Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies

Ideas@TheCentre

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.

Teacher education degrees should face scrutiny

Blaise Joseph

05 July 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Australian teachers are underprepared for the classroom compared to those in other countries, according to a recent global survey. The result indicates initial teacher education in Australia often isn’t up to scratch.

The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) asked teachers around the world how prepared they were after completing their teacher education degrees. And on almost every measure — including being prepared to teach specific subjects, teach mixed-ability classes, and manage the classroom — Australian teachers reported being less prepared than the OECD teacher average.

While we should not rely too much on international surveys (because teachers in different countries may answer questions differently due to varying expectations and backgrounds), the TALIS findings are consistent with existing research on Australian teacher education degrees. The evidence indicates new teachers aren’t adequately prepared to teach reading or manage student behaviour — aspects of teaching that could hardly be classified as optional extras.

This should certainly raise questions about the quality of content that taxpayer-funded universities are delivering to teacher education students. And it follows on from concerning news that almost 1 in 10 teacher education students fail a basic literacy and numeracy test, which has prompted calls to raise the standard of new teacher intakes.

The TALIS survey also asked teachers about what school spending priorities should be. Australian teachers were more likely than the OECD teacher average to prioritise reducing administrative burden by recruiting more support staff — suggesting red tape for teachers may have grown unreasonably, meaning less time can be spent on lesson preparation.

Interestingly, Australian teachers were less likely to think reducing class sizes or increasing teacher salaries should be prioritised than the OECD teacher average.

This goes to show there are many policies to improve the school system we should consider before we move to throwing even more taxpayer money at the problems. We should start by trying to improve teacher training.

Health care ‘apartheid’

Jeremy Sammut

05 July 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The proposal to launch Australia’s first Indigenous-only hospital raises a number of questions and is problematic on a number of levels.

Taxpayer support is being targeted for the idea, which is part of St Vincent’s Health Australia’s so-called ‘inclusive health program’ — which aims to ensure more Indigenous people receive all care needed to improve and maintain their health.

However, the need for a separate hospital does not seem to be supported by any hard evidence that Indigenous-specific/culturally appropriate health services would fix the appalling health disparity between the most disadvantaged Indigenous and other Australians.

In addition, the claim that this would help close the gap also doesn’t stack up against the reality that in remote communities — which have the worst health outcomes — people are already receiving Indigenous-specific care from Aboriginal Medical Services.

In reality, lack of access to all necessary care by disadvantaged Indigenous patients is highly likely to be driven by the same factors that account for lack of access by disadvantaged non-Indigenous patients.

Failure to seek treatment and/or comply with treatment regimes is often due to behavioural factors
— ones that are also at the heart of people’s poor health status in general, especially in remote communities.

The idea of culturally appropriate care is a controversial one in the medical professions because the inclusion of such requirements in professional codes risks leaving the registration of doctors and nurses under threat from a subjective complaint that the care they delivered to an Indigenous patient was culturally inappropriate.

The fear is that when forced to practice under such obligations, many health professionals will be wary of treating Indigenous patients or working in Indigenous health.

This has important implications for the staffing of Indigenous-only facilitates, and for the quality of clinical care it may provide.

We should also be cautious about departing from the ‘universalist’ ethos that has long been at the core of the professional duties of doctors and nurses.

A version of this ethos has also been integral to the purpose of Catholic health services — and to the argument that these organisations deserve taxpayer-support to deliver public health services due in part to their special commitment to serving all the sick.

There is increasing pressure to withdraw public funding from Catholic health services over issues like abortion and euthanasia.

There is also a push to implement codes designed to ensure publically-funded services are ‘gender-sensitive’. The activist agenda here is to justify pushing faith-based providers out of the provision of such services on the basis that they are inherently LGTBI-unfriendly.

Giving credence to the argument that specific identity groups need their own culturally sensitive services will give credence and legitimacy to arguments that are fundamentally not in the best interest of Catholic health services.

All who wish to defend the principles of a free and civil society should defend public-funding to faith-based providers, as well as the rights of religious organisations and professionals on issues of conscience.

But when an organisation like St Vincent’s (which should know better) jumps on the progressive bandwagon and supports a divisive idea that is tantamount to health care ‘apartheid’, it is profoundly dispiriting — and makes it harder to will oneself to mount the cultural barricades in their defence.

As JobKeeper calls get louder, PM must be cautious

Robert Carling

26 July 2021 | Financial Review

Just as Sydney was sinking deeper into the morass of a lockdown and Victoria was about to re-enter that familiar territory, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported a week ago that the national unemployment rate had fallen below 5 per cent to its lowest level in 10 years.

But that was in June, and it is likely to be the last piece of good economic news for some time. So rapidly is the economic rebound unravelling – South Australia also joined the lockdown fray this week – that calls for the resurrection of JobKeeper and fiscal stimulus more generally are growing louder.

It is true that Australia had enjoyed a stunning economic rebound up to the end of June, but the role of fiscal policy in this needs to be carefully assessed before further measures are considered.

The fiscal policies of 2020 have been described as a triumph of Keynesian economics and a template for all future macroeconomic setbacks. One typical recent commentary along these lines in The Guardian proclaimed that the lesson of the past year or so is that “fiscal stimulus works”, “governments can create jobs”, and we should be forever grateful to John Maynard Keynes for providing the blueprint.

This is being far too generous to Keynes and his General Theory. Let’s be clear: few would suggest that fiscal policymakers should have sat on their hands in the circumstances of 2020.

But those circumstances were unique, and the policy responses that might have been appropriate then cannot be generalised as a prescription for all economic setbacks.

Economic activity was depressed by government edict. It bounced back when the edict was withdrawn. Fiscal policy facilitated the rebound through JobKeeper (which kept intact many employer/employee links that would otherwise have been severed) and various stimulus measures that supported household budgets and business cash flows. The sums were massive and – at least with the benefit of hindsight – more than was warranted.

If governments flood every crevice of the economy with borrowed money, there will doubtless be a boost to economic activity – especially when it is backed up by monetary policy that nails interest rates to the floor and creates new money by scooping up copious amounts of the government-issued debt (quantitative easing). But this is not a recipe for the future.

Yes, fiscal stimulus can work, but its effects will always be short-lived.

Yes, fiscal stimulus can work, but its effects will always be short-lived. And the question will always be “what comes next?” Stimulus brings forward economic activity from the future. That can serve a useful purpose in smoothing the business cycle, but it is always going to be exceedingly difficult for governments to get the timing right.

Policymakers also need to be alert to the potential longer-term problems created by short-term stimulus measures. One of these is the risk of unleashing inflation by over-heating the economy – a very live issue now, with inflation rising in some countries.

Other potential longer-term problems include distorted incentives and the difficulties for future fiscal management resulting from a build-up of debt. Economic actors know that today’s budget deficits can lead to tomorrow’s tax increases and adjust their behaviour accordingly.

The experience with fiscal policy during the pandemic is interesting but has done nothing to strengthen or weaken the case for fiscal activism to manage the economic cycle in the future.

Governments will always do it, but they should always be cautious. That advice applies right now, as the Morrison government is urged to step up fiscal support and stimulus again.

Scott Morrison should do as much as his government considers necessary and prudent, not what state governments and others might urge.

The main game for fiscal policy should be mapping a path back to a balanced budget and doing what it can to provide incentives for private sector activity that will strengthen economic growth over the longer term.

Anything else is a short-term detour.