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.

Time to focus on the family

Trisha Jha

17 July 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150717-1The developmental impacts of quality childcare for children who have a deficient home environment are well known.

This fact is used by many universal childcare advocates as fertile ground to argue against the government’s new policy for activity-testing access to childcare benefits. The new policy includes a 24 hours per fortnight ‘safety net’ for disadvantaged children, and there is an additional subsidy for children who are at serious risk of abuse or neglect. However, it does represent a change from the status quo of being able to access 50 hours per fortnight of Child Care Benefit by passing a very lax activity test.

But is merely carving out a section of mainstream childcare and buttressing it with higher levels of subsidy really an effective means of ameliorating the negative lifetime effects of disadvantaged children, or is a more targeted and intensive intervention needed?

The purpose of early childhood interventions (ECIs) is to improve children’s cognitive, behavioural and socio-emotional functioning in an intensive setting, with the goal of having a lifetime positive impact on their wellbeing and reduce costs to society. They are often complemented by parenting interventions, which focus on parents to help improve the quality of parenting. The evidence from different ECIs ranges from highly effective with long-term impacts, to somewhat effective with a fadeout over childhood.

It is strange that for all the government’s talk of the McClure Welfare Review Taskforce and how it borrows from the New Zealand model (where lifetime risk of welfare dependence is quantified, and assistance and services are targeted early-on to high-risk people), early childhood interventions have been virtually ignored as being part of that solution. Small-scale ECIs and parenting interventions have been undertaken in Australia, largely by non-government organisations with some government involvement, but very little research has been done on how they can be used most effectively in this country.

It is exceedingly difficult for a uniformly-regulated childcare system to adequately service the needs of disadvantaged children and their families, while maintaining the overall goal of keeping childcare accessible for parents whose children simply need to be kept safe while they are at work.

Though my research has given me cause to be sceptical about the impacts of ‘high-quality’ childcare on middle-class children, I am cautiously optimistic about the life-changing potential that ECIs could offer to some of the most disadvantaged children in our communities.

Co-payment debacle reflections

Jeremy Sammut

17 July 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150717-2The Abbott government’s Medicare co-payment proposal prompted the organised medical profession to wage a political campaign that helped drive a first-term Prime Minister to the brink of the sack by his party. It now appears any reform that interferes with the sacred cow of Medicare is the third rail of Australian politics, given the vested interests vehemently opposed to change.

The more positive interpretation is that for any reform proposal to be credible, it must be informed by a viable political strategy.

When the federal opposition railed against the ‘GP Tax’ it said more than intended. Medicare is one of the most obvious ways people get their taxes back. This is the entitlement mentality in action – those forced to put so much of their income into the pot seek every opportunity possible to take out as much as possible.

The rejection of the co-payment should be interpreted as an expression of dissatisfaction with the size of government and indeed as a rejection of another ‘tax’. It wasn’t the exercise of the nation’s collective social conscience that killed the copayment, but the flexing of the hip pocket nerve. The implications for politically feasible health reform are important, and suggest the clear winners out of the process have to be taxpayers.

The arguments for health reform need to serve the public interest in the direction of sustainable funding for necessary public health services and the maintenance of the public finances. These are cerebral arguments that appeal to the senses located above our necks. But in politics, it is the emotions existing between the neck and knees that usually determine outcomes, emotions that often centre somewhere around people’s wallets.

This is part of the political logic behind the plan for a Medicare opt-out Health Savings Account (HSA) system devised by me and CIS Senior Fellow, David Gadiel.

Among other important things, cashing out Medicare entitlements and depositing the annual proceeds in a HSA would be good for the health of people’s wallets. HSAs are a more efficient way to finance health care, and individuals would benefit as the savings accumulated from more cost-effective health care would ultimately be added to superannuation balances and fund higher retirement incomes.

I make no apologies for trying to beat the entitlement mentality — which helps prop up big government welfare programs like Medicare — at its own game. The only way to achieve major structural health reform is to build a coalition of the willing in favour of change with sufficient political punch to overcome the vested interests in the sector that stymie innovation.

MH17: One year on

Anastasia Glushko

17 July 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

ideas-image-150717-3This week marks a year since the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, including 38 Australians. In a twist of tragic irony, the village of  Grabovo, on whose rolling fields the bodies lay scattered, is only one letter away from having the Russian word for ‘coffin’ (grob) in its name.

Although the official investigations are yet to conclude, by now it is clear this catastrophe was the result of a mistake by the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine who thought they had brought down a Ukrainian military plane.

To argue that the instability in Ukraine is entirely Russia’s fault is to overlook the culpability of EU, whose hollow bureaucratic rhetoric led the Ukrainian people to fight for a European future that was never really open to them. And it is to ignore the agency of the people and government of Ukraine.

But the rebels’ horrific mistake would not have been possible without the Kremlin, whose arms and underhand support for the separatists have fuelled the devastating conflict in Ukraine, which so far has claimed more than 6,500 lives.

Those expecting Putin to mark the anniversary of the MH17 crash with heartfelt mea culpa will be left disappointed. He is, after all, the same man who took five days to interrupt his summer holiday as 118 sailors of the Kursk submarine suffocated at the bottom of the Barents Sea in 2000. (His chillingly dismissive response to Larry King’s question of what happened was a smirking, “It sank.”)

And he is also the man who has never been more domestically popular. Kremlin’s belligerence in the region has helped Putin’s approval ratings soar to 89%, even as the West’s retaliatory economic sanctions have sent both the rouble and living standards into freefall.

Stalin famously quipped that one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. As the world reflects in horror this 17th July, we are likely to be met only with Putin’s unflinching, botox-paralysed face.

It is just another day in Russian politics.