There is perhaps no area of public policy as desperately in need of fresh ideas and honest debate than the disadvantage faced by Indigenous people. Yet it is difficult to think of a topic more hamstrung by political correctness and woolly-minded clichés than the plight of the first Australians.
The public reaction to Tony Abbott’s recent description of living in remote indigenous communities as a ‘lifestyle choice’ which taxpayers should not be required to endlessly subsidize is a case in point. Admittedly, the descriptor of ‘lifestyle choice’ was ill chosen and unbecoming of a Prime Minister. However, Abbott’s broader point: “that if people choose to live miles away from where there’s a school… if people choose to live where there’s no jobs, obviously it’s very, very difficult to close the gap,” is one that deserves to be discussed frankly and openly.
Unfortunately, any hope that Abbott’s critics would offer a reasoned reply to the substance of his argument– that remote living places serious constraints on remedying indigenous disadvantage – were soon dashed.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert labelled Abbott “unbelievably racist and completely out of touch.”
West Australian Labor frontbencher Ben Wyatt, went further, accusing Abbott of “portraying the ancient cultural practices of Aboriginal Australians as nothing more than a sea change move, the equivalent of painting landscapes on one’s veranda.”
Author Guy Rundle suggested that Abbott’s comments were fuelled by cultural contempt for indigenous people, claiming “the destruction of remote Aboriginal communities has long been on the deep conservative agenda.”
Thanks to this puerile mix of personal attacks and race baiting, the substantive issue of the sustainability of indigenous communities living in virtual isolation was successfully framed as being simply about cold-hearted conservatives forcing indigenous people off their land. Tainted by the politics of race and division, the matter was rendered unsavoury for discussion in polite circles.
Although silencing your opponent by way of public character assassination seems to be an effective way of winning an argument on any number of indigenous issues, it contributes nothing to solving the far-reaching disadvantage suffered by aboriginal people. And even if the sustainability of indigenous people living in very remote areas is a conversation politically correct elites would prefer stayed closed, the issues faced by those living in these communities remain real.
It is wholly unrealistic to expect that communities with fewer than 100 or in some cases even 50 people would ever be able to enjoy anywhere near the same standard of living as those in towns and cities. Ever greater sums of public funds in the areas of health and education have failed time after time to produce outcomes within even striking range of even semi-regional areas.
For children growing up in these communities, this isolation places undeniable constraints on their future life prospects, particularly their chances of achieving fulfilling careers and becoming self-sufficient members of society.
Abbott is equally right to point out that taxpayer support cannot be unlimited. It will instinctively strike many as cruel to even talk about cutting funds from a disadvantaged group like indigenous communities. However, the fact is that every cent spent subsidizing communities that are unlikely to ever be self-sufficient is done so at the direct expense of other areas of public need. At a time of ever increasing demands on public money, it is both reasonable and necessary to draw limits on how far resources can be redistributed to regions that are irremovably wedded to government life-support. Of course, where such limits should be drawn is the province of reasonable debate and disagreement. The point, however, is that with some communities housing as few as six people, the discussion is worth having.
None of this is to deny that Aboriginal people living in these communities have a close and abiding connection with their land. Rather, it is to expose the naivety of those happy to accept that the existence of indigenous cultural affinity with the outback is enough to end the argument before it has even begun. If we want ‘closing the gap’ to mean more than a tokenistic catch-phrase, the realistic prospects of improving the lives of those in the bush is a topic that cannot continue to be skirted for fear of causing offence.
The feverish determination of race-baiters to shut down debate was again recently seen in responses to announced plans to trial cashless welfare cards in remote communities. The brainchild of mining magnate Twiggy Forest, the welfare card would look and operate just like any ordinary debit card, with the exception that it could not be used on alcohol or gambling.
Given the scourge of alcohol and drug abuse in some rural communities, a modest form of income management that makes it harder for welfare to be squandered on destructive ends seems like a sensible idea. It is true that the card doesn’t address the underlying social ills of alcoholism and problem gambling. Nor will it realistically prevent those who are truly determined from getting their hands on alcohol. But as a way of helping to ensure more public money is spent on meeting the basic needs of people in these communities, the idea deserves at least some credit for getting the ball rolling.
Predictably, Greens Leader Christine Milne, thought the welfare card was an idea not even worthy of civilised discussion: “I think it’s really offensive to all Australians to see our Prime Minister standing up with a wealthy and privileged other white man, a mining magnate, telling people throughout Australia who are less well off how they should manage their income.”
If Milne had bothered to look beyond the gender and race of those spruiking the welfare card, she might have noticed that wives and partners from within remote communities have in fact been calling for moratorium on welfare-funded booze for years. In any event, painting the welfare card as a case of wealthy white men controlling how the benighted spend their pittance is either deliberately coy or peddling pure fantasy. Welfare isn’t pocket money. It is distributed to those who need it in order to alleviate poverty and disadvantage. The welfare card does this by limiting spending on gambling and drinking; two luxuries that might readily be described as the polar opposite of what such payments were intended for in the first place.
The intersection of child protection and indigenous policy presents a lesser known, but equally compelling example of political correctness sucking the oxygen out of reasoned debate. Under the ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ACPP), indigenous children who require out of home care are to be placed wherever possible either with immediate family members, or within their existing community. Introduced following the public fallout of the stolen generation, the ACPP was devised with a view to preserving the cultural identity of indigenous children in need of care.
The trouble is that by giving precedence to the preservation of ‘culture’ above all other factors, such as the ability of carers to meet basic needs, the ACPP has consistently seen aboriginal children placed in conditions of sub-standard care. According to Policy Analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies Jeremy Sammut, the problem lies in the fact that “the sorts of culturally determined parenting practices… which may have been suitable in the social conditions of the past, are no longer functioning well in the present.” Anthropologist Peter Sutton describes this culture of “customary permissiveness in the raising of children” as being responsible for the neglect of basic need such as adequate food, shelter and medical attention in Aboriginal communities.
Naturally, any explanation for the alarmingly high incidence of child abuse in indigenous communities that centred on the prevailing culture within such communities was simply “divisive grandstanding” according to Ngiare Brown, the deputy chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council.
The race baiting continued from National Children’s Children Commissioner Megan Mitchell, claiming that “a level of racism” was behind the overrepresentation of aboriginal children in the child protection system.
Yet with the number of aboriginal children on care and protection orders doubling between 2000 and 2011, blaming these disturbing figures on ‘institutionalised racism’ starts to look more like a convenient scapegoat than a plausible explanation.
Some have even attempted to explain-away far-reaching evidence of systemic neglect in some communities by accusing social workers of being insensitive to ‘cultural difference.’ Paddy Gibson, a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney has argued that allegations of neglect are often unfounded because aboriginal children usually have more autonomy than non-indigenous children.
This might be more convincing if Indigenous children were not eight times more likely than other children to be victims of substantiated abuse claims. Then again, with Gibson arguing that whether or not a child is neglected is merely a “subjective” judgment call, it is hardly surprising that statistics seem to carry so little weight with some members of the intelligentsia.
All this would be less concerning if current indigenous policies were achieving anything close to their desired effect. Yet according to the latest ‘Closing the Gap’ report, there has been no progress in indigenous reading and numeracy since 2008. Worse still, this same period has seen a decline in Indigenous employment.
If we are honest, the shouting down of any idea that presents even a modest challenge to the status quo is depriving Indigenous people the benefit of an honest debate about how their disadvantage might best be ameliorated.
This raises a puzzling question: what motivates those who time and again have expressed their concern for the Aboriginal community in the most in the most emphatic terms imaginable, yet so fiercely resist ideas that sit outside the existing paradigm of chronically underachieving policies? The most obvious explanation is the long shadow cast by past atrocities committed against aboriginals has fostered an innate wariness of any ‘tough love’ measure designed to push aboriginals towards greater self-reliance. Perhaps it is this instinct that has so often seen those who question the wisdom of policies which view state dependency as a cure rather than a temporary treatment accused of being mean-minded or lacking in sympathy.
Again, this would less perturbing if allowing indigenous policy to be dictated by lingering guilt for the wrongs of past generations had yielded anything better than an uninterrupted string of abject failures.
On the more extreme ends, it is doubtful whether deep down race-baiters actually accept that measuring indigenous progress according to the usual indicators of living a healthy and successful life – things like educational achievement and workforce participation – is even the right thing to do. For these people (often Greens parliamentarians or academics who find themselves sitting on the far left fringe of the progressive peanut gallery), the original sin of British settlement means it will always be wrong to hold any expectation of Aborigines participating in mainstream life in modern Australia.
Sadly, the costs of sticking to policies stifled by shibboleths of cultural Marxism and political correctness is borne solely by the Aborigines who continue to live lives marred by despair and despondency.
‘We start with self-reliance,’ said the late Lee Kuan Yew in a 1994 interview. ‘In the West today it is the opposite. The government says give me a popular mandate and I will solve all society’s problems.’
On 22 March 2015 Lee passed away at age ninety-one. The end of his remarkable life offers a sobering reflection on what it takes to actually build an economic pie and not just cut it up – a practice many of today’s democratic practitioners appear exceptional at.
Singapore now thrives alongside the Silicon Valleys and Tel Avivs of the world. Back in the 1960s, however, Malaysia effectively dusted its hands of the small nation by forcing it to break away.
A future of poverty and desperation appeared likely until Lee, warding off communist subversion and the revolving emergence of security threats, turned Singapore’s slim fortunes around. ‘He did not just pilot Singapore to prosperity,’ added Margaret Thatcher, ‘he became the most trenchant, convincing and courageous opponent of left-wing Third World nonsense in the Commonwealth.’
In his revealing memoir The Singapore Story Lee admits to flirting with socialism and Marxist theories of development – a legacy, perhaps unsurprisingly, of his Cambridge years. When taking the reins of Singapore, however, at just 35 years of age, he shed the vogue fascination of government-sponsored egalitarianism. He came to ‘realise’, unlike his post-colonial African peers, that individual self-agency and not government largesse was the true ‘driving force for progress throughout human history.’
‘That realisation had to wait until the 1960s,’ he wrote, ‘when I was in charge of the government of a tiny Singapore much poorer than Britain, and was confronted with the need to generate revenue and create wealth before I could even think, let alone talk, of redistributing it.’
His template for success had two planks – stability then education. ‘First, you must have order in a society,’ he reflected. ‘Then you have to educate rigorously and train a whole generation of skilled, intelligent and knowledgeable people.’ Lee, of course, meant a real education and real skills – more engineers and entrepreneurs, for example, versus flower-arrangers and personal fitness trainers.
Armed with an uncomfortable frankness Lee never shied away from cultural or racial explanations for Singapore’s Confucian-inspired success. As a young boy, observing sweating Indian and Chinese labourers building Singapore, Lee recorded his own cross-cultural comparisons. ‘One Chinese would carry one pole with two wicker baskets of earth,’ he told Australian journalist Paul Sheehan, ‘whereas two Indians would carry one pole with one wicket basket between them. Now that’s culture.’ This kind of steely resolve, welded to a good education and a commitment to family, meant Singaporeans developed in leaps and bounds.
George Christensen MP writes how the rise of Sharia in Australia is denying Muslim women complete freedom and access to the law:
IN PLACES where the long arm of the law struggles to reach, a second arm gathers strength and tightens its grip on willing and unwilling victims, mostly women.
In some Australian suburbs it is no longer a case of one law for all as Sharia-style dispensation of justice is quietly executed in Australian mosques on a daily basis.
An Australian imam has openly said he is doing just that in Sydney mosques every day.
Sheikh Haisam Farache, who is being trained by Legal Aid as a culturally and linguistic diverse mediator, said this role “formally recognises what he’s been doing for years – applying Sharia to arbitrate family disputes and avoid(ing) a long and painful journey through the court system.
Sheikh Farache said he had been applying Sharia during stints as an imam at Artarmon and Lakemba mosques, where he typically facilitated “two or three mediations a day”.
He believes “Sharia has been playing out in the Australian Family Court” since mediation was introduced into the Family Court system in 2005.
Though it is flagged as a mediation process to resolve family disputes, there is a very real concern that we may have a repeat of the situation which Britain faces, and is now trying to rectify.
The poor treatment of Muslim women in that country is so extensive that a Member of the House of Lords, Baroness Caroline Cox, has introduced a bill to strengthen the law’s ability to regulate sharia courts and force them to comply with anti-discrimination law.
Baroness Cox has said: “We cannot sit here complacently in our red and green benches while women are suffering a system which is utterly incompatible with the legal principles upon which this country is founded.”
Could we be doing the same thing in Australia by assuming that Sharia law will not and is not operating in this country?
Christopher Rath outlines Australia’s dangerous economic position and the reform that needs to be undertaken to avoid Australia’s economy falling.
This week an alliance of the nation’s leading industry and business groups gave their sternest warning yet to our political leaders- neglecting reform “will set us on a path to economic despair”. This isn’t hyperbole as a quick glance at our nation’s economic indicators illustrate that Australia has rising unemployment, low economic growth, low productivity and is wallowing in government debt.
A mining boom coupled with the bold economic reforms of Hawke/Keating & Howard/Costello ensured that Australia enjoyed a quarter of a century of unbroken economic growth. We were the miracle economy, defying the widely held assumption that Australia would go into recession every 10 years or so. Against all the odds we avoided plunging into recession during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the 2000/01 Dotcom bubble burst and of course the 2008/09 GFC.
Unfortunately Australia’s dream run is likely to come to an end in the next year or two and we are at risk once again of becoming “the poor white trash of Asia”. Monetary policy can only go so far to address these issues as a historically very low cash rate of 2.25% means that the Reserve Bank has little wriggle room left in terms of slashing interest rates. Reducing the cash rate is also a blunt instrument, likely to help an already booming property market, and there is often a long and variable lag before the benefits are noticed to the economy.
Microeconomic reforms generally incur an even longer lag with the benefits not felt for years. No doubt part of the reason that we’re facing these economic challenges now is because of the mass exodus of economic reform during the 6 years of Rudd/Gillard/Rudd. They would no doubt claim reforms such as the carbon tax, mining tax, abolishing Work Choices and counter cyclical stimulus payments. But reform implies improvement and these policies have left Australia poorer, uncompetitive and less free.
The Coalition is also somewhat to blame, since the zeal for economic reform was far greater under Howard/Costello than it is today under Abbott/Hockey. They have taken workplace relations reform off the table and budget trims haven’t gone far enough to address our fiscal crisis. There are however some achievements to celebrate such as scrapping the carbon tax and mining tax, privatisation of Medibank Private, $2.45bn of red tape slashed, and most resoundingly, three historic free trade agreements delivered in just over a year. It is also extremely encouraging that Premier Baird was re-elected on a reform agenda.
However the problem remains that Australia has low productivity and eroding international competitiveness. This is where economic reform is needed most, not only because investment can leave Australia with the press of a button, but also because productivity is the main driver of economic growth and better living standards. Yet we are faced with the fact that Australia’s multifactor productivity fell a concerning 1.3% from 2007 to 2013 and for the first time ever Australia is no longer amongst the 20 most globally competitive nations.
And the reason for this?
“The main area of concern for Australia is the rigidity of its labor market (54th, down 12), where the situation has deteriorated further. Australia ranks 137th (of 148 countries) for the rigidity of the hiring and firing practices and 135th for the rigidity of wage setting. The quality of Australia’s public institutions is excellent except when it comes to the burden of government regulation, where the country ranks a poor 128th. Indeed, the business community cites labor regulations and bureaucratic red tape as being, respectively, the first and second most problematic factor for doing business in their country.” (The Global Competitiveness Report 2013-14).
To avoid becoming the “poor white trash of Asia”, Australia should:
- Reform our workplace system to at least a comparable level as Howard’s first wave of changes with the Workplace Relations Act 1996. Work Choices amended this act in 2005 but the Fair Work Act 2009 has taken Australia back to pre-1996 levels of workplace inflexibility.
- Drastic budget cuts and not the trims we’ve seen are required to achieve a surplus and start paying off government debt much sooner than the 10-year prediction. Of course the Labor Party and the Senate are mostly to blame for our budget woes, but expensive programmes like Paid Parental Leave and Gonski funding should also be shelved. The Centre for Independent Studies and Institute of Public Affairs have proposed savings measures that could be easily adopted.
- A serious attempt at tax reform that must involve overall reductions in taxation. Broadening the base of the GST and increasing the rate to 20% could be offset with income tax and company tax reductions. The states also need to be part of the discussion, especially in terms of abolishing two of our nation’s most hideously inefficient taxes- payroll and land tax. A reduction or even abolition of capital gains tax could also be offset by reforming our negative gearing loophole.
- Ongoing privatisation and asset recycling as a means of addressing our infrastructure backlog. State governments in particular have a vast array of inefficient utilities, service providers and infrastructure assets that they can put up for lease or sale. Asset recycling can also serve as an important reform in improving state-federal relations.
- Build on this renewed era of Australian free trade by seeking new opportunities (India has already been flagged) and also adopting the Commission of Audit’s recommendation to crack down on industry assistance. This will ensure that Australia focuses on areas where it has a comparative advantage, such as finance, agriculture, tourism and of course mining (Australia’s three largest exports are now iron ore, coal and natural gas). Manufacturing is no longer part of this mix, making up 9% of the economy but receiving 70% of the industry assistance.
These five suggestions may weather Australia from future economic crises even if it is too late to avoid a possible imminent recession. Indeed it may take an economic crisis for Australia’s political leaders to wake up and get serious about reform. No doubt many would see these five suggestions as ‘controversial’ or ‘radical’ and opposition from Labor and a hostile Senate would almost certainly ensure their failure. But our nation’s economy is too important for populism and Labor should support economic reform in much the same way as Howard adopted a bi-partisan approach to floating the dollar, financial sector reform and tariff reductions under Hawke and Keating.
The business community should also grow a spine and not leave the task of selling reform solely to the Coalition. Scott Morrison and Joe Hockey were completely correct in labeling many in the business community as “armchair critics”.
So brace yourself, without either a much more assertive Coalition and business community or an economic crisis that leads to bipartisan action, Australia could indeed have many decades of economic despair to come.
Christopher Rath is a consultant in the mining industry. He previously worked as an adviser to state and federal Liberal Parliamentarians and has degrees in economics and management.
Do you think police should have the power to fine anyone they like on the spot for any reason? New South Wales’ new “move on” laws come dangerously close to doing exactly that. They empower police to fine anyone for just looking suspicious, even if they are innocent of any crime. Backed by the Baird government and the NSW Labor opposition, they are an affront to our civil liberties, including the right to freedom of movement, a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. And they are also a danger to the homeless, who will be their most likely victims. Still, we should be thankful that it is not as extreme as its recently repealed Victorian equivalent, which imposed extraordinary restrictions on the right to freedom of movement and protest.
“Move on laws” have created an entirely new category of victimless “crime”, which consists entirely of arousing police suspicions. Bear in mind that suspicions are, by definition, unfounded beliefs. So the laws empower police to fine any person who refuses to move on from their current location if that person is suspected being a hindrance to passersby, or of committing a crime or even of being likely to commit a crime. It is not clear how the police can judge you likely to commit a crime; however if we assume police possess the supernatural power to predict the future then we can begin to make sense of these laws. The scope for abuse of these powers is enormous.
Importantly, innocence is not a defence to the “crime” of arousing police suspicion. Police are entitled to fine you even if you are innocent of any crime. If you choose to fight the fine, all the police had to do was show that their suspicions were “reasonable” when they fined you. Far from being a tool to fight militant unions or extremist protesters, the evidence indicates that move on laws have primarily targeted homeless people.
The power to fine individuals on the basis of police suspicions, without any proof of guilt, is an extraordinary attack on our right to freedom of association, the presumption of innocence and a fair trial. Most people simply will not fight a fine in Court. Some of the fines issued by police may be unjust. They might be caused by simple mistake or selective prosecution and vindictiveness. We are not likely to know this simply because such fines will go unreported.
While the Victorian Liberals claimed that these laws were necessary to clamp down on militant unionism and extremist protesters, they have not pointed to a single instance in which these powers have actually been used against militant trade unions or extremist protesters. Nor have they produced any evidence that these laws have played any role in reducing crime. This is because there is no such evidence.
The Victorian Liberals’ claim that the police have failed to enforce the laws on the books to deal with militant unionism or extremist protesters is simply false. Threats, intimidation and violence are already illegal. They are criminal acts, punishable by jail time if necessary. If the prosecution proves that a person has committed an act of violence beyond reasonable doubt than they will go to jail. If people are not being prosecuted it is because there is not enough proof to prove their guilt. It is that simple. There is no evidence nor any suggestion that the police are too incompetent or unwilling to prosecute violent offenders simply because of their links to trade unions or extremist political organisations and frankly, if that were the case there is no reason to believe that police would be any more capable or honest if they were given more powers. This is not to suggest that none of the protesters have broken the law; it is simply to say that we deserve to know whether they have or not before we punish them. If we punish them without knowing if they are guilty or innocent, we could well face the same treatment next. The Victorian Liberals’ claims are a substance-less scare campaign, pure and simple.
Thankfully, NSW police have no power to move on those who appear to be protesters. Nor, thanks to the Andrews’ ALP government, do Victorian police enjoy that power. But the existence of these powers is objectionable regardless.
And there is always a risk that police will use these powers against protesters anyway in the hope that they might get away with it if the protests do not take place directly in the public eye.
One thing we do know about move on laws is that in practice they are used to drive homeless people into the criminal justice system. As Lucy Adams of legal support organisation Justice Connect notes,
“Laws that regulate public space are rarely intended to punish people for their homelessness – but this is often the effect…. Circumstances that cause people to be sleeping rough, begging or drinking in public are almost always health and social issues, not criminal ones… prison should not be a substitute for supported housing, mental health care or substance dependence treatment.”
It is worth noting that police are also empowered moving on persons affected by drugs or alcohol in New South Wales, and the likelihood is that the homeless will still be targeted by these laws as well as other move on laws.
In practice, move on laws target the homeless on the nonsensical premise that it is better for them to be in the criminal justice system than receiving support and care from charitable organisations.
Not only are these laws totally ineffective in reducing crime and a means for police to harass innocent citizens; they probably increase crime rates by needlessly throwing already marginalised groups such as the homeless, youth and Aboriginals into the criminal justice system. Indeed, in Queensland, 76.8% of homeless persons surveyed reported having received a “move on direction” by police. For example, because the homeless cannot drink in their own homes, they are more likely to be moved on as some of them may get drunk in public instead. These groups face an increased risk of police confrontation or detention that could needlessly open the gateway towards a life of crime. It is a destructive process, it unnecessarily burdens the criminal justice system and, ultimately, endangers the public far more than being a nuisance in public ever would. In that respect, police involvement in the lives of the homeless will prove not only pointless but dangerous.
Of course, it doesn’t help that begging for money is actually a crime in Victoria, which means police can actually take money from the homeless as the supposed proceeds of crime, fine them $100 for begging and further involve them in the criminal justice system. I daresay that if it were anyone but the police taking money from the homeless they would be pilloried as the worst kind of despicable thief. But these are the laws our elected officials have instituted and continue to maintain, and these are the laws our law enforcement agencies enforce every day. It is simply shameful.
The strengthening of NSW’s “move on laws” is an appalling development which should be condemned. By contrast, the winding back of these laws in Victoria should be cause for celebration.
1. NSW’s move on laws are defined in sections 197-204B of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW). The laws were introduced in mid-2011 by the O’Farrell Liberal government.
2. Victoria’s move on laws are now largely equivalent to New South Wales. See s6, Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic).
Let’s be very clear straight up, the Western Australian government are [currently] not closing and have not actually closed any communities.
Though the discussion to close these communities is indeed real and has only come about due to the Federal Government’s announcement to cut funding to the Western Australian government in the first place.
Yesterday Mike Baird announced the cabinet for his re-elected NSW State Government.
A Government’s ministry titles are designed to show that the Government cares. For the left, it’s a kind off dog whistle to keep their activist elements calm. Tony Abbott found this out when he took a more concise approach to portfolio titles. As a Libertarian leaning Conservative, I hope these titles are a promise of serious focus and taking action.
What I really want to see in the cabinet, is a Minister for Deregulation, Efficiency and Elimination of Waste.
Whilst other ministers and their departments seek to find more ways to justify spending and legislation – a minister and an entire department whose sole purpose is to engage itself entirely and completely in eliminating government waste, improving operational efficiency and repealing outdated, ineffective and unnecessary legislation.
Such a portfolio would be the first with a negative budget. An entire department who hands money back to the government each year!
The Coalition base should have no problems supporting this, and even the dwindling Hawke/Keating wing of the Labor Party (i.e. the sensible part) should have no qualms.
Naturally, the far-left will scream ‘Razor Gang!’
Obviously, a top down approach can save a few dollars in the first year – running tenders and putting the squeeze on the government’s suppliers can make some short term improvements. They may even have to implement KPI’s and fire a few people who can’t meet them. But after that, the new department will begin looking for real operational efficiencies. They may start with Lean Six Sigma and its Black Belt wielding analysts – a program that appeals to people who need to centralize power. With time they will hit a wall and start training the public service in more bottom up approaches like the Toyota Way/Toyota Production System (TPS).
They may even embrace a wonderful program that US President Calvin Coolidge ran back in the 1920’s – the 1% and 2% clubs. These programs rewarded public servants for finding savings of 1% and 2%. Providing a strong incentive to, initially, simply hand back unneeded funds – the opposite of how things are today – and later on, rewarding them for getting creative with how services are delivered. There is no Razor Gang to be found when the people on the ground doing the work are finding ways to be more efficient.
Looking abroad, the department will examine and learn from success stories in deregulation then push to have similar programmes implemented here. The opportunities missed through over regulation will finally have a voice.
Historically, Lobbyists came to Ministers looking for special deals and hand outs. To this new Department, they will be lobbying for special treatment and hand outs (to their competitors) to be eliminated!
The reelection of Mike Baird’s NSW State Government is good news for Conservatives and all but the most uncompromising of Libertarians. Despite our ideological differences, we can all agree that building roads is an appropriate function of Government and the Liberal-National Coalition has staked it’s reputation on a reasonably ambition plan to build a lot of them. We can also agree that taking on Government waste should be as high a priority, a new cabinet position would be an excellent start.
We like to think of ourselves as superior to our ancestors, but as I look at Australia’s unexplained wealth laws I venture to disagree. The laws have empowered police to confiscate the property of the innocent without a trial, and they have been introduced in every State, every Territory and federally. Indeed, in New South Wales, the Coalition is promising to increase their scope in the run up to the election. Punishment without a trial is a process that is equivalent to a medieval witch hunt.
All of your property—gone. Unexplained wealth laws empower law enforcement officials to permanently confiscate your property without being convicted of a crime. If you’re suspected of committing a minor criminal offence, the police are empowered to confiscate everything you own. In Queensland, it can be as trivial as recreational marijuana possession. There is no need to even accuse you of having committed a crime in obtaining the property; no need to charge you with a crime; no need to bring your trial; and no need to prove you guilty. Punishment without a trial or due process is the agenda. It’s up to you to defend yourself in Court against the allegation that you obtained the property unlawfully.
Absurd law, absurd results. In one instance, recreational marijuana possession was in fact used as the pretext for the confiscation by police of almost $600,000.00 of cash belonging to one man, Mr Henderson, and his siblings in 2002.  Mr Henderson proved in Court that he obtained that money legitimately from the sale of a family heirloom belonging to himself and his siblings. But the money was confiscated anyway, for the absurd reason that he could not prove that the family heirloom was legally acquired by his now-dead parents. Police did not offer any other explanation as to how the property was acquired. They did not produce a victim claiming the heirloom was his, or even a police report. They did not allege that Mr Henderson or his property acquired the property illegally. They weren’t required to. Mr Henderson was a member of the vulnerable underclass which unexplained wealth laws seem to target and victimise.
That money sure looks suspicious. Unexplained wealth laws also empower the police to permanently confiscate specific items of your property on the suspicion that it was acquired illegally. Again, the onus is on you to get it back.
Carrying cash is a crime? Thus in another case in Western Australia, police targeted a man, Mr Morris, for carrying around his life savings of over $100,000.00 in cash in a plastic bag. It was suspicious. So when police pulled him over while he was driving back in 2011, they took the cash. He kept his savings in cash because he was suspicious of banks; he had lost his meagre savings due to a bank failure in the 80’s. He was planning to use the money purchase and open a fitness training centre. Police did not allege that the man had committed a crime of any kind. They simply suggested that he had obtained the bag of money from a friend. This single suggestion was the entirety of the prosecution case. Mind, they had no proof of it. No witness came to the stand in their favour. Nor did they offer any evidence the man’s friend had gotten the money illegally. Mr Morris got his money back, but the case took two years to be disposed of—a punishment in time and money in and of itself. If Mr Morris had been subjected to the traditional process of criminal procedure, this would never have happened at all. The police could not and did not charge him with the “crime” of carrying around a bag of money. But with unexplained wealth laws, they confiscated it anyway. This is not justice.
No evidence of effectiveness. Witch hunters could only practise their trade because witchcraft was popularly thought to be real and dangerous. Similarly, our modern day law enforcement officials confiscate on the premise that they are combating organised crime. The dangers of organised crime are no superstition, of course. But then again, neither were the diseases witches pretended to cure. And much as peasants never asked witch hunters for evidence, few people seem to ask for any evidence that these laws do anything to combat organised crime. There’s a reason for that. There is none. Unexplained wealth laws are designed to catch people who haven’t been proven guilty of a crime. That does nothing to assist police in their investigation of actual crimes.
A wider net catches more innocent people. It is more likely than not that some of the people caught by police will be innocent. Some indeed might be guilty of something, but if they are subject to unexplained wealth laws then we often cannot be sure what they are guilty of, if anything. With unexplained wealth orders, there need be no convictions or sentences, nor even any reported crimes to justify a confiscation. The accused and the prosecution can simply consent to an order being made against the accused for his property to be confiscated. Nobody knows what they are accused of or whether the punishment is in proportion to the crime.
Disproportionate, draconian punishments. We should not assume that the punishment is just simply because the accused did not contest it. The accused may not have had the funds or the time to contest the accusations against him. While he may have been guilty of some offence that might justify confiscating the proceeds of crime, it does not follow that law enforcement officials should be empowered to take everything that person owns. The punishment has to match the crime. The typical punishment for a marijuana user is a counselling session or a small fine—not the confiscation of all of their property.
A pointless, hysterical distraction from punishing real criminals. Finger pointing hysteria may sweep up a lot of innocent people together with the guilty. But there’s no evidence that organised crime is likely to suffer as a result. Indeed, unexplained wealth proceedings will distract police from the actual task of investigating real crimes and real criminals. They will be too busy investigating loosely hypothetical possibilities that might warrant a confiscation order to worry about any real criminals. Therein, I suspect, lies the appeal. Police and politicians can look like they are doing something about crime without doing much at all.
Reversing the presumption of innocence undermines our liberal society. The Coalition like to market themselves as tough on crime, but unexplained wealth laws punish suspects, not proven criminals. Punishing suspects means punishing more innocent people. The traditional, conservative view of law enforcement sees the presumption of innocence as the cornerstone and a distinguishing feature of the English legal system. It is as old as the English Treaty of Magna Carta:
“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”
Or as famous English jurist Sir William Blackstone put it:
“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
People must have confidence that the legal system will not unfairly target or persecute them. With the introduction of unexplained wealth laws, the Coalition, the ALP and the Greens have renounced their commitment to this fundamental principle of liberal society. They have undermined a core, embedded principle of our legal system and our society. This is a remarkable and troubling tri-partisan consensus indeed. The only politician to have spoken against these laws to date is David Leyonjhelm of the Liberal Democrats. Leyonjhelm has separately pointed out that reversing the presumption of innocence is tantamount to accepting the “just world fallacy”:
“The just-world fallacy holds that a person’s actions always result in fair and fit consequences, and it exists because people are uncomfortable accepting [that] suffering is random and that sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all. It is common to believe people must have done something to deserve what they get, including being accused of a crime. The argument goes: if bad things only happen to those who deserve them and I am a good person, then I can be sure nothing bad will ever happen to me.”
Unfortunately, the world is not fair, and law enforcement officials are not perfect. They are fallible human beings. They are capable of making mistakes. They are capable of persecution, not merely prosecution. Judging people guilty before proven innocent is tantamount to a sacrilegious worship of law enforcement officials as nigh-infallible human beings. Unexplained wealth laws turn them into the witch finders of our modern day witch hunts.
Revenue raising gone mad. Add to the mix the fact that confiscations generate revenue for the government and you will see a dangerous combination at work. Police who return more money towards government coffers than they put in will naturally be in line for more funding. Politicians will be more inclined to give it to them. It is not hard to see how law enforcement officials might be more inclined to prosecute law abiding citizens when their pay packet is on the line. That’s the experience in the United States, at any rate, where law enforcement officials get every penny they confiscate back into their own local police department. Then they spend it on holidays, nice cars and other like perks, as the Institute for Justice, an American civil liberties law firm, has recorded. If law enforcement officials get their way we could witness much the same here. It is a comfortable revenue stream indeed.
Would you do it to your neighbour? A final thought. If you took your neighbour’s property and refused to return it to him, without even telling him why or caring to prove that he acquired the property illegally, what would that make you? A thief. It’s one thing to confiscate the proven proceeds of crime, but unexplained wealth laws are something else entirely.
 See Director of Public Prosecutions v Morris  WADC 148. (Note: you will need access to a subscription service such as LexisNexis to access this decision).
There are few issues that arouse such heightened emotions, yet remain so widely misunderstood as the disparity between male and female income.
Patricia Arquette’s recent Academy Award acceptance speech is a case in point. Reading from a carefully prepared script with her Oscar clenched tightly by her side, Arquette’s tone was one of emphatic indignation:
“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Arquette’s depiction of the gender pay gap as the last unfinished work of the civil rights movement plays into the broader perception that women are paid less because of entrenched sexism in a male dominated workforce. At first glance, the fact that last year Australian women in full time work earned 18.8% less than their male counterparts seems to support this conclusion. Nevertheless, while Arquette may have been held up momentarily as a feminist torchbearer by Twitter and Hollywood’s liberal elite, her grandstanding has little connection with the actual reasons why women on average earn less than men.
So if not discrimination, why are women earning nearly a fifth less than men? The fatal assumption is that over the course of their working lives men and women follow the same path, distinguished only by gender.
The biggest factor is career choice. Despite generally performing better at school, girls are more likely to enrol in social science based tertiary courses, whereas males are more highly represented in technical and science based qualifications. In 2012, there were 6 times as many males studying engineering across Australia as females. Likewise, females are enrolling in education at a rate of four to every one male and only three in ten teachers nationwide. Further, while 85% of the mining industry is male, they make up a mere 10% of registered nurses. Although only a snapshot, this speaks to a broader trend across the entire labour force which sees females overrepresented in occupations that pay less than those employing more men.
Some might argue that the fact that typically female dominated occupations earn less is itself indicative of gender bias. A more useful exercise is to consider differences in pay between members of the opposite sex in the same occupations.
Policy analyst for Graduate Careers Australia Bruce Guthrie found that within different occupations, the pay gap for new graduates shrunk to 2.4% in 2012. Interestingly, the same study found that in fields such as pharmacy, computer science and engineering females enjoyed higher graduate salaries than males. On the other end, economic analysts Juan Baron and Deborah Cobb-Clark found that the pay gap among low-income earners could be explained entirely by differences in skills and experience. In other words, where females had the same productive capacity as males, they earned no less.
Senior policy analyst at the Institute for Public Affairs Mikayla Novak sums up the trends between gender and career choice neatly: “It generally appears that women tend to assume working roles which provide more pleasant and safe conditions, and which provide greater flexibility for part-time work to accommodate family responsibilities.”
That male dominated professions earn a lot – engineering and surgery for instance – is a function of how valuable those skills are in today’s economy. Though it may sound appealing to argue that occupations with more females like nursing and teaching deserve to be paid more, it doesn’t change that the key fact that some jobs earn more than others because of economic factors – notably the scarcity and demand for the skills in question – and not conscious discrimination. Nor does it change that the distribution of males and females across these occupations is incidental to, and not the cause of such discrepancies.
Even within the same occupations, it is wrong to assume women and men follow the same working patterns, especially over the span of an entire career. The most obvious difference comes from the burden of child rearing, which falls disproportionately on females during pregnancy and the child’s early years. Females are also more likely to take time off or work less to be carers for parents or other dependants. In these instances, the advent of parental and compassionate leave entitlements does provide short-term income supplements. However, this doesn’t replace the experience lost by time spent away from the workplace. These added responsibilities are also reflected in findings by the ABS that a far greater proportion of the male workforce worked more than 41 hours a week, whereas females were likelier to take out part time positions. It is not difficult to see how the time taken by these other commitments, (which disproportionately affect females), impedes career advancement. This is even truer of some high-earning occupations such as banking, law and medical specialists where it is not always simple to take long breaks and resume your career where you left it.
Although these figures explain that women’s choices and lifestyles have more to do with the gender pay gap than discrimination, some may still lament the fact that the burden of unpaid work like raising children falls more heavily on females. Others would go further and claim that the expectations placed on females in relation to motherhood, caring and other unpaid yet valuable work is itself suggestive of structural oppression. Emotive as these arguments may be, they overlook that in today’s society conforming to gender norms is a choice that women are free to ignore. And for those who do, the news is good. In cases where females work the same number of hours in the same job with the same experience as men, the pay gap all but disappears.
Despite these explanations pointing to an absence of widespread gender discrimination against women, they still may not conform to what many would consider ‘fair’. The point is that in a market economy wages are not determined by subjective notions of fairness but are based on the supply and demand of particular skills and experience. Arguments that claim females suffer systemic disadvantage in the jobs market and workplace are quick to label discrimination as their target when in fact they are attacking the edifice upon which our entire economic system is based.
Once the rhetoric is stripped away, it becomes clear that a free market is the best mechanism to achieve equality and a meritocracy between the sexes in workforce. The pressures of competition between rival businesses create real economic incentives to hire and promote on merit. Businesses that discriminate on the basis of gender instead of ability cripple themselves in the marketplace. While not perfect, a market system ensures that businesses that choose to preference employees based on characteristics incidental to their job bear the economic cost. Such bias is also likely to be visible to other employees and deter high-performing workers from remaining in workplaces that aren’t meritocratic. This is not to say discrimination doesn’t exist. Rather, it is to highlight that in the long run it is simply unsustainable for businesses to adopt a blind preference for males to the exclusion of characteristics relevant to the job at hand.
A more constructive discussion around the gender pay gap would centre on how the added responsibilities borne by many females can be better accommodated in the workplace. Unsupported generalisations about the discriminatory attitudes of employers send women the false and damaging message that they are at an inherent disadvantage because of their gender. They are also unfair in their depiction of male employers as innately sexist without a shred of evidence.
If for anything, Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech is useful to the extent that it highlights the pitfalls of according the emotionally provocative but intellectually vacuous words of celebrities more weight than they deserve.
It is with great pleasure that I would like to invite you to the 3rd Annual Friedman Conference – the biggest and best pro-liberty event of the Year!
We are offering a special Early Bird Discount of $50 off the regular price for all registrations before March 31!
The 2015 Friedman Conference will be held in Sydney, at the Aerial Function Centre at UTS, on the weekend of May 2-3, culminating in the Annual Dinner and Liberty Awards Presentation. It is organised by the Australian Libertarian Society in conjunction with the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, and with the support of the Institute for Public Affairs, and the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, and I really hope you will be able to join us: This truly will be a weekend to remember.
With over 200 attendees expected, and speakers from not just around Australia, but all over the world, this is one event you don’t want to miss!
Some of our guest speakers include:
*Dr Tom Palmer, from the Atlas Network in Washington DC and one of the world’s most prominent liberty activists (courtesy of the Centre for Independent Studies)
*Viral Video music sensation Remy Munfasi, with a staggering 100 million YouTube views!
*A liberty activist from Iran (really!)
*Louise Staley MLA, Liberal Member for Rippon in the Victorian parliament
*Professor Jim Allan from the University of Queensland
*Dr Keith Kendall from La Trobe University
*Andrew Norton from the Grattan Institute & architect of the Federal Governments’ Higher Education Reforms
*and dozens more!
Click HERE for more details on currently announced speakers.
The 1st and 2nd Friedman Conferences were – without doubt – the most enjoyable events I attended all year, and I know that this one will be even better!
The Early Bird special is just $200 for concession, or $250 for adults. This is amazing value, and includes 2 full days of conference, and a 3 course dinner with 4 hour wine package at the Gala Dinner. Click HERE to secure your spot now and avoid paying the full price!
Plus, for our most committed supporters, we are offering a VIP package which includes an exclusive VIP reception, a private luncheon with guest speakers and other dignitaries, preferred seating, and a DVD of all conference sessions & Liberty Awards. For only $700, the VIP package is an excellent opportunity to enhance your experience while helping us ensure the best possible conference. Visit http://www.taxpayers.org.au/event/friedmanconference2015/ for more details on the VIP package, and other options (such as day only or dinner only options)
I can guarantee – without a shred of doubt – that this is an opportunity worth attending.
The conference will be provocative and challenging, stimulating debate, and tackling not just the key policy issues facing Australia – but also discussing how to implement our ideas. I can honestly say this is NOT to be missed.
Click HERE to secure your spot today – and I look forward to seeing you there!
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions, and again – I really, really hope you will be able to make it!
Executive Director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance & Publisher of Menzies House