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.
This week was the American electorate’s first opportunity to render a national verdict on Trump’s presidency. Turnout and enthusiasm were high, but the results were mixed: although the Democrats have won enough seats to regain the House of Representatives, Republicans have strengthened their hold on the Senate. The result just confirms and extends America’s current political divisions.
Nothing demonstrates the divisions better than the nature of the House and Senate races. Although his name wasn’t on the ballot, Trump tried to nationalise the midterms by running hard on import tariffs and especially tough border controls. That helped in states where Senate races were conducted. However, it backfired in House races.
Indeed, what worked for Republicans in motivating the conservative base in red states—and even a few Democrat states (such as Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota) boomeranged in urban districts where the House majority was determined. These are swing electorates in which moderate and college-educated Republicans and independents determine who wins.
There are anywhere between 30 and 40 of these seats, and they are primarily based in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Denver, northern Virginia and Miami-Dade.
Think of these seats as America’s versions of Wentworth, the inner-city Sydney seat that recently voted out the Liberals. Nativism does not resonate here. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton carried 23 of these moderate Republican seats; and most of them—and some more—voted for the Democrats this week.
What lies ahead? First, Trump is unlikely to be fazed by these results. If anything, he may well double down on his nativist message, because it didn’t hurt the Republican campaigns across many states. And it is the states that determine the electoral-college vote, which in turn determines the presidential election.
Second, in the wake of their House victory, Democrats are likely to be more confrontational and subject Trump to more scrutiny. However, there is a danger in over-interpreting their mandate. They received none. At best, they were merely rewarded for acting as the people’s proxy in placing checks and balances on Trump’s presidency. Moreover,
Democrats lack dominant national leaders and have no clear agenda beyond bagging Trump to take into the 2020 presidential election.
Finally, get ready for Washington to become even more partisan and polarising in coming years. Robert Gates once said the ‘greatest national security threat’ to the US ‘is the two square miles that encompasses the Capitol Building and the White House’.
The former defence secretary made those remarks in 2014, well before Trump arrived on the scene. If he thought congressional gridlock and infighting was a big problem then, it is bound to become an even bigger problem during the next two years.
Hyper-partisanship, toxic polarisation, lack of bipartisanship—the midterm elections have reaffirmed these trends.
The NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet this week announced a plan to index real estate stamp duty thresholds to inflation from 2019. This means the points at which the graduated duty rates cut in would increase automatically each year without new legislation being required.
Indexation is a good idea in principle and Perrottet is to be applauded for going where no state Treasurer has gone before, but his proposal is but a small step towards correcting the state’s addiction to a flawed tax.
The stamp duty scales have not been adjusted since 1986. Since then the revenue yield from this tax has ballooned from a mere $500 million a year to almost $10 billion at the peak of the recent boom.
Although revenue is now in retreat, this will no doubt prove to be another temporary set-back. Over the long term State governments — Coalition and Labor, and in all states, not just NSW — have enjoyed the revenue ride and have never wanted to do anything to stop it.
The flip side to governments’ addiction is a steadily rising burden on home buyers. As values increase but the transfer duty scale remains unchanged, the percentage of stamp duty in average values goes up. Since 1986, on the median Sydney house price it has roughly doubled from 2% to 4%.
Indexing the stamp duty brackets to the consumer price index would slow the increase in duty as a percentage of average values, but it wouldn’t stop it because house values over time rise faster than the CPI (even if they are falling at the moment). Since 1986, the Sydney CPI has risen by about 170%, but the median house value by 1,000% or more.
Instead of indexing to the CPI, the state government should index to some measure of average property values in NSW, just as they index the land tax threshold to average land values in NSW.
Also, the thresholds are in need of a major increase right now, before automatic indexation starts next year.
Until recently, assisting another person to commit suicide was an offence everywhere in Australia. Then in 2017, Victoria changed the law to make euthanasia and assisted suicide legal. Western Australia may follow in 2019 if the recommendations of a parliamentary committee are adopted.
My new book, Euthanasia: Putting the Culture to Death?, argues that the danger of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide is that it will harm family relationships, damage the trust we place in the medical profession, and corrode the bonds of civil society forged between individuals within communities.
Yet mounting pressure to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia is a one-way ratchet, asserting the primacy of individual choice. Euthanasia advocates insist nothing can ever outweigh that choice. But we need to weigh the impact of that choice on wider society.
Euthanasia advocates call it “dying with dignity”, but this is an empty phrase used largely for rhetorical effect, to mask fears about what happens before death.
Suicide in Australia is a national tragedy and the leading cause of premature death. Until 2017, it was an offence everywhere in Australia to assist another person to commit suicide. Campaigns to change the law, will lead to the normalisation of selective killing. However, euphemisms abound in the debate because there is a reluctance to acknowledge that what is sometimes called ‘voluntary assisted dying’, actually involves the act of killing another human being.
When euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates appeal to the principle of ‘personal autonomy’, they fail to see this is inconsistent with their argument that important restrictions would also be placed on the availability of euthanasia.
Legalisation would mark the first move down a ‘slippery slope’ that would see the categories of eligibility expand, eroding the moral significance of killing human beings. Concern about what things will be like at the bottom of the slope justify great caution about the decision taken at the top.
Once the answer to suffering becomes the medical elimination of the sufferer, it is hard to see how any limits can be placed around the human experience of suffering.
Doctors are to heal, not to harm, and the motive of ‘compassion’ is not enough to justify extending the role of doctors to include the act of killing. When society permits some of its citizens to be killed, it tears the fabric of community and threatens to put the culture itself to death.