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.

Let’s bin election campaigns

Monica Wilkie

18 January 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

A new year, a new you and a new federal government. Yes, this year we will be having a federal election — and if you are lucky enough to be a New South Welshmen, a bonus state election as well.

We have all seen election campaigns before. We hear promises, watch attack ads, and maybe enjoy a scandal or two. Each side will harangue the other to stop focusing on the trivial and talk about policy.

Each side will tell the other to stop politicising an obviously political event. And — my personal favourite — we get to watch the cringe-inducing nightmare that is a politician visiting a supermarket to talk lettuce with the ordinary folks. What fun we have to look forward to.

Why not save ourselves some time, money and cringe? Skip the whole campaign charade and get straight to the voting.

Election campaigns prove who is good at campaigning, not who is most qualified to hold public office.

Anyway, the impact of campaigns is dubious. A 2017 American study concluded general election campaigns have zero effect on voter decision making except in notable circumstances such as when a candidate takes an unusually unpopular decision or persuadable voters are identified and heavily targeted by campaigns.

Furthermore, think of the amount of bureaucrats and political apparatchiks we could jettison. Politicians employ whole teams to run campaigns.

There are laws around what you can and cannot do in an election campaign and these laws come with the necessary enforcers. The Parliament of Australia even produces a guide to ‘Campaigning in the new millennium’ and if counting sheep doesn’t alleviate your insomnia, perusing its pages should do the trick.

There are some logistical necessities associated with election campaigns such as nominating candidates and managing polls. But these could be easily administered without an expensive PR spectacle.

Election campaigns are like an unsexy beauty contest in which the one who takes home the sash and tiara is the one who promised the most free stuff. Let’s scrap this anachronism.



Should the nanny state cap your calories?

Eugenie Joseph

18 January 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

After a summer break filled with well-earned indulgence, you may be starting your New Year’s resolution to diet.

But it could soon be the government’s responsibility to control your calorie intake — if we’re inclined to play copy-cat on a ludicrous proposal under consideration by the British government to cap the number of calories in restaurant meals and ready-made meals from supermarkets.

Hilariously, even a benign-sounding tuna and cucumber sandwich sold by the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain would become illegal under the scheme — as it would top the mandated 550 calorie limit.

But while it is tempting to joke about the idea, if it’s implemented in Britain, it is certain the health lobby will turn its sights on Australia.

After all, Australia tends to adopt Britain’s policies as quickly as their BBC costume dramas. A tax on sugary drinks — another poorly-targeted policy introduced in Britain last year — has been the subject of ongoing debate in Australia.

Of course, obesity is a serious problem in many developed nations — including Australia — but the causes are complex and the solutions are not straightforward.

More than 5 million Australians are now classified as obese. And obesity places a strain on our health system, with taxpayers bearing much of the cost of treatments for related problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But there is little evidence that capping calories in meals would be worth the huge regulatory cost to the food and restaurant industries.

After all, capping calories does nothing to directly prevent people from consuming too much; a pea-sized pizza could simply be followed by a mega Mars bar.

Furthermore, obesity is sadly more prevalent in lower socio-economic households — who are less likely to afford expensive restaurant meals. So why make the whole restaurant industry pay for a poorly-targeted policy?

If governments feel compelled to combat obesity, they should at least focus their policies directly on children at risk, as childhood is often where lasting food and exercise habits are formed.

But don’t be surprised if by next New Year, dining out is a lot less fun.




Divorce, Washington style

Greg Pulscher

18 January 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

As the token American at CIS, I was shocked to hear of the divide occurring back in the States. Two great sides that stood together for years, working together as one while bringing millions of Americans opportunity, jobs, and hope.

Now, the two sides are unravelling before our eyes… I truly wish Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos all the best in these trying times, and hope they both can find happiness once again.

It brings no joy hearing of a power couple’s decision to split after years of love and support. However, in life people grow apart and I hope the pair decide to act like grown adults and hold no grudges.

On the other hand, that’s far more than I could expect from Washington in the 26th day of the government shutdown. Behind this power couple of Democrats and Republicans, the country is whispering to each other “see … I told you they wouldn’t last!”

The signs were always there. The two could never say anything nice about the other, together maxed out the family credit cards, took out trillions in foreign payday loans, pitted the kids against the other parent by buying them off, then blamed the Russian, Chinese, and Mexican neighbours for all their personal problems.

And while unable to solve their household wrangling — but still having the audacity to tell Americans how to live their lives — they then shut the whole thing down over a .0002% increase in debt.

But as they say, if you want a quick lesson in relationships, spend a few days in Family Law Court. The US has now been there for nearly a month, so the least we can do is learn from this debacle and turn it into some future good.

Americans are now realising many of the federal government’s ‘necessary’ roles are… err, not. States, communities, and non-profits are picking up the responsibilities like protecting national parks and providing multiple gaps in local services.

Washington seems astounded to discover that local communities value their neighbourhoods more than the bureaucracy does.

Years of debt, regular budget increases, and unnecessary hiring culminated in a moment when the government finally stopped — and only the bureaucrats were in tears.

Had Amazon shut down, things would have gotten real. Shuttering the largest company in the world, valued at $1 trillion, would have caused widespread panic. But an organization with a combined $21 trillion in debt alone… meh.

The relationship as it stands in Washington is broken, the media has turned into tabloids reporting only on wedge issues, and politicians are in the capital to control the rest of the country, not represent their constituency.

In the US, states and communities were ready to take back responsibility from the feds. If something similar happened in Australia — with our increasing deficit and nanny state regulations — how would we fare?