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GWSRR: Problems with boat people and Gonski Featured
28 June 2013 Posted by 

GWSRR: Problems with boat people and Gonski

THE Greater Western Sydney Regional Roundtable (GWSRR) is an initiative of Adunct Professor Jim Taggart OAM and Western Sydney Business Access (WSBA) that brings together people of influence in the region to discuss and share insights that impact upon the region for the purposes of public education. GWSRRs are held bi-monthly. The last GWSRR was held at the Parramatta Parkroyal Hotel in May on the subject of the 2013 Federal Budget – Impact and Implications and canvassed the Table's views on a wide range of issues. Following is an edited transcript of PART 2 oi the May Round Table. Attendees: Chairman Adjunct Professor Jim Taggart OAM, Michael Walls, Phillip Brophy, Neil Pereira, Karin Bishop, Josh Vrsaljko, Alan James, Associate Professor Geoff Morris and Steven Brown.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Well thanks everyone for a lively last session, very robust discussion. I’d like to move now to your views on this region, Western Sydney. What are the thoughts of the table in regards to the issues that affect us here?

Michael Walls: It’s interesting. Western Sydney, you know, in terms of political concerns, ten to 15 years ago, we were a Labour orientated area. Now the State Government, Barry O’Farrell has swept the area and most of the councils, some for the first time in history I think, have become Liberal. This culture is transforming.

Karin Bishop: Yeah. You can’t talk about the people of Western Sydney as a homo¬genous group anymore. It’s incredibly diverse. You’ve got all levels of education and income.

Michael Walls: Have you seen that Karin? Because you, at WSROC are really in the box seat; how have you seen that evolution, could you have predicted that?

Karin Bishop: No, I don’t think anyone predicted it. And I think that’s why people are so surprised at the political shift. But I think it’s actually more the demographic shift, and the fact that Labour has lost its, its message to traditional people. I mean, you’ve actually still got the same people, or the blue-collar workers; but 10, 20 years ago, they were all employed by Government departments, and they were heavily unionised and structured. These days, everything’s been contracted out. So these guys are still doing the same job, but they’re now small business owners, and they’re dealing with tax and super¬annuation and all kinds of issues like that. So their awareness of how the economy affects them, and the budget and things, has really shifted, and they’re becoming much more in tune with it. Then you’ve got your huge influx of multicultural populations. I think we’ve got, you know, 120 different languages spoken in the WSROC region alone, and we’ve got some extraordinary communities out there. You also have the Family Reunification Program makes a big shift in political and voting systems, because people no longer have the traditional sort of allegiance to a political party. And you’ve got people coming in from countries where they’ve never had the vote before, or you know, they’re fearful of voting, they don’t speak very good English so they just follow what neighbours, friends, family tells them to do. So you’ve got this element of unpredictability about it. And there is, as I say, no more sort of homogenous blue-collar white Western Sydney person.

The boat people

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Any other comments, with regards to government policies as they impact upon our region?

Josh Vrsaljko: They should do something about the boat people. It’s a problem. It’s huge. It’s getting worse. I believe they should open up the land in the middle of Australia – there are heaps and heaps of land in Australia – open up those pockets, start putting more services, start putting more roads there.

Steven Brown: But the skilled migration is what we want. That’s why people that come in who are paying, who may not be doing anything, aren’t the ones we want; we want skilled migration, business migration. It’s not the people coming in aren’t the problem it’s the way they’re coming in, and the fact we’ve got to support them. It’s just inappropriate. Like, if they come in and we do nothing for them and they starve, then that’s fine. I have no difficulty with that, none whatsoever. If they’re stupid enough to come here, and, and without any support structure, we should not be giving them handouts and making our own people worse off because of it; absolutely not.

Associate Professor Geoff Morris: I think there are two dimensions to it. First of all, the budget estimates that they’re doing … the Federal Government will spend $5B supporting boat people that fall into that category. So there’s a dollar issue. I fully support the idea that we need to have a look at the services to people who are here already. The second part, and the one that really grates on me personally, is this equity issue. Here are people who are saying, “I want a better life.” I don’t begrudge anybody wanting a better life. But what they decide to do is to leave primarily Middle East and Sri Lanka, and then come through a whole series of processes to arrive in Australia, and the Government says, “That’s quite okay.” Now the Treaty that we have actually requires us to support people who are genuine refugees. The problem is, they actually pass through other countries that are also Treaty members. And I wrote to certain Liberal people and suggested that our approach should be that if the people who are economic refugees, I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to do that.

Karin Bishop: Because the ones they’re talking about don’t actually want to stop in Malaysia. They want to get to Australia.

Associate Professor Geoff Morris: Exactly.

Karin Bishop: I think we need much faster processing. I would like to see the money put into proper detailed processing, so you don’t have people, you know, locked up for years and years and years, whether they’re valid or not. And, you know, recently there seems to be a trend of just rounding up Sri Lankans, putting them back on planes, and flying them straight back to Sri Lanka. Now obviously that has a cost, but it’s a lot less than as you say, putting them up in hotel rooms. I agree there’s an equity issue. Some of the most vehement sort of opposition to the boat people comes from new migrants and emerging communities, because their relatives are all still sitting in consulates around the world, waiting for their paperwork to get out here. And this queue-jumping is a serious issue. But I’m just interested, because it’s such an emotive issue. It’s sort of generated some interest around this table. I’m just interested what makes it such an emotive issue as opposed to the sort of pure, sheer numbers of it.

Steven Brown: Well, I’d rather have the offshore processing. They can be properly analysed through ASIO and the like. I don’t like the fact that people are being put into the community without the proper assessments going through. And we have to pay for it. If we have to pay for it, I’d rather pay for it offshore.

Neil Pereira: I totally agree to the processes for it. But I think we, we still have an obligation to take in people.

Associate Professor Geoff Morris: I agree, we need to take in some. But it’s a matter of the volume, is the first issue, and then the process is the second issue. And I think right at the moment, they’re out of control.

Alan James: It comes back to the question, have they got the right people supporting the government, giving advice.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: You see, the psychology and confidence are different things. For example, there is discussion around, there’s going to be a bit of a whitewash in Western Sydney – I’m saying that – in terms of change of political seats, they’ve got. And a number of them are marginal. And a number of those politicians are going to retire on superannuation benefits. People are myopic in the sense that we think of ourselves in relation to someone else; at 45, getting a pension for the rest of their life; whereas I can’t access mine till 55 or 60 or whatever the condition of release is. And I’ve only got $91,000 in my super. And they’re going to pick up this for the rest of their life. People start to say, “Where’s the justice in that?” when they hear all the time about deficits and different things.

Gonski and Education

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Are there are any other issues leading up to the election? What about Gonski? We’ve not really homed in on Gonski. I’d be really interested from Geoff’s perspective, without putting him on the spot, but tertiary education plays an important role in development of our workforce. And now we’ve got this massive dilution of funds to universities to prop up schools. And the assumption that putting money into school education is going to fix up a whole range of problems. How valid’s that?

Associate Professor Geoff Morris: In the 1960’s, one per cent of the Australian population had a Bachelor’s Degree. The Government’s stated objective is that 40% should have a Bachelor’s Degree. Now come back to this question of consistency. If that’s the aspiration, okay, fine, I’m not going to question whether that’s good or bad. Well, first thing they did is, they cut out the discount for people who pay university fees upfront; they increase the surcharge for people who don’t pay it back; they’ve increased the fees for individual students; they’ve cut research and development, so when you graduate, what you will be able to do in the first place; they’ve called a 2% efficiency bonus across university sector. Their presumption is … and it’s just a language thing, there’s a presumption there, there are inefficiencies with any university, and we all know within every business there’s inefficiency. So they wanted 2% premium out of that. That’s at the top end, and we’re going to stick it in at the bottom end to make sure that everybody gets funding. I have not seen a single statement that says what this money is going to be spent on. Money is not going to solve the problem. It’s how you apply money to various facilities that are there, or services. And I just haven’t seen the plan yet. I think there’s this mindset that dollars win, dollars win. As an aspiration, absolutely I support the increase in investment in education; but I don't know what the plan is for that investment.

Michael Walls: How do they come up with a number in the first place?

Associate Professor Geoff Morris: Because there is a funding formula at the moment. Think of it as a voucher system; every student attracts, I don’t know what the number is, $1,000 in Government funding, and that goes to the school. And in theory, that’s how the school budget is created. Then you get additional payments if you’re in particular categories of, you know, regional areas or indigenous communities, or with children with special needs, and so forth. So it’s a voucher model that operates on that basis. The concept – and this was tried in England as well – the concept is then that the school principal then actually goes and runs the school as a, dare I say the word, business, and then product his graduates of a certain level. And that’s how the private sector of the independent schools have run for years and years and years, so the same sort of model. Now, as best I understand it, what this proposed education, the Gonski reform is, was to throw more money on a slightly different formula. But it doesn’t actually say what it’s about. Throwing money at the bricks and mortar is fine, but I’m much more interested in going back to basic curriculum. The issues I don’t think are in high schools; I think they’re actually because the primary school curriculum is not set to feed the high schools. When a number of us went to school, the first thing we did every day was 10 mental arithmetic’s, 10 spellings; I was never any good at spelling. The eighties and the nineties, the Teachers Federation decided that that was not a good thing for the curriculum, and it was wiped out of the curriculum. So when my children went through school, they were not taught that. Because the mindset was, if little Johnny or little Mary can actually express themselves and write it down, even though the words are not correct and the spelling’s lousy, we don’t care; they’ve got the communication across. Now one of my daughters is a primary school teacher. It’s back in the curriculum; she’s got to teach it. But she was never taught it. So she’s got to go and learn those fundamentals. I see the same thing in university. We see a very low standard of ability of students to write things, to actually convey something in an essay. Because they didn’t get the stuff in the primary school, they didn’t get the discipline through the high school system and the transition to uni. Uni is no longer a, “Wow, I’m going to uni.” It’s my right. And there is in the mindset, I think, of many students, the right to graduate. No; you’ve got to earn it. So the focus about this mis-message that I think coming from the Federal Government is about, is education important? Absolutely; no problem with that at all. But the practical issues that they’re doing are counterintuitive to what that objective is about. But it’s not going to happen, because they’re not going to be in Government.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Thank you for that, Geoff; any other comments about education?

Neil Pereira: Even today people doing a Masters is very common and how they treat that especially those doing it without much work experience becomes very much like another undergraduate degree.

Associate Professor Geoff Morris: Yeah. In my era, I did a Bachelor’s Degree in a time when I was part of that very small percentage, and I considered myself very special. And so did the people who didn’t have a degree. There was a lot of animosity about that. These days, if you employ people from scratch, will you look at a person and say, “Hey, they’ve got a Bachelor’s Degree in whatever it is. Wow. That makes this person special”? I would suggest, no. Bachelor’s Degree is fine; it’s almost a pre-req. Now, if you’ve got your Master’s Degree, now I’ll pay attention. You’re something special at the moment. But I can see this creep up the list. The only issue is that there’s only one step beyond Master’s in our current world, and that’s Doctorate. So we’ll all end up with Doctorates one day.

Neil Pereira: In the professional services environment, we have a lot of new graduates automatically going through some sort of post-grad accreditation, whether it’s a Grad Dip or a full Masters or a combination of Grad Dip or CA or CPA type program. But then, you start to get to a point where, everybody’s got a Master’s Degree, everybody’s got a CA or CPA – what’s next? And whatever it is, we may actually need to start to value what they’ve studied by way of specific subjects rather than an off the shelf degree.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Well thankyou everyone for what has been a very robust discussion. Thanks to Access for putting this event on and we look forward to meeting you all again in the post-election Round Table.


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