May, 2019

Canberra Week in Review 23rd October

It has been a week to remember in Australian politics.


Former treasurer Joe Hockey, leaving politics following the leadership change, made his farewell speech to a packed House of Representatives and left with a warning.

“A 24-hour news cycle has changed politics forever, but I’m not sure that the traditional Westminster system has kept pace with that change. It is now far more difficult to examine and debate policy issues in a measured and considered way.”

Mr Hockey called again for an end to what he has described as the age of entitlement, welfare payments to what he called middle-class Australians.

“Finding the solutions to the social challenges and the financial threats of today, it can’t be postponed to another time, it can’t be left to another generation. Intergenerational theft and betrayal is not the Australian way.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull paid tribute to Mr Hockey, calling him a great Australian.

“Your father, Richard, came to Australia as a young man, a young Armenian man … came to Australia and started a small business and prospered with his family. Your story is a classic Australian story of migration.”

In policy developments, Mr Turnbull’s leadership team has reached a deal on a key budget measure from 2014 that was previously blocked in the Senate.

The new social-services minister, Christian Porter, is overseeing a new proposal to cut family payments to eligible families once a child reaches age 13, instead of age 6.

Mr Porter detailed the changes.

“You will, of course, recall that, in the previous measure which we are now reversing, we had taken down the cut-off age to 6 years. We are now lifting that back up to 13. But we are making certain mitigatory payments, because we have considered and listened to some of the issues about the particular difficulties in rearing children at 13 and above that attach particularly to grandparents, but also in single-parent families.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Labor is waiting for more detail.

“This Government’s only backed off on family payments because of the strength of the Labor Party — and I might just give Jenny Macklin a bit of a shout-out here, but the whole Labor team has been very staunch in making sure that families on low incomes don’t lose thousands of dollars.”

The China free-trade agreement is expected now to be law by the end of the year.

Labor has had its planned workplace-protection measures approved by the Government, which means the legislation will pass the parliament.

Bill Shorten explained Labor’s position.

“So I am pleased today to announce that, through the hard work of Penny Wong, working with Minister Andrew Robb, that Labor now has achieved what we believe to be satisfactory legal protections which weren’t previously proposed, which means that Labor can now support the speedy passage of the China-Australia free-trade agreement. Today is, indeed, a good day.”

Andrew Robb, who negotiated the agreement, welcomed the news.

“The last few months has caused confusion in China about, ‘Just what is the attitude of Australians, who are our biggest trading partner?’ It has very wide implications, very important implications. We’re grateful that the Opposition has properly recognised that issue as well. Importantly, the agreement that we’ve reached with the Opposition will in no way contravene the commitments that have been made.”

Mr Turnbull also announced new rules for financial services, superannuation and credit-card surcharges.

It is the official response to the Murray Inquiry into the financial-services sector.

“We are constantly focused on ensuring, from a prudential point of view, our banks and major financial institutions are safe, both for depositors and for investors. They’re critical to the stability of our whole economy. From a superannuation point of view, the focus is on ensuring that people, Australians saving for their retirement, have both choice and security. From consumers, there are also important responses here to ensure that consumers are protected.”

Malcolm Turnbull’s opinion ratings as prime minister have jumped, and there has been a poll boost, too, for the Government.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, a key backer in the Turnbull coup, was delighted.

“Look, I don’t comment on the polls. It’s obviously reassuring to know that the Australian people are supporting the Coalition and they support Prime Minister Turnbull.”

Immigration policy continues to grab headlines for all the wrong reasons, though.

The Government flew a Somali asylum seeker who was allegedly raped in Nauru to Australia for an abortion, but it did not go ahead, and she was flown back to Nauru.

Minister Peter Dutton was left to explain the Government’s position.

“On Sunday, the 11th, the lady arrived in Brisbane, was reviewed by a primary-health nurse. On the following day, the12th, the lady was transferred to Villawood, was there reviewed by a mental-health nurse, where an interpreter was present, and also was consulted with a GP, and an interpreter was present for that occasion as well.”

The woman’s lawyers have disputed the facts as outlined by the Minister.

Refugee advocates say she was flown back to Nauru too quickly.










Finkel the answer to Aust weakness: PM

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he’s putting innovation at the heart of government policy with the appointment of an entrepreneur as Australia’s new chief scientist.


Prominent engineer and neuroscientist Alan Finkel, who is also an advocate of nuclear energy, has been billed as the man who can help Australia bridge the gap between scientific research and industry.

It’s one of Australia’s weaknesses and it needs to be addressed if Australia is to remain a prosperous “high-wage, generous social welfare net economy in the years to come”, Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

“Science as part of innovation is at the very heart of this government’s policy,” Mr Turnbull said.

“(Dr Finkel) absolutely fits the spirit of the times in which we live.

“A scientist and an entrepreneur, an innovator, a communicator.”

Labor and the Greens also welcomed his appointment.

“Although we differ with him about nuclear power, we hope Dr Finkel’s appointment represents a new scientific consensus that coal’s days are numbered,” Greens MP Adam Bandt said.

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said Australia was sixth in the OECD when it comes to quality of research but last when it comes to commercialisation of that research.

He said Dr Finkel fits into the government’s new priority of linking business and science.

“We have demonstrably appointed him as a signal to the sector that we want science and business to be very much focused together in this country to create jobs, to create growth and to make breakthroughs that assist in the human development,” he said.

Mr Pyne said the government would announce a comprehensive innovation and science agenda by the end of the year.

Dr Finkel is Chancellor of Monash University and president of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

He said Australia was at a “critical moment”, under a leadership team that appreciates the importance of science and technology and understands how it can deliver prosperity and productivity.

Dr Finkel takes the reins from Professor Ian Chubb as the government’s top science adviser in January.

Prof Chubb said Dr Finkel came to the role with a “rare blend of passion, patience and persistence the position demands”.

Jamming with your toddler – how music trumps reading for childhood development

Liam Viney, The University of Queensland

Forget the Mozart Effect and Baby Einstein, take it easy on acquisitions for your two-year-old’s private library, and don’t fret if your three-year-old hasn’t started violin lessons just yet.


The key to unlocking a child’s potential intelligence and happiness may indeed lie in music, but succumbing to the commercial juggernaut that is the baby-genius-making industry may not be in either your child or your wallet’s best interest.

Instead, try making up songs with your toddler. A new study suggests that regular informal music-making with very young children may even have benefits above and beyond those of reading.

But there’s an important, interesting, and somewhat beautiful catch – for best results, make it shared music-making in your home.

In an analysis of data generated from a study involving more than 3,000 children, a University of Queensland team investigated the associations between informal home music education for very young children and later cognitive and social-emotional outcomes.

The team found that informal music-making in the home from around the ages of two and three can lead to better literacy, numeracy, social skills, and attention and emotion regulation by the age of five.

By measuring the impact of music and reading both separately and in combined samples, the researchers were able to identify benefits from informal music activity over and above shared book reading, most strongly in relation to positive social behaviour, attention regulation and to a lesser but still significant extent, numeracy.

Part of an Australian Research Council funded study titled “Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development”, the study aims to provide a comprehensive account of how Australian families use music in their parenting practices and make recommendations for policy and practice in childcare and early learning and development.

Last month, the team was awarded the inaugural Music Trust Award for Research into the Benefits of Music Education.

Music and its relationship to mental and social development has long captured the attention of parents, researchers, even philosophers.

Science has shown that music’s effect on the brain is particularly strong, with studies demonstrating an improvement in IQ among students who receive music lessons. Advantages in the classroom have been identified for students who study musical instruments, and the effects of ageing on cognition may even be mitigated through lifelong musical activity.

So how is this study different, apart from its focus on early childhood?

Crucially, its findings are based on situations where the child’s musical activities were informal and shared, typically with a parent – essentially a playful social experience.

Simple and fun musical activities can have enormous power in developing numeracy and literacy: try improvising a counting song, or making up new rhymes to familiar tunes.

But the true power of musical play lies in the unique blend of creativity, sound and face-to-face interaction; the learning is strengthened by its basis in a positive, empathic emotional relationship.

Parents are increasingly enrolling very young children in specialist music classes – undoubtedly a positive development. Reading, however, is rarely “outsourced” in this way, and this study suggests that parents should feel encouraged and empowered in tapping their own inner musician before looking outside the home.

As with most aspects of parenting (in my personal non-scientific experience), there is no substitute for a parent’s personal involvement, even if it involves long-forgotten modes of behaviour such as taking simple pleasure in making sounds.

Being playful with sound is something we’re all born with – indeed, toddlers are humanity’s greatest virtuosos in that regard – yet too many are silenced over the years by the “better seen than heard” brigade.

It’s no accident that we talk about “playing” a musical instrument; a turn of phrase that too easily becomes sadly ironic if formal music lesson structures calcify into strictures.

So recapturing a sense of play (if you’re an adult) is crucial to the process of shared music-making, and this research invites parents to focus on the element of “playing” music with toddlers, using any tools at hand.

The human voice is a great place to start, and the kitchen cabinet contains a wealth of percussion instruments. Whistles and bells could be the next step, followed by a toy piano for more ambitious stage parents.

Long before conventional music lessons start, jam sessions with your toddler (not of the messy sticky preserved fruit variety) can be an enormous developmental asset.

You might even find it a two-way street – if children can teach adults anything, it’s how to play. So take the time, play with your child, and “play” music together.

Along with the newly-confirmed bonus benefits for baby, you’ll both be connected to music: a fundamental component of a happy and healthy life.

Liam Viney lectures at the University of Queensland School of Music, where Professor Margaret Barrett, one of the study’s leaders, is also Head of School. Dr. Viney was not involved with any part of this study or its parent project.

Confidence stable despite bank rate rises

Consumer confidence has held steady despite an increase in home loan rates from the big banks.


The ANZ/Roy Morgan weekly consumer confidence index rose just 0.1 per cent last week, after slumping two per cent the previous week.

The result was somewhat surprising, given all four of the country’s major lenders have flagged a rise in their variable owner-occupier mortgage rates in the past two weeks.

The 1.6 per cent lift in the stockmarket, the stabilisation of the Aussie dollar, and an upbeat assessment of the economy from the Reserve Bank board minutes all played a role in offsetting that, Commonwealth Securities chief economist Craig James said.

While confidence was down one per cent over the year, it consolidated just above its long-run average.

Importantly, the measure on whether consumers felt now was a good time to buy a major household item rose to its highest level in three months, rebounding by 6.7 per cent.

“(That’s) a result that bodes well for the upcoming Christmas spending period,” he said.

But ANZ’s co-head of Australian economics Felicity Emmett said sentiment about current personal finances had fallen sharply, which likely reflected the news of higher mortgage rates.

Mr James said, the major lenders’ moves were essentially a quasi-tightening on the economy, which may be a hot topic at the Reserve Bank’s November board meeting.

“The national economy continues to improve but a rate cut before Christmas would help to boost activity across the nation,” he said.

Ms Emmett said that while respondents’ views about their household finances remained fairly solid, the economic outlook remained a concern.

“For some time, they have been without a positive narrative on the prospects for the economy,” she said.

But a broadly stable jobless rate over the past year, and hopes that Prime Minister Turnbull can deliver better medium-term economic outcomes appear to have boosted households’ economic outlook.

“The challenge will be to maintain this upward trend in an environment where the housing market looks to be slowing,” she said.

Abbas at EU to discuss surging violence

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to discuss “concrete steps” to calm the surge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.


“We have a meeting tonight to discuss the ways EU can contribute to a de-escalation,” Mogherini said in brief comments before a working dinner on Monday.

The EU’s diplomatic chief said she hoped the pair would discuss “concrete steps on the ground, including difficult ones, that can strengthen the Palestinians on an everyday basis”.

The European Commission is the biggest provider of financial aid to the Palestinians, providing more than 5.6 billion euros ($A8.53 billion) to Abbas’ Palestinian Authority since 1994.

Mogherini, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin on Thursday, admitted there was “a certain degree of frustration” in Europe over the peace process, which collapsed in April 2014 amid bitter recriminations.

Abbas repeated his criticism of what he said was Israel’s “non-respect” for the rules at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, sacred to both Muslims and Jews, which is at the centre of the recent wave of violence.

“The situation in Palestine is extremely serious and grave and may even deteriorate. This is my fear,” he said.

“The main reason is the feeling of disappointment (among) the young generation,” who feel there is “no hope,” Abbas said.

Palestinians accuse Israel of seeking to change the rules that allow Jews to visit, but not to pray there.

Israel denies it has violated the status quo.

Stabbings and violent protests have become daily occurrences since simmering tensions over the compound boiled over in early October, leaving scores dead.

Abbas urged a revival of peace negotiations, calling for Israel to halt settlement-building in the West Bank and prevent “incursions” on the al-Aqsa compound.