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.

Playing the moral high ground on asylum seekers

26 July 2013

peter-kurti 'Mr Prime Minister, Jesus weeps,' tweeted the disappointed Anglican bishop of Tasmania when the PNG Solution was announced last weekend.

When Kevin Rudd first came to office in 2007, he promised an end to the Howard Government's Pacific Island Solution.

The churches welcomed the policy reversal, guests at dinner parties in Sydney's Inner West acclaimed it, and urban sophisticates purred approvingly.

So did the people-smugglers. They loaded up their boats and sent them on to the high seas. The number of boat arrivals soared. So did the number of drownings.

But Rudd's decision in 2007 to dump his predecessor's scheme turned out to be a humanitarian tragedy and a political catastrophe.

The need now in 2013 to address the horrible mess, which is almost entirely of Rudd's own making, was not merely an opportunity but a burning political imperative.

But the Prime Minister is already feeling the heat of moral challenge, and it doesn't just come from critics on the Right.

Some of the most bitter criticism has come from the Left, from those who are dismayed by the apparent heartlessness and cruelty of the plan.

In Faith in Politics published in The Monthly in October 2006, Rudd paraded his Christian socialist credentials and declared that 'the biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear.

His verdict on the Pacific Solution was that it 'should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches.'

It was that kind of language which kindled hope in the hearts of the Howard-haters. Rudd went on to topple Kim Beazley and then, a year later, to win the 2007 election.

But Rudd's PNG Solution now appears to be harsher than anything ever imposed by the Howard Government. Critics such as the bishop of Tasmania say Rudd has abandoned the very same Christian values of compassion and tolerance he once said were so important to him.

Yet 'compassion' and 'tolerance' don't necessarily mean only what the bishop says they mean. One can feel both compassion and tolerance for asylum-seekers while at the same time putting in place policies that prevent or deter illegal arrival by sea.

Sadly, Rudd has fallen into a trap of his own making. Christian moral teaching can inform the decisions we make, if we so choose. But it can never be commandeered to gild the edge of policy.

'The gap between political realities and their public face is so great that the term "paradox" tends to crop up from sentence to sentence,' observed the late Kenneth Minogue with characteristic understatement.

Politicians of any stripe who claim to establish the public face of policy by securing the Christian moral high ground will soon enough feel the tide of political reality lapping at their toes.

In The Sydney Morning Herald Paul Sheehan denounced the PNG Solution as having 'not a shred of functional credibility, policy consistency or moral coherence.'

Only time will tell if the PNG Solution can be made to work. Political and legal challenges almost certainly lie ahead.

The bishop of Tasmania may be right. Jesus may well be weeping. But the apparent readiness to dump all moral conviction may not play well with voters either.

Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Productivity is more than industrial relations

26 July 2013

simon-cowan It's not often that I agree with a unionist, especially one like ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver who has vocally advocated increased government intervention in the automotive industry. But Oliver's recent comments on productivity have some validity; specifically, the idea that productivity is more than just industrial relations.  

While there are undoubtedly some issues that need addressing in industrial relations, focusing the productivity debate on unions and workers misses the biggest impediment to growth in this country – government.

It is not unions who have massively increased spending on recurrent, consumption programs at the expense of developing new infrastructure.

It is not workers who have introduced rafts of new environmental regulations and green tape that have impacted Australia's competitiveness.

It is not industrial relations that cause serious delays in the approval process for new projects.

The most recent Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry quarterly survey of small business found that 'Business Taxes and Government Charges continues to constitute the top barrier to investment for small businesses for the ninth successive quarter.'  

In addition, between August 2011 and May 2013, Federal Government Regulations and State Government Regulations each featured in the top 10 limitations for small and medium business no less than seven times.

Rich countries occasionally ignore productivity issues. They focus instead on redistributing wealth (because business should supposedly be taxed more to 'pay their share') or regulating behaviour (because corporations have 'corporate social responsibilities').  

However if we want to maintain and increase our standard of living, wages and real economic growth in the future, government activity has to be better targeted and the share of GDP that government takes must be reduced. We must grow the pie, not just slice it more finely.

It brings to mind something else that Oliver said: 'Productivity growth matters. The main driver of real economic growth, it's how we keep improving the standard of living for working people.'

As we are proving in our TARGET30 campaign: the real debate about future prosperity in this country begins with the role of government.

Simon Cowan is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

The cancer of government advertising strikes back

26 July 2013

andrew-baker According to our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, government advertising is a 'cancer on democracy,' but when an election is on the line, the cancer strikes back with a vengeance.  

Our government is spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on what can only be described as blatantly partisan advertising, or what is now dubbed 'information campaigns.'  

The issue came to a head this week with the government's $2.5 million advertising campaign supposedly to convince asylum seekers that they won't be resettled in Australia by targeting Australian readers of The Daily Telegraph.   

The cancer has metastasised and infected other parts of government spending.    

Around $5.5 million has been spent advertising the Schoolkids Bonus – a payment which you don't need to apply for because it is automatically paid to eligible parents – which in turn renders the advertising campaign pointless.  

Famously, the government is continuing to spend $8 million telling us the Child Care Rebate is not means tested and that millionaires can get an annual $7,500 subsidy on their out-of-pocket child care expenses.  

Another $10 million is being spent to 'ensure that businesses, research institutions, individual employers and employees are aware' of the government's plan 'for Australian jobs' – which is really just a cleverly disguised plan for more protectionism and corporate welfare.   

Apparently the government needs to spend $10 million on its Medicare for All campaign 'to inform Australians about the benefits of Medicare and health-related services, including Medicare Locals, Medicare rebates and safety nets.'  

You may have seen advertising for the Better Schools education reform package. Reports place the cost of that campaign at $50 million.   

On top of all this spending (which is by no means a comprehensive list), don't forget the millions spent advertising the government's new Clean Energy Payments, the carbon tax compensation package.  

Despite the tens of millions government is spending on these advertising campaigns, it is important to note this is just a fraction of the multi-billion dollar cost of the policies they are telling us about.    

This suggests that government advertising may not be the 'cancer on democracy' that Prime Minister Rudd said it is. Rather, it is merely a symptom of a greater and more troubling cancer – that of excessive and unsustainable government spending.

Andrew Baker is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.