A still from the film Gayby Baby Photo: Gayby Baby Students at Burwood Girls High School are among those who participate in the Proud Schools program. Photo: Janie Barrett

Comment: Burwood Girls High School students find hypocrisy in debate

The NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, has banned every public school in the state from screening a documentary about children with gay parents during school hours.

On Wednesday afternoon Mr Piccoli issued a memo to the state’s principals ordering them not to show the film Gayby Baby so as “to not impact on the delivery of planned lessons”.

Up to 50 schools across Australia, including 20 in NSW had organised a simultaneous broadcast of the film as part of a nationwide Wear it Purple day campaign of sexual inclusion in schools.

A spokeswoman for the minister said he did not object to the content of the largely crowd-funded film.

She said the decision was taken to avoid students missing out on class and that screening the film may be considered if it is an integral part of the planned curriculum for an age appropriate year group.

The state-wide ban comes after the Minister personally intervened to prevent Burwood Girls High in Sydney’s inner-west screening the film to 1200 students on Friday morning, in the wake of a front page Daily Telegraph story about the controversy on Wednesday.

Fairfax Media understands four emails from parents were sent to the school expressing concern about the screening.

The film’s director, former Burwood Girls High student Maya Newell, said that minister’s decision had sent the wrong message to children who may be feeling ostracised.

“This is a film about kids who are growing up, they just happen to have gay parents,” she said. “The minister could have told all these families that they are equal and respected. He chose not to do that.”

Mr Piccoli has previously been a vocal supporter of programs that target homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism.

Wear it Purple day founder Katherine Hudson said she could understand the film being banned if it showed “grotesque sex scenes or violence”.

“But this is a film about families. Even for conservatives, this stuff would be easy to swallow,” she said.

On Tuesday the film screened inside NSW Parliament as part of the opening for the LGBTI ( lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) friendship group at the state legislature, after sell-out sessions at the Sydney Film Festival, and in Canada and New Zealand.

The ban follows complaints from some parents and religious groups including the Presbyterian church, which criticised the school for planning to screen a film which “promotes a gay lifestyle”.

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said the minister’s decision to prevent the film from being shown during school hours was “absurd and deeply disappointing”.

“From a personal perspective, if I had seen a film that showed that gay and lesbian people can have loving and stable families and are just as normal as everyone else, that would have a positive and profound impact on my confidence and self identity.

“It is not a controversial film. It just shows that rainbow families are just as normal as any other,” he said.

The NSW Department of Education guidelines on film screenings do not prohibit showing films with homosexual themes and advise that films with an M+ rating can be shown at the discretion of the principal. Gayby Baby has been rated PG.

The department’s policy on controversial issues maintains schools should avoid creating “arenas for opposing political views or ideology”.

On Wednesday the NSW Premier Mike Baird said he did not believe the film belonged in the classroom.

“I think tolerance is a good thing. But I think there should be some parameters around it,” he said. “This is something that can be provided but done outside class time.”

Picture: Peter BraigThe birthplace of Queensland coalmining has declared it won’t support new mine operations and expansions.

Ipswich City Council has adopted a mining policy that calls on the state government to block new mines and expansions as well as coal seam gas operations.

Councillors say there’s no long-term future for mining in the area because of urban growth and environmental concerns.

Ipswich was built on mining and Queensland’s first mine began operations there in 1843.

The Redbank mine was also home to the state’s first strike, with disgruntled miners stopping work over a pay rise in 1861.

Now Ipswich, about 40km west of Brisbane, is a thriving urban centre with an estimated 190,000 residents.Councillor Paul Tully says the city’s growing population, which is expected to double in 20 years, is a major reason why the council can no longer support mining.

‘‘We just think that coalmining and coal seam gas mining are inconsistent with urban areas and adjacent to urban areas,’’ Mr Tully told AAP.

‘‘The only area with a lot of land (for residential development) is west of Brisbane and that’s through Ipswich, and out towards Gatton and Toowoomba.’’

The mining industry thrived in Ipswich for about 100 years before tapering off in the 1980s.

It was around this time that housing estates in Ipswich became attractive as real estate prices in Brisbane soared.

The Jeebropilly Mine, near Rosewood, is the only one currently operating in the city.Mr Tully said council had made its stance on coalmining clear, but it was the state that assessed mining applications.

‘‘At the end of the day we have very little control,’’ he said.

The council said it would work in partnership with the Queensland government and mining companies to ‘‘extinguish’’ coalmining tenures where possible.

It has also promised to facilitate the transition of those involved in mining and will support the rehabilitation of mined land.

‘‘In relation to any future for coal seam gas, the policy identifies the largely untested nature of coal seam gas extraction and impacts on the environment,’’ Mr Tully said.


Treasurer Joe Hockey at his opening address at the National Reform Summit in Sydney. Photo: Louie Douvis Mr Hockey, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and RBA Governor Glenn Stevens, and others, at the summit. Photo: Louie Douvis

Bill Shorten has called on Australia’s top business and community leaders to recognise the role of climate change in Australia’s economic outlook, imploring them to drop entrenched political differences to jointly design an emissions trading scheme.

His call, which reinforced the opposition’s intention to take an ETS to the the next federal election, came as Treasurer Joe Hockey also observed that the nation’s economic debate needed updating to reflect the multiple disruptions now being felt across commerce through the digital revolution.

Both men were among the first speakers at the National Reform Summit being held in Sydney’s CBD on Wednesday – a joint Fairfax Media/News Corp/KPMG event.

Taking a shot at the Greens and the Nationals, the Labor leader said sensible policy was best achieved by politicians in the middle of the spectrum. And while the stated spirit of the summit is one of finding common ground, if not outright consensus, Mr Shorten did not hesitate to make comments likely to be seen as political.

“I believe in reform, but reform with purpose,” Mr Shorten said.

Calling for “straight talk”, he said the reality most Australians feel from the nation’s economic performance was that is “wallowing in mediocrity”.

“We cannot simply continue as usual without long-term consequences, and even the current consequences are acute – the deficit’s doubled, wages growth is at record lows, economic growth is nearly a full percentage point below trend, annual growth’s been below trend for 11 consecutive quarters, and all but three of the previous 27 quarters,” he said.

Mr Shorten said unemployment had “a six in front of it” as 800,000 Australians remained jobless, and “there’s another 1 million Australians who are under-employed”.

He said climate change was the big lever for economic transformation with opposition to renewable energy often bordered on “hysteria”.

“Cutting pollution and driving investment in renewable energy lifts productivity,” he said.

“As leaders of our business community and think-tank world, you can play a critical role in elevating this conversation.

“Forty percent of the world’s economy, more than one billion people, have already embraced the opportunity of an emissions trading scheme – Australia needs to settle on and lock in an appropriate design for ours.

“If we do not get serious about tackling climate change, if we don’t get serious about investing in renewables, then we cannot say we are serious about economic reform.”

Mr Hockey used his contribution to recommend new thinking, telling the influential audience, that consumers must be at the centre of this new approach to policy, or it would inevitably fail.

“The big mistake from today would be to shape future reform based on a wistful glance in the rear-view mirror,” he told them.

“In some areas – like technology, financial services and communications – reform will be rapid and we will struggle to get ahead of fast moving consumers.

“In workplace relations, industry policy, innovation and the environment, external drivers will be the great disruptors. For example, having a debate about deregulating shopping hours is almost redundant given the emergence of 24/7 internet shopping.

“The Abbott government’s reform agendas in competition policy, financial services, trade policy and taxation need to carefully weigh the expectations of the sovereign consumer.

“Our productivity agenda must carefully consider the dynamics of an ageing population, private investment in public infrastructure and the need for our education system to be better and more responsive to global trends.”

While all speakers stressed the need to lift productivity, early contributions to the summit tended to emphasise the standard arguments with unions and social welfare advocates raising inequality as a major concern while business and economists argued for deregulation and policies aimed at wealth creation.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government has passed less legislation than any other in the past 50 years. But does that matter? Prime Minister Tony Abbott arrives for Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Government Senate leader Eric Abetz gave two reasons for the output of the Abbott government Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Even defenders of Julia Gillard’s government say that passed bills is an incomplete measure of a parliament. Photo: Andrew Meares

More political opinion

This week, Fairfax Media provided observers of Australian politics with some interesting data. It was the number of acts of parliament passed by the Abbott government in its first 700 days compared with the same measure for the last ten Australian prime ministers (not including Bill McMahon, John McEwen and Harold Holt who didn’t serve that long) going right back to Ben Chifley. Yes, the Abbott government is now more than 700 days old.

The data showed that you have to go back to John Gorton in 1968 to find a government that passed fewer bills through the parliament: Abbott 262 compared to Gorton 259. Interestingly, Robert Menzies and Ben Chifley passed even fewer bills: 105 and 178 bills respectively. Times were obviously different.

At first glance all five Labor governments have passed large numbers of bills in their first 700 days, including the record holder, Kevin Rudd, with 397 bills. However, before you jump to conclusions from this observation about Labor governments, in Malcolm Fraser’s first 700 days his government passed the second-largest number of bills, 375.

So what does it all mean? The gathering of the data was stimulated by a report that cabinet had met last week without any formal submissions to consider and by an observation that “MPs despaired at time-filling debates in parliament” these days.

Abbott introduced fewer bills too. The accompanying comment speculated that that this may mean that the Abbott government suffers from “policy paralysis” if these figures are really a measure of “success”.

But this description actually comes from a comment by Senator Nick Xenophon that “there seems to be a policy paralysis”.

But reading more closely you see that Xenophon was actually hedged his bets by also commenting that the previous Gillard government used to “pride itself” on passing many bills that were “pretty average”. So Xenophon is really having it both ways and damning both sides of politics. He also raises the useful question of the quality of bills as well as the quantity.

During the Gillard government, when it was under attack, its defenders used these same statistics to argue that minority government was actually working much better than its detractors were willing to admit.

Rather than being bogged down by leadership conflict and consultation with minor parties and independents it was actually getting things done. It passed 329 bills in its first 700 days. However even Gillard defenders admitted that this was an incomplete measure of a parliament. And that is the point. This raw data must be interpreted carefully.

We often grasp at figures like these because they offer the possibility of an objective measure of the work of a parliament and of the government that depends upon it. But really the objectivity is illusory. If we can’t be objective, however, then must observers of parliament always be subjective?

Statistics like these are worth gathering, and raise interesting questions but they do not lead to easy answers. We need a way to break down these figures into something useful. You can judge an academic researcher by the number of academic papers they produce in their first 700 days. But this should only be the beginning of trying to judge the quality of their work.

For the academic researcher you need a way of judging the quality of these papers. And universities do try to do this by ranking the journals in which these papers are published. Even that is just a rough measure but it is at least a start.

These parliamentary statistics do tell us something, but we don’t know exactly what. Xenophon gives us a clue. How do you weigh the merits of a lot of pretty average legislation against a smaller lot of more noteworthy bills? You can only do this if you were able to grade each piece of legislation. We don’t yet do this.

Parliament has sometimes been compared to a sausage factory with legislation being the sausages. But parliamentary sausages come in different shapes, sizes and quality; and this must be recognised. Just counting the number of sausages without regard to their qualities is an exercise of limited usefulness.

In the particular case of the apparently low productivity of the Abbott government the reactions to the information were all self-interested. The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, agreed that the government was paralysed and suggested that the cause was infighting.

Government Senate leader Eric Abetz offered two explanations. The first was that for its first 300 days, until July 2014, the Abbott government had been blocked by a hostile Labor-Green Senate. But, of course, other governments, including the Rudd government, also had to face a hostile Senate in their early days. That cannot be the full answer.

The second was that since then the legislation passed had included “significant reform legislation”. If we had a legislative grading system like the system for grading academic papers then Abetz may have argued that the A-grade quality of the legislation (abolition of the carbon and mining taxes, etc.) made up for the relatively small number of bills. That is a proposition that cannot be dismissed, and deserves testing. But we have no objective methodology by which to do this at the moment.

These statistics are not irrelevant but they are raw data which needs sophisticated processing. Governments and parliaments should be judged on the whole of their work and the quality of that work. A good research project is waiting. In the meantime parliament itself should attempt to grade its own legislative output so that the public can better come to grips with statistics like these.

John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University.

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Confident: England’s 2003 World Cup winning head coach Clive Woodward. Photo: Kevin StentClick here for full coverage of the 2015 Rugby World CupThe lowdown: Rugby World Cup 2015

With England coach Stuart Lancaster poised to name the host nation’s 31-man World Cup squad at 1:45pm GMT on Thursday (10:45pm AEST), the big question on everyone’s lips is whether or not Sam Burgess will be successful in his World Cup bid, or whether his dreams will be left in tatters on the cutting room floor.

With many tipping the choice is a coin toss between Burgess and his centre pairing from England’s first warm-up against France, Henry Slade, it looks as though it will go right down to the wire.

Plenty of former players, and even a World Cup winning coach have had their say, with an almost unanimous verdict going against the man the South Sydney Rabbitohs mourn every weekend.

Let’s take a look at what those in the know are saying ahead of the announcement.

Sunday Times columnist and former England five-eighth Stuart Barnes, who ahead of Burgess’ debut against France labelled the big man “one of the most undeserving players to make a debut in the red rose”, gave Burgess credit for his barnstorming performance earlier this month.

The outspoken pundit revised his opinion to state that the convert deserved a second chance at making the cut, even if “he didn’t bestride Twickenham like a colossus”. Ultimately however, he didn’t name Big Sam in his picks for the World Cup squad.

Ireland rugby great Brian O’Driscoll joined the pessimistic chorus, saying Burgess’s attacking game is below the standard required at international level and was more impressed by Henry Slade during England’s victory over France last week.

“Burgess has proper defensive X Factor, of that there’s no doubt,” O’Driscoll said on www.brianodriscoll杭州夜网m.

“His tackle technique and strength in the hit were never in question and for me, he has just the right amount of thug in him.

“When his team has the ball though, I just don’t think he’s quite up to speed at international level just yet.”

Other prominent naysayers include Matt Dawson – the scrum-half who flicked the ball to Jonny Wilkinson to break Australian hearts in 2003 – as well as former teammates Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall.

Dawson told the BBC after the France game: “You can’t take him to the World Cup for me. He played 80 mins and credit for that. But the way the game went in the second half there was nothing for him to do.

“The great thing about Burgess is he doesn’t make mistakes with ball in hand. But unfortunately, if you’re going to be really picky, positionally he wasn’t great … There are things that instinctively he doesn’t know what to do.”

On a surprising note however, England’s 2003 World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward and inside centre Greenwood told Sky Sports they could see a happier ending for Burgess.

While Greenwood eliminated Burgess from his picks, he did add a postscript: “So – can you go with Burgess as the fourth-choice centre, someone who brings this personality, this winning mentality, this self-belief… and this massive smash!? If Burgess goes into the squad in front of Burrell, I can understand why.”

The last word however surely goes to Woodward, who turns out to be a huge Sam fan, stating that he thinks he will make the final 31: “I think Burgess is going to be a big star for England. I just think it’s 12 months early”, he declared.

“There’s no doubt he’s an amazing player … I think they will [pick him]. I think Burgess will go.”