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.

Is Australia still the economic wonder down under?

Robert Carling

02 November 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

Australia continues to gain international recognition for its exemplary economic performance and to be highlighted as a case study in successful economic reform.

Readers of London-based newspaper, The Economist, would have seen a feature article in the latest issue titled ‘The wonder down under’. And last month, Australia was invited to make a presentation on its experience with economic reform to a high level workshop at the IMF/World Bank annual meetings.

These are just the latest in a long stream of accolades. There is no doubt Australia has a success story to tell the rest of the world, but the story is wearing thin and it seems odd that the plaudits are continuing to flow when so much is going wrong here — and other international comparisons show our economic freedom ranking on the slide in recent years.

A glance at the table of economic and financial indicators at the back of The Economist shows Australia leading the pack of advanced countries in GDP growth, and this has been the case for many years. However, our population growth is also leading the pack, and in per capita terms our growth rate is now unexceptional.

GDP is also an overarching indicator that conceals as much as it reveals. For example: household consumption spending is robust, but how long can this continue on the back of a falling saving rate and world-beating household debt levels? Meanwhile, business investment is weak.

The reality is that Australia’s performance looks good in the rear view mirror, but there are good reasons to be concerned about the road ahead. The economic reform effort petered out years ago and is now going from reform drought to damaging policies. The Economist gives little or no space to the energy policy fiasco, threat of an antediluvian industrial relations system, or prospect of damaging tax policies. The pathetic state of federalism doesn’t rate a mention.

It is for these kinds of reasons that Australia’s relative economic performance is at risk of decline and we may become a lesson to other countries in what not to do. The Economist recognises there are problems, but almost as an afterthought to the main theme. The last sentence of the feature article warns that “If politicians do not sort themselves out, Australia risks becoming as troubled as everywhere else.”

How true — and that is the message we need to absorb, not that we are still the ‘wonder down under’. The more people hear of the latter, the longer the sense of complacency continues and the more Australians take prosperity for granted.




Petrol prices pump up interventionist calls

Charles Jacobs

02 November 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

One by one, Australia’s markets are falling victim to the hand of an interventionist government. The energy sector — for years the focus of political meddling — has in recent months become the target of proposed price reduction controls. Meanwhile, milk apparently doesn’t cost enough. The government is now pushing supermarkets to raise their store prices.

This week, in the latest manifestation of the Liberal party throwing its free market values under the bus, the government has turned its big stick to the fuel industry. Indeed, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is considering ‘any number of measures’ to reduce prices at the pump.

Consumers are undoubtedly frustrated at the rising cost of living, and companies must be prevented from wrongdoing in the form of price fixing — that’s a no brainer. However, the question must be asked: where does it stop?

There are many industries where the government could arguably step in. Take one of Australia’s favourite pastimes — sports entertainment. The cost of an evening at the footy has gone up significantly in the last decade. Ticket prices, food, and parking have all hit fans’ wallets, meaning that for many families going to a game is just too expensive. The number of empty seats regularly seen at the matches of several major codes mean these prices definitely aren’t the result of supply and demand. Surely the government could step in here to bring the cost down?

While the list could go on, it is important to look at what the outcome of the fuel debate might be. When it comes to petrol, several solutions have been proposed. Liberal Party MP Craig Kelly is calling for the government to reduce fuel excise taxes — a solution that he argues could save drivers 10 cents per litre. Others have suggested that petrol price comparison apps will help create a level of competition that will at least keep prices somewhat in check.

However, unlike milk, the fuel market is very much subject to international factors and the volatile Australian dollar. If the government does become too involved it will only drive retailers away — meaning less competition in the long run. As Scott Morrison said of petrol prices on Monday (before his backflip on Tuesday): “there are some things we can’t control.”

Sex vs gender: down the slippery linguistic slope

Monica Wilkie

02 November 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

Public discourse is filled with euphemistic language that can make difficult topics more palatable. However, euphemisms can also create more confusion than clarity when the meanings of words become blurred. A clear example of this is in the discussion on gender and sex.

Next month, the Tasmanian parliament will debate the Justice and Related Legislation (Marriage Amendments) Bill 2018. Several media reports have stated the proposed bill will, among other things, remove gender from birth certificates. The bill began as a push to remove an old law that required transgender people to divorce before changing their gender on legal documents; but amendments by the Greens have added in the potential for gender to be removed from birth certificates.

There is just one problem — Tasmanian birth certificates do not currently record the gender of a child. They record the sex. That is, they record the biologically immutable characteristics of males and females, developed at conception from the XY chromosomal determination system.

Prior to the mid 1950s, the term ‘gender’ pertained to language — where some nouns were masculine or feminine. Then psychologist Dr John Money decided that gender applied to human beings and coined the term ‘gender identity’ —  which refers to an individual’s personal view of their sex, without regard to their biological sex.

This is where things start to become a little tricky when we use gender and sex interchangeably. If gender is completely socially or personally constructed and does not bear any relationship to biological sex, what is recorded on a birth certificate should not matter because birth certificates record a biological fact — the sex of a child.

If sex and gender are interchangeable you can argue that gender is biologically determined and sex is social constructed or vice-versa — confusing, I know.

We would all be better served if people were strict in their use of the terms sex and gender and stopped using them interchangeably. This would at least help clarify debate around these issues, which are ill-served by muddying the dialogue.