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.

Government taskforce wins Nanny Awards

Steven Schwartz

13 December 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The Centre for Independent Studies’ highly uncoveted Nanny State awards (The Nannies) go to the year’s most absurd, ridiculous, and bizarre attempts by governments to meddle in our lives and mind our business.

With every level of government working for us in this, there are always many worthy contenders for the nannies — and this year is no exception.

For 2019, the winner was the Federal Government’s Black Economy Taskforce, which wants to limit cash transactions to $10,000.

Australians who spend more than that amount in cash would face two-year jail sentences and fines of up to $25,200.

According to the task force, limiting cash transactions to $10,000 would end tax evasion, money laundering, and many types of crime. However, the limit only applies to legitimate businesses with an ABN who keep and report accounts — Exchanges between private individuals are exempt.

So, drug deals, bribes, hush money, organ trafficking and illegal gambling are not subject to the limit; but pay more than $10,000 cash for a new car and you could go to jail.

In second place was the NSW Police Department which objected to allowing dancing at the Sydney Fringe Festival — dismaying those who planned to mount ballet performances.

For third place, judges have declared a tie between two candidates.

The first is the Bunbury City Council, which has decided to ban women in mermaid costumes from its city swimming pool. These mythical creatures apparently present a danger to other swimmers. Sharing third place is whatever part of our vast federal bureaucracy has dominion over the previously-banned import of Roquefort cheese, and was reportedly considering banning it again.

You may ask, what should our response to the growing nanny state be? We need to seize the moral high ground from the busybodies and resist.

We pushed back and NSW watered down its notorious lock out rules. Each time this happens, the next rollback becomes more likely.

We need to make our case with force, logic and data. And if that doesn’t work, then I recommend ridicule. Busybodies hate being laughed at.  So, let us resolve to ridicule tyrants, meddlers and nosy parkers wherever we find them.

With some luck, they will stop minding our business — and start minding their own.

It has been quite a ride!

Jenny Lindsay

13 December 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

How do you engage in a dinner conversation with a seemingly gruff Nobel Prize winning economist when you’ve just graduated university with a degree in history and drama?  My solution (which I continue to use) was to find a mutual area of interest and engage them on that topic.  In his case it was his vegetable patch – we had a great conversation that ended up ranging far and wide.

I mention this for two reasons as I prepare to leave CIS and reflect on what I have learnt over the past 40 years.  Firstly, finding a common point of interest opens a person up to consider your perspective on more difficult, contentious issues.  We can only change opinions if we start at a mutually agreed point.

Secondly, I realised how important it has been to hear a range of perspectives and get the chance to absorb, question and discuss ideas.  The more we can expose people to a range of ideas, the more chance we have of turning the policy ship around.

While I look back with a level of frustration and disappointment at the continual policy backsliding by government, I am blown away by human progress. In 1990 one in three people in the world lived in extreme poverty. By 2015 the figure was one in ten.

Another example that shows my age is that within my lifetime I have gone from learning to write using a nib filled by dipping it into an inkwell to being able to tell my computer to take notes for me.  The ingenuity of humans is a never-ending, deep well of both good and bad ideas.

There is no doubt that some very bad ideas are gaining traction.  Governments, busybody organisations and pressure groups believe they know what is best for everyone.

Thomas Sowell, another great economist I was privileged to spend time with said: “The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.” Let’s all remember those words and continue to press for individual and community decision making not commandments from high from ideologues and bureaucrats.

So, like Jim Buchanan, I plan to get my hands dirty in my vegetable patch, get involved in both my rural and city communities, rail against the busybodies, support the CIS and continue to be awestruck by the ingenuity and progress of humans.


Preserving our values amid growing turbulence 

Leonard Hong

13 December 2019 | ideas@theCentre

Australia and New Zealand face a geopolitical predicament as a consequence of China’s rise. How do we preserve our Western liberal values in the face of growing concern with our largest trading partner and it’s turbulent relationship with our key ally, the United States?

The 20th century saw the US rise with both economic and strategic dominance, but the 21st century is predicted to become the period of resurgence for China. Henry Kissinger has suggested that we are entering a multipolar world — international power dynamics shifting from West to East. 

Ideological tensions with China were recently highlighted by Australia’s Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and New Zealand’s Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady. 

After Hastie wrote a critical opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald expressing his concern for China’s human rights violations, comparing Xi’s regime to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, he was banned from entering China. 

Meanwhile, in her policy paper, Magic Weapons, Brady wrote of the Chinese Communist Party’s soft power coercion across Western nations, pointing to China influencing our democracies through foreign donations and the establishment of Confucius Institutes. Following this, she’s received threats of violence, her car and office vandalised.  

As Samuel Huntington predicted in his 1993 book ‘The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order’, Western liberal democracies like Australia and New Zealand will steadily witness greater civilisational tensions with China’s Confucian authoritarianism. 

And Graham Allison’s Thucydides’s Trap posits with a grim scenario of great power conflict: The rising China threatening the incumbent global power, the United States — Australia and New Zealand could fall victim in an intensive security competition between the United States and China. 

In his forward for Allison’s book, Destined for War, Andrew Hastie posed the question: Can the political leadership of both countries overcome the historical structural stresses that have brought other great powers to war?”

The goal for both Australia and New Zealand is to protect our liberal democratic principles but to also avoid becoming the modern ‘Melos’ of the Peloponnesian War — the nation that fell mercilessly to Athens in 416 BC — preventing the ‘Thucydides’s Trap’. 

John Mearsheimer and Hugh White’s debate in Canberra is the beginning of an ongoing discussion concerning our strategy regarding the rise of China. Australians and New Zealanders must wake up to the task of solving this difficult challenge. 

It is imperative for both Australia and New Zealand to find a practical foreign policy solution to the ever-increasing turbulence between the United States and China. 

Leonard Hong is a recent graduate at The University of Auckland and a former research intern at the Centre for Independent Studies.