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It’s war: why there is a new battle looming over public and private school funding

The debate over schools funding will heat up when Education Minister Simon Birmingham meets his state counterparts on September 23. Photo: Daniel Munoz NSW Minister for Education Adrian Piccoli has vowed to fight if money is cut from the state’s schools. Photo: Louie Douvis

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham wants one funding model for all states. Photo: Louise Kennerley

“Gonski is now history.”

That was Dr Ken Boston, an architect of the Gonski reforms, delivering a blunt and pessimistic account of the state of schools funding to education leaders in Sydney last week.

Five years, two federal elections and three education ministers after the landmark report was released,  “there is now no prospect of [it]  being implemented as recommended,” he said.

He reminded his audience what Gonski was about: social disadvantage is the biggest driver of poor education results, and it has been exacerbated by school funding arrangements for the past 40 years. Gonski was designed to fix that, to give every child a fair go.

“It is surely unacceptable that the 20 most expensive independent schools in NSW receive more than $111 million per annum in public funding, when the gap in reading performance between the top 20 per cent and bottom 20 per cent of our 15-year-olds is equivalent to five years of schooling,” he said.

If he is right, Gonski now represents a lost opportunity for a once-in-a-generation reform of a system where political partisanship, vested interests, ideology and inertia have for decades delivered perverse outcomes. A system that is still leaving hundreds of thousands of children behind.

Today Australia has a patched-together mess of 27 different systems producing irrational and unequal funding outcomes, and a policy debate that is as rancorous as ever, with the NSW Education Minister threatening “war” on his federal counterpart if they cut money from the state’s schools.

Boston laid the blame for the policy failure at the feet of both sides of politics, saying that while Labor delivered more money for education, it also implemented a “corruption of the Gonski report”.

“We had the chance to do away with this interminable money squabble between the sectors especially. Gonski had a solution, but now that chance is gone,” says Chris Bonnor, education expert from the Centre for Policy Development.

“The next conversation will be about redistributing the funding that’s available. That’s an unhappy conversation because no one will agree to what comes out of that.”

That conversation starts officially on September 23, when federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham is due to sit down with his state counterparts to hash out a new agreement for school funding that goes beyond 2017 where the current arrangements end.

The political forecast for the meeting is inclement.

Or, as Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek puts it: “The federal government will be turning up to this ministerial meeting, having cut $29 billion from schools, asking the states and territories to do more, and expecting them to be happy with that.”

Skirmishes have already begun among the stakeholders, with a shot across the bow from the Australian Education Union this week. It released analysis by education academic Dr Jim McMorrow that found on the current model, of the promised extra $1.2 billion only $450 million (38 per cent) would go to public schools and $750 million (62 per cent) to private schools.

The union’s federal president Correna Haythorpe said the analysis showed it was clear the Coalition had no commitment to needs-based funding and its plan would deny students the help they needed at school.

The federal government, Catholic and independent school sectors, all rejected this as a politically motivated report.

The complexities and politics of school funding make it almost impenetrable to the casual observer.

Most people just want to know that their child’s school is at least getting what is fair, what it needs to do the best for its students. But right now, depending on your school, that is just not happening. Similar schools in different states get different levels of support.

And now the clock is ticking, with states and individual schools uncertain about their funding allocation from the end of next year.

“Something needs to happen, some new deal needs to be done,” says Peter Goss, schools education director from the Grattan Institute.

“The government can try to take the high road, and take some tough decisions that ensure funding goes to where it will make the most difference. Otherwise, the government schools will continue in aggregate to be funded below their entitlement. The state governments will keep yelling about it, and we will continue an unconstructive, poisonous debate.”

The apparent moment of consensus, the famous unity ticket on school funding that Tony Abbott took into the 2013 election, fell apart months later when then education minister Christopher Pyne reneged on the six-year Gonski deal made by the previous Labor government.

He indicated the Coalition would only fund the first four years and funding after that would grow in line with CPI. That meant school funding would stay at the increased level but the funding gap between relatively privileged and disadvantaged schools would no longer narrow.

The final two years – that’s 2018-2019 – are where the bulk of the Gonski funds were supposed to flow. Ahead of this year’s election, and under pressure from Labor which was making gains with its popular schools funding policy, Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced the Coalition would commit $1.2 billion in additional funds for those final two years, or about one-third of what the original agreement had set out.

In a significant move away from the Gonski model, the federal government made that money contingent on the states and territories implementing the federal government’s education reforms designed to boost student literacy and numeracy, teaching and school leadership.

Some states have indicated an in-principle objection to tied grants. But in NSW, which has implemented many of the reforms already, it’s the distribution model – how they will carve up that $1.2 billion – that is at stake at this month’s COAG meeting. If past form is a guide, it’s going to be fiery.

“What I’m concerned about is that the federal government has made noises about redistributing money between states within the existing Commonwealth budget envelope,” says NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli. “And if that means they’re going to take money off NSW, then that’s war.”

Piccoli, who runs the largest school system in the country, has implemented the Gonski model in NSW, where funding for state schools is being distributed on a measured needs basis.

He rejects the argument, made frequently by the federal minister, that Australia has increased funding for years with no improvement in results.

“As the Productivity Commission report [this week] said, for that 10-year period before 2013, additional money was spent but spent in the wrong places. Gonski acknowledged that the funds had gone to the wrong places and recommended how you direct funding to the right places. Which was funding individual student need.”

He is furious about the federal government reneging on its agreement to fund schools on this basis in 2018 and beyond.

“We signed an agreement in good faith,” he says. “We made difficult decisions in NSW so that we could get money into these schools that desperately need it for their children. And if the Commonwealth think they’re going to take it away they will have to fight me for it.”

It may yet be fisticuffs, as Birmingham would not rule out NSW losing out.   He says he wants to replace the 27 different funding models with a simpler and fairer one for all states, and that future funding would be distributed according to need.

“Public school students receive significantly more total government funding per student than what goes to private school students,” he says. “On average, total government funding for a student going to a public school is over $16,000 per year, while the government support for a student attending a non-government school is $9300 – more than 40 per cent less.”

Labor’s line that there are $29 billion in cuts to education is not true, he says.

“There are no cuts to school funding and total school funding across Australia will grow from $16 billion in 2016 to $20.1 billion in 2020 and we will be working to ensure that funding is increased each year so that schools currently delivering valuable programs can continue to do so.”

Birmingham would not comment on Boston’s concern about the fairness of millions in public money going to the wealthiest schools in the country.

“I agree with Dr Boston where he says that Bill Shorten running around the country in 2013, signing premiers, bishops and the various education lobbies up to 27 different funding deals was a ‘corruption of the Gonski report’,” he says. “The Turnbull government is determined to right this corruption of the Gonski report and replace the patchwork quilt that Labor cobbled together with a new, simpler distribution model where special deals don’t distort real need.”

But if a state such as South Australia is to get “more” of the $1.2 billion under the new system, as Birmingham told an audience at the University of South Australia in June, even if you had a lousy STEM teacher in primary school, it is not difficult to conclude that other states will get less.

Boston’s solution to this infernal mess is, in fact, not to spend any more money. But it’s still unlikely as it involves what has so far been political kryptonite: taking public money from wealthy schools.

“The solution to Australia’s education problem is not pouring more public money into education, but redistributing the existing funding strategically, to address the things that matter in the schools that need it,” he saidin his speech.

“Far too much is spent in wealthy, independent schools where recurrent funding can be used to service loans on capital works, not necessarily to provide a better education, but to provide facilities to make the school more attractive than its other high fee-paying competitors.”

Gonski’s plan may well be dead, or at least on life support as long as federal Labor is behind it.

But in the incremental improvements that practical politics permits – it is after all, the art of the possible – Gonski’s legacy may at least be a shift to both sides recognising the wisdom of needs-based funding. Even if they can’t agree on who needs it.

Politically expedient solution of banning donation misses the most rational option – caps

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says a parliamentary committee should consider donations reform. Photo: Sanghee LiuThe rush to find a politically expedient solution to the current donations furore could potentially kill off any meaningful reform before it even begins, constitutional experts have warned.

With Sam Dastyari’s fall from the Opposition frontbench came a spotlight on the broader donations system and from there, the political consensus has divided, with Coalition figures expressing support for restricting donations to those on the electoral roll – ruling out entities such as trade unions and big businesses – while Labor is pushing for an end to foreign donations.

But constitutional law experts argue that both options, while potentially constitutionally loaded, miss the most “rational approach” – capping donations and political party expenditure to remove any concerns about the funding source.

The High Court struck down a NSW attempt to limit donations to people on the electoral roll in 2013, raising immediate concerns that the solution Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been touting is potentially invalid.

But not impossible – Professor of Law and Politics at the University of Queensland Graeme Orr said the 2013 decision needed to be considered in its context, which included NSW’s donation cap.

“The High Court reasoned that if you are going to limit all donations to $5000 – what is the pressing need to ban permanent residents, trade unions, small companies, even I guess Australian citizens overseas who may have fallen off the roll,” he said.

But he said any restrictions would be examined by the High Court from the point of the principle of the law.

“And the principle has to balance three things – liberty to participate in politics, equality- it would have to be fair – and concerns about integrity,” he said.

Which, Professor Orr said, would raise concerns with restricting donations to the electoral roll, as, from a fairness point, organisations like not-for-profit groups and unions would be banned, but wealthy individuals who can donate as much as an entity, would be free to give as much as they liked – hampering, in the current political climate, one side of politics.

Canada has done it, with their model banning anyone but citizens and permanent residents from donating. But while banning foreign donations brings its own issues. The Sydney-based, Chinese institute at the heart of the Senator Dastyari affair had an Australian ABN, potentially ruling it out as “foreign”. And while it has been argued that two-thirds of the world’s nations have banned foreign donations, Professor Orr said that was a “false factoid”, because it included nations like France, which only banned donations from foreign nations and political parties.

But any solution would need to be independently and thoroughly examined, Professor Orr said, to ensure proper reform, a point the Dean of the University of NSW’s Law Facility, Professor George Williams, echoed.

“The [previous] attempts [at reform] have failed not because of the legal constraints, but because of a lack of political will,” Professor Williams said.

“This can be done, the legal impediments can be overcome, a good rival model can be produced that is safe and consistent with the constitution, which also achieves the community desire to free our politics of the undue influence of these donations and getting there now is a question of politics and leadership.

“And I think that is the main point really – that we just need to work through this in an appropriate, deliberate way.

“I think some sort of independent process to assess it is the right thing to do and we’ll see if our political leaders have the courage of their convictions to fix what is a very significant problem for our democracy.”

Which, he said, meant examining a “good and straightforward solution . . . [and] cap all donations from whatever source to a low enough level to mitigate against any one donor having an undue influence”.

“The approach the Prime Minister and others have suggested has very significant policy and popular appeal, but I think it is fraught with danger, given recent High Court decisions,” Professor Williams said.

“And a more prudent course would be to adopt a different approach, capping all donations to a low level because that is both likely to achieve the desired outcome, while also surviving muster in the High Court.

“What you also need to do is cap expenditure by parties as NSW has done. That’s important because it takes the heat out of the system by removing the need to raise large sums of money.”

Differences in jurisdictionsQueensland – $1000 declaration threshold, disclosed twice a year.  Committed to introducing real-time donations by February.NSW – $1000 declaration threshold, disclosed once a year.  Caps on donations per candidate and party expenditure.  Donations from developers, gambling, liquor and tobacco companies banned.Victoria –  No state disclosure. Donations over $13,000 are made under federal legislation.  Gambling and associated entity donations restricted to $50,000.SA – $5000 declaration threshold, disclosed once a year.WA – $2300 declaration threshold, disclosed once a year.Tas – No state disclosure.  Donations over $13,000 are made under federal legislation.Federal – $13,000 indexed declaration threshold, disclosed once a year.

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Cricket: Weston Creek Molonglo’s Joe Slater scores Sydney Thunder rookie deal

Fast bowler Joe Slater, with Beau Casson, has won a rookie contract with the Sydney Thunder. Photo: Sydney ThunderYou could forgive Weston Creek Molonglo fast bowler Joe Slater for struggling in his school exam on Friday afternoon.

His mind was likely racing having just won a rookie contract with the Sydney Thunder.

Slater was the pick of the bunch as 15 young hopefuls put their hand up for a spot with the reigning Big Bash League champions.

Wagga Wagga’s 15-year-old leg spinner Rachel Trenaman became the club’s first female regional rookie search winner.

Slater trialled last year when his former teammate Mac Wright won the Thunder rookie contract that catapulted him into Tasmania’s ranks.

“I guess [last year] prepared me for the experience,” Slater said.

“I think that helps with anything if you’ve been through it already you can prepare a lot easier.

“Obviously there is a heap of experience up there and some great talent, and you have plenty of people to learn from. That’s the main thing that I’m going to try and get out of this, is learn as much as I can.”

Thunder general manager Nick Cummins said Weston Creek Molonglo “must be doing something right” with Slater showing a marked improvement over the past 12 months.

“I asked [Slater] if he’d grown, he doesn’t know but he’s definitely a bit stronger and a bit faster than last year so he’s got some real potential,” Cummins said.

“I think he’s got a bit of Nathan Coulter-Nile about him with the way he bowls and his build. [He’s] very powerful and he’s still growing I think.”

The Thunder brought rain for the second year running, so the hopefuls headed to Kaleen’s indoor centre where the nets were divided into three facets of the game – bowling, power hitting and stroke playing.

Trenaman said “lots of questions will be asked” when she heads into camp in the lead-up to the Thunder’s WBBL title defence.

“[I’m] just gobsmacked and honoured and privileged,” Trenaman said.

“Just being around the whole environment and captain Alex Blackwell, I think it will be an awesome experience.”

Cummins said the pair will arrive in camp at the same time as the rest of the squad as the club coaches prepare to take a “disparate group of people and make it a team”.

“By dropping them right in the middle of that they get to see how you go about preparing for a tournament,” he said.

“I think one of the biggest challenges for young cricketers coming through, it’s not really the skill side it’s actually understanding what it takes to perform at the elite level.

“For Joe bowling next to Clint McKay or for Rachel bowling with Stafanie Taylor or Maisy Gibson, she’ll see what level and extent of preparation they go to. Then they usually take that back into their career and then they take the next step.”

While Trenaman secured the coveted rookie contract, Ginninderra’s Jess Howard has also been given an opportunity to train with the club.

Former paramedic Steve McDowell blocked from NSW Ambulance Facebook page after RUOK comment

Former paramedic Steve McDowell was blocked from NSW Ambulance Facebook page after criticising the organisation Photo: Dallas KilponenNSW Ambulance has hidden from public view Facebook comments by a former paramedic who wrote back to a woman’s concerning comment on an RUOK post and criticised his old employer’s response to the cry for help.

“It’s OK, not to be OK”, read NSW Ambulance’s Facebook page on Thursday.

The post included the an image of a paramedic dissolving behind the words “The community thinks you’re super heroes … but we know you’re human too”.

One reply stood out: “Today, I am not ok,” wrote one woman who Fairfax Media has decided not to name.

Former paramedic Steve McDowell responded, asking the woman: “Can I help at all?”

The pair continued to converse. Steve told the woman to “be kind” to herself and pointed her to his facebook page, “No More Neglect” a support group where paramedics share stories and raise issues about their employee.

His comments were also critical of NSW Ambulance, suggesting the organisation did not support its staff.

NSW Ambulance responded to the woman’s post two hours later, suggesting she reach out to staff support if she was a staff member or phone Triple Zero. The post also included the contact number for Lifeline.

Mr McDowell replied “Awesome effort NSWA it only took you two hours”.

His posts were subsequently hidden from public view. Posts by other Facebook users asking why Mr McDowell’s posted had been removed were also hidden. He was then blocked from accessing the Facebook page.

“It’s outrageous,” Mr McDowell said.

“I tried to help a member of the public who said she was not okay and two hours later I’d been blocked,” he said.

“It goes against everything they say they are trying to do: be transparent, telling paramedics they’re here for them. Then as soon as they’re challenged they delete,” he said.

Mr McDowell – who was medically discharged in January with post traumatic stress disorder – has been an outspoken critic of NSW Ambulance’s treatment of staff who have struggled with mental health issues.

Director of Marketing and Media at NSW Ambulance, Kristie Carter said “Steve McDowell was not blocked because he was critical of NSW Ambulance, but rather because he was critical of a response to someone in need.”

“We’d hate someone to feel like their personal issue that they’d been brave enough to raise publicly was overshadowed by any other agenda,” Ms Carter said.

NSW Ambulance said no comments had been removed, “however in line with our site administrator guidelines, some comments have been hidden from public view due to the personal distressing or concerns nature of their content”.

The woman removed her comments on Friday, which in turn removed the entire conversation train, they said.

NSW Ambulance said the purpose of the Facebook page was for engaging with the community, and “specific concerns, complaints and issues should not be published on this page”.

Child dresses as Hitler in Alice Springs as visiting Jewish student look on

Daniel Johnstone says reaction to this photo highlights how people are prepared to laugh at one issue – drugs – but get wound up by children dressed in “blackface.” Photo: Facebook/Daniel Johnstone ALast moth a Perth mothyer painted her son’s skin black for a Book Week parade because he had wanted to look like footballer Nic Naitanui

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler Photo: Supplied

A child at an Alice Springs private school has dressed up as Adolf Hitler for Book Week while visiting Jewish students from a college in Melbourne looked on.

It comes after social media went into meltdown after a Perth boy donned “blackface” last month to emulate his hero – AFL superstar Nic Naitanui.

Then only a couple of days later, a Perth dad was condemned for painting his son’s face and nose white to look like fallen ex-Eagle Ben Cousins.

The student at St Philip’s College in the red centre apparently got permission from his teacher to dress up like the Fuehrer at the school assembly for Book Week according to the ABC Alice Springs.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the student was awarded one of the “best dressed”. And the cringe factor gets worse, as the assembly was full of Jewish exchange students from Bialik College in Melbourne.

It’s not the first time a student has dressed up as the former Nazi leader and won an award. In 2010, a Catholic primary school principal in Perth apologised to parents after a student dressed as Adolf Hitler won first place in class on a school dress-up day.

St Philip’s College put out a statement saying it was an “innocent mistake”.

The statement said the student had an interest in politics and history and got permission for his book week costume.

“This was an innocent mistake by a teacher who is a respected, honourable and lovely person who got it wrong on the day,” the statement on the school’s website said.

“The school apologises unreservedly to everyone for any offence that has been caused. We have been in touch with the principal of the visiting students who were present on the day and they have accepted our apology.”

The college said it was reviewing its policies so something like this wouldn’t happen again.

“The school is providing support and assistance to the teacher, the student, and their family,” the statement said.

“It has been a very distressing lesson for all concerned.”

Bialik College principal Jeremy Stowe-Lindner told the ABC it was an “unfortunate incident.

“I understand that no malice was intended and I guess the coincidence of Jewish children visiting from Melbourne is a learning opportunity for the community, and that the principal assures me this is number one priority,” he said.

The chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission Dvir Abramovich said he was “shocked” by the level of ignorance shown.

He is calling for mandatory Holocaust education in schools across Australia after the incident.

“Clearly, this offensive and ill-judged incident is a wake up call that we all have much work to do in ensuring that all students understand the evils of the Holocaust, and what Hitler represents, not only to the Jewish community, but to all the victims, the survivors and to those Australian soldiers who fought to defeat the Third Reich,” he said in a statement.

“This student, who displayed such disturbing insensitivity by choosing to dress up as Hitler, a brutal tyrant who symbolises unbridled hate and genocide, and the teacher who awarded him the prize, must be taught about the results of Hitler’s demonic plan to symmetrically exterminate the Jewish people and the enormous suffering he caused.”

The Perth mother who dressed her son as Naitanui said last month she expected to get some backlash from the political correct brigade, but she dressed him up anyway.

She boasted that he “looked fanf—ingtastic” and described the moment as a “parenting win”.

The photo of the boy sparked widespread condemnation on social media and a call for education from injured Eagles superstar Naitanui, who later volunteered to meet with the young boy.

The mother posted the photo on popular Perth blogger Constance Hall’s Facebook page, who deleted the picture because she didn’t agree with the use of “blackface”.

Ms Hall, who has over 880,00 followers, received deaths threats then overwhelming support on social media after she posted a picture of herself crying because of the venomous attacks.

“I got dressed. I didn’t think I could.  But I checked out of the hotel and I was hugged in the lobby by a beautiful woman, I cried again but it was such a relief.

“So I want you to know that all of these messages and supportive comments have reached me.

“So far in the last hour I have been hugged by three strangers in Freo. I feel like those hugs are coming from all of you, you have reached me. You’ll never know how much you mean to me.

“Thank you so much.”

Perth dad Daniel Johnstone who painted his son “whiteface” to look like Cousins said the fact he received no backlash on social media highlighted why society might laugh at drug problems but react differently to racial issues like Naitanui “blackface” controversy.

“I think it’s quite damning to Australians that 20,000 people thought it [the Cousins photo] was funny and everyone was jumping on the Nic Nat kid,” he said.

” I think there is a bit of double-standard in society with political correctness.

“Anything to do with drug use is hilarious but everyone is quick to jump on a kid painting himself black, which was quite innocent.” Follow WAtoday on Twitter

On the trail of Garrett Cotter

Canberra author Richard Begbie. Photo: Karleen MinneyCOTTER: A Novel. By Richard Begbie. Longhand Press. 365pp. $28.00

When Garrett Cotter was born in 1802 in County Cork, Ireland, the only settled part of the Australian continent was the small town huddled around Sydney Cove. This illiterate ploughman was transported to Australia in 1822. When he died in 1886 the Commonwealth of Australia was only 15 years away and eventually a National Capital would grow up near where he had lived, with a river named after him.

I asked my grandchildren what the word “Cotter” meant to them. They mentioned camping, and a picnic spot and bushwalking. This is the story of the man who gave his name to that river and the great dam that now controls it.

Years ago author and local farmer Richard Begbie was inspired to research the life of Garrett Cotter. He recorded the known facts in an article which appeared in the Canberra Times (October 12, 2013) Cotter was typical of the Irish peasant farmers of the 19 th century, oppressed by English penal laws, and consigned to poverty. In desperation such men turned to rebel gangs known as “Whiteboys”. The dramatic story of Cotter and two mates who tried to force the issue by confronting their oppressor, is vividly told in the first chapters. They were arrested and condemned under the blanket charge of “whiteboyism”, part of a group of men sentenced to the gallows.

The Irish newspapers record a full and dramatic account of the court case. But the sentence for Cotter and others was commutated to transportation for life to NSW.

The author has followed the trail of Garrett Cotter from Ireland to the Monaro but has to resort to a fictional approach when factual details have faded out. I found his imagined description of what the convict experience was like to be very convincing. Cotter was a hard worker and was given an excellent reference for his work with John Warby at Campbelltown and then Francis Kenny who settled on the shore of Lake George.

The other remarkable aspect of Cotter’s life was his friendship with an aboriginal leader named Onyong, spelt in various ways. This is an absorbing tale of mateship and mutual respect across the racial barrier. In a prolonged drought Onyong led Cotter to fresh pasture across the Murrumbidgee. Later, after an altercation with one Donald McKay, Cotter was banished “beyond the limits of location” for 4 years. But, as sometimes happened in the stories of the convicts, what seemed like a drastic punishment turned out to be a new opportunity. His later years were spent at Michelago where he lived with his wife and children. He died in 1886.

The author has painstakingly pieced together a factual outline of the events of Cotter’s life and then has woven an intriguing story around that outline. It has all the informality of a campfire yarn, written by someone who knows the “Cotter country” well. As I read the story I reflected that when Cotter died the absorbing details of his life died with him. There was no Oral History unit then but this fine novel helps us to relive a priceless part of our heritage.

Today Cotter’s name on the map and his one known photograph, together with the metal breastplate given to Onyong, (spelt Hong Gong), are evocative survivals of a story which also lives on in the memories of their families. At the book launch of Cotter at the National Library descendants of both Garrett Cotter and Onyong were present, so that the acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land was no mere formality.

Robert Willson is a Canberra reviewer.

The wellbeing cost of mental health hits $200 billion

xx Photo: Fiona-Lee Quimby The index of Australian wellbeing author Nicholas Gruen. Photo: Daniel Munoz

The cost of mental illness to Australia’s wellbeing has hit $200 billion a year – equivalent to about 12 per cent of the economy’s annual output.

The Herald-Lateral Economics Index of Australia’s Wellbeing – which provides a better measure of changes in national welfare than traditional economic data – shows the drag on our collective wellbeing caused by mental illness is worth $40 billion more than a decade ago.

The index’s author, Dr Nicholas Gruen, who is also the Chair of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, said mental illness is “under-appreciated” as an economic problem.

“We’re not good at dealing with mental illness, and political debate rarely rises above advocacy for more funding – often for professionals,” he said.

“We need to confront our ignorance and build a learning system that systematically experiments to find solutions based on sound evidence that communities can embrace.”

About one in five adults experience mental illness in any year which makes it a major drag on Australia’s collective wellbeing. Traditional economic measures only pick up some of the financial impact of mental illness, such as days off work. But those with poor mental health tend to report much lower levels of wellbeing than average and the index puts a dollar figure on these major non-economic effects.

In 2005-06 the index put the wellbeing cost of mental illness at $159.7 billion but that had climbed to $203.1 billion by last financial year. The drag on wellbeing caused by mental illness was $52 billion in the June quarter alone.

The rising rate of obesity is another major drag on welfare. The index shows the annual wellbeing cost of obesity reached $122.5 billion last financial year. Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of obesity and drag on wellbeing caused by obesity measure has been growing more quickly than any other index component.

Despite the negative effects of mental illness and obesity rates, the wellbeing index overall rose by 2.5 per cent in the June quarter.

Letters to the Editor: Saturday, September 10, 2016

THE issue of governments purchasing a fleet of new trains from overseas instead offrom local manufacturers needs our attention.

Instead of assuming that the quoted price from overseas will be the real cost to us, wemust consider that to build them will take thousands of man-years of labour that Australians could supply right here.

To build them overseas costs many local jobs.One should therefore take the quoted cost of these trains as imports and add the costof thousands of man-years on the dole, thousands of man-years of lost income tax andthe multiplier effect of all the wages put in the local economy.

If this was done, localmanufacturers would win the contract for these trains hands down. Why was this notdone?

That our politicians and their advisors appear not to understand this doesnothing to support their credibility in my view.

Hank Willems, Merewether ALL ABOARD: Letter writer Hank Willems, of Merewether, says that we shouldn’t underestimate the costs of building trains in other countries.

HEARTY THANKS TO ALLI WAS shoppingwith my 18-month-old daughter, Poppy, at Westfield Kotara the Thursday before last.

My daughter started having an anaphylactic shock to some antibiotic medication she had been put on.

I went in to the Scott Dibben Chemistat first to see why they thought my daughter’s eye was swollen.

The staff in there, in particular Christie, were so helpful.

However it started to get worse and my daughter was getting a rash all over her body.Her lips started swelling rapidly on the way out to my car, so I raced in to the Kotara Family Practice clinic there at the shopping centre.A doctor there, Charlie Piao,was just leaving to go home. He immediately asked his fabulous receptionist, Ash’ey Bunn, to call an ambulance.

Dr Piao then took Poppy and I into the triage section of the clinic where he administered adrenaline and steroids to Poppy as her airways were closing up in front of us!

His quick actions saved Poppy’s life.

We were then taken to the John Hunter Emergency paediatric ward by friendly paramedics Paul and Genevieve.

Poppy was monitored the rest of the night. Prior to arrival, the ambulance even called in to my house where they turned my oven off! Nothing was too much trouble.

I am originally from England and wanted to say that my first dealings with NSW Health was outstanding.

We are so incredibly grateful to all of the staff that helped with our terrifying ordeal and just wanted to publicly acknowledge their fabulous skills.

Louisa Sparke,Adamstown HeightsSUBSIDIES, WHAT SUBSIDIES?MARK Ellis (“Selective subsidies” Letters 8/9)implies that “government assistance”provided tomining companies by G20 countries by way of subsidies is happening here in NSW.

The truth is that the NSW mining industry does not receive any significant government assistance.

In its annual Trade and Assistance Review released in July 2016, the Productivity Commission found the effective rate of government assistance to the mining industry in Australia is “negligible”. This has been the Commission’s finding for many years, and has been echoed by the Commonwealth Treasury.Similarly, the former head of the NSW Treasury, Michael Schur conducted a detailed examination of the level of subsidies claimed to be received by mining from state governments, and found almost all of the subsidies claimed simply did not exist.

However in the last financial year, the mining sector did pay around $1.4 billion in royalties and taxes to the NSW Government, assisting with the cost of providing teachers, nurses and police for the people of NSW.

Stephen GalileeCEO, NSW Minerals CouncilSPREAD THE WORD ON ABUSEI AGREE with Andrew McElroy (“Royal commission needs national spotlight” Letters6/9 ): the Newcastle hearings of theRoyal Commission into childdeserved national spotlight.

The 154 Marist Brothers included on a list of suspected and confirmed abusers presented at the hearings this weekneeds wider coverage.These abusers were often transferred and worked in schools not only in NSW but Queensland, Victoria and the ACT. The indicators suggest that abuse continued after moves and new victims were found for these deviants to prey upon.

The actual individual complaints made from possible victims was not made clear. These abusers rarely had just the one victim. Some had as many as 10, or even more.

The brave disclosures of the Newcastle/Maitland victims and their families may well have encouraged others outside of our region who still suffer in silence to come forward if appropriate coverage occurred.

Louise Turner,Adamstown HeightsGUARDED RESPONSEDESPITE Commissioner Peter Severin’s defence of Corrective Services NSW new policies for education and training (“Educating inmates”,Letters8/7),I find it difficult to accept that the educational outcomes for inmates will improve.

The shift to privatising education in prisons will have serious consequences for the quality of training offered.

The “training organisations” in which he places much hope do not have the same standards for their staff, who do not have to be teachers who can satisfy the requirements for teacher registration in NSW.

Both state and federal governments have discovered that the privatisation of community vocational education, as well as emasculating the TAFE system, has resulted in training being done by businesses that cannot deliver results, and which have squandered millions of taxpayer funds.

Commissioner Severin did not quote the Tasmanian experience that establishment of better support services and more innovative projects have engaged prisoners.

Even a community garden in prison has had positive outcomes in raising inmate self confidence.

According to the CSNSW website, fact sheet number eight states that after sacking all the existing teachers in prisons “roles in the new structure will be a little over half the current number.”How can this “reform” improve the quality of educational outcomes?

Doug Hewitt,HamiltonLETTER OF THE WEEKThe Newcastle Herald pen goes to the grateful Louisa Sparke, of Adamstown Heights, for today’s“Hearty thanks to all”.

Man admits to rape of 12-year-old girl he met on Facebook

A Newcastle man has offeredno explanation for his actions during sentencingfor the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl he met over Facebook last year.

The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, denied he had done anything more than hug the victim and kiss her on the cheek –until shebecame pregnant and had a miscarriage.

The 19-year-oldpleaded guilty to four charges of sexual intercourse with a child between the ages of 10 and 14 after DNA testsidentifiedhim as the father of the child.

Herepresented himself in Newcastle District Court, even though he wasurged by the judge and Crown prosecutor to allow aLegal Aid solicitor to represent him.

He was warned he was facing a lengthy jail sentence for the offences, which carrya maximum penalty of 16 years imprisonment.

But the man, who has already spent the past nine months in custody over the charges, said“I don’t want no legal representative because then they have to adjourn it for another year”.

According to police facts tendered to the court, the man told police he originallysought the girl out on Facebook because he had wanted to “bash her ex-boyfriend”.

Over the course of severalconversations the pair began“dating” and the victim allowed the offender to visit her family home.

Howeverthe prosecution argued the victim showed “immaturity”and “naivety”by asking what the offender meant when he laid her down and told her “don’tworry about what isgoing to happen” before having intercourse with her.

He assaulted her another two times that night, even though the victim’s mother made him sleep on a sofa bed in another room.

The offender alsotook the victim’s mobile phone offher when she told two friends what had happened.

He was on parole for aggravated robbery at the time of the offences and theprosecution arguedhe should not be shown leniency because of his extensive criminal history and lack of remorse.

However he will get a discount for his guilty plea when sentenced on September 21.

David Morrow to take a break from NRL commentating for Savoureux in the Sheraco Stakes

Jockey Samantha Clenton rides Savoureux to win The Cellarbrations Handicap in January. Photo: bradleyphotos杭州m.auFor David Morrow work comes first as rugby league reaches the pointy end of the season, so he will have to watch talented mare Savoureux on television in the Sheraco Stakes on Saturday.

The commentator has a love of racing and owns a number of horses, but can’t get to the track during the NRL season and watches from the studio.

It will mean 2GB listeners can expect a commercial break about 4.30pm in the build-up to the NRL semi-final between the Raiders and Sharks, which Marrow will call, so he and his mates can cheer home the mare like they did earlier in the season when she won the Wenona Girl Stakes, at group 3 level.

“I have wanted to have a horse win a group race at Randwick all my life and I ended up watching it on my phone at Campbelltown just before they ran on,” Morrow said. “It seems like every time she runs in one of these races it is late in the day and I’m working but it is good to have a mare like her to run in them.

“We cheered her home that day, I think Piggy [Mark Riddell] backed her because I told him I thought she could win and we will hopefully do it again [on Saturday].”

Morrow takes a share in Joe O’Neill’s Prime Thoroughbreds syndicates every year and Savoureux is the best in the bunch. She is a winner of six of her 18 starts, including a couple at black type level.

“I have been mates with Joe for a long time, we go back to the Waverley cricket days and it makes even more fun,” Morrow said. “He finds good horses at a good price and we have had a bit of success together.”

Savoureux is prepared by Kris Lees and she is targeting the group sprints for mares over the spring, and after her third behind His Majesty on August 13 there is a bit of confident she could produce another effort like the Wenona Girl.

“Kris thought she was a stayer as a young horse but he has worked her out and she sprints and goes best with her runs spaced,” Morrow said.

“The run before the Wenona Girl she ran home sectionals better than Winx and her first-up run was just as good as that.

“Joe and Kris have got Hugh Bowman on her, so we have a bit in our favour. I think she is up to running a good race again and we might look to some in Melbourne later in the spring.”