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.

For the love of gold, let’s find a better way to fund sport

16 August 2012

Australian’s sports fans tend to be a very one-eyed bunch – while we all have our favourite sports and sports personalities, generally Australians will watch any sport where ‘we’ might do well.

Many Australians (including me) watched increasing amounts of the 2011 Tour de France as it became clear Cadel Evans had a chance of winning, despite Le Tour being four hours a day of French picture postcards (plus Gabriel Gaté) with 15 minutes of sport at the end – all of which happens at insanity o’clock in the depths of winter.

Unfortunately, when Australians are losing there is often a flurry of recriminations – usually coupled with demands for even greater budgets for sport. Right on cue, officials are blaming insufficient government funding as the difference between silver and gold in London.

Rather than lining up more athletes to suckle on the government teat, why don’t we look at innovative new funding models for sport that are largely unexplored in this country?

Direct funding models, especially web based micro funding models, are an untapped resource in Australia. New creative projects (especially computer games) have been funded through websites like Kickstarter, and web-based communities have had success in funding sports teams overseas (like My Football Club, a group initially numbering 50,000, who each paid a nominal fee to become joint owners of UK football club Ebbsfleet United).

It may not seem like much but if just half of the 2.5 million people who watched the Olympics every night contributed $10 a year between now and the next Olympics, they could increase the total funding for the Olympic team by 15%.

Another way of raising revenue is through reality TV. A reality show about Australia’s leading female swimmers – the drama of competition, the sacrifices and loneliness of training, injuries, and of course, dating – might even appeal to new demographics (reality TV’s primary market is teenage girls, traditionally not the strongest consumers of sport).

After all, narrated footage of university research on meerkats averaged more than 1 million US viewers in its first season and became a worldwide hit. A sporting reality show couldn’t be worse than The Shire.

There are plenty of other ways to fund sport too, from a HECS-like scheme to targeted profit sharing from merchandising. Sport doesn’t need to join the ranks of the rent seekers. I’d be willing to give them $10 from my pocket if they stopped taking $2 from my (our) taxes.

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

Unempirical Asian languages alarmism

16 August 2012

Reading the recent coverage of the debate about the adequacy of Australia’s Asia literacy, one could be forgiven for thinking there is a looming skills shortage.

Academics such as Professor David Hill from Murdoch University warn that the low numbers of students learning Asian languages could have ‘dismal educational, economic and security consequences.’

Politicians such as Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Education Minister Peter Garrett also argue that learning Asian languages ‘should be mandatory’ to ensure Australia has a ‘sustainable economy in the 21st century.’

Given that our nation’s security and prosperity are apparently on the line, one would expect details of the ‘dismal consequences’ of not learning Asian languages.

Sadly, a defining feature of the Asia literacy debate is the evidence vacuum. Academics calling for more Asian languages classes, as well as the politicians pledging to improve Australia’s Asia literacy, have failed to back up their rhetoric with facts.

Instead, the push to teach Asian languages to more students is justified on vague foreign policy grounds.

The story is as familiar as it is trite: As global power moves from the North Atlantic to Asian capitals and commercial centres, Australians need to be able to ‘engage effectively with Asia.’

Instead of relying on foreign policy jargon, Asia literacy advocates should tell us precisely why more students need to learn Asian languages.

Will there be a skills shortage in Asian languages as the Australian economy is increasingly integrated with Asia? What is the evidence for this impending skills shortage? How big is it likely to be?

Although these are difficult questions, Asia literacy advocates need to answer them to be taken seriously.

In the meantime, Asian languages alarmism should not scare us into expanding current language education programs.

Benjamin Herscovitch is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies and author of the forthcoming publication, Literacy Alarm Debunked: Language Policy in the Asian Century

No need for universal dole increase

16 August 2012

The Business Council of Australia has joined the likes of ACOSS and the Greens in calling for an increase to the $245 a week Newstart Allowance payment saying it presents a barrier to employment and has the potential to entrench poverty.

This follows on from unlikely advocates in Judith Sloan and Ian Harper, who have both said the dole is too low compared to the $378 per week Disability Support Pension, or the $606.40 per week minimum wage.

Advocates of increasing the Newstart Allowance have suggested that an additional $50 per week for each of Newstart’s 530,000 recipients would mitigate some of the barriers to employment that have been attributed to the relatively low rate of Newstart.

An increase would cost around $1.5 billion every year and will be on top of the $7.8 billion to be spent on Newstart payments this year alone.

Despite the exceptional additional cost to the taxpayer, there is a possibility that increasing the dole would result in a lot of taxpayers’ money reaching people who do not need it.

For example, around one-third of Newstart recipients exit the payment within three months – and over 70% within 12 months (see p. 111). The dole appears to serve its purpose as a temporary payment for people looking for work, and an increase in Newstart would simply result in a windfall gain for many who would only be on Newstart for a short time anyway.

For the remainder – the long-term unemployed, people with disability who do not qualify for the DSP, and other highly disadvantaged job seekers – the case for increasing their dole payments is stronger.

Nearly 330,000 Australians have received Newstart for at least a year. Only 126,000 of them are actively looking for work, and another 20,000 are incapacitated. A financial supplement of $50 per week targeting these two groups would cost around $380 million every year – a fraction of the cost increase in the base rate of the dole for everyone.

With this distinction in mind, a targeted financial supplement for Newstart aimed at the long-term unemployed who are looking for work would be cheaper and more appropriate than a broad increase in the base rate of Newstart for everyone. This would address many of the issues facing Australia’s unemployed without undermining the role of Newstart as a short-term temporary payment for Australians between jobs.

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