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.

How to think about gender inequality

Simon Cowan

06 July 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

One of the most frustrating debates in public policy is the one over women’s workforce participation and the gender pay gap.

On one side you have people taking the raw gender pay gap and claiming this is evidence of systemic sexism; on the other are people saying this is all a function of choice and experience, as if there are no systemic factors at play at all.

The data suggests there is a permanent income gap created by motherhood that does not equally apply to fatherhood. But that fact is merely the start of the discussion.

The first — and most important — question to answer is what do we mean by ‘equality’? The simplistic, and incorrect, answer is that average outcomes for men and women should be identical.

Realistically this seems unlikely, at least in the short term, because their situations and choices aren’t the same. Women have babies, men don’t; and socially and historically, women have been the primary care givers for children — typically at the expense of career opportunities.

Importantly, despite the career and income penalties, many women (and families) happily choose the option that maximises their time with the kids.

A lot of discourse proceeds on the basis that there should be little or no penalty for taking maternity leave and then for substantially reducing one’s capacity to work in order to look after kids.

Without limiting the social and developmental importance of this sacrifice, or whether government should recompense it, from the perspective of the employer this typically doesn’t look like a great deal. And it’s the employers’ position that matters from a salary perspective: one reason why jobs with more flexible working options tend to pay less.

That means a more realistic position is to acknowledge that there is an income penalty associated with the flexibility needed to look after kids, but to argue for two important provisos.

First, flexible working options have to be equally available and viable for men and women so that there is genuine choice for either or both parents to work flexibly to parent kids. Second, women shouldn’t be shunted down the ‘mummy track’ just because they have kids or might have them one day.

As long as flexible working opportunities are only seen as a career-killing option for mothers, there isn’t a real choice for anyone, including those without children. A policy discussion that proceeds on the basis of realistically facilitating genuine choice is long overdue.

Farm finance ripe for disruption

Charles Jacobs

06 July 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

modern combine harvester working on a wheat crop

The banking royal commission placed the spotlight on the tricky relationship between banks and farmers. As a result of their lending behaviour, Australia’s banks — responsible for a portfolio of $60 billion of agricultural loans — were accused of being unethical and lacking empathy.

For someone who grew up on a property in country New South Wales during the height of the Millennium drought, this sentiment came as little surprise. For generations, farming communities have viewed ‘the Bank’ with trepidation and fear. Every farmer has a story about an unsolicited knock on the door or the dreaded annual visit of a bank manager.

While the testimonies presented to the commission have brought the human toll of this situation to light, they could also have a significant market impact in the years to come.

The Australian agricultural financing sector has been dominated by the big banks for decades. However, what we have seen with the royal commission is a clear opportunity for new players to provide the more flexible loan products that are clearly in demand for consumers.

Such market disruption has so far had little traction in Australia. However, across the rest of the world, farmers are looking for alternative ways to access capital.

In the United States, some have turned to crowdfunding, with backers receiving guaranteed delivery of produce in return. Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, scarce access to capital has seen small farmers driven to international investors who commit funds to short and medium term cyclical products such as vegetable crops or poultry.

There are signs that alternative models could work in Australia.  A crowdfunded consortium received expressions of interest from 4000 investors committing $70 million in capital in a bid to purchase former Kidman & Co cattle stations in 2016.

While the group were ultimately outbid, similar ventures could be used to stimulate smaller scale investments in portions of farms — such as the leasing of equipment, or a herd of cattle.

Ultimately it will be up to the consumers — Australia’s farmers — to decide if these avenues are more attractive than the status quo. If the royal commission stories are anything to go by, there will definitely be some willing to give it a crack.



Can’t unscramble the faith omelette

Peter Kurti

06 July 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

Symbols of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, Eure, France, Europe

How best to protect the fundamental human right to religious liberty is a key area of enquiry for the CIS, and it has become an increasingly contentious matter in Australian politics.

Concerns about such issues as the legal change to the status of marriage, the scope of faith-based organisations to hire staff sympathetic to the organisation’s objectives, and the freedom for health care practitioners to object to the provision of certain services provide just three examples of such contention.

The adequacy of religious freedom protections in Australia has been now reviewed by the Ruddock Inquiry established by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after the ’marriage equality’ postal survey in later 2017 — although the government has yet to release Ruddock’s findings.

Nonetheless, advocates acknowledge that many Australians have only a very low level of concern about religious freedom — especially since the 2016 Census found 30% of Australians indicated they have no religious affiliation whatsoever.

Religion, it would appear, is viewed by many as something that should be consigned to the private realm of the mind and have no bearing on wider aspects of social life or public policy.

The result is that religious believers — whether they are teachers, sports superstars, or judges — are increasingly met with vilification, derision, confected outrage, and bullying mockery.

Of course, practising a faith is not a separate or completely private part of a person’s life. Yet in the event that such hostility to religion should prevail, religious believers are likely to find it harder to manifest their faith once they cross the threshold of their own front doors.

In her 2018 Acton Lecture at the Centre for Independent Studies, the Honourable Justice Debra Mullins engaged with the increasing hostility confronting religious believers – particularly Christians — when they venture into the workplace, and beyond.

Justice Mullins is no stranger to such challenges having, herself, faced allegations of conflict of interest because of her role as both judge and Chancellor (senior legal officer) of the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane.

How to take one’s faith into the professional work place is key for her. Justice Mullins argues that religious belief is a crucial component of a person’s identity, and that trying to keep areas of one’s life separate from religious belief is like to trying to unscramble an omelette.