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 truth about fact checkers

26 September 2014

matthew-taylorThe ABC's Fact Check website was launched in August last year on a mission to determine 'the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate.' But when it comes to the most important policy questions it is not necessarily the facts that are in question, but their interpretation.
This has been demonstrated by the federal government's recent move to delay increases in the Superannuation Guarantee (SG) rate.
The SG rate freeze means the percentage of gross wages that must be put into super will remain at 9.5% rather than being increased to 12% by 2019-20. The Prime Minister has asserted that no-one would be worse off as this money would be put back into take-home pay; a claim that Fact Check determined to be 'Incorrect'. This is an oversimplification.
The most literal interpretation of what the PM said — that every single worker will receive an increase in take-home pay equal to the proposed SG rate increases-may not be universally true. However, the economics of how the SG rate freeze will impact take-home pay are extremely complex. For most workers, the claim that 'money that would otherwise be squirrelled away in superannuation funds will instead be in the pockets of the workers of Australia' is right.
On the topic of the SG rate freeze it is not the government that is misleading the public, it is the super funds.

The super funds' estimates of the cost to workers of the SG rate freeze ignore any increase in take-home pay that would result. Their claim that voluntary super contributions do not receive the same concessional tax treatment as the compulsory contributions mandated by the SG rate is also not true.
Workers are free to make voluntary super contributions, before tax, above the SG rate. These are taxed at the same concessional 15% tax rate provided that total (before tax) contributions do not exceed $30,000 a year (for those under 50). This is known as "salary sacrifice".
While Fact Check has exposed some of the most egregious examples of misinformation with an appeal to official statistics, on this occasion it has inadvertently perpetuated the super fund's tax myth.
This is not to suggest political bias on the part of the ABC. In this instance the subject matter is complex and the outcomes uncertain. What this underlines is that Fact Check best serves the public when it sticks to claims made by those who have quite clearly sought to mislead and scrutinises claims that can be verified by a direct appeal to the facts.

Matthew Taylor is a research fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.




A balancing act: home schooling regulation

26 September 2014

jen-buckingham Most parents never progress beyond day-dreaming about home schooling, but it is becoming increasingly mainstream — everyone seems to know at least one home schooling family and most admire their choice.
Statistics for NSW confirm this perception. The number of children registered for home schooling has increased by 64% in five years, from 1,945 in 2009 to 3,194 in 2013. However, these figures underestimate the true size of the home schooling population. According to estimates by the Home Education Association, there could be as many as 12,000 unregistered, home schooled children in NSW.
Whether you see this as a problem depends on where you sit on the parental rights spectrum. At one end is the idea that parents know what is best for their children and should be free to make decisions about their children's education without government interference. At the other end is the notion that since children have a right to a decent education, governments have an obligation to ensure this occurs, and this takes precedence over parental rights.  
Submissions to the parliamentary inquiry into home schooling in NSW cover the full range of views. Many home schooling families and their advocate organisations argue that the registration requirements in NSW are too onerous, and deter families from registering. They argue that home education (their preferred term) is unique and should not be regulated like a school. The NSW Teachers Federation, on the other hand, strongly favours strict regulation, taking the position that public schools provide the best education and that any exception must be justified.
The requirements of home school families are stricter in NSW than in other states: adherence to the NSW syllabus is mandatory and student progress is monitored by home school inspectors (or 'Authorised Persons'). The extent to which this is enforced is debatable; anecdotal reports from home school families claim it is heavy handed, but according to the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES), less than half of one percent of registrations are refused or revoked due to failure to meet requirements.
Currently, home schooling families are doing all the work in their relationship with the state and getting little in return, receiving no educational or financial support. Nevertheless, home schooling is increasingly being seen as a viable option. If this trend continues, government policy will have to strike the right balance and adapt to challenges of providing parents with the flexibility they want and giving children the protection they need.

Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

False conflation of classical liberalism

26 September 2014

wilkinson-cassandra The phrase neo-Liberal gets thrown around a lot, most recently as a prefix to 'Abbott government' or '2014 Budget'.
It's one of many conflated terms which are impoverishing the debate about economic and social reform. For example, recently in a major online publication it was claimed that 'these days, most right-wingers in Australia identify themselves not as conservatives but as "classical liberals".' In my experience, few people identify themselves as classical liberals and fewer still understand what it means.
Classical liberalism is certainly not a synonym for conservative. In his essay 'Why I am not a Conservative' Friedrich Hayek made plain the differences. Conservatism reflects a cautious attitude to change and a Burkean recognition of the value of institutions which have served humankind over time as proven repositories and safeguards of wisdom — the family, the rule of law, parliament and universities and for some people the church.

 Hayek pointed out that both conservative and progressive as descriptors define only a position relative to the status quo. Neither provides a positive, principles-based agenda for addressing social or economic challenges. Classical liberalism, by contrast, is not defined in relation to the extremes of current debate or the relative positions of other philosophies. It is defined from first principles as a commitment to individual liberty, the rule of law and limited state intrusion into private life, commercial relationships and very importantly civil society.
These founding principles of classical liberalism are rooted in the Magna Carta, the agreement between King John and his barons which proclaimed that freedom is secured under the rule of law and that no person is above the law. The Great Charter led to parliamentary democracy, the American Bill of Rights and eventually following Federation to our own constitution. One of only four surviving originals of the 1297 Inspeximus issue is on display in Australia's Parliament House. Clauses in the Magna Carta defend the freedom of the Church from whence we inherit our freedom of religion; another confirms the 'liberties and customs' of communities along with early forms of a right to privacy.
Calling for an online Bill of Rights, 'father of the Internet' Tim Berners-Lee has said it must be a Magna Carta for the Internet. Such is the power of this almost 800 year old proclamation of liberty. It is a constant reminder that classical liberalism is not a tactical response to temporary political challenges but an enduring framework for all social, economic and political challenges.
Commentators need to get the definitions right. Conflating conservatism, statism or worse blatant electoral politics with a principled philosophy of liberty almost 800 years old fails not only to recognise the real nature of liberalism but its true promise for another 800 years to come.

Cassandra Wilkinson is External Relations Manager at The Centre for Independent Studies.