August 21, 2006

Queensland turns to trivial pursuits

The media has got it in for Bruce Flegg.

Today he announced that English would be made a compulsory subject for all Queensland secondary school students. This was in the context of the federal government's decision to make Australian history compulsory for years nine and ten. I'm shocked. I thought English was compulsory.

But that wasn't the story that the media carried. One journalist asked Flegg who Brisbane was named after. He didn't know. For the record, the answer is Sir Thomas Brisbane. As a matter of full disclosure I should say that I thought it was someone called Lord Brisbane. Both Flegg and I were wrong. So I suspect would be the majority of Queenslanders, as well as the press corp, but it looks like instead of trying their hands at serious political analysis my journalistic colleagues are just looking to create the Flegg gaffe of the day and file that as their story. It's a bit of a gimme, but ultimately sells journalism and the voters short.

While we're on the trivial, all campaigns seem to have run out of puff. Peter Beattie's headline promise today was $52 million over five years to boost equipment and training for emergency services volunteers. The details as to how this will be spent are sketchy, suggesting that no-one has any idea. There's talk of building cyclone shelters, which is then qualified by saying they might be incorporated into new buildings. They have to be capable of withstanding winds of 306 kilometres per hour, so they're going to be expensive. Given that the number potentially affected by severe cyclones has to be in the hundreds of thousands is $52 million going to be enough? As far as I can tell, no-one asked that question.

Lawrence Springborg's promise was to reimburse employers the Workcover payments that they incur for employing apprentices, which the Coalition expects to increase apprentice numbers from 78,800 to 83,000. This hardly seems likely given that workcover payments, depending on the size of your business, are somewhere in the region of 1% percent. The problems with apprenticeships are structural - employers pay them a full-time wage only to have them away studying regularly. Again, I didn't hear any hard questions.

Maybe politics has always been like this. Afterall, John Hewson never did live down an inability to say how much GST would be paid on a freshly baked cake. Or maybe all politics is just reality TV and Bruce Flegg has become the weakest link.

Posted by Graham at August 21, 2006 07:46 PM

Beattie's done a backflip on compulsory history. It's coming to Queensland now, despite Welford's strong objections. I hope he's boned up on his explorers!

Posted by: Mark Bahnisch at August 23, 2006 09:23 AM

Certainly a stunt. Probably just as well he fluffed the answer to the question - took all the attention, and I'm told that most talk-back radio callers this morning were sympathetic to him.

Posted by: Graham Young at August 22, 2006 10:45 PM

From what the Education Minister said today, it seems that over 98% of senior students do English. Though it’s not “compulsory”, as there are no compulsory subjects, apparently schools encourage everyone bar special ed students to do it. So the literacy argument from Flegg is still a stunt and a furphy.

Posted by: Mark Bahnisch at August 22, 2006 08:20 PM

There are no compulsory subjects in Years 11 & 12. But the vast majority of students do study English.

Posted by: wpd at August 22, 2006 01:00 PM

I missed that on the coverage. Of course English is compulsory. The media should have run with that - arguably it's a bigger blunder than the Sir Thomas Brisbane thing.

Posted by: Kim at August 22, 2006 02:23 AM


Posted by: Mark Bahnisch at August 22, 2006 01:37 AM

I did yell at the tv "Sir Thomas Brisbane"! My flatmate can confirm it. You're probably right, Graham, but Flegg has run his race so far in such a manner that the obvious media angle is "Flegg's stuff up of the day", which you're quite correct to say they're running with.

To switch to policy, the problem with apprenticeships is not so much on the demand side (employers not creating enough vacancies) but on the supply side - ie many young people not wanting to do them. There are a range of factors driving that, which indeed need to be addressed, but the complexities don't lend themselves to a simplistic policy announcement.

I don't doubt, though, that Beattie's cyclone stuff is poll driven and conjured out of the air rather than being based on hard policy work either.

Posted by: Mark Bahnisch at August 21, 2006 11:28 PM

If Flegg or his advisors had been 'on the ball', he should have reacted much better than he did. After all, Julie Bishop, didn't know that Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth were the first Europeans to cross the Blue Mountains.

The whole debate is pureile. History is much more than 'dates' and 'facts': surely?

Posted by: wpd at August 21, 2006 10:19 PM
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Graham Young
John Black
Mark Bahnisch
Michael Lee