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.

Farming rhinoceroses

29 June 2012

The ABC recently took a break from channelling its inner Trotskyite and did a fascinating piece on the campaign in South Africa to legalise the trade in rhino horns.

Rhino horn poachers typically kill the rhino in their attempt to get the horn and sell it at obscene prices on the black market. In response, governments have adopted the strategy of de-horning rhinos before they can be poached. De-horning does not kill the rhino.

However, the demand for rhino horn in the black market is so great that even de-horned rhinos are being killed for much less horn. Last year, 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa, a drastic escalation from just 13 in 2007; 200 rhinos have been killed so far this year.

Current policies are obviously failing. The market for illegal rhino horn is driving the increased killing of rhinos. South African rhino farmer John Hume makes the case for decriminalisation of the rhino horn trade:

We have to approach a capitalistic win-win situation where we sustainably get a return from our rhinos, either from tourism or from breeding or from farming. You will never get anybody to breed rhinos unless they can sustainably utilise the horn, because if they can't sustainably utilise the horn, they will not make any money out of it.

In short, rhinos are fast becoming extinct because there aren’t enough incentives to breed them faster than they are being killed. Telling poachers they should just ‘stop’ is not enough. Putting a legal price on rhino horn will open the doors for more investment and innovation towards breeding rhinos, increasing the supply of legal horn, and consequently, reducing the demand for black market horn.

Legalising the trade in rhino horn is something Australia should consider. Australia has a competitive advantage when it comes to farming and agriculture, and farming rhino for their horn could present a lucrative investment opportunity for the savvy entrepreneur. It is an ethical and effective way of saving the rhino while making money at the same time.

Andrew Baker is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Freedom to play

29 June 2012

A few days ago, I was watching three children under the age of nine happily play unsupervised in the mud on the foreshore of a bay. No adults were in sight and the children were laughing as they poked sticks into the muddy water. The freedom they were experiencing reminded me of my own carefree childhood when I was allowed to roam my neighbourhood streets until it got dark.

Unfortunately, most children in Australia no longer experience such freedom. Their time is so strictly regimented between school and structured activities after school that they are losing the art of play. According to a MILO State of Play study in 2011, 45% of children in Australia don’t play every day. Curtin University research claims that in just one generation, outdoor play has decreased from 73% to just 13% of total play time. Such are the time limits on children today that some parents are structuring in time for unstructured play!

We don’t organize anything and the kids play. You know? Like, we just sit around in the back yard and let the kids be kids. We still watch them, of course.

One reason for this is over-anxious parents who worry that if they let their children out of sight, some calamity will befall the kids. This obsession with safety is permeating all aspects of Australian society. A recent article in Crikey suggests that some people actually like Australia’s ‘nanny state’:

When I get back to Australia and I’m not allowed to throw a Frisbee at the beach and I have to get a special council permit just to mind my own business … I’ll say a prayer of thanks to Nanny, and enjoy the freedom – that’s right, haters, freedom – of feeling safe and protected.

Australia is fostering a risk-averse culture where people are reluctant to put themselves or their children ‘at risk’. What is deemed risky has become more tightly defined – so the independence granted to children in the past is now viewed as parental negligence. For example, children using a public toilet without an accompanying adult, walking to school by themselves, or simply crossing the street unaided.

Of course, children below a certain age do need supervision, but it seems the age children are considered old enough to do things independently is getting older and older.

It is time to take a stand against the paranoia gripping parents and remind them that although the worst-case scenario might happen one day, most of the time it doesn’t. Meanwhile, their children are losing out on developing valuable skills such as resilience, imagination and independence that come with unstructured play.

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

Indigenous education – a poor performer

29 June 2012

Indigenous education in Australia has made little or no headway since NAPLAN testing began in 2008. The number of Indigenous students failing NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests is increasing and will not meet COAG targets for many more decades.

Our latest report, Indigenous Education 2012, shows that while the majority of Indigenous students in Australia are performing well, the significant minority who are failing come from either low socio-economic backgrounds and attend under-performing mainstream schools, or attend Indigenous schools.

We know that children from welfare-dependent backgrounds are subjected to a family life that lacks the routine found in non-welfare dependent families. Children who witness their parents staying at home and not working have less to aspire to, compared to regular families with a working mother and father.

Chris Sarra has shown how the critical role of low expectations in Indigenous educational failure is fuelled not only by students themselves but also by their parents, teachers and schools. With 40% of Indigenous students coming from welfare-dependent families, it is clear that welfare dependency plays a role in the poor NAPLAN results.

Even more of a problem are the under-performing mainstream schools, which have high failure rates for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. About 40,000 Indigenous students attend these poorly performing schools. Their performance, like those of the poorly performing non-Indigenous students, is linked to the substandard education they receive at these ‘residualised’ schools.

Indigenous schools (schools where more than 75% of students are Indigenous), however, are some of the worst performing schools in Australia. About 20,000 students attend these schools, and only a handful of them are attaining mainstream education outcomes. Poorly performing schools are subjugating our young to a less-than-average education. This robs them of future opportunities and means the cycle of welfare dependency is likely to continue.

At this rate, on Australia’s education ministers’ timetable, Indigenous children will not achieve the same education outcomes as other Australian children until 2028. This is unacceptable. Indigenous children deserve the same standard of education as their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Government needs to respond to these results by bringing non-performing and under-performing schools up to speed within the decade. Giving principals greater autonomy in hiring and managing staff and doing away with programs they see as unproductive would contribute greatly to improved educational outcomes.

Emeritus Professor Hughes is a Senior Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and Mark Hughes is an independent researcher. Their new report, Indigenous Education 2012, is available at