Will the WorkChoices scare campaign work again?

Earlier in the week, Pollytics blog reported an Essential Research poll finding that most people believe that Tony Abbott would bring back WorkChoices. Labor has been dusting off its old anti-WorkChoices rhetoric to take political advantage of this.

But will the same scare campaign work twice?

Though many WorkChoices policies persisted well into the Rudd government’s first term – indeed some aspects of their re-regulated IR system didn’t start until last month – the stories of workers being ripped off by bastard bosses using WorkChoices over the last couple of years have been hard to find, certainly much harder than the anti-WorkChoices ACTU advertising before Howard’s defeat would have led us to believe.

Indeed, the WorkChoices era in the Australian labour market was remarkably good. Unemployment sank to 30 year lows before the GFC hit. Despite claims that bosses would use their new powers to ‘unfairly’ sack workers, involuntary job losses dropped to very low levels. Continue reading “Will the WorkChoices scare campaign work again?”

Will Clive Hamilton reflect on ‘alarmist’ failures?

Clive Hamilton’s series of articles on the climate change debate at The Drum is not yet complete, but what’s missing so far is any self-reflection. Things have gone wrong for the alarmist camp, but the fault according to Clive seems to lie entirely with other people.

For instance I agree with Hamilton that behaviour in this debate has been poor – but poor on both sides, not just the sceptic side. I complained years ago about the ‘McCarthyist’ tactics of the alarmists, and their outrage at any dissent from the official line.

Not only has this approach helped provoke attacks in response and alienated people not strongly committed to either side, but it probably contributed to the broader political shortcomings of the alarmists. As I showed in a recent Policy article, in public opinion the alarmists have had the upper hand for 20 years. Their political imperative wasn’t to stamp out the last remnants of dissent on the science, but to convert belief in the science into support for practical measures to reduce carbon emissions. There was an opportunity cost to chasing down every sceptic offering a view.

The other tactical problem with the alarmists was their focus on scaring people rather than trying to sell a more positive message. Continue reading “Will Clive Hamilton reflect on ‘alarmist’ failures?”

Do private schools lead to less empathy?

But if a person does their schooling in an expensive private school, plays sport against other private schools, goes on to university with primarily selective and private school graduates, gets a professional job, they might get to know fewer people from different backgrounds, and are less likely to empathise with them.

– commenter Bruce, 23 February

In race relations analysis, this is known as the ‘contact hypothesis’ – that mixing will lead to mutual understanding and improved relations. Under fairly restrictive conditions contact can achieve the desired goals. But absent those conditions contact can have the opposite effect, confirming bad impressions and worsening ill-feeling.

So we can’t be sure that a toffs meets trailer trash school policy would have a positive effect on mutual relations. The poor as an abstract entity may win more empathy than the poor in person. And the rich as a snobbish, privileged presence in the same classroom may inspire more resentment than than the rich as a distant social class.

Whatever the possible outcomes of shared classrooms, analysis of social attitudes by school background suggests that generally where someone went to school doesn’t seem to have a large influence, as the following figures show (all vertical axes show percentages). Continue reading “Do private schools lead to less empathy?”

Why are there so few secular private schools?

Surely having LESS complicated hurdles to pass over would help secular private schools and surely encouraging the private sector would help secular private schools, too?

– commenter Shem Bennett, 21 February.

One curious feature of Australian school education is that it has a very large private sector, but few non-government schools are secular. The Independent Schools Association says that 84% of independent schools have a religious affiliation, but this overstates the size of the entirely secular non-government system open to parents wanting a ‘mainstream’ private education.

About half the schools in the no religious affiliation group are Steiner or Montessori schools. Take out ‘special schools, international schools, Indigenous schools’ – descriptions of the content of the ‘other’ category – and it looks like government schools have the general secular market almost to themselves. My analysis of census figures shows that only just over 10% of children whose parents say they are atheists, agnostics or have no religion are attending non-government schools, less than a third of the general rate of private school attendance. Continue reading “Why are there so few secular private schools?”

The myth of Commonwealth competence

During the week, as Pollytics blog reported, Essential Research found strong support for a Commonwealth takeover of hospitals.

But as The Weekend Australian‘s editorial argued, the lesson from the insulation fiasco is that it is time to think again about what it called ‘Big Canberra’ – the belief among senior politicians of both parties, often supported by a frustrated public, that the Commonwealth bureaucracy can succeed where state bureaucracies have failed. Continue reading “The myth of Commonwealth competence”

Are academic standards declining?

Another interesting observation, as a former university employee, is the declining academic standards upon the increase of alien [sic – he means international, not interplanetary] students.

Commenter ‘Baz’, 19 February

The claim that academic standards are in decline is always with us; only the cause varies (mass education, progressive education, managerialism, government funding cuts etc etc). But since academic standards are generally set internally by universities it is hard for outsiders to assess the credibilty of declinist claims.

My response to these allegations has been that while the absence of external standard-setting and scrutiny makes declining academic standards possible, proxy data hasn’t supported the declinist thesis. Employers are not, for example, showing their dissatisfaction by employing fewer graduates or giving them a lower premium for their degree (beyond the usual cyclical changes). And I have been observing for many years that pass rates are not showing any consistent upward trend.

However Baz’s comment prompted me to look at the latest data on ‘progress’ (ie pass) rates. Continue reading “Are academic standards declining?”

Do theories of racism explain crimes against international students?

Victoria University has published a lengthy research paper on the ‘community safety’ of international students.

Their survey of international and domestic students at Victorian universities and private providers finds that international students are at greater risk than domestic students of various adverse incidents. But this greater risk is in the context of a more general incivility and crime problem:

Compared with domestic students, international students were significantly more likely to feel unsafe at work (10% vs 5%), to report being verbally abused (58% vs 44%) to report being physically attacked (11% vs 7.5%) and to report being robbed (10% vs 5%). ‘Physical intimidation’ was the only safety threat experienced reported slightly more often by domestic students compared with international students (25% vs 20%).

While the researchers surveyed students and interviewed various ‘stakeholders’, the most important people in understanding the causes of these problems – the perpetrators, or even people from the youth subcultures they come from – don’t get a voice. Instead the report gives us pages of academic theories about racism, little of which seems to me to be helpful in understanding Melbourne’s particular recent issues. Continue reading “Do theories of racism explain crimes against international students?”

If cost was no obstacle, most students would attend private schools

The independent schools don’t have the Australian Education Union’s propaganda talents, and so their interesting survey on attitudes towards private schools received very little coverage. There was a story in the print version of The Australian, but nothing online that I can find.

The UMR Research poll shows just how successful the AEU’s funding disinformation has been. A majority of respondents believe that private schools get the same public funding as government schools (25%) or more funding than government schools (33%). In reality, private schools get about half the public funding per student that government schools receive.

This error contributed to muddled responses on policy issues. Two differently-worded questions on whether private school students should receive the same funding as government school students received different levels of majority support (66%/58%). However, after being told the correct funding levels only 21% of respondents thought that the federal government should give private schools more funding, with 45% opting for current levels. Due to ignorance about the status quo, some respondents who supported same levels of funding in the earlier questions presumably thought that their reply meant no change or a cut in spending on private schools, rather than an increase.

Of those respondents with kids at a government school (an unspecified number, unfortunately) 42% said that if fees were not an issue they would prefer to send their kids to a private school. Continue reading “If cost was no obstacle, most students would attend private schools”

The realities of government

The Rudd government is considering placing tougher requirements on businesses to disclose the number of women they employ and blocking firms from industry assistance or bidding for goverment contracts if they fail to meet family friendly workplace standards.

– ‘Family friendly rules for business’, page 1, AFR, 15 February 2010.

“It is critical that there are mechanisms within government to push back against relentless pressures for increased regulatory burdens on business,” Mr Tanner told The Australian Financial Review.

‘Tanner vows new assault on red tape’, page 1, AFR, 15 February 2010.

Lindsay Tanner is a good guy, as Labor ministers go. But the sad reality is that given the government he is part of, and the timing of its coming to power, he as Minister for Finance and Deregulation will leave office with government finances in much worse shape than he found them, and with the regulatory burden increased rather than diminished.