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.

Parents give school policies poor report card

Glenn Fahey

22 November 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Parents are generally satisfied with how much money their child’s school has, but they don’t agree with how it is spent. If that sounds familiar it’s because it echoes what the CIS has been arguing for years.

The results of a national survey of more than 1,000 parents (relating to 1,394 children) — revealed in the CIS policy paper released this week: What Do Parents Want from Schools? — show that 88% of parents believe their child’s school has enough or more than enough funding. This includes 86% of parents with a child in a government school.

This cuts against the dominant education policy discourse — driven by the union movement and progressive educationalists — which both major parties have swallowed hook, line and sinker.

It is already clear that huge increases in public funding aren’t delivering educational improvements. This new research also shows that it is also not what parents want either.

The unions have rallied — and largely won — for money to be spent on endlessly reducing classroom sizes (presumably unsatisfied until we are practically educating one-to-one), increasing teachers’ pay (presumably until it’s in line with doctors), and amassing an army of support staff in schools.

In contrast to these priorities, parents say that they want to see better facilities and more extra-curricular activities offered at their chosen schools. This could be because funding for capital works is around one-eleventh of that of the spending on staffing. And extra-curriculars are generally paid for out of parents’ own pockets and in their own time.

The research also found that a considerable proportion of parents regret their choice of a school for their children, with around 40% saying they either would not choose the same school again or were unsure if they would.

This means that around 1.6 million students are enrolled in a school that their parents aren’t happy with. However, some appear to be more happy than others.

Unsurprisingly, those that felt limited in their choice — around two-thirds of surveyed parents — are less satisfied with the school their child is in.

Those that chose a non-government school, for instance, appear to be happier with their choice. This appears to be linked with findings of higher levels of confidence in how funding is being used in non-government schools, compared to their government school peers.

And parents who sought independent sources of information to help with their choice of school — like meeting with school staff, visiting school websites, and checking the MySchool website — are more likely to be happier with their choice. As the old adage goes, more informed shoppers are happier shoppers.

When it comes to school funding and school choice, this research is a poor report card on policymakers in state and federal government. It’s past time for government to listen to the message that parents want to see a spending shakeup and that more choice is indispensable to educational improvements.

Xinjiang Papers: chronicle of a tragedy foretold

Sue Windybank

22 November 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Recent  reporting of a 400-page leak from within the Chinese Communist Party — dubbed The Xinjiang Papers — confirms previous accounts of the Party’s political re-education campaign that has led to the mass detention of mainly Muslim Turkic minorities in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

The unprecedented leak came from a (presumably) high-level source who hoped that disclosure would “prevent party leaders, including Mr Xi, from escaping culpability.” Lower-level resistance to the crackdown is evidenced by revelations that 12,000 Party members in 2017 were investigated for “violations” in the “fight against separatism and extremism.”

The scale of the Xinjiang campaign is extraordinary — more than a million Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz have been arbitrarily detained in prison-like camps — but so too is its self-defeating contradictions, as expert researcher Adrian Zenz argues.

Zenz likens the re-education drive, and the accompanying social re-engineering and intense surveillance, to a more sophisticated and high-tech version of the Cultural Revolution. He says the ultimate goal is not really to eradicate the “virus” of extremism and prevent terrorism, as the Papers indicate, but rather to achieve absolute ideological control — as elsewhere in China — by eradicating alternative belief systems.

Why? Because deeply-held beliefs are seen to compete with loyalty to the party-state. Yet attempts to stamp out religion lead to a spiritual void that Party propaganda struggles to fill.

Zenz notes that the spiritual revival China enjoyed after the Cultural Revolution has seen the number of Christians increase to some 100 million, a figure that exceeds total Party membership. This resurgence has defied materialist assumptions that economic development would lead to the decline of belief. Corruption has also undermined the Party’s legitimacy so that it is now “doubly on the ideological defensive”.

Beyond religion, the Party has tried to force unity in its borderlands by offering material incentives to sinicise minority identity through ‘ethno-linguistic assimilation’ while encouraging Han Chinese migration.

Yet Zenz writes that the effects of this dual campaign “to supplant religion and culture has only intensified people’s yearning for religion and culture”, so the strategy is self-defeating.

Australian expert in China’s ethnic governance, James Liebold, makes a similar point when he argues that Xinjiang typifies a situation whereby beneath a surface calm the mere perception of unrest “generates intensive surveillance and securitisation which in turn generates more instability”. A vicious cycle of “stability maintenance” results that increases mistrust, leading to social decay and eventually atrophy.

First Tibet. Then Xinjiang. Next Hong Kong?

Left has driven need for religion bill

Peter Kurti

22 November 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

As Attorney-General Christian Porter aims to bring his Religious Discrimination Bill before Parliament in the first week of December, critics already have the proposed legislation in their sights.

Prominent amongst them is former High Court Justice Michael Kirby who worries that the bill will actually result in a spike in religious intolerance and anti-religious hostility.

The secular status of our society must always be preserved, but the draft bill is intended to help secure a fundamental freedom to allow citizens of a successful multicultural society to live together, rather than grant a licence to pursue (socially unacceptable) fabrications such as the alleged expulsion of gay school students.

Critics hostile to religion pounce on the 30% of people who claimed no religious affiliation in the 2016 census; they fail to see that that over 60% of Australians retain a religious affiliation.

Religion is an important part of Australian society. And Kirby is right to warn of the dangers of losing what he describes as “the more relaxed [live and let live] tradition of modern Australia.”

But the bill would have been unnecessary had it not been for the intolerant actions of the secular left determined to silence and shame religious believers who dared to voice their beliefs in public.

Most would understand if an environmentalist group chose not to employ a confessing advocate of coal or petroleum. Few would deny the importance of sympathy to the group’s ethos and purpose.

Yet the prospect of a religious school asking its staff to be sympathetic to the creeds and doctrines of the religion in question leads to arms being thrown up in horror.

Not that the right to religious freedom is absolute; it must always be balanced against the rights of other citizens. Nor can religious practice ever be justified simply because it is motivated by faith — Australian law, for example, rightly prohibits the female genital mutilation (FMG) and child marriage allowed under religious law in other countries.

However, the unrelenting onslaught of progressive secularism is making it ever harder for religious Australians to practice their faith openly and in public.

The tyrants of tolerance have only themselves to blame for having so taunted their religious neighbours that a government came to office pledged to act.