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.
It is promising that both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Social Services Christian Porter have endorsed the growing calls for greater use of adoption to provide permanent families for the tens-of-thousands of Australian children living in ‘out-of-home’ care.
While national leadership on adoption reform is welcome and overdue, the difficulty is that child protection is a state government responsibility. The federal government has pledged to raise the issue in future talks with state community services ministers.
The problem here is that state ministers (and their opposition shadows) are creatures of their departments. They defend the virulently anti-adoption attitudes prevalent in child protection authorities, and resist policies that would facilitate more adoptions.
Before entering any talks, the federal government should be aware of the myths and distortions likely to be advanced to justify the status quo.
For example, the states are sure to claim that they are trying to reduce the number of children in care by investing in support services for parents. This is despite that fact that identical ‘family preservation’ policies have been standard practice for 40 years and have ultimately lead to rising numbers of children entering care after being damaged by parental abuse and neglect.
The states are also likely to claim that adoption is not the solution because there are many older children in care with ‘high needs’ – abuse and neglect-related developmental, psychological, and behavioral problems – which make them ‘unadoptable’. This ignores the fact that most of these children have been damaged by the failures of the system – by prolonged parental maltreatment and by prolonged instability endured when they are churned in and out of care in the name of family preservation.
This is why a crucial feature of adoption reform involves a shift away from the current ideology of removal only as a last resort, and towards ensuring that timely decisions are made about removal and adoption for children who are unlikely to be ever able to live safely with their highly dysfunctional parents.
The best contribution the federal government can make is to force the states to be publicly accountable for their non-performance on adoption. Despite more than 43,000 children living in care nationally last year, there were only 89 children adopted from care – 84 in NSW and just 5 in the rest of the states and territories.
This is why my new book proposes that National Adoption Targets be established to highlight the chronic under-use of adoption in Australia compared to similar countries such as the US and the UK.
Jeremy Sammut’s book, The Madness of Australian Child Protection: Why Adoption Will Rescue Australia’s Underclass Children (Connor Court) will be launched this month with a series of panel events in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. Click here to book for these events.
Those of us with long enough memories will remember the ALP carrying on at great length in the years around 2002 that the Howard government was the “highest taxing government in Australia’s history”. Unfortunately enough, it was true.
Imagine, therefore, my surprise when I saw that Anthony Albanese, a Shadow Minister, arguing on Friday that Howard “spent” too much money on tax cuts.
The gall of it was astounding. Not only did it contradict the arguments of the ALP at the time, it also contradicted the arguments of Craig Emerson as recently as 2011 that taxes were at record highs under Howard. And of course, it murdered the definition to talk of tax cuts as “spending”.
Mr Albanese was arguing that some of funds that were “spent” on tax cuts instead should have been spent on infrastructure. Great idea. What we really need is more A-class infrastructure such as the ALP’s pink batts, the Coalition’s Alice to Darwin railway, the Magnesium smelter near Rockhampton (remember that one?) – funded by both the Coalition and the ALP – or the ALP’s National Broadband Network with net costs that are $22 billion more than the market-based alternative.
If this wasn’t enough, on Monday we had Tony Burke, the Shadow Finance Minister, arguing that current tax levels are currently too low compared to 2002. We’ve been over this territory before: comparisons can easily be made to any year; my suggestion is to compare to 2011: if we do this, we must have a tax cut of $40 billion.
Mr Burke was also contradicting the many arguments by his party that taxes were too high in 2002.
Instead of this nonsense, if we are to compare tax levels, they should be done to averages across years, and on that basis the current tax level is well above the 10 year average and about equal to the 20, 30 and 40 year average.
In truth, the ALP was on a winner with its earlier arguments that taxes were too high in and around 2002. They should stick to that argument and not try to put it into the memory hole.
China’s recent decision to dump its one-child policy will produce little impact on its future population growth. Indeed, the measure is largely irrelevant, as its fertility rate is currently way under the 2.1 children per woman replacement level threshold.
The truth is that as China grows richer and more urbanised, the financial costs of bearing an extra child become more and more dependent on private decisions to expand the family.
It is quite telling that when Beijing relaxed its one-child policy in 2013, allowing married couples to have a second child if one of the parents was a single child themselves, there was very little interest from the public. In Shanghai, for instance, less than five percent of eligible couples have applied so far for the permission to expand the family.
After decades of blunt, top-down one-child family imposition, China was left with major social and fiscal liabilities. And most of the reduction of its fertility rate would have come even without such a draconian policy.
Evidence shows, no matter the cultural, religious or political background, the best predictors for falling fertility rates are urbanisation and higher income.
Supporters of the one-child policy point to the fertility rate in China being practically halved from 3.01 children per woman in 1980 to 1.55 in 2015. But a similar sharp downward trend was also observed in other parts of the world as per capita incomes grew, without the need for brutally enforced central planning.
In neighbouring Mongolia, for instance, fertility rates declined from 6.65 to 2.68 children per woman during the same period; in Hong Kong, spared from the mainland’s single child enforcement, fertility rates declined from 2.31 to 1.20 children per woman over the past 35 years.
The final verdict over China’s one-child policy is that economic incentives are far more effective (and less cruel) in determining demographic trends than a handful of central-planning bureaucrats. As the Chinese experiment shows, government policies attempting to second-guess market outcomes usually come at a heavy price – and are harder to undo.
This is an abridged version of an oped published this week by The Daily Telegraph