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.

Security is key issue

Anastasia Lin

16 August 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Given the recent news regarding the arrests of Canadian, Australian, UK and US citizens in China — as retaliation toward these countries’ exercise of sovereignty and international rules — it’s clear that the Communist Party of China (CPC) is starting to show its true colour on the international stage.

The prevailing rhetoric for the past few decades has been that the country’s political liberalisation will follow economic prosperity — that if we deepen ties with China, the CPC will gradually embrace democratic values.

But this is not happening in China. And as we wait for this transformation, innocent Chinese citizens continue to perish in prisons and labour camps for exercising their most fundamental rights. Perhaps it is our values — not Beijing’s — that have changed as a result of our engagement.

Growing up in China during the economic boom in a communist elite family, I witnessed the many phenomena of a communist society breaking out of poverty and pursuing commercialisation full force, without the healthy civil institutions of a democratic capitalist state.

At the same time, I was shielded from the knowledge of human rights abuses that were happening right at my front door. Only after coming out of China did I have the freedom to see the brutality that was inflicted upon generations of my compatriots by the CPC.

Australia’s debate should not be centred around whether it should ‘choose China over the United States’ … as has been the focus with much of the recent discussion.

China was never a ‘partner’ — in the sense we usually mean it — with any other country. It is a totalitarian mercantilist state that looks at everyone else as tributary states to be exploited and influenced.

The Australian Financial Review has put the case that China is increasingly reliant on Australian energy and mineral exports, and thus more reluctant to “penalise Canberra for its tougher stance on security issues” — and that stance is the crux of the matter.

The debate should not be about who we ‘partner’ with, but about what Australia should do to protect its vital security interest.

Anastasia Lin is a US-based commentator, actor and model who was refused re-entry into China due to her commentary about human rights abuses. She is the Centre for Independent Studies 2019 Max Hartwell Scholar-in-Residence.

Real solutions for Indigenous problems

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price

16 August 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The vast majority of Australians — including many Australians of Aboriginal descent — know very little of the reality of the situation on remote communities and the extent to which aspects of traditional culture play a significant role in the acceptance of interpersonal violence which in turn perpetuates the crisis.

Nor are Aboriginal people who struggle with poor education and live within the confines of traditional culture capable of articulating to the wider Australian community the contrasting differences between traditional culture and the functions of a modern Australian society — based on democracy and the upholding of individual human rights.

What has become increasingly apparent to me is that there is one standard for the majority of Australians — and then there is a lowered standard for Indigenous Australians, which is aggressively driven by the left.

This lowered expectation for Indigenous Australians works to keep disadvantage in place — to entrench it. Rather than it giving us an ‘easier path’ — as some people claim they are trying to do — it prevents us from realising our personal and community agency in our own futures.

We are in a time where common sense is needed now more than ever. Ideology is driving the current politically correct narrative that Indigenous Australians require continual placation in order to close the gap.

The current narrative demands that symbolic gestures take priority over the implementation of practical solutions in order that marginalized Indigenous Australians may overcome their disadvantage.

We live in an era of smoke and mirrors where an industry has arisen that purports to be helping Indigenous Australia — and yet while increasing sums are spent, the promised outcomes are nowhere in sight.

Why has this happened? Because somewhere within our country’s consciousness, a shift has taken place, which has triggered an obsession with our country’s historical injustices toward Indigenous Australians — and a blindness about the real problems that abound today.

I believe it all accelerated after Rudd’s great act of symbolism with the apology. The apology focused on the Stolen Generation but failed to acknowledge those who were left behind… Left ‘on country’ with no jobs, but access to welfare and alcohol — and out of sight and out of mind for the rest of Australia.

It was the Aboriginal Ordinance of 1954 all over again, where people of mixed heritage could apply to be exempt from Ordinance but Aboriginal people of full descent continue to remain in poverty — without education, without jobs, without normal access to services — and continually told by those without traditional culture that it is their culture that will save them.

My mission — CIS’s mission — is to change the narrative. The current narrative ensures the misery of the most marginalised Aboriginal Australians continues.

As long as we continue to be sidelined by arguments for the need of more symbolism — changing the date, replacing the anthem, finding racism where it does not exist — the real issues will not be solved.

The new Indigenous Program at CIS will build on the research by the late and eminent scholar, Helen Hughes.

Building on Helen’s previous research in the area of education will be one of our first tasks. Remote Australian children have the lowest attendance rates in the nation and the lowest educational outcomes compared to the rest of Australia.

Indigenous Incarceration and its relationship with family violence is another priority the program will address.

We will also research which institutions and processes are hindering economic development — and whether the Land Rights Act should be reviewed in order that traditional owners can actually take real ownership of their land to enable economic prosperity.

The common sense that has been a hallmark of CIS policy research, and the commitment to bettering the lives of all Australians —including Indigenous Australians — means we will focus on practical and real solutions for problems that have been ignored for far too long.

This is an edited extract of a speech given at CIS this week to launch the Indigenous Research Program.

Choice means more than a public-private pick

Glenn Fahey

16 August 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The Australian Scholarships Group (ASG)’s flagship annual publication — the Parents Report Card — dishes up some choice findings about school choice in Australia. It provides a sober account of what matters to parents and dispels the claims of school choice opponents.

For detractors, choice in schooling is scorned as synonymous with educational ‘segregation; into gated school communities. They argue choice is a luxury enjoyed by the rich, while the rest are ‘stuck’ with their local school.

But choice is about more than those who can afford to fork out for private school. Parents in NSW enjoy more options than in other states — for instance, with more selective schools and specialist performing arts and sports schools, all under the public school tent. But when it comes to choice, more is more.

And choice in public schools is now threatened by the crackdown on the number of out-of-area enrolments permitted in NSW. This makes it harder for parents to send children to schools on their way to work, or to where their siblings go, or where their needs are best served.

To be sure, for some parents, choice is a non-starter. And, by all means, parents are free to choose not to choose. But, most parents — and increasingly, their children — value choice and don’t take it lightly.

Many already opt for private school. Over 40% of students in high school and 31%  in primary attend a non-government school. Enrolment growth in independent schools, in particular, has been outpacing that of public schools.

A lot goes into the process, but the top considerations according to the ASG are a prospective schools’ reputation, sector, and performance. ABS data shows that for those at private school, reputation is by far the primary reason for choosing a school. For those at public schools, being close to home is the decisive factor.

ASG emphasises that ‘choosing a school with confidence’ is about finding the ‘right’ school, not necessarily the so-called ‘best’ school. This reflects that school reputations are formed by more than scouting the MySchool website ­­— though the tool certainly doesn’t hurt.

For many, choosing a school is also not a decision hatched overnight. 42% considered their high school before commencing primary school — including 61% of those in independent schools, though only 33% in public schools. Another study found one in four consider schools from the time of a child’s birth.

It’s true that choice is not enjoyed equally and fully by everyone. The main barriers reported are cost, waiting lists, and zoning — with barriers more commonly reported by parents of children in public schools.

Cost of some schools is prohibitive for many parents; more than two-thirds report feeling the pinch financially. More efforts to make private school affordable can relieve some of this pressure and make it a viable option.

Waiting lists are tough to nudge, but it pays to remember that they are an indication of demand. One way waiting lists could be reduced is for there to be a greater supply of desirable schools.

The zoning of school catchments compels students of public schools to go local – even if they would prefer to go out-of-area. Zoning also means the composition of schools is less diverse than they would be otherwise – since local areas tend to share demographics. Zoning hurts those living in disadvantaged areas the most — forcing them to pick between public and private, rather than weighing up diverse school offers.

OECD research has argued that to deliver on its promise, choice must be ‘real, relevant, and meaningful’. In Australia, choice needs to be more than just a public-private pick.