Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
This week rang with howls of indignation from the usual suspects (unions and public education lobbies) railing against Dr Jennifer Buckingham and me for attempting to destroy public education as harbingers of the neoliberal apocalypse.
Our crime was having released a research report on charter schools, which are publicly-funded, privately managed schools. The report makes the case, with evidence, for why charter schools should be introduced by government as a fourth school sector under the public school umbrella.
It was a little bewildering to hear that, for some people, schools that are public in every way that matters are supposedly Trojan horses for privatisation.
For me, what matters is that public schools are open to everyone and they are fully-funded, with no tuition fees paid. This is to ensure that all children can access a quality education, regardless of their circumstances. In keeping with this notion, as well as the evidence, the report supports the creation of charter schools with these enrolment principles.
Nobody has ever successfully argued that universal access to education means centralised and uniform provision, managed by bureaucrats. Under the charter school model, schools would be managed by organisations which have the capacity to respond to the challenges of unique school communities. Teachers who worked well with their students could be paid more, rather than the reward for their success consisting of being assigned to a less challenging school. Where there is a desire for a vocationally-focused education alongside the traditional core subjects, schools could deliver that.
What could be more in keeping with the spirit of public schooling – schooling for all – than schools that are able to better serve their students, parents, and communities?
It seems that equity in education provision isn’t really what the self-styled defenders of public schools are concerned about. If the nature of the criticism is anything to go by, it’s more about protecting the vested interests of unions and bureaucrats alike. Our public school system, and the students who have no choice but to attend, are worse off for it.
“They are letting Chinese companies bring their own workers … Sorry, but you won’t even get a look-in, son.”
So goes the fearmongering ad campaign against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) promoted by the Construction, Forest, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in a concerted movement with other stakeholders to oppose the trade deal.
It shows a deplorable attempt by vested interests to manipulate voters with lies, damned lies – but in this case no supporting statistics.
Make no mistake: ChAFTA is a landmark victory for Australians, opening up a cornucopia of future export opportunities. It will boost Australian jobs, creating new possibilities and demand in our economy.
China is the second-largest economy in the world (soon-to-be the first by any measure), home to a population of approximate 1.4 billion consumers, and Australia’s biggest trading partner worth of over A$150 billion annually. Any attempt to block the recently signed free trade agreement – especially on misleading grounds – is an attack against every Australian.
The 1,800 or so annual Chinese workers allowed to enter Australia as contractual service suppliers, or those brought for infrastructure projects worth over $150 million, do not constitute a threat to local jobs – particularly as many other jobs will be created in the process.
The Leader of the Labor Party and the trade union movement should stop politicising the issue in dubious attempts to score some political points. Instead, the Opposition should soul-search the reformist and free trade attitude of its recent past; as former ALP Prime Minister and ACTU President Bob Hawke admonishes: “Talk of opposing it [ChAFTA] is just absolutely against Australia’s best interests.“
Indeed. For the sake of Australia – and Australians – we should hail the agreement as the blueprint for an economic and employment win.
The Newcastle Council has officially entered an alternative reality. The city that was built on coal is now proposing to withdraw deposits from banks that fund coal.
Never mind that this won’t work. The Council’s investments are a minute proportion of total deposits with banks. If the banks stop lending to coal, plenty of other investors are available overseas and here (including the Future Fund). And if Australia cuts its coal exports, other countries would be happy to fill the gap in production.
It gets worse. In the unlikely event that Australian coal production declines, this will just shift harmful environmental impacts overseas, often to countries with lower environmental standards than Australia. And the Council’s decision implicitly tells developing countries to stop using coal which is incredibly patronising, imperialistic and anti-development.
But most importantly, the Council is sending incredibly contradictory messages about the city’s development. Coal is vital to Newcastle. It is one thing to argue for diversifying the city’s economy. It is another to decry such a core industry. This may cause businesses to think twice about investing in the city.
The contradictions in the Council’s Twilight Zone don’t end there. If the Council were wanting to completely cut off coal, they should return all the fees and local rates paid by coal companies. But of course they won’t. In the Council’s alternate reality, it is OK to take money from coal, just not invest in it.
The trip to the Twilight Zone isn’t over yet. The Councillor responsible for this decision has said that the Council shouldn’t invest in things that have involvement in the manufacturing of alcohol. So we could soon be seeing the Council divesting from the Hunter Wine Region.
What next in this brave new (and apparently insane) world? North Queensland to ban banana growing, New Zealand to mandate the wearing of synthetic fibres, and South Sydney to veto lattes?