Push to get more Aussie kids speaking their native language

About a third of Australia’s school population speak a foreign language at home.

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But despite their advanced cognitive ability, many don’t retain their mother tongue and some fall behind their peers at school. 

To tackle the issue, the University of Western Sydney and the Fairfield City Council have launched a new forum for community groups to share their ideas and experiences.

Nisrine El-Choueifati, from Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, said bilingual children were more flexible, creative and better at problem solving than their monolingual peers. 

However she said some parents feared teaching their children their native language, because they thought it would impede on school learning. 

“Families can have guilt or shame or misinformation and doubt as to will this language make my child delayed or will this language, will other people tease them because they speak another language,” Ms El-Choueifati said. “And when a family has that it’s so important to get involved and give them the right information.” 

According the the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 18.2 per cent per cent of the population speaks another language at home.

Mandarin, Italian and Arabic are the most common.

Mandarin, Punjabi, and Tagalog have shown the fastest growth.

But despite Australia’s multilingual classrooms the most popular languages are not widely taught at school.

Dr Ruying Qi, from the University of Western Sydney said parents needed to take an active role in their child’s language education.

“Learning their community language, or a second language, actually helps them learn English and literacy development and other interpersonal social development so it’s actually a good investment.” Dr Qi said.

Experts hope the Australian Curriculum Review – due to be released mid August – will provide some solutions to help children retain their native language while at school. 

Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the University of Macau, Daming Xu, said a completely new approach may be more successful.

“I would suggest we abandon the concept of foreign language teaching. We redefine it as community language teaching. We teach only the language we can have native speakers to interact with, so in this way Australia has very good conditions to teach.” Mr Xu said

Abbott denounces ‘barbaric’ image of child holding head

The boy, wearing a cap, checked pants and a blue shirt, struggles with both arms to hold up the head in the picture reportedly posted on the Twitter account of a Sydney man who is now an Islamic State fighter.

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The shocking photo, taken in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, is believed to be that of Khaled Sharrouf’s son; posted with the words, “Thats my boy!”

Mr Abbott said the picture was further evidence of the barbarism of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or ISIS.

“I believe there are more photographs in newspapers in Australia today of the kind of hideous atrocities that this group is capable of,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

Defence Minister David Johnston said he was disgusted by the picture.

“I’m obviously revolted,” he told ABC radio.

Senator Johnston said it underscored the importance of the government’s proposed counter-terrorism laws.

However, he stressed it should not be taken out of context and condemned the picture as a “shocking misrepresentation” of Islam and Muslims.

“I’m very upset about this sort of thing completely colouring our view of Muslims,” Senator Johnston said.

“The vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving and peaceful people.”

The picture is one of several photos posted by Sharrouf, who security agencies believe travelled to Syria with his family. One shows Sharrouf also holding the decapitated head.

Another photo shows Sharrouf dressed in camouflage fatigues and posing with his three young sons who are holding guns, the flag of the Islamic State behind them.

They appear to be aged around four, six and seven, News Corps Australia reports.

Sharrouf, a convicted terrorist, is wanted by Australian Federal Police over crimes in Syria and Iraq, which include the shooting execution of a captured Iraqi official in the desert outside the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Major policies take time to pass: Hockey

Peter Costello is heralded by the Liberal Party as the greatest treasurer of all time.

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Except when it comes to his thoughts on the federal government’s $7 GP co-payment, that is.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has dismissed as “not good advice” his Liberal predecessor’s thoughts on giving up on the initiative.

Mr Costello has called on Mr Hockey to “reboot the whole argument” on the budget and dump measures unlikely to pass the Senate.

But Mr Hockey insists the co-payment is a key part of the government’s economic action strategy that puts a price signal on visits to the doctor, ensuring Medicare is sustainable in the long term.

He says it is not unusual to have major policies held up in the Senate, citing the passage of the GST during Mr Costello’s stewardship of the budget and economy.

“I think people are getting a little ahead of themselves,” Mr Hockey said on Monday.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten questioned from whom the treasurer was taking advice if he was so openly dismissing it from a Liberal stalwart.

“Who does Joe Hockey listen to other than the person in the mirror?” he said.

Labor also hit out at the treasurer’s pledge to use an appropriation bill to bypass the Senate over his $5 billion asset-recycling plan, saying advice from the Parliamentary Library suggested such a move would fail.

The scheme aims to reward states and territories that privatise existing assets and use the proceeds to fund new economic-enhancing infrastructure.

Mr Hockey is surprised Labor and the Greens are so determined to block more than $40 billion of new infrastructure that would create thousands of jobs at a time of rising unemployment.

But his door is always open to “sensible senators” who are prepared to present an alternative budget plan.

Some have done so and their proposals are now being analysed.

People urged to think about super earlier

Many Australians approaching retirement face the stark reality of not being able to afford a bucket list of dreams and will just end up kicking one.

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So much for those grand plans after a lifetime of work, raising a family and paying off a mortgage.

More than half of 1000 respondents to an online survey by REST Industry Super say they have a retirement bucket list.

But less than a third think they’ll be able to tick off all the items.

Worse still, one in six don’t think they will be able to achieve anything on that list.

REST Industry Super’s CEO Damian Hill says too often people underestimate the cost of retirement.

“The gap between what people think they need to retire on and what they require in reality is often significant,” he says.

While most of the respondents to the survey do not have the benefit of a lifetime of superannuation, Mr Hill is urging people to take an interest in their superannuation earlier in life.

Consolidating super accounts, salary sacrificing and taking an active interest in how their super is invested are small steps people can take earlier in life to maximise retirement returns.

Mr Hill says creating a bucket list is a strong motivational tool when it comes to super.

The latest Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia Retirement Standard shows that a couple looking to achieve a “comfortable” retirement needs to spend $57,817 a year, while those seeking a modest retirement lifestyle need to spend $33,509 a year.

WHAT AUSTRALIANS WANT IN RETIREMENT:

* 52 per cent have a retirement bucket list

* 53 per cent want to travel the world

* 43 per cent: a road trip

* 36 per cent: to visit a famous attraction like the Rio Carnival

* 30 per cent: to leave something for the kids

* 15 per cent: to write a book

* 14 per cent: to swim with dolphins

* 11 per cent: to learn to play a musical instrument

* 2 per cent: to bungee jump or skydive

* 1 per cent: to run a marathon.

Source: REST Industry Super

Amnesty slams US over Afghan deaths

The families of thousands of civilians killed by American forces in Afghanistan have been left without justice or compensation, an Amnesty International report says, in a damning indictment of the US military as it withdraws.

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The report said it had gathered evidence of “a deeply flawed US military justice system that cements a culture of impunity” in dealing with Afghan civilian deaths and injuries caused in NATO coalition operations since 2001.

President Hamid Karzai has often castigated US forces for civilian casualties, but NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says it takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and investigates each alleged incident.

The report said Amnesty researchers interviewed 125 Afghans who had first-hand information about 16 separate attacks that resulted in civilians casualties, as well as collating data from 97 reported incidents since 2007.

“After any incident in which civilians have been killed by US forces, (the US must) ensure… wherever there is sufficient admissible evidence, suspects are prosecuted,” said the report entitled “Left in the Dark”.

It detailed a US bombing in 2012 when women were collecting firewood in the mountains of Laghman province.

Seven women and girls were killed and seven more were injured.

Ghulam Noor, who lost his 16-year-old daughter Bibi Halimi in the attack, brought the female bodies to the district centre after hearing NATO forces claimed that only insurgents had been killed.

“We had to show them that it was women who were killed,” he told Amnesty International.

“I have no power to ask the international forces why they did this. I can’t bring them to court.”

Amnesty said villagers filed complaints with the provincial governor, but international forces in Afghanistan are immune from Afghan legal processes and no one ever contacted family members to investigate the attack.

The ISAF press office in Kabul referred inquiries over the report to the US Department of Defense.

Phelps factor exciting for Aussies

Australian sprint queen Cate Campbell says the return of Michael Phelps is only adding to the excitement ahead of this month’s Pan Pacific Swimming Championships.

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The American legend successfully booked his berth at the four-day event on the Gold Coast over the weekend, finishing second in the 100m butterfly at the US National Championships in California.

Campbell, fresh from her 100m freestyle win at the Commonwealth Games, says there’s a buzz in the Australian team following Phelps’ successful qualification.

“Phelps is a superstar,” Campbell said.

“He’ll get bums on seats … he’s a true legend of the sport and we’re so excited to have him.”

Phelps has been far from his best at the US championships as the 18-time Olympic gold medallist attempts a comeback after his retirement at the 2012 London Games.

Campbell’s sister Bronte said while the 29-year-old’s results haven’t been spectacular, she feels he’s swimming well for someone who’s taken so much time out.

“What Phelps has done is amazing,” Bronte said.

“If I take two weeks off I feel terrible after that so for him, coming back after two years and coming back in such form … it just goes to show what a world-class athlete he is.

“He’s definitely shown his resilience and endurance as well.”

Phelps aside, the Campbell sisters say the Americans will have been paying close attention to Australia’s performance during the recent Glasgow Games.

“They’ve been watching us over at the Commonwealth Games, there’s no mistaking they’ve been watching,” Bronte said.

“Now they’re going to come and see what we can do.”

Domestic violence taskforce panel for Qld

Two government MPs and an independent are expected to join former governor-general Quentin Bryce on a task force to tackle domestic violence in Queensland.

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The Liberal National Party (LNP) announced Dame Quentin would chair the bipartisan taskforce on Sunday.

Greenslopes MP Ian Kaye and also Sandgate MP Kerry Millard will sit on the panel, as will independent Gladstone MP Liz Cunningham.

“She sees it as being very important that we go hard after this issue,” Premier Campbell Newman told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.

The panel will also include several representatives from non-government organisations.

It will review current support services available to victims and identify ways to address the growing number of abuse cases.

Mr Newman agreed the problem was often hidden under a “shroud of secrecy”.

“That is always a recipe for bad things to flourish and I simply make that as a general point” he said.

But he also warned that if the issue was to be made more transparent, there was a need for balance.

“It is one for the taskforce to examine, and come up with recommendations that find the right balance between protecting, for example, children who are involved sometimes, and also the need for us to send a message to the perpetrators.”

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk on Sunday accused the LNP of ignoring the problem of domestic violence, after the Labor party introduced a private member’s bill into state parliament in May.

Mr Newman said he had been collecting his thoughts on the issue for two to three months, long before the weekend announcement.

The premier also rejected the suggestion that there was a correlation between increased domestic violence rates and social pressures, such as unemployment.

“I don’t know if I see it in those terms. I would see other factors at work, I’ve got to say. There’s been periods of far higher unemployment in this country” he said.

Queensland’s unemployment rate has soared to an 11-year high of 6.8-per cent for July, up from 6.3-per cent in June.

Lawyers seek MH17 compo fund

Australia is being urged to work with other countries affected by the MH17 disaster to set up an international compensation fund.

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The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is believed to have been downed over eastern Ukraine on July 17 by pro-Russian separatists firing a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people on board including 38 Australians.

The aircraft had been flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in airspace considered by many airlines to be too risky.

Shine Lawyers senior solicitor Joseph Wheeler has been working in the law firm’s aviation department on options for compensation for families of victims.

Mr Wheeler told AAP one of the best options would be for a multi-country fund to be set up to help the families.

This would avoid a “long and drawn-out combination of politics and diplomacy”, seen after previous disasters such as the Lockerbie bombing.

“We will be lobbying the government of all the nationalities affected to set up some sort of victims fund to compensate them earlier,” Mr Wheeler said.

“That would be the most expedient, because if there are pressures like sanctions to get a certain government who is responsible to come to the negotiating table it is going to take time.

“During this time families have needs.”

At the time of the downing of MH17, international aviation authorities had been working to limit the air safety threat caused by the fighting in the Ukraine.

The jetliner had been flying at 33,000 feet, which was technically out of restricted airspace.

Since April the area had been subject to various NOTAMs (notices to airmen) warning pilots of the risks of flying in the region.

A UK NOTAM issued on June 30 said: “Potentially hazardous situation Ukraine airspace … UK aircraft operators are strongly advised to avoid until further notice.”

Mr Wheeler said Malaysia Airlines had offered families $US50,000 ($A54,100) but anyone signing up to this needed to be careful they were not also signing away their legal rights.

“This is a woefully low amount of money,” he said.

Victims’ families have a range of avenues and jurisdictions in which to seek compensation under international conventions, which could potentially be in the millions of dollars.

Claims could be lodged in Malaysia where the aircraft was registered, or in Australia if a passenger was a permanent resident, or in the final place of destination for any of the passengers regardless of nationality.

Settling out of court is another possibility.

British lawyers have been examining a class action against the Russian President Vladimir Putin through US courts but this is considered unlikely to succeed.

Woodside teams up for new African project

Woodside Petroleum is teaming up with US energy giant Noble to explore a deep water prospect off West Africa, just months after walking away from a joint deal in Israel.

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The oil and gas company has bought a 40 per cent stake in an exploration, exploitation and production acreage off the coast of Gabon.

Woodside did not disclose the value of the deal, in which Noble Energy will hold a 60 per cent interest, and will be the operator.

But an analyst has questioned whether Woodside is under too much pressure to produce a major growth project, and whether it should rather return cash to shareholders.

Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman said the deal was an opportunity for his company to secure significant acreage in an emerging oil-prone province with a “like-minded and experienced partner”.

“This is yet another exciting opportunity for us in Africa, building on recent acquisitions in Tanzania and Morocco,” Mr Coleman said.

In May, Woodside abandoned its $US2.7 billion Leviathan joint venture gas deal in Israel after negotiations with Noble Energy and other partners broke down.

The Leviathan project was one of only two major long-term growth prospects for the company, with the other being Browse in Western Australia.

An analyst who did not wish to be named said Woodside was adopting a risky strategy of looking abroad for growth, rather than making their West Australian assets more efficient and reaping the rewards.

“If there’s nothing doing in Australia, just buy back shares and if you have to wait for the gas price to come down then so be it,” the analyst said.

“Going off around the world doesn’t play to their strengths at all.”

Woodside shares gained nine cents to $41.69.

Bendigo Bank’s profit gain impresses

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has delivered a better than expected profit in the face of growing competition and customers getting ahead on loan repayments.

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The regional bank’s full year cash earnings rose by 10 per cent to $382.3 million, above the $376 million expected by analysts.

But it was the company’s profit margin on its loans, which grew by five basis points to 2.14 per cent – that really impressed the market.

The increased margin was surprising, given strong competition among the big four banks for new customers was expected to push margins lower across the banking sector, IG market strategist Evan Lucas said.

“They’ve managed to somehow keep their noses clean with regards to the fist fight that’s going on in that space and that’s quite impressive,” he said.

Shares in Bendigo climbed 28 cents, or 2.3 per cent, to $12.46.

Managing director Mike Hirst said competition in the financial sector was increasing, especially with new entrants into the payments market, but the bank was focused on sustainable growth.

“We don’t see that the market is going to get any less competitive on the asset side, we’ll stick to our knitting and make sure we are growing the balance sheet at profitable prices,” he said.

New loan approvals grew by 16 per cent during the year, but Bendigo’s performance was impacted by customers taking advantage of low interest rates to pay down debt on their home faster than necessary.

“The issue for us is that the repayments our customers have been making over and above what they need to do under their schedule has also been pretty strong,” he said.

“It does make it more difficult for our branches to achieve their growth targets but it’s a fantastic result for our customers if they can build that excess capability into their loans.”

Mr Hirst said the bank’s long term prospects could be boosted by the outcomes of the federal government’s inquiry into the financial system, which he expects will include a call for lower amounts of capital required to be held by smaller lenders, in order to increase their competitiveness.

“We will see, I think, a levelling of the playing field and we are very well positioned to take advantage of that,” he said.

BENDIGO BANKS ANOTHER SOLID PROFIT

* Net profit of $372.3m, up six pct from $352.3m in 2012/13

* Cash profit of $382.3m, up 10 pct from $337.6m

* Final dividend of 33 cents, up two cents