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Issue #1809      February 7, 2018


As the Turnbull government prepares its slash-and-burn budget in May it has announced that Australia is to become a high-flying manufacturer and trader in armaments – i.e. weapons of mass destruction. The $3.8 billion start-up plan comes under the banner of jobs and the resurrection of Australia’s manufacturing sector. The aspiration is to reach for the top shelf dealers in death, Britain, France, Germany and the apex, the USA, which has a third of the world’s sales.

Growing public opposition to the privatisation of essential services such as hospitals has struck a blow in regional NSW. In 2016 the state’s then health minister Julian Skinner pronounced the handing over of more than a billion dollars for hospital upgrades at five major regional centres as a move to private construction and operation. As a result of a community campaign that lasted – and grew – over 18 months, the state government announced it has dropped its privatisation plan. The campaign was initiated and led by the Nurses and Midwives’ Association.

The anti-abortion Tasmanian government is under pressure to find a new surgical abortion service, after the closure of the state’s only clinic with the state’s primary surgical abortion provider for 17 years closing the service because of rising costs. With the closure of the dedicated clinic, the only other option to access a surgical termination in Tasmania is at a private gynaecological clinic in Hobart, at a cost of up to $2,500. Greens leader Cassy O’Connor has called on the government to act. “Tasmania now only has one private practitioner who can conduct surgical terminations, and only on a part-time basis,” O’Connor said. “The Hodgman government needs to step in as a matter of priority, and move to ensure surgical terminations can be made available in public hospitals.” In a positive move, in 2013, Tasmania joined Victoria and the ACT in removing any reference to the medical procedure in criminal laws.

The selective school system in NSW is instructive for other states on the idealisation of elitist education. According to Dr Rachael Jacobs, a lecturer in education at Western Sydney University, it has created a three-tiered education system, with private schools available to those who can afford them, selective schools considered “good” schools for those who are opposed to – or priced out of – the private system, and comprehensive schools, which do an outstanding job in the face of their uphill battle. Depleted of high achievers, advantage and funding, it’s near impossible for comprehensive schools to remain competitive. Selective schools are not open to just anyone, and middle-class aspirationals dominate. And there is a known massive industry around selective-school coaching with entrance tests undertaken when students are just 12 years old. Jacobs uses Finland as an example where there is no selectivity and no funding disparity. Rather than foster a competitive environment pitting school against school, they strengthened their whole system. “When I began my teaching career at a partially selective school, I was given no guidance on the needs of ‘gifted’ students,” Jacob notes. “I was simply told, ‘this is the selective class, so expect more’ ”.

Next article – Culture & Life – Indigenous activist Leonard Peltier

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