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.
We all know the school stereotype. Government schools are full of disadvantaged students and struggling for money, while overfunded wealthy independent schools receive taxpayer money they will just spend on fancier swimming pools.
This is a myth.
As recent research clearly demonstrates, government schools reflect the socioeconomic status (SES) of parents in the school catchment areas.
There are 538 government schools with a majority of students from the top SES quarter. This includes the academically selective government schools, which mainly attract students from very high SES backgrounds, and resemble the most ‘elite’ independent schools.
Around 500,000 students in government schools are from the top 25% of SES — more than the total number of students from this category in independent and Catholic schools combined.
This challenges an unquestioned, unjustified assumption at the heart of school funding in Australia: universal free public schooling must continue.
The status quo is inequitable and unfair. High-income parents in high SES areas — where government schools tend to perform much better — are able to send their children to government schools for free.
In contrast, low-income parents in low SES areas — where government schools tend to perform much worse — have to make significant financial contributions to send their children to a non-government school if they are (understandably) not satisfied with the quality of the local government school.
Sure, the underlying long-term issue is the inconsistent quality of schooling, but in the meantime parents in low SES areas are unfairly disadvantaged.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with the government school system catering for students from all SES backgrounds. But why shouldn’t schooling be means-tested like most other government services? Surely millionaires can pay for their children’s education without the assistance of the taxpayer?
It is unnecessary to constrain government schools from receiving significant and compulsory contributions from high-income parents. This means much more taxpayer funding than needed is spent on many government schools.
Let’s end the façade that all government schools have no capacity to charge fees and are in desperate need of taxpayer funding. State governments should seriously consider charging school fees for high SES parents.
This year’s NAIDOC week saw Australia celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
And in light of recent news about the appalling suicide rate of Indigenous Australians, with children as young as 7 showing signs of suicide ideation, it is more important than ever to also showcase positive stories of Indigenous resilience and survival.
The federal government funds organisations — including its own government departments — to help celebrate NAIDOC week, and has provided more than 1000 NAIDOC grants totalling approximately $10 million since 2009.
My 2016 research into Indigenous programs and funding found the third-highest number of Indigenous Advancement Strategy grants (291) went to activities under the Public Awareness Programme, though the total value of the grants was relatively low ($483,816). The low value reflects the fact that a large proportion of the grants were for NAIDOC week activities — which typically consist of very small grants between $500 and $3,000, with an average grant size of $1,662.
No doubt there is a high level of administrative burden for these small grants and while nobody should begrudge the grants going to Aboriginal organisations to help them showcase their culture to the wider community, there is questionable value in giving money to government departments so they can have a morning tea to celebrate NAIDOC week.
These types of tokenistic activities do little to help foster better relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Rather than the government providing funding to its own agencies for such events, the money would be better spent on trying to address some of the problems facing Indigenous communities, such as high suicide rates.
There has been a review of the Indigenous Public Awareness Program and the funding for NAIDOC week, but like many evaluation reports, the findings of this review have not been made public.
We can only suspect this is because the review suggested a waste of public resources. Instead of the public coffers being used to fund morning teas, the government should ensure funding for NAIDOC week counts for something.
Motherhood statements and mantras are all very well, but they need to be followed up with effective policy.
The government’s ‘innovative and agile’ agenda was, and still is, a farce. Evidence suggests this government is incapable of delivering a policy agenda remotely able to create future jobs in the innovation and science industry.
In fact, the latest Global Innovation Index rankings show Australia has slipped to 23rd. This puts us behind China and New Zealand. In the critical area of knowledge diffusion we are now ranked 96.
While rhetorically appeasing, Turnbull’s innovation package — including tax incentives intended to help targeted companies raise capital in their start-up phase — at least in its first year, has proven to be a failure.
The first avenue for an ‘early stage innovation company’ (ESIC) to obtain favourable tax treatment is through satisfying a 100-point test. Not only do the eligibility requirements apply to an embarrassingly limited number of businesses, but satisfying those requirements demands considerable expenditure — which creates large financial risk.
The alternative avenue — the ‘principles-based’ test — has been criticised by business executives as being subjective, time-consuming and uncertain. Companies that take the risk of raising capital in an effort to meet the ESIC eligibility requirements, are likely to be hit with significant tax and interest liabilities if their application is rejected by the ATO.
In 20 years, Australia’s workforce will need to manage the challenges posed by artificial intelligence and technological automation systems. As such, there has never been a more ‘exciting’ and urgent time to deliver accessible tax incentives for high-tech companies and for the government to further support research and development. Australia’s Research and Development spending, at 2.1% of GDP, is dwarfed by South Korea’s 4.3% and Japan’s 3.5%.
In a policy climate that is increasingly subservient to self-destructive populism, a strong policy on innovation is integral to improving Australia’s economy in the long-term. A four-year plan is short-term. We need a less rigid innovation framework that has a long-term strategic framework.
Sam Westley is an intern in the Health Innovations Program at the Centre for Independent Studies.