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.

Australia Day, Invasion Day or Survival Day?

25 January 2013

saraThis coming Saturday is Australia Day. Last year on Australia Day, some Aboriginal leaders and their supporters marked the country’s national day by occupying lawns outside Parliament House in Canberra and chanting: ‘We won't stop, we won't go away. We won't celebrate Invasion Day!’

While most Australians see Australia Day as a day of celebration and an excuse for boozing and barbequing, many Aboriginal people view it as a day of mourning and refer to it as Invasion Day or Survival Day.

To them, the day commemorating when the British first settled in Australia marks the loss of their sovereign rights to the land and the practices of their culture. Up until 1988, celebrations of Australia Day involved re-enactments of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing, including the chasing away of a group of Aboriginal people. So it was hardly surprising that many Aboriginal people refused to participate!

Yet since 1988, Australia has arguably taken a more enlightened approach to celebrating Australia Day with the National Australia Day Council viewing it as a: ‘day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the generations to come.’

Of course Aboriginal people are free to refer to Australia Day anyway they choose but calling it Survival Day instead of Invasion Day is more positive and less divisive.

Survival Day still evokes a history of pain and loss, yet rather than portraying Aboriginal people as victims of British invasion, it paints them as survivors. The name Survival Day expresses the fact that Aboriginal culture is still very much alive.

The first Survival Day concert was held in Sydney in 1992. Since then, Survival Day concerts have become one of the biggest Aboriginal cultural events staged throughout Australia.

One of the annual Australia Day concerts is the Saltwater Freshwater festival in NSW. The festival is nomadic and is held in different Mid North Coast towns each year, this year in Taree.

The Saltwater Freshwater Festival Vision is: ‘To celebrate and share our Aboriginal living culture…with the wider community and commemorate Australia Day as a positive, inclusive, family day for all communities to enjoy.’

Although there are individuals and groups who wish to focus on past grievances and use Australia Day to divide the nation, many others would like to see black and white people coming together. As the Saltwater Freshwater Ambassador says: ‘The tide has turned and I see the salt and fresh water as black and white people coming together as one to celebrate this amazing country as first nations people or first fleet people.’

When the news media report Aboriginal protests on Australia Day it is important to remember that they are just one of the many groups of Aboriginal people in Australia.

Sara Hudson is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Governments aren’t economists

25 January 2013

simonYou may have missed it in a frenzy of shopping and family events, but just before Christmas, the ‘World’s Greatest Treasurer’ (Wayne Swan), broke the worst kept secret since the Fine Cotton horse racing scandal: Australia is unlikely to have a budget surplus this year.

Much like the cheap paint running off the sweating Bold Personality (the Fine Cotton impersonator), the cracks in the ‘hell or high-water’ surplus promise simply became too obvious to ignore any longer.

Predictably, some economists have praised the decision to abandon the surplus promise, mostly those who have kept to their interventionist, Keynesian leanings despite the failure of recent stimulus programs around the world (notably in the USA).

But what does the failure to achieve a surplus actually mean, aside from another black mark in the political trust copybook?

Economically, in the short term, it shouldn’t mean a great deal. The important thing is that governments live within their means and balance their budgets over the medium to long term.

Unfortunately, governments have strong incentives to keep spending and growing, and living within their means has proved impossible, as shown by the budgets in the USA and Australia since 1962.

The USA budget has been in deficit for almost all of the last 50 years. While Australia has done much better than the USA overall (which averaged a 2.7 per cent budget deficit over that period), if we exclude the Howard / Costello budgets, Australia has averaged a 1.1 per cent deficit over that period too.

Regardless of your views on Keynesian economics, statistically, governments aren’t Keynesians or indeed economists at all. In bad times they are ‘stimulating the economy’ and in good times they are ‘spreading the benefits of the boom’. Their answer is always more spending.

Indeed ever since poor Marie Antoinette vacuously suggested that the poor could eat cake if they had no bread, politicians have been wary of telling people that the economy is doing well. There is always another problem to fix, a crisis to combat or an election to fight. As Bert Kelly used to say, around election time he could feel a dam coming on.

This is why Australia’s failure to reach a budget surplus despite a mining boom, record terms of trade, low unemployment and resilient economic growth is important. It reveals the real problem, the underlying trend towards big, unsustainable government.

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

No need to heed the ACTU’s nonsense

25 January 2013

alexEconomic illiteracy is not a new phenomenon in the union movement. But one might expect more from their peak body, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

This week Ged Kearney, secretary of the ACTU, claimed that companies receiving government subsidies should do more to ‘give back’ to the community and be required to ‘buy local.’

Kearney’s novel idea was a response to the Gillard government’s plans for tough new procurement rules on large resource and infrastructure projects. Gillard and her ministers are set to release the new rules as part of a statement on innovation policy next month.

Any government has the right to attach whatever prerequisites and restrictions it likes to the subsidies it doles out, but requiring companies to ‘buy local’ would be foolish for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Australian companies exist in a global and interconnected marketplace. Very few goods are wholly produced in one country, and goods often cross international borders several times before reaching the end consumer. Simply buying products or services from an Australian company does not guarantee that the money will stay in Australia. Nor does it guarantee that the Australian company will use local products and local labour to produce its goods. Moreover, a local company may be comprised of predominantly foreign shareholders, meaning the profits will be sent abroad rather than kept at home.

Secondly, if businesses aren’t already ‘buying local’, it probably means that it is more expensive to do so. Many businesses receive subsidies because they cannot contain costs on their own. Forcing these businesses to buy more expensive local products simply puts them in further financial strife, making them potentially even more dependent on the government.

This sort of policy is a recipe for blowouts and wasted tax dollars.

All businesses, whether they are receiving subsidies or not, should be free to buy from whomever and wherever they please. Not only will this give business the best return on their investment dollar, it will also give taxpayers the best return on their tax dollar.

Alexander Philipatos is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies