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.

Adventures in Oz

Tom Palmer

15 May 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

My time as CIS Scholar in Residence is ending.  I return to the status of mere mortal, but with some remarkable memories of the CIS team in action and of the unique Aussie mix of hospitality, humility, good cheer, and moral seriousness.

A few things stand out in my memory.  The morning ‘news whip’ in which the staff unpick the key policy developments and news of the day – sent in an email round-up by 7.30am – discussing the issues, the potential answers, and what CIS research could benefit the public and media conversation.  The best part is that it’s all done while standing, which obviously discourages time-wasting and tedious pontification.  Of those vices there was none.

I also had a great chance to learn more about Australia’s parliamentary processes, the budget, the legal system, Australian federalism, and the country’s intricate, impenetrable, perplexing labour laws, which seem deliberately designed to make it harder for people to find work.

I shall also not forget the humbling experience of the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Martin Place. No chest thumping. No celebration of war. But dignity and respectful memory. It was, I believe, a reflection of the Australian character.

On a personal level, it was great to share space and time with a team of dedicated, intelligent, and (almost always) sober liberty friends who care about what they do. Having a chance to meet a few of the Aussie entrepreneurs who have created so much shared prosperity in this country was inspiring.  And participating in and speaking before CIS programs for smart and engaged younger people in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne gave me great hope for the future of liberty in Australia and even in the other, non-Australian, bits of the world.

Thank you, CIS.  Now I’m off to the Emergency Economic Summit for Greece!  (See what we’re doing at


Shy Tories key to UK poll

Peter Saunders

15 May 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

The most uninspiring UK election campaign of recent times culminated last week in the most extraordinary result.  Eleven opinion polls conducted the day before reported Labour and Conservatives neck and neck, yet the Conservatives beat Labour 37% to 30% and won an overall majority of 12.

How could every poll have got it so wrong?  The answer being touted by the pollsters is ‘shy Tories.’

Socialists are often proud of their allegiance.  They believe they occupy the moral high ground, so they have no problem telling pollsters how they intend to vote.  They think voting Labour shows they are decent people who care about others, so they put posters in their windows and banners in their gardens.  It’s what James Bartholomew calls ‘virtue signalling.’

Many Conservatives, however, seem ashamed.  After telling pollsters they didn’t know how they would vote, they crept into the polling stations, marked their crosses, and slunk out again like dirty old men buying pornographic magazines.

It’s not the first time this has happened: in 1992, when all the polls predicted a Labour victory, the Conservatives won more votes than any party in British history.

Why are socialists proud of their beliefs while Conservatives seek to hide them?  Because there is a widespread belief that state socialism equates with virtue.  People understand that capitalism delivers material growth and prosperity, but they feel bad voting for it.  They worry that lower taxes mean not caring about the poor, and that free markets reward selfishness.

Yet the core case for capitalism is an ethical one: accepting responsibility for creating wealth rather than demanding that others give you theirs.  This is a moral argument that has to be spelled out clearly and repeatedly if people are to feel good about voting for parties advocating free markets and a limited state.  This is why think tanks like CIS are so crucial in the battle for hearts as well as minds.


Curious Budget items

15 May 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

Politics, Weber once said, is the slow boring of hard boards.

The debate leading up to this week’s budget certainly confirmed that. It was not dominated by issues calculated to set the pulse racing: alternative models of aged pension indexation, and cost-benefit analyses of two-tiered business tax systems.

It was, as the federal government hoped, a mostly “dull and routine” – some might say, frustratingly timid – budget. However, certain pockets of very interesting spending still managed to sneak through.

Take, for example, the quarter of a million dollars pledged by the federal government for Bathurst to erect a new flagpole, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first time white people decided to build a settlement in Australia without water views – a decision they must surely be regretting.

One wonders what these pioneers would think of their memorial. As local newspaper, the Western Advocate, had it: “There were more than a few raised eyebrows when it was announced that Bathurst’s lasting bicentenary memorial would be a flagpole on a toilet block.” After Tuesday night’s Budget, there will surely be a few more raised eyebrows around the country at the fact that it could cost quite so much.

Or how about the nearly $8 million being spent on maintenance and renovations for the Governor-General’s two houses in Canberra and Sydney? Determined to learn from their mistakes last year, and deliver a budget in line with Australians’ expectations of fairness, the federal government has taken an interesting approach. What could possibly cost $8 million? Are the wine cellars not full enough? Do the doilies need to be taken to the dry cleaners?

Or, finally, how about the $2.4 million of additional funding that the federal government committed to the Australian honours and awards system? As the budget papers explain, the money will go towards “support[ing] the increasing number of Australians recognised each year for their outstanding achievements.” $2.4 million is a bit stiff, though. How many more knights and dames do you reckon that’ll get us?

Budget 2015: slow to produce, hard to read, but certainly not all boring.