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.

Leaders stoke fear and uncertainty

Peter Kurti

17 September 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

As fireworks fizzed and popped over Sydney Harbour on Australia Day 2020, few could have imagined the unprecedented strain about to be visited by our leaders upon the ‘Lucky Country’.

For a health crisis  — precipitated by infection from a hitherto unknown virus — coupled with an economic crisis, has now morphed into a political crisis posing no lesser threat to the nation.

Far from uniting communities and fostering a sense of common purpose, state and territory leaders have instead stoked fear and uncertainty, thereby threatening the national identity of the country.

No wonder that frustration with efforts by state governments to manage covid-19 has boiled over into angry demonstrations around the country in recent weeks — most notably in Melbourne.

While NSW has managed return to a semblance of normal life, with the state government looking to expand Sydney night-life in a bid to boost the local economy, other states remain locked up.

Secessionist thinking in Western Australia remains popular (in WA) and is now resurgent as premier Mark McGowan remains committed to checking the spread of contagion from ‘the eastern states’.

And so determined is Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, to prioritize the well-being of Queenslanders over ‘outsiders’, that she has put her job on the line by clamping shut state borders.

But Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, has provoked the fiercest ire with a draconian lockdown and night-time curfew to erase covid-19 — enforced by the heavy-handed tactics of riot gear-clad police.

During the early days of the pandemic, when we were ‘all in it together’, police forces attracted criticism for rounding on members of the public doing their best to establish new daily routines.

Such coercion threatened to undermine efforts by state governments to strike an appropriate balance between upholding liberty and securing the health and well-being of their citizens.

The civic bond between state, citizen, and community is preserved, especially in demanding times, by honouring the web of mutually owed duties and responsibilities lying at the heart of civil society.

This bond is not expressed solely in terms of law but also in acceptance by citizen and community of the moral legitimacy of action by the state. When that acceptance frays, so does the civic bond.

Covid-19 has imposed an enormous strain on Australia, one that is now compounded by the apparent disintegration of our nation into a collection of dis-federated and rivalrous colonies.

Sealed borders, divided — and grieving — families, and the pitting of one group of Australians against another all contribute to the imposition of an intolerable strain on our society.

State and territory leaders now owe a moral obligation to set aside short-term political opportunism and pay immediate attention to restoring our virtuous civic culture.

The task leaders face of forging strong civic bonds between all Australians — wherever they live — is urgent. The moral responsibility to do so has never been more pressing.

ASX no solution to education

Fiona Mueller

17 September 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

Could there be a more depressing statement about parents’ confidence in Australian schooling than a recent proposal that people invest in ASX education shares?

This followed on the heels of news that surging numbers of parents are hiring tutors to get their children up to speed in various areas of the curriculum.

The Motley Fool — which has a stated aim to “make the world smarter, happier and richer” — claims that “Given the weaknesses exposed in the education system, there are some companies listed on the ASX that could potentially help fill in the gaps.”

Tutoring has become a highly popular strategy for preparing students to take selective school entry examinations and reinforcing learning of all kinds, especially useful for students with disability or those who lack fluency in English.

But any significant increase in demand for tutoring is surely an indicator of what is not working in Australian schools.

Further, not every parent can afford paid tutoring. And few parents are skilled tutors in English, mathematics, science, history and all the other subjects that should be mastered as soon and as soundly as possible.

Policymakers have to stop fantasising about 21st century learning agendas and get the immediate challenges right.

This means developing far better curriculum, demanding the highest standards in teacher selection and training and ensuring nationally consistent classroom practices, especially in relation to e-learning and assessment and reporting.

When sharemarket tipsters such as Motley Fool identify increased investment in private education solutions as a reaction to perceived failings in Australian schooling, someone has to pay attention.  At the very least, relying on tutoring is no substitute for fixing an inadequate education system.

No child’s future should be a gamble on piecemeal policymaking that too often proposes replacing unsuccessful but very shiny things with more of the same.

For years, tens of thousands of Australian students have been leaving school without adequate skills in literacy and numeracy, not to mention their lack of knowledge in a range of rigorous disciplines.

The disruptions of 2020 — which the OECD says will impact education to cause decades of economic loss — will sentence many more to the same fate unless mistakes are acknowledged and policy accountability becomes the norm.


Corporate Social Re-Purposing

Monica Wilkie

17 September 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

Woke corporate social responsibility has become a flimsy substitute for traditional spheres of civil society. While ungluing the bonds of community, people push the business arena to provide meaning by demanding it must ‘change the world.’

Everyone from Ben and Jerry’s to Pepsi opines from behind their sugary treats about the dangers of fossil fuels or racism.

These CSR initiatives could be on the rise because companies believe they must embrace certain causes to obtain a social license to operate — or they could simply be cynically exploiting woke trends for profits.

Various companies promise — if you join them — you can “shape a world where people and communities thrive.” Alternatively, you could “inspire confidence and empower change in so many different ways.”

These slogans seem harmless — vacuous even. But they reveal how the workplace has transformed from a way to earn a living to a central component of one’s identity and purpose.

Millennials are more likely to “want to work for companies that align with their own internal values.” And, according to the latest in ‘corporate wellness trends’ – if companies want to attract the top millennial talent they need “to define their purpose and demonstrate how they give back to society.”

These demands for purpose are embraced by CEOs — who increasingly see the role of corporations as “improving our society.”

These trends are unlikely to change soon because — despite the catchy ‘Get Woke Go Broke’ warnings —  some findings suggest “woke corporate policies do little to positively or negatively impact a company’s bottom line.”

This means Woke CSR initiatives could continue to slowly replace various areas of civil society in which people used to derive meaning – the family, religion, hobbies, or charity work.

This is not only detrimental to society, but to the individual. If you see your job as a tool for the wholesale transformation of society, when that job is gone  the void it leaves could be almost unbearable.

Placing woke politics at the center of your identity does not leave much space left for anything else.