the person who tried to slap me down on Facebook,  the hot air and bullshit factory at the ALP is so obsessed with petty politics to cover its own incompetence as to be utterly divorced from the very realities it seeks to stir up trouble over, and this issue is no exception.

There are good reasons why the nation’s health budget consumes more taxpayer dollars than any other government department (except welfare): it is money well spent on essential services that affect every person living in this country; of course it is an emotive issue — a fact Labor has been using to underpin ridiculous fear campaigns against the Liberal Party for decades — but irresponsible and dishonest ranting with the explicit and sole purpose of causing political mayhem (and at further actual cost to the country) is at best pointless, and at worst downright reprehensible.

Just stop the silliness over paying $5 to see a doctor. There are far less distasteful issues for Labor to act like grubs over if they choose to do so. Recognise this for what it is: something to help keep the rest of the vast array of Medicare services free. The measure might not be ideal, and those without exemptions might not like having to pay it, but the very real alternatives if the budget problem isn’t addressed, in the not too distant future, will have people clamouring to cough up their $5 in hindsight: even if, by then, it would all be too late.

 

 

Upset The Left’s Gravy Train? Abbott Must Derail It

CALLS FOR TONY ABBOTT and his government to start taking tough remedial action where the state of Australia’s cesspit of governance and expenditure are concerned are gathering strength in the mainstream press; it may make 2014 a tough year in Australia, but the opportunity to fix the mess this country was left in by the Labor Party is there for the Coalition to take. If it doesn’t do this early in its term in office, it never will.

The legacy of six years of Labor government in Australia is everywhere; it is a cancer that needs to be cut out.

This is the job Tony Abbott and his Liberal government were elected to do, and whilst I think it’s premature to jump all over a few iffy poll findings — and only a complete fool would pay any heed to the frantic narrative of conservative incompetence the ALP and its “leader,” Bill Shorten, are desperately trying to pull together from a handful of teething problems — the clamour from more composed voices for tougher action to be taken is increasing in volume.

I’ve read the morning newspapers this morning, and the article that stands out is one from a favourite of this column, the Sydney Daily Telegraph‘s Piers Akerman, who calls for Abbott to upset the Left’s gravy train; whilst I agree completely with Piers’ sentiments and can’t fault his arguments or his logic, he doesn’t go far enough: far from merely upsetting the cart, Abbott has to drive it off the tracks once and for all.

The targets — so blindingly obvious they put anything the Whitlam government ever did to shame — are everywhere.

Akerman makes an extremely valid point in his assessment of the quality of economic “management” rendered by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and its utterly useless, self-important, cretinous specimen of a Treasurer in Wayne Swan, especially where its knee-jerk stimulus spending in the face of the so-called Global Financial crisis was concerned.

And his analogy of Labor “telling (its) followers that Australia was better off than Greece or Portugal when those countries were on their knees was insulting” is right on the money: readers will have heard me say often enough that to get debt levels to 100% of GDP and to achieve the basket case status some European countries now endure, those levels must first pass through 10%, 20%, 30%…the ALP inherited a debt to GDP position from the Howard government of -10% which it blew out to 20% by racking up $300bn in expenditures that the recent Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) found would increase to more than 35% purely on the strength of additional and recurrent spending initiatives legislated by the ALP before it was thrown out of office.

At some point, the line was always going to have to be drawn on how much money should be thrown at car manufacturers, and Akerman is correct to assert that throwing yet more good money after bad to basically blackmail Holden into delaying the inevitable “would have been adding to Labor’s waste and pandering to the featherbedding trade unions.” As I have said in this column before, also, increasing subsidies to the car industry is to subsidise union-crafted bargaining agreements and their capacity to suck in additional funds to increase the pay of their members faster than government can throw them.

Something had to give. And I would remind readers — again — that Holden’s decision to abandon manufacturing in Australia was made months ago (unless people really are gullible enough to believe PR from GMH to the contrary, as late as the day of the official announcement), a reality over which the Labor Party is nowhere to be seen when it comes to owning any responsibility for it.

To share a quick personal anecdote, in 2008 my wife and I drove a Vauxhall Vectra around the United Kingdom for a month, racking up some 2,300 miles in it. It was identical to the Vectras sold in Australia apart from the badge on the grille. I decided I wanted one, and so the day after we arrived back in Melbourne we went to the local Holden dealership in Brighton to buy one.

The “salesperson” at the dealership could scarcely have been more honest, succinct, or helpful: he told us the Vectra had been discontinued recently in Australia and showed us a new Holden Epica, told us it was made in Korea and that it was “a piece of shit,” and suggested we go next door to Brighton Toyota and buy a Camry. So we did. Whilst not disputing that a Camry is made in Australia (and isn’t the best vehicle on the road, either), the incident neatly encapsulates Holden’s approach to new vehicle sales in Australia, its emphasis on inferior imported product, and probably can be taken as a signpost to the company’s likely local sales profile in the not too distant future.

Why would we pay Holden more money to build cars here? The suggestion is outrageous.

And this is where Akerman and I accord on what he terms the “handout mentality”: even after shovelling all that money out to Holden, its strategy appeared to be a rationalisation of passenger models in favour of the lowest-cost imports that would maximise profits even in 2008. Locally made Commodores haven’t been the commercial success they once were for many years. But as long as the tap of government monies remained open, the unions could rip the system off for their mates members at the expense of every taxpayer and business in Australia.

It’s the same story over at the renewable energy industry, where tens of billions of dollars have been pissed up against a post in the euphemistic name of “clean energy” — with the result that selected and preferred industries have become rich and fat whilst the most abundant reserves in the world of cheap fuels lie untapped in the ground and whilst average households are forced to pay $2,000 and $3,000 per year for basic necessities like electricity and gas.

And whilst the real thrust of Piers’ piece is based on manufacturing and energy, the simple truth is that the malaise he alludes to is much, much wider than that in its scope: it affects virtually everything.

Speaking of the “handout mentality,” it’s long been an article of faith in some quarters on the Right (including here) that the welfare spend of the Commonwealth is another area infected by it; not everyone on welfare is a bludger or a crook, mind, but the numbers aren’t encouraging either.

In round terms, the number of people on the Disability Support Pension rose during Labor’s term of office, from 300,000 to 850,000; at the same time, unemployment ticked up from 4.9% when Labor took office in 2007 to just 5.8% when it was kicked out six years later. The appearance is one suspiciously suggestive of the DSP having been used as a tool by Labor to hide real unemployment from the official figures, especially at a time marked mostly by tenuous economic conditions.

Then again, with some leading disability advocates suggesting that 900,000 people living in Victoria alone are “disabled” in some way — well over 15% of the state’s total population — it’s not difficult to play connect-the-dots in terms of ulterior motives associated with Labor’s much trumpeted (and entirely unaffordable) National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Which, of course, falls to taxpayers (or foreign debt) to fund.

In fact, $16bn could be saved at a stroke by abolishing the NDIS and the Gonski educational reforms, which sound like a great idea like the NDIS does, but just like the disability scheme are unfunded and unaffordable.

We talked about education in this column yesterday; since then, one reader made the comment that education spending in dollar terms does not equate to results, whilst another commented that spending isn’t the problem — the curriculum and the competence of those charged with teaching it are key. It may enrage the Left to say it, but not every cut to a government budget will disadvantage those it seeks to frighten witless if a proper emphasis on value for money and outcomes is placed on those expenditures that remain in place.

I’ve recently said that Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme — fully funded and costed as it might be — is probably not a good look, and should either be scaled back or quietly dropped. (I think the First Home Buyers’ Grant is a Howard era program that has outlived its use-by date, too: it doesn’t cover rocketing stamp duty costs, it doesn’t cover the legals it was originally intended to cover, but it has succeeded in distorting the property market and contributed to driving house prices through the roof).

But returning to the monuments and citadels and tokens of the Left, I wrote a piece earlier this year about an odious and entirely unnecessary government-funded QANGO called FECCA, which runs at a loss and eats up at least a half a million dollars of taxpayer money each year whilst doing nothing more useful than churning out politically correct socialist propaganda designed to pander to minorities and crucify the majority.

It is the nature of the beast when it comes to Labor governments (and especially one held to ransom by the Greens) that where there is one of these contemptible propaganda factories subsisting on the taxpayer teat, there are dozens and dozens of others. Abbott and Hockey should not be sentimental in either shutting them down or forcing them to rattle the charity tin by withdrawing their funding in total.

The ABC — so blatantly a mouthpiece for the agenda of the Left to the point it simply fails to mention an increasing volume of news items prejudicial to that agenda — is ripe for reform, and I would go so far as to suggest that it be privatised: if the ABC’s output is indicative of what it thinks will attract the commercial support to sustain it, then I say it should be subjected to a market determination of the relevance and integrity of that output, which will end the burden on taxpayers of propping up what has become little more than an ideology factory.

Foreign aid budgets should not be abolished as some advocate, but should be trimmed to pre-2008 levels in real terms; with the damage done to the country’s finances, the kind of largesse set in train in this area by the Labor Party simply can’t be justified.

And it goes without saying that a serious reappraisal of Australia’s financial relationship with the United Nations — engorged and abused by the ALP to curry favour with unfriendly governments to secure a seat on the Security Council that will make no difference to UN outcomes by virtue of the sheer weight of numbers of the other 14 nations that sit on it — must be undertaken as a matter of urgency.

(In fact, a reappraisal altogether of some of the things this country’s obligations under United Nations treaties impose is also a long overdue exercise, but I digress).

I could continue, but the point is pretty obvious.

At the end of the day, every aspect of Australian governance, industry, business and society that was touched by the previous government has been afflicted: and as I said at the outset, this affliction is a cancer of mismanagement that must be excised if the country is to again emerge as the world-leading entity it so richly and rightly should be.

Abbott’s government must govern, and it must take the hard decisions required to correct these and other symptoms of the Labor disease. Properly communicated and sold to an electorate that installed the Liberal Party in office to do precisely that, the political benefits will flow in the longer run — even if the going gets rough early on.

Akerman is right. The Gravy Train of the Left should indeed be upset. But rather than stop there it must be derailed altogether, with a firm eye on ensuring any rescue mission in later years by a future ALP government is, by the nature of its intent and by the will of the public, irretrievably doomed to fail.

 

Video Performance Reviews Of Teachers An Excellent Initiative

AN IDEA from business identity, former Sydney councillor and Gonski panel member Kathryn Greiner offers the missing link to reconcile the salary expectations of teachers with the educational outcomes the incomes they aspire to demand; the use of video to review teacher performance is a brilliant concept that should be introduced and developed as an integral plank of education policy. If teacher unions object, then frankly, to hell with them.

It’s so simple — and so obvious — it begs the question of why it hasn’t been raised before and/or debated in the context of the perennial argument over how much teachers should be reasonably paid; certainly, the matter has arisen several times in this column over the years, and I am happy to take the idea on board and champion it with vigour.

The call by Gonski education review panel member Kathryn Greiner for teachers to be filmed so their performance can be reviewed and improved has enormous merit; properly implemented, it would see all of the key stakeholders in the education process — government, teachers, students, parents, and the community at large — emerge as winners.

The one group almost certain to be hit hard by the measure — and equally certain to lash out with a viciously obstructive campaign against it — is the unions, who in my view can take a long walk off the proverbial short pier. More on them a bit later.

I find it something of an irony that the only major media outlet reporting on this is Fairfax; to be sure, dear old Uncle Fairfax has dutifully noted the warning shots fired across the bows by teacher unions and other self-interested figures about not using video for “punitive” purposes, but it’s refreshing to see it at least record news that threatens the left-wing cabal on which what remains of its influence rests.

It’s also ironic that my remarks today will reference a truly useful, meaningful role for more bureaucrats; as readers know, my view on civil service roles is that they should be created and filled strictly as required and otherwise not at all, so today there’s something for the public service here in the blue corner, too.

But first things first: Greiner hits the nail squarely on the head when she says that “it is about time teachers understood that they must be assessed, they must be a part of professional development;” in what seems an unmistakable allusion to the perception that teachers — through the might of their unions — expect rocketing levels of remuneration that are in no way accompanied by commensurate improvements in educational outcomes, she suggests that every teacher in Australia should be reviewed using video.

I’ll leave readers to peruse the article from The Age, but here are my thoughts on the matter after some reflection.

I have long advocated that the best teachers in our classrooms should indeed be paid more, and perhaps significantly so, depending on the outcomes they deliver — namely, the results those students in their charge achieve on a range of educational indicators including the basics, but also their ability to gain critical insights into the material they study and a solid practical grounding on which to build in later years beyond the classroom.

The entire concept of collective bargaining on which unions are predicated is utter anathema to me, best evidenced of late in the educational arena in the protracted standoff over teacher pay in Victoria, in which an attempt to introduce so-called performance pay was brutally and savagely faced down by teacher unions which refused to accept differential remunerative arrangements for individual teachers.

I find it ridiculous and contemptible that a 22-year-old “teacher” — fresh from school to university to school again, with little or no adult life experience to speak of except a couple of paper qualifications — should automatically be entitled to be paid well in excess of $1,000 per week from the minute they set foot at the front of a classroom. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, an obscenity of the union bargaining process.

And by the same token (and this is an old story when it comes to awards, union enterprise agreements and similarly offensive collective bargaining instruments), I simply don’t agree that the “best of the best” of teachers should be limited in what they may be paid by the number at the top of the highest band of teacher rankings.

As an aside, what are those bands based on? Qualifications? Seniority? It seems implausible that they are based on outcomes; if they were, Australia wouldn’t be sliding down the international rankings when it comes to the top performing nations on educational indicators weighed against other developed countries.

I think Greiner’s idea is one that can and should be introduced as part of a suite of reforms to monitor teacher performance; an obvious first step is for governments and independent school boards to have cameras installed in all classrooms, along with adequate data storage infrastructure to file the footage for, say, each calendar year on a rolling basis — a measure that could be funded at a relatively small cost, given the colossal and burgeoning amounts of money expended on education with no apparent benefit in terms of outcomes.

I agree fully with some of the privacy concerns raised in The Age‘s article: obviously, the footage would be strictly for internal use only, with teachers able to review their own classes at will, or for formal review purposes (and of course, for performance appraisal purposes and any appeals that might arise from those), but certainly not to be made public in any way.

The application of the idea in terms of measuring teacher performance is relatively straightforward: a random selection of each teacher’s classroom time (say, one hour per month or term) may be extracted and reviewed by a panel comprising — for instance — the head of subject in a high school, along with a member of a School’s Inspectorate (I said there would be something for the public service) and perhaps an independent member of the school board. The exact composition of such a panel may be argued, but I think the principle is clear.

Such a process — benchmarked against the progress of the teacher’s students, their educational achievements and weighted against results across a given state — would provide an effective means by which to more accurately determine individual teacher performance; it would also offer a tool with which to better identify those teachers who are the best performers, and to pay them accordingly.

I think the reinstitution of an inspectorate-style regime for schools would restore (and better utilise) an important link in education regimes that has been mostly abolished by state governments, or effectively neutered; such a division within state education departments (and their equivalents in independent school authorities) would need to be well resourced, and come with the happy additional consequence of providing yet another potential career avenue for the very top teachers it would be charged with identifying, rewarding, and indeed promoting.

And such a wholistic shift in performance management and benchmarking of teachers from the collective to the individual would also restore to some extent to role of the school principal, which — by virtue of the collective agreements struck between teacher unions and governments over pay and conditions — has been rendered almost redundant when it comes to having meaningful input into the management of the workforce within his or her school.

I have little time for the almost complete aversion to anything that may carry negative repercussions for poor teachers when it comes to their performance: teacher unions have gone to great lengths in recent decades to engineer a public environment in which their members are treated as sacrosanct on questions of security of employment and entitlement to guaranteed pay rises at or above the cost of living.

If this country is to live up to the “clever country” moniker demanded of it in the 1980s (by a Labor government, no less), this is the sort of outdated thinking that must be abandoned.

Teachers are no different to any other body of professionals or employees in that there will be outstanding teachers, acceptable teachers, and poor teachers.

In my view, the outstanding ones should be rewarded; the acceptable ones coached, encouraged, and provided additional training and support; and the poor ones — just like poor employees in other walks of life — should, to put it kindly, be involuntarily motivated toward alternative employment opportunities.

It goes without saying that the powerful education unions will react with outrage to suggestions of the kind I am making here: bully for them if they do.

Over the past 20 years (and it neatly correlates with a time in the early 1990s, when most of the states were electing new Liberal governments), teacher unions have enhanced their muscle by campaigning on blatant fearmongering about the intentions of conservative governments and the impact of those purported intentions on the schooling of children.

Consequently, the education unions are now among the most powerful — if not the most powerful — of all the unions in Australia.

I don’t think they serve their members well — after all, there’s a limit to how well you can do for yourself under the EBA regime if you’re a brilliant teacher — and I don’t think they serve their students well either, given anyone able to complete teacher qualifications but who is otherwise an idiot can find their way into a classroom full of kids.

Frankly, the unions should embrace the use of video technology for performance management of their members: the only genuine reason to object is to protect the pitiful among their ranks; education is not a charity pursuit, but in fact the vocation every bit as critical to nurturing new generations of Australians as the leaders of teacher unions loudly proclaim — with an outstretched collective hand.

This is an idea that certainly merits further discussion, and I am very pleased Mrs Greiner has raised it.

At the end of the day, however, the teacher unions have two choices: embrace such a measure in a constructively critical spirit, or do what they always do when standards of increased accountability are put on the table, and cause as much trouble and disruption as possible (including to the education of their students) to ensure it never sees the light of day.

To be entirely candid, if the unions take the latter path, they can go to hell. And every parent, school principal or decent teacher with a real stake in improving the standard of the education each student receives should tell them precisely which way that is.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: For those who might like to accuse me of being doctrinaire, advocating the smashing of teacher unions (not that it’s a bad idea) or simply regurgitating conservative dogma on education, I’ll point out I’ve got a daughter due to start school in 12 months’ time and a son a few years behind her: this is an issue of great personal relevance, and I shudder to think of some of the excesses of teacher union conduct that have been played out publicly in recent years being applied to the education of my own children.

 

Our Call: Peter Cosgrove Should Be Australia’s Next Governor-General

THE MURDOCH PRESS is reporting the Abbott government has all but finalised the appointment of former Defence chief and war veteran Peter Cosgrove as Australia’s next Governor General; we believe General Cosgrove is — quite simply — the standout candidate for this appointment by a wide margin, who will restore some much-needed dignity to the office of Australia’s Head of State.

I trust readers have had an enjoyable and safe Christmas with their families, loved ones and friends; as ever, life goes on, and to that extent I will be posting during the so-called silly season: at times on less time-specific subjects of interest to me that I am sure readers will also find engaging, but also on issues that arise on the way through — like this one.

Most readers will know I have long been an advocate for General Cosgrove’s appointment as Governor-General even if, admittedly, that view has been expressed through the prism of whom I do not support for the role: namely, the Right Honourable John Winston Howard.

(For those who are new to our discussion, however, you can view here and here to see what I have been on about).

The Murdoch press — whose journalists, let’s be honest, would know — is reporting today that Cosgrove’s appointment is more or less a done deal: yet to be formally recommended to Buckingham Palace for approval, it appears Cosgrove is nonetheless ordering his affairs in preparation to assume vice-regal office on the recommendation of Tony Abbott.

This column gives its wholehearted, enthusiastic and unqualified support to the appointment of General Cosgrove to the post; a fine career in the military, public service, business and the not-for-profit sectors uniquely qualifies him to serve at the apex of Australia’s system of governance.

Importantly, it is said the appointment carries Howard’s imprimatur which should, in equal measure, mollify those who believed Howard himself should have been called upon to serve as well as silencing those political critics who have argued a deal existed with Abbott for Howard to be appointed — a suggestion that, frankly, defies reality.

I am particularly pleased — as the son of a veteran of the Vietnam War — that one of his number is set to be recognised in this manner; some will find it a small point, but I believe veterans of that conflict have never been properly acknowledged for their service, and in this regard I think the consideration is a significant one.

But to be brutal, General Cosgrove’s arrival at Yarralumla should also trigger the restoration of some decency and dignity to the office.

It is ironic that someone like Quentin Bryce — a highly partisan and often controversial Labor lawyer and social activist prior to her time in vice-regal life — should have mostly served in the post with some distinction.

Unlike some of my conservative cousins elsewhere, I have never believed she faced a conflict of interest on the basis her son-in-law — ALP “leader” Bill Shorten — was firstly a government minister under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and now opposition leader; if anything, that conflict (if it really existed) fell to Shorten to resolve, on the simple basis Bryce was in place in her role first.

But Bryce’s outburst, in one of the Boyer lectures she delivered for the ABC, that Australia should become a republic was an outrage, and completely destroyed any claim she may have had to legitimate respect for either her tenure as Governor-General or for the manner in which she has discharged her duties, which is rendered derelict by her remarks.

(Should he be prepared to accept the honour, I have no problem with the call by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy for Cosgrove to be knighted upon confirmation of his appointment, either).

Her remarks on the fraught political issue of gay marriage in the same lecture series, openly advocating legislative sanction of the measure, were reprehensible.

The post — despite a history of being filled with political appointees — is traditionally apolitical, and that tradition has surprisingly been upheld even by some of the most controversial political appointees to the post.

And someone like Bryce would have fully understood the inappropriate nature of her remarks on that occasion, and should have exercised the self-control to desist.

There are also lingering questions surrounding the Heiner Affair in Queensland from the early 1990s that Bryce may be called upon to address that place a question mark over whether she should ever have been elevated to such a prestigious position of governance in the first place.

Indeed, we believe she shouldn’t have been — be that to the Governor-Generalship or to the governorship of Queensland prior to that.

I know many of my readers — whether they sit on the Left or the Right — will probably see me pushing an agenda I have pursued in this column for some time, and for that I make no apology.

I simply think General Cosgrove is — to put it stereotypically — the only choice for the post of all the names that are under consideration, and if the news is correct that his appointment is a virtual formality, then so much the better.

 

Labor And Jobs: Questions For Bill Shorten

FAIRFAX carried an article at the weekend: a platform for opposition “leader” Bill Shorten from which to spruik Labor’s plan to attack the Abbott government over “jobs;” conservatives across the country will both take heart and demand more of the same from him. It raises questions that Shorten — if he has any integrity — will be incapable of answering without destroying his leadership of the Labor Party.

First things first: the article, by The Age‘s political correspondent Bianca Hall, can be accessed here.

I should disclose that I once worked alongside Hall: she was a suburban news reporter at the community magazine publisher I spent time in the media sales division of shortly after Fairfax bought it ten years ago. She is a journalist of unimpeachable integrity, but make no mistake: Bill Shorten would best be served by refraining from giving interviews like the political abomination he served up to her.

Shorten seems to be outlining (to complement the obsession with pandering to minorities that characterised his leadership pitch) plans to do nothing but to carp, criticise, and stir up trouble: hardly what anyone could call “leadership.”

And I’m well aware that some, more sympathetic than I am to the Labor Party, will justify this on the basis that Shorten seeks to do no more than Tony Abbott did as opposition leader.

The glaring difference, however, is that Abbott’s ascension to the Liberal Party leadership coincided with a Labor regime that had entered its third year in office, and from which the wheels had begun to fall: confronting a flailing, failing government head on is one thing, but seeking to crucify a new government in its infancy is a little rich.

The point is underscored by the fact Labor’s onslaught had commenced even as it indulged in the pantomime of its “democratic” leadership election: Abbott, according to the vacuously bellicose ALP narrative, had pretty much sealed Australia’s ruination at the very time Labor’s hatchet brigade was making it impossible for anyone other than Shorten to win their leadership, but such an observation is probably too indelicate for Labor types to stomach.

In any case, I take issue with Shorten’s attempt to score points off Abbott’s assertion that ”many (GMH workers) will probably be liberated to pursue new opportunities and to get on with their lives.”

For one thing, these workers have been given three years’ notice of Holden’s intention to shut down its manufacturing base in Australia: time to plan, and retrain, and decide what they want to do, free of the sudden jolt unemployment usually imposes.

For another, it is on public record that the average redundancy payout for these workers will be in the order of $300,000 to $500,000: hardly the stuff of being cast penniless onto the scrap heap, destitute, with neither the time nor means of survival to regroup.

And frankly, it’s offensive to me personally, as someone forging a new way forward professionally after nearly 20 years’ experience in another doomed industry — print media — where there aren’t golden handshakes as the industry dies or the mentality of entitlement and handout that co-exists with the snout-in-the-trough culture instilled by the unions, their EBAs, and the permanent expectation of recurring, compounding pay increases that will sooner or later drive the company that pays them to the wall.

In a clear sop to his cronies and Labor’s masters in the union movement, Shorten’s announcement that he would use unease about Holden’s withdrawal from Australia to campaign on manufacturing is cynical rubbish, to say the least, unless it’s backed up with a suite of proposals to liberalise the labour market and find real ways to increase productivity: something that simply isn’t going to happen, if the track record of the Gillard government in particular is anything to go by.

The degree of control exercised by the union movement over the ALP has steadily increased over the past decade, with the Gillard years amounting to little more than a direct exercise in trade union government; high real wages, falling productivity and skewing the balance of workplace relations firmly in the direction of the unions, with a cavalier disregard for the commercial consequences, seem to have been watchwords of Gillard’s tenure both as the minister for Workplace Relations and later as Prime Minister.

The early indications under “leader” Bill Shorten aren’t encouraging.

Labor’s trenchant opposition to the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission — a body that threatens inefficient union culture and unconscionable conduct — is a good example of the type of thing I am talking about. Its outraged resistance to subjecting the union movement to the standards of governance that apply to the business community is another.

The fact — and this is an old story — is that manufacturing in Australia is doomed to extinction so long as the unions and their present mentality continue to infect, permeate and steer it: nobody takes issue with the idea, at face value, of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. When that notion is used to justify soaring labour costs at the end of a shotgun, nobody in their right minds ought to tolerate it.

And this country, as we have seen in this column previously, has some of the highest labour costs in the developed world, with low (and falling) productivity to compound the problem; union conduct of collective bargaining has priced an increasing proportion of their membership out of the markets in which they work, yet Bill Shorten is going to go out and campaign on manufacturing jobs. It’s an oxymoron.

His assertion that Australia should have continued to piss more money up against a post to subsidise car manufacturing — thus enabling unions to extort ever more ridiculous enterprise agreements from cornered companies experiencing steadily deteriorating operating conditions — is laughable, despite his contention that the rest of the world is laughing at Australia.

Why didn’t Gillard and Rudd? In Holden’s case, the company was already resuming its tin rattle prior to Labor’s ejection from office. And if Labor’s regard for the car industry were genuine, why did it seek to introduce tax treatment changes that went a considerable way toward crushing it?

All this feeds directly into the flaw in Shorten’s complaint that the Coalition “(talks) about the economy as if it’s a merchant-banking concept:” the Coalition talks about the economy in terms of the country living within its means, not getting too far into debt, and not throwing away endless billions of borrowed dollars trying to save industries and companies that can’t be saved. If such quaint notions of prudent fiscal stewardship qualify the Liberal Party as suffering from a “merchant-banking” mentality, it’s a badge I think the party is proud to wear.

(And I don’t want to hear about Howard government bailouts, thanks. If you want to criticise those, take aim at Howard’s government, not Abbott’s, until or unless Abbott follows suit).

A smartarse like Bill Shorten is typically adept at making noise and stirring up unrest and dissent where real answers or policies are too much to demand of him.

Aside from permitting the eternal continuation of Gillard-era industrial policy to continue — something the Australian public has explicitly voted against — it seems nothing will satisfy Shorten, nor the army of spivs, hacks and adherent noisemakers the ALP invariably retains en masse.

Shorten states that “the economy’s about jobs in the real world,” and the implications of the suggestion that the government should have continued to throw good money after bad propping up yet another car manufacturer sit at odds with the real world reality that employers with outgoings that exceed their revenues eventually go out of business.

In Holden’s case, the company itself stated publicly that 80% of the $3,950 price differential per vehicle between manufacturing in Australia and at its other plants elsewhere in the world was directly attributable to labour costs — even with all the money that has been thrown by governments at Holden for decades.

Shorten’s suggestion that Holden provides an ideal platform on which to campaign on jobs — something Hall describes as “comfortable Labor turf” — also defies real world realities, if not common sense and/or sanity.

Mitsubishi and Ford announced they would take the same path, on the watch of a Labor government, as Holden has done almost as soon as the election campaign was finalised. The difference would be what, exactly, Mr Shorten?

It is publicly known that the decision to shut Holden was taken in Detroit months ago; Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are guilty of nothing more than extracting that decision from the horse’s mouth sooner rather than later. Please explain, Mr Shorten, how this makes Holden’s withdrawal the fault of the Liberal Party.

And it raises other questions too.

Exactly how many tens of billions of dollars is an acceptable figure to throw at loss-making businesses employing union labour, Mr Shorten, so union EBAs can continue to extract pay rises for workers faster than the government can throw it?

In an economy sitting out of recession only because of $300 billion the last Labor government pumped into the economy to stave it off, what is Labor’s grand prescription for jobs growth, Mr Shorten?

How can anyone believe Labor’s commitment to job creation when it stubbornly blocks the abolition of employment-killing taxes, namely the carbon tax and the mining tax?

Certainly, Shorten and Labor have a story to tell on jobs. But that’s all it is: a story.

Of course Labor will feel comfortable campaigning on it, just like all the other tall stories it has to tell.

 

Mein Kampf: Crucify It, Certainly, But Don’t Censor It

A FURORE has erupted in the German state of Bavaria — which owns copyright in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — over the merits of publishing a new edition of the work for academic use. A reasonable person will find this tome repulsive, and the atrocities it portends and continues to represent can and should never be excused, justified or diminished. But censoring this book is pointless; attempts to do so could cause more harm than good.

Just to be clear: I’m really only writing this piece to share some thoughts on an article I’ve read from The Guardian, and those thoughts in turn represent views I have held about Mein Kampf for almost 25 years.

I have deliberately weighted my anecdotes to my formative years, which — after all — are key to the formulation (or propagation, which seems a better word to describe the objectives of Mein Kampf) of the views and philosophies we all carry with us throughout our adult lives.

I urge readers to peruse the Guardian article through the link I’ve shared, and then come back to me.

My views about this book were crystallised early in 1990, as a first year student at the University of Queensland; as sad an admission as some may find it, I went to the university on class-free days during the first term of my first year purely to explore the political books in the three main libraries on the campus, free of the constraints of timetables or deadlines: hungry to build information and divergent critical opinions onto a passion for politics and an already-formed conservative philosophical outlook, I was like the proverbial kid in a tart shop.

I stumbled across Mein Kampf in the Undergraduate Library by accident, but by virtue of a system that guaranteed I would find it: well aware very quickly that I would have to spend many similar days “exploring” to read even a fraction of the material of what interested me, I ended up scanning the books shelf by shelf, pulling out titles that looked interesting, and making lists of what I would borrow over the course of the year.

It was impossible to miss Mein Kampf: there were, literally, dozens of copies of it.

At the time, I had been (immaturely, hamfistedly and fruitlessly) chasing a girl who was half Polish and half English, and had acquired an acquaintance from two of my four classes (friend was far too strong a word for it) who was a Nazi-sympathising lunatic from a grazing family with links to white South African interests who thought she should be “eliminated” on the basis of mixed race; needless to say, this bloke was given as wide a berth very quickly as I was given by the girl, but out of curiosity, I picked up a copy of Mein Kampf.

It was printed in German (which was no bar in those days, as my German hadn’t yet rusted away) and I saw very quickly that the passage I’d randomly perused was obsessed with concepts such as the purity of race and other xenophobic notions. It also seemed rather excited, rather hysterical, and rather circumlocutory in its approach to its themes: in short, it was a rant.

History — and European history since the 18th century in particular, intertwining as it does with modern politics — has always been a great of interest of mine, and even by the time I was an 18 year old in 1990 I’d read vociferously about diverse subjects ranging from the French Revolution to the Battle of Culloden, and to British socialism during the post-war reconstruction. But even through years of learning German, reading modern history, and scouring local libraries for anything and everything to learn more, I had never seen a copy of that book until I went to the university.

Of course, we all know what happened prior to and during the Second World War; I don’t seek to revisit that episode here. But Hitler’s autobiographical account of his own prejudices and of his hatred of Jewish people in particular — with its attendant call to arms to his own people and to fellow travellers elsewhere — is abhorrent.

Over the years, I have made a lot of Jewish friends; these are people no different in reality to anyone else. They are certainly nothing like the wild, fevered rantings of Hitler imagine them to be. But as a community they rightly refuse to let the memory of the obscenities committed against them by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s die, and it’s here that the point I seek to make today begins to take form.

I made a couple of attempts to read Mein Kampf: I simultaneously found it so vile and so boring as to be unreadable. I never made it past the first fifty pages.

It now apparently seems the Bavarian government planned to issue a reprint of Mein Kampf as a “critical academic edition,” but has sought to backtrack: this is a great pity.

Whilst I understand why Holocaust survivors would complain about the Bavarian crest being included in the proposed academic edition, lest it effectively give sanction to its abominable contents, I can’t agree that that sentiment is well placed; and whilst I understand why the Bavarian government would then seek to backtrack on its plans for republication before its copyright in the work expires, I think to do so would be a mistake.

(Never mind the easy availability of Mein Kampf through other sources, as the attached article notes: this point is, to my mind, a red herring in the overall debate).

World War II was the most destructive human conflict in history; over 80 million people died, and of those more than six million people were Jews slaughtered by the brutal Nazi regime in Germany. Far from hiding the details of the atrocities perpetrated by that merciless junta, they must be taught, passed down, and remembered: there is a reason most civilised countries commemorate their war dead, for example, and the sacrifices their soldiers made. It is the same reason many Jewish events incorporate one kind of commemoration of the Holocaust or another.

It is to ensure people remember — especially those too young to do so, or increasingly those not born at the time — in an endeavour to ensure the same misdeeds can never happen again.

Modern mainstream Germany bears a national shame etched deeply into its psyche; appropriate, perhaps, although it is debatable whether subsequent generations of Germans born in the postwar years should carry any of that guilt. Yet even now, neo-Nazi organisations and adherents of Hitler have existed in Germany for decades, and grow stronger each year; similarly inclined Far Right groups exist across Europe, most notably in France, where the National Front — once confined to the lunatic fringe — has evolved into an increasingly mainstream political movement of the French Right.

It is figures like Hitler, and books like Mein Kampf, that underpin all of these.

Some readers might get a giggle from the story of unrequited love badly mishandled by a belligerent kid. I tell it because the subject of that ill-fated pursuit, for no crime other than being Polish and Catholic, qualified for “elimination” in the eyes of a very intelligent, surprisingly charismatic young adherent of Hitler’s “teachings.” And the guy wasn’t exactly lacking a following, either, despite the stupidity of his views.

To put the example into a more realistic and malignant perspective, look around the world: brutal conflicts in the years since Nazi Germany in the Baltic, the Middle East, in Africa and elsewhere — all with race and/or religion at their epicentre — share fundamental common ground with the demented philosophies espoused by Adolf Hitler.

The only difference is the weight of numbers, or the critical mass of people in each instance who subscribed to them, combined with the concerted will to follow through on them. Making that observation in no way diminishes the Holocaust, or denies that it occurred. In fact, it merely adds to the rationale for the determination of Jewish people to ensure it is never forgotten.

It is an almost unrivalled truism that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Censoring books and wishing offensive history out of existence will not make it go away; on the contrary, it will simply embolden those who find such repugnant material inviting, and remove an important barrier to restraining the weak, and the impressionable, and the gullible, and the stupid.

This post makes no pretensions to be an analysis of any intellectual rigour whatsoever: on the contrary, and as I said at the outset, these are purely personal thoughts with a skew to late adolescence and early adulthood, and some ties to the personal relevance those years connect to a deep aversion to fruit cakes like Adolf Hitler and his so-called “teachings” that was already well formed.

Mein Kampf is an odious, evil book, and the ideas that lie within its pages are truly noxious and offensive.

But trying to stop people accessing it and reading it won’t achieve anything; in fact, the sin of omission is sometimes the worst sin of all, and driving evil sentiment underground will only legitimise it: especially for those seeking a cause in a misguided — and mistaken — quest for legitimacy.