“The Right Kids?” Thoughts On Education, And Tony Abbott Is Right

In a substantive directional statement on policy that should be welcomed by his detractors, Tony Abbott has today said that the “right kids” should stay at school beyond year 10, and that the rest could be wasting their time. His position ought to be applauded.

One of the great frauds in Australian politics is that the Labor Party is “the party of education:” it is a load of codswallop, and based in nothing other than elitist chatter and sycophantic media coverage.

Apparently the ALP has devised a new “incentive scheme” to keep kids in school until the end of year 12; the bait is a potential extra $4000 per child for doing so.

Another Labor bribe, this time aimed at its self-decreed educational standards.

Rather than sink the boot into the ALP directly, on this occasion I’d like to share some thoughts and personal anecdotal experience of this issue.

The Labor Party, increasingly over the past 40 years, has sought to move Australia to an environment in which anyone with less than a university degree would be compromised on their journey into the world.

And compromised as a recognised functional member of society; no degree, in Labor eyes, equals no value.

Never mind how ludicrous such a position might be.

And never mind the real, real value of experience — which, outside true professions (law, medicine, dentistry, vet science, etc) — is of far more value than a bit of paper.

This lunacy reached its zenith 20 years ago, at about the time my disenchantment with so-called “education” at a university exploded.

I was one of the smartest kids in the joint at high school; my TE Score (Queensland Tertiary Entrance rating) of 920 in 1989 placed me in the top 4% of the 46,000 graduating year 12 students that year.

I was also — by peer sentiment — the “most likely” to achieve anything I wanted.

Yet I hated (REALLY hated)* university; I detested the Journalism course I had fallen into when I missed out on a Law placement; and after finishing the introductory Journalism units and kicking that stream aside, I was mortified by what passed as “English” in a department in which I nonetheless completed a double major, and livid at a Government department in which if I wasn’t a Socialist I was shit beneath certain lecturers’ feet.

Ultimately I dropped out of the university; my $10,000 Hawke/Dawkins/Keating era HECS debt is paid, but I have no degree and in the eyes of Labor Party policymakers, no value as a human being.

You see, university degrees make you human, when you’re the “Education Party.”

But applying for jobs…answering advertisements 20 years ago for positions I know now mandated no more than a bit of common sense and an ability to turn up every day required a degree (and preferably a post-graduate qualification) and an impeccable academic record.

Even in sales and marketing, where I’ve earned my living for most of the 19 years since leaving the university…I love the advertising and media industry, and it’s not for the stupid or the meek; but it is also a place where a level head, a healthy dose of common sense, and a refusal to tolerate fools is far more valuable than a piece of paper from a university ever will be.

But there’s nothing wrong with me; I’m still the smartest bloke floating around, viewed one way; I’m vastly employable, have a nice little family, have intelligent interests, and a lot of friends just as smart as I am who provide vital intellectual stimulation, nourishment, and lots of discussion.

Why would I need a degree?

It seems to be more of a salient question than I’d realised until today, because finally — finally — other people are talking about it too.

It’s a simple fact that some people aren’t cut out for formal education; people who want to be hairdressers, tradesmen and the like have nothing wrong with them.

They just don’t belong in a school, and so many of them nowadays finish year 12 because they feel they have to, only to commence apprenticeships they could have begun two years earlier (and made far more productive use of their time than sitting in a classroom).

I’m someone who is suited to formal education, but ended up in the wrong course (if anyone can explain to me why Maths/Science results should be considered for entry into a Law course — whose only prerequisite subject is English, which I have always had well-covered — please explain it to me)!

And speaking personally again, today it’s too late — life has zoomed me off into other directions, and responsibilities as a husband and a father are prohibitive of a return to study for three or four full-time years (and three or four full-time years of earning either nothing, or the pittance that is Austudy — if I’d even qualify for it).

There are an awful lot of young kids trapped in the education system — that’s right, trapped — with no academic aptitude whatsoever, no interest in their curriculum, and no prospects of achieving much more from high school than a cataclysmic bomb-out.

But rather than lording it over these kids to finish year 12 (as if it were some task fundamentally essential to the propagation of life or something), I think Tony Abbott is right: some of them shouldn’t be there, but equally, there are other things available to those kids that can make them every bit as successful in the world, in their own way, than the kid who is able to become a lawyer.

The Howard government made a big investment in apprenticeship training schemes; I think Abbott’s discussion on the issue probably seeks to build on that.

Vocational education — as opposed to academic education — is a noble thing; who’d have ever thought the ALP would vacate this ground, and that the Liberal Party, as it has done for nearly ten years, become the chief advocate in Australia of the tools and the trades?

And let’s at least make mention of the kids who do finish year 12, bypass any further education, and go off to brilliant careers in service industries, sales, or private enterprise: these are instinctive pursuits, not academic ones.

Doubtless I’ll get pilloried for a) alleged anti-Education opinion, and b) for defending Tony Abbott’s musings on this issue.

But a little bit of common sense goes a constructively long way, and from that perspective, I’m very happy to see this issue surface.

Simply stated, kids who want to work but are naturally unsuited to academic education have alternatives, and those alternatives should not be denied, deferred or fudged in the dubious name of portraying “year 12 retention figures” as some sort of poster achievement.

In closing — and just for the record — the ALP (in Treasurer Wayne Swan’s “mid-term budget outlook” or, simply, mini-budget) today cut $241 million out of university funding over the next four years.

I’ll bet the student rent-a-crowd that always mobilises against Liberal governments will remain silent, and at home.

But it illustrates the point that even the “Education Party” takes its “responsibilities” in this area expediently, and is all too ready to sink the knife when it thinks its own credibility and prospects of survival are threatened.

What a sick hoax. What hypocrisy. And what a joke!

*Tony Glad, Tony Thwaites, Colin Hughes, Chris Tiffin and Joan Mulholland…you are exempt from this analysis.

Welfare Budget: Some More Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I posted with some broad-brushstroke ideas about a shake-up of the welfare system in Australia, and I wanted to revisit that quickly here today.

An article — entitled “Even Conservatives Say the Dole is Too Low” appears in today’s issue of The Age; you can read it here http://www.theage.com.au/national/even-conservatives-say-the-dole-is-too-low-20111015-1lqm6.html.

The article points out that the dole is $130 per week less than a disability pension, and $345 per week less than the minimum wage.

It also notes that the annual cost to the federal budget of increasing the dole by $50 per week would be $1 billion.

And that money would need to be found from somewhere…

Judging by the comments some readers have posted in response to my original article on 2 October, the whole issue of welfare reform is (as expected) an emotive issue, and I am the first to admit that arguments put by all sides have at the minimum some merit, and I say that with no intention of dissecting and quantifying that today.

I simply wanted to include the link provided to the story in The Age, as it complements the discussion we’ve been having and does so from a different angle from those we have approached it from thus far.


On a completely different subject, I will be posting again late today or this evening on the issue of “Pollies’ Perks” — an issue that has long been dear to my heart, and on which someone has finally taken a first step to address. Stay tuned!

Stirring The Pot: Victorian ALP Conference Embarrasses Gillard

With friends like Julia Gillard’s got — I’m talking about her own party and, her own state branch of the Labor Party in Victoria at that, who’d need enemies?

Here in Victoria, the state ALP conference is in full swing, and its delegates have come out swinging: in the direction of their own party, and at the federal government which operates in their name.

Julia Gillard and her government have been delivered two stinging and humiliating rebukes, courtesy of motions passed at her own party’s state conference.

It actually makes it worse that it’s her own state division of the Labor Party that’s done it: supposedly the cradle of the hometown hero, the Victorian ALP has shat all over its miracle girl and seriously compromised the government she leads.

The state conference unanimously called on the Gillard government to abandon its “Malaysia Solution” to process unauthorised boat arrivals offshore; it was unanimous.

What a slap in the face.

This government, so desperate to appease the mainstream majority of the electorate who do not want illegal immigrants turning up here, yet so slavishly fearful of anything remotely connected to the actual policies of the Howard government it hates, resents and is so haunted by, has made Australia look like the amateur of the Western world on this issue, and is now slapped down by its own rank and file.

Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia national secretary Michele O’Neil led the assault on the policy, calling it a “shameful moment” for the ALP.

Apparently, her summation of the policy was backed by other conference delegates.

I think the policy is shameful (as I have said before) because it completely abrogated Australia’s control over who is able to come to this country; yes, we get to send off illegal immigrants at the rate of 800 a time, but in return we are obliged to accept 4000 “refugees” that Malaysia — a country not even a signatory to UN protocols on refugees — deems we ought to take.

The whole “800 for 4000” arrangement is one of the stupidest and most crass formulae of public policy I have ever heard, for starters.

And to abrogate immigration control to a third-world country in Malaysia, who has already picked and chosen which applicant immigrants it wants and which it doesn’t, is a dangerous little equation indeed.

I have written previously that Gillard’s government, in pursuing this policy, obliges us to accept people we wouldn’t want: people with criminal backgrounds, diseases and so forth. We have no way to screen them out ourselves. Gillard has signed us up to take whomever Malaysia deigns to send.

And to really rub salt in the eyes of reasonable Australian people who are outraged by this policy, just as Malaysia expects Australia to pay in full for the upkeep of anyone it sends here, it demands that the Australian taxpayer foot the bill in full for the upkeep of anyone we send to Malaysia for processing.

As there are some billions of dollars involved, and given Malaysia rids itself of the problem of 4000 people at a time to take on 800 at someone else’s expense, it doesn’t take Einstein to realise that the Malaysian government is going to make a monetary killing out of this policy if it is passed by Parliament.

I agree with the lady unionist at the ALP conference: it is a shameful policy.

But I’m sure my reasoning is very different to hers, and unlike her, I’ve got nothing to do with the ALP and will therefore sink the boot into Gillard and her defective policies with alacrity.

The conference has also overwhelmingly endorsed gay marriage to be included in the ALP platform and to become official policy in a direct challenge to Julia Gillard’s authority.

My views on this subject are well-known; I am in favour of the same rights for gay people/couples as are enjoyed by heterosexual people, but I do draw the line at so-called gay marriage: but then again, it’s not me in the spotlight this time around.

Gillard — a renowned figure on the hard left of the ALP until the Prime Ministership appeared within her grasp — has assumed many centrist (or even mildly right-wing) stances since becoming Prime Minister; one of these has been on the issue of gay marriage, and to assert she is, always was and always will be completely opposed to it.

She’s a hypocrite — and that “position” exists only to slavishly chase middle-class votes in marginal seats.

From the ideological and political background she hails from, and given the people she notionally represents on a traditional basis — the hard left — it’s no wonder her own people have cut her down.

To reiterate, I do not approve of the idea of gay marriage and am aghast at the notion it could ever become legal.

But if you’re Julia Gillard, you’re one of the most substantial mainstream left-wing figures to have emerged in this country in the past 40 years; and as a figurehead of the Left, Gillard is the champion of some of these issues others, elsewhere, find unacceptable.

And so Gillard’s own branch of her own party has made her look like a complete fool — and with some justification, I might add. I just wonder what’s in store for the remainder of the conference.

The point has to be made that the timing of this is too subtle and convenient to be a coincidence.

We already know Gillard’s leadership of the ALP is terminal; she’s finished.

We also knew prior to this weekend’s Labor conference that much of the early support for a move against her as ALP leader emanated from the Left of the party; so it is now being proven.

In short, Gillard has betrayed her own people — her grassroots base inside the ALP.

Gillard’s enemies, with the exception of Kevin Rudd, haven’t even really gotten started on her yet; not publicly, at any rate.

But if this weekend’s Victorian ALP conference is an indication of the treatment her supposed friends are prepared to mete out to her in the public eye, I can’t wait to see what her real enemies inside the Labor Party do when the gloves come off once and for all.

What do you think?

Tax Reform, Revenue And Expenditure, And Fixing The Budget: It’s Simple, Controversial, But Fair

This is probably my most controversial post to date: the budget is heavily in the red, and the spending priorities of this government (and its predecessors for 30 years) have been completely out of touch with reality. The answer is simple.

Two words: welfare budget.

And I want to see what ideas people might have around the idea I raise here.

It’s very true that the present ALP government in Canberra has, proverbially, been pissing money up against a post; borrowing heavily from overseas lenders to throw money at anything it thinks may have votes attached to it, and driving the country deep into the red.

And it’s also very true that as a result of these activities and the lingering effects of the so-called “global financial crisis” the Commonwealth budget isn’t in the shape it was in five years ago.

But an insidious aspect of government spending — completely addictive where some of its recipients are concerned — has grown, blown and spiralled out of control during the past 40 years.

I talk of course of the welfare state conceived and initially implemented by the government of Gough Whitlam in the 1970s.

Whitlam’s welfare programs — noble enough in their intent — sought to provide a solid safety net under the genuinely disadvantaged members of Australian society.

The expenditure on such programs has grown to the point where today, one dollar in every three expended by the government in Canberra goes to one form of welfare payment or another.

To be fair, this situation did not markedly improve during the years of the Howard government, although that administration did begin to take steps to rein in welfare spending.

And it didn’t improve during either the Fraser years or the Hawke/Keating years: if anything, the country’s welfare bill grew exponentially during the tenure of both of those governments.

But quite clearly, it’s not acceptable that a third of government spending goes on welfare payments — especially when it’s the TAXPAYER who is funding the bill.

And we’re talking about well over $100 billion in annual welfare payments here.

Yes, some of it is old age pension payments: I would never advocate taking a pension off a pensioner.

Some of it is paid to war veterans for various reasons: again, these people should never face a reduction or cancellation in their benefits.

I’d like to look at sickness/disability payments, unemployment benefits, and single mothers’ benefits.

Let’s start with the single mums.

I understand that sometimes accidents happen, and that when they do, dads bugger off and leave the pregnant lady — quite literally — holding the baby.

I think it’s fair enough for a single mother’s pension to be paid for a single “accident:” preferably until the girl/lady in question is able to enter or re-enter the workforce, but to act as a safety net until such times as her ability to work is restored.

I do not, however, condone the payment of pension benefits to “single mothers” who have multiple children to multiple fathers, and then ask the taxpayer to foot the bill for their continued existence.

Indeed, the present federal government restricted and modified access to what had been the Howard government’s “baby bonus” by breaking it into fortnightly payments over a period of time, rather than payment of $5000 as a lump sum after the birth of a child.

And it was the present Prime Minister (in her previous ministerial role) who was at the forefront of the change; she called the baby bonus the “plasma grant” in reference to people using it to buy plasma screen TVs, but she also made the point it was an inducement for young girls to get pregnant to pocket a chunk of change.

Quite. It illustrates my point.

Obviously deserted wives with children and no recent work skills or experience, for instance, would have their eligibility protected; as would rape victims, domestic violence victims and so forth.

But, there are “single mothers” who, by a revision of the eligibility criteria, could be thrown off benefits.

(Hear me out before you start abusing me…)

Next stop is the disability/sickness benefit recipients.

There are genuinely sick/disabled/incapacitated people in receipt of state benefits; for those people, they should remain so.

Yet others, on full benefits for minor injuries or for conditions that do not preclude them from doing other types of work, are a different story.

For example, someone receiving a sickness benefit because they hurt their leg at work would be quite capable of doing other work sitting down.

And as for unemployment benefits…anyone forced to take a dole payment out of sheer necessity, because they find themselves out of work and with responsibilities to meet and bills to pay will tell you that it’s not possible to live off the dole.

Indeed, for people who really want to work, the dole is probably the single greatest incentive in the country to go and find a job.

Yet many do live on the dole: by pooling three or four dole cheques to run a communal household, it’s very feasible to live a simple life, eat cheap (and probably unhealthy) food; supplemented with other benefits such as health care cards, concessions on public transport, and so forth.

Obviously, to weed out the type of people bludging off the system — to separate them from the genuinely needy recipients — would require a radical revision of the eligibility criteria around these benefits. I don’t pretend to have the answer to that — indeed, one of the reasons for raising this subject is to see what ideas other people have.

And whilst we’re at it, the amount of foreign aid this country pays out needs a good hard re-examination; especially as immigration levels (despite the blathering debate about boats) remain historically high at roughly 200,000 people per annum, and these new arrivals are given every assistance in helping them to get established here.

I see foreign aid in those circumstances as an extravagance: when we really can’t afford to look after the people in this country properly, and when the budget is as far in the red as it is, I see no over-arching case for shelling out billions and billions of dollars in external aid payments.

I re-emphasise — and cannot do so strongly enough — that this post is in no way advocating throwing really needy people off benefits just to save money.

What I do advocate, though, is to get the leeches off the public purse — I think there are plenty of people, quite capable of working, who would suddenly see work as an attractive proposition if their ride on the gravy train were to come to an involuntary halt.

And for those who don’t — there’s family, charity, and so forth; people who simply refuse to take responsibility for themselves simply because they want someone else to give them a free ride should not be a burden on the working public.

And what of the money such a radical overhaul of, and crackdown on, welfare abuse might save?

Some of it, it will not surprise readers to say, ought to be used to strip recurrent expenditure out of the budget, pulling it much closer to being back in balance.

But some of it should be directly channelled into increasing benefit payments for those recipients genuinely needing the help.

And some should be used for tax cuts: after all, some of the benefit of lifting a weight off the public purse ought be returned to those who fund the public purse in the first place: ordinary taxpayers.

I believe there is scope to cut billions — perhaps tens of billions — out of the Commonwealth welfare and aid budgets, to better look after those in real need, and to take a little of the burden off those who pay the taxes in the first place.

This isn’t mad ideology, or a case of an attack of the “nasty Tory” gene, or a witch hunt: simply an attempt to discuss ideas on how the fiscal resources of the government could be better and more effectively targeted, and to get better outcomes from the system overall.

What do people think?

Please keep comments on-subject.

Positive Policy: Abbott’s Australian Food Security Plan

Having been out of action for a few days until yesterday, there are a number of issues “in the queue” that I have wanted to discuss. One of these — refreshingly — is something I think is an excellent, positive idea that has emerged from the Coalition’s policy development processes.

An article appeared in the Weekend Australian on Saturday, outlining plans being developed by the Coalition — ahead of its likely election win, whenever the current Parliament is dissolved — to turn vast tracts of currently idle land into agricultural and grazing regions to create a vast new foodbowl.

Here’s the article; have a read.

Let’s get the obvious — and in my view, only — negative out of the way first: the Communists, ratbags and other assorted lunatics and fruit cakes over at the Greens.

I’m not going to apologise for my vehemence against the so-called Greens; they would rather see towns and cities run out of water than build new dams. For example, a single new dam on the Mitchell River in Victoria (which floods every year like clockwork) would guarantee the security of water supplies to Greater Melbourne against its population growth, and against drought, for decades.

There are plenty of other examples I might have chosen to illustrate the destructive and socially and environmentally irresponsible consequences of Greens policies, but that one is relevant because we’re talking about new dams.

One of the lasting “contributions” the Greens have made to Australian politics is to turn dams into dirty words; election-losing ideas that cost votes purely because of the hype and mania the Greens have whipped up around them.

Reality is a more worthy currency than ideologically-driven rhetoric, and shadow Finance minister Andrew Robb nailed it in this case in saying “There are huge quantities of water in Australia. It is just harnessing it at the right time that is the issue.”

So let’s forget about the predictable, confected outrage from the Greens and look at this proposal on a more even basis.

To my eyes, it’s a beauty.

At the bottom line, the scheme would boost Australia’s food production capacity from being adequate to support 60 million people to being adequate for 120 million people within 20 to 30 years.

This would neatly cater for the country’s population growth. It would also provide the means with which to better service the virtually inexhaustible export market to our north, in Asia, and to maintain supply to existing markets in Europe and the Americas.

The policy involves harnessing readily potable water from rainfall that would otherwise flow down rivers and be lost into oceans to turn large tracts of semi-arable land into productive regions capable of supporting agriculture, grazing and so forth.

This would require the completion of some water management systems that are currently partly built, as well as other dams that have been planned but never constructed — in some cases for decades.

A direct side benefit would be opportunities to develop a hydro-electric power industry around some of these new dams; something the Greens could have no argument against as it offers a clean source of power generation.

The benefits are difficult to under-sell and too numerous to ignore.

The implementation of a policy like this would require massive amounts of money to be spent on infrastructure; along with the direct cost of building dams, there is the associated infrastructure requirements that go with them, and the likely need for further development such as additional road and rail infrastructure.

It would guarantee the future of the farming and agriculture sector, and with it the livelihoods of countless rural communities across the country; indeed, it is foreseeable that many regional centres would experience a new period of sustained growth after decades of overall population drift from the regions to the larger cities in coastal areas.

And the benefits would be felt in urban and rural centres alike, with likely growth in employment in transport, logistics and trade industries in bigger cities merely an example of what might be possible.

The economic benefits to Australia, directly and indirectly, are potentially enormous; a program such as the one being mooted would involve the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the benefits from the steep increase in exports in terms of additional jobs and revenue streams to the Commonwealth — notwithstanding the benefits to the communities affected — are nigh-impossible to calculate.

And there is a national security angle in this, too: during the drought in Australia over the past ten years, many commentators have warned that “wars of the future” could start over water; indeed, it’s quite feasible they could also start over food security.

This policy initiative — with the colossal increase in food production foreshadowed as its end result — could go a long way to shoring up our position in entrenching Australia as a food supplier to 70, 80, 90 million people over and above our own national requirements.

Robb stresses that this policy is very much a work in progress, but thus far I like what I see. It’s been a long time since a single policy idea has appeared so exciting, and so downright sensible, at first glance.

I will follow developments on this (and try to get additional information from Andrew Robb — my local MP, incidentally — as it becomes available) but I can’t emphasise enough how strongly I believe the Coalition might be onto a winner here.

As I said at the outset, it’s refreshing to see one of the major parties put an idea on the table in terms of policy that is so positive, and which could potentially yield so very many benefits in terms of job creation, to local communities and individual industries, and to the country as a whole.

What do you think? I’d be keen to gather feedback from readers.