Category Archives: Australia

“Buy Ethical” will only harm the world’s poorest

For the past four years, Baptist World Aid Australia have been releasing their annual Behind the Barcode report into the working conditions of the global fashion industry. In an attempt to combat the garment industries sweatshop phenomenon, the report grades companies on their efforts to provide a safe workplace, a living wage, and freedom from forced labour. These grades ultimately culminate into the Ethical Fashion Guide, a report designed to allow consumers to “buy clothes from the companies doing more to protect their workers.” But while the sentiment may be well intentioned, in reality, the Ethical Fashion Guide does little to empower those they seek to help.

While forced labour, or modern slavery, should be utterly condemned and prevented in every way possible, voluntary sweatshop labour is a different issue. To be perfectly clear, sweatshops absolutely involve lousy working conditions and terrible pay. However, purchasing garments that are ‘sweat-free’ does not magically improve the plight of the world’s poorest. As grim as they may be, sweatshops represent real progress to impoverished people who are rationally committed to improving their lives.

Continue reading at The Spectator Australia 

Cuba’s self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US embargo

At the end of January, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act aimed at removing restrictions on United States agricultural exports to Cuba. Following the steps of 16 other states, Virginia also launched its Engage Cuba State Council, an initiative of the Cuba Engagement Coalition that seeks to promote trade and travel with Cuba and eventually lift the embargo.

Supporters of these initiatives believe ending the embargo will alleviate Cuban poverty while helping state economies grow. The president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said the Agricultural Expansion Act would “increase US agricultural exports, create jobs across the country, and provide the Cuban people with high-quality American food.” While these efforts are an important step in improving American relations with the Caribbean country, Cuba also needs to reform its system of import taxation for trade liberalization to have its desired effect.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been controversial since it was implemented in the 1960s. Opponents of the embargo argue that restricting the population’s access to cheap foreign goods makes the country poorer and gives the government someone to blame for its widespread poverty. Proponents of the embargo believe that it is the one thing keeping the Communist Party of Cuba in check, providing justice for dissidents and keeping money out of the pockets of regime officials.

While they have valid arguments, advocates on both sides are missing an important factor: whether or not an external embargo exists, most goods will never reach the Cuban people because of a state-imposed internal embargo.

Continue reading at Washington Examiner.

Unleash Aboriginal business potential

The August 2016 decision of the Federal Court to award $3.3 million under the Native Title Act to traditional owners who were dispossessed of their land has once again made indigenous affairs a hot topic.

But land justice is a deeper concept than offering indigenous people piecemeal monetary compensation. We need a permanent solution that immediately improves outcomes for indigenous Australians across a variety of indicators such as life expectancy, employment, and incarceration rates. Aboriginal people have a life expectancy about 10 years less than non-indigenous Australians, are more likelyto be unemployed and are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned.

The current native title system tends to approach the problem by prescribing “traditional owners” who are often senior elders within a group of Aboriginals. Moreover, native title can only exist to the extent that there is no superior title to the land (for example, by mining companies or farmers). In practice, its scope is limited.

The effect of the present system has been to hamper the entrepreneurial talent of indigenous people living in remote communities. By now, we could have seen many Aboriginal millionaires who could have helped their communities in a far more effective manner than inefficient government programs ever could.

Instead, remote communities today are bastions of poverty.

Continue reading at Spectator Australia.

When It Comes To Spending Cuts, Start From The Top

The big spending promises made by the Liberal-National Coalition and the Labor Party during the recent Australian election campaign show once again that neither party is serious about reining in government spending.

Australia has a public debt of $400 billion. Cutting back on spending is essential if we want to avoid the need to increase taxes on future generations. However, the lack of political will has paralysed any serious effort to take charge of the situation.

Both major parties have wasted political capital going after recipients of Newstart unemployment allowance or grandmothers on aged care payments. For example, the Turnbull government supported a bill to crack down on jobseekers who unreasonably refuse offers of employment. This is not exactly a winning strategy since these welfare constituencies are firmly entrenched and – rightly or wrongly – have strong emotional appeal to voters.

Witness, for instance, the massive public support for Duncan Storrar, an Ausstudy payment recipient, who rightly complained on ABC’s Q & A television show that politicians aren’t raising the tax-free threshold on the lower end of the earnings scale. Storrar received $60,000 in donations after a crowdfunding campaign was launched to help him with living expenses.

The Aussie battler has always had a special place in Australian culture. As a result, it makes little sense to argue for spending cuts that target dole recipients or the disabled. An austerity program premised on making the lower and middle-class give up benefits will face huge resistance.

Instead, slashing politicians’ salaries is likely to have broad populist appeal. So, too, is attacking the privileges enjoyed by lobbyists and special interests. A campaign against wealthy elites who siphon millions of taxpayer dollars under the radar is likely to be more successful.

Both parties have spent lavishly on politicians and bureaucrats and have handed out millions in subsidies to favoured lobby groups. In effect, Labor and the Coalition have worked the system to their advantage at the expense of taxpayers. The Australian Parliament has authorised generous perks for politicians who are among the highest paid in the world. Federal legislators have received subsidies to buy personal investment properties and attend weddings.

Here’s an idea for a campaign: pay politicians no more than the average Australian full-time wage — about $75,000 per year. It is simply disingenuous to argue that politicians must be paid high salaries in order to attract the best and the brightest or that their workload is so intense that they deserve to be paid more. If the state of New Hampshire in America can get by with paying legislators $100 a year, why can’t we?

Another potential campaign: stop shelling out taxpayer dollars for useless things. To name a few examples, the Victorian company Palm Products received $360,000 of taxpayer money to develop a coffee travel cup. The old Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education spent $14,000 to buy a coffee table. Finally, the Australian Institute of Sport spent $500,000 on a new logo?

And why not scrap grants to companies that contribute directly or indirectly to climate change? Aren’t we supposed to be in the midst of a global warming crisis?

All these examples show that cutting spending doesn’t have to be hard. It just requires identifying the areas on which Australians agree. Is there any doubt that voters would respond more favourably to reducing public servant salaries and eliminating corporate welfare than they would to tightening payment eligibility for perceived needy recipients like Storrar?

Anyone concerned with government spending and its potential to lead Australia off a fiscal cliff should realise that cracking down on welfare payments means setting aside taxpayer funds to chase a never-ending stream of fraud. Ensuring compliance with rules isn’t cheap. It also sets dangerous precedents for privacy invasion; for example, when a private company such as eBay is asked to hand over customer data to Centrelink for cross-referencing. This is yet another reason why it makes more sense to go after the elites first.

In the short-term, it may  be better to stop wasting time and money chasing after dole recipients and let them keep their benefits. In the long-term, putting in place policies that create attractive jobs will encourage them to shift into the workforce without having to chase them with draconian bureaucracy that invades privacy.

To stimulate job growth, however, taxes must be lowered and unnecessary regulations abolished. Since these free-market policies aren’t easy to get widespread agreement on, why not start small? By picking fights with elites, and obvious rip-offs like a $14,000 coffee table, there is actually a chance of winning. After all, politicians, bureaucrats and politically connected lobby groups are vastly outnumbered by ordinary voters.

Sukrit Sabhlok is a Young Voices Advocate and Masters in Politics candidate at Monash University in Melbourne.

Internships Are Not Exploitation, They’re An Opportunity

The government’s new internship program, which, combined with skills training, replaces work for the dole, has been heavily criticised in recent days.

The hyperbolic detractors have gone as far to label the scheme exploitive “slave labour”, despite job seekers still receiving Newstart and an additional $200 a fortnight.

Internships are not coercion or exploitation. It is a voluntary, mutually beneficial activity where one party recognises that, due to inexperience, their labour is not yet particularly valuable. And the other party, considering the costs and benefits behind training a low-skilled employee, cannot yet afford to pay them a full wage.

Ideally, internships would not require government subsidy. Nevertheless, giving young people, especially those who are already unemployed, workplace experience is a good policy. This is intrinsically linked to Australia’s high minimum wage, at $17.29 per hour, compared to the effective full-time wage on Newstart, $6.93 per hour. The minimum wage is fantastic for those who are employed, however if someone’s labour produces less value, let’s say $16.50 per hour, and a business is required to pay them more, they will simply not get hired.

Read the full article at The Huffington Post.