Economic management takes centre stage

The economy has taken centre stage on the second day of the election campaign with both sides of politics claiming the high ground in terms of economic management.

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A decision by the Reserve Bank to drop official interest rates has sparked a flurry of claim and counter claim about what the decision means for the Australian economy.

 

Amanda Cavill reports.

 

The Coalition says the further drop in interest rates signals a deteriorating economy and bad news for business and consumers.

The Reserve Bank has cut official rates from 2.75 per cent to 2.5 per cent – its lowest level in 23 years.

 

Coalition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey says the cut shows Labor has lost control of the economy.

 

“The Reserve Bank would not be cutting interest rates if it were not for the fact that Australian economy is struggling. And Kevin Rudd doesn’t get it. It doesn’t understand that interest rates are being cut at the moment because the economy is struggling, not because it is doing well.”

 

Joe Hockey says interest rates on average should be lower under a Coalition government – pointing to the Howard government’s record.

 

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott won’t promise that this would be the case.

 

But says the economy would always be stronger under a government led by him.

“Well, we are not going to chloroform the economy and a chloroformed economy, you only have to look at some countries overseas to see what happens when you chloroform the economy. Sure interest rates are low. But economic activity is almost non existent. What I say is: the economy will always be stronger under a Coalition government. Taxes will always be lower under a Coalition government.”

 

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has seized on the two men’s comments, saying it just shows the Coalition can’t even agree on its own policy.

 

“Can I say if you have got the alternative Prime Minister and the alternative Treasurer within 24 hours having a fundamental public blue (argument) about interest rates policy and about the budget bottom line. This not only suggests they are in a shambles but questions their fitness for office. These are serious matters.”

 

Mr Rudd says former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard went to the 2004 election campaign saying interest rates would always be lower under a Coalition government.

 

Mr Rudd says this was proven to be completely untrue.

 

But Mr Howard has told Sky TV interest rates must be looked at in context.

 

“A wise man once said “context is everything” and the context in 2004 was who was better to deliver lower interest rates in a booming economy: the then Coalition government, or the Labor Party opposition? The circumstances now are quite different. I mean if anyone is seriously suggesting that this is a testament to our economic management. I mean look at some of the nations of Europe. They’ve got virtually zero interest rates and their economies are not moving.”

 

Meanwhile, there has been further debate on the issue of how much the Coalition’s policy promises would cost.

 

Joe Hockey has confirmed the Coalition will not provide a final projected budget figure before the election.

 

Kevin Rudd says that’s just not good enough and the electorate needs to know exactly what spending cuts would be made to implement the Coalition’s policies.

 

“That is not acceptable in a democracy. I had to do it in 2007. Everyone before us has had to do that. It’s Mr Abbott simply trying to run away from where the $70 billion will be cut in basic services in health, education and jobs.”

 

Mr Hockey says individual Coalition election policies will be fully costed but adding them up to forecast a final budget deficit or surplus would be meaningless.

 

He says that’s because the starting point would have to be the Treasury’s current projections, and they are not credible.

 


Cafe serves up world’s best refugee help

It isn’t your typical cafe.

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It started by just offering a cup of tea and a chat but now the Parents’ Cafe is offering a whole lot more to refugees in Sydney’s southwest.

 

What began as a small initiative to try and involve refugee families in their children’s schooling has grown to include a community kitchen and garden, a small catering service and hub for education and information services.

 

And Fairfield High School’s social inclusion program has also received widespread recognition, with the UNHCR describing it as a model for settlement best practice.

 

Peggy Giakoumelos reports.

 

“We’re currently in the teacher’s common room but what we’re having a look at is.. we’re having a look at some of the parents from the parents’ cafe preparing lunch for a couple of events that are going on at school. There’s a group of parents who will be coming in to participate in some learning a little later on. What you’re seeing here is, you’re seeing our parents actually cooking a variety of their foods from their home country that they will be putting together as a meal to serve each of those groups a little bit later on today.”

 

That’s the Deputy Principal of Fairfield High School, Mark Sargeant.

 

He’s standing in the kitchen of Fairfield High School’s Parents’ Cafe – a government-funded initiative that tries to involve the parents in the school.

 

What started out as a weekly cup of tea at the school’s Intensive English Language Centre has expanded into something beyond English classes.

 

“That’s Indian biriyani, vegetarian and the other is not veg. This one is with meat, chicken, other stuff and we make the chicken it’s called chicken tikka and other stuff is tandoori chicken also that we put in the oven and we make felafel, tabouli, some salad for the Parents’ Cafe. I love cooking at that’s why I do this. We’re cooking every Thursday. We cook for the parents.”

 

Asmaa Yousiff is a refugee from Iraq and she’s been involved in the Parents’ Cafe for four years.

 

So keen were the parents to expand their group beyond their weekly cuppa, that the idea for the Cafe was born.

 

While it’s open to anyone, the Cafe primarily caters to refugee parents – many of whom are recent arrivals from Iraq and who have settled in Fairfield, a suburb in western Sydney.

 

In 2011 there were almost 3,500 refugee students in government schools in the local area, compared to 208 for the rest of Sydney.

 

The school’s principal, Robert Mulas (moo-lass), identified a need to help connect refugee parents in the local community with their childrens’ schooling – hence the birth of the Cafe in 2009.

 

“The original aim was to look at the needs of the parents from our intensive English Centre children, so these were parents and families. Obviously the children who had come from some other background probably from a camp, probably from overseas, probably correctly entered Australia, because we don’t really enter into that debate our discussion and we thought that they needed extra support. Their children were being supported in the classroom with teachers in the Intensive English Centre but the parents needed extra support. So we employed a community liaison officer and we started a process of looking at a number of things which involved breakfast clubs for the kids, meetings for the parents and we said maybe we can do this better. And this concept of meetings came up and we needed to give it a name. There was a suggestion of calling it the Parents’ Cafe – and not a cafe to teach them to make coffee but a cafe where they sat around in comfortable situations and discussed issues of concern.”

 

The Parents’ Cafe was formalised with the employment of a community liaison officer who works five days a week and the concept has expanded into southwestern Sydney to six other schools.

 

The Parents’ Cafe was also profiled in a visit by Principal Robert Mulas in 2012 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ 60th anniversary meeting.

 

The head of UNHCR, Antonio Guterres, has praised the Parents’ Cafe, calling it a good model for settlement demonstrating international best practice.

 

Haitham Jaju is the Community Liaison Officer at Fairfield High School and the Parents’ Cafe coordinator.

 

The former Iraqi diplomat came to Australia as a refugee with his family after war broke out in Iraq.

 

He’s put his diplomatic skills to good use in his new job – working to create networks between the school, the community and the government.

 

Haitham Jaju also helps organise weekly talks for those attending on a range of legal, tax, health and housing related issues.

 

“For this term we are focusing on legal issues, family, current events like the election very soon. This session is one of our topics for this term, to give an idea especially for the new arrivals who are eligible now. They get citizenship, they’re eligible to vote in the election. To have an idea of the process, what’s going on, what’s the differences between elections here and elections overseas. So when we have such people here they will clarify, they will ask questions on how to participate in this election.”

 

This session is about voting in Australia.

 

Wafaa Yousiff, a refugee from Iraq, has been in Australia for two years and is a regular visitor to the cafe.

 

She says coming here is one of the highlights of her week.

 

“Here it’s a wonderful group. Everyone here is like family. In Iraq I took everything and came here. And here I find it a big family. Everyone here just gives me love. That’s it. They don’t give me anything, just love. And I come here and I learn everything, especially learning English because you need it, you use if for everything, for shopping, for hospitals.”

 

The school also has a large community garden growing staples such as tomatoes, cabbages and eggplants alongside more exotic fare such as turmeric.

 

The garden allows parents and students to gain qualifications in horticulture as well as supplying food for the cafe.

 

The Parents’ Cafe has also set up a small-scale catering business.

 

Principal Robert Mulas hopes the programs initiated at the school will continue to be taken up elsewhere.

 

“The best case study I can give you is a mother in Australia for three days and on the third day she came to the Parents’ Cafe, seeking assistance, information and help. A lot of our parents are single parents with maybe four, five, six children that they may have had to come through camps, a convoluted way to get to Australia. We do as much as we can. The Parents’ Cafe has grown from what we could loosely call a social group to an information sharing group. Organisations want to come and talk to our parents. I think it shows massive success of what’s started out as a support group that’s now grown into a group that helps itself and works throughout the community and works with many other organisations. And I think that’s the success of it and the success we can highlight to other schools in particular but other organisations that would like to involve the community.”


Vic rape victim held in ‘cubby house’

A man allegedly used a disguise, a fake driver’s licence and chloroform, to track and abduct a woman he kept in a soundproofed room on a rural Victorian property.

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Michael Allen Pilgrim, aka Mark Darcy, kept the woman chained up for five days in a soundproof “cubby house” he purpose-built on a Drouin property where he repeatedly raped her, the Victorian County Court heard.

Prosecutor Brett Sonnet told the court Pilgrim, a former aeronautical engineer, was highly educated and was meticulous in planning the July 2012 abduction.

Pilgrim created a range of false identities, ordered chloroform and nitric acid online and researched torture techniques, uses for prescription drugs and how to construct and use a propane crematorium, he said.

Mr Sonnet said Pilgrim, who came to know the woman when she was a sex worker, placed GPS-tracking devices on the victim’s car and her sister’s car, later telling her that if she tried to harm herself he would go after her sister.

Wearing a fake beard and hi-visibility vest he tracked her to a friend’s house, tasered the man who answered the door when he knocked, then struck him on the head with a pistol.

The prosecution alleges he then made the victim get into a car, threw her phone out the window and stabbed the electronic chips in her bank cards.

The court heard Pilgrim told her: “You better not play up because I really feel like carving someone up today.”

He took her to the rural property, padlocked her to the floor and told her he planned to keep her there to use her.

Pilgrim, 34, of no fixed address, has pleaded guilty to a string of charges, including four counts of rape, one count of false imprisonment, abduction and stalking.

Pilgrim also pleaded guilty to possessing explosive devices and child pornography material.

The 25-year-old victim escaped after she complained of severe stomach pains and told Pilgrim she had had a termination.

He allowed her to go to Warragul hospital, where she was diagnosed as having suffered an ectopic pregnancy.

Pilgrim attempted to contact her via a Facebook alias while she was in hospital.

He was apprehended in Sydney before being extradited to Victoria.

The plea hearing continues.


‘Testicle-munching’ fish found off Denmark

A Danish fisherman made an unusual find in his nets recently when he discovered a pacu, a sharp-toothed cousin of the South American piranha with a reported penchant for testicles.

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“If they bite, they can bite hard … especially when they bite you where you really don’t want to be bitten,” joked fish expert Peter Resk Moeller of the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

However, he said that the pacu is not a meat-eater and normally does not attack people.

The rare find has spread across international media, who have jumped on the fish’s reputation as a “ball-cutter” for its reported attacks on men.

In a documentary for US channel Animal Planet in 2012, an expert on extreme fishing relayed anecdotally that some fishermen in Papua New Guinea had had their testicles bitten by pacus.

However, Moeller defended the toothy vegetarian’s eating habits.

“The fisherman was very surprised and a bit suspicious because this fish, the pacu, looks so much like a piranha but it is not a carnivore,” he said.

It is not known where the fish came from, but Moeller suggested it probably came from a local aquarium.

“It’s interesting to see that it survived in the Oeresund (Strait that separates Sweden and Denmark). Even if the water is not very salty we didn’t know it could survive the salt,” he said.

Moeller said it was hard to predict whether the pacu would now become common in Danish waters.

“Every time we have a fish of a new species you think you won’t find another one, but you never know.”

The fish is however farmed in North America as food.

“I’ve heard it’s very good, I would like to try it,” Moeller said.


England bounce back in women’s Ashes

England have struck back in the battle for the women’s Ashes, beating Australia convincingly in the second one-day international to square up the series.

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A fine knock of 81 by Australian No.3 Jess Cameron couldn’t stop the hosts bouncing back from defeat in the opening ODI with a 51-run win at Hove on Friday.

The points-based, multi-format series is now level at four-points all with four games to play – another 50-over game on Sunday followed by three Twenty20 clashes.

Set a tough target of 257 after England won the toss and chose to bat, Australia were always on the back foot with openers Rachael Haynes and Meg Lanning both dismissed for ducks.

Reliable first-drop batter Cameron offered some hope but she received little support with spin bowler Jess Jonassen (34 not out) the second-highest scorer as Australia were bowled out for 205 in 48.2 overs.

“It (the loss) is a bit hard to take in at the moment,” said Cameron, who passed 1000 career ODI runs during her knock.

“There’s a lot things we need to work on but there’s a lot of positives we can take out of today and there’s a few more games to go yet.

“We’re looking forward to getting out here on Sunday and proving why we’re ranked number one in all formats.”

England had five different wicket takers with Katherine Brunt and Holly Colvin claiming two each.

The hosts made 6-256 from their 50 overs with a strong team effort.

Captain and opener Charlotte Edwards’ top-scored with 53 and was backed up by handy knocks from Lydia Greenway (46), Arran Brindle (42), Sarah Taylor (32) and Heather Knight (31).

Jonassen (2-29) and Sarah Coyte (2-55) were the pick of Australia’s bowlers but the visitors must now regroup ahead of the third one-day match in Hove on Sunday.

The one-day world champions are chasing their first Ashes win on English soil since 2001.

The first match of the series, and only Test, was drawn.


Indian train kills 37 people, sparks riot

An express train has ploughed into a crowd of Hindu pilgrims in eastern India, killing 37 and triggering a riot that’s left one of the drivers dead and carriages ablaze.

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The pilgrims were crossing the tracks at a station in the state of Bihar when the high-speed passenger train struck them, a senior police officer said.

“The death toll is now 37,” SK Bharadwaj, an additional director general of police, said.

Nine women and four children are among the dead.

“Dozens of people have been injured. We do not have exact figures of those injured because they were taken away to various hospitals,” he said.

Angry crowds went on the rampage, attacking the Rajya Rani Express which stopped after the accident. They attacked its drivers, killing one and seriously injuring another.

“One of the drivers of the train who was beaten up by the agitators has died. The other driver is struggling for his life in the hospital,” Bharadwaj said.

The crowd also set carriages on fire and ransacked the station in the small town of Dhamara Ghat, 248km from the state capital Patna.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “expressed deep sorrow and shock at the loss of lives” and appealed for calm.

Suman Kumar Jha, a college student on board the express when it rammed into the pilgrims, said he was “numbed” to see “so much blood all around”.

Bodies were placed in a line alongside the tracks, their faces covered by articles of clothing, as passengers gathered nearby.

Fire and smoke was also seen on TV billowing from carriages and windows smashed.

There are hundreds of accidents on the railways annually.


Comment: Election 2013 Issues – education

By Field Rickards, University of Melbourne

Welcome to the The Conversation Election 2013 State of the Nation essays.

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These articles by leading experts in their field provide an in depth look at the key policy challenges affecting Australia as the nation heads to the polls. Today, we examine the issue of education, all the way from early childhood to tertiary level.

Most of us have a stake in education policy, for one reason or another: your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews might be currently in school; you might be planning to start a family; or, at the very least, you once were a school student yourself.

So it is quite right that education receive the attention it deserves from the media and from our politicians in this upcoming election.

However, if you have been paying attention to education coverage in recent weeks and months, you would be forgiven for thinking the Australian education system is on a verge of a major crisis. It is not. But there are some matters that need attention.

To bring it back to basics, Australia has a good education system and we perform well on international measures. However, there are some matters that need to be addressed.

Levels of participation in early childhood education are too low, and too many students start school below the expected level of capability. We have low levels of equity compared to other developed nations; the gap between our highest and lowest performing students is among the highest in the OECD. While our international performance is strong, it is slipping and our most able students are slipping the most. Our new teachers, on the whole, are not receiving the preparation they need to be as effective as possible in the classroom. The profession of teaching is generally held in low esteem, when it should be one of our most respected.

Essentially, the answer to all these challenges comes back to one basic principle: teaching is key. Research has shown time and again that teaching is by far the most crucial adjustable driver of student outcomes. With this in mind, I’d like to explore some of these challenges and potential solutions in a bit more detail.

Early childhood education

Education is a vital part of young children’s well-being and development, yet many of the young children who really need access to a high quality learning environment are not receiving it. Indeed, Australia’s levels of participation in early childhood education is well below the OECD average.

The children who suffer the most from this are those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who do not receive the support they need at an early age. They then start school behind their peers and it becomes difficult for them to catch up.

Quality is another issue in early childhood education – it is highly variable, to say the least. And yet, we know from research that quality early educational intervention makes significant long-term differences to IQ, social, educational and employment outcomes.

The Labor government under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard has made significant steps towards addressing both the participation and quality issues in Australian early childhood education, and this should be commended. However, there is still much to be done. In particular, clinically trained early childhood education experts should be deployed through the system, to work with local networks of early educators and families to provide specific guidance and coaching on infant and toddler education.

Meeting the needs of every learner

A major study led by Patrick Griffin from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education has found that improvement in student achievement is concentrated among less able students, with the performance of more able students almost flat-lining. Professor Griffin also found that teachers do not have the strategies to develop higher order skills in numeracy or literacy among their students. It is likely that this is a result of the recent focus on disadvantaged students.

These findings are consistent with Australia’s performance in the international Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, which show that our top 30 – 40% of students are underperforming. They point to a worrying trend – if Australia does not realise the potential of its brightest learners, we will not be able to compete internationally, particularly as our Asian neighbours continue to flourish.

It is vital every student in our system – regardless of their ability – receives a year of learning growth in return for a year of input. Our obsession with meeting “minimum standards” may be contributing to the lack of attention our most able students are receiving. To put it simply, a student may meet or exceed the minimum standards set by, for example, National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), but their learning may not have grown sufficiently over the past year.

We need a shift in focus from meeting set standards to demonstrating growth.

We also need to focus more on the learners’ needs and identify when they understand a concept on the surface or at a deeper level.

Greater attention needs to be given to using data and evidence to meet the needs of individual learners. Teachers can then determine what each student is ready to learn; have the capabilities to support learning; and are able to evaluate the impact they have on the learner. Teacher education courses and professional development for existing teachers needs to prepare teachers with these vital skills.

Teacher education

There has been a lot of debate this year about perceived falling entry standards into teacher education courses. While university entrance scores or ATARs are an imperfect measure of student ability, and high numbers of teacher education students enter at the graduate level (where ATAR scores are no longer relevant), the fact remains that, since 2009, the proportion of teacher education offers to school-leavers with an ATAR below 70 has increased to 52% last year from 45%.

At the same time, Australia has been increasing its over-supply of teaching graduates (particularly in primary and secondary humanities). This is being exacerbated by the demand driven system – a policy which saw the removal of the government cap on undergraduate places.

This higher education policy is contributing to the steady decline in the average ATARs of undergraduate teaching students nationally, in turn lowering the esteem in which society holds the profession and deterring high performing students from studying teaching.

As Ed Byrne, Vice Chancellor of Monash University, recently wrote, we would not accept low entry standards into other important professions, like medicine. What makes teaching an exception? I would argue that we cannot fix some of the major challenges facing our education system, including the low esteem in which teachers are held, until we fix this fundamental issue with teacher education.

We should also consider allocating commonwealth supported places in teacher education according to national supply and demand data, as currently happens in other professions. This will address issues of over-supply, and help target priority areas including special education, mathematics, science and foreign languages.

A note on funding

School funding has dominated the Australian education debate this year. The reforms proposed by businessman David Gonski and his panel are commendable; they offer a practical solution to address Australia’s overly-complicated and vastly inequitable system of school funding.

While the watered-down version currently under debate is far from perfect, it still represents a potentially large injection of additional funds into government schools, which is certainly called for. With the majority of states and territories now on board and newly announced bipartisan support, it looks as though the changes to school funding are here to stay.

However, it is important to bear in mind that additional funding, while necessary, is not a magic bullet in itself. How that money is spent is just as important, and I would argue this should be on measures that support teachers and teaching.

Conclusion

Governments have got some things right in education policy over recent years – notably the increased focus on quality early childhood education and ongoing reforms to Australia’s school funding system. However, there is still much to be done to ensure Australia continues to enjoy a high performing education system, and to make sure the needs of all our learners – no matter their background or their ability – are met.

In addressing these challenges, we need to remember that it all comes back to teaching; and in doing so, we need to give the profession the respect it deserves.

Field Rickards is the Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.


Activists launch ‘hot potato’ asylum policy campaign

Activists have launched a campaign that aims to change how many voters feel about asylum seekers before the September election.

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They say it’s been prompted by what they call the myths and misinformation that have shaped the recent policy debate.

 

Santilla Chingaipe reports.

 

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says it will be taking its campaign through Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland presenting facts to cool what’s become a highly-politicised debate.

 

It’s called the project ‘The Hot Potato’, a symbol of the politicisation of the asylum seeker debate in Australia.

 

The non-government organisation provides advice and resources for refugees, but its director Jana Favero, says there’s a real need for it to speak out, too.

 

Jana Favero says the move to keep asylum seekers out of Australia would not be an election issue if politicians didn’t keep telling voters it was.

 

She says the debate has deteriorated from a bipartisan issue in the Whitlam-Fraser eras to become an issue full of lies and fear-mongering.

 

“You’ve got our Immigration Minister talking about asylum seekers and saying they’ll never be resettled here. You’ve got our Foreign Affairs Minister saying they’re economic migrants. They’re called illegals. They’re called queue jumpers. So the attitudes have been shaped and formed with this sort of rhetoric over the last 30 to 40 years and so no wonder the public are demanding a hard line because they’ve only heard of the myths and misperceptions from our politicians and our media as well.”

 

Jana Favero says the Hot Potato campaign will aim to take the heat out of the debate, enabling people to have a conversation based on facts, not fears.

 

She says the Resource Centre will be stressing its view that the major parties’ policies are inhumane and not in line with their stated aim of saving lives.

 

“The government, and supported by the Opposition as well, are very much putting forward a punitive approach and an approach based on deterrence, which is not we agree with. So it’s really hard on the one side they’re saying ‘ we are so compassionate we want to avoid deaths at sea but we will put people in prisons, in detention centres including children, we will send them overseas, they’ll never have a chance of being resettled in Australia’. So it is quite a contradictory message that’s coming from them. I’ve no doubt that people want to stop deaths at sea. I absolutely agree with that. But the way that the government has chosen to go about it is in a completely inhumane way.”

 

Imogen Bailey, who appeared on the SBS Television program “Go Back to Where You Came From” is working with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre on their campaign.

 

She says while making program she was exposed to the rawest side of the asylum seeker issue and now can’t turn her back on it.

 

Ms Bailey says she’s concerned that public is being told that asylum seekers are criminals and in competition for jobs and resources with Australians.

 

“But what I am positive about is that Australians are starting to wake up to the disgusting politics that’s going in in this country. The first thing is that we are rejecting the current leaders. And the second thing is that we will begin and we are beginning to reject what is being sold to us about asylum seekers and refugees. I have never had more people, since I’ve become involved in this cause, come up to me and say ‘you know what? I want to know what’s the truth? What’s really going on?’ And I think that’s because Australians know they’re being lied to.”

 

The Hot Potato campaign launch at Federation Square in Melbourne included a panel of asylum seeker activists and others interested in the issue.

 

The crowd heard from singer Mark Seymour, who told of how performing an immigration detention centre led to him raising asylum seeker issues at his regular gigs across the country.

 

“The consequences of me saying that I had played in a detention centre, I have had nothing but positives responses. People just can’t believe I’ve mentioned the ‘A’ word, asylum seekers, and they come up to me after the show, they’re really keen to talk, they’re really thankful that someone is actually bringing it home in that environment that’s normally associated with consuming fairly large sums of alcohol and leaping around the room in excitement. So I think that this conversation has huge amount of potential to change people’s attitude to asylum seekers.”

 

Barrister Julian Burnside, a high profile critic of successive government policies towards asylum seekers, was also part of the panel that launched the Hot Potato campaign.

 

“It’s the way you feel changed when you actually meet some refugees, when you come face to face with people who have been demonise by the politicians and suddenly you’re there in front of them and you realise that they are frightened human beings just like yourself. It’s much harder to be cruel to someone when you’ve looked them in the eye. And our governments and the opposition are trying to prevent us from looking them in the eye so that they can keep on being popular by being horrible to them. It’s a great thing. I guess a lot of people here have met refugees. If you haven’t, suspend judgement about the whole issue until you meet some.”

 

 

 

 


No.1 pick Whitfield happy Sydney is home

Lachie Whitfield has endured a season of flattenings and not all that much flattery, but the No.

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1 draft pick wouldn’t trade it for anything.

It’s been almost nine months since Victorian Whitfield was uprooted by fledgling AFL club Greater Western Sydney.

In that time, Whitfield says Sydney has come to feel like home as he learned how to cook and clean while playing 17 games for the Giants.

The spectre of losing all but one of those matches has sometimes bothered Whitfield.

“It can be a bit flattening, having only had the one win. It can be hard getting up some Mondays,” he told AAP.

“But the joy last week (when GWS beat Melbourne) was something else.

“On the whole it’s been a blast. One of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life was last week when we beat the Dees.

“I never expected to play so many games. I’m getting quite a taste of league footy and learning a lot.”

Those Melbourne clubs hoping the carrot of family and a pinch of homesickness will prise Whitfield from the Giants’ grasp may be in trouble.

Contract talks between Whitfield’s management and GWS are in the early stages, with the 19-year-old wanting to wait until the end of the season before thinking about a new deal for 2015.

But the talented midfielder is enjoying everything about the Giants – especially the chance to escape Victoria’s unbridled obsession with the game.

It’s something Whitfield knows all too well, having been touted as a No.1 draft pick since March last year.

“It was quite a full-on year, finishing VCE and juggling that with footy and the tags you get along the way,” Whitfield said.

“But I got through it. Moving up this year has been really good.

“I love it (Sydney), you go to Bondi or Coogee and you’re just another person on the beach.

“We don’t hear as much about footy. I still don’t even know the extent of the Essendon saga – and nobody asks you what’s going on.”

Although not everyone in NSW has been quite so welcoming.

“I’ve played Sydney twice, and the following weeks were some of the hardest of my life – just trying to get up for the next week,” he said.


Acid attack on two UK women in Zanzibar

Two young British women are recovering after unknown attackers in the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar threw acid into their faces, the first such assault against foreigners in the popular tourist destination, police say.

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Late on Wednesday night two men on a moped threw the acid at the 18-year-old women as they strolled through the streets of Stone Town, the historical centre of the capital of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian archipelago, splashing their faces, chests and hands.

“Police in Zanzibar have launched a manhunt, and we ask for public assistance in identifying the attackers,” deputy police commissioner Mkadam Khamis said on Thursday.

The attack on the women, both working as volunteer teachers at a school on the island, came at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, and as people began to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

“The motive for the attack on the volunteers aged 18 years, has not been established. Investigations are on until we apprehend the criminals,” Khamis said.

The women were flown to Tanzania’s economic capital Dar es Salaam for treatment, where their injuries were said to be “not life-threatening”, said Saleh Mohammed Jidawi, a senior health ministry official.

Britain’s Foreign Office said they were “providing consular assistance” to the women, but gave no further details.

Tourism is the main foreign currency earner for Zanzibar, famed for its white-sand beaches and historical buildings in Stone Town, which is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

“It may threaten tourists,” said Abdul Samad, chairman of the Zanzibar Association for Tourism Investors.

Tensions between the majority Muslim population and Christians in the archipelago (some three per cent of the 1.2 million people on the islands) have risen in recent years, as well as on mainland Tanzania.

In Tanzania, where both Muslims and Christians each make up around a third of the population, the communities traditionally live peacefully side-by-side.

In Zanzibar, some more conservative elements of the Muslim community object to foreign tourists who wear revealing clothes, as well as bars selling alcohol.

There have been a series of attacks in the archipelago, including an acid attack on a Muslim cleric in November, and the shooting death of a Catholic priest in February.

In December another priest was shot and wounded.