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.

Waiting for a result

Robert Forsyth

03 August 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

We are still waiting for the release of (and the government’s proposed response to) the report of the Expert Panel set up to by the Prime Minster on the freedom of religion in Australia. Australians are interested. The panel received 15,620 submissions in the few months it met. If handled right, this could be a seminal moment for the country.

Freedom of religion, together with other freedoms of association, speech and the right to own property is crucial to the health of our society and the flourishing of its people, even though it is not an absolute right and can justly be limited under certain circumstances.

Freedom of religion involves the freedom to manifest belief in behaviour and actions and to maintain religious communities and institutions.

There has been a history of the long enjoyment of religious freedom in Australia without robust legal protection, due to our common law tradition. But shifts in culture, and especially in the extent and nature of anti-discrimination law, are changing that ¾ and suggest a more secure foundation is now advisable.

The Expert Panel process has opened the door for genuine and bipartisan action to secure existing religious freedom in this nation for the future.

If this could be done in a way that neither increases or diminishes existing common law freedoms, and is supported by a wide section of the community, the matter would in effect be put to bed for decades.

It would be a tragedy if the issue was unduly politicised. Or if, after so much work, nothing is finally done. How the securing of a better platform for religious freedom is dealt with in the coming months will be a test of the maturity of this county.

Robert Forsyth is a Senior Fellow in the Culture, Prosperity and Civil Society Program at The Centre for Independent Studies. His paper, A Test of Maturity: the liberal case for action on religious freedom, was published this week.

The future of Medicare

Jeremy Sammut

03 August 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

Bill Shorten’s promise that Labor will pour more money into public hospitals might have helped them win four by-elections on Saturday.

But it’s not good health policy; for the reasons set out in The Future of Medicare? Health Innovation in 21st Century Australia a new book that brings together the recent research of the CIS Health Innovations Program.

Higher spending on hospitals is not only financially unsustainable the long-run.  It also amounts to propping up an outdated and fragmented Medicare system that continues to fund the same old GP and hospital services in same old way — services that fail to keep chronic patients well and out of hospital.

This will do nothing — literally — to ensure Medicare is ‘fit for purpose’ and can adequately meet the major health challenges of the 21st century.

The book argues that, rather than obsess about the level of hospital funding, we need to start talking about how to modernise Medicare so the system can deliver the new, more affordable, and improved kinds of healthcare needed to address the rising burden of chronic disease in an ageing and sicker Australia.

To fix problems that waste vast sums on high-cost expensive hospital care, such as the 10% of all hospital admissions that are potentially avoidable each year, we o urgently need innovative approaches to health.

This includes solutions such as capitated funding to pay for ‘chronic care packages’ delivered outside of hospital, which achieve the best and most cost-effective health outcome — and keep patients well and out of hospital — by ensuring the chronically-ill access all necessary care including community nursing and allied health services.

It remains, however, that political obstacles to health reform are formidable.

This is why The Future of Medicare calls for a comprehensive independent Productivity Commission review of the Australian health system to catalyse healthcare reform and innovation.

Such an inquiry could move the health debate forward applying the lessons of recent reforms in aged care and disability services.

In both these sectors, politicians have responded to the dissatisfaction of consumers, their families, and advocacy groups, and implemented important changes to old systems that were failing to meet the needs of older and disabled Australians.

A Productivity Commission inquiry into the future of Medicare would reveal the same latent dissatisfaction with Medicare of chronic disease sufferers and patient groups — and highlight the need for policymakers and the public to support modernising Medicare. See this page.

Phonics science vs the ‘feels’

Jennifer Buckingham

03 August 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

The phonics debate co-hosted by the Centre for Independent Studies and the Australian College of Educators was supposed to be about the best way to teach phonics. It is a given that numerous other factors contribute to reading success, including children’s language experiences in early childhood. But phonics instruction is still a point of contention  so much so, that 480 people turned up to the debate and another 1000 watched online from all over the world.

The thousands of scientific studies on reading development are incredibly complex, yet remarkably consistent. They show the primary neurological pathway for beginning readers is between the visual (print) and phonological (sound) areas of the brain. The semantic (meaning) part of the brain is engaged when children know what the word they are reading sounds like. Over time, skilled readers can make the leap straight from print to meaning but the distinction between novice and skilled reading has important implications for teaching reading.

My team at the debate included Distinguished Professor Anne Castles and champion primary school teacher Troy Verey. Professor Castles is among the world’s best reading researchers. What she doesn’t know about reading development is probably not worth knowing, so we possibly had an unfair advantage. We concisely outlined the scientific evidence of reading development and explained which teaching methods best reflected the evidence. Our case was that ensuring all children learn to read relies on teachers having high levels of knowledge and expertise, and not accepting that some children will not learn. Good teaching is crucial.

Instead of providing evidence and arguments to counter ours, the opposing team Professor Robyn Ewing and Dr Kathy Rushton from Sydney University and Mark Diamond, principal of Lansvale Public School took the debate in a different direction.

Having resurrected and waved around the fallacious straw man argument we thought we had buried at the beginning of the debate that we believed phonics alone is enough for reading the opposing team argued that learning to read has very little to do with the way children are taught at school. The message seemed to be: children will learn to read if their mothers talk and read to them from birth, and if they have access to books. (The corollary being that if children can’t read, they have bad mothers?). At school, teaching reading is about ‘rich conversations’ and ‘relationships’.

The strange dichotomy is that the latter perspective is perceived as being the teacher-friendly view, while the perspective that recognises that evidence-informed expert teaching is critical and should be valorised, is disparaged as being ‘robotic’ and anti-teacher.

There was applause from the audience when Dr Rushton admitted she has not engaged with the scientific research on reading instruction; she relies on what she learned in her teaching degree some years ago, and what she has seen in the classroom. While ever this is considered acceptable, let alone laudable, teaching will struggle to be seen as a profession.