Monthly Archives: March 2019

Comment: COAG – Gillard’s last throw of the dice

By Scott Prasser

Today’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting over the so called Gonski “reforms” to school funding, is the Prime-Minister’s last desperate throw of the dice to show she can deliver a big policy promise.

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The Gillard government has supported the Gonski proposals for increased funding for schools and a new spending formula, which would increase Commonwealth involvement in school education – an area that lies totally within state constitutional responsibilities.

By framing education “reform” almost totally in terms of increased spending, despite Australian and international evidence that extra money in itself will not make the difference, the Gillard government is playing two political games at COAG.

First, it is saying to the federal opposition that if they do not support these changes and especially the increase in spending, they must be against education. Remember how at the 2007 federal election the Rudd-led Labor opposition scored well over the then Howard government with the “education revolution” catchcry?

The government is also seeking to force the states, especially those with Liberal premiers, to support the Gonski-inspired changes. The aim is to put them offside with the federal coalition opposition, and also to make an increased contribution to education.

And if the states do not come on board, especially the Liberal ones, they will be painted not only as wrecking education and denying the children at their schools extra funds, but also as being too partisan. This is especially tricky in a policy area that is seen as being too sensitive for such games.

Because education policy is complex, and the quality dimension that should drive all education policy even more so, it is difficult for the media, stakeholders and the wider public to get past the debate on the money and focus on what’s really needed to improve education quality. That is, where funds should be spent to have any chance of making a difference to education outcomes, and how much these measures would cost.

If the states do sign up on Friday – or by the extended deadline in June – they should seriously consider what is at stake. They already know what is at stake politically in refusing to sign, but the costs of agreeing may be more severe in the longer term.

It will mean more power divested to the Commonwealth, probably forever. It will mean more regulation – the School Improvement Plans could see up to 10,000 individual plans supervised by an expanded Commonwealth bureaucracy.

If the School Improvement Plans are not onerous, but little more than a list of “tick a box” Commonwealth demands (like the obligation on every school to teach an Asian language), or if they are simply lowest common denominator targets, then we can all ask what has it all achieved?

With WA already saying they won’t join, the Gillard government needs to get the three most populous states of NSW, Victoria and Queensland (which are also all Liberal states) to agree. Otherwise, the whole exercise is a non-starter.

The issue to watch is whether the states can rise, for once, above the bait of money and argue a policy case for not joining.

And in this policy area the states have a case to argue. In many instances, the state education reform agendas are more advanced, more progressive, more focused, and more likely to have an impact on education outcomes than the Commonwealth’s big bucket of money and headline aspirational statements.

Look at how Victoria, Queensland, even NSW have been focusing on teacher quality – are they able to use new Commonwealth money to finance their own policies, which involve some of the “hard decisions” the Commonwealth hasn’t been prepared to take? Will they have to give those up?

The states will also need to consider at COAG how much of the Gonski money is new money – it’s too easy to conceal and distort reality in school funding figures, especially with long time horizons.

Indeed, it’s worth unpicking the details of the supposedly lucrative deal Peter Garrett is offering to state and territory education ministers. First, the figure the government attached to the package was A$14.5 billion over six years which includes only around $9 billion from the Commonwealth, with the rest down to the states. States and territories would then be required to commit to annual increases in their own funding of government schools by a minimum of 3%.

But A$2.34 billion of this comes from rolling over the National Partnerships Program funding that was due to run out next year. There’s also other schools programs that are probably encompassed in the Commonwealth figure.

You can see why the package has been described as “Gonski Lite”, it consists of around a third of the amount the Gonski panel recommended for a comparable period. The original recommendations saw A$6.5 billion a year in extra funding, shared between the Commonwealth and the states – around A$39 billion across six years.

Will the premiers and prime minister discuss how the reforms are to be funded, especially the proposed A$2 billion cuts to universities? Will universities be forced to quarantine teacher education from this so they can adequately support poorly prepared entrants to become quality graduates?

Politically, there is another game in town. Almost everything the Gillard government does in the run up to the September election is to act like a government that knows it is not going to win.

This means initiating actions that would make it hard for the incoming Abbott government to undo. If all these proposals go through COAG it gives a green light for legislation to go to parliament and if the Liberals do not win control of the Senate they will be stuck with an expensive program for which they will have to find the funds and one that is intrusive on their Liberal state colleagues.

The Gonski reforms have got to COAG after an appalling policy development process; a poorly conducted public inquiry in Gonski; slogans parading as policy; a refusal to look to the evidence about quality education; playing the states off against each other and refusing to approach this area as a shared responsibility that appreciates the limits and roles of the Commonwealth and states.

It’s hard to see how, from all of this, we’re likely to see any real improvements in Australian education.

Scott Prasser does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The rise of Greece’s Golden Dawn party

Austerity measures are biting harder than ever in Greece, with people losing their homes and jobs and becoming more and more desperate.

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And they’re turning in increasing numbers to the far right Golden Dawn party, which lays the country’s troubles firmly at the feet of immigrants and Greek politicians.

On tonight’s Dateline at 9.30pm on SBS ONE, Evan Williams reports from Athens on the party’s rise to become the third biggest force in Greek politics, but also the stark similarities with the German Nazis.

As well as winning seats in parliament, they’ve also started handing out food aid and donating blood… but only to people who can prove their Greek citizenship.

“The life of the Greeks has changed drastically,” Golden Dawn deputy commander Ilias Panagiotaros tells Dateline. “More than two million illegal immigrants in a population of ten million people – which is an enormous number – they literally do whatever they want and they remain unpunished.

But what some find more disturbing than the rhetoric is their vigilante action on the streets… Evan looks at evidence of supporters taking the law into their own hands to attack and persecute immigrants.

Golden Dawn members have even entered hospitals demanding that staff prove they’re Greek.

“I am afraid to stay in Greece,” says migrant Patrice, who fled civil war in Congo and was victim of a brutal attack in Greece. “The next time maybe they can kill me.”

Now, the party says its international support is growing and it even wants to open an office in Australia, even though the party’s already been told it won’t receive a warm welcome.

“We could tell [Julia Gillard] to look back a couple hundred years to see what they did to the Aboriginals, and not lecturing us about racism and rights,” says Panagiotaros. “You’ll see us in Australia – summer or a bit later, but you’ll definitely find us there.”

See Dateline’s insight into the rise of the far right tonight at 9.30pm on SBS ONE, and read more now on the Dateline website.

LISTEN: The rise of Golden Dawn in Greece

Britain vs Australia in Olympic cycling: is there a hometown advantage?

There is perhaps no greater sporting rivalry than that between Great Britain and Australia – it’s like the little brother trying to knock off his older sibling in any pursuit possible, simply for the glory of bragging rights.

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And track cycling is one of the most hotly contested of those pursuits.

In sport psychology literature, several researchers have tried to determine whether a home advantage exists when it comes to elite-level sports.

The answer, put simply, is yes, there does seem to be an advantage, particularly when you look at home winning percentage – the combination of games won at home versus games lost at home. The figure provides a quantitative measure for level of success at home based on winning and losing.

Researchers have studied sports such as basketball, baseball, ice hockey and soccer. Most have found evidence that the home team wins more often. But most of the focus was on using winning percentage as the indicator for advantage, and some researchers have called for investigation into other factors that might contribute to the findings.

Home winning percentage explains how well a team plays at home, but it doesn’t always account for whether a team plays and wins well when on the road. (For example, what does it mean if you have seven wins and no losses at home versus 11 wins and two losses away? Is home really an advantage here?).

The other variable that has rarely been mentioned is the type of event being studied. Little – if any – attention has been given to international events such as the Olympics.

Before we cry foul at the apparent home advantage our British friends may have, perhaps we should consider the whole picture. Specifically, let’s look at what being at home might mean for the might of the British cycling machine when hosting the strength of the Australian cycling program.

The research mentioned previously looked at teams that have won championships such as the NBA (National Basketball Association) and the NHL (National Hockey League). These sports are played nationally, across some 80 or more games and multiple championship games.

The Olympics is quite different: it’s an international mega-event. How do findings on hometown advantage relate to an event that occurs across only a few races (or even one race) and happens only once every four years?

An Olympic cyclist isn’t just competing for his or her country: he or she is also competing for something that won’t come around again the following season.

Some NBA players have won five championships, and played in several other championship games, yet few Olympians return more than twice. There are (potentially) fewer opportunities to win. With this simple idea in mind, it’s perhaps little wonder this historic event carries such prestige. But with prestige often come increased expectations.

Perhaps most relevant to cycling enthusiasts is the research on World Cup soccer and home advantage. This looked at the mechanisms that may lead to advantage, and argued that travel (across time zones), cultural differences in food and language, and familiarity with the playing facility all play a part.

Focusing on these variables could help us get a fuller picture when we try to figure out whether Britain’s cycling team will have a home advantage.

Will travel, and being in an unfamiliar stadium, affect the Australian cycling team? Teams will have been in Europe for more than a month before the games. In fact, in professional road cycling many of our Aussie cyclists are even based in Europe during the northern summer season. Travel doesn’t seem to be a major disadvantage.

Language, culture and food are unlikely to be an issue. I think the eating options of a developed country, and the kitchen in an Olympic village (coupled with team dietitians) mean foreign riders won’t fear being starved of their typical dishes.

Research is important but it isn’t everything. We should also look at anecdotal evidence, given the lack of empirical research on home advantage for the Olympics. The previous two Olympic campaigns and events in between are perhaps a good starting point.

The might of the British cycling machine was at its best on the track in Beijing (not at home) and the Australians were incredibly strong in Athens (not at home). Australian cyclist Anna Meares dominated the track world championships in 2011; they were held in the Netherlands. Australian Shane Perkins won his first Men’s Keirin world title at the same event.

Cadel Evans won the Tour de France in 2011, and the Green Edge cycling team has propelled its members to the front of many European events. It seems plausible that winning is indeed possible in Europe.

The team pursuit is an event that has been like an Ashes battle between Australia and Great Britain. In February, at the World Cup, the Aussies took gold in the Olympic Velodrome that will host the Games.

The biggest British win on our soil was at the World Championships in Melbourne earlier this year (see video above), in which Britain beat Australia by a tenth of a second.

Teams and individuals may be more likely to win at home, that’s true, but equally they will be most likely exposed to more spotlight, home expectation, and potential scrutiny than many of the foreign visitors. Some studies have even found that home advantage disappears as the importance of the event increases.

I’ve heard countless athletes talk about the pressure of performing at home, and how relieved they were to be playing away from the eyes of significant others.

For our British friends, the eyes of all of their significant others and a whole nation will be closely upon them. Those competitors who don’t find this helpful will likely experience more anxiety than ever before.

Ultimately, I think the advantage will lie in the athlete’s perception of advantage and disadvantage. Aussie women and men have won in Europe before (even at the same venue). They speak the local language, and will be well adjusted to the time-zone difference.

The Aussies and the British are evenly matched by form. So now we will have to see if being at home feels like a burden or a turbo-boost.

David Williams is affiliated with Malaysian Track Cycling

Cats crush Saints by 101 points

Geelong have strengthened their hold on an AFL top-two spot and given struggling St Kilda a horror night with a 101-point thrashing but lost ruckman Dawson Simpson to a knee injury.

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The Saints lost skipper Nick Riewoldt and key defender James Gwilt to injury during Saturday’s 21.11 (137) to 5.6 (36) belting at Simonds Stadium, in which the Cats kicked the last 15 goals.

Elusive Cats half-forward Steven Motlop starred with four goals and 29 touches, skipper Joel Selwood had three goals and 32 disposals, while Tom Hawkins kicked five majors.

James Podsiadly snared two, including one from a spectacular high-flying mark late in the second quarter.

The Cats had already regained second spot when Essendon’s percentage took a hit with their belting from Hawthorn on Friday night, but Saturday night’s comprehensive victory further bolstered their advantage over the Bombers.

The only blight for Geelong, who were rebounding from last weekend’s fade-out loss to Adelaide, was the injury to Simpson, who had to be stretchered off after landing awkwardly when he contested the opening bounce of the second quarter.

Geelong were hopeful it was only a dislocated kneecap and not ligament damage, which would mean a much longer absence.

Riewoldt ended the game a spectator after limping off with what appeared a left foot or ankle injury in the third term.

The Saints’ threadbare defence, already missing Sam Fisher and Sam Gilbert, was also further hit, when James Gwilt was subbed off with a knee injury midway through the second term.

It helped the cause of Cats key forwards Hawkins and Podsiadly.

But it would have been a tough night for the Saints’ defence anyway, given Geelong’s midfield dominance, particularly after quarter-time.

The Cats entered their attacking 50m arc 63 times to the Saints’ 26 for the match.

Selwood and Steve Johnson were creative in the midfield, Andrew Mackie and Corey Enright provided drive off halfback.

The Saints had started the game brightly, with four goals to two in the first 17 minutes, with Jack Steven, Leigh Montagna and Nick Dal Santo all prominent, but the Saints managed just one more goal for the night as the Cats’ greater depth of contributors told.

Cats coach Chris Scott said the club’s medical staff were confident Simpson hadn’t injured his anterior or posterior cruciate ligaments, meaning he might play again this year.

“The bad news is there appears to be something significant there,” Scott said.

“They won’t know the extent of that until midweek …. they’re still hopeful Daws can play a part in the rest of the season.”

Scott was heartened by the way Nathan Vardy carried the ruck load in Simpson’s absence and by the Cats’ performance generally.

Saints coach Scott Watters said Gwilt was believed to have bone bruising to his knee while injuries to Riewoldt (foot) and Lenny Hayes (hamstring) needed further assessment.

“We have no excuses. They (Geelong) were very very good tonight,” Watters said.

“They’re a side that’s certainly a premiership contention type of side so that was a really strong lesson for us.”

Woods eyes 15th major title at sun-kissed Muirfield

Defending champion Ernie Els is 25-1 to retain the title at a course where he lifted the Claret Jug 11 years ago and U.

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S. Open winner Justin Rose is 20-1 to become the first English winner of the tournament since Nick Faldo in 1992.

Woods, who has not won a major for five years, is excited by the challenge of playing the course in fine weather conditions, a sharp contrast to 2002 when his hopes at Muirfield were scuppered by a third-round 81 in driving wind and rain.

“I’m looking forward to it,” the American told a news conference. “What a fantastic championship on one of the best venues.

“It’s playing really fast out there. The golf course has got a little bit of speed to it and I’m sure it will get really quick by the weekend so the golf course is set up perfectly.”

Woods said he was feeling very good about his form.

“I’ve had a pretty good year so far, won four times even though I haven’t won a major,” he added.

“It’s just a shot here and there. It’s making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounce here, capitalising on an opportunity here and there. That’s what you have to do to win major championships.”

Els, 43, rolled back the years at Lytham 12 months ago, taking advantage of Adam Scott’s meltdown over the closing holes to seal his fourth major championship.

“I just feel this is a great golf course,” the South African said. “It reminds me a little bit of Lytham.

“Obviously last week I didn’t make the cut at the Scottish Open but I’ve had some extra time coming into the event and feel quite good about my game. I’m striking it nicely.”

American Phil Mickelson, four-times a major champion, won last week’s Scottish Open and is 20-1 to win his first British Open, the same odds as Rose and Australian Scott who made up for his Lytham disappointment by winning this year’s U.S. Masters.

BRITISH CHALLENGE

Rose leads the British challenge as the nation’s golfers bid to ride a wave of sporting success that has also brought a rare rugby series win for the British & Irish Lions, Andy Murray’s stunning Wimbledon triumph and a nerve-jangling victory for England in a dramatic first Ashes test.

“Rose is a strong contender,” said Faldo who is making a rare appearance in the Open this year.

“It’s all been a process. It didn’t happen overnight, this has been a concerted plan for the last four years. Rose’s game has slowly been climbing. He might be strong enough to come out and carry on.”

Former world number ones Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will also be flying the British flag as they bid to end their long waits for a first major crown.

Twice major winner Rory McIlroy is alongside Westwood as a 25-1 shot to win the Open.

The Northern Irishman, however, has struggled since switching clubs at the start of the year and bookmaker Ladbrokes is also offering odds of 4-1 on him missing the cut.

The sun is expected to shine throughout the four-day tournament and, if it does, Woods will be a happy man as he wrestles with the unique challenges of links golf.

“I fell in love with links golf when I came here 17 years ago,” he said. “Because we play generally everywhere around the world an airborne game where you have to hit the ball straight up in the air and make it stop.

“Here it’s different,” added Woods who won his third and last British Open title at Hoylake seven years ago.

“A draw will go one distance, a fade will go another, and they’re so dramatic. I just absolutely love it.”

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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