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.

Culture quells racism

Jeremy Sammut

10 July 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150710-1Dawn Fraser’s apology for her inappropriate ‘go back to where you came from’ comments about tennis player Nick Kyrios needs to be kept in perspective regarding the extent of racism in Australia.

One interpretation is sure to be that Fraser’s ill-judged remarks illustrate the ‘dark underbelly of prejudice that persists in this country as a legacy of the White Australia policy’.

But what this incident really shows is how far we have come as a nation in refusing to tolerate intolerance.

Compare the current situation to when the White Australia legislation was passed by the federal parliament in 1901.

All of our first four Prime Ministers spoke during the debate. Three (Barton, Watson and Reid) advanced arguments that today would be condemned as racist and see them drummed out of public life.

The fourth (Deakin) was so embarrassed by his colleagues’ racial prejudice that he argued it was actually the good qualities of ‘alien’ peoples such as the Japanese that explained why Australians were so determined to keep them out of the country.

The story of how we overcame our racist heritage and became one of the most successful multiracial nations in the world is a long and important one. I tell some of this tale in my article included in the free speech issue of the latest Policy magazine.

The takeaway is that we can rely on our culture of tolerance to curb bigoted speech and don’t need laws like Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that can be exploited to curtail legitimate free speech and debates about important public issues.

This is supported by the events of this week. The public outcry the comments provoked showed Fraser had crossed a line with regards to acceptable speech and forced her to issue an ‘unreserved apology’.

This shows we can rely on the culture, and not the law, to protect people from racially insulting speech.

Contradictions rule in Greece

Simon Cowan

10 July 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150710-2Part of the difficulty in understanding where the Greek crisis will head is that so many of the actions of the key players are contradictory.

The Greek people have resoundingly rejected the terms proposed by those willing to give them more free money to prop up their failing economy. How this brave decision to demand unlimited access to countries money can be hailed as a triumph of democracy, which the EU leaders should respect ahead of the wishes of their own voters, is the first contradiction.

But it should hardly have been a surprise to those who have followed the debate over ‘austerity’. Left wing commentators, who have quite the soft spot for socialist Syriza, have been itching for a country to reject the supposedly ‘neoliberal’ ideas of the EU for some time.

To pretend that a Europe-wide super government, famous for over-regulating everything and made up of some of the most economically interventionist societies in the world, is somehow a neoliberal institution is both contradictory and hilarious.

In a free market, socialist Greece would be bankrupt and already fast on its way to hyper-inflating the drachma to pay for its still-broken spending model.

But that has not happened. Indeed it may not happen, as the greatest contradiction may yet be the one that exposes the EU itself as a farce.

The breakdown of talks on the bailout has brought Greece to the edge of no return, with Greek banks just days away from collapse.

Bafflingly, the Greek government turned up for Tuesday’s bailout meeting without a plan to put forward replacing the one rejected by their people. They clearly believe they have a mandate to demand concessions.

While, 16 of 18 European states at Tuesday’s meeting now want to kick Greece out of the Eurozone, a ‘final’ summit has been called for this weekend to try and come up with an agreement to fix Greece once and for all.

If in the end, Greece remains in the Eurozone without committing to reform because the EU institutions capitulate, then all that talk and pain over the last five years, the Maastrict treaty, and the credibility of fiscal reform in Europe, might as well have been for nothing.

Options for over-crowding in schools

Jennifer Buckingham

10 July 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150710-3Enrolments in inner city Sydney public primary schools have doubled in the last five years. Most of these schools have reached capacity, and it is likely that the demand for schools in the inner city will continue to grow.

The NSW government has recently discarded plans to build a new school on an old industrial site in Ultimo, reportedly due to the cost of remediating the site to make it safe. While most of the debate has been about whether these cost estimates were over-estimated, the larger question is about how governments can respond to fluctuations in demand for school places, especially where land prices are high. No government wants to risk spending hundreds of millions of dollars building a new school only to find that enrolments are lower than predicted.

NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli has suggested a couple of options instead of building the new school: expand enrolment zones to allow inner-city residents to attend schools in neighbouring suburbs that may have space; accommodate students in demountable classrooms; and refuse to enrol international students in over-subscribed schools.

These are short-term and counterproductive solutions. Eventually, inner suburban schools will fill up too, demountable classrooms are far from ideal learning environments, and international students are a valuable source of revenue. International students pay between $10,000 and $13,500 per year to attend NSW public schools. On this basis, the 1153 students in inner city public schools contribute up to $15.5 million per year to the NSW education budget. One might think it was worthwhile to encourage their enrolment.

Another possibility is to alter school funding arrangements to encourage the establishment of privately-managed public schools in the city. In the US, UK, Sweden and New Zealand, governments have enacted ‘charter’ or ‘free’ school policies, which provide full public recurrent funding to private organisations to operate schools, in exchange for the schools meeting a number of requirements – they must have open enrolment, they cannot charge fees, and they are accountable for their performance. These schools usually adapt existing buildings or raise private capital to build new ones. In this way, the capital risk is privatised, but students are still able to access a ‘public’ school.

Governments in Australia have resisted the charter/free school trend despite evidence that they can work very well if governance arrangements are strong. In the inner city, necessity may force a change of mind.