Highlights of Simon Breheny on The Young IPA Podcast

On The Young IPA Podcast this week, James, Pete and Simon discussed Indigenous Recognition in the Constitution. Here’s what Simon had to say:

  • “We think that equality means people should be treated the same under the Constitution”
  • “It’s really important that principles we put in [The Constitution] are ones that stand the test of time. I think the idea that we could put words in that are relevant to the policy challenges we face, like for instance the difficult situation that Indigenous people face in remote areas of Australia, I just think is a really strange idea.”
  • “I hate this idea that only Indigenous people can represent other Indigenous people. If Indigeneity, or race, or ethnicity is the number one – or going even further than that – the sole factor behind why you would make political decisions or policy decisions, that’s really worrying to me. And that sort of thing, I think, should be rejected outright by the Parliament.
  • Proponents of Indigenous Recognition “are simplifying individual human beings to being members of a group, and in a lot of ways having…the same ideas. This idea that people, because of their ethnic background, are all going to feel the same way about any issue coming before the Parliament is just bizarre.”


Listen to the rest of the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud and our website.


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Latest data shows that Aussie men are still out of work

The number of prime-age men out of work still hovers at around one in five, according to recently-released census data.

Earlier this year, the IPA published a report showing that the number of men with paid employment entered a freefall in the 1960s. According to census data, over 96 per cent of men aged between 20 and 54 were employed. By 1996 – following the Keating-era recession – the work-to-population ratio among working-age men had plummeted to its historical low-point of just over 78 per cent.

The good news is the work-to-population ratio among working-age men continues to trend upwards. As at the 2016 census, the ratio had risen to just over 81 per cent (see Figure 1). This improvement in the rate of male joblessness should be welcomed as a positive development.

Figure 1 – Work to population ratio among males age 20-54.
Sources: IPA, Australian Bureau of Statistics

However, notwithstanding this progress, the work-to-population ratio among working-age men is far from ideal. Having almost 20 per cent of Australia’s prime-age males out of work is still far too high.

The glacial return of Australian men to work is particularly disappointing when compared with the rate at which women have entered the workforce. Over the past two decades, the work-to-population ratio among prime-age women has risen by over 10 per cent, compared to the male rate of just under 2.9 per cent (see Figure 2). In other words, it appears that women have returned to work at almost four times the rate of men since the last recession.

Figure 2 – Increase in work-to-population ratio among working-age men (shown in blue) and women (shown in orange), compared with 1996 levels.
Sources: IPA, Australian Bureau of Statistics

Data from the 2016 census also confirms that higher work rates among women cannot be attributed to an increase in the number of ‘househusbands’. As Figure 3 shows, women still spend many more hours per week on unpaid domestic work than men.

Figure 3 – Differences in time spent on unpaid domestic work between working-age males (shown in blue) and females (shown in orange).
Sources: IPA, Australian Bureau of Statistics

Census data also confirms that women are more likely to undertake unpaid childcare, though unlike unpaid domestic work, the ABS does not measure hours spent.

In short, the 2016 census has confirmed that far too many men are still out of work, and that these men are still not using their spare time to pick up the slack at home. The recent improvement in the male joblessness rate – welcome as it is – is not enough.

As the IPA said when our study of men without work was first released, policymakers must move to address this silent crisis. Measures should include reforming the Fair Work regime to make it easier for the long-term unemployed to enter the labour force, and reforming certain pensions to encourage the movement of recipients from welfare to work.

Highlights of Dr Bella d’Abrera on The Young IPA Podcast

On the IPA’s latest report The Rise of Identity Politics: An Audit of History Teaching at Australian Universities

  • “Personally I think [these subjects] don’t belong in history faculties. They are subjects that are largely focused on identity politics, looking at the past through the lenses of class, race and gender.”
  • “They are reducing 2,500 years [of human history] to three very simple themes…it’s a dumbing down, an anti-intellectualism which is really worrying, and it’s very difficult to see how it could be reversed.”
  • “At the University of Western Australia, second year students could choose a subject called ‘Masculinity, Nostalgia and Change’ and they basically spent their tutorials discussing constructions of masculinity in Europe, Australia and Asia since 1700 drawing from queer theory, gender theory, sociology and cultural study to explore changing cultural assumptions about masculinity. But then, in case you were thinking there was too much focus on men, the following year you can do something called ‘Feminist Thought’, which basically examines the history and philosophy of thinking gender and the West from its emergence in 18th century liberal humanism to the present. But this is my favourite bit – students undertook slow readings of the key texts with workshops and some assessments foregrounding of ‘feelingful’ responses.”

On the reaction from academia

  • Academics “are denying any influence of identity politics in their faculty, which I found astounding because you just have to look at the course handbooks and the course descriptions.”
  • “There was another response today [from the University of Melbourne] in The Conversation saying ‘no, we do teach all these decent courses, identity politics just isn’t a thing.’ Which I find incredible, because you just have to look at their website.”


For the rest of this interview and the rest of the episode, listen to The Young IPA Podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and our website.

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To read the full report, click here.

Government welcomes IPA’s ‘important contribution’ on universities

The Australian Senate debated a motion on the IPA’s new report The Rise of Identity Politics: History in Australian Universities, written by Dr Bella d’Abrera, this afternoon.

The motion, proposed by Senator Cory Bernardi, commended the research; expressed concern about the rise of identity politics and the lack of teaching about Western Civilisation, the Enlightenment and Reformation; and called for the Australian Government to review the history curriculum.

Senator Bernardi moved the motion, referring to the ‘magnificent Institute of Public Affairs’, which was followed by a short statement by Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Senator James McGrath.

‘The Government welcomes the Institute of Public Affairs’ report as an important contribution to the public discussion on universities as places of learning, free speech and ideas,’ Senator McGrath said.

However, the Government subsequently voted against the motion on the basis that it is not the government’s role to interfere with university teaching. ‘The Government does not set the curriculum for universities and it would be an attack on academic integrity were a government in a liberal democracy to control what is taught at universities,’ Senator McGrath continued.

The Senate divided on the motion, with 6 in favour and 41 against.

Senator McGrath is correct that it is not the government’s role to set the curriculum. Nor is the IPA seeking to dictate to professors what they should teach in class.

The purpose of Dr d’Abrera’s report is to highlight the relative imbalance in focus of Australia’s history departments, an important issue of public concern considering the billions of dollars of taxpayer funding that universities receive and their important role in public debate. Dr d’Abrera found that while there are a plethora of topics on identity politics issues, including class, race and gender, there is a lack of teaching of Australia’s core history. A fully rounded history degree should provide students with the opportunity to hear a diversity of topics and perspectives. As it stands, universities are failing in this task.

Senator McGrath pointed to the role of the Tertiary Education Standards Agency (TEQSA) to uphold university standards. As it stands, TEQSA enforces substantial red tape to the entry of new, smaller and more specialised institutions.

Dr d’Abrera found that it is just this type of an institution, Campion College, Australia’s first and only liberal arts college that is just a decade old, that is teaching the twenty ‘Essential Core Topics in History of Western Civilisation’.

While the government should not be setting curriculums, they should be facilitating an environment which encourages student choice and a diversity of viewpoints on campus. As the IPA’s previous research on university speech codes has found, there are some serious institutional issues that must be addressed to improve the state of higher learning in Australia.

While it is disappointing that the government rejected the motion, albeit for understandable reasons, it does have an important role to play, as the regulator and funder of universities, to improve the state of intellectual freedom in Australia.

Rita Panahi Fires Off On Harvey Weinstein, Political Elites And The Twitter Swamp

Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi joined the Young IPA Podcast to discuss a wide range of issues. Here are some of the highlights.

Listen to the full interview on iTunes, Soundcloud and our website. And make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode!


Harvey Weinstein

  • “To me, he is the poster child for the creepy male feminist. Every male feminist I’ve met has given me the creeps. This guy was a classic. He was sponsoring the feminist program at Rutgers, he was part of the Women’s March with the p***y hat-wearing crew. He was – on paper – a crusader for women’s rights and progressive values, meanwhile he’s preying on vulnerable women.”
  • On established celebrities not coming out against him earlier. “Once you’ve made it, someone – say like a Ben Affleck, someone who’s not only a famous actor but also a movie maker – he didn’t do anything. Someone who’s fairly outspoken about women’s rights and progressive values. He did nothing, and that to me leaves a really bad taste.”

The disconnect of ‘the elites’ with mainstream elites

  • “Seeing institutions like much of the mainstream media, who are almost proudly out of touch with the mainstream, I think is worth talking about because I just think it’s not healthy. It’s just not healthy to have such a narrow band of views dominate that’s not actually reflecting the community.”
  • “It’s now actually infecting news reporting, where you read a news report and it’s got such a slant on it and it’s so obvious that the biases of the journalist are being reflected in that piece of writing. It’s like they’ve lost the ability to be impartial. In fact, they don’t see it as their duty to be impartial. If you want to get your opinion out there become a bloody columnist.”

Twitter and its role in public debate

  • “Where it’s been unhealthy is the way it’s shaped the agenda so often, because you see things on Twitter which are just nonsensical crap that nobody cares about…but it now makes it into the mainstream media because everyone in the media is on Twitter even though like 105 of the population is on Twitter.”
  • “I think it’s been fantastic in exposing the biases of people who claim to be centrist or impartial when their Twitter feed is a dumpster fire of leftist bulls**t…and yet they claim not to be left.”

DFAT boss gives brilliant speech on values and free speech at Australian universities  

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade head Frances Adamson, in a courageous speech to the Chinese government-funded Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide, has urged students against the call for censorship of challenging ideas.

‘No doubt there will be times when you encounter things which to you are unusual, unsettling or perhaps seem plain wrong,’ Adamson said in comments directed at international students. ‘If you aren’t encountering strange and challenging things you aren’t getting out enough.’

Adamson calls for students to ‘respectfully engage’ with ideas they disagree with. ‘The silencing of anyone in our society from students to lecturers to politicians is an affront to our values,’ she correctly identifies.

Adamson’s speech comes following four known occasions this year that Chinese students have demanded lectures align materials more closely with Chinese policy. The University of Sydney apologised after a lecturer presented a map with borders that did not align with the Chinese government line on disputes with India and Bhutan. In another case, Monash withdrew a textbook after a quiz question caused controversy.

As I wrote for ABC Online last week, ‘that some students find an idea offensive is not a good enough reason for it to be silenced. Education requires hearing a range of viewpoints’. I continued:

Universities must show international and domestic students alike that they are most welcome to study on our campuses. However, all students must respect fundamental Australian values and appreciate the core feature of a liberal education system which challenges, not coddles, students.

Adamson’s comments could also be directed at Australia’s domestic students and university administrators, who are increasingly pursuing censorship of ideas through speech codes and various actions, as IPA research has found.

The IPA’s Free Speech on Campus Audit 2016 found eight-in-ten Australian universities have policies or have taken action that unambiguously threatens free speech. This includes speech codes that prevent offence on the basis of national origin – which, in practice, provides institutional backing for those seeking censorship.

If free expression is a core Australian value, as Adamson correctly identifies, our universities must go much further to protect it from current attacks.

Sydney Uni Taking Us To Year Zero, Dr Bella d’Abrera Tells Young IPA Podcast

The IPA’s Dr Bella d’Abrera joined The Young IPA Podcast to discuss her recent article in the Daily Telegraph on the University of Sydney’s ‘Unlearn Campaign’. Here’s what she had to say:

“They have to unlearn everything that they know. They have to break the old rules, and then start again. It’s a crazy idea of starting at Year Zero.”

“Everything they know about climate, about love, about medicine. Everything that they know, they have to unlearn.”

“This is the opposite to the point of a university…this is creating a generation of people who won’t know anything. And it’s quite terrifying, because how are they going to make decisions if they don’t know anything? How are they going to be leaders of the country?”

Pete and James also join the John Batchelor show with John Batchelor and Mary Kissel to discuss the Australian economy. Also hear from IPA Research Fellow Andrew Bushnell discuss his new report: Indigenous Australians and the Criminal Justice System.

Listen to the full interview on iTunes, Soundcloud or on our website. Make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Rural Vs Urban Discontents Deconstructed

When I was a kid I read the story of “Town Mouse and Country Mouse”, in which cousins visit each other and much is made of their dining together, contrasting the fare on offer. Having initially been charmed by the distinctive features of country life and city life, but then realising the contrasting style of dining between simple and natural versus elaborate and fussy, they ultimately decide that they prefer their milieu. The country mouse feels unsafe in the big city, the town mouse realises he would miss the sophisticated food and entertainment of the big city. Having moved from the country to the city, I have often thought of this story, but the conversations I have with my friends and family at either end of the freeway express nothing like the contentment of the mice at the end of it. Thanks to work by the economist Philip Auerswald, I’m starting to understand why this might be the case.

Years after reading the story I learnt that it was one of Aesop’s fables, later quoted by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, popularised in Mediaeval times, and adapted by Beatrix Potter, which may have been the version I read.  The fable in my memory is fundamentally warm-hearted. Each mouse returns to his home, content, realising that ‘tastes differ’.

But in the countryside what we see the phenomenon of populism. An anti-elite expression of dissatisfaction with local socioeconomic outcomes, and a degree of resentment of the apparent concentration of wealth in the cities. For the very same elites, ‘populism’ is used as a term of disparagement, and all manner of moral deficiencies are trotted out. The IPA has challenged that later narrative with articles like In Defence of Populism and Populism is not a Dirty Word.

But in the city, where I live, the people I hang out with (and me and my family for that matter) don’t feel like elites living a life of opulence. They are struggling with the cost of living, the human cost of rapid population growth and consequent congestion, and (unless they’re older and debt free), either on the mortgage treadmill associated with exploding property prices or unable to get into the housing market at all. Living cheek by jowl with people from all over the world, they are tolerant of people from other cultures because it is both necessary and basic good manners, but they are perhaps a little too ready to attribute prejudice to those in more settled and homogenous rural communities.

Change in the Intensity of Republican / Democrat Voting

So, to Philip Auerswald, of George Mason University in the US, whose thesis on populism predates the seismic election that put Trump in the White House. On the way to the office today I was listening to him being interviewed by Russ Roberts on the wonderful Econtalk podcast (nearly as good as the IPA’s!). Auerswald essentially says that what we call populism is a response to a global phenomenon based on the tremendous growth in population in the cities in contrast to economic dislocation and depopulation in rural areas. This is the common element he sees behind Brexit, Trump, Erdogan’s support in Turkey and even Putin (who probably would win a fair vote in Russia). This is not to say that ideologies are the same, but that the rural support for the anti-elitist programs is the same in each case.

We should rightly be suspicious of any theory which reduces complex phenomena to one cause, but I wanted to reflect upon it in this because of the intrinsic appeal of a theory that simultaneously explains both rural AND urban discontents. I can quote from it to my friends in both the country and the city. My take-outs from the podcast are:

  • Unemployment and depopulation in rural areas is actually a bad thing for the people who live there (who knew?). Acknowledgement of that fact by policy makers might be a good start.
  • Absent sub-Saharan Africa, all of the population growth going on in the world is taking place in cities of more than 1 million people.
  • The concentration of wealth in the cities is driven by the underlying economics of the knowledge economy, as it is organisational knowhow that drives competitiveness, and proximity allows for a learning curve in knowhow (the ‘water cooler effect’).
  • Population flooding into the cities is, naturally, driving up land prices.
  • This increase in land prices almost entirely accounts for the supposed shift in the share of wealth towards capital from labour identified by neo-Marxist economist Thomas Piketty (as shown by Matthew Rognlie, here), and therefore all Piketty’s causal explanations (and remedies) are wrong.

This is just a blog post so I won’t go too far in what this means for Australia other than to speculate:

  • Unlike the US, we do not have the safety valve of growing cities with lower land prices, like Houston. The cities we do have that are affordable, are not growing, and those that are growing, like Melbourne and Sydney, are not affordable. Markets and innovation can drive growth in places like Adelaide, and attract population, provided the self-destructive policies of the command economy are no longer pursued. And the bigger cities can reduce the cost of housing by targeting land release and planning restrictions
  • The rural/urban divide is masked in Victoria, where the major regional cities are within two hours travel of Melbourne and so there is a substantial economic spillover effect, and daily labour migration. The effect is the same in Sydney, but compared to Victoria a greater proportion of the State lies outside the capital city’s economic hinterland.
  • Due to the historic very high concentration of population in the capital cities in Australia, populism in its classic form is likely to remain a minority position at the national level, unless it can form a bridge to the discontented in the cities (this brings to mind this article which suggests urbanist/real estate/housing concerns explain the incursion into urban areas by LePen in France)
  • One Nation will do quite well in the Queensland election, outside of South-east Queensland, and the reasons for this will be systematically misunderstood by everyone in the SydMelberra triangle (except perhaps at the IPA!).

Finally, I would say that notwithstanding Auerswald’s finding of real economic and demographic phenomena behind the rural/urban divide, the specific values expressed in populism are not reducible to economics. If populism expresses a continuing adherence to the nation State and its symbols, historic ethical norms, and traditional notions of personal responsibility, then even urban elites must accord them the respect they deserve. After all, tastes differ.

Scott Hargreaves is Executive General Manager at the Institute of Public Affairs