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.

Importing Australia’s Asia literacy

07 September 2012

Politicians, commentators and academics are all saying Australia’s supposed inability to speak Asian languages and understand Asian cultures imperils our prosperity and security.

My new report, released this week, shows that notwithstanding doubts about Australia’s prosperity and security in the Asian Century, extra spending to improve Asia literacy is unnecessary.

Thanks to our multicultural society’s readymade Asia literacy, Australia is already well-positioned to prosper as global economic power moves to Asia.

According to the 2011 Census, approximately 2.2 million people (10% of the population) speak Asian languages at home.

Important Asian languages are very well represented: There are more than 650,000 speakers of Chinese languages, as well as 305,000 or so speakers of Indian languages; 233,000 Vietnamese speakers; 137,000 speakers of Filipino languages; 80,000 Korean speakers; 56,000 Indonesian speakers; and 44,000 Japanese speakers.

The number of people who speak Asian languages at home is also a useful proxy for Asian cultural literacy.

There is a good chance that someone who speaks an Asian language at home will have a familial connection to the language, and as a result, will likely have some level of Asian cultural literacy.

This large pool of Asia literacy is set to grow.

With Indian migrants making up 15.7% of the total 2011–12 immigration program, India is Australia’s largest source of permanent migrants. Chinese migrants comprised 13.8% of the immigration program, making China the number two source country.

Overall, 7 of the top 10 source countries in Australia’s 2011–12 immigration program were from Asia: India, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.

Although not everyone who speaks an Asian language at home will speak it well or have a strong cultural connection with Asia, the census data may actually underplay Australia’s Asia literacy.

Given that there are probably many Asian languages speakers who do not have the opportunity to speak them at home, there may be more than 2.2 million Asia literate people in Australia.

Concerns about Australia’s apparently poor Asia literacy are largely a façade with little substance.

As an increasingly Asia literate immigration nation, Australia is well-placed to prosper in the Asian Century.

Benjamin Herscovitch is a Policy Analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies, and the author of the new report, Australia's Asia Literacy Non-Problem.

Productivity Commission misleads on Indigenous expenditure

07 September 2012

The Productivity Commission’s second Indigenous Expenditure Report, released earlier this week, shows that Commonwealth, state and territory taxpayer spending on Indigenous Australians has risen by 16% from $21.9 billion in 2008–09 to $25.4 billion in 2010–11.

Indigenous-specific expenditure – spending on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders which is in addition to the expenditure on education, health, welfare, etc. on all Australians – only rose from $5.1 billion in 2008–09 to $5.5 billion in 2010–11. This seems a realistic increase given that the Indigenous ‘bush’ population that attracts most Indigenous-specific expenditures has been relatively stable. But although there has been some improvement in these ‘bush’ communities – for example, reduced access to unlimited alcohol, more income management, and some new housing – most are still Third World ghettos.

The overall increase in Indigenous expenditure principally reflects the high Indigenous population number that the commission used to develop the expenditure estimates.

According to the commission, the Indigenous population increased from 545,202 in 2008 to 575,297 in June 2011. But this count is 26,927 higher than the number in the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2011 Census, which identified 548,370 Indigenous Australians in August 2011.

Because detailed government expenditures are not available, the modelling used to calculate expenditure estimates relies on population size.

The ABS’ post census enumeration is likely to change the number of Indigenous Australians to adjust any possible over-counting in remote locations, but this is unlikely to offset any increases in urban locations. Yet, whatever the post enumeration outcome, the principal Indigenous population increases between 2006 and 2011 were in capital cities and other urban areas, with Canberra leading with a 33% increase.

The increase in the urban Indigenous population reflects increasing Indigenous self-identification. Children of mixed marriages are identifying as ‘Indigenous’ as families take pride in their ancestry. These families are part of the majority of urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – 65% of the Indigenous population – who go to work, send their children to mainstream schools, buy their own homes, and pay their taxes. Their claims on government support are similar to other working Australians. The report’s estimates of per capita Indigenous government expenditure ($44,000) versus non Indigenous ($20,000) do not reflect these working families’ characteristics.

The estimates imply egregiously high and ineffective expenditures on the 35% welfare dependent Indigenous population, of which probably less than 15% live in ‘bush’ communities.

The commission has consistently underestimated the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders working in capital cities and regional towns, ignoring their considerable contribution to the mainstream economy and society. It has ignored NAPLAN evidence that most Indigenous students reach national minimum literacy and numeracy standards, and has exaggerated Indigenous alcoholism, violence and child neglect.

The 2012 Indigenous expenditure estimates seem to exaggerate Indigenous government expenditures. Such sums certainly do not reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in need.

Helen Hughes is a Senior Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.   

A plan with no plans

07 September 2012

The NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan (TMP) isn’t a plan at all but is a collection of concepts and colourful pictograms that contains no concrete ideas about what is actually affordable or achievable within the next 20 years.

A plan commits to priorities and timeframes that include reasonable contingencies; the TMP commits to nothing. A plan contains cost-benefit analysis, which the TMP says is important but doesn’t attempt. The phrase ‘opportunity cost’ doesn’t appear to be used in the TMP even once. The TMP is an ethereal vision, not a plan.

But more unreachable visions are not what NSW or Australia needs. Infrastructure development has become bogged down in petty political disputes, NIMBYism, and more red and green tape than footballer Greg Inglis. It needs coherency, consistency and accountability.

Governments need to stop putting out hundreds of pages of waffle and start talking dollars and sense. At a minimum, rigorous cost-benefit analysis should be made available to the public before government commits to any new infrastructure. No more announcements without showing where the money is going.

Procedure isn’t the only problem in the TMP though. The eight objectives underpinning the plan focus mostly on ‘improving’ (service quality, liveability, safety, access, sustainability, etc.) but fail to acknowledge that the only realistic way to offer more and better services is for either taxes or charges to go up.

User charges cover only 25% of the costs of public transport now (20% for rail), so most of the additional costs are likely to be borne by the public – not great news because the TMP notes NSW already has ‘one of the most costly systems in Australia and internationally.’ On gene

that basis, the most important objective of the TMP should have been to reduce costs (and that doesn’t mean fares).

Worse still is the story on the roads. The TMP shows there will be no reduction in travel time on any of the major congested corridors as a result of the improvements. In fact, on half of those corridors, travel time will reduce by only 2 minutes compared to the 2031 base case.

There are other flaws too. The TMP skates over risk/reward issues in Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and funding spats with the Commonwealth. It also doesn’t seem to make any allowances for a second Sydney airport before 2031.

If the TMP is to have any credibility when finalised, it must become less visionary and more concrete. It must include a roadmap of what will be built, when it will be built, and how much it might cost so the public can decide whether they are willing to pay for it. In short, it must become a real plan.

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