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.

A day to unite or divide the nation?

Sara Hudson

22 January 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

fbb97b1c-26f4-4d5c-9aab-51d16dc9867cAustralia Day means different things to different people. For some, it is a day for flag waving, citizenship ceremonies, and backyard barbeques. Yet for many Aboriginal people, the day commemorating when the British first settled in Australia, is not a day for celebrating, but a day of mourning — known as Invasion Day.

Every year on Australia Day protest marches are held around the country with people proclaiming: “We won’t celebrate Invasion Day” “No pride in genocide” and “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.”

While people are free to do what they like on Australia Day, focusing on past injustices and portraying Aboriginal people as victims does little to empower Aboriginal people.  

Contrast the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that organisations such as Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance and First Nations Liberation embody with the words of Bess Price’s daughter, Jacinta Price — who wrote, in a recent Facebook post that has gone viral:

“Instead of teaching our kids to feel pain and resentment… and painting white people as oppressors and racists and black people as victims…let’s teach them love, strength and acceptance.”

As the daughter of an Aboriginal mother and a white father, Jacinta is acutely aware she would not exist if it weren’t for Australia’s history. Instead of emphasising people’s differences, she advocates focusing on what Australians have in common.

 “Ultimately we are all human beings and our physical differences should not set us apart.”

So on Tuesday, ignore the media reports about the protestors marching down George Street — and take on board Jacinta’s message about celebrating what unites us rather than what divides us.

Shifting winds on free trade

Simon Cowan

22 January 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

45971eb4-12d5-4b76-9e85-1d53218e25f6Economists famously disagree on everything; the old joke goes that if you ask five economists for a prediction you’ll get six different answers. About the only thing the profession broadly agrees on is the benefit of free trade.

Free trade is the sine qua non of capitalism. Free trade – both across countries and within borders – generates competition, which drives innovation, and fuels markets and the efficient allocation of resources.

Both sides of politics have made crucial gains on dismantling protectionism, from Whitlam through Hawke and Howard. Yet increasingly, neither side of politics understands or can articulate the benefits of free trade and foreign investment. Indeed, for different reasons, both left and right are in danger of moving away from free trade as an ideal.

Elements of the left have always been hostile to free trade. For trade unionists, the availability of cheap foreign goods threatened jobs and wage gains (and was mixed at times with not an inconsiderable amount of xenophobia). Hence the union campaign against the China Free Trade Agreement.

As unions have become less important in society, so too has left-wing politics moved from class-based to identity-based politics, and the inequality of welfare. Many on the left now object to free trade on the grounds it exploits poor foreign workers, preferring instead to talk about ‘fair’ trade and multi-national tax avoidance.

They choose to ignore the enormous lift in living standards free trade made possible.

Yet as the left moved away from the working class, the right has courted them. Pandering to anti-immigration sentiment, together with an aggressive trade nationalism (see Trump’s comments on Chinese tariffs), has led some on the right to talk about free trade only from the perspective of opportunities for exporters to chisel gains out of foreigners.

Certainly, many conservatives in regional areas have long been vocally opposed to inward foreign investment and control. Nor are the Liberal government’s strengthening of anti-dumping provisions and a crackdown on foreign ownership of residential property good signs.

Free trade has always been important, but never popular. If neither side of politics fight for its benefits, we risk free trade becoming a relic of a bygone era of economic prosperity.

Patriotism: chop chop

Anastasia Glushko

22 January 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

d65ba4e0-5a6a-4cf6-b195-895611f15ca0Australia Day looms, and once again the nation is embroiled in a heated debate about Meat and Livestock Australia’s lamb ads

The interesting thing about this year’s fuss is not that the 2016 campaign has become the most complained about advertisement in Australia’s history, but that MLA has successfully transformed consumption of one its products into patriotic duty. Forget a marketing coup: in 2016, even mild indifference to chops nears risking prosecution under Part 5.1 of the Criminal Code Act.  

Of course, loving lamb is just one of our solemn obligations as citizens this Australia Day. Here are some others:

Putting things on the barbie

Tied to our duty to eat lamb is the requirement to cook it outdoors. Ideally, this should be performed only by family members who are incapable of even boiling an egg. This ensures the meat surface is transformed into a charcoal bark but the inside remains raw. As the Australian Constitution reminds us on every page, this is exactly how the Fathers of the Federation intended us to eat.

Quarrelling about the Australian flag

It would not be Australia Day without a national argument about the relevance of our flag.  For one day every year, litres of ink are spilt in violently debating whether we need a new one. A series of pundits are trundled out to rubbish the idea, and then on January 27 we return to the real world without another whisper about the flag until next Australia Day.  

Watching Lleyton lose

Since the dawn of the Federation, it has been a cherished Australian tradition to cheer on Lleyton Hewitt as he jousts in the Australian Open — and then act surprised when he is defeated on day two. With Hewitt’s ageing bones now disintegrating into dust, 2016 is his last year at the Open. To miss it would be tantamount to treason. 

Now go and have a chop, please.