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.

Freedom to believe must mean freedom to practice

04 July 2014

peter-kurti UK civil liberties group Liberty has criticised the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to uphold a French law banning the wearing of the niqab.

The Court's decision appears to threaten the nexus between religious belief and religious practice.

Liberty's director Shami Chakrabarti declared that the ruling oppresses women and restricts their right to freedom of religion. She linked the decision to 'the rising racism in Western Europe.'

The case was brought by a woman who argued that the state's ban on wearing the niqab infringed her right to freedom of religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 9 upholds the right of freedom of religion and also the freedom to manifest one's beliefs. But the Article also allows for legal limits to those freedoms if they are in the interests of social cohesion.

In other words, the Convention states that the right to religious liberty is not an absolute right. It must always be balanced against other rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of the liberal state.

The Court heard submissions from the French government that the face 'played a significant role in social interaction' and the law was intended to promote the cohesion of a very diverse society.

Accordingly, the Court found there had been no breach of Article 9 and allowed the law banning the niqab to stand in the interests of promoting ease of living for all French citizens.

Given the need to balance the rights of the complainant against the particular demands and circumstances presented by French society, the Court has made a reasonable decision.

The limits of religious freedom and the extent to which the state may restrict the free and public expression of religious ideas are also being debated in Australia.

Australia is committed to upholding freedom of religion. Anti-discrimination legislation contains exemptions protecting the right to religious liberty ensuring it is balanced against other rights.

But religious liberty is under threat here from an aggressive secularism that wants to drive religion out of the public square where it is practised, and into the private and confined realm of the mind.

We see it, for example, in the push by certain groups led by the Australian Greens to introduce same sex marriage in the name of tolerance, dignity and 'marriage equality'.

But the push for equality imposes a tyranny of tolerance upon the individual, law-abiding religious believer which, in turn, threatens the freedom of religious belief and expression.

Rather than imposing models of equality upon the individual, the state needs to allow believers and non-believers alike, with differing and conflicting beliefs and practices, to live together in peace.

Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and author of The Forgotten Freedom: Threats to Religious Liberty in Australia.


Learning from our preventive health failures

04 July 2014

helen-rittelmeyer Speak no ill of the dead, the saying goes. Inasmuch as this past Wednesday's Senate committee hearing into a bill that would abolish the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) was equivalent to a funeral for the soon-to-be departed agency, it was reasonable to expect the speakers to highlight its best qualities.

But some of the remarks at Wednesday's hearing went well beyond eulogistic kindness. They instead indicated that ANPHA's defenders still fundamentally misunderstand the role that preventive medicine should play in our healthcare system.

If we do not understand the shortcomings that made Australia's three-year experiment with a national preventive health agency a failure, we may end up repeating the same mistakes.

'Health promotion and disease prevention are essential to sustainable change, and investment is highly cost-effective,' declared Jerril Rechter, CEO of VicHealth. This claim – that 'investment' in preventive care will save money in the long term – was repeated several times during the day's testimony, by representatives of multiple organisations.

But it depends what sort of preventive care you're talking about. Simple interventions like vaccination and some cancer screenings can indeed be cost effective. These forms of care are handled by the Department of Health and associated agencies.

ANPHA, on the other hand, was in charge of less tried-and-true fields of prevention: obesity, alcohol, and tobacco. In these areas, there is far less evidence that government interventions can lead to long-term changes in individual behaviour, or that such interventions can reduce long-term health costs.

ANPHA's healthy food cookbook, on which it spend $200,000 of taxpayer money, is a perfect example of a preventive health policy that aims toward a worthy goal (in this case, a less obese Australia) without any evidence to substantiate a link between the policy and the desired outcome.

In the past year, ANPHA's greatest accomplishment has been a report on the possibility of a per-volume floor price for alcoholic beverages. The report concluded that raising the price of alcohol is a great idea but a floor price would be the wrong method, since it 'would lead to profit increases flowing to the private sector.' It recommended a tax increase instead.

This is a good example of the other main problem with ANPHA: its political slant. In its enthusiasm for tax increases and its reluctance to work collaboratively with private industry, ANPHA risked becoming a politicised lobby group rather than an objective health agency.

The abolition of ANPHA will have no effect on proven forms of preventive care like vaccines and screenings. It simply puts the brakes on the kinds of nanny-state programs that -contrary to what some of Wednesday's speakers suggested – just don't provide value for money.

Helen Andrews is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.


Income management is mutual obligation writ large

04 July 2014

jha-trishaThe release of the interim report of the McClure Welfare Review and expectations that the government will expand income management presents us with an opportunity to revisit the philosophical concerns of income management as a social security tool.

Income management is not a new concept for the Australian social security apparatus: It has been in place for several years in the Northern Territory by way of the BasicsCard, which has now been expanded on a trial basis in specific sites in other states to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Remote Indigenous communities also experience de facto income management through restrictions on alcohol sales and the purchase of select items.

Income management is based on two ideas: That some people are unable to take care of their basic needs and must have portions of their benefits carved out to provide for these basics; and that since benefits are essentially a gift from the taxpayer through the government, the government can impose whatever conditions it feels like.

These two moral principles also underpin mutual obligation, which is the set of minimum requirements, or 'hoops to jump through', that is attached to unemployment benefits. Job search requirements and the Work for the Dole scheme are both examples of mutual obligation.

A common objection to income management is that it makes unemployment benefits conditional and is therefore paternalistic. Yet this is already the case. Benefits are conditional upon being a member of a specific category (that is, being unemployed) and are also conditional upon certain activities being performed (mutual obligation).

Any objection to income management has to be an objection of the kind of conditionality of unemployment benefits, not the existence of conditions per se.

As such, the most fruitful way to discuss income management involves whether there's an actual problem that needs to be solved, whether it works, whether it passes the cost-benefit test, to whom it should be applied and how it should be applied.

Some of these questions have been at least partially answered.

The cost of income management is quite high so the evidence of its efficacy needs to be strong. There are some obvious potential pitfalls. If income management creates a different kind of dependence – dependence on the government to make decisions relating to one's basic needs – then this undermines the case for it.

The case is further undermined if income management is expanded to satisfy a political urge to reduce 'bludging', rather than for a specific end (such as ensuring children's wellbeing in at-risk families).

One does not have the same rights to income derived from benefits financed by the taxpayer as income earned privately. Nevertheless, there is reason to be sceptical about an expansion of income management.

Trisha Jha is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.