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.

The Bennetts of Beijing: marriage market, Chinese-style

Jenny Lindsay

19 September 2014 | ideas@thecentre

‘It’s all about the hardware and the software’, said Lisa, our knowledgeable 32 year old Beijing guide. She looked surprised at my blank look and set about explaining the Chinese marriage market.

‘Hardware’ is what the person can bring to the relationship that will ensure a secure future – a job, property, savings, parent’s jobs and their financial security, number of siblings. ‘Software’ refers to what the person looks like, their personality, hobbies, whether they have similar background. I naively asked about love and whether hardware or software scored higher. She looked at me to see if I was serious, and answered that, of course, hardware outscores software. Love is nice if it comes along.

Lisa is a typical Beijing girl. She moved from Xian, is married to a boy she knew in high school, has a 5 year old son and will not have any more children. They own a flat in the 5th ring (minimum 2 hours to the centre of Beijing) and have parents living next door who can pick up their son after school. Like their friends, their aim is to educate their child well. She doubts whether they will ever be able to move closer to the city.  She seemed positive, happy with her life, and content that China was heading in the right direction.

I had just come from a conference in Hong Kong where a paper on demographics in China by Andrea den Boer illustrated the stark realities of the One Child Policy. Her conservative estimate was an oversupply of 30 million or more men who will never marry.

The realities of the marriage market were openly on display in Shanghai, which is a dynamic city reeking of financial power, architectural self-confidence and a lust for progress.

Yet in the People’s Park, the genteel and antiquated practice of parental matchmaking proceeds. Row upon row of open umbrellas rest on their sides, with an A4 page of information attached, and an elderly parent sitting behind. Each umbrella advertises their child’s height, salary, job, property owned, personality and anything else that will help sell the boy or girl. Other parents peruse the umbrellas, evaluate the ‘merchandise’, and set up meetings for their unmarried children.

I was reminded of the world of Jane Austen and importance of a secure marriage. Love was important but economic security was even more important. The One Child Policy means there is no extended family, no cousins, aunts and uncles, to help out. Yet the marriage contract is vital for upward mobility for children and support for parents in old age.

In modern China, Mrs Bennett would feel very much at home.

Jenny Lindsay is the CIS General Manager and Co-ordinator of the Liberty & Society Student Program.


Hard conversation about Aboriginal culture and child protection

19 September 2014

jeremy-sammut Conservative social commentators have indulged in 'divisive grandstanding' by linking Aboriginal culture to the abuse and neglect of Aboriginal children, according to Ngiare Brown, the deputy chairman of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council.
These claims suppress the hard conversation we need to have about Aboriginal culture and child protection.
We cannot afford to ignore the question of 'culture' when discussing child maltreatment in disadvantaged Aboriginal communities, because 'culture' has long been pivotal to what is and isn't done to protect Aboriginal children.
Since at least the publication in 1997 of the Bringing them home report ('Stolen Generations' report), the standard literature on Aboriginal child protection has used the defence of traditional culture to downplay the impact of customary Aboriginal parenting practices on child wellbeing.
Bringing them home blamed the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system on the 'cultural bias' of caseworkers who failed to understand and respect Aboriginal family values. Because these values differed from the Western view of the 'normal' nuclear family, Aboriginal customs – such as lack of parental supervision, encouraging children to be self-reliant, and the involvement of extended kin networks in rearing children – were incorrectly labelled by caseworkers as neglectful.
This analysis of the Aboriginal 'village' stepping in for parents and caring for children remains influential. The 2007 Wood report into child protection in NSW stressed how difficult it is for caseworkers 'raised in Anglo-Celtic society' and valuing 'the nuclear family above other conceptualizations of the "family", to have any insight into …the safety of an Aboriginal child.' Similarly, the 2013 Cummins report into child protection in Victoria also stressed the need for 'culturally competent' assessments of the needs of Aboriginal children and families.
The problems with a 'culturally appropriate' approach to Aboriginal child protection are twofold.
The first problem is that the sort of culturally determined parenting practices described above, which may have been suitable in the social conditions of the past, are no longer functioning well in the present. This has created a genuine child protection problem; it has been well-documented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies that the most common form of maltreatment experienced by Aboriginal children is chronic parental neglect of basic needs including 'adequate food, shelter, clothing, supervision, hygiene or medical attention.'
The anthropologist Peter Sutton (who is no conservative) has argued that culturally embedded Aboriginal parenting practices, which he describes as a 'customary permissiveness in the raising of children', play an important role in accounting for neglect of children's most fundamental needs.
The second problem is under-responding to the protective needs of Aboriginal children out of fear of being judgemental or 'culturally inappropriate'. The assertion that concerns about Aboriginal families are motivated by cultural insensitivity, at best, and racism, at worst, creates a powerful justification for non-intervention by child protection authorities. It promotes double standards and reverse racism in the name of 'respecting culture' that lead to Aboriginal children being left in circumstances from which non-Aboriginal children would be removed.
It may not be politically correct to discuss how culture – the habits accumulated overtime and passed down through the generations – might be maladapted and have negative welfare effects. But nor is it 'racist' to do so.
'Culture', whether it is Aboriginal or otherwise, cannot be used as an excuse if child protection policy is to advance the best interests of Aboriginal children.

Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.


Subs project is sinking fast

19 September 2014

cowan-simon Nothing to date about the process of acquiring Australia's next generation submarines should fill Australians with confidence about the outcome of the largest defence procurement in Australia's history.
Almost no justification has been provided for the initial decision to acquire 12 submarines – a baffling step when the government budget is stretched and the defence budget is being cut. The original decision to construct the sub fleet in Adelaide was also made for reasons of industry policy and politics, not defence needs. The initial list of expected capabilities was unrealistically high, and alternatives such as acquiring nuclear submarines were unfairly, summarily dismissed.
Worse is that with the first Collins class submarine scheduled to retire in just 10 years' time, the project should already be well under way. Yet we haven't even committed to a conceptual framework for the future submarine, let alone a design.
Instead we are stuck repeating the debates of 2010 about military off the shelf purchases versus a local design option, and comparing a likely refit version of the existing Japanese Soryu class submarine with an Australian designed and built option.
Meeting the 10 year timeframe will be very tough and will add the risks of extending the life of the unreliable Collins class into the project. This could potentially add billions of dollars to the price tag, especially for a local design which will take longer to bring online.
This delay has leveraged up the risk on a project where there was already no risk free option.
Little is known about the capabilities of the Japanese sub, or how well it can be integrated with the US combat systems Australia uses. Until recently, the Japanese defence industry was banned from exporting arms under the Japanese constitution and hence has virtually no export experience.
Moreover there are serious questions about the willingness of Japan to share extremely sensitive technical and IP data with Australia. Future instability in the relationship between Japan and Australia will also be a substantial perpetual risk.
However these challenges pale in comparison with the task of bringing an Australian designed submarine into service. Australia would have to develop not only the skills to build but also design a submarine as well as assume all the risk of failure.
The Joint Strike Fighter project shows how cost and time blowouts can affect a new design defence project. And in that case, the risks are shared among many countries and the project is led by the world's largest defence producer, the United States.
Nevertheless, Australia is about to embark alone on a project more than twice the size of our JSF purchase, knowing we don't yet have the capability to pull the project off. The Future Submarines project is starting behind enemy lines.

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