Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies

Ideas@TheCentre

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.

Shaking the 2012–13 money tree

06 July 2012

New financial years often mark the beginning of new government policies, programs and payments, and 1 July 2012 was no different from previous years in social policy.

The carbon tax is now in effect and so are the accompanying tax changes and extra welfare payments – up to an extra $338 for single pensioners and $510 for couple pensioners every year. Polarised polls aside, millions of pensioners will now receive larger welfare payments because of the carbon tax.

DSP reforms this year are modest compared to previous years. All disability pensioners can now work up to 30 hours a week without losing their payment, assuming of course they don’t make too much money and fail the pension income test. This reform is best understood as part of the broader changes (including DSP participation interviews costing taxpayers $94 each) that came into effect in the last year and made it harder to get on to the DSP but easier to get off it.

On 1 July, the government also gave more than $500 million in $600 lump sum payments to 560,000 carers through the Carer Supplement. Ironically, the Rudd government’s razor gang wanted to slash the payment in 2008 itself (then known as the Carer Bonus); following a pre-budget leak, the government gave the Brendan Nelson led opposition its first political win when Rudd backed down.

In total, the Gillard government will spend more than $20 billion on income support payments for people with disability and carers in 2012–13.

And for the first time ever, income management will apply to people from a non-Indigenous background, with trials in Bankstown (NSW), Greater Shepparton (Vic), Rockhampton (Qld), Logan (Qld), and Playford (SA). These trials aim to tackle long-term intergenerational welfare dependency by ensuring that between 50% and 70% of a participant’s welfare payment is used to pay for life’s basic necessities rather than drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. My colleague Sara Hudson has written more on this subject here.

This week is also National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week. The government has funded around 800 NAIDOC week grants worth about $7.4 million since 2009, and another $1.6 million this year. Some public servants get a free day off work to attend the celebrations. As an aside, check out actor Morgan Freeman saying Black History Month is ridiculous.

The hot topics of carbon tax and immigration have pushed social policy reforms under the radar in recent months. But with the Coalition committing to repeal the tax – and the compensation – expect social policy to be front and centre in 2012–13 as the government revs up the mother of all scare campaigns telling every pensioner in the country that they will be worse off without a carbon tax.

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

Is preventing ‘another stolen generation’ racist?

06 July 2012

Until a decade or so ago, members of the media shied away from detailing the problems in Aboriginal communities, lest they were accused of cultivating ‘racist’ stereotypes.

That an ABC journalist (no less) would ask a Coalition minister why the state government hadn’t intervened in Toomelah in Far North NSW and introduced a John Howard-style ‘emergency plan’ to fix the policing, drink, crime and child abuse problems besetting the community shows how far the debate about Aboriginal Australia has come.

Leigh Sales was also prepared to ask the hard question whether governments are afraid to remove Aboriginal children from hell-holes like Toomelah ‘for fear of being accused of racism, and given what we saw happen with the Stolen Generation?’

The conservative commentator Andrew Bolt has often suggested that the misplaced fear of creating another Stolen Generation is impeding the proper protection of Aboriginal children.

This maybe so, but I think the situation is more complex.

Since the 1970s, child protection authorities have favoured ‘family preservation’ and have removed children – white or black – only as a last resort.

The Stolen Generation issue only came to prominence in the mid-1990s, by which time the current anti-removal practices were already the norm.

The publicity generated by the 1996 ‘Bringing Them Home’ report has probably increased sensitivities and reinforced the reluctance to separate Aboriginal families.

However, the major impact has been on what happens to Aboriginal children who are eventually removed from their families. These days, these children are more likely to enter 'kinship care' and reside with a relative or another community member.

This is called the ‘Aboriginal Placement Principle’ and is designed to balance safety and cultural concerns by ensuring Aboriginal children who cannot remain safely at home have ongoing contact with their heritage.

Sounds fine in theory. But a number of official reports suggest that Aboriginal children are placed in inappropriate and dangerous situations because – in the rush not to repeat past racist errors – the suitability of kinship carers is overlooked.

By putting culture before safety, children are being removed from the frypan of family dysfunction to the fire of extended family and community dysfunction.

We do not know how big a problem this is because of the lack of research on the outcomes for children in kinship care. But the idea that Aboriginal children end up in placements that fail to meet basic standards, and receive ‘a lesser standard of care than non-Aboriginal children,’ is certainly alarming.

If this is happening, then the anti-racist determination to prevent ‘another Stolen Generation’ is promoting perverse and essentially racist outcomes. Black and white children are being treated differently based on the colour of their skin.

Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

The Asian languages non-problem

06 July 2012

The rise of Asia has led commentators like Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, to raise concerns about Australia’s ability to speak Asian languages.

Following the lead of the likes of Sheridan, both the government and the opposition have pledged to improve Australia’s Asia literacy. The Coalition has even proposed new language education programs reportedly worth $1 billion, with the goal of having 40% of Year 12 students studying a language other than English.

Before deciding that we need to teach more Australian students Asian languages, we need to examine the place that Languages Other Than English (LOTE) already have in Australian schools, and consider the spread of English in Asia and the rest of the world.

Studying a second language is compulsory in the most populous states and territories with over 75% of Australia’s population, and optional language classes are offered in the remaining jurisdictions.

Although Asian languages are not taught in every school that teaches LOTE, key Asian languages, including Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese, are offered in all states and territories.

State and territory LOTE programs will hardly make the nation fluent in Asian languages. In NSW, for example, the compulsory LOTE program only requires 100 hours of instruction.

However, this is not cause for concern.

There are approximately 2 billion English speakers worldwide, and English is the international language of a host of specialised fields, including academia, air traffic control, and diplomacy. By 2050, half of the world’s population is expected to be proficient in English.

English is also an Asian language in both a demographic and official sense. Asia has approximately 800 million English speakers, and English is an official language of major regional economic and military powers (India) and dynamic global commercial hubs (Singapore).

English is not just Australia’s national language; it is also the lingua franca of Asia and the rest of the world. Implementing Asian languages education programs worth potentially billions of dollars would therefore be an overreaction to a non-problem.

Benjamin Herscovitch is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies. He will be delivering a Meet the Researcher lecture on language policy in the Asian Century next Tuesday, 10 July at 6pm. To register, please click here.