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.
At a forum earlier this year, a prominent Leftist economic commentator outlined his greatest fear that as the economy soured, politicians would shift the blame by reverting to the slogans and stereotypes of the White Australia era.
My response was that the notion of racism lurking latent in the nation’s soul, ripe for electoral exploitation, did not match contemporary social and political reality. Diversity was not just a social phenomenon born of decades of non-discriminatory immigration policy.
More importantly, it was a family reality for millions of ordinary Australians who — due to the high levels of intermarriage between different ethnic groups — recoil from anti-immigrant sentiments promoting prejudice against family members.
I have been thinking about the commentator’s statement after viewing the television ad produced by the Victorian Liberal Party criticizing the union opposition to the China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).
The ad depicts a typical Australian — and typically ethnically diverse — suburban family. As Fairfax reported earlier this month, it shows an “Australian man on the couch with his arm around his Chinese girlfriend” while watching “union attack ads on TV with the man’s parents.”
When the girlfriend says that she didn’t think Australians were racist, she is reassured by the mother that this is correct, and the father blames the Labor politicians who haven’t stopped “some unions” from running a dog-whistle anti-Chinese campaign. It ends with the slogan: “Free trade is good for Australian jobs”.
I take great heart from this ad that the days of White Australia are long behind us.
A century ago, politicians from all sides of politics strongly endorsed anti-Chinese and Protectionist sentiments – because there were lots of votes to be won by backing a White Australia. But times, attitudes, and Australian society have changed. Today, recalcitrant unions are called out as racist for endorsing throwback ideas that are no longer in tune with mainstream values.
Fears that politicians will resort to playing the race card are indeed exaggerated — as is illustrated this week by the Federal Labor Party’s capitulation on the ChAFTA deal. The racism of earlier times will simply not play politically in contemporary Australia for the simple reason that this is genuinely offensive to millions of Australian voters.
The government has run up the white flag on the proposals to reform Family Tax Benefits from the 2014 Budget.
The most controversial part of those proposals was the one to restrict access to Family Tax Benefit Part B, designed for single parents and single earner couple families, to couple families whose youngest child is under the age of six.
That has now been changed to a restriction on couple families whose youngest child is under 13, and sweetened with an additional $1,000 for all single income families with children under 12 months. Single parents whose youngest child is over 13 will have their payments cut to $1,000.
Overall, this is good policy.
The changes to FTB Part A, however, are another matter. The government is proposing to completely phase out the end-of-year supplements over the next few years, and make up for this with an extra $10 per fortnight to each per-child payment.
But the supplements actually form a viable public policy purpose: if Centrelink accidentally overpays a FTB Part A entitlement because a family underestimates their income, that family is not in debt to the government. It can just be docked from the supplement. It’s an elegant way of settling accounts. These supplements should be reduced, but cutting them altogether seems like a poor priority.
By contrast, there is no evidence the FTB Part A per-child payments are inadequate. If anything, there is evidence they are too generous: the Commission of Audit proposed that per-child payments should be reduced for second and subsequent children to recognise the economies of scale involved, as subsequent children cost less than the first.
And this is without getting into the fact that the income tests for FTB Part A are quite generous – the base rate of the payment tapers by 30c in the dollar for each dollar above $94,316 currently. There is no good public policy reason to increase the payment further, which would change and possibly exacerbate effective marginal tax rates for the recipients of these payments.
The government should go back to the drawing board on its mooted change to Family Tax Benefit Part A.
The push by Victoria’s Andrews government to force Catholic adoptions agencies to comply with its proposed same-sex adoption reforms is hardly about boosting the number of adoptions.
Adoption is meant to form new families for children who can’t live with their birth parents. But adoption is very rare in Australia despite there being many children who could be adopted.
Last year were just 89 adoptions nationally from care – 84 of which were in NSW – despite more than 43,000 children living in care across the country. That’s because adoption is taboo.
Instead of boosting adoptions, the Andrews government seems determined to use reform of the Adoption Act 1988 as a stalking horse for the anti-religion agenda of secular progressives.
That’s why the Bill before Parliament also amends the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to eliminate protections for religious freedom and freedom of conscience in relation to adoption.
Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, says the reforms would force Catholic adoption agencies to choose between Catholic teaching or breaking the law.
But Minister for Equality Matthew Foley is unmoved. “Equality is not negotiable,” he said. Apparently, both the Anglican and Uniting Churches in Victoria agree, and are supporting the proposed reforms — thereby leaving their sisters and brothers in the Catholic Church high and dry.
Victorian Catholics had been hoping to win the same exemptions granted by the Keneally Government In 2010 when NSW legalised same-sex adoptions.
Linda Burney, former NSW Minister for Community Services, stated that faith-based organisations are “an integral part of our pluralist society and provide stability, security and guidance to many.”
Ms Burney also affirmed same-sex couples continue to adopt children through NSW Community Services and Barnados.
The Victorian government is not so generous to faith-based organisations. Rather than risk violating the law, the most likely outcome of is that Catholic adoption agencies will close their doors for good.
Yet given the negligible numbers of adoptions in Victoria, it is hard to believe that the government’s real concern is with securing the rights of same-sex couples to adopt through CatholicCare.
If it was, it would devote its energies to pursuing reform of its anti-adoption policies rather than corrupting the long-standing balance between the rule of law and freedom of religion.
This is an edited extract of an oped that appeared in today’s Australian.