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.

Easy moralism on forced adoption ‘sorry’

22 March 2013

jeremy-sammutThe Prime Minister’s apology for forced adoption predictably heaped opprobrium on previous generations for the harsh and outdated attitudes that used to exist towards unwed mothers.

Equally predictably, the Prime Minister made no mention of contemporary failings, and took no responsibility for dealing with the consequences of the progressive policies of today.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the single mother’s pension by the Whitlam Government. This policy helped end the practice of forced adoption because the provision of taxpayer-funded income support gave women who became pregnant out of wedlock the realistic option to keep their children.

The 2012 Greens-dominated Senate inquiry into forced adoption reflexively lauded this as a social leap forward that marked the start of a more tolerant era. However, in the rush to criticise the conservative attitudes of early times and praise modern-day respect for family diversity, the negative social consequences were wholly ignored.

The politically incorrect reality that has emerged in the past 40 years is that welfare for the unwed has led to the very social problem that forced adoption was designed to prevent – the inability of (some but not all) single mothers reliant on public assistance to properly care for children outside of a traditional, financially self-supporting family.

The inconvenient truth is that the right to welfare has become a pathway to welfare dependence and welfare-related dysfunction for a significant underclass of single mothers and their children, and has contributed significantly to the scale of the child protection crisis confronting the nation today.

Australia’s growing underclass of problem families with serious child protection concerns includes disproportionate numbers of single-mother families with a raft of problems (drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness) that impede proper parenting. They account for more than one-third of all substantiated incidents of child abuse and neglect in Australia, and are over-represented at more than twice the expected rate, given the number of single-mother households.

Despite these statistics, the links between family type and child welfare are rarely discussed.

Elites in the media, politics, and academia are uncomfortable making judgments about different kinds of families. This is despite the impact that the reproductive and relationship decisions made by adults has on children, and despite the reams of social science evidence that shows that the children of never-married single mothers do worse on average on all measures of child wellbeing compared to other kinds of families.

Hence, the social disaster surrounding the rise of state-sponsored single-motherhood does not get the attention it deserves. Instead, as the national apology for forced adoption shows, we prefer to practice the easy moralism that condemns the sins of the past, while ignoring the current day sins of ‘enlightened’ social policies that are toxic for child welfare.

Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and author of The Fraught Politics of Saying Sorry for Forced Adoption: Implications for Child Protection Policy in Australia, released on 19 March 2013.

Don’t blame corporate sector for low Indigenous employment

22 March 2013

sara-hudsonAccording to a new report by the Diversity Council Australia, Reconciliation Australia and Lend Lease, the corporate sector needs to more effectively engage with Indigenous communities to close the gap in employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

In the report, 27 Indigenous industry leaders gave the corporate sector an average score of 5.1 out of 10 for community engagement and employment of Aboriginal people.

But the corporate sector should not be blamed for low Indigenous employment. The barrier to improving Indigenous employment figures is not the lack of effective (what Reconciliation Australia would term ‘culturally appropriate’) engagement with Indigenous communities, but practical things, like the appalling education outcomes of remote Indigenous Australians with many unable to read, write or count.

Rather than blaming private sector employers for not engaging appropriately with Indigenous communities, governments and training providers should be held responsible. Many more Aboriginal people could be employed if government education departments were doing their jobs properly.

Remote Indigenous people may complete multiple training courses but the training never leads to employment because underlying illiteracy problems are not addressed. Indigenous students are allowed to pass courses in Business Administration from the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education without knowing how to turn on a computer or write a simple sentence in English.

The private sector, most notably mining companies, have lead the way in offering: training; support with literacy and numeracy; pre-vocational courses; introductory job rotations; flexible traineeships; and apprenticeship on-the-job programs. Several mines, including the Argyle diamond mine in the Kimberley, the Granites goldmine in the Tanami desert, and the Century zinc, lead and silver mine in the Gulf of Carpentaria, have decades of experience in providing employment opportunities for the local Aboriginal population. In some mines, Aboriginal people make up 20 per cent of the workforce.

Yet even with all the pre-employment training and accelerated training provided by mining companies, there are many remote Indigenous Australians whose literacy and numeracy is not sufficient for them to be employed safely in mining operations. Still, mining companies are so keen to employ Indigenous people they have created ancillary positions in gardening, maintenance services and land management.

To say, as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda does, that employers should not ‘pay lip service to reconciliation’ is a slap in the face to all those private sector employers who are doing everything they can to try and employ more Indigenous people.

Andrew Forrest states that under the Aboriginal Employment Covenant, 335 employers have pledged over 60,000 jobs for Indigenous people. So far 14,000 Indigenous people have moved into employment. More would be employed if they had the right education.

The Diversity Council Australia and Reconciliation Australia are perpetuating a myth that more Aboriginal people could be employed if employers were not so racist. The truth is employment opportunities abound for educated Indigenous people.

It is education not racism that is holding Aboriginal people back.

Sara Hudson is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Penalty rates and job insecurity

22 March 2013

alex-philipatosThe government’s plan to enshrine penalty rates in the Fair Work Legislation should be seen as part of a broader campaign against insecure work run by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Unfortunately, moves to strengthen penalty rates may have the perverse effect of creating further job insecurity.

This week a full bench of the Fair Work Commission, headed by President Iain Ross, rejected a bid by employers to reduce penalty rates for retailers and fast food companies.

Retailers applied to have the 25% Saturday penalty scrapped and the 100% Sunday penalty reduced to 50%. Fast food retailers sought to scrap the 25% penalty rate for Saturdays and the 50% penalty rate for Sundays, in addition to a 10% penalty to apply on weeknights after 10pm to replace the current 15% which applies from 9pm.

President Ross claimed that ‘while aspects of the application are not without merit – particularly the proposals to re-assess the Sunday penalty rate in light of the level applying on Saturdays – the evidentiary case in support of the claims was, at best, limited.’

Moves to remove penalty rates signal a growing dissatisfaction among the business community with the costs of the award system, particularly since the changes to award wages and penalty rates brought about by modern awards. The award modernisation process, plus the recent Safety Net Review, has culminated in significant hikes to labour costs.

It comes at a time where unprecedented competition from online retailers, both at home and abroad, has created downward price pressure. Small retailers are essentially getting squeezed at both ends – their revenues are falling at the same time that labour costs are increasing.

What this means is a very uncertain business environment for small retailers, and further job insecurity for the workers they employ.

A removal or reduction in penalty rates would give small retailers much-needed relief from cost pressures and allow them to operate for longer and at higher capacity during non-standard hours. For many retailers, these are the most important trading hours and would represent significant employment opportunities for workers in a fickle job market.

Penalty rates are proving more and more incompatible with the nature of the modern retail environment. A less onerous penalty rates system will alleviate cost pressures and contribute to greater business activity and better employment opportunities.

Alexander Philipatos is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.