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State claims education reforms do not work

No worries when he’s a trunk call away from a serious flood

More power for ATO, police to catch offshore tax cheats
SMH – Monday, 30 Jan 2012 – Page 5

THERE is no way of knowing if programs aimed at improving the literacy and numeracy skills of struggling students have worked, the state government says.

The former NSW directorgeneral of education Ken Boston was commissioned last year to carry out a review of up to 30 programs used in schools to help underperforming children improve.

But the state Minister for Education , Adrian Piccoli, said the taskforce had discovered that little is actually known about what works in improving numeracy and literacy in NSW.

‘‘ One of its purposes was to look at the different programs, like Multilit and Reading Recovery ,’’ Mr Piccoli said. ‘‘ But there is surprisingly little evidence around about what works and what doesn’t work.’’ Mr Boston, who also headed the curriculum authority in England, said learning difficulties should be diagnosed from the age of five, not in year 3, when students sat their first NAPLAN tests.

His report, which is due to be released later this year, would also look at whether programs were delivering value for money.

‘‘ We are looking at whether they are really doing what it says on the side of the tin,’’ Mr Boston said. ‘‘ We are looking at what evidence there is in NSW, not overseas. Just because it works in Wisconsin doesn’t mean it is working in Gunnedah.

‘‘ Is the child turned around in the long term, or are they just given a quick fix?’’

Mr Piccoli said the federal government’s education policies had failed to improve literacy and numeracy performance.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard , said last week that Australia needed to ‘‘ win the education race’ ’ and be highly skilled to compete with its Asian neighbours in a century of rapid economic growth.

She said students in countries such as China, South Korea and Japan were outperforming Australian students.

Mr Piccoli said the federal government had adopted education policies from Britain and the US where they had failed.

‘‘ Despite the money they have poured into education which has been great, the policies that have gone with it haven’t worked,’’ he said. ‘‘ It is the reforms that divide classrooms that don’t work – paying teachers bonuses based on test results or publishing NAPLAN results on the My School website that pit school against school.’’

Instead, Mr Piccoli said he wanted education policies that encouraged staff and schools to work together.

‘‘ What does make a difference is systemic change. That is what we are trying to do with devolution : empowering schools to make their own decisions,’’ he said. ‘‘ With devolution you are giving school principals and their staff the power to make changes that work for the entire school.’’

From this year, the state government would also focus on trying to improve teacher quality, he said. This would involve discussions with universities about training and professional development . ‘‘ We are conscious to make sure we don’t pitch teacher against teacher,’’ he said.

Mr Piccoli foreshadowed an overhaul of the bureaucracy when principals are given greater responsibility for managing their budgets this year.

Results of a wide-ranging review of state government funding for early childhood education , headed by Deb Brennan, from the University of NSW, will also be detailed later this year.

A replacement credential for the year 10 School Certificate, which was scrapped last year, will also be unveiled later this year.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
RAY SEAWARD sat on his balcony overlooking the swollen Bellinger River reading a book on Australia Day with little concern for the ‘‘ 4 1/2 tree flood’’ .

Over nine years, the owner of the Old Butter Factory – a century-old network of buildings housing workshops and stores nestled on low-lying land alongside the river – has developed a strong stomach for floods in his waterlogged patch of the state.

In the drenching rain, he took the Herald to the water line lapping metres from his cafe to show the river was, indeed, hovering between the fourth and fifth trees closest to the building.

‘‘ I came up here from Sydney nine years ago,’’ he said, ‘‘ and my tenants, who’ve been here for 25 years, look at the river and they say: ‘Looks like a four-tree-er to me’ . And I’ll be damned if they’re not right.’’

And despite the devastating and fatal Queensland floods only a year ago and Bellingen’s own disastrous floods in 2009, this is largely the attitude of rural and beachside residents who have inherited a state colonised along waterways prone to burst their banks in rain.

The pay-off for having a town sliced in two by a bridge engulfed for days on end by the river – as occurred in Bellingen last week – is living in enviable natural beauty that attracts wealthy tourists, artists and holidaymakers .

Floods are Australia’s most expensive natural disaster types – they cost more than $300 million a year, according to 2002 figures – and they accounted for almost one-third of all natural disaster costs nationwide between the late 1960s and the turn of the century.

In the last financial year, the State Emergency Service performed 540 flood rescues and clocked up 97,321 volunteer hours on flood work. In the same period, NSW spent almost $32 million on natural disaster relief funding in addition to flood mitigation, risk management and education.

‘‘ The biggest problem for local government is the ongoing repair bills,’’ the Bellingen shire mayor, Mark Troy, said last week as the more than 650 millimetres of rain the area received over just seven days continued.

‘‘ We still have here in our area outstanding repairs from the 2009 floods where we had a series of five severe weather events in one year,’’ he said.

Mr Troy said the natural disaster relief system was flawed because it acted as a Band-Aid and only funded work to restore infrastructure to the status quo before the most recent flood.

And it did little to prevent the isolation of rural properties during heavy rain. Yesterday afternoon , there were still about 2000 people isolated by floodwaters on the mid-north and far north coast and the SES had 11 helicopters ferrying food and medical supplies to homesteads trapped by water.

Keith Rhoades, president of the Local Government Association and mayor of Coffs Harbour where flash flooding swamped streets and homes last week, said his town was more likely today to receive 25 centimetres of rain in 10 hours, rather than 10 days, as might have been the case a decade ago.

He shied away from suggesting people should quit floodprone areas altogether, as has begun along beaches slipping into the sea.

‘‘ But nothing should be taken off the table,’’ he said.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
THE Australian Taxation Office and federal law enforcement agencies want to intensify their campaign against offshore tax evasion, with increased penalties and greater powers for investigators expected to be considered by the federal government this year.

Documents released under freedom-of-information laws reveal the Tax Office and other agencies participating in the long-running Project Wickenby, an inter-agency task force targeting offshore tax evasion, have been developing a comprehensive range of measures to combat abuse of “secrecy havens” – countries with secretive tax or financial systems and which offer minimal taxes for non-residents .

The ATO is seeking the introduction of measures to stem tax evasion before funding for Project Wickenby expires next year.

Documents released by the Attorney-General’s Department show the ATO has convened a series of meetings and workshops to develop tax reform proposals with the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Federal Police, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the anti-money laundering agency AUSTRAC, the Treasury and the departments of the Attorney-General , and Immigration and Citizenship.

New anti-tax avoidance measures being developed include improved information flows between Australian government agencies such as better sharing of information obtained through the use of coercive powers like those exercised by the Australian Crime Commission; greater use of telecommunications interception powers; expanding the definition of money in antimoney laundering laws; greater information exchanges with foreign governments; strengthened international debt recovery measures and reciprocal recognition of foreign tax debts.

The Project Wickenby agencies have also been considering increased penalties for offshore tax evasion; measures aimed at “addressing delays around legal professional privilege” ; amendments to immigration requirements to ‘‘ consider failure to comply with tax obligations’’ , and greater regulation of trusts.

A number of “defensive measures ” were canvassed in a submission by Treasury to federal cabinet on May 16 last year. Further reform proposals were forecast for submission to cabinet late last year or early this year, with the Treasury and Attorney-General’s Department potentially making a joint submission.

However, the Attorney-General’s Department has declined to release the detailed policy proposals, saying: “The finer details of these law reform proposals have not yet been put to ministers; there have been no major public announcements on this subject, and the issues are still at the very preliminary stages of policy development … Full disclosure would … run contrary to the interests of good government.”

Since 2006, Project Wickenby has resulted in 62 people being charged with serious tax avoidance , money laundering and fraud. Twenty-one people have been convicted, although the taskforce has had setbacks, including the abortive legal pursuit of the actor Paul Hogan.

Nearly $594 million in outstanding tax revenue has been recovered, while $1.18 billion in tax liabilities has been raised.

Since 2007-08 there has been a 22 per cent reduction, about $22 billion, in funds flowing from Australia to 13 overseas “secrecy havens” .

There has been a decline in fund flows of 50 per cent to Vanuatu , 80 per cent to Liechtenstein , and 22 per cent to Switzerland.

By 2012-13 , Project Wickenby operations will have cost $430.9 million.

The Assistant Treasurer, Mark Arbib, confirmed yesterday that a “multi-agency working group” was working on further measures aimed at cracking down on illegal offshore tax evasion.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald