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.

Ending homelessness demands real solutions

Carlos d'Abrera

14 December 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

It’s more than a year since the infamous Martin Place tent city was dismantled, but we are no closer to addressing the real causes of genuine homelessness.

Unfortunately, the debate about homelessness is being distorted by dubious official statistics that exaggerate the extent of the problem, and obscure the urgent need for governments to implement the real solutions required to help the genuinely homeless people exit the streets.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are more than 100,000 ‘officially’ homeless people. But the figures are based on a flawed definition of that includes the ‘housed homeless’ such as people already living in supported accommodation, and other groups who live in crowded dwellings but would not consider themselves homeless.

At the 2016 census, only 7% (8200) of the ‘officially homeless’ met the average Australian’s understanding of the term: a person who sleeps rough, and usually on the streets.

Despite the 29% increase in funding (from $634.2 million to $817.4 million) for homeless services between 2011 and 2016, the number of Australians sleeping rough increased by 20% over that time.

But homelessness services have proved unable to stem the rising numbers of rough sleepers due to a misplaced fear of violating the ‘rights’ of the rough sleepers and disrupting the homeless ‘culture’.

Ideology is trumping reality. To expect the most severely homeless — who often suffer major mental health and substance abuse problems — to seek help if left to their own devices ignores our duty of care to help the most vulnerable in society who cannot look after themselves.

And without help, they will continue to suffer extreme — and eventually fatal — ill-health, disease, mental disorders and debilitating addictions.

If we truly want to reduce genuine homelessness — and prevent the wide range of health, social, and physical harms ‘rough sleepers’ experience — we must be prepared to intervene with real help, rather than letting them slide further and faster into illness and inevitable death.

Governments must appoint public guardians to help make decisions for rough sleepers, and outreach programs for rough sleepers must include a non-opt-out referral process to ensure the mentally ill receive appropriate treatment.

Mandatory drug treatment must also be expanded for the homeless, and for those at high risk of homelessness, to assist with maintaining stable accommodation and avoid evictions from public housing.

We also need to reconsider the impact of deinstitutionalisation over the past 30 years. Long-term care facilities offering high levels of support would benefit the chronically homeless and gravely ill people who will otherwise continue to live and die on the streets ‘with their rights on’.

This is an extract of a longer piece that was published in the Australian.

Dr Carlos d’Abrera is a psychiatrist and Research Associate at the Centre for Independent Studies. His report, Dying with their Rights On: The Myths and Realities of Ending Homelessness in Australia, is released this week.

Santa’s a thief and a bandit

Peter Kurti

14 December 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

The imagined sounds of reindeer hooves clomping on the roof, and those of a laden man clambering into the chimney, have thrilled over-excited, sleepless children for generations.

But in their excitement, they refuse to heed repeated warnings about the threat Santa actually poses to Christmas. Jesus spotted an early danger sign and expressed himself with characteristic candour.

“Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate,” he said, “but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit” (John 10:1). Santa – a thief and a bandit? Well, that’s settled, then.

But there is yet more to the backstory of Saint Nicholas — as he is known in church circles — a third-century bishop in Asia Minor (Turkey) noted for his secret gift-giving.

So from Saint Nicholas to Saint Nick to Santa Claus – and the creation of one of the world’s most famous and tightly held brands.

Of course, Santa did not invent Christmas: he merely saw its potential. Just as Ray Kroc saw limitless possibilities for the hamburgers sold by the McDonald brothers, Santa Claus — as he now chooses to be known — quickly spotted that the route to retail lay through reindeer.

Revenue comes from Santa’s gifts — toys created by large teams of small elves whose working conditions are clearly ignored by the UN Special Rapporteur on Christmas.

But methane emissions from the “eight tiny reindeer” — as those beasts were described by the 19th century poet of Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore — mean that Santa also faces logistical challenges.

Climate change means Christmas change, because global warming can apparently leave no aspect of our common life untouched. After all, belief without action is devoid of meaning. So we need to talk about Santa.

Rumours that the contentious ‘Santa issue’ would surface during the Wentworth by-election campaign proved to be without substance, despite strong international lobbying as the festive season loomed.

Pollution from Santa’s supply chain has caused a hockey-stick spike in CO2 emissions and threatens the human race with imminent and certain extinction.

But Santa refuses to accept the verdict of climate alarmists on reindeer emissions. And eco-catastrophists’ warnings have also done little to dent consumer confidence.

Shares in Santa’s Consolidated Christmas Holdings (CCH) remain buoyant as markets expect each Aussie secret gift-giver to part with an average of $1396 over the tightly regulated festive season.

And, as yet, there is no appetite at CCH HQ for any attempt at emissions reduction. Thief, bandit – and, now, climate denier?

Yes… we do need to talk about Santa. Before it’s too late, and the globally-warmed, climate-changed, reindeer-damaged sky falls in.



Please, tech giants … take over my life

Monica Wilkie

14 December 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

The ACCC this week released an alarming report into tech companies and digital giants, recommending greater regulation for companies such as Facebook and Google — deemed to be basically public utilities operated by private players (94% of all internet searches in Australia go through Google).

But what if instead of trying to regulate our digital overlords, we used their monopoly control to finally find a way to project-manage our hopelessly disorganised lives?

They already know everything about us and use this information to position ads they believe we will like. We all complain about ads — but perhaps we need a rethink.

How much time do we waste on making decisions? From what we’ll have for lunch to whether we should wed Cecil in Accounts …let’s outsource those decisions.

Instead of merely making suggestions, online ads should take action based on their superior understanding of our wants and needs.

Instead of recommending you have Uber Eats deliver you that delicious burger from your favourite restaurant, the ad pops up and tells you it’s on its way. That’s lunch sorted.

Have to attend a wedding? No need to spend hours searching for the perfect outfit — Facebook has trawled through all the images where you felt well-dressed enough to proudly post them to the world… and made your choice. Watch for the parcel in 3-5 business days.

Tired of looking for ‘the one’? Tinder just matched you with Jeff and you are meeting for coffee tomorrow at 3pm. The church is booked for next month.

Is your current job perhaps not the best fit? LinkedIn has found the perfect role and you start Monday. It has also produced a (polite) resignation letter and mailed it to your boss, organised a farewell party and sent your office manager a giant card to circulate for signatures.

And a gift whose lavishness has been precisely calculated by an algorithm combing the combined salaries of your co-workers — and deducting percentages depending on comments their eavesdropping devices have reported to Lord Zuckerberg (all genuflect at his name).

There is a somewhat counterintuitive notion in spelunking. Sometimes to get out of a cave, rather than climbing up, you must overcome all your instincts and fears and climb deeper down into the darkness to escape.

We are already deep in the cave with these digital behemoths and the light is but a dim, distant memory. Let’s keep climbing down — it’s the only way.