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January, 2019

Xenophon gambit: state v federal power

Nick Xenophon’s decision to leave the Senate came out of the blue but has rattled the political elites in his home state, South Australia, and stirred the pot nationally. His gambit not only has some immediate state and federal implications but also raises larger questions about the future of Australian politics.
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Xenophon has gambled on leaving the leadership of his party’s three-member Senate team plus one House of Representatives MP to return to South Australian politics. He plans to stand for the Liberal-held lower-house seat of Hartley, leading a large team of candidates for his new state party, called SA Best.

This fresh gambit is not about returning to South Australia’s upper house, the Legislative Council, where Xenophon his political teeth for a decade before switching to the Senate 10 years ago. He is not aiming to strengthen his party’s upper-house crossbench position but to forge a new lower-house balance-of-power position at the next state election early next year. He will confront the struggling long-term Labor government of Premier Jay Weatherill and the ever-hopeful Liberal opposition led by Stephen Marshall.

Xenophon has a remarkable electoral record and considerable political momentum after the 2016 federal election (winning 22 per cent of his state’s Senate vote). However, he is one of those caught up in section 44 dual-nationality problems and has not been quite the force in the current federal parliamentary term that he was in the previous one. His party, the Nick Xenophon Team, has suffered disunity and defections at the state level, where his critics have accused him of being dictatorial. The big question is whether he can repeat his recent barnstorming federal effort at the March 2018 state election.

One obvious immediate implication is for South Australian politics. If SA Best proves to be as popular as most commentators predict, then neither of the main parties will be able to form a majority government in the 47-seat lower house. This has happened several times to state Labor under Mike Rann and Weatherill recently, but each time Labor performed Houdini-like escapes to create stable coalition governments with a variety of unlikely partners. But the challenge is much greater this time given the government’s problems and Xenophon’s popularity. He may even lead a large group of SA Best MPs, somewhat like One Nation did when it broke through dramatically in Queensland in 1998.

Another implication is for federal politics. The Nick Xenophon Team will suddenly become very inexperienced without its leader because the others were first elected at the last election. This further weakens the Senate’s crossbench, following the resignations of Bob Day and the two Green senators, Scott Ludlum and Larissa Waters. Experience is always difficult to factor into parliamentary negotiations, and Xenophon may still be a part-time guiding presence as his party’s leader and founder, but his absence will still hurt the Senate’s ability to hold the government to account.

The larger question for Australian politics is whether Xenophon is correct to rate a decisive lower-house role in South Australia ahead of being an influential player on the Senate crossbench. If so, it flies in the face of the general presumption that federal politics is always more important than state politics and federal MPs are inevitably more powerful than their state counterparts.

The attraction for a party of a place in the Senate is that it offers a national role and visibility. But the weakness of Senate power is that it is within a house of review, not the house of government.

Xenophon is only able to contemplate this shift because his party has strong regional appeal rather than being spread more evenly across the nation like most other minor parties, such as the Australian Democrats and the Greens.

If he is successful, it may portend a more fragmented federal system, in which genuine regional parties contend effectively with the major national parties. The name SA Best points towards such fragmentation, as it clearly has only state appeal.

A good illustration of this contradiction between state and federal power can be found in the Greens. Their nine senators, led by Richard di Natale, certainly have a greater national profile than their state counterparts and they play a role in developing national policies. But it is at the state level that the party can get its hands directly on the levers of power. The Greens have shown they can regularly take part in government in Tasmania and the ACT if they win lower-house seats.

Xenophon is not necessarily a one-off. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is another example. Though it is more genuinely national than Xenophon’s federal party, with its senators from three states, Queensland is its heartland.

Perhaps Hanson is pondering Xenophon’s gambit; her One Nation party threatens to win a big swag of seats again in the forthcoming Queensland election. Is she wondering whether she would be better off as party leader in Queensland than a team leader in the Senate?

If she did a Xenophon and flipped to state politics, she would ensure that One Nation did even better in the state election than it is already likely to do, and she would become the kingmaker Xenophon hopes to be. The ABC election analyst Anthony Green has even suggested the outside possibility of Xenophon becoming South Australian premier. In Queensland, Hanson may dream of becoming deputy premier in a Liberal-National-One Nation coalition government after campaigning on a “make Queensland great again” slogan.

John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Marking NAPLAN with robots danger to learning: academic

A leading US education academic has warned that it would be “extremely foolish” and even damaging to student learning if NAPLAN writing tests were marked by computers next year, as education ministers across Australia back a move to online marking.
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Les Perelman, an internationally renowned expert in writing assessment from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said a report on automated marking of NAPLAN was “so methodologically flawed and so massively incomplete” that it could not be used to justify any use of automated essay scoring of NAPLAN.

Dr Perelman was commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation to review a report by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) into automated NAPLAN marking of persuasive writing tests.

ACARA’s report, released in late 2015, said a “significant body of literature” confirmed that automated essay scoring met or surpassed the quality of human markers. But Dr Perelman’s review said a major failing of the ACARA report was that it “completely ignores” any research that was critical of automated essay scoring.

“Until these critical studies are completed and carefully evaluated, it would be extremely foolish and possibly damaging to student learning to institute machine grading of the NAPLAN essay, including dual grading by a machine and a human marker,” Dr Perelman wrote.

The release of Dr Perelman’s review comes as ministers at September’s meeting of the federal Education Council gave in-principle support for NAPLAN writing tests to be marked by a computer and a human in 2018.

Stanley Rabinowitz, general manager of assessment and reporting at ACARA, said all NAPLAN writing tasks completed online next year would be marked by a person as well as an automated scoring system.

“This is to provide reassurance that automated marking achieves scores comparable to human markers, but faster,” Dr Rabinowitz said.

Dr Rabinowitz said ACARA had done further research since the 2015 report, including work based on Dr Perelman’s research, which would be released next month.

He defended ACARA’s report and said Dr Perelman and the Teachers Federation “are known critics of automated marking systems and the report findings should be viewed with this in mind.”

The acting president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Gary Zadkovich, said parents, teachers and principals had not been consulted about the “radical plans” to move to online marking.

“The federal agency in charge of NAPLAN is rushing through with plans to have robots mark next year’s NAPLAN tests despite their justifications being discredited by world-leading research,” Mr Zadkovich said.

Mr Zadkovich urged education ministers to reject ACARA’s plan to “bring robots into the marking of extended pieces of children’s work”.

Mr Zadkovich said Dr Perelman’s report warned that computers could only detect “low grade attributes of writing” and cannot detect “the most important elements of a text”.

Automated marking can discriminate against some social groups and is even flawed when it comes to grammar checking, he said.

Robyn Cox, the president of the Primary English Teaching Association Australia, said she did not oppose the role of artificial intelligence in education but warned that its ongoing involvement in areas such as writing could have negative consequences.

“My concern is that this will serve the needs of the computer and not the needs of humanity,” Dr Cox said.

“It won’t take us long before big corporations or text book publishers start developing software or text books that prepare kids for the writing task that a computer wants to see.”

The ACARA said the number of schools taking part in the double marking had not yet been confirmed but the Education Council was told that the move will deliver a “significant increase in costs”.

The ministers also agreed to extend the timeline for all schools to transition to NAPLAN online to 2020. All year 3 students will do NAPLAN writing tasks with pencil and paper regardless of when their school moves online.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Top or front loader: Buyer’s guide to washing machines

Buying a washing machine is not as straightforward as it used to be. What drum size do you need? How about spin speed? And what about energy efficiency?
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Before choosing the best model for you, here are some points to help inform your purchase. Size

Start by measuring the intended installation space – making sure you pay close attention to depth, as machines often vary. Add in a centimetre or two for clearance on each side, consider how the door will open, and don’t forget to measure areas of access for when they deliver it.

Also consider the layout of your home. Top loaders, for example, tend to be better suited to laundry rooms over kitchens, whereas front loaders can fit under a bench or above or below a dryer.

If it’s in a room where you spend time, noise level is a consideration. Check the decibels – with anything below 50 decibels considered particularly quiet. Type

If you have limited space, a front loader may better suit your needs and cost less to run. They tend to be gentler on clothes – if you happen to have lots of delicates – as they work via a spinning drum versus a pole-style agitator in the middle. Related: Should you rinse your dishes?Related: Cooking in the laundry: Multitasking or weird?Related: Household items you only have to clean once a year

If you do frequent, large washes, and have the space, then a top loader may be more viable.

Alternatively, if you want a two-in-one workhorse, washer-dryers combine both appliance functions, though consumer choice websites remain unconvinced. The drying capacity is also lower than the washing capacity, so you may have to adjust the load midway. Capacity

Drum sizes range from 5kg all the way up to 16kg – indicating the weight of clothes it can wash on a standard cotton setting. As a guide to capacity, one complete outfit usually equates to around 1kg.

Washing machines are most efficient when carrying a full load, so choose a high-capacity drum if you’re a busy household and a smaller drum if you’re a one- or two-person household. Water and energy efficiency

Want to save money and be kinder to the environment? Look out for the Energy Star Rating out of 10 and a WELS (Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme) score from zero to six stars. The more stars, the better.

Energy-saving machines may cost more now, but are better for your wallet (and the planet) in the future. If you want to use electricity, consider washing clothes at 40 degrees instead of 60 degrees, though certain items may require a higher temperature. Functions and features

Look out programs and features that suit your needs, for example, hand wash, fast wash, baby wash, sports wash, child locks, or automatic sensors, which will automatically adjust your machine settings depending on the size of the load and how soiled it is.

If you’re busy, it may be worth investing in a machine with a delay timer, which means you can time your wash to end when you get home, to avoid that musty stench. When buying

Do your research, shop around for the best value and don’t be afraid to haggle. Make the salesperson aware that you want to buy, but need the best possible price. They’ll usually price match, at the very least – or throw in extras or premium delivery (i.e. installation and removal of your old appliance) to sweeten the deal.

As they make you an offer, get them to write it down on their business card, so you won’t forget and can show it to the next store you visit. And if it’s floorstock you’re looking at, it’s even easier to negotiate a better price.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The 90s decor item making a nightmare comeback

As anyone who’s watched The Block knows, mastering the skills of styling a modern-day bedroom is pretty much the key to life success.
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But what if The Block had been around a couple of decades ago, when Scotty, Shelley and Shaynna were merely a glint in a TV producer’s eye?

Could these renovation experts have ever, pray tell, predicted that dancing flowers, rockstar sunnies, would go out of vogue? That Fido Dido bedspreads would fail to make a comeback or that teenage bedrooms would no longer be plastered with posters of Jason Priestley?

Admittedly, it can be a sticky wicket trying to guess when trends are suddenly going to rocket back into fashion (90210 did get a second life). Who could have predicted the mysterious resurgence of Crocs, macrame, high-waisted jeans and white Reebok sneakers?

As for the boudoir, who knew that lava lamps would be replaced years later by a sea of Himalayan salt lamps promising to ward off electronic nasties. Or that our sleeping quarters would begin morphing into botanic gardens. Fiddle leaf fig, anyone?

But this article isn’t really about any of that. It’s about dreamcatchers. Yep, they’re back – in a big, boho way – appearing everywhere from Bali to Byron. A friend reports seeing dreamy dreamcatchers selling for 500 clams at a high-end boutique in LA. A post shared by Dreamcatcher Collective (@dreamcatcher_collective_au) on May 30, 2017 at 8:33pm PDTThis story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.