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Poor Tony Abbott, Gonski And Framing Your Way To Government!

An interesting bit of framing occured with Dr Michael Jensen’s article about religious freedom. According to Dr Jensen, the rector at St Mark’s Anglican Church in Darling Point, religious freedom is under attack. He begins:

“Freedom of religion? It has to be written with a question mark these days, because there is no guarantee that in a Western democracy in the 21st century you will be able to exercise it.”

And what’s his reason for deciding this? Well, the “sneering derision” when people express unpopular views. You see, some people made negative comments about Tony Abbott’s decision to speak to the Alliance Defending Freedom in the USA.

In Dr Jensen’s world, one is restricting Mr Abbott’s freedom by being critical of his association with a group that are working towards preventing other people from doing anything that doesn’t fit with their religious values. See part of religious freedom is an ability to impose your religious beliefs on everyone. Unless you’re the Taliban. Then it’s just wrong.

Of course, I find it strange that Jensen asks us to accept that we should refrain from saying anything while the ADF and Mr Abbott should be free to say whatever they like. But then I would say that. It’s just that I have this strange idea that when a person does something and people disapprove, the fact that they say so, doesn’t actually restrict their “freedom”. After all, Abbott was allowed to address the group. He wasn’t jailed. He wasn’t physically assaulted. He didn’t lose his job. Turnbull even defended his right to go the USA and speak. Exactly how was his or the group’s freedom being threatened?

The irony, of course, that this is a group who want to stop same sex marriage. Yet the way Dr Jensen wrote about things, you’d think that it was the ADF that was being persecuted. Many gay people simply want to marry their partners; they’re not trying to make same sex marriage compulsory for everyone.

To sum it all up, Jensen is asserting that telling religious groups that you disapprove interferes with their right to disapprove and to tell others what to do.

You see, it’s all in the framing. Framing is when your reaction to something is affected by the way it’s “framed”. For example, a poll on a current affairs show will be greatly influenced by the story before it. Similarly, our reaction to a tax hike will differ depending on how it’s presented to us. “$4 a week, that’s barely the cost of a cup of coffee!” is much more likely than “$200 a year, you couldn’t even get an iPad for that!”

And, of course, the classic framing example of the past few years: While the carbon tax was a “great big tax on everything”, an increase in the GST is part of tax reform and we’ll all benefit!

Recently, Labor has announced their commitment to the Gonski education reforms. And while we’re spending considerably more on submarines, the Liberals are expressing concern that money spent on education is just wasted.

While I was pleased with the Labor Party’s Gonski announcement, I was also impressed with the way they were framing it. Bill Shorten’s tweet goes some way towards encouraging people to see the spending positively: “The Liberals see the education of Australia’s children as a cost. Labor sees it as an investment.”

Of course, Simon Birmingham, the Liberal Education Minister predictably told us, “Unlike the Labor Party, we won’t be tricked into thinking that just spending more money automatically improves results.”

No, of course not. The money has to be well targeted. But equally not spending money doesn’t automatically give you better value. (And strangely, private schools rarely knock back government funding on the grounds that it won’t help them improve results.)

The whole point is that well-targeted spending on education is actually a profitable investment. We all know that the countries with most basic education requrements are the poorest, yet when it comes to educating our future workers we seem to think that if we scrimp and save, that somehow that’ll be ok. From a government point of view, surely they must realise that producing more engineers, doctors, electricians and plumbers is better for future tax revenue than producing people without the education to do more than the most unqualified work.

Oh that’s right! We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

As Richard E. Nisbett writes in Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking:

“For example, a few decades ago, Ireland made a concerted and highly successful effort to improve its educational system, especially at the high school, vocational school, and college levels. 1 College attendance actually increased by 50 percent over a brief period of time. 2 Within about thirty years, the per capita GDP of Ireland, which previously had IQ scores far lower than that of England (for genetic reasons, according to some English psychologists!), had exceeded the per capita GDP of England. Finland also made significant educational improvements beginning several decades ago, focusing especially on making sure the poorest students got an education as equal as possible to that of the richest students. By 2010, Finland was ahead of every country on international tests of academic achievement, and its per capita income had risen to be greater than that of Japan and Britain and only slightly less than that of the United States. Nations that have not made heroic efforts to improve education in recent decades, such as the United States, have declined in per capita income relative to other advanced countries. Such data are still correlational, but they indicate that as a nation begins to break out of the pack educationally, it begins to get richer. As it stagnates educationally, it begins to lose wealth relative to other nations. Pretty persuasive.”

So, we’ll have the Liberal Party trying to frame the money spent as being wasted, because Labor do that sort of thing. Why remember how big the deficit was when they were last in government? No, it’s not really bigger under us, because we’re taking steps to get it under control and we stopped the boats, and anyway Malcolm Turnbull’s the PM now so anything that happened in the past two years was all just a dream, look into my eyes, you feel sleepy and…

Labor, on the other hand, have the chance to frame it as an investment and as something worse doing.

I wonder which way the Murdoch minions will frame it!


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  1. james

    Speaking of ‘framing’, the F35 is once again in the news, in a bad way. Talk about wasted money there.

  2. Kaye Lee

    Murdoch and his conservative team of underlings have been saying “How will they pay for it?” I am sure that Labor has crunched the numbers for all policies they have so far announced. But getting people to listen to numbers is hard – they read headlines and listen to shock jocks.

  3. Jaquix

    They also listen to Malcolm when he dismisses this as “Labor’s reckless spending”. (His response to the announcement) Despite clear information from Labor that the extra 4 billion (for the extra year) has been funded, in part by closing down programs which are no longer working. For someone supposedly welded to the concept of “INNOVATION” you wonder how he thinks it is going to happen if not by educating the kids already in school. Perhaps he only thinks its to come from those already educated?

  4. Matters Bot

    I give a Gonski!

    (But I can’t type without error, and the edit function doesn’t extend to monicker.)

  5. Möbius Ecko

    And the meme must have been briefed around the traps because there we had Lyle Shelton from the ACL on ABC News saying that there have been those walking the corridors of parliament over the last seven years quashing freedom of religion and freedom of speech on the matter of marriage equality.

    According to him the traditional family definition expressed by most in the Coalition and by the ACL has been suppressed and demonised so much that some are so cowered they now support it or keep mum. He stated there must be a plebiscite on the matter with fair and balanced media reporting so the ACL can point out (…jabbering). At this point he went on to demonise the same sex marriage proponents with the usual Christian right trotted out garbage if put to the people would have them voting against the proposal in their droves.

    So now apparently expressing your support for same sex marriage and lobbying for it suppressing freedom of religion and speech. Go figure.

  6. margcal

    I “loved” the Naughtiest Girl books when I was young. Memories!

  7. Ricardo29

    Did they really exist? I thought it was a photoshop effort but then I read biggles, not Enid Blytin.

  8. margcal

    I heard the briefest bit of Chris Bowen on ABC radio the other day, talking about policy (Gonski, I think) and how it was costed and funded. He added that the Liberals talk of policy was in thought bubbles with nothing about costing and funding even though they have all the resources of Treasury at their disposal.The ABC person (Faine?)’s first words were that the Liberals will get to that.
    At which point I switched off. Bias at the ABC? Yes. It has a distinct lean to the right.

    I’m quite impressed by Bowen. Also Andrew Leigh. But anyone from the ALP getting a bit of oxygen in the media, especially without being attacked as soon as they open their mouths, is nigh on impossible. How do the “less than enthusiastic about politics” get to know there is an alternative, more than one even, to the LNP?

  9. Adrianne Haddow

    Yep, can’t fund Gonski but can continue to fund private schools with their own Olympic size pools, air-conditioned study halls, performing arts facilities, state 0f the art gymnasiums, and all the while making enough profit to invest in commercial businesses and real estate.

    We, as taxpayers especially the poor PAYE folk, are subsidising the life styles and future successes of the progeny of the rich. All the while, many of their parents and their schools live in the wonderland of tax minimisation and tax havens.

    We provide them with the opportunity to make useful connections for the future, to become members and ‘besties’ of the next generation of entitled, to continue their ‘pats on the backs’, and ‘foot up the ladder’ style of doing business and government.

    They are not necessarily the best and brightest of students, nor are their teachers the best and most inspiring of teachers, yet they continue to be held up as examples of what is best in education.

    The whole farce is that the resources the children of the rich have to assist their studies, are denied to children in the public education system.
    That’s what Gonski was about. Equality of opportunity.

  10. mmc1949

    Thanks, cornlegend. That was it.

    Back to ‘framing’, Jensen and “sneering derision” in particular.
    There is much in religion which can and should be criticised and even condemned. What gives fuel to the fire of Jensen and his ilk (I’ll stick with Christianity because that’s my camp) is the poverty of argument, even outright ignorance, of so many critics. You need nuanced arguments and we get so few of them. To tar all Christians with the same brush, to talk about sky friends or angels on pinheads, even to refer to Abbott and criticise all Christians because he’s a great example ….. big fail with all of that. You need to tackle each wrong with specific, logical, rational argument. Anything else gets you nowhere and even loses ground by raising the ire of those Christians who otherwise agree with you.

    It would be worthwhile to support Christians with whom you share common ground although fundamental reasons for doing so (humanist or theistic, for example) might differ. A classic case … most polls these days show that Catholics support same sex marriage as much as, a bit more than, in some polls, the general population. Some of those Catholics do what they can, given that Rome moves at glacial speed, to bring about change. Supporting those Catholics, and others like them in other denominations, will hasten the speed of change and in particular make a positive difference on the ground at local level.

    Recently the Catholic archbishop of Melbourne has said it was OK for a girl to bring a female partner to a school social.
    Now, it’s not the most glowing of endorsements but when you look at his track record, that really is a massive leap. A bit of support from those who usually (rightly) criticise is more likely to encourage Hart and those of his rank to take some more, even if cautious, steps into the 21st century. Yes, too little, too late, but progress, however slow, is better than the opposite.

  11. kerri

    The only education investment worth making (in the minds of the right) is the investment in ones own offspring enabling them to tread all over their lower class rivals (who deserve it) regardless of IQ.

  12. Max Gross (@Max_Gross)

    At the risk of sounding flippant I just wish that Jensen’s imaginary whatsit in the sky would actually make an appearance so that we all just get this damn thing sorted once and for all. Otherwise, Jensen et al should just admit their bullshit and then shut the hell up!

  13. Florence nee Fedup

    The PM didn’t do Shorten any harm when he came out accusing Labor of reckless spending in relation to the release they will be going ahead with Gonski.

  14. Andreas

    Oh Kerri, you are treading a fine line here. Who would have the heart (and guts) to tell one of these “darlings” the truth about their lack of intellectual ability? After all that money spent?
    No, let all private schools be private(ly funded), no taxpayers’ funds to the offspring of avoiders!

  15. Jaquix

    Personally I think that free thinkers’ freedoms are at risk, seeing the number of religious bodies sprawled around Parliament telling us what we should all be doing, according to them. Also looking at 245 million for religious indoctrination, tax free status of even the most dubious of churches, and endless religious schools.

  16. Rossleigh

    No, Jaquix, while you are thinking, thinkers’ freedoms can never be at risk. Please keep thinking, and encourage others to do so…
    Yes, I know that some will see this as a direct attack on Tony Abbott, but believe me, I’ve seen plenty of left wingers who could benefit from a bit of thinking before they speak too…

    Of course, believe it or not, there have been times when I wish I’d thought before I spoke!

  17. Wayne Turner

    The LYING Libs that PROMISED the “full funding of Gonski” and “no cuts to education”.

    THE LYING LIBS! With their version of “class warfare”.

  18. mark delmege

    Framing is important. I gather that the ABC jouno’s have been told to push the GST to 15% angle from the rubbish they peddle. Pity they don’t go on about big business and how 70% of them use tax havens and how many pay no tax at all – something that it appears has been ongoing for years and ignored by both major parties. Now why would that be?
    But Abbott has sure taken a hit on his wanderings – but really that is his right to travel overseas to share his views (hopefully at his own cost) – just as it is the right of some to ignore a $160 million dollar poll on same sex marriage and to vote with their conscience. But you can be certain many will take exception because those people have a different view. Same same with religion. If people want respect for their views (whatever they are) they should be prepared to accept other peoples views too – whether you are a follower of a god or not.
    On the other hand Shortie thinks he can grab 40 billion from tobacco taxes but if you think about it that’s not going to happen. Errors of fact and differences of opinion are not the same.
    Just as the other day I tried to explain how Obama had so infuriated his military top brass with his Syrian policy that they had been leaking intel to not only the Syrian Government but to other governments too – in the hope that they could prevent another Libya/al qaeda/IS style takeover. This should be of concern here because you never know Aussie troops might be deployed there to undo the damage Obama Hillary and Sarkozy did their with their illegal bombing of that country. Worms in my head, rubbish etc they said but I would prefer to take the word of Seymour Hersh over those who know little and care less but who voice an opinion no matter how uninformed.

  19. Michael Jensen

    Max Gross, I would of course claim that my whatsit in the sky has made an appearance on earth!

    Ross Leigh: Not quite so fast. Plenty of the media commentary (including the inestimable Fran Kelly) was asking the PM if Abbott should be reprimanded for speaking to the ADF (a group I don’t particularly support by the way, as I said). Reprimanded? This sounds stronger than ‘criticised’. My point is that what we get in the media commentary is not criticism – which is legitimate, and necessary, and welcome – but simply ‘they can’t say that, they should be silenced’. That’s where the discourse is headed. I don’t see much actual argument or debate. I do see calls for censorship and reprimand.

  20. rossleighbrisbane

    It’s not simple, I agree. But when criticism is mistaken for a shutdown of free speech, then we have problems even discussing the most basic difference of opinion.

  21. Florence nee Fedup

    The PM could have, even should have answered that Abbott has the right to say and do as he likes, but I disagree with him this time.

  22. guest

    The argument about Gonski being unaffordable and a waste of money is a strange one coming from the Coalition when they themselves are inclined to big spending, especially when it comes to military matters. The irony of it is that there is a call to improve standards in education, but at no cost Education, for them, is not about spending.

    One is reminded of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”, where we are told:

    ‘Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher who had a great theory about a horse being able to live without eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he got his own horse down to a straw a day, and would have unquestionably have rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at all, if he had not died, four-and-twenty hours before he was to have had his first comfortable bait of air.’ (ch. 2)

    And it is interesting to see how Abbott framed his speech to the ADF in the USA. He speaks of his own experience – because it could raise questions if he were to omit it. He says:

    ‘Two of my sisters are divorced. One has a new partner. Another has a same sex partner…The way they live shows their commitment to each other, even though there is no ceremony.’

    So he seems favourable towards his sisters’ choices. But he says later:

    ‘Not long ago most gay activists rejected marriage as an oppressive institution. Now they demand as their right what they recently scorned; they demand what was unimaginable in all previous times and still is in most places. They are seeking what never has been and expecting others to surrender what always has.’

    So we see that Abbott baulks at the magnitude of the task – to go against tradition – and to give the right of marriage to gays when they have never had it – and to take it from those who have. Is that what he said?

    He then goes on to speak of having respect and understanding and less shouting, but he is not speaking to everybody, not telling the ADF people to be like that. He is telling those gay activists to have more respect and understanding and less shouting about ‘traditional’ marriage which was defined just a decade ago as being between a man and a woman. It is, he says, an institution that has stood the test of time.

    He says such institutions must be handed on “undamaged, when that’s best’.

    So SSM would damage ‘traditional’ marriage, despite his talk about ‘commitment’ when he spoke of his sisters?

    We can see why he refuses to be involved in any Parliamentary decision. He hopes conservatism will prevail in a plebiscite. And the way to try to ensure that is to denigrate and demonise gays by downplaying their commitment towards each other and to deny them a marriage ceremony.

    We can see his confusion. And it is clear how his disconnnect between what he says and what he does is revealed in his treatment of families on Manus and Nauru, how he would deny refugee families being re-united, in his refusal to allow refugees to seek a better life and future.

    This conservatism in ‘traditional’ marriage, ‘traditional’ Monarchy, ‘traditional’ education, ‘traditional’ everything…is to drive erratically while looking in the rear view mirror.

  23. Florence nee Fedup

    Would love to kn ow what the question Abbott intended to put. Would be in same class as Howard’s effort for republic vote. One set up to fail..

  24. Florence nee Fedup

    It appears party room didn’t make decision of plebiscite. When Abbott left the room, most unsure of what occurred.

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