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.
Federal budget cuts to the ABC will amount to around $254 million over five years from 2016, totalling a modest reduction of some 5% in funding. Plenty of savings could be found in such a large organisation without damaging the quality or range of programs. However, Managing Director Mark Scott says he will be forced to slash jobs and dump programs. Conveniently, Mr Scott can blame the Abbott Government and, in particular, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, for making changes he was likely to have implemented in any case. Mr Scott has long held to the view that persisting with speciality programming is no way to increase audience numbers. He has also been keen to free up resources to fund his push to digital services. The 5% budget cuts allow ABC management to fell two birds with one strategically-aimed stone. The budget cuts are also being used as a convenient pretext by the prevailing forces of secularism inside the ABC to secure some key cultural victories within the organisation.One of those victories is likely to be the defeat of specialised religious programs. The religion unit at the ABC's HQ in Ultimo is small, under-staffed, and under-resourced, but still produces programs of high quality and wide interest. Yet staff fear some 40% of them will lose their jobs and that 70% of the unit's funding will disappear. Sources have confirmed that these fears are well-founded. Fortunately this move against religious content on the ABC has provoked the concern of leading religious figures from across Australia: 30 of them wrote recently to the ABC Board emphasising the importance of religion to the life of our nation. They were right to do so.The government is understandably keen for Mark Scott to do his job and use public resources more efficiently. But a national taxpayer funded broadcaster needs to ensure its output reflects the interests and values of the broadest cross-section of the community. The religious leaders are right in saying that faith and values "will always occupy a central part in the formation of our Australian national identity." Placing religious programming in the cross-hairs of the ABC's fiscal razor gang is too cute by half. ABC managers have long been players in the culture war, and it is disingenuous to veil their secularist agenda in the garb of budgetary constraint.
Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.
This week Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt introduced a bill that would allow employers to make larger superannuation contributions to female employees than to their male counterparts. The Greens argue that their amendment to Sex Discrimination Amendment (Boosting Superannuation for Women) Bill 2014 will help close the gender gap in super balances which, according to the latest ABS statistics, was in the order of $38,000 in 2011-12.
To be clear, the Greens are saying we need to increase women's super by reducing their take-home pay and that this is a win for gender equity. It is little wonder the Sexual Discrimination Act (1984) does not allow this – though somewhat perplexing that it currently allows employers to make appeals.Contrary to widely held misconceptions, the `employer contribution' that employers make into their employee's superannuation accounts come out of the employee's gross wages. They are not a gift from the employer. Thankfully the extra employer contributions made under the Greens policy would be voluntary, unlike the proposed increase in the Superannuation Guarantee (SG) rate. Female employees will retain the right to keep their super contributions as-is. However, there is the risk that some women with a less sophisticated understanding of super might not understand that they have a choice – and end up with less in their pockets. In any case, the Greens' amendment is a waste of the parliament's time. If women want to put more money into their super, and reap the associated tax concessions, there is nothing to stop them from doing that right now. Current policy allows anyone to salary sacrifice super contributions up to an annual cap of $30,000 including the 9.5% compulsory contribution. For those over 50 the cap is $35,000. One might think that the Greens' proposal is well intentioned. Perhaps the Greens fail to grasp the fact that super contributions are delayed wages and not a pay increase – but wait.In their minority report on the Senate Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into the introduction of the Mineral Resources Rent Tax Bill (2012) the Greens wrote "…the ultimate incidence of the increased [superannuation] guarantee will be on workers, in the form of slower growth in wages, rather than on employers, and this view was confirmed at the hearings… the SG increase will be largely borne by wages." This is true of all `employer contributions' not just those mandated by the SG rate; so it would seem the Greens cannot plead ignorance of the impact of their policy on women's pay packets.
A genuine improvement in the living standards of women in retirement seems not to be the focus of the Greens, who seem more interested in making a pitch to win the votes of female voters, whom they assume to have a less sophisticated understanding of superannuation. At the Centre for Independent Studies we have every confidence in the ability of the women of Australia to see right through such a disingenuous political ploy.
Matthew Taylor is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.
In the state of Victoria, there are approximately 40,000 students in Years 3 to 9 whose reading and numeracy skills are either at or below the minimum standard that will allow them to learn and achieve at school. These numbers are calculated using the latest results from the National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and school statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That there are large numbers of students either barely literate or illiterate – lacking the fundamental skill for educational success, secure employment, and quality of life – is common knowledge and has been evident for some time. What did the education policy platforms from the Labor and Liberal parties promise Victorian families in response to this enduring and profound problem with literacy and numeracy? The Labor party promised to build 10 new 'tech' schools, and provide $680 million dollars for building upgrades, plus hundreds of millions of dollars for breakfast clubs, school uniforms, eye-tests and glasses, camps and excursions, and driver training. Only one policy announcement from Labor actually pertained to the core work of schools – teaching and learning – the requirement for all new registered teachers to have completed a course in teaching students with disabilities. The Liberal party policy platform was even worse in this respect. It expressly acknowledged the lack of improvement in literacy and numeracy results in the state at least since NAPLAN started in 2008, yet proposed no solutions. Instead, it promised $1.2 billion for building upgrades on top of a whopping $4.5 billion in funding for unspecified 'Gonski' funding, plus further millions for first aid training for students, 3D printers, foreign languages, student leadership, school safety grants, and mental health initiatives. Not one concrete policy proposal for improving outcomes for students in literacy and numeracy. There is no doubt that the quality of school facilities is important, and it is a defensible use of public money, within limits. Some of the other programs, such as breakfast clubs, are also good things but most schools where breakfast clubs are needed are already providing them with community support. Many of the programs dreamt up by the two major political parties, however, would be difficult to justify for inclusion in a school education budget even if schools were excelling at their core function – education. And clearly they are not. Families in Victoria deserve much better. Let's hope that the Andrews Labor government delivers much more than it promised.
Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.