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.

Identity politics: the triumph of equality over freedom?

Peter Kurti

15 July 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

democratic deficit megaphone protest activism 1

The end is nigh for religious exemptions enshrined in federal anti-discrimination law — if the Australian Greens have anything to do with it. “Australians should be treated the same,” Greens senator Nick McKim said recently.

Failing to “treat people the same” has become a secular sin. Only enforced uniformity can secure a new standard of inclusive justice.  It’s the language of the ‘fair go’; but it’s actually the battle cry of the new ‘minority fundamentalists’.

Minority fundamentalism has all the features of the various religious fundamentalisms so despised by the latte-sipping Green-Left: ideological fanaticism, intolerance of dissent, and Manichaean certainty about truth and falsehood.

Its playbook includes using intimidation, humiliation, and self-censorship to punish those who think differently. Its purpose is to eradicate all forms of discrimination in the name of liberating the ‘oppressed’.

Gender, race, and sexual orientation are the most frequently cited categories of oppression. Safe Schools Coalition campaigners and same-sex marriage advocates all insist their goal is justice.

None of this can be questioned — and offence can be taken so quickly. Freedoms of speech, conscience and association comprise the very foundations of our common life; but they are now under threat. The right to equality trumps all.

This is because ‘equality’ has become associated with ‘disadvantage’: those who bear any burden of incapacity are judged to be less equal in society. Rights such as the right to equality are intended to address that disadvantage.

But as the discourse continues to shift from the realm of reason to the realm of emotion, so the grievances of minority fundamentalists are more likely to take root. As they do so, a ‘democratic deficit’ is widening.

This deficit arises as democratic institutions fail to uphold the principles of democracy. It is indicative of an increasing readiness on the part of self-appointed moral guardians to privilege the sensitivities of the minority over those of the majority.

By prioritising equality over freedom, identity politics threatens to lock people into specific categories at the expense of individual liberty — all in its pursuit of democratic egalitarianism.

The rise of identity politics, intended to protect specific minority groups, has had a serious impact on the health of Australian democracy. It purports to act in the name of equality as a buttress against tyranny but, in reality, threatens to foster it.


Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and the author of the research report The Democratic Deficit: How Minority Fundamentalism Threatens Liberty in Australia.

Education does not lead to violence

Jennifer Buckingham

15 July 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

aurukun school teaching readingA lot of people who have never been to Aurukun have opinions about its problems; some have even confidently pronounced a link between the long-term and deep-seated social dysfunction in the town and the Direct Instruction teaching program used in the Cape York Academy in Aurukun for the last five years.

I haven’t been to Aurukun, so I am not going to opine on what is happening there. However, it is important to correct some of the misinformation about Direct Instruction. A number of terms are used interchangeably which have some features in common but are substantially different.

Direct Instruction (spelt with capital letters) is a set of copyrighted commercial programs developed in the USA. They consist of carefully planned and sequenced lessons and assessments that are designed to be used by teachers without deviation. Both the content and the instruction are prescribed. DI programs have been evaluated and refined for almost fifty years and are consistently found to be very effective. Many schools around Australia use DI programs such as Reading Mastery and Spelling Mastery.

The other direct instruction (spelt with lower case letters) is a research-based instructional approach that can be used by any teacher in any lesson. The key principles are: revision of previous learning; presentation of new information in small steps with immediate practice; frequent interaction with students to check for understanding; explicit modelling of skills; gradual movement to independent practice; and cumulative review and assessment to achieve long-term retention. Studies of direct instruction strategies show stronger effects than ‘inquiry’ or ‘discovery’ approaches.

Similarly, explicit instruction or explicit teaching is essentially similar to direct instruction. It is a general pedagogical approach in which lessons are structured and sequenced to give students a high degree of support and guidance initially and to minimise gaps in knowledge, progressing to independent application. Reviews of high performing schools find explicit instruction to be a common factor.

Explicit Direct Instruction is a specific curriculum and teaching program developed in Australia for use in Australian schools. It is based on the principles of direct instruction and has similarities to Direct Instruction but allows for more teacher discretion. EDI is based on sound research but has not been evaluated to the same extent as DI.

Despite their strong research basis and an undeniable track record of success, these teaching methods and programs are frequently maligned by education academics and teachers. To reject the evidence of their efficacy is bad enough, but the idea that they lead to violence is patently ridiculous.

Brave new Senate world

Trisha Jha

15 July 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

senate star wars cantinaOn ABC Radio National’s Drive program on Friday 1 July — election eve — I said the Senate was far more interesting a contest to watch than the lower house. But as I tweeted to the host Patricia Karvelas a couple of days later, I did not expect it to get quite that interesting.

The government’s calculated move to bring the Senate to heel by passing Senate voting reform (designed to give short shrift to minor parties) was somewhat lessened by the decision to call a double dissolution. Now we’re looking at up to three senators from the Nick Xenophon Team, one Pauline Hanson and possibly two of her coterie, or a mix of Christian and Liberal Democrats.

As the results unfolded on Saturday night it became clear this was somewhat reminiscent of that Aussie classic, remixed for modern times: “That’s not a Star Wars Cantina Senate. This is a Star Wars Cantina Senate!”

In the aftermath of the last election, there was a flurry of commentary about the perversity of a system that saw Ricky Muir elected on half a percent of the primary vote. That a third of people voted for parties other than the Coalition, Labor or the Greens seemed immaterial.

Again, a similar number of people have voted for parties other than the big three, but the size has been expanded due to the double dissolution. Only now that Palmer has been traded for Pauline are people waking up to the widespread disenchantment with the established parties.

Disenchantment is visible in other parts of the system too: the record number of pre-poll votes cast or what seems to be a growing number of informal votes (in the House of Reps as well as the Senate). Imagine how many votes might be exhausting in the lower house — not contributing to the election of either of the two preferred candidates — if we had optional rather than compulsory preferential voting.

Ultimately voter disenchantment is a problem created by politicians and it is theirs to fix. But in the meantime, they could at least finish what was started with Senate voting reform and give people more control over their vote in the House as well.