A – E ranking is a fail

The Australian federal education minister, Brendan Nelson has embarked on an exercise in populist political power by demanding all schools in Australia issue reports ranking students against their class mates.
There is no doubt parents find it hard to understand reports based on multiple competencies. They come back and ask “Is my child doing well or not?” Just give me a sinlge score.

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Boys, oh Boys will we ever learn?

Tracee Hutchinson writing in The Age last Saturday (Infidelity is just not cricket, Shane) rightly points out that Australian criketer Shane Warne’s off field behaviour has seriously affected many womens’ ability to enjoy the games in which he is involved. Hutchinson richly describes how Warne typifies the architypal male and how his behaviour strikes at the very heart of the relationship between men and women. In this way Warne’s actions remind many woman of the betrayal of trust they have felt in their relationships with men like him and the fundamental fragility in relationship that, she argues, most women feel.
It’s not just women, however, who find their enjoyment of cricket tainted as long as this attitude to women and relationship goes without sanction. Many of we men also find it repugnant. We seek to build long term relationships built on trust and understand the privilege of emotional intimacy that we can receive in return. When others of our gender show such scant regard for these values as well as for their partners and children we feel pain too.
In line with our consistent stand against the disrespect shown for women by many ‘star’ sportsmen (cf Let’s never let it happen again), chriscurnow.com joins with Hutchinson in calling on the Australian Cricket Board to give us back a game we can be proud of. It must do this by demanding that its players demonstrate they understand that women are not just sexual playthings and that treating them so demeans all women.

Religious vs State Law

Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika has stirred up a hornets nest with his reported statements that Islamic law must, for him, take precedence over Ausralian law.
Hmm? Surely all major religions take the same view. Indeed you don’t even have to be religious to say that wherever there is a conflict, your own moral position must take precedence over the laws of the land.
Now let’s make it perfectly clear, we believe that the current wave of terrorism practised indescriminantly against innocent people of all faiths must be profoundly condemmed. We also believe that the interpretation of Islam that is often used to justify this taking of innocent life is a perversion of Islam.
But this is not an argument about terrorism or Islam. It is an argument about personal belief versus the laws of the state.
On this front, most of us have it easy most of the time. Apart from niggling issues like the appropriate positiontion of speed cameras, most of us agree that the laws we live under are morally justified and we feel no personal moral conflict with them.
Things are not always so clear cut. During the Vietnam war many prospective conscripts put their own conscience before the laws of the land and refused to obey regulations requiring them to fight in a war the believed was wrong (many of them believed that all wars were wrong.) These ‘conscientious objectors’ put their own conscience above the law. Many others believed they were putting the security of our country at risk by doing so. However, as few of the objectors followed a religion not in the mainstream of our culture, few labelled them as extremists.
During the reign of the Nazis in Germany and the Appartheid rule in South Africa, many people are now regarded as towers of courage for giving their lives in the fight against what they saw as morally repugnant laws.
No, a person of high moral character will, whenever there is a conflict, always follow their conscience against the state. What is at stake here is not the issue of whether religious laws overide the laws of the land, but whether the religious laws themselves, or their interpreation are morally justifiable.
There is, we believe, a beacon in all of us that tells us when something is right or wrong. None of us are perfect and we struggle to find this beacon, or we struggle with our own selfish interest against the interests of others. None of us are free from hypocrisy. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said

…the universal dividing line between good and evil runs not between countries, not between nations, not between parties, not between classes, not between good and bad men: the dividing line cuts across nations and parties, shifting constantly. . . . It divides the heart of every man. Quoted here.

But that beacon is there and against it we can measure by our heart’s reaction, the truth of what someone tells us. We can condem an interpretation of Islam without knowing Islam and without necessarily condemming Islam in whole.
In our strenuous endeavour to remove the threat of terror from the world, let’s get our arguments straight – for getting them wrong only aids the cause of the terrorists. This is not an argument about personal belief versus state law and which has precedence. This is an argument about what is right.

We are all self employed

Some time ago Robert Gottliebson wrote in BRW magazine “Teach your children not to think of themselves as working for employers but as working for clients.”
Last week’s BRW feature story was entitled Me Inc. [Subscription Required].
I have a lot of support for the concept of people regarding themselves as self-employed. I think many workers would like to embrace the felxibility theoretically available under an Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA).
However I’m concerned about some fundamental princples of fairness here.

  1. Being self employed requires a great deal of self-motivation, understanding of the law as it relates to running a business, ability to budget and manage cash flow and ability to market your product or services. That’s just for starters. Then there’s the stress of when there is no income, or when the client doesn’t pay on time. It has its highs, but it can also be the pits.
  2. An agreement is only a real agreement when both parties have real power in the negotiation. Part of the push for AWA’s is to break down the collective negotiating power of the unions and pit a powerful employer against an often powerless employee. Sure unions are often bloody minded and argue for stupid provisions. In many cases this bloody mindedness seems insurmountable. I don’t know how to overcome this problem, but denying people basic rights doesn’t sound like a good answer.
  3. A typical AWA is not an agreement at all. Take a look at this one from the Department of Prime Minster and Cabinet. It’s full of “you” (being the employee) and “we” (being the employer). That’s not an agreement between equals. That’s one sided.

I fully support the notion of anyone who wants flexibility in work being able to set up their own business. However, for those who don’t have the skills or the inclination, no-one should be forced into working into a so called “self-employed” relationship just to benefit employers.