Friday, 13 August 2010

The Candidates' Debate (3) (Youth Policy)

Let's have a look at Youth policy. I have four kids, all currently studying, so it's relevant for me and my family.

Candidate A -

Once again, I had enormous difficulty in finding any reference to "Youth" on this candidate's party's website.

To try to get around this, I did a page search on "youth" on the party platform page. All this generated was -
Support our youth to develop their talents, to be innovative and achieve
Support and strengthen families as the core of communities
Develop and support healthy lifestyles through individual and community-based programs
These statements are too general to mean very much, so I tried the strategy of Googling "The Party's name + Youth".

This also proved a waste of time, as it revealed lots of pages devoted to the goings on in the local youth branches of the party as well as references to candidates who have dropped clangers during the campaign.

Candidate B -

This party's website had many indirect references to "Youth" and a few direct ones.

There is reference to Family Tax Benefit initiatives -

The new maximum rate of FTB-A for 16 to 18 year olds will increase to $208 per fortnight, leading to a total amount of $6,161 per year. 1 This is the same rate as applies for 13 to 15 year olds. Other eligibility conditions for 13 to 15 will also continue to apply for these 16 to 18 year olds.

And - The Compact with Young Australians -
The Compact with Young Australians has three elements to promote skills acquisition and ensure young people are learning or earning:
• A National Youth Participation Requirement which requires all young people to participate in schooling (or an approved equivalent) to Year 10, and then participate full-time (at least 25 hours per week) in education, training or employment, or a combination of these activities, until age 17.
• An entitlement to an education or training place for 15 to 24 year olds which focuses on attaining Year 12 or equivalent qualifications so young people have the necessary qualifications required to get and keep a job and develop their careers. Entitlement places are for government-subsidised qualifications, subject to admission requirements and course availability. (For 20 to 24 year olds who already have a Year 12 or equivalent qualification, the entitlement is to a place that would result in them attaining a higher qualification than they currently hold.)
• Strengthened participation requirements for some types of income support: the focus on learning or earning also applies to those under the age of 21 who seek income support through Youth Allowance (Other) or the Family Tax Benefit (Part A): if they do not have a Year 12 or equivalent qualification, these young people need to participate in education and training full-time, or participate in part-time study or training in combination with other approved activities, usually for at least 25 hours per week, until they attain Year 12 or an equivalent Certificate Level II qualification. Examples of the types of activities that could be approved, in combination with part time study or training, include part time paid work, voluntary work or a youth transitions program. Flexible arrangements and exemptions apply to those who cannot participate in this way.

Candidate C - 
As in other policy areas, this candidate's party has a comprehensive presentation -
1. Children and young people should have access to resources and opportunities necessary for a full and healthy life.
2. Children and young people must have greater opportunities to participate in decision making affecting their lives.
3. Children and young people have a right to access appropriate services, regardless of their location.
4. Children and young people have a right to a loving and nurturing environment which is free of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination.
5. Funding programs, service delivery and decisions regarding child protection to be consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
6. Children and young people to be able to express their needs and aspirations at all levels of government, as well as in their own communities.
7. A system of regionally based, appropriately resourced and independent youth advisory committees.
8. Greater coordination in youth policy formulation.
9. A decent and secure income for young people to enable full participation in education and employment opportunities.
10. Improved education and secure, satisfying, employment opportunities for young people, including in remote, rural and regional areas.
11. Affordable, accessible and secure housing options for young people.
12. A reduction in the high rates of suicide, mental illness and obesity in children and young people.
13. properly funded services that meet the needs of children in need of care and protection
14. Support the right of people from the age of 16 years to vote.
15. Re-establish a dedicated ministry for children and youth affairs.
16. Re-establish a national youth affairs peak body with elected and representative members.
17. Increase Youth Allowance to the level of a living wage to enable young people to study full time without recourse to casual work.
18. Implement a national employment strategy for young people, with excellent labour market and training programs.
19. Develop new, and improve existing, education and preventive health programs for children and young people.
20. Adequately fund strategies to deal with youth suicide and mental health issues affecting young people.
21. Ban the advertising of junk food during children's viewing hours.
22. Conduct community awareness campaigns about the prevalence, prevention and reporting of abuse against children and young people.
23. Support and fund high quality services for child survivors of abuse and neglect.

Candidate D - 

This candidate makes no direct reference to "Youth" on his website.
It's necessary to refer to his policies on Education, to develop any understanding of his position, so I need to go back to previous posts.

Candidate E -  

The closest reference to Youth Policy that I could find on this candidate's party's website is as follows -

This party does not believe the existing child care funding system properly respects parents' child care choices. All families should have genuine choice about the type of care that best suits their needs and this choice should be affordable for all families;
This party believes the Government should give equal funding to all parents for child care, irrespective of whether they choose to put their children in child care centres or whether they choose to forgo a salary and be stay-at-home parents;
This party supports parents who want their children to be cared for by a grandparent, friend, neighbour or nanny in a family home and does not believe these parents should be discriminated against by receiving less government funding for child care;
This party supports parents returning to work if they want to. These parents should not be forced to spend a large chunk of their pay check on exorbitant child care fees so that working is hardly worthwhile for them.
This party will give all families an annual $10,000 Caring for Children Payment for each child under the age of five, The Caring for Children Payment will be in the form of a voucher which can be used to purchase necessary children's items such as
Clothing, food and nappies as well as child care services at government approved centres. The Caring for Children Payment will replace the less generous Child Care Rebate (up to $7,500 per child), which only goes to families with two working parents and who can afford exorbitant child care fees;
This party will establish a Better Access to Childcare Fund to increase the number of child care places in the community so that parents aren't forced onto lengthy waiting lists and left unable to access child care services in their local area. Existing child care centres and prospective centres will be able to apply for grant
Assistance of up $100,000 towards the capital cost of expanding or developing a childcare service facility in an area designated as having a shortage of child care places.
Candidates B, C and E have many good policies. Candidates A and D seem almost to ignore the needs of young people.
In this area, my rating is as follows -
Candidate E
Candidate B
Candidate C
The other two simply don't rate.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Outsourcing is Wonderful

We get the local paper (the "Toowoomba Chronicle") delivered. God knows why, it has to be one of the worst rags around.

My bride likes the crosswords.

This has been the case ever since we lived in Toowoomba. We've been here 14 years now, and at some point during that period, the organisation responsible for delivering the paper and sending us invoices changed.

Sure, the paper landed in the front yard routinely at about 5am, wrapped in plastic that usually defied bleary early morning attempts to unroll it, but the person throwing it with dubious accuracy was no longer our local newsagent.

Apparently he/she/it was a contractor employed organised by some anonymous crew across the Tasman. The local newsagent no longer had anything to do with it. When we moved here we organised delivery through this newsagent.

How this change came about without our knowledge is passing strange. In my naïveté, I assumed that if you had come to an arrangement with a business to provide you with an ongoing service, it couldn't be changed our terminated without consent of both parties. We've led pretty busy lives, but I'm not so far advanced in my dotage that I'd forget changing this arrangement.

But I digress.

Earlier this year I received a demand notice with a threat of legal action from the company (I won't name them, but if you look closely at the picture, you can come to your own conclusions) on the grounds that we hadn't paid our bill.

Going carefully back through the invoices and my on-line payments, it became quickly apparent that this wasn't the case, and we were indeed up to date. I didn't think much of it - honest mistake perhaps? I phoned their 1300 number and was told to ignore the correspondence. No apology was forthcoming from the operator who apparently was located in Auckland.

Problem was, about one month later the same thing happened again. I phoned again, but received such abrupt treatment that I asked that no more deliveries be made.

I then went to our local newsagent, discovered that he was still delivering, and asked him to resume the service from July 19th. He had no knowledge of how the change came about, except to say that he bought the business 10 years ago, and the deliveries may have been sold to this Kiwi mob separately. His deliveries cost fractionally more, but I'd prefer to support a local small business over a multi-national any day.

This, I thought, would be the end of the problem.

Not so, another bill arrived from the multi-national. This was peculiar to say the least, as the arrangement had been terminated and we were getting one paper delivered - not two.

I phoned the brusque Kiwi again (although it's obviously a call-centre I seem always to get the same person). The explanation was fascinating. She said their "accounts were a little behind". It turns out that they actually owe us money ($11.05).

I defy anyone reading the invoice to come to any conclusion other than that we owed them $66.95.

If I had been silly (or busy) enough to pay up, I'd assume that I wouldn't have been any the wiser, based on past performances.

The moral of the story? This particular multi-national is either price-gouging, inefficient, or a bunch of shonks - perhaps all three.

I'm not holding my breath for the refund.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Candidates' Debate (2) (Disabilities)

From my point of view, action in support of people disabilities is a major issue in the federal election.

There are personal reasons for this, but I've also worked in the field, in one form or another, since 1971. Not to put too fine a point on it, the plight of people with disabilities and their carers in this country is a national disgrace, and it's getting worse (particularly in the bush) rather than better.

Let's have a look at what candidates for Groom have to offer specifically on this issue.

Candidate A -

I searched this candidate's page for about ten minutes, using a range of terms, but the best I could do was this listing of the deficiencies of the current situation -

Equity and portability of funding - the difference between funding in a government school and non-government school is unfair and unsustainable. Fundamentally, the funding should follow the child.
More training for teachers and teacher's aides must be undertaken so that these educators can better support these children.
Parents are exhausted and need more support across the board with less red tape.
There are substantial problems with different definitions of disabilities and too many children are falling through the gaps.

There was also a report that this party would be providing an allowance for parents to receive grants of up to $20000 to support their child with a disability at a private school. Unfortunately, this seems to have vanished without trace, and there is no reference to it on the party's website. I'd be happy to be informed on this if anyone out there has better information.
In summary, then, candidate A doesn't appear to have any policies in this area.

Candidate B - 

The party's website lists three major policies or initiatives -
A Better Start for Children with Disability, Supported Accommodation initiatives and support for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
From the website -  

A Better Start for Children with Disability will ensure children with disabilities that affect their development have access to intensive early intervention therapies and treatments from expert health professionals.
Children diagnosed with sight and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or Fragile X syndrome will benefit under the program. Children under six with a diagnosis of a listed disability will be eligible to receive up to $12,000 for early intervention services.
A maximum of $6,000 can be spent in any financial year. Families will have up to their child’s seventh birthday to use the funding.
A number of new Medicare funded diagnosis and treatment services will also be made available for children diagnosed before the age of 13 years with these conditions.
Families will be able to access the treatment items up to their child’s fifteenth birthday.
Supported Accommodation initiatives -
Community organisations are uniquely placed to develop accommodation and respite options that capitalise on local support and resources, and meet the needs of people with disability and their carers in an inventive way.
Projects could include a modern renovation of an existing home so it can be used for supported accommodation, pooled resources to build a contemporary facility close to local community and health services to provide overnight respite, or expanding an established facility to provide more places.
Up to 150 additional places are expected to be delivered through the $60 million investment that will be provided under this initiative.
The Strategy has been developed in consultation with people with disability, the community, State and Territory Governments and local governments. It outlines a nationwide approach to improving the lives of people with disability.
National Disability Insurance Scheme -
This candidate's party will take the National Disability Strategy to the Council of Australian Governments early next term.

Candidate C -

Principles -
People have a right to independence, self-determination and choice in their lives.
There are a variety of medical, societal and environmental reasons why peoples' individual abilities differ; disability arises when society fails to accommodate these differences and creates, or fails to remove, barriers to equitable access for all.
People, who experience disability, and their families and carers, should have the opportunity to actively participate in policy and service planning and delivery.
It is a primary responsibility of governments to ensure equality of opportunity, to promote attitudinal change, and to provide funding to ensure this in areas of education, health, housing, mobility, employment and sporting, cultural and social engagement.
People who experience disability to be integrally involved in all levels of decision and policy making, including in their own service development and delivery.
People to participate fully in all aspects of life, including education, training and employment, regardless of disability.
People to have access, where necessary, to appropriate facilities and support personnel in order for them to be able to undertake their chosen activities.
The Commonwealth, State and Territories Disability Agreement to deliver clear and timely policy, funding and service delivery responsibilities and outcomes.
Guaranteed decent incomes, support and services for people with disability and their carers.
Strengthen and provide funding for disability advocacy services, community education programs, and the removal of structural barriers to equality of access to education, training and employment.
Ensure a guaranteed decent income by increasing Disability Support Pension payments to adequately cover medical, transport, equipment and accommodation costs.
Restore the Disability Support Pension eligibility to the pre-July 2006 criteria as a minimum.
Remove the punitive assessment and work requirement levels and job capacity assessments introduced in the Welfare to Work Act 2005 whilst ensuring sufficient places for all people seeking training.
Provide meaningful employment and training opportunities which take into account the specific needs of people with disability.
Allow full tax deductability for any aids, devices, special equipment or services which directly assist people with disability in finding and maintaining employment.
Remove GST and import duty from specialist aids, devices, appliances and services for people with disability.
Provide parents, partners, relatives and friends who act as carers with eligibility for registration as professional carers and adequate support, including income and respite.
Enact national standards to protect people with disability, where required, via monitoring, investigative powers and enforcement.
Increase funding for appropriate, including age-appropriate, accommodation and support services for people with disability, including flexible accommodation models.
Increase funding for high quality, age-appropriate institutional care for people with very high and complex care needs.
Provide increased respite care services and facilities, in-home and emergency support, crisis accommodation and a range of supported accommodation options.
Adequately resource pathways that support school leavers with disability to make the transition from school into meaningful employment, educational and vocational programs or other community-based activities.
Support access to specialised employment support services for people with disability who choose to enter the workforce.
Improve access to training, development and personal support to staff working in disability services, and adopt workforce measures to increase the professional mix of staff.
Improve pay and conditions and career structures for providers of services for people with disabilities.
Strengthen national disability access standards. 

Candidate D -

There is simply no mention of this issue on this candidates' site. The closest you get to it is this comment on Health -

Our socialized medical system is having the same problems as all other similar systems in the world- they are rising costs, lengthening waiting lists, slipping standards, sluggish bureaucracy and political duck-shoving.

Candidate E -


Believes Australians with an intellectual, neurological or physical disability should be respected as full and equal members of society. This respect should be reflected in their full participation in our community, rather than their current marginalisation;

Is concerned about the Productivity Commission's findings that people with a disability were less likely to finish school, to have a TAFE or university qualification or be employed.

They earn less than half the average income and are more likely to be in public housing; believes that work is important for self esteem and well being and that one way to improve employment prospects is to improve skills and education.


She wants to establish a National Disability Insurance Scheme. This scheme will cover every Australian who is born with a disability or acquires a disability and will provide funding for essential care, support, therapy, aids, equipment, home modifications, and access to the community, education and training;

supports initiatives to make it easier for people with a disability to access education and learning, such as by finishing school or attending TAFE or university; urges the Government and private sector employers to promote the benefits of employing people with disabilities. Working with people who have disabilities promotes

understanding and respect for people who are different and have special needs;

supports initiatives to ensure people with a disability can participate more fully in the paid workforce;

She supports improvements to health services to improve health care for people with a disability;

She supports fair and adequate income support and care for people with severe disabilities to ensure a fulfilling life with opportunity for social, recreational and creative activities.

My conclusions -

I reserved my judgement last post in relation to education. This comparison is relatively straightforward. Candidates B and E have superior policies, and the clincher for me is support for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Candidate B represents a party which has a far better track record on the issue in power, and this clinches it for me.

Candidate B is the winner.

Postscript -
For those of you who use Facebook, this site supports the adoption of an NDIS. 

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Candidates' Debate (Education)

Apparently there's federal election coming up soon - towards the end of this month I'm told.

This means, of course, that I'll have to vote. In my electorate of Groom, the candidates are Ian MacFarlane from the Coalition, Rose Kirkwood, from Family First, Frida Forsberg, from the Greens, Chris Meibusch, from the Australian Labor Party and Rod Jeanneret, Independent Liberal National Party of Queensland.

The process of making a decision about which candidate to support ought to be simple. Step one is to determine what issues matter, step two to examine the policies of each candidate on these issues, and step three is to rank these people in order of preference.

Party politics should not come into it.

Unfortunately, modern campaigning and the history of the development of the party machine conspire to ensure that what we end up with is vastly removed from the Westminster ideal which is the basis of our system.

Also unfortunately, a generation born and bred to American media has been educated to see our system through the trans-Pacific prism.

I'll try to ignore these two influences in any decisions I make. Wish me luck.

The issues that matter to me in order of priority from most important to least important are -


Some themes are universal across these - they are social justice and economics.

To make this as even-handed as possible, I won't identify the candidates by party affiliation, but by policy.

Here goes - Let's look at Education.

Candidate A -
This candidates' party has announced that it plans significant cuts of $3.1 billion in education funding. These cuts include $968 million from the Trade Training Centres in Schools program, the cessation of the Teacher Quality National Partnership ($425 million) and the cessation of the Computers in Schools program ($700 million).
This candidates' party will maintain the existing school funding system, as it believes it is an equitable way- of funding private schools. Under the 10 years of this party's government, the funding gap between private and public schools grew.
This candidates' party has proposed to expand the current system of education rebates to include school fees, music and dance lessons. This will advantage non-government schools.
They will introduce local hiring and firing and performance pay to give schools more autonomy, including having principals decide which teachers get more money. They intend to provide more money for students with disabilities who attend private schools.
They have indicated that they plan to expand national testing, potentially to all year levels. They plan to reintroduce Australian Technical Colleges in direct competition to TAFE, despite ATCs' track record during the last period of government of this party.

Candidate B -
This candidates' party provided significant additional funding for schools through the Literacy and Numeracy, Low SES schools and Teacher Quality National Partnerships and the Building the Education Revolution (BER) infrastructure program. The $16.2 billion BER program was the largest injection of federal funds for schools infrastructure in history.
This candidates' party has announced a review of schools funding that will examine the current system of schools funding and develop a new system for implementation in 2013 (though they promised that no private schools would have their funding reduced).
This candidates' party currently provides rebates for a range of education expenses (e.g. textbooks, computers) and has proposed to expand its rebates to include school uniform costs.
Their recent initiatives for schools included Trade Training Centres in Schools, and the Computers in Schools Program. They also pushed for the implementation of a national
They are promising to introduce a new National Trade Cadetship delivered through Trades Training Centres which will provide credit towards an apprenticeship or training.
They have emphasised standardised testing and other simplistic measures of educational quality. They implemented the My School website with its red and green flagging of
results and ignored the concerns of teachers about the site. Eventually they put in place a review process that involves teacher unions.

 In VET, they have significantly increased funding in comparison to levels under the precious government.

Candidate C -

The education policy of this candidates' party expresses strong support for high-quality, well-funded public schooling and has the most comprehensive policy statement on education of the three major party groups.
They want the current SES school funding system replaced by one that will provide a significant investment in public education.
In order to improve teaching, they propose a scholarship program to attract top students into teaching and a mentoring program for new teachers. They support better salaries and career structures for teachers.
They also propose a schools community fund, to which public schools can apply for funding for student well-being and support services.
They believe that VET should primarily be delivered through the public TAFE system and
propose the phasing out of private RTOs where TAFE can provide the relevant programs.
They propose to reduce casualisation in the TAFE workforce.
They recognise education unions as the appropriate industrial representatives in all education matters.
As this candidates' party is not currently capable of forming a government, their role will be restricted at best to advocacy/negotiation in the Senate.

Candidate D -
This candidate advocates the need to institute a voucher system to ensure there is no discrimination between students.
He believes that all students (of State and Private Schools) be given the same amount (in a voucher) to be redeemed at the school (or university) of choice with no restrictions. Schools would offer a wide range of courses designed to attract students – standards will be set by vested interests such as universities, industries, employers, etc.
He maintains that Primary Schools should be refocused on teaching the three “R's”, claiming that literacy and numeracy skills have fallen and that higher education cannot be pursued without those skills.
He wants Secondary Schools to offer students a greater choice of subjects with less emphasis on academic subjects and specific focus on subjects to do with the trades, commerce and the professions, enabling students to be well advanced on their chosen career path at an earlier age than currently. He argues that this will make them more employable, able to earn better wages at an earlier age or achieve even superior qualifications if they desire.
He believes that the voucher system allied with a reduced education bureaucracy, and greater participation by industry and commerce in the education process will make Australia more competitive in the world markets.
He advocates the use of school facilities so that they are open for twelve hours per day and advocates that home schooling should be readily (and cheaply) available through the use of CD’s DVD’s and the internet.


Candidate E -

This candidate will lobby to ensure all parents have genuine choice about the school that is best for their child and supports their family's values. 
No parent of a child with a disability should be locked into a school for fear of losing vital funding and support; 
This candidate supports measures to reduce class sizes and increase literacy levels; 
This candidate supports greater school accountability to parents and reports written in "Plain English";
This candidate wants increased funding for vocational education and training which is vital in training young people so they can get jobs in key industries and areas of skill shortage;
This candidate will argue for increased funding for universities, particularly smaller and regional universities;
This candidate's party voted against legislation allowing universities to offer degrees to only full-fee students.

My conclusions -
On this education issue, I'd reject candidate A because his party will withdraw funding from a range of projects that have already made a difference. In addition, his party seems to have a real problem with government schools, using the cliché that people have the right to choose private schooling. They sure do, but given that 60% of funding for private schools comes from the pockets of the Australian taxpayer, this element of choice simply isn't available to these same taxpayers who fund these schools. For many there are no choices possible as a consequence of geography, financial circumstances or the fact that their child won't be accepted by a private school because of special needs or disability.

Candidate D's policies have some interesting aspects, but the idea of a voucher system has more ideological than practical significance. For a voucher system to be introduced there would need to be a phase-in period of at least 10 years, if chaos was not to result.

This problem of how to phase in such a scheme has defeated even its most avid proponents, which is why major parties have given it a wide berth.

This narrows the field to candidates B and C. In many ways their policies are similar. I like candidate C's commitment to supporting public education. Any policy that moves towards inclusion as (opposed to exclusion) serves to build a stronger, more unified and tolerant society.

This approach also is closer to my values regarding social justice, and there is a correlation between a strong public education system and a strong economy, although there is often argument about which comes first.

I'll reserve my final judgement until I take a look at disability policy. Given what I've learned during the last 40 years of working with students with disabilities, it's necessary to look at how the two policies dovetail.

That's for my next pre-election post.

Update -

Now that I've had a look at Disability policy, and how it aligns with Education, my winner for this issue is candidate B.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...