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.

Dragging gender into the public square

Jeremy Sammut

19 January 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

Libertarians and libertines used to argue that the government ‘should get out of people’s bedrooms’ because sex was a private matter of choice and consent between adults.

But in the age of identity politics, sexuality is being dragged into the public square to shape interactions between citizens and the state and its agents.

Witness the Victorian Council of Social Services submission to a recent Productivity Commission enquiry, which insists that the National Disability Insurance Scheme must provide:

culturally safe and gender responsive information, effective planning and quality service delivery, including practices which are sensitive to the needs of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and/or gender neutral (LGBTIQA+).

One wonders how gender-specific services will materially promote the key objectives of the NDIS, which is to improve the quality of services provided to all Australians with severe disabilities to meet their human needs.

It is also hard to tell what ‘gender-sensitive’ services means in practice. A clue is given by this story.

The ‘Rainbow Tick’ accreditation program apparently helps service providers to understand that “People were bashed and people were put into jail for loving the person they loved… so understanding the fear people may have in that community is absolutely immense.”

The cynic in me wants to question the utility of a ‘diversity training industry’ that from one angle appears to be an exercise in gender warrior-style political conscience-raising.

But on the other hand, people with ‘lived experience’ of persecution might well be reassured by accessing services that understand the “historical experiences GLBTIQ individuals.”

Yet I am also conscious of how the liberal tradition of tolerance — which I have studied at length in terms of the way Australia has successfully integrated migrants into the nation — is based on the principle of overlooking differences and finding commonalities instead.

Hence I worry that ‘institutionalising’ sexual identity in the name of ‘inclusiveness’ could potentially prove counter-productive and divisive.

The danger is that by focusing on sexuality — and by essentially reducing people to their sexual identity as we interact in the public square — we risk denying the common humanity of us all that is the true foundation of tolerance.

Free the Regions

Matthew O’Donnell

19 January 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

A cursory look at state politics across the country highlights one undeniable fact: city dominates country.  Rising crime and grand, costly infrastructure programs dominate the chatter in Lygon St, ageing steam-era passenger trains and the development of shiny new white elephant stadiums occupy the minds in the Emerald City, while in the Sunshine State the interests of the inner-city latte crowd seem to get more of a hearing than those of the coal miners in the Bowen Basin.

Over the past 50 years, Australia has been radically transformed by technological, social and economic change.  The ties that bind Australians have been weakened as the values and interests of its citizens have splintered, calling into question the ability of the current states to act in the best interests of all.

Efficient and effective political decision making requires a politician to be knowledgeable about an issue; to be encouraged to do the right thing; and to be easily monitored and evaluated by voters.  How can state politicians optimise decision making against these three criteria when the electorates they represent have such divergent interests and values?

How can a voter be knowledgeable enough and have the time to truly evaluate a politician’s performance, when so many of the politicians’ decisions are made on issues that have no direct impact on voters’ daily lives?

Maybe instead of wishing for the rise of the ‘uber’ politician, solver of all of life’s problems, and the all-seeing voter, omniscient in the ways of the political class, we should encourage politicians and voters to focus on issues closer to home.

Is it time to break up the states into smaller regions so politicians can better serve voters? Under a federation with smaller states our regional differences could be celebrated, greater policy experimentation and competition can be encouraged and regional voter preferences for different forms and levels of government spending, taxation and regulation can be satisfied.  It would free the regions from the tyranny of the city.  Vive La Riverina, Vive La FNQ, Vive La Kimberley!

Why is China being Pakistan’s ‘knight in shining armour’?

Aarti Sharad Seksaria

19 January 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

China’s recent move of defending Pakistan against international criticism is not a first. Nor is it going to be the last. If anything, Trump’s discontent and coldness towards Pakistan is only pushing it further towards China.

This becomes more apparent with the official adoption of the yuan by Pakistan’s central bank. For China, this marks another victory in its goal of internationalising its currency.

But is China’s outright and explicit support of Pakistan a cover for its vaulting ambitions?

It is possible that China’s interest in Pakistan is piqued by the perpetual political instability in Islamabad or by the country’s nuclear status and historic rivalry with India. Gone are the days of the post-WWII slogan ‘Hindi Chini bhai bhai’ (India and China are brothers). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is now a cause of grave concern in New Delhi and Washington. As Pakistan and China engage in a collaborative makeover of the Gwadar port into a trans-shipment hub, fears of Beijing’s increasing geopolitical influence spread through political circles around the world.

If the BRI partnership with Pakistan is already providing China greater access to the sea lanes in the Indian Ocean and fuelling its regional power, what is driving China’s need to be Pakistan’s knight at the international slamming platform?

The need for highlighting its readiness to replace United States in yet another role and for posturing its power in the Asia-Pacific region seems like a plausible motive. However, China’s behaviour can also be attributed to a possible understanding with Pakistan over bartering support against international criticism over human rights violations.

It is hard to say whether the growing intimacy between China and Pakistan is a cause or a consequence of stronger U.S.-India relations.

But, as 2017’s political uncertainties carry forward into the new year, it will be crucial to see what implications a stronger China-Pakistan relationship present.

Aarti Sharad Seksaria is a Masters student in international relations at ANU, and an intern at the Centre for Independent Studies.