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.

Time for smart school funding reform

Glenn Fahey

04 December 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

New CIS research shows that sustained, record increases to school funding are not improving Australia’s education outcomes.

Dollars and Sense: Time for smart reform of Australian school funding outlines that for too long, education policy has been weighed down by political spats over the funding pie, placating the needs of vested interests, and bankrolling wasteful ventures.

The bipartisan conventional wisdom has seen pulling the funding lever as the cure-all of education policy — based on the flawed assumption that the more that’s tipped in, the better will be the outcomes.

High and increasing funding may well have been justified if students’ outcomes enjoyed a similarly meteoric surge. But we’ve experienced the opposite — with students suffering some of the fastest declines in achievement in the world. Over recent years — and with the benefit of Gonski funding injections — there’s no evidence that schools receiving more funding have benefitted with higher achievement.

The problem isn’t that we’re spending more per se. It’s that there hasn’t been serious quality-inducing reforms in education to match the added investment.

Smart reforms are needed to properly marry resourcing and the quality of education delivery — and doing that will require harnessing market-based and evidence-based approaches.

Policymakers should set their sights on shifting the funding approach so it’s more outcomes-based rather than fully input-based, ensuring the forces of choice and competition are enjoyed by all, and that schools have flexibility and autonomy to make key decisions.

Being more outcomes-based means that funding would better match with the quality of education delivered — not just varying according to who attends schools. The most direct way of doing this is attaching financial incentives to the highest-performing teachers.

To better unleash the forces of choice and competition, the unnecessarily complex and opaque funding approach needs to become more direct and transparent. The most obvious way to do this is with means-tested vouchers to households as financial support and choice-enabler.

And schools would gain from being unshackled from bureaucratic red tape and centralised decision-making. For a genuinely needs-based approach, schools can’t have their hands tied in actually meeting students’ specific needs. That requires flexibility and autonomy, not simply tweaking of a model from afar in Canberra.

With now irrefutable evidence of the misguided approach to school funding, bolder, smarter reforms can’t be eschewed.

Getting the investment right isn’t simply an exercise in penny-pitching — it’s about putting limited funds to the best possible uses.

We owe this to Australia’s long-suffering educators, taxpayers, and students.

Economy improves, but recession conditions remain

Robert Carling

04 December 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

The September quarter national accounts released on Wednesday have been interpreted by some commentators as heralding the end of the recession. If only that were true. Those commentators are confusing the change in economic activity with its level.

It is true that real GDP rose by 3.3% in the quarter — one of the largest quarterly increases on record — but it is also true that this followed the largest quarterly contraction on record, of 7% in the June quarter.

Assessments of where the economy stands in the business cycle require more than one quarter’s GDP —and indeed not just GDP, but a range of other indicators such as employment.

The fact is that despite the latest quarter’s surge in GDP, the level of GDP remained 4.2% below what it was in the pre-pandemic days of late 2019.

Aggregate hours worked have recovered much of their loss from March to May but still stand 4% below the March peak.

At other times in the past if the economy had shrunk by 4%, it would be considered a severe recession. In fact, no other recession since 1959 has seen a contraction as large as 4%.

It may be that on this occasion conditions are more uneven, with some sectors booming and some in a state more like depression than recession.

It may also be that people are more conscious of the improvement from the dismal mood of April/May (and until October in Victoria) than the fact that some sectors remain in the doldrums.

Certainly, the bounce-back has been stronger than generally expected — and that has been true of many other countries too. Knowing that, or thinking the recession is over whether it is or not, will be positive for consumer and business confidence and therefore to an extent self-fulfilling.

The economy, however, is nowhere near back to normal, and will not be until the rest of the world returns to normal; fear of the coronavirus subsides with widespread distribution of an effective vaccine or for other reasons; and the spectre of renewed lockdowns and border restrictions goes away.

Acquiescence is not the answer

Tom Switzer

04 December 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

We are told that Australia’s political leaders must try to ‘rebuild trust’ with Beijing, while not kowtowing as the Chinese Communist Party clearly wants us to do. But how does this strategy work?

How could Canberra ‘rebuild trust’ with a regime that the critics acknowledge want Australia to acquiesce to? How could we ‘rebuild trust’ with a regime that posts a photoshopped image of an Australian soldier about to slit the throat of an Afghan child?

It is not a herculean diplomatic task to “rebuild trust” with such a regime. It is an impossible diplomatic task — unless, of course, we capitulate to China; which is not going to happen under Coalition or Labor governments.

That Beijing wants Australia to kowtow to it sounds like China is a very serious threat to our sovereignty. And the widely accepted sense of Xi Jinping’s nationalistic, ambitious and expansive foreign-policy goals reflects that assessment.

We are, remember, talking about a regime that is pumped up on nationalism and overwhelmed with resentment growing out of “the century of national humiliation.” It is this bullying nationalism that explains why Beijing is not good at winning friends and influencing people, as the heavy-handed ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ of China’s ambassadors and foreign-policy spokesmen makes clear.

As a rising great power, infused with a powerful sense of nationalism, China threatens our sovereignty by wanting us to kowtow to it. Its foreign-policy spokesman is taunting us. The region views with growing alarm how Beijing is treating Australia. As a result, US-aligned states from India and Japan to Vietnam and Indonesia will want to work together to manage China.

What the critics of Australia’s policy fail to understand is that, after decades of living in a unipolar and globalised world where was no great-power security competition, we are now in a realist zero-sum game and the stakes are enormously high for all concerned. This is not an ideal situation. But that’s how international politics works.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the Australian Financial Review as Critics of Australia’s China policy don’t have much to offer