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.

Australians shouldn’t be ashamed

Simon Cowan

25 January 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

In recent weeks we have been treated to yet another #changethedate campaign based on how terrible it is to celebrate Australia Day on the day of the arrival of the First Fleet, the day Australia was invaded by the British.

However, let’s be clear: this is not really about changing the date. That’s why there are no serious alternative dates proposed by opponents to January 26.

And it’s not just because there are no other viable days for a national celebration: federation happened on January 1, but that’s already a public holiday and — as it celebrates the political union between the colonies — it has the same problems as Australia Day.

Other foundational events are equally problematic: ANZAC day too is already a public holiday and not without its own controversy. The Eureka stockade was built and manned by miners, whose compatriots led decades of racist opposition to Chinese immigrants. Nor are significant milestones in Indigenous affairs less political (or more inclusive to broader society) than Australia Day.

Nor will picking a different day to celebrate solve the activists’ real problem: the foundation of Australia is inextricably linked with the dispossession of Indigenous Australians.

The objection is to celebrating the foundation of Australia (or for some even modern Australia) at all.

While there are some who compare Indigenous living standards today with those prior to the first fleet landing and argue that Indigenous Australians too are better off, this is beside the point. We cannot know what Australia might have looked like had settlers treated with Indigenous people as equals and partners.

Moreover, ahistorical counterfactuals are irrelevant: invasion and colonisation occurred here and elsewhere. Indigenous people have a right to reflect on the dispossession, racism and violence that occurred as a result of settlement.

Nevertheless, Australia has grown into something great and special — which is why the thousands of people who seek Australian citizenship today desperately do want to be here.

There are some who want Australians to feel shame and guilt: for colonisation, for our refugee policy, for our failure to pay ‘our fair share’ of taxes and ultimately because we are the fortunate ones. They think pride in Australia is for bogans and nationalists. They are wrong.

Australia is not perfect. Yet Australians can feel proud of our country and its people, how far we’ve come, and what we’ve achieved, in spite of those who seek to shame us. An overwhelming majority of people believe the existence of Australia is something worth celebrating.

It is ok to celebrate the good as long as we don’t bury the bad.

Quotas are no magic bullet

Eugenie Joseph

25 January 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Are quotas the key to boosting the number of women in federal parliament? Or do they undermine the important principle of merit? These questions will be the focus of discussion at a CIS panel event next week on the topic of women in politics.

But while gender quotas are touted as an obvious solution, they are not a magic bullet solution to improve the quality of parliament.

This is because the lack of women is symptomatic of a greater problem: the lack of meritocracy in selecting political candidates.

Many candidates — across all political parties — are not selected on clear merit. They are often the products of factions, powerful unions, or selected as a “reward” for years of loyal service to their party; not because of their professional credentials or commitment to public service.

And this relates to another problem: the rise of the “career politician” in Australia: a phenomenon criticised by both John Howard and Bob Hawke.

Selecting candidates based on their political experience blurs the line between meritocracy and party cronyism — while making it more difficult for women with no political experience to be taken seriously.

The downsides of political life already discourage many women from seeking elected office: long working hours, absence from family, media scrutiny and nasty public attacks.

Indeed, the sheer unpleasantness of political life is likely to substantially reduce the pool of talented women willing to put their hand up for elected office.

Nevertheless, it is likely we would see more women choosing to enter parliament, if the principle of merit was applied more evenly and transparently.

Capable women – from lawyers to factory workers, teachers to bureaucrats – are perfectly well-qualified to run for public office. But quotas will do little to help them, if pre-selection is still biased in favour of political insiders.

To promote true merit, we need a change in political party culture, so capable people have a fair opportunity to win pre-selection based on their experience, talents and values alone. Indeed, it should be the norm for parties to head-hunt talented candidates who have no prior political connections.

Quotas sound like a nice, simple solution, but they will not guarantee a fair go for talented people in seeking pre-selection, and that is the real problem.

This is an edited extract of an op-ed published in The Guardian

Socialist utopia is complete fantasy

Thomas Coppel

25 January 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Views that Australia will turn into a utopia under socialism are wildly uninformed, and that rosy fantasy fails to acknowledge both the destructive aspects of socialism and — conversely — the benefits of capitalism.

CIS research shows that many young Australians have either taken for granted how our society has largely benefited from capitalism, or have not paid attention in high-school economics classes.

Despite claims that the benefits of productivity growth have not been equally enjoyed by everyone, capitalism has enabled millions to escape from poverty and has increased the overall standard of living around the globe.

At home, the poverty rate has decreased from 9% in 1988 to 3% in 2015, and social mobility is high. In fact, the majority of the poorest Australians currently do not remain poor for more than three years.

Furthermore, the free-market economy has become a fertile ground for entrepreneurship, budding creativity and technological innovations that have become a necessity in our daily lives.

Socialism saps incentives to work, innovate and invest, disrupting the fundamental mechanisms of productivity growth and economic well-being.

Unlike capitalism, socialism breeds laziness and contributes to a slow growth environment, deterring its citizens from participating in meaningful work.

Introducing measures such as the unconditional basic income (UBI) will simply exacerbate economic downturn and become a disincentive for individual effort.

Capitalism empowers people to freely decide on how they want to earn and spend their income. With socialism, you agree to have your life choices being dictated by the government, ranging from where and how you have to work, live and play.

Educating the current generation about the consequences of socialism should be a priority.

This is an edited excerpt from the full opinion piece published by The Spectator.