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Lawyers, Guns and Cory Bernardi

Cory Bernardi is a funny guy. A very funny guy. He’s likeable in a down-homey kinda way that reminds you of country town museums or Chiko rolls – both things that reflect the Australia that used to be, not the Australia we know today.

While we know what the news tells us about young Cory, he tends to have a few skeletons in the closet he’d rather us not know about. I guess it’s like the nasty secrets in a country town museum or even worse, the secrets inside a Chiko Roll.

Since at least 2012, Bernardi has been the Australian representative to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is funded by big business (corporate members) and consists of politicians (nearly all Republican), business representatives and ‘Task Force’ members who work on special projects. Young Corey is one of these.

The membership, activities and communications of ALEC are secret and closely guarded, yet a couple of US journos have managed to infiltrate the membership base – no doubt to Bernardi’s horror. The public interest group ‘Common Cause’ has also won legal battles to reveal members, yet the activities and plans of ALEC are strictly confidential. Hard to know, easy to guess.

At ALEC we see big business working alongside politicians to help draft laws that will benefit them. The ultra-conservative ‘Lawyers for Civil Justice’ are members and a terrific help here. Corporate members include tobacco, oil and pharmaceutical companies. It also includes the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA uses ALEC to get laws passed that benefit weapon manufacturers and the NRA agenda. Reducing the restrictions on gun ownership and fostering the ability to bear weapons in ‘open carry’ is typical NRA conversation. If the NRA had their way, every high school student would carry a gun. So would every teacher.

This isn’t covert stuff, but widely known in American political circles. Businesses like Glaxo Smith Kline, Exxon Mobil and News Corp all belong to and use ALEC to the max to foster their business aims. Don’t believe me? The full list of all members can be found HERE.

Interestingly, big companies like Amazon, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and McDonald’s and are all ex members who were either barred due to their beliefs or voluntarily withdrew their membership and support. Some ex members like the grain exporting giant Cargill deny ever having been a member. Evidently it’s just bad PR.

Yet young Cory jets off every year to strut his stuff on the ALEC stage, support the NRA killing machine and bring back wonderful ideas on how Australia can be more like America. He’ll jet off in July to the next ALEC AGM and come back with lots of good stuff there’s no doubt. Gun ownership will be high on his list as will conservative civil law reform. It will be the lawyers, guns and Cory Bernardi show! As Warren Zevon said in his 1978 hit ‘Bring lawyers, guns and money’, … “Get me outa here!”

Why both sides of politics has let this human firecracker even get on a plane let alone represent Australia at one of the biggest conservative talk fests in the world is the question we should be asking. What’s worse is that we the taxpayer pay for this jaunt.

So Cory, one of your skeletons is out of the closet and I guess there’s more to come. After the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012 I tried to get some Aussie journos interested in your little hobby and a couple were. I think a few more will be now.

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The 2016 HSC: Time for the digital exam

This is a 2016 update of the piece that first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on June 6, 2011.

In October each year, tens of thousands of teenagers from across NSW sit their first exam of the Higher School Certificate (HSC). After 12 years of formal education and sometimes umpteen hours of private coaching, they will raise their pens and begin the frantic, anxious scrawl that for 50 years has epitomised this rite of passage. As an ex-teacher, I supervised this herd anxiety many times. Thankfully now non-teaching supervisors do the job. It’s horrible to watch.

In 1967, when the first HSC examination was held, students filed solemnly into school halls or double classrooms to write rushed pen-scribbled essays in paper booklets. Their wrists ached from gripping the pen and the booklets were often smudged with sweat. These booklets were then sent to HSC marking centres where markers, teachers who wanted extra cash and supposedly knew their stuff, worked hard and long to read the scrawl and assess whether students had addressed the syllabus. That prehistoric system has clearly changed dramatically in our digital age. Not!

In 2016, students will still file solemnly into school halls or double classrooms. They will still rush their essays using pen and paper booklets. Their wrists will still ache. Their papers will be taken to marking centers, where informed (or not) teachers wanting extra cash will mark to standardised guidelines. Possibly the only difference is that the essay scribble this October will be far less legible due to this generation who’ve been taught to use technology rather than pen and paper. I pity the markers. hsc-stress

In 2016 again, the Board of Studies has given millions of dollars to the advancement of STEM subjects in NSW schools. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. I guess hundreds of years ago, pens and pencils may have been a terrific STEM concept.

Today’s students from the age of three have sculpted their lives around their computers and the websites that frame their social experience. Their school life has revolved around the typing and digital editing of projects.  Often assignments must be submitted electronically through plagiarism programs like ‘Turn it in’ before any hard-copy is given to the teacher. Compulsory technology subjects have been allocated time in the curriculum to prepare them for the world of work or further study where absolutely everything has to be digitally generated.

Why then, after so much technology focus, are these teenagers forced to use pen and paper to get the best marks in a test that largely decides their future? Surely the writing of an impressive essay on Othello requires word processing and editing, a skill taught to these students throughout their school years? School principals are asking the same question. Students are asking the question very loudly indeed.

The NSW Board of Studies however states that “the HSC is a hand-written examination”. Not even students with hand injuries are allowed a computer in case they gain “unfair advantage” over those scribbling with pen.

Yet according to Board of Studies data, some students receive special provision in HSC exams that could well be construed as ‘unfair advantage’. In 2009 for example, 41.7 per cent of HSC candidates from a Sydney Rudolf Steiner school received special provisions largely due to anxiety.  These provisions can mean extra time given as periods of rest in an exam, or a writer to actually write dictated material. The difference between fair and unfair advantage can hang on a drop of sweat.

No-one doubts that the introduction of laptops into the HSC has issues. All web-based research by a candidate needs to be blocked. Keyboards can be noisy and this could disturb others (yet many students find the hush of an exam room very disturbing indeed). The constant back-up of entered material needs to be foolproof.

Yet compared to pen and paper issues, these problems seem small. My recent poll in the popular Facebook page HSC Discussion Group 2016 revealed that 78% of HSC students believe the exams should HSC Survey No 3be a mixture of handwritten and computer based depending on the subject. Only 7.5% believed the HSC should be all computer based while 15% wanted to stay entirely with handwriting. These figures show incredible common sense among year 12 students and a willingness to accept that some subjects do warrant the longhand approach.

The introduction of digital testing centers into universities shows that mass equitable testing is possible. Thousands of students now submit both essays and multiple choice tasks via centers equipped with ID checking and security systems.  In 2009, the Board of Studies set 2012 as a target for testing HSC software. It’s already four years late. According to a spokesman, “The pilot and testing of computer technology will happen but there’s no specific date.”

The Board of Studies, so quick to include technology in the K-12 curriculum yet so slow to actually use it, need to set a firm and realistic target so that both teachers and students know where they stand. Digitization of the HSC is inevitable; just don’t throw away your pens yet!

2016: Sex crimes & Castration

This is an updated version of the piece that first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in August 2005. In 2016, nothing has changed and sex-crime perpetrators continue to re-offend.

In 2000, Bilal and Mohammed Skaf were sentenced to a total of 79 years jail for their part in a horrifying series of gang rapes in Sydney’s western suburbs. Even with their collective 79 years imprisonment, the youngest of the Skaf brothers was nearly released in 2013. Thankfully rational law won out. The victims, who undoubtedly knew their rapists’ possible release dates all too well, would have been horrified.

In our search for a just and appropriate punishment for crimes such as domestic sexual assault, rape or child sexual abuse , we’ve opted to take the easy option. Our penal system is a system where ‘rehabilitation’ revolves around psychological counseling and where repeat offense is not unusual, but horribly common. The touchy-feely approach isn’t working.

Its time therefore to look at a different punishment and rehabilitation formula; one that will create a sense of security for the victims and a sense of security for a community obviously alert to the horror of sex crimes. We also need a formula that aims for a more tolerable after-prison experience for the perpetrators – not one dominated by public hate and lifelong humiliation.

Castration is currently the sex-crime punishment in several US states and is used as a treatment for repeat sex offenders in many European countries. The actual form of castration varies from chemical castration, where the perpetrator needs monthly injections, to surgical castration which involves removal of the testicles. In women, removal of the ovaries, uterus and possibly clitoris may be necessary.

Whatever the form, castration is a proven method of reducing not only the offender’s sexual urges, but the hormone influenced aggressive traits that produce the violent sex crimes we’ve increasingly seen in Australia. It’s clear from the statistics that violent sexual abuse is more likely committed by men.

A German study compared 100 surgically castrated sex offenders and 35 non-castrated sex offenders ten years after their release back into the community. The repeat sex-crime rate of castrated offenders was 3%, while the repeat crime rate for non-castrated offenders was an astonishing 46%. Other studies from Denmark and the Czech Republic  reveal similar results. The Danish study revealed that the few repeat sex-crimes by castrated offenders were all non-aggressive and non-violent.

In 2016 Alabama, legislation is currently being debated where perpetrators of sex crimes that target children are surgically castrated.  This would apply to both men and women. According to The Huffington Post, “The punishment would apply to both male and female offenders who at the age of 21 or older sexually victimized children age 12 or younger.” While the actual legislation is likely to be tempered, Alabama won’t stand alone in introducing surgical castration for both men and women who commit crimes against children.

There will no doubt be a cry from civil libertarians that castration in any form is barbaric and not a punishment suited to a civilized and democratic society like Australia. I would urge these individuals to also consider if giving the perpetrators a post-prison life of public hate, humiliation and harrasment is civilised. In the USA, it isn’t uncommon for sex offenders to undergo voluntary castration, knowing that they are often the mercy of urges that are virtually impossible to control. They also realise a life out of prison is far preferable to a life inside. Child-Sexual-Abuse-Lawyer-Attorney

A true civilized society sees the sociopathic behaviour of the rapist or child sexual abuser as a condition that must be dealt with on both psychological and physiological levels. Our current fixation with prison-based, touchy-feely psychological rehabilitation programs is not only costly, but clearly not providing either the victims, or the community with any sense of continued security.

A sense of security for the victims above all else is what we should be aiming for. Knowing that the perpetrator is unlikely to commit the same sort of crime on release, and be largely incapable of doing so, would give some degree of security to those who have surely suffered enough.

In 2016 we continue to hear of child sexual abuse  cases occurring over years in church operated schools and institutions. We hear of dance studios, scouting groups and even defense organisations tolerating sexual abuse. As the number of repeat offenders grows, it’s time to look at a punishment that fits the crime. While it may be inhumane to some, castration will act as a deterrent and a punishment; a punishment that will create community security and give some sense of relief to the perpetrators of these crimes.