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.
It is fair to say that in these politically correct times there is a lack of political leadership around many contentious social issues that many politicians and community leaders hesitate to speak out about.
It is also a truism that politics abhors a vacuum. However, we should be careful not to fill the vacuum with another vacuum.
This thought is prompted by the controversy generated by the visit to Australia by the 23-year-old Canadian alt-right activist Lauren Southern.
Southern — who had already tried to drum up publicity over her initially rejected visa application — pulled another stunt upon arrival in Brisbane by wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘It’s Okay to be White.’
This was followed by Southern — who speaks fluent soundbite — telling the media how pleased she was to be in country committed to “Western culture — something that may not be here for much longer if left-wing Australian politicians continue their pathological worship of multiculturalism.”
If Southern’s heart is in the right place, her arguments certainly aren’t. For many of the things she is saying on western culture and multiculturalism, claims to stand for, and literally wears on her ‘T’, are mutually exclusive.
Yes, ‘hard’ multiculturalism poses a danger to Western culture when migrants from countries with conflicting cultural values migrate and are not encouraged to integrate with the norms and values of their new country.
But, no: the answer to multiculturalism is not to practice a different form of identity politics — a new form of tribalism — by being proud of ‘whiteness’.
What is actually worth defending about Western culture (and is the antidote to identity politics and multiculturalism) is the fundamental principle of respect for the individual — regardless of superficial differences such as those that are literally skin-deep.
If Southern really wants to defend Western culture and all it should truly stand for, she should buy a new T-shirt.
This one should be emblazoned with that famous quote by one of the greatest proponents of the respect for the individual, Dr Martin Luther King: “judge not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Faced with the shortage of qualified teachers for science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects, the federal government recently announced its intention of solving this problem — but it is a state and territory issue.
Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, delivered an excellent speech last week extolling the importance of teaching rigorous content knowledge in STEM subjects. He identified the problem of many student arriving at university to study STEM-related degrees without the necessary foundations. Clearly, we need to improve the quality of maths and science teaching across the school system.
But it is difficult to attract science and maths graduates to the teaching profession. Approximately 20% of Years 7–10 science and maths teachers in Australia do not have any university qualification in their subjects.
One straightforward idea to encourage STEM graduates to become teachers — which CIS has been advocating for many years — is to allow differential, market-driven pay rates for teachers depending on the demand for qualified teachers in their subjects.
This isn’t like the simplistic ‘pay all teachers more’ or ‘introduce performance-based pay’ solutions.
Rather, teacher salaries should be higher or lower depending on whether there is an oversupply or undersupply of teachers in the subject. For example, if there is an oversupply of history teachers and an undersupply of science teachers, then schools should be able to pay science teachers relatively more.
While this might seem an absolute no-brainer, it is surprisingly controversial. Education unions tend to oppose differential pay rates, which helps explain why we continue to have set teacher salaries that only vary with experience and expertise, and not with subject area. As long as this is the case, it is very hard to see an end to Australia’s STEM woes.
The truth is maths, engineering, and science graduates tend to be in demand by many employers, and so they have to forgo relatively high-paying jobs to go into teaching.
Another impediment for STEM graduates becoming teachers is that they must take two years off paid work to do a Master of Teaching. Until recently, it was possible to do a one-year Graduate Diploma of Education instead.
The benefits of a Masters compared to a Diploma are arguable — and university teacher education degrees often don’t equip teaching graduates with evidence-based practices. So it is hard to argue that STEM graduates should have to do a further two years of full-time study to become qualified teachers.
Introducing differential teacher pay rates for STEM teachers won’t solve the problem overnight, but there seem to be few other viable options.
Critics of the federal government’s plan to ‘refresh’ the Closing the Gap strategy have argued that the new focus on economic development and prosperity is misguided and will impede improvements in health and education.
The scheme, which 10 years ago set several key targets aimed at addressing the severe disparities faced by Indigenous Australians, has so far failed to make a significant impact. In February it was announced that three out of the four objectives expiring this year will not be met, while another one of the three set to expire in the coming years is not on track to succeed.
The clear struggle of the policy to effect change makes the recent criticisms frustrating to hear. Of the seven targets set in 2008, only one — to halve employment gap by 2018 — was focussed on economic development. The remaining six were all health and education focussed.
If anything, the lessons from the past decade suggest we need more focus on prosperity, not less. Prosperity will be the single most important factor for closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and will have a direct impact on education and health outcomes.
While the previous approach has been program heavy and based primarily on government interventions, an economic development approach shifts the focus to respect and agency — something Indigenous leaders have been seeking for generations.
Prosperity comes in many forms. For Indigenous people, home ownership and self-employment would be a good place to start. Even in cities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people own homes at half the rate of the rest of the population. Owning a home is one of the most important pillars of our society, bringing stability and autonomy. A target to close the gap in home ownership is therefore essential.
Meanwhile, Indigenous self-employment levels are less than a third of the rate of all Australians. Self-employment and entrepreneurship are key to overcoming socio-economic disparities. They can allow people to navigate around barriers to economic participation, such as low education and stigmas. A self-employment target is consequentially pivotal.
While there will always be critics, expect Indigenous leaders and the government to place prosperity high on the agenda when new targets are set later in the year. To do otherwise would risk repeating the failures of the past decade.