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.

Need a budget 'narrative' - this is it

12 December 2014

ideas-image-141212-1Forget insider words like 'message' and 'spin' and avert your eyes from the Senate railway wreckage. If the Abbott government wants to reset the budget debate here's what it should do.

The first step is to acknowledge past mistakes. In opposition, the Coalition underestimated the scope of the budgetary challenge they are now facing. In government, it has remained unable to articulate what budget problem they are trying to solve. Consequently, people don't believe the harsh budget is necessary and the government can't explain how their reforms will help.

The government has tried to scare the electorate with inflated projections of government debt and it wants us to be angry at Australia's monthly interest payments. This is the wrong approach; the real issue has always been the deficit. Fix the deficit and the debt will be manageable.

Having clarified the real problems and solutions, in the lead-up to next year's budget the next step is to convince the public of three things.

  1. Australia has a structural budget deficit stemming from Howard, Gillard and Rudd permanently increasing spending funded either by temporary revenue from the mining boom (Howard) or nothing (Rudd – Gillard).
  2. The Commonwealth now has to find tens of billions of dollars of additional funding in the medium term for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
  3. It also needs to find an additional 4% or 5% of GDP over the longer term to pay for the ageing of our population and rising health care costs.

While selling this message, the government must make crystal clear that these problems won't fix themselves – now or ever. Either spending has to be cut substantially or a huge amount of additional revenue has to be raised, and in both cases this burden will overwhelmingly fall on the middle class. Ordinary people will either get much less from government or pay much more (or both).

The final step is for government to convince itself that these hard choices are real. New spending through big (the medical research fund and massive gold-plated paid parental leave scheme) and small (marriage counselling vouchers) all must be dumped. Not renegotiated, not repackaged, not renewed – axed.

Furthermore, the government must never again produce a budget that implies increasing revenue from existing taxes will largely balance the budget. Governments have been waiting five years post the GFC for this to happen. It won't, as those tax forecasts have less substance than fairy floss; albeit being equally deftly spun.

Only once the government has done these things can it lay all the blame at the feet of intransigence in the Senate.

cowan-simon-lowSimon Cowan is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Kinship placements risk creating a Lost Generation

12 December 2014

ideas-image-141212-2 For six years, the CIS's child protection research has comprehensively explored the major issues facing the child protection system across Australia, and has called for the greater use of adoption to address the systemic problems that impede the proper care and protection of vulnerable children.
 
However, this research has, up until now, slid over the most sensitive issue – the tragic fact that Indigenous children are many times over-represented in cases of child abuse and neglect.
 
To talk of adoption in relation to Indigenous children is to invite the politically explosive claim that this would create 'another Stolen Generation'.
 
This, in part, is the reason why the NSW Government decided to exclude indigenous children from its 2013 adoption-based child protection reforms. Instead, decisions about Indigenous children who need to be removed from their parents for child welfare reasons will continue to be made in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACPP).
 
The ACPP means that all efforts will continue to be made to place children in 'kinship care', preferable with relatives, or members of the local community, or other indigenous people.
 
The theory behind the ACPP is sound. Child removal practices associated with the Stolen Generations damaged many Indigenous people by denying them contact with their families, communities, and with traditional culture. It therefore makes sense to try to maintain children's cultural identity by placing them close to home if they can't live safely with their families.
 
The problem, in practice, however, is the social problems in many Indigenous communities, which makes it difficult to reconcile considerations of culture and identity with child welfare.
Indigenous children placed in kinship care can be taken out of the frying pan of family dysfunction only to be placed back into the fire of broader community dysfunction. Hence, recent official inquiries in state and territory child protection systems have noted the "lesser standard care" that can be received by some indigenous children, who are placed into situations that non-Indigenous children would not be placed in order to comply with the ACPP.
 
What is and isn't done to protect Indigenous children has national implications. Denying Indigenous children the safe and nurturing family environments all children need to thrive threatens to keep open the gaps in social outcomes and opportunities between the most disadvantaged Indigenous Australians and other Australians – gaps that all intelligent Australians acknowledge are our deepest national shame.
 
This is the thinking behind the CIS's new report. We must address the 'kinship conundrum', and rethink well-intentioned policies such as the ACPP, if we are to 'Close the Gap' and achieve true Reconciliation.
 
My report therefore challenges much of the thinking behind the ACPP, which I argue is outdated compared with much contemporary Indigenous policy, and compared to modern understandings and definitions of Indigenous identity. What the report does not do is ignore the legacy of the Stolen Generation or deny the importance of maintaining Indigenous children's cultural identity.
 
What I do argue is that we need, in children's best interests, to find better ways to reconcile cultural identity with child welfare – such as through cultural support and education programs run by Indigenous organisations for Indigenous children who are adopted (or placed in permanent care).

sammut-jeremy-lowDr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. His report, The Kinship Conundrum: The Impact of Aboriginal Self-Determination on Indigenous Child Protection, was released on Monday, 8 December 2014.

Trans-Tasman harmonisation... a bridge too far

12 December 2014

ideas-image-141212-3 On 20th November 2014, Ministers for Health in Australia and New Zealand announced that work on a mutual therapeutic products regulator would cease. Although stalled on numerous occasions since negotiations commenced in 1999, this long-winded attempt at harmonising Australia's regulatory and registration authority, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), with Medsafe, its New Zealand counterpart, was reaffirmed as recently as June 2011 with formation of an Australia New Zealand Therapeutic Products Agency (ANZTPA).

The arrangement had promised cheaper and more readily available medicines, and smaller regulatory burdens for pharmaceutical and medical technology industries. It had potential to reduce duplication through adoption of common dossiers for product registration (thereby accelerating registration processes) and to address inconsistencies in Australia's regulatory system to conform to best practice principles agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
 
The Ministers have now offered some benign remarks about continued cooperation "where there are mutual benefits". This must be interpreted in the context of conspicuous differences between Australian and New Zealand regulatory environments. New Zealand's relatively liberal attitude towards new technologies and deregulation of prescription medicines may ultimately have proved irreconcilable with the bureaucratic, insular and risk averse disposition of Australia's TGA as well as cumbersome arrangements administered through the Advisory Committee on Medicines Scheduling that ultimately reserves poisons scheduling responsibility to States and Territories.
 
Other examples of possible obstacles include New Zealand's greater emphasis on industry self-regulation and freedom to directly advertise prescription medicines to consumers. Australia limits non-prescription advertising to an approved list of just 10 ingredients. Unscheduled, low risk 'therapeutic goods' to which Australia's pervasive advertising controls apply include such innocent items as medicated soaps and some toothpastes.
 
New Zealand's progressive approach to switching medicines with established safety profiles from prescription to non-prescription contrasts with Australia's caution towards innovation.
 
Between 2003 and 2013 New Zealand proved a world leader in non-prescription switches yielding consumer gains by offering improvements on existing non-prescription medicines or effective non-prescription therapies where none previously had existed. This has created greater scope for self-care and personal health accountability than in Australia.
 
Abandonment of ANZTIPA seems hard to reconcile with the Australian Government's declared agenda for deregulation and competitiveness and represents a symbolic blow to a long standing agenda for closer economic cooperation between Australia and New Zealand.
 
Even more bewildering (to New Zealand especially) was the announcement on 24 October, 2014 that the Australian Government would independently review the TGA's regulatory framework for medicines and medical devices. This seemed to cut across years of past negotiation devoted to Trans-Tasman harmonisation.
 
Indeed, the impending review's Discussion Paper canvasses precisely the issues that would have been the substance of lengthy negotiation with New Zealand. An underlying justification for the new review is examination of "how international risk assessments might be better utilised within the Australian system" so as to fulfil its "innovation and competitiveness agenda". This could involve TGA acceptance of prior European or United States certification of medicines and medical technologies.
 
As worthy and unexceptionable as such goals may be, it is incomprehensible why they could not have been pursued concurrently with Trans-Tasman harmonisation.

gadiel-david-lowDavid Gadiel is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.