Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

No Nannying Social Media

Monica Wilkie

01 April 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

In a world of rampant nanny-statism, and hectoring busybodies, Australians want social media to companies to leave them alone.

The findings from the latest Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) paper, Australian Attitudes to Social Media: Connection or Curse? revealed 66.8% of Australians think social media platforms have a moral obligation to be politically neutral in how they moderate content on their platforms.

With several high-profile people and outlets being suspended — or suffering the poorly named, ‘permanently suspended’ — the way social media police their sites has been a contentious issue for years, with both sides of politics either crying about too much or too little censorship.

However, Australians have a far more classical liberal view of political speech online.

Although it has become popular to lament the state of political discourse, and blame social media for the, supposed, loss of the ability to civilly debate complex ideas, Australians do not want those problems (real, imagined, or exaggerated), to be solved by mothering tech giants.

Social media has become an important avenue for political debate and discussion, and unlike traditional media, the barriers to entry are low and virtually non-existent.

Therefore, Australians have been able to connect, and politically organise, more easily and cheaply than ever before. These platforms offer people a high level of connection, and they do not want to be censored by some t-shirt wearing progressive sitting in Silicon Valley.

The feeling of interconnectedness provided by social media is also demonstrated by the fact that  most respondents thought social media connected people (57.3%) more than it isolated them from the real world (33.8%).

In Australia, we have a significant number of constraints on speech: from vilifications laws; to laws against causing offence; to lax defamation laws. Although such laws have been applied to social media, Australians have likely viewed online communication as freer, and less constrained than the real-world.

This also helps explain why a greater number of Australians (39.8%) thought employers should not be able to discipline employees for what they post privately on social media.

When everything that is said and done is policed, either officially or unofficially, Australians want to escape to the online world, where they can interact with people free from the scornful eye of moderators, or employers.

Leverage ties to counter China

Erik M. Jacobs

01 April 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

China’s trade retaliation against Australia, Indian border clashes, maritime harassment of Japan, and South China Sea military expansion have opened a window into how a Beijing-dominated Indo-Pacific may look. To counter this, Australia and the U.S. must deepen their ties and foster those with other nations in the region.

In The Need for U.S.-Australia Leadership to Counter China across the Indo-Pacific, I explain that regional governments are right to be concerned about what a future of economic coercion, maritime disputes, and contested resource rights and shipping lanes may hold.

The U.S. and Australia must leverage their strong relationship to deepen existing partnerships, build nascent strategic ties, and find new ways to cooperate in the face of an aggressive China bent on exerting itself across the Indo-Pacific region.

The long-term importance of these relationships is apparent in strategic outlooks coming out of both Washington and Canberra.

The existing U.S.-Australia Alliance should be a key pillar underpinning an Indo-Pacific region free from coercion and open to unhindered navigation and overflight, with the reborn Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (Quad) serving as another pillar.

It is now incumbent upon Australia and the U.S. to expand partnerships to make this happen, starting with Japan:

  • Canberra and Washington should deepen ties with Tokyo to include more defence training opportunities, and track and share intelligence on Chinese maritime operations in the East China Sea where incursions into Japanese waters have intensified.
  • Australia, the U.S. and Japan should conduct more intelligence-sharing with India in future Malabar Exercises, especially on Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Straits, while finding ways to capitalise on India’s strategic location and economic importance as Delhi re-evaluates its approach to Beijing.

There are opportunities for the U.S. and Australia to enhance cooperation with other potential regional partners — Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia — that are either hedging or approaching the changing Indo-Pacific security dynamics in a more deliberative fashion.

“However, progress will likely be incremental; with Japan playing a potentially prominent role. For instance:

  • The U.S. and Australia should encourage Japan to build off its recent defence exports and transfers to the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia as a way to develop Japan’s nascent defence production industry while building capacity with these key U.S. and Australian security partners in the Southeast Asian region.
  • Cooperation on maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance training would also strengthen the capacity of littoral states to defend sovereign territory, with Southeast Asian states participating in future Quad discussions on maritime security as a way to gradually encourage external balancing.

Future cooperation between the U.S., Australia and other nations on pressing issues — such as supply chain integrity, advanced and emerging technologies, critical minerals, and vaccines — present additional opportunities to build new relationships with other countries across the Indo-Pacific as they reconsider the national security risks of reliance on China.

Increased Australian energy exports to Japan also present an opportunity for trade diversification and growth in the face of Beijing’s campaign of economic coercion. However, as the Biden administration is unlikely to rejoin the revamped Trans Pacific Partnership, Australia and other regional governments should deepen economic ties.

RIP Jobkeeper

Robert Carling

02 April 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

The corona-crisis has given birth to a mishmash of public policy programs with ‘Job’ in the title, but there is one fewer to think about now that JobKeeper has come to an end.

Looking back on the experiment, there are important questions to be answered about its objectives, design, efficacy, cost and unintended consequences, which should be canvassed in a rigorous ex-post review by an agency such as the National Audit Office or the Productivity Commission. There was certainly precious little ex-ante analysis in the rush to put the scheme in place.

But certain observations can already be made. The financial cost looks like being around $90 billion. To put this into perspective, it is almost three times what the federal government will spend this year on defence.

But to point out that JobKeeper has been massively expensive is not necessarily to condemn it. Millions of employer-employee relationships that might otherwise have dissolved were kept intact for a period of enforced hibernation of large swathes of the private sector. This was the key benefit of a JobKeeper-type scheme, which will limit the extent of long-lasting damage to the labour market — what is called ‘scarring’.

However, the design of the scheme was flawed in its generosity and in the eligibility test for employers, which enabled them to qualify for the entire first six months simply by demonstrating an actual or expected decline in turnover in one month or quarter.

In addition to the design flaws, JobKeeper distorted incentives for employers and employees in their decisions on reopening and restarting and for state governments in shutting borders. It has also kept zombie firms and jobs going. The cost of such distortions was bound to grow, the longer JobKeeper remained in place.

While such a scheme may have been fit for purpose in the unique circumstances of 2020, it is clearly time for it to be put to rest now that the economy and the job market have bounced back so strongly from the abyss.