Money before people?

Australian Parliament House rises majestically above the skyline of central Canberra. The national flag sitting atop the 4-prong spire above the pond outside the front entrance, and the lush green lawns that flank the walls up to the roof top is an image of synergy between natural and built environment. Of national pride and international inclusion. The home of our democracy, where people representing every corner of our land come together to work towards progressing our society in this ever changing world.

Falun Gong Protest

On this day in November, the lawns before Parliament House are, as is often the case, occupied by protest groups. On one side, hundreds of people kneeling on mats in perfectly aligned rows wearing bright yellow shirts indicating their support for Falun Gong. Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, is a Chinese spiritual practice in the Buddhist tradition that combines meditation with gentle exercises and a moral philosophy based on compassion, truthfulness and forbearance. Silently they sit until the small speaker on the grass plays the sound of a gong and the practitioners seamlessly move into a new hand position.

The peace and silence gives a palpable calming energy as I stand with my Protecting Childhood colleagues, Gabbie and Jonathan, and other observers, who look distinctively like political advisers or lobbyists in their suits and ties. It belies the horrifying reason for their protest. In 1999, with Falun Gong rising in followers to a number almost equalling the ruling Communist Party, the Chinese Government outlawed the religion, and began arresting them at will. Even worse, rumours abounded that they were tortured, their bodies tested and their organs harvested to fuel China’s burgeoning organ transplant trade. These rumours were proven true in 2006 when an independent international investigation found compelling evidence, including statements from Chinese doctors complicit in the operations, that this was actually happening.

Aware of the magnitude of this abhorrent abuse of human rights, we are left aghast.

“Are you a senator?”, asks one of the protest organiser of Gabbie, to our amusement. The organiser explains that they want the Australian Government to make a motion to call for China to cease the live organ harvesting trade and stop persecution of the Falun Gong on the basis of religion. They want any member of parliament to come down to the lawns and meet with them to discuss their plight. So far they had not been successful. “Could you please tell them about us when you meet them” she asked, after we explained we were there to meet Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Labor MP Milton Dick and Xenophon Team Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore to raise awareness of our own cause.

I can’t help but cringe as I recall that some members of the 45th Australian Parliament are calling for a ban on immigration of Muslims, effectively our own persecution of people based on their beliefs.

The silence is broken as one of the political advisers nearby makes a call on her mobile. “There’s 20 or 30 here,” she says, though when I look at the numbers there’s far more. It was then that I noticed she was looking to the other protest group across the lawn – a group calling for a Royal Commission into the banks. Jazz music is playing, and a middle aged man is dancing enthusiastically to the tune.

The juxtaposition of the two protests is inescapable.

One, a loud, vibrant, relaxed group calling for an investigation into alleged crimes against money; the other silent, peaceful, calling for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity.

As we made our way back up to Parliament House, the familiar flaming red hair of Senator Pauline Hanson approaches in the other direction, flanked by her controversial adviser James Ashby, and two other staffers. Could she be going to meet the Falun Gong? This would be an unexpected action for someone who has, for 20 years, operated in the political arena under the “what about us” rhetoric for, as Ms Hanson puts it, “real Australians”.

Of course she wasn’t. Stealthily she was guided behind the Falun Gong protest to avoid being noticed, and swiftly moved into the Banking Royal Commission group, shaking hands and smiling. After all, these are the “real Australians” that are her focus. People who are paying too much interest or too much in fees and feeling financial stress.

Indeed these are real issues, things that all three of us feel to varying degrees as well – myself, in a single income family with a mortgage; Gabbie, now without her teaching job that had been a rock for 16 years before she resigned last year, and Jonathan, retired and with only the income from his excellent professional development workshops for teachers on top of his pension. Here we were in Canberra out of our own pocket, giving up our own time, without any funding from lobby groups or vested interests, to advocate for the well being of Australian children.

Our economy is so dependent on our trade links with China – the country whose government allegedly is inflicting these horrific crimes against Falun Gong followers – and so their plight goes with minimal recognition by Australian parliamentarians. Money before people.

And there was Pauline Hanson, putting money before people.

Money before people.

Inside the foyer of Parliament House, the peace and serenity for the lawn gives way to raucous, echoing energy. Lobbyist groups in suits and ties, led by political advisers with their mandatory ID badges, and school groups excitedly taking in the experience of being in the home of Australian democracy.

We are excited too. Our determination to affect change in our school system for children now, their development as they grow up and become critical thinkers and contributors and innovators in our society in the decades to come will be initiated here. Within these walls, with the support of those we give the trust of our votes every 3 years, change happens.

Our excitement tempers slightly after calling Senator Hanson-Young’s office and initially being greeted with “who are you?”. Oh no! They didn’t forget our meeting did they? But no, they were simply on the hop, and the Senator was delayed but would be down as soon as possible. After a short wait, the senator’s adviser greets us and apologises that the Senator will not be able to join us.

Meeting the Greens’ spokesperson for Education and Early Childhood was the primary purpose of our trip. So to not get the opportunity to meet and connect on this very human issue was deflating.

We explained who we were and what we were about to Kate, who dutifully made notes in order to “brief the senator” later.

“What are your two key asks that you want done?” she asked.

This question was anticipated, but sadly not at this early stage in the conversation. Asking to give two “asks” to fix the ills of the Australian education system is like asking for two things to solve the Climate Change problem. It’s simply not possible. “Stop publishing NAPLAN results on MySchool, and lift the minimum starting age to 6″, I said. Noted. Without further discussion.

Kate went on to suggest others who we’d be better off talking to, and quick as a flash she was “off to a 1.30”.

While the loud hum of the Parliament House cafe continued, the three of us sat in silence. What just happened?

Kate also suggested we check out the view from the roof of Parliament House, so we took that advice from Senator Hanson-Young’s Senior Adviser. The silence again returned. The symmetry of Parliament House looking up Anzac Parade to the War Memorial, which in turn sits at the foot of Mount Ainslie again revived that feeling of energy and national pride. Indeed the building and its surrounds are spectacular, and a wonderful monument to our democracy which is lauded around the world as one of the strongest and most durable.

We make our way down to the buzz of the foyer to ring Labor MP Milton Dick from the security desk. A host of lobbyists are here checking in, with political advisers buzzing around, as seems to be their primary role. I notice a suited young man that had the look of a political adviser trying to find someone he didn’t recognise and moved in his direction. “Chris?” he asked, the serendipitous looks of confusion leading to a correct conclusion. The formalities of identification complete, we make our way through the halls to Milton’s office.

Milton Dick isn’t a new face. I had met him several times during the election campaign, and I wasn’t surprised by the firm handshake and broad smile that greeted us in his office. Clean, quite minimalist in furnishings, but clearly well utilised over the years by members of parliament before him, there are book shelves with the Rules of Parliament. Huge, thick volumes dating back 20 years or more in some cases. I thought to myself “I wish I knew what the rules were.”

Flying to Canberra to meet my local member of Parliament wasn’t part of the plan, but despite tireless efforts, Labor’s own Education spokesperson and deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, was not able – or perhaps willing – to make time for this unknown “lobby group”, which we seem to be categorised as, and as such treated with suspicion.

Mr Dick listened to our case again, and heard Jonathan and Gabbie’s stories before having to interrupt our meeting to give a 90 second speech in support of the Jindalee Bowls Club – just down the road from my home – that was robbed.

I keep checking the clock as we wait for Mr Dick to return, and realise that I need to leave to get my return flight to Brisbane. I wouldn’t meet Senator Kokschke-Moore either. Gabbie and I leave Jonathan and make our way out – dodging what seems an endless line of lobbyists and advisers.

Exhausted mentally, I’m still wondering what just happened. We had come to Canberra to look for a champion for our cause. Here I was, empty handed. No disrespect is intended to the people we did meet, but it wasn’t the outcome we were looking for. Why couldn’t they see what our obsession with standards and data was doing to children?

We had come down to Canberra for the big game, and we weren’t playing by the same rules. The rules of the game seem to require a lot more resources to earn your right to get to the right people. Earns your right to make the right people see your truth.

Money before people.

Protecting Childhood is all about ensuring we have a school system that fosters the development of life long learners. This was a learning experience for all of us. It was a learning experience for me. It seems a core skill of advisers and parliamentarians to separate emotion from fact. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s defence of his linking the entire Lebanese-Muslim Community to the 22 individuals on terrorism charges by stating “it’s the truth”, absolving himself of the emotional damage done to the thousands of innocent, law abiding, hard working Lebanese Muslims who contribute to our society in so many ways is, as an infamous senator would say, empirical evidence of this condition.

That juxtaposition of the protest lawn, Falun Gong’s struggle for human rights, up against the Banking Royal Commission group’s struggle for money seems truly reflective of the nature of Australian Federal Politics.

I/We just have to get better at playing their game.

By Chris Cox – Protecting Childhood


Children are not just future economic resources

I feel the need to respond to Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham‘s speech, at the ADC Education Summit, in Melbourne last week. You can read the transcript here.

I acknowledge that our Education Minister is doing what he believes to be best. My concern is that he views children solely through a lens of an Economist. Sadly, this narrow view undervalues the importance of an authentic childhood, free of adult pressures. It is imperative that we allow children to grow and develop at their own pace. Unfortunately, for Mr Birmingham, normal, healthy child development and the way children learn, may not fit with his economic timeline. As difficult as it is to loosen the political grip and let the system be guided by the needs of children – we MUST give Education back to children and Teachers. Children cannot be expected to magically be ready to fit the system – you cannot prepare a child for a developmental milestone that they haven’t reached yet! The well-being of children AND the economic prosperity of the country, depends on it.

Please let our children be children. It is such a short window of time to crush with imposed standards and comparisons.

Now to address the speech:

Undeniably the primary role in many ways of our education system, from a child’s earliest years to their completion in higher education and training is to prepare our young people predominately for the jobs of the future.

“Undeniably” the biggest mistake that our education policy makers make, is that they primarily see children as “future economic resources” and not as worthwhile, whole people RIGHT NOW. If education meets the holistic developmental needs of children, the “economic outcomes” will undeniably, take care of themselves.

We will rely upon some of those young people to be the innovators and entrepreneurs of the future. In these cases their education doesn’t just need to skill them to get a job but BhPDeyxCYAAhCBTalso needs to provide them with the skills to create jobs for others.


Politicians constantly sprout the need to educate for “innovation” but their proposed method is to “standardise“….think about that for a minute. *irony*


Australia will continue to invest at record levels in early childhood education, through schools and into tertiary education, focusing on evidence-based measures designed to get the maximum improvement in education outcomes.

Results from PISA 2012 show that while our students are still performing well compared to their peers in most other countries, their performance in reading and mathematics has significantly declined over the last decade.

I begin to question the validity of the “evidence”, when the evidencebased evidence-measures are derived from the evidence utilised by the evidence obtained from the government’s standardised testing regime. Evidence needs to come from unbiased sources, in other words sources that don’t have a vested interest in the statistical outcomes, such as: international best practice, consultation with educators at the coal-face and peer-reviewed research.

Not to mention, that the outcomes have significantly declined over the past decade, since the introduction of the so-called “evidence-based measures” aka NAPLAN and the “C2C” in Queensland.

From the high-chair to higher education we must ensure that the silos of our education system are coordinated.

Our schools are now “silos”? A silo (from the Greek σιρός – siros, “pit for holding grain”) is a structure for storing bulk materials. Our children are now bulk materials to be stored until adulthood??


We must ensure at the outset that children are school ready, the baton is then handed over to our school system to ensure that when the student leaves the primary school they are equipped for success at secondary school, prior to successfully partaking in further training or higher education. 

There is a wide range of normal child development. Readiness is about the child – not the adult’s expectations. Normal development is a broad range – not a point in time – and can differ as much as 18 months in 4 and 5 year olds. You cannot make ALL 4/5 year olds “school ready” simply because someone in a ivory tower wishes it. That’s like expecting ALL 9 month old babies to walk! Yes “some” babies walk at 9 months – the problem begins when adults imply that the babies who aren’t walking at 9 months need remedial intervention. There is nothing wrong with babies, who are not ready until 12, 15, 18 months. Earlier doesn’t equal better long term outcomes. Likewise, school starting age and formal literacy and numeracy at 4 or at 7 will result in the same long term ability – the problem is with forcing or coercing a child who is not ready, causing damage their self-image because we are placing unreasonable adult expectations on them.tumblr_lsdbzsSikk1qb3hj3o1_1280

Results such as these are important indicators for all of us; governments, principals, teachers and parents, that w
e need to do more and to look at the reasons why despite record funding growth over a number of years, we are not seeing sufficient comparable improvements in student outcomes.

Yes! As a country, we DO need to look at the reasons why we are not seeing
improvements in student outcomes. NO – imposing more of what is not working, is not the answer! Perhaps, human beings don’t like being treated as government data? Children are PEOPLE with complex social, emotional,
physical AND cognitive needs. Teachers and children are disengaging BECAUSE our Government is systematically devaluing the most vital part of teaching and learning – THE RELATIONSHIP! Heartbreakingly, while Teachers can leave, most children don’t get that choice.


They work hard to educate and get our students ready for their adult life, but we can and we indeed must do better. That is why the Turnbull Government has outlined reforms to deliver earlier identification of literacy and numeracy problems, enabling earlier, consistent interventions, stronger reporting standards and minimum competencies among future teaching graduates. 

Mr Birmingham is missing the critical point, that education is not about “getting ready for adult life”, it IS life for our children RIGHT NOW. More and more quantifying of outcomes in the name of accountability and transparency, fails to recognise that Education is not an exact science. It is an ART. Good education is qualitative, not quantitative. The key ingredient in children engaging and learning is found in the relationships they form with their Teachers and peers. More testing and reporting doesn’t equal more learning!

and seriously????!!!, if a Teacher can complete a 4 year university degree, they have proven that they have “minimum competencies” in literacy and numeracy.


One of the key reforms that the Turnbull Government announced in May is to see students needing to complete both an English or humanities subject and a maths or science subject prior to obtaining their ATAR. 

But we’ve seen for too long, too many students increasingly drop out of maths or science studies during their secondary years of education, thereby closing the door to opportunities to them in the future, or requiring make-up classes when they actually go on to further learning. 
Vocational education cannot be viewed as a second best option. Students in schools need to understand through high quality career advice that apprentices in traditional trades often enjoy higher employment outcomes than university graduates, better wages than many university graduates and have a higher likelihood of being self-employed or starting a business. Quality in our VET system is just as important as quality in our university system.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses! Just because the current drive is “STEM” doesn’t mean EVERY student MUST study it. By year 11 and 12, students should be able to structure their studies to meet their interests and their work/life goals. Help and support them to succeed! Let them become innovators and entrepreneurs, pursue a trade OR go to university, IF that is where their focus lies. Give teenagers more control over their futures. “Study without thought is labour lost; thought without study is dangerous” (Confucius).

They increasingly drop out because it isn’t relevant to THEM. By the way – the lower paragraph contradicts the others in your speech…more irony.

The Turnbull Government will also act on the evidence that clearly shows that the single most important in-school factor for children is teaching quality. 

Vocational education cannot be viewed as a second best option. Students in schools need to understand through high quality career advice that apprentices in traditional trades often enjoy higher employment outcomes than university graduates, better wages than many university graduates and have a higher likelihood of being self-employed or starting a business. Quality in our VET system is just as important as quality in our university system.

So let them TEACH. Stop blaming Teachers for unattainable outcomes and “plateaus” and please….stop treating Teachers as data collectors!

We need to make sure that the research underpinning our education system is thorough and findings widely shared so that adaptations of those methods of learning and teaching that are most effective can occur across our system, not withstanding the boundaries of states or territories or the divisions between early learning, schools, universities, TAFEs or other educational training divides.

Completely agree with the last point.