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.

Cancel culture will divide us

Peter Kurti

20 August 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

One threat confronting Australia, in this year of threats, really does have the potential to divide us, one from another, and sow the seeds of civil discord.

This threat comes from ‘cancel culture’ which began in American universities and then spread to news rooms and board rooms, and then to other English-speaking countries, such as Australia.

The key idea behind cancel culture is sanction against a person, an image or a statue representing a view deemed offensive or hateful. Sanction involves eradication – or cancellation.

This kind of ideological cleansing imposes a new orthodoxy about what is acceptable – and what is true. Any further enquiry or debate is stifled.

When Harry Potter creator J.K Rowling said gender was determined not by choice but by biology, attempts were made to ‘cancel’ her. Further debate about gender would not be tolerated.

Fighting injustice, prejudice, and violence is worthy and important. But cancel culture has also meant that restrictions on freedom of speech have also gained ground.

Such restrictions are now deemed essential for upholding the dignity of those, such as transgender people, whose experiences are marginalised.

But we are paying a high price for this zealous, if understandable, defence of the ‘vulnerable’.

It can be perilous to question the tactics or motives of those who claim to be pursuing ‘justice’. When those who do raise such questions are vilified, debate becomes impossible.

Cancel culture imposes a new, dogmatic, and dangerous orthodoxy on our society with heavy penalties for any who dare to question, or express dissent.

Truth is no longer determined by a process of reasoned, informed enquiry in which evidence is evaluated and discussed. Rather, it is determined by tyrants of ideological cleansing.

No nation, including Australia, is able to claim its history is free from cruelty or the misuse of power. Nor can Australia claim it has addressed all forms of under-privilege or inequality.

But cancel culture is propagating a rejection of any reasoned capacity both to discuss our history and to address the many important social and political challenges we face.

A divided society – its people cowed into silence for fear of being condemned, humiliated, or forced from a job for saying ‘the wrong thing’ or stepping out of line – is a weakened society.

We must be alert and ensure that cancel culture does not become the scourge of everything we value about our nation.

This is an edited excerpt of an opinion piece published in The Australian as Coon cheese represents just one example of how cancel culture divides us


IR reform key to recovery

Simon Cowan

21 August 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

For several weeks now, the government has clearly been floating balloons in the IR space in looking at paths to economic recovery. The government has already introduced some temporary changes to the Fair Work Act, early in the coronavirus crisis.

Although these changes are good ones (mostly focused on reducing restrictions on who can do what, when and where), more needs to be done.

As Judith Sloan pointed out in the CIS publication Industrial Relations in a Post-COVID World, our current system locks some workers out of the job market, and thereby keeps them in poverty.

This is especially true for young workers in regional areas, who face a far higher unemployment rate than more experienced and skilled workers.

The system disincentivises businesses from taking on staff, pushing them instead to invest in technology — with no better example than Australia’s accelerated take-up of automated checkouts.

There are also real issues that need to resolved in relation to the status of long-term casual workers and independent contractors engaged with technology companies like Uber.

As Sloan argues, one obvious priority must be to establish a firm definition of ‘casual worker’ in the Fair Work Act to avoid a situation where employers seeking to re-engage their workforce are hesitant to take on casuals, but lack the certainty necessary to take on permanent staff.

The prospect of casual staff being entitled to both leave entitlements and casual loading (which is paid in lieu of leave entitlements) needs to be resolved.

There should also be reform of the ‘better off overall test’ (or BOOT); currently interpreted as prohibiting an enterprise agreement unless every worker would be better off.

A better alternative may be, as Sloan argues, a no-disadvantage test averaged across the entire workforce. This would not only simplify matters for employers, it would also give unions something to bargain with.

Moreover, it would treat workers as people with agency, capable of making their own decisions and trade-offs on their working conditions.

While concerns over wage theft and exploitation are valid – and these actions should rightly be policed – that others are committing crimes is no excuse for preventing willing workers and honest employers from coming to their own agreements.

Instead of protecting existing vested interests in the system, trusting that workers can and will make choices in their own best interests must be the thought that guide our efforts of reform.

This is an edited excerpt of an opinion piece published in The Canberra Times as Does this government have the guts to take on IR reform?.

Curriculum ignores history value

Fiona Mueller

20 August 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

Twenty-first century history is being made each day. The news is full of  statue-toppling anarchists and clueless looters, politicians making life and death decisions on COVID-19, increasing cyber crime and human rights abuses, loss of respect for longstanding international conventions of the sea and air … and the list goes on.

As times like these, there can be a realisation of a desperate need for knowledge and skills to examine ourselves and our past to reassure ourselves that people are capable of great goodness.

Only the sophisticated, inquiry-based study of human history can do this.

Down Under, reviewers of the Australian Curriculum have a tiny window of opportunity to make History the go-to subject that will finally stand tall alongside English, Mathematics and Science as signalled when those first four learning areas were prioritised back in 2011.

Unfortunately, like foreign languages and the arts, Australian education places History in the category of ‘nice to have’ but without widely accepted value ‘in the real world’.

This subject area suffers from some of the same issues as STEM and languages – too few highly trained teachers, and too little public support for intellectually rigorous education.

At its very best, the study of history — more than any other area of the curriculum — produces analytical thinkers, researchers with academic integrity and deep curiosity, competent writers and thoughtful debaters who marshal the evidence to explain the past, the present and the possible future.

But Australian education is reaping what we have sown — a weak, disjointed curriculum, lacking a powerful overarching national narrative (see Singapore for contrast) and clear, high standards.  This is particularly evident in History, with its inconsistent delivery, small enrolments in Years 11 and 12 and minimal alignment with the separate subject of Civics and Citizenship.

So who will write the history of these strange times? As the saying goes, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And history does tend to be written by the winners.

The revised Australian Curriculum needs to be a winner, especially in that most precious field of History.

This is an edited excerpt of an opinion piece published in Spectator as Will generation lockdown write good history?