We don’t have a youth problem on the Right. We have a language problem. No one understands what we’re talking about anymore.
If you’re 47 or under, you’re more likely to vote Labour than Conservative. I hate to break it to you Telegraph readers, but the generation born in the 70s and 80s are now comfortably middle-aged. We aren’t young anymore. It’s time to stop waiting for us abandon the folly of youth and come to our senses; we’re not going to.
The benefits of free-market capitalism are not self-evident.
It dawned on me recently, when I was preparing a speech making the case for free markets and conservatism to young people, that those of us on the Right don’t even understand each other anymore.
I asked two of my staff members what they thought of the increased enthusiasm for Corbyn. Separated by 30 years, I listened to these two Conservatives, argue about the problem with young people. It was illuminating.
My head of office vividly remembered going hungry every time there was a strike and her father lost his wages. The 3-day week, waiting months for a telephone line and how terrible British Rail was. The carnage after a Left-wing government was obvious. She had seen socialism fail, again and again. “Look at what’s happening in Venezuela!”. I watched my 23 year old researcher’s eyes deaden as she said that.
“Yeah, what about Venezuela?” he asked. “I don’t care about Venezuela. I care about what’s happening here. Yes, you waited 6 months for a telephone line, but my family’s been waiting years for a mobile phone signal in my house, the trains are still late but more expensive and I still live at home because a cheap flat is ten times my salary”.
The generational and political divides have never been wider, and some of this can be explained by how the Right uses language.
Pointing to Venezuela and thinking we’ve successfully won the argument defending capitalism against socialism doesn’t work. It was easier when people had lived through both.
My researcher was 3 years old when Tony Blair became prime minister. That’s the only left-wing government he’s ever known and it really wasn’t that scary. Arguing about the wonders of capitalism and the dangers of socialism seems a bit overblown in that context.
The benefits of free-market capitalism are not self-evident. In fact, it would be nice if we emphasised that free markets and capitalism are not the same thing.
You would have to be nearly 40 to have been an adult under John Major’s government, let alone Thatcher’s CREDIT: PAUL HACKETT/REUTERS
You would have to be nearly 40 to have been an adult under John Major’s government, let alone Thatcher’s Credit: Paul Hackett/Reuters
I’m a free marketer, but I cringe every time I hear the word “deregulation”.
When I ask anyone under 50 what they think “regulation” means, I get the same answers: “protection”, “safety nets”, and “rules”. I’ve heard business talk positively about deregulation, as if the meaning is obvious – getting rid of red tape, removing barriers to entry, that sort of thing.
Unfortunately, what the average person on the street hears is “getting rid of protections for me, so that crony capitalists can make as much profit as possible”.
“All taxation is theft!”. I remember the first time I heard this at an event for libertarians. As a healthy 25 year old with no obligations to anyone, I was inclined to be sympathetic. Less so now, as a 37 year old mother of two and one near-death experience in a maternity ward under my belt.
When people believe that more government is the solution to every problem, a small state isn’t an efficient one
As an MP, I have to be even more careful when talking about a small state and low taxes. Some of my constituents, think I’m talking about taking away their benefits, their safety nets, funding for their children’s schools and all the things that make their lives pleasant, bearable even.
How can I explain the benefits of low taxes to people who believe that the only reason some people are wealthy is because they’re not paying their fair share?
In a world where people genuinely believe the fixed pie fallacy – that a penny more for you means a penny less for someone else, that wealth is not created but distributed – policies to reward wealth creators make no sense. In fact, it’s not tax that’s theft, but wealth.
When people believe that more government is the solution to every problem, a small state isn’t an efficient one. It’s a lazy one.
Please don’t think this is yet another article about what the Conservative Party needs to do to win voters. The problem is much deeper than that, and the centre-Right is a movement much bigger than any political party.
It isn’t just young people who dig Jeremy Corbyn
It isn’t just young people who dig Jeremy Corbyn
I wish the private sector worked as hard at explaining its importance as much as the public sector.
Every party conference season, I’m struck by how much is spent on lobbying by the public affairs industry. All of it spent talking to politicians rather than to the public. If only, some of those big corporates spent a fraction of this talking to their millions of customers about the social good they do, instead of trying to get meetings with MPs to do that job for them.
Imagine if multi-nationals spent more time explaining that the majority of their shareholders are pension funds, and that many of the people criticising them have invested their futures in and are indirectly owners of the very companies they want closed down? Reducing taxes makes a lot more sense if you know it means more money going into your pension.
I believe the Right has the answers, but we are not properly explaining why the other lot have got it wrong.
We need to be seen to be offering something, not just attacking the idea of change
The key to future electoral success lies in change. Not just change in my party and its approach to campaigning, but change in the country and how the story is told.
We know that there are now more doctors, more houses and more outstanding schools than ever before but if that isn’t communicated effectively, especially to younger people, the dangers of facing a generation in the political wilderness are real.
When talking about Venezuela, Jeremy Corbyn’s questionable track record, free markets and so on we assume that people know what we mean without any explanation or comment on how we could do it better. These assumptions switch people off and dilute the message. Ditch them, I say.
We need to be seen to be offering something, not just attacking the idea of change. Simple language, simple ideas and a positive vision for the future – this holy trinity holds the key to unlocking the next generation.
Kemi Badenoch is the Conservative MP for Saffron Walden
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is apparently proposing radical measures to change public perception of the Government, notably among the young. Ahead of his Budget next month, he is courting ideas. Here, Rob Wilson, former Minister for Young People, offers some tips:
I am pleased that you are continuing the tradition of your predecessor and asking backbenchers for Budget ideas. As the first Budget in a new administration I know this one is particularly important; it will set the scene for economic success or failure over the period of this Government.
I am delighted that you have specifically asked MPs for their ideas about young people. The 2017 General Election result has finally created a healthy interest in this section of the electorate and a desire to find attractive and deliverable Conservative policies.
This is not surprising as it was very clear in the way they voted that young professionals and students have a very negative view of the Conservative Party.
Tax raids on the pensions and homes of older people would be an extremely bad idea that could finish this Government
My advice, Philip, is that you need some radical ideas for under 35s that reconnect to core Conservative philosophy.
These ideas need to deliver greater enterprise, a stronger more dynamic economy, home ownership and decent housing, while at the same time reducing the burden of debt on the young.
In essence Conservatives need to offer a new and fair deal for young people.
Unfortunately the ideas announced at conference failed to do so. I would also warn you that tax raids on the pensions and homes of older people would be an extremely bad idea that could finish this Government.
As a former Minister for Young People, Philip, I can tell you the first thing to understand about young people is that they are rarely party political and care about the same things as the rest of the UK electorate, although perhaps in a more idealistic way.
Please don’t make the mistake that Conservatives policies should simply focus on higher education. Young people want to understand Conservative values and have a positive uplifting view of why they should vote for the Party.
Decades ago, by winning the arguments over business, enterprise and entrepreneurship, Margaret Thatcher enthused a generation of young professionals and this is where you, Chancellor, in your budget can make the biggest difference.
Let’s begin with entrepreneurship. So many young people have great ideas and want to start their own business, but lack of capital and other very basic resources stop them ever getting off the ground. Your response should be, as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, that every major town and city should have an Enterprise Centre. It should offer free kitted out offices and meeting spaces: desks, computers, internet access, telephones. Business support and advice specialists should be based in the same building giving under 30s two years free support to get their idea off the ground. Fund it through existing LEP budgets or get big companies to sponsor it – it’s an attractive proposition and the economic dynamism unleashed would mean it pays for itself many times over.
Chancellor, you also need to look at the tax regime for young people to help stimulate hard work and dynamism. Due to high costs of housing, higher education and depressed wages, many young people struggle and, as you rightly identify, are burdened with debt. Young people should be better off voting Conservative, so introduce a zero tax rate and National Insurance on under-21s and a 10 pence band for under 25s. This encourages work by making it pay, but should also mean lower debts. It should over time generate higher tax income, but initially it could be funded by fiscal drag at the upper tax thresholds – and, if necessary, you could reduce the £several billion committed to raising the tuition fee repayment threshold to £25K.
Housing is a significant issue for young people and I have offered advice before, Philip. I strongly recommend the ambition of home ownership is brought back to the mass of young people through a Government-backed building programme targeted at under-35s. The Government should offer 40,000 new homes to buy by 2020/21 at the cost of build and then keep recycling the money. The Conservatives must create a new generation of young home owners to demonstrate the Party cares about and will deliver hope for those people often living in sub-standard accommodation.
On Higher Education, by and large the reforms made since 2010 are fair. You should keep interest payments on student debt as low as possible, but the bigger issue is that many students are being overcharged for courses. I would go further and say that in my view, paying £9,000 per year for most University courses is simply a massive cartel rip-off. The Government should not let Universities get away with it. Chancellor, you must get a grip on this unfairness and the reduction to £7500 announced at conference is simply not enough. I would advise that the previous £6,000 cap on annual fees is re-imposed, with up to 20 per cent of courses getting a exemption to £9,000 for courses with special circumstances, such as higher cost of delivery. But Universities would need to demonstrate this for each course to the Office for Students.
Philip, this Budget is your great opportunity to reassert core Conservative values of entrepreneurship, enterprise, fairness and decency to the next generation. If we give young people the chance to be dynamic, to create business and wealth they will take it. It’s time to get back to the values that have served the Conservative Party well.
The insightful blogger who goes by the moniker Spotted Toad has created a series of charts explaining the 2016 Electoral College results as a result of average home price in each state.
The pattern is much the same as it has been in every election since 2000: In states where younger white people can better afford to buy a home, they are more likely to be married, have more children, and vote more Republican. In states where whites are less able to afford a home, they marry later, have fewer children, and vote more Democratic.
For example, the state with the most expensive homes on average is Hawaii, at a self-estimated mean during 2010–14 of $505,400 (according to Census Bureau data). Not coincidentally, Donald Trump did worse in Hawaii than in any other state, garnering only 30.0 percent of the vote.
In contrast, in the state with the cheapest housing—West Virginia, with its mean home value of just $100,200—Trump enjoyed his biggest majority: 68.5 percent.
These aren’t fluke outliers, either.
Trump won the 22 states with the cheapest homes, and 26 of the 27 least costly states. Conversely, Hillary Clinton carried 15 of the 16 states with the most expensive housing. (The most expensive red state was No. 9 Alaska and the least expensive blue state was No. 28 New Mexico.)
Here is Spotted Toad’s graph showing the fifty states, with Trump’s share of the vote on the vertical axis and home values on the horizontal axis. The correlation coefficient for the relationship between Trump’s share of the vote and home values in each state was –0.76, a very strong negative correlation.
The next most expensive homes after Hawaii are in California at a mean of $371,000, where Trump won only 31.6 percent.
California had voted Republican in nine of ten presidential elections from 1952 through 1988, but has now gone Democrat in the past seven elections, beginning with 1992.
“The country will increasingly tend to divide itself up into family-oriented red states with low housing costs and amenity-oriented blue states with high housing costs.”
This reversal is usually blamed by the media on Republican governor Pete Wilson coming from behind in his 1994 reelection bid by endorsing the popular immigration restrictionist Proposition 187. And this explanation that the California GOP was done in by the subsequent anti-187 anger of the Latino electoral tsunami is widely assumed to be true by GOP “strategists” too dumb to notice that 1994 followed, rather than preceded, the turning-point election of 1992 when George H.W. Bush lost California to Bill Clinton by a historic 13.4 percentage points.
In reality, the bigger problem dooming the California GOP was that it stopped routinely carrying white voters by comfortable margins. And this shift was likely related to the massive surge in California home prices. The state’s homes were no more expensive than the national average until 1975, but have since become increasingly expensive as California homeowners have figured out how to manipulate environmental regulations to slow the construction of new homes and roads.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, I had a front-row seat since the watershed year of 1969 to watch the celebrities of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Malibu learn how to exploit environmentalism to drive up their property values and keep out deplorables from the Valley, such as me. (Simultaneously, the Westsiders denounced Americans who didn’t want to let in more illegal aliens as vicious racist xenophobes raising the wages they’d have to pay their servants.)
Why have richer U.S. states become more Democratic and poorer states more Republican? I find that this phenomenon actually reflects cost of living, driven by residential building restrictions…. By making housing supply less responsive to price, land-use regulation increases house prices in locations that are highly desirable for either amenities or production.
For example, Malibu’s most famous amenity is 21 miles of beaches. But an even better amenity than a public beach is a de facto private beach, so Malibuites such as Rob Reiner have managed to keep its population below 13,000 by severely restricting housing development.
Malibu voters don’t even want you paying to vacation on their turf. By my count, Malibu has only 184 hotel or motel rooms. “Stay out of Malibu, Lebowski!” would make a truthful civic slogan.
Meanwhile, billionaire producer David Geffen waged a 24-year-long legal battle to ignore the state law mandating he provide public access to the beach in front of his house (which he recently sold for $85 million).
One reason that Malibu beach houses like Geffen’s are so expensive is that Southern California housing development can only grow eastward into the hot desert. While an inland Republican metropolis like Dallas can expand 360 degrees, a Democratic waterfront redoubt like Los Angeles can spread only 180 degrees. Blue-state metropolises like Boston and Chicago generally find their suburban expansion hemmed in by oceans or Great Lakes, so their supply of land is much more limited than inland red-state cities like Phoenix and Atlanta.
But, of course, the bigger reason that merely 0.1 percent of the population of Southern California can afford to live in Malibu is because the One-Tenth of One Percent likes it that way. While they may advocate open borders for their country, they understand the advantages of extreme exclusivity for their quiet beach community.
Professor Sorens continues:
High house prices are the most important component of general cost of living. High cost of living deters in-migration of lower-income households, especially those that do not highly value amenities. Holding median household income constant, higher-cost locations will tend over time to attract and keep households that highly value amenities. It is hypothesized that these households will be more Democratic. Accordingly, raising residential building requirements in high-amenity areas should cause those areas to move gradually to the left.
To put this another way, people who value being able to afford the space needed to raise their families more highly than they value amenities will be less willing to pay inflated housing costs. So they will tend to move out of places like California.
And those whose preferences are on the knife-edge between children or amenities will tend to go with whatever their locale makes more available.
For instance, those couples who stay in California will more likely need both man and woman to work full-time to afford the rent, which makes it harder to raise children. And if you are not having children, is it all that important to marry? And if you aren’t married, isn’t the GOP’s family-values rhetoric kind of offensive?
Republican candidates do much better with married voters than single voters. In most presidential elections, the marriage gap is bigger than the famed gender gap. A higher likelihood of being married in states with affordable housing appears to be the prime driver by which low home prices get translated into Republican votes.
This means that the country will increasingly tend to divide itself up into family-oriented red states with low housing costs and amenity-oriented blue states with high housing costs. Not surprisingly, the GOP, as the family-values party, does better in states more appealing to family-focused voters.
What about the country as a whole? If the Republican Party wants to thrive in the long run, it needs to adjust supply and demand to make housing more affordable in order to grow more of the kind of married-with-kids white people who vote Republican. How? The most obvious way is by making it easier to build housing and harder to immigrate.
Want to know the real difference between the elites and the working class? And no, it’s not the money, although the huge gap in income between the two groups has many serious flow-on effects, both financial and cultural.
The differences are far more complex than cash, as US academic and author Joan Williams details in a new book called White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.
Here’s one. “I was just living in The Netherlands,” says Williams on the phone from San Francisco. “And I show up in a room of people like me and they say, ‘What do you do?’ It’s the first question, and I say, ‘I’m a law professor.’ Well, immediately I have social honour. I’m a person they want to know.
“I tell the story in my book of going to my husband’s high school reunion in a blue-collar neighbourhood and he asked one of the classmates, ‘What do you do?’ The guy was extremely insulted and told him, ‘I sell toilets!’
“If you sell toilets you don’t want to be judged on your job. You want to stick around a group of people who know you well, who know that you’re more than your job and you’re a person to be reckoned with. And so while elites tend to pride themselves on merit, non-elites tend to pride themselves on morality. Each group choses a metric. We all chose baskets we can sell, that’s just human, but it means that elites are really different from non-elites.”
For Williams, a distinguished professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law who has written extensively on gender, race and class over decades, these class differences deserve to be at the heart of any analysis of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election.
“Class is not the only thing that was going on,” she says. “Gender dynamics were very important and if Hillary Clinton had been a man, she would have won. But class was very important.”
Indeed, it was Clinton’s failure to speak to the white working class that saw Williams hitting her keyboard on election night. As the “most boring conventional progressive in the world” she has always voted Democrat and worked to get out the vote for Clinton. Desperate to explain what went wrong, she published an essay in the Harvard Business Review that quickly became the journal’s most-read article online. It has been viewed by 3.5 million people. About 800 people posted comments, and pretty soon Williams had a book contract.
Her attack is “quite transgressive of the accepted wisdom in my crowd — that white working-class people are ignorant because they voted against their self-interest, that they are racist and sexist. I’m making a very different argument.
“What the white working class sees is the hollowing out of the middle class in the United States … They think neither Democrats nor Republicans have delivered for them, and their perception is absolutely correct.
“This talk they are voting against their own interests is a contemporary example of the stereotype, the idea they are dimwitted; it’s highly inappropriate.”
Americans have a “convenient deafness” about class and prefer to see everyone as middle class. Williams splits class three ways — the top 20 per cent are the elites, the middle 53 per cent with a median income of $US75,144 in 2015 are the working class, and the remaining are poor. She is unapologetic about focusing on whites rather than people of colour, arguing that their often different cultural attitudes and needs have been ignored for too long.
Lack of awareness around class is a fairly new phenomenon, according to Williams.
“In the 1940s, 50s and 60s we were not so clueless about class,” she says.
“At least liberal intellectuals were very clued in to class, and we had a language for talking about class, it was called ‘don’t be snobbish’. But starting in the 70s, the attention shifted away from class to race and gender and LGBTQ, and we tended to forget about class. And when elites forget to run things through their heads, you have assumptions …”
She cites the emergence since the 70s of television sitcoms, such as All in the Family, where the patriarch (in this case, Archie Bunker) is depicted as overweight and sexist. This demonising is “a consequence of forgetting”, which led ultimately to Trump’s victory.
The forgetting means many people in service jobs — janitors, receptionists, taxi drivers — are invisible to elites, despite the constant cross-class interactions of every day. It’s time, says Williams, for the PMEs — the professionals, managers and executives — to “talk to people without the assumption that because they have a modest white or blue-collar job, they’re dimwitted.”
In her book, a readable volume of just 180 pages (50 of which are indexes and references), she tackles issues from working-class resentment of the poor and professionals, and apparently contradictory support of the rich, to how elites gain self-worth from merit while the working class gains self-worth from morality.
Both groups value hard work but they see it differently: “To working-class members of all races, valuing hard work means having the rigid self-discipline to do a menial job you hate for 40 years, and rein yourself in so that you don’t ‘have an attitude’ (ie, so that you can submit to authority). Hard work for elites is associated with self-actualisation: ‘disruption’ means founding a successful start-up. Disruption in working-class jobs just gets you fired.”
Williams explains how food and religion and even the value placed on talk divide the classes. She identifies stark differences in parenting styles. Elites focus on “concerted cultivation” of children with intense schedules; non-elites are likelier to follow “the ideology of natural growth”. The first is a “rehearsal for a life of work devotion: the time pressure, the intense competition, the exhaustion with it all, and the ethic of putting work before family”.
For the white working class, parenting tends to focus on “clear boundaries” between children and parents, with prompt obedience expected, because this is crucial training for the working class.
Poor and working-class people tend to be more rooted in their communities than the elites — something elites forget when they urge people to move where the work is. PMEs tend to have national or global social networks and a “very broad range of acquaintances to help us out both professionally and personally”, says Williams. “The working class tend to have smaller networks, very local … They have to depend on family and close friends for a lot of things like good childcare or care for grandma. And so one of the things that elites don’t often understand is that they (the white working class) don’t want to move because not only do they have to find a job but they have to find a job that’s so much better than what they have now because they have to pay for childcare.”
Elites who dismiss working-class whites as racist or sexist are truly clueless.
“Racial bias (on the part of elite whites) even against very elite African-Americans is very strong” — she argues Sasha and Malia Obama will be disadvantaged by race despite being advantaged by class — “which is one of the reasons I find it so ironic that some (of those elites) say they couldn’t possibly listen to the white working class because they’re racist. My reaction is, compared to whom?”
Equally, white-collar professionals talk the talk on gender equality but often don’t walk the walk. Blue-collar men may not talk the talk and may have more traditional views on family, but they’re also likelier than professional men to participate in childcare, says Williams.
And because of different family dynamics, gender does not necessarily bind women — some of whom have very limited opportunities and different obligations for their families — across social class. Says Williams: “If working-class white women had just split 50-50 for Hillary Clinton, she would’ve won. High school educated women voted for Trump by a 28 per cent margin. The message for feminists here is that the ideal of equal parenting and both parents in the labour force often looks really different to the elites than it does to the working class and the poor.
“People who are non-elite often look back to the breadwinner-homemaker family with a great deal of nostalgia because of what’s replaced it.
“What’s replaced it, is that the men have often lost their blue-collar jobs and the family is trying to survive on the wife’s ‘pink-collar job’ (such as cleaning or supermarket jobs) and perhaps intermittent work by the husband or else a pink-collar and a blue-collar job or, god forbid, two pink-collar jobs, which means the family has quite a low income.
“They can’t pay for childcare so they’re typically tag-teaming, where mom works one shift and dad works another shift. The families are completely exhausted and the parents rarely see each other. Tag-team families have three to six times the divorce rate of other families.” What’s the solution? Elites should stop arguing that globalisation and automation mean that all jobs are going to be knowledge jobs.
“That is so untrue,” says Williams. “I mean, 75 per cent of the US economy consists of physical jobs and the only question is: are we as elite going to sit by and see the middle class disappear? That’s what we’ve done. We sat by and watched it disappear as we smugly talk about knowledge jobs and how globalisation and automation mean we can’t do anything about it. Excuse me.
We can do something about it. It’s called industrial policy.Germany has done it. We could be keeping high-quality, middle-skilled jobs if we actually cared, which we evidently don’t, and so I think that’s why in some ways we get what we deserve. “
What’s next for the Democrats? “It’s important to mobilise the base and make sure that young people vote next time,” says Williams. “I think it’s important to continue to reach out to communities of colour and Latinos, but we are not going to be able to govern effectively without the white working class.
“There’s a lot of happy talk about how the Democrats can wipe off the white working class and depend on people of colour and young people and college-educated voters. You may be able to squeak by the electoral college but, even if you do, you can’t govern. Because you won’t have the House (of Representatives).”
Impeaching Trump would be a mixed blessing: “If we got Trump out we would be less likely to have a war with North Korea, that’s a good thing, and then we would have a competent Republican administration, and then we would have a clean sweep. So I think they’re equally chilling options.”
She sees a bigger challenge for Americans. “When you leave the two-thirds of Americans without college degrees out of your vision of the good life, they notice. And when elites commit to equality for many different groups but arrogantly dismiss ‘the dark rigidity of fundamentalist rural America’ this is a recipe for extreme alienation among working-class whites … We need to begin the process of healing the rift between white elites and white workers so that class conflict no longer dominates and distorts our politics … These people feel forgotten for a very simple reason. We forgot them.”
Bernie Sanders on the election trail. Until we make it possible to buy a house, young and youngish people in Britain, the US and Australia are going to vote for free stuff.
Helen Dale, The Australian June 17, 2017
This story, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, begins simply, with a house. The house is something few young or youngish Britons or Americans can afford, despite doing everything their wealthier elders told them to: studying hard, going to university, working hard, not doing drugs, delaying parenthood.
Their parents, by contrast, have houses. From time to time those houseless young and youngish people are forced to call on their parents to stabilise their own financial position. They do so because real incomes for British residents 60 and older grew 11 per cent between 2007 and 2014, while those 30 and younger suffered a 7 per cent loss. In the US, the share of young Americans earning more than their parents did by age 30 has plunged from nine in 10 for those born in the 1940s to barely half for those born in the 80s.
Deprived of a place in a housing market almost as bonkers as Sydney’s, the young have started voting for free stuff — particularly promises of free university tuition — by way of recompense.
Last week, homeowners voted Conservative by 53 to 32. Renters voted Labour by 51 to 31. British politics, if not in a nutshell, at least in a house — or the lack of one.
They have voted this way in two countries, in support of two candidates: Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned for free tertiary education. If you break down last year’s US Democratic primary and this year’s British general election by income, occupation and constituency, you discover it was often young professionals who should be in their first home who supported both men.
Ah, I hear you saying, young people quite like charming older chaps who promise them free stuff. Sanders and Corbyn are avuncular, left, more principled and honest than the average politician.
Leaving aside the fact Sanders isn’t really a socialist — despite protestations to the contrary, there is simply too much America and too many Americans for a socialist to do anything other than be crushed in a presidential election, taking the Democrats down with him — Corbyn at least must now be counted a potential future prime minister.
If we have another election here in Britain, momentum will be with Labour.
These young and youngish are not the truly poor. At least, not yet. They have jobs. They have hope. Nonetheless, arguments that free university tuition is really just a cash grab by the middle class — a means by which the poor and uneducated pay for the exam-passing classes to go to university — cut no ice. They feel they have not been compensated for their efforts, for their long period of student poverty, for their ability to delay gratification. They point out — as credentialism has grown and secure full-time work shrunk — that the economists’ argument that higher education fees reflect higher private returns to graduates is now much less persuasive.
Worse, Tony Blair’s desire to see 50 per cent of the 18-30 cohort attend university pretended anyone, given enough education, could become “above average”.
However, all the below average get is student debt, several unwaged years out of the labour force and then (maybe) a “bullshit job”. Having glimpsed a leisured life of the mind they can never attain, they find there’s no house to be had either.
And there are a lot of them: not just the fabled 18 to 24-year-olds who turned out in their droves last week and flipped Britain’s university towns from blue to red. In electoral terms, age is a new dividing line in Anglophone politics.
For every 10 years older a voter gets, the chance of voting Tory increases by about nine points. The tipping point — the age at which a voter is likelier to vote Conservative than Labour — is now 47.
Never mind “don’t trust anyone over 30”. The new creed is “don’t trust anyone over 47”.
These people do not feel like winners in the game of life. Corbyn and Sanders, however, argued that they could be winners and, more to the point, that their interests should be coeval with those of their moneyed elders. The politically engaged among those under-47s know how to campaign, too, and how to negate the effect of Britain’s famous Tory tabloids and the US centre-left “legacy press”.
Along with Donald Trump’s internet shock troops, the alt-right, Sanders’s Bernie Bros and Corbyn’s Momentum fight their political battles on social media.
Australians have become used to advisers telling politicians to ignore Twitter and Snapchat. If there is to be a social media focus, it’s on Facebook. The Tories did this, and I’ve run similar campaigns myself. Yet Twitter and Snapchat predicted the surge in Labour support — and Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity with the Democratic base in crucial states — more accurately than any pollster. Corbyn on Snapchat — where he presents as a kindly, train-obsessed, tea-loving eccentric — enjoyed tremendous online traction.
The trade-off is simple, like the house where I began. Until we make it possible to buy one, young and youngish people in Britain, the US and Australia are going to vote for free stuff.
Free stuff is an eternal in politics. People such as Sanders and Corbyn mobilise their base by minting victim chips and draw others in by promising cash. I have long disdained “democracy and elections as potlatch” on the basis that potlatch is what countries have instead of an economy.
But the young and youngish really have been walled out, and there are enough of them to reconfigure our politics.
Helen Dale won the Miles Franklin Award in 1995 for The Hand that Signed the Paper, studied law at Oxford, and was previously senior adviser to senator David Leyonhjelm. Her second novel, Kingdom of the Wicked, will be published by Ligature in October.
The drubbing that the Mark McGowan-led Labor Party gave the Barnett government in Western Australia’s recent election will continue the secular slide in public policy.
Pro-lifers Margaret Quirk, left, and Kate Doust
missed out on ministries.
Two ALP pro-lifers, Margaret Quirk and Kate Doust, did not make the cut when it came to appointments in the 17-strong ministry, with 11 of those ministers coming from a trade union background. And Mr McGowan has pledged S1.4 million over the next four years to push the ill-named Safe Schools program into WA secondary schools.
This program, which can only be described as putrid, teaches among other things:
That the terms boys and girls should not be used and that being heterosexual is not the norm.
That they have two virginities, the first time with a boy and the first time with a girl (seemingly a contradiction given that terms like boys and girls are not deemed to be normative).
That homosexuality and transgenderism should be celebrated while traditional cultural, moral and religious beliefs are unacceptable.
A trivialisation of early sexual activity and the risk of STIs.
In short, it is not an anti-bullying program at all but rather a gender and sexual diversity plan and just another example of the Marxist-Gramsci adherents’ long march through educational institutions.
The ALP Left is firmly in control, holding three of the four top parliamentary positions in the Parliament, the Premier himself being the odd man out.
The Deputy Government Leader in the Legislative Council, Stephen Dawson (Environment and Disabilities), is the first homosexual minister in WA.
Ben Wyatt (unaligned) is the first Aborigine to occupy the Treasurer’s position in any Australian parliament. With total public debt heading past $40 billion, the new Treasurer will be sorely tested within a party not noted for restraint. There was little probing of him, and the ALP, during the election campaign by a media that ran dead on the issue.
The far left political action group, Emily’s List, now has 15 (of 23), female ALP parliamentarians as members.
Deputy Premier and Health Minister Roger Cook has already signaled that assisted suicide will be legislated on after a “conscience vote” in the Parliament. As Labor once supported a “conscience vote” on marriage, before it became binding on all ALP parliamentarians to accept the destruction of traditional marriage, one wonders how much tolerance will be shown towards dissenters on the death issue.
It now seems to be conventional wisdom that after two terms a government becomes stale and needs to be changed. While the previous three WA administrations – of Court, Gallop/Carpenter, and Barnett – have seemingly given proof of that dictum, it has not always been so and at present, in South Australia, Labor has been at the helm for 14 years.
There was a lot of pre-poll huffing and puffing over the Liberals’ preference deal with One Nation. Just who were the Liberals supposed to preference: the Greens?
The Liberals refusal in 2001 to deal with One Nation cost Richard Court his government. As it turned out, there was a 40 per cent drift in One Nation preferences to the ALP, thus proving voters can make their own decisions, particularly in parties like One Nation, which are not tied to left-wing orthodoxy.
The Labor and the Greens preference swap was apparently not worthy of mention. As Richard Nixon once said, if you are going to give a candidate (or party) the shaft, at least put one lone reporter on the job to give a modicum of fairness in the electoral battle.
There was no mention of the Barnett government’s achievement, building two desalination plants that have picked up the slack of providing WA with water as dams provide as only 7 per cent of the driest state’s needs.
Malcolm Turnbull also left Barnett in the lurch. Mr Turnbull completely reneged on his promise to fix WA’s GST predicament: WA receives only 34¢ back in every dollar raised in the state.
Mr Turnbull may find that WA voters have turned against him over this issue. If so WA will no longer be the “jewel in the crown” for the Liberals, who currently hold 11 of the 16 WA House of Representative seats at the federal level. The Coalition has a bare majority in the House of Representatives (76-74).
The McGowan Government, despite the big victory in the Legislative Assembly (41-18), will not control the Legislative Council. Labor and Greens (4) have 18 seats in the upper house and the other 18 seats are shared between Liberals, Nationals and three smaller parties.
Mr McGowan had hoped to tempt a Liberal to be council president, which would have given him a floor majority as the president only has a casting vote if there is a deadlock on the floor.
Liberal veteran Simon O’Brien MLC (most decently) refused that carrot.
Muslims protesting against an American movie on their way to the US consulate in Sydney in 2012. James Brickwood
18C debate highlights the ethnic threat to free speech
by Senator David Leyonhjelm 1 April 2017 Australian Financial ReviewWhen Labor, the Greens and certain Liberals in western Sydney seats seek to explain their reasons for opposing changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, they mostly refer to the concerns of ethnic, religious and racial minority groups.
Representatives of Armenian, Hellenic, Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese groups have joined Jewish, Lebanese Muslim and Arab groups to oppose any changes apart from procedural, arguing that amending section 18C will unleash a torrent of “hate speech”.
While we occasionally hear half-hearted claims that minorities require special protection from hurt feelings, the main driver of opposition is the political clout of these groups. A dozen or so federal seats are held on margins smaller than the populations of these groups. And in the recent WA state election, certain Muslim leaders openly endorsed the Greens.
Instead of embracing the values of their adopted country, these ethnic, religious and immigrant representatives want Australia to become more like the countries they left behind.
Australia has a deeply rooted tradition of freedom in which free speech is central. Our legal and cultural origins lie in Britain, where the primacy of individuals over collectivism first took root. The same values led the US to make free speech the first amendment in its Bill of Rights.
Australia has been a leading supporter of free speech internationally. It was a founding member of the United Nations under the leadership of former Labor minister Dr Herbert Vere Evatt, who became president of the UN General Assembly and was instrumental in drafting and having adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Equality and freedom
Freedom of association, worship and movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, equality before the law and free speech are generally regarded as the bedrock of a free society. On top of these, Australia has embraced equality and respect, irrespective of gender or personal attributes, and rejected claims of inherited status and class.
These values are not necessarily shared by those who come to Australia. Certain Armenians accuse Turkey of genocide but want to suppress its response; Greeks can have issues with Turks and Macedonians; Indians can be racist when it comes to West Indian cricketers but are sensitive to the same speech themselves; those from Arabic and Lebanese Muslim cultures can hold abhorrent views about women and gays and resolve matters of feelings and honour through violence; and many Jews want to suppress Holocaust denialism.
After World War II, immigrants who arrived in Australia either abandoned their historic grievances or chose not to share them with others. Millions of post-war immigrants from dozens of countries integrated, assimilated, and did their best to become true-blue Aussies. For their part, Australians welcomed these immigrants as “New Australians” and embraced their food, music and dance.
A threat to liberal values
The fact that leaders of immigrant, ethnic and religious groups are now flexing their political muscle in pursuit of different values is a major concern. Not only does it threaten traditional liberal values, it fuels opposition to immigration among the general community and gives credence to demands to block certain types of immigrants.
Australia cannot afford this; its economic growth depends on a substantial flow of skilled immigrants. (Family reunion immigrants are less beneficial). It would cost us dearly if we were to close our borders to the talents and expertise that immigration delivers.
Other countries have addressed this problem by raising the bar on citizenship. Switzerland, for example, has a relatively relaxed attitude to immigrants provided they find a job. However, becoming a Swiss citizen and eligible to vote in elections requires 10 years of residence, no criminal record, a solid employment history and endorsement by the applicant’s Canton (equivalent to state/local government). In practical terms, unless they have embraced “Swiss values”, they do not become citizens.
Opposition to changes to 18C is a wake-up call. Australia’s traditional liberal values are under siege like never before. With one side of politics already in full retreat, it is vital the other side steps up to protect those values before it is too late.
David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats
A special unit in this prison houses Australia’s most dangerous extremists. We gain rare access and discover a ticking time-bomb
The Muslim yard at Goulburn SuperMax.
THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN MAGAZINE, APRIL 1-2, 2017
STORY: PAUL MALEY | PHOTOGRAPHY: GUY BAILEY
Five times a day, Goulburn’s SuperMax goes quiet. The din of jail life stops as the 30-odd Muslim inmates angle their bottle-green prayer mats towards Mecca. Standing alone in their narrow cells, they raise their arms in supplication and, with eyes closed, recite the holy incantations of the Surah Al-Fatiha, the first verse of the Holy Koran and the beginning of the Muslims’ Divine Communion with God. Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem. Alhamdu lillaahi Rabbil ’aalameen…
A few hundred metres away, in the general prison, dozens more inmates are doing the same thing. Under a soggy grey sky, they kneel in the exercise yard and pray as guards carrying high-powered assault rifles patrol the 5.5m-high walls around them. There’s no trouble today; there rarely is during prayers.
Out in the main prison population, religion is a source of comfort or just another diversion from the drudgery of jail life. Not so in the SuperMax. Here, religion remains an obsession. It is the reason most of the inmates were locked up and, as the years tick over on their time here, it’s what’s kept them going.
Anyone who thinks Australia does not have a problem with prison radicalisation should visit SuperMax during prayer time. They are all here. The names and faces behind a thousand headlines heralding mayhem and death. And with a handful of exceptions, the entire population of the SuperMax observes this daily ritual. They all believe the same thing: “There is no God but Allah and this is where He wants me.” For now.
When Islamic State broke through the Syrian border in June 2014, annexing northern Iraq and declaring a caliphate, Australia’s prisons filled with a new generation of Muslim extremists ensnared by the ISIS ideology of do-it-yourself violence. In Australia, 62 people were charged after 27 separate counter-terrorism operations in little more than two years. A problem that once lurked in mosques, chat rooms and obscure prayer halls was transferred, en masse, into the prison system. That was the good news. The bad news is they are more dangerous than they have ever been, their radical beliefs entrenched in the same system that locked them up in the first place.
And soon, some of them will be up for release. A system that is supposed to remove threats from the community is, in fact, incubating them for future generations.
The first thing you notice about Goulburn’s High Risk Management Correctional Centre, to give the SuperMax its official name, is that it looks nothing like a prison. Built in 2001 in the NSW city 90km north-east of Canberra as a place to house the state’s most violent offenders, it is concealed behind the soaring walls and grim Victorian façade of Goulburn’s historic jail, a fortress within a fortress. The corridors are wide, the lights are bright and cherry-red doors with observation windows provide access to every cell. There is no mess hall, no shower block. No tattooed cons pumping iron in the yard. Common areas don’t exist in SuperMax. On some days it might be possible to walk the entire length of the prison without encountering a single inmate.
Glen Piazza, SuperMax’s manager of security, is our guide for this rare glimpse into Australia’s most secretive prison. Piazza is an affable 50-something who’s been working in Corrections for nearly 30 years, five in the pressure-cooker of SuperMax. He’s got a broad Australian accent and a black sense of humour. “Remember, if you get raped, it’s just jail sex,” he says, as we’re about to enter the prison. You get the feeling it’s not the first time he’s used this line.
Glenn Piazza speaks with a prison inmate.
SuperMax is divided into three units, Piazza explains. Unit Nine is where unsentenced prisoners are kept. Unit Eight holds convicted prisoners serving out long sentences up to 20 years or more. Unit Seven houses prisoners for the first 14 days of their sentence while they are being assessed. Nobody is sentenced to SuperMax. Everybody here has been sent because they were too hard to manage in other prisons or because of their link to terrorism. Thirty of the prison’s 48 inmates are here for terrorist-related offences.
We head first to Unit Nine, a horseshoe-shaped row of cells with an enclosed observation area in the middle where the prison officers huddle like soldiers in a pillbox. This is effectively a remand centre for NSW’s most dangerous men. We have been here just a few minutes and already the shouting from the banks of locked cells has begun. “Why don’t you tell them about the oppression inside SuperMax!”
In some countries, radical inmates are dispersed across the prison system, an approach that is supposed to make deradicalisation easier. But here in NSW they are grouped together, quarantined from other prisoners like patients stricken with a deadly virus. The idea is they can’t radicalise other prisoners and in practice it works well enough. They radicalise each other instead. The names of prisoners are written on cards outside their cells along with the details of their sentence. Virtually all are of Middle Eastern background.
One of the conditions of our visit is that we do not name inmates, but they are recognisable enough. Australia’s most notorious serial killer is here. The fearsome muscles and piercing black eyes that terrified his seven known victims in their last moments are gone. More than 20 years into his sentence, he’s an old man now. He is sitting at a concrete desk writing letters, something he does incessantly. He mops the floors for extra milk rations. In any other jail he’d be just another sad old crim seeing out the years, but here in the SuperMax he looks oddly out of place. It says much about the transformation of SuperMax from high-risk prison to holding pen for Muslim radicals that not even the serial killers fit in. Piazza says this prisoner would normally be up on Deck Eight, but they brought him down here because he’s been doing it tough. Some break.
In the cell next to him is a rangy Lebanese boy with a mohawk haircut and a chest full of tatts. I recognise him, too. In April last year he was moved from Kempsey Prison to the SuperMax after he bashed his cellmate, doused him in boiling water and carved “E4E” (eye for an eye) into his forehead. His victim was a former Australian army reservist and it’s believed this was an ISIS-inspired attack. Certainly it was enough to get him transferred to SuperMax, where he has since been charged with plotting a terror attack on Bankstown Police Station. He also allegedly threatened to cut off the head of Peter Severin, the NSW Corrective Services Commissioner. He sweeps the floor and glowers at us malevolently.
A few cells down is a young man at the centre of Australia’s biggest terrorism plot. He was arrested in September 2014 over an alleged conspiracy to abduct and behead a random member of the public. “Why don’t you report the truth and that’s the oppression of your so-called government,” he yells through the glass. There is a lot of this. In the minds of most inmates there is no difference between a targeted military campaign and cutting a bloke’s head off in Sydney’s Martin Place. If anything, they think the former is worse.
Visits like this are rare in SuperMax and already the prisoners are getting toey. Young men with bushy Salafist beards press their faces against the heavy safety glass in their cell doors. Before long the shouting starts. “Power to Islam!” “The truth shall set you free!” and “Allahu Akbar!” Piazza can feel the tension rising; you’d have to be made of granite not to. He doesn’t want the inmates too riled up – it creates problems for staff later in the day. We move on.
Deck Eight is quieter. The prisoners here are older and less excited by our visit. SuperMax rules allow prisoners to consort with no more than one inmate at a time so some are in pairs wandering in and out of each other’s cells. I peer through one cell door and see a man in his 40s sitting alone on his bed reading from a sheaf of papers. He tugs at his beard and makes notes with a pen. On the outside he ran a recruitment network for al-Qa’ida, funnelling dozens of young radicals into the maw of the Syrian jihad. To the cops he was an A-grade coward, content to send countless young Australians to their deaths but lacking the bottle to jump on a plane himself. I’m told he wept uncontrollably when he arrived in SuperMax. He sees us and raises a single hand in greeting.
Prisoners spend at least 16 hours a day in their cells. They eat in them, shower in them, defecate in them. They can have a radio, TV and kettle. No internet. Depending on their behaviour they might be allowed into the exercise yard where they can play handball, basketball or work out on the chin-up bars. If they’re really good they get access to the running track at the centre of the complex. The track’s small but hard to miss. It’s slathered in netting to stop contraband being hurled in – or a helicopter landing.
Security is an obsession inside SuperMax. When prisoners first arrive they are stripped naked and placed in an observation cell. Their entire body is x-rayed using a so-called “boss chair”, a throne-like device that fires x-rays at the head, feet, torso and rectum, the cavity of choice for those wishing to smuggle contraband past the officers. Piazza says that over the years staff have retrieved knives, drugs and phones, which are a valuable commodity in prison. “The best one I’ve seen is a phone and a charger,” he says. “That was in 2006. Imagine how big the phone was.”
Prisoners sit in the boss chair after every visit or court appearance. They move cells every 28 days and when they move through the prison they are accompanied by a minimum of two guards. When their relatives or solicitors visit they must sit, Hannibal Lecter-style, in sealed Perspex boxes, so-called “safe interview spaces”. Their mail is read, scanned and stored. Their conversations with visitors are live-monitored. Conversations in languages other than English are banned.
This is how SuperMax works. Not with muscle or threats but with a rigid adherence to rules and discipline. Strip a life down to its rudiments, take away a man’s contact with the outside world, his possessions, his freedom, force him to seek permission if he wants to hold his wife’s hand during a visit – narrow his life to the point where the most exciting thing that can happen in six months is a visit from a journalist – and you don’t need phone books or rubber hoses to keep order. All you need is extra milk rations.
A SuperMax cell.
It wasn’t supposed to be quite like this. When the Carr government opened SuperMax back in 2001, the plan was for a maximum security prison that would be used to house the state’s most difficult offenders. Escapees, psychopaths, crime bosses – this was SuperMax’s core business. Then came 9/11 and, more than a decade later, the age of ISIS. A prison that had been built to handle the system’s toughest crooks became a holding pen for Muslim terrorists, the most radical square mile in all of Australia. “We’ve got a completely different set of inmates than in the main jail,” says Scott Ryan, SuperMax’s head of intelligence. “There’s very little violence. They’re a lot smarter.”
Working in SuperMax is uniquely stressful for staff. The inmates hate them, calling them kuffars or dogs. Some won’t even talk to the female staff. As we are leaving, one of the officers tells us: “I don’t want my picture. I’ve got a family.”
But as dangerous as these men are, there is a growing view that many do not belong in the SuperMax. Increasingly, experts are questioning the wisdom of housing young offenders in the same facility as older, die-hard extremists. Australian National University deradicalisation expert Dr Clarke Jones says SuperMax is the right place for violent, difficult prisoners but the wrong place for younger inmates who might, under the right circumstances, be separated from their radical ideologies. In Victoria, he adds, radical inmates are spread throughout the system.“
There’s a long history of psychological evidence that it becomes more difficult to rehabilitate prisoners over the age of 25,” Jones says. “But under 25, there’s a good chance.” Vocational training, religious counselling and physical contact with their family – these are the elements that need to be in place if younger inmates are to be diverted from radicalism. “Virtually none of that is available in SuperMax.”
And SuperMax’s population is getting younger, much younger. Across the fence in Goulburn jail proper, the prison population is divided by race or religion. There is a Muslim yard, an Islander yard, an Aboriginal yard and an Asian yard. Multiculturalism might work in the real world but in Goulburn it is segregation that keeps the peace.
In SuperMax, the division is even simpler: al-Qa’ida and Islamic State. The older, sentenced prisoners support al-Qa’ida. The younger ones, energised by the Syrian jihad, support Islamic State. Two tribes. They don’t get along.
“They really have nothing to do with each other,” Ryan tells me. “They’ll be polite to each other. The older fellas will look at [them] as young punks – ‘they know nothing about the Koran, they know nothing about our struggles’ and all of this. The younger ones will look at the older ones, ‘Oh, these old has-beens. This is the new way. All that stuff’s out now.’ There’s a big division in that.” Al-Qa’ida supporters are held in Unit Eight, where the average age of prisoners is 35. Islamic State supporters are in Unit Nine, where the average age is just 21.
The al-Qa’ida terrorists sentenced after 9/11 are starting to come up for parole. A few are already out. Khaled Sharrouf did a brief spell in SuperMax after he was convicted over his involvement in the 2005 terror plot to bomb targets in Sydney and Melbourne. It didn’t do much good. In 2013 Sharrouf fled for Syria, where he was last seen brandishing severed heads and executing Iraqi officials in the sands outside Mosul.
In August this year, Bilal Khazal, a 46-year-old former baggage handler convicted of making a terrorist training manual, will chance his arm before the parole board. There is a reasonable prospect he will get out. In early 2019, Ahmad Naizmand, a 22-year-old convicted of breaching a terrorism control order, will do the same. The others will start dribbling out in the years after that. I ask Ryan how many remain hard-core radicals. He thinks for a moment. “You could probably put on the one hand the ones that aren’t.”
Inmates behind bars.
New federal government laws that would allow authorities to detain unrepentant extremists beyond the term of their sentence would, in theory, apply to many of SuperMax’s inhabitants. NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Severin says that, as it stands, virtually all of SuperMax’s sentenced terrorists would be candidates for the new sanction. But the legislation is untested. Besides, there are 30 Muslim extremists in SuperMax. Locking them all up indefinitely is not a realistic option, not if you want to avoid turning SuperMax into Guantanamo Bay. At some point they’re going to rejoin the community.
Corrective Services NSW offers a voluntary deradicalisation program, the Proactive Integrated Support Model or PRISM, but it is aimed at those at risk of radicalisation, not those already in its grip. Of the 13,000 prisoners in NSW jails, about 20 are signed up to the program. It is hard to know how effective PRISM is, but if it is like any other deradicalisation program the answer is, probably, not very.
The rise of Islamic State has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry in so-called “countering violent extremism” programs. None claims a convincing success rate; most are abject failures. None of this is news to Piazza. “Nobody in the world knows what to do with these guys,” he says.
For the older terrorists, the point is moot. They’re too far gone. A few won’t talk to the staff anymore, let alone participate in deradicalisation programs. In the years he’s spent walking the corridors of SuperMax, Piazza has seen little evidence the men in his charge are ready to change. “When someone gets to that age of 40, they go, ‘F..k, you know what? I’ve had enough of this shit.’ Well, now we’re getting guys who are 50-51 years of age and they’re still going.” I ask Ryan what would happen if the older ones were thrown in with the general prison population. “They’d recruit. Simple as that.”
But for the younger ones, the picture is different. Ryan estimates that if all the unsentenced prisoners in SuperMax were released tomorrow, around half would never touch a Koran again: “They’re not that committed to the cause.” He thinks some of the younger prisoners might shed their extremist ideology if they could be separated from the older, harder ideologues early into their sentence. He describes what it’s like when prisoners first arrive in SuperMax. “They’ll be down in Unit Seven all by themselves and you can talk to them there,” he says. “After that initial shock, they’re polite. Then you get them up to the other deck with other influences and that’s when you lose them.”
Severin acknowledges the challenges of trying to rehabilitate hardened jihadis inside the SuperMax but to him the priority is clear. “For me, the responsibility to the rest of the system and the broader community, and national security for that matter, outweighs the negative effects that the concentration of those individuals might have.”
He has hinted this will change in the future. Last year Severin said Corrective Services NSW was examining a “differentiated” placement system, one that could see radical inmates separated. A report by NSW Inspector of Custodial Services Fiona Rafter, who was tasked last year with examining prison radicalisation, is likely to make similar recommendations. Corrective Services is also looking at a system that will allow radical inmates to be moved downward through the system prior to release.
Severin says that outside the SuperMax there is no widespread problem of radicalisation across the prison system, and by all accounts he is right. Of the 13,000 inmates confined in NSW, there have been just four confirmed cases where inmates have been radicalised, he says. That’s almost certainly an underestimate, but it’s hard to make the case that the prison system is teeming with murderous jihadis. When we visit the Muslim yard in Goulburn jail proper, the inmates make a show of praying but seem far more interested in horsing around for the cameras. This isn’t to make light of their beliefs or be naive about their crimes, but it seems anything but a hotbed of radical preaching. In two days wandering the yards of Goulburn they are the friendliest bunch of blokes we meet.
But as SuperMax starts disgorging its inmates, the risk to the community will be profound. None of this is the fault of Piazza and his staff. They are not social workers. They are prison officers whose job is to protect the community, something they do exceptionally well and under the most trying conditions. But thinking of the rangy Lebanese boy with the chest full of tatts prowling his cell like a caged animal, it is difficult not to believe we are kicking the can down the road. What happens when we get to the end?
Every time the government puts more money into the system it creates more demands – Senator Cory Bernardi
March 25, 2017
Not for the first time and I suspect not for the last time, on behalf of the Australians Conservatives I am going to take the path less travelled, if I may put it like that.
I may be the only person in this place who thinks that $8.5 billion per annum spent on child care in the last 12 months, rising to $12 billion by 2020, for the government to pay service providers to look after families’ children, is more than enough.
As I said, already the figure is scheduled to rise to in excess of $12 billion in the next three years. That is $12,000 million that is being given to parents effectively to pay other people to look after their children.
It is another significant cost to the budget. It is absolutely created and sustained by delivering more debt that those very children, who all of us in this place want to help and bequeath a good, positive, healthy country to, are going to be forced to repay.
Once again I come back to it. Our debt in this country is spiralling out of control and there does not seem to be any real determination to redress it. That is a moral obligation we owe to our children.
So throwing another couple of billion dollars into child care here and there is not going to solve the problem, but it will indeed create greater problems, which will be magnified by the effect of interest and growth over time. Every child who is purported to benefit from this package will actually end up paying a very hefty price for it from the multibillion-dollar largess that is starting today, and I can promise you the demands will increase in the future for it to continue.
Australian Conservatives know that there is a better way. There are three key areas in which I can believe that this can be more effectively addressed. Firstly, we have to break this nexus between a government subsidy and a rise in the price of child care.
It seems to be a catch 22 where every time the government puts more money into the system it creates more demands for the child-care operators and the prices go up and there does not seem to be that greater benefit for the Australian families under the current guise.
Secondly—and I congratulate the government for its endeavours in this regard—there needs to be a determined effort to stamp out the significant rorts that are in this space.
Thirdly—and this is very important to me and I have communicated it to the minister—we need to remove the mandated prejudicial policies that disadvantage so many families and effectively establish a pecking order of who is allowed into the child-care system first.
Let me deal with the subsidies and costs. From a person who seeks less involvement in government it is far better for us to stretch every government dollar by streamlining processes and deregulating the sector. Every time we add additional compliance, additional requirements, additional reporting or any other additional regulation the cost of administering and providing child care escalates, sometimes exponentially, and I will detail some of those figures in a moment.
We need to end the ‘money shuffle’, if you will, where we collect taxes from people, throw it through the bureaucracy where sometimes it returns 50 or 60 cents in the dollar—sometimes less, sometimes more—and then give it back to those we deem worthy of it to subsidise the care of their children. I think that is inefficient.
It would be far more efficient for the government to allow tax deductibility, up to a maximum threshold, for childcare services. It would enable families to take responsibility for administering those costs themselves. It would allow families to claim it on a weekly or monthly basis with the ATO, as they do with other tax concessions, or on an annual basis. It would make child care more affordable.
With no guaranteed government funding, people could distinguish for themselves the service they want and the hours they want. That would create a much more competitive environment.
You mentioned the link between subsidies and costs. I want to take you back briefly to some research by the Australian National University which demonstrates the runaway price rises attached to child care in recent years.
Starting with March 2000 as our baseline, there was effectively parity between the market price of childcare services and the subsidy; in medical parlance, there was ‘no gap’.
Soon afterwards, a couple of years later, there was a modest gap, which parents were expected to meet, but there was virtually no difference between the subsidy rate and the market rate. But then between July 2002 and July 2007 the gap expanded.
By July 2007 the subsidy rate was 175 per cent of the March 2000 price. Not surprisingly, because of the additional onerous burdens on the childcare sector and the increase in subsidies, the cost of child care had risen by about 225 per cent.
So there was about a 50 basis point difference between the subsidy rising and the cost of child care. So no matter what levels of money were thrown into it, families will pay more.
What happened then was that there were cuts in 2007 and 2008 but the regulations continued to load up on the childcare service providers and there became a huge gap between the subsidy rate and the market price. The market price has continued to track upwards.
It has been higher than inflation ever since 2002, when, dare I say it, the sector recognised that by putting their prices up they could prompt demands in this place for more subsidies to be thrown at them and those demands would inevitably be met—just as we are discussing today. You cannot blame the sector for doing that.
If they can get away with it, they will continue to do it. We have to consider not capping it or putting any other forces on them but putting market forces on them.
We need to allow parents to make determinations about where they send their children so that the market itself will put pressure on the costs and prices.
So the gap—or gulf as it was then—went from about 50 basis points to about 150 points. It tripled in real terms. And then the subsidy rate returned to the March 2000 rate but child care prices keep going up and up and up.
At last check, that gulf is still widening. The market rate is about 460 per cent of the March 2000 price. In 17 years it has gone up 4½ half times, well in excess of inflation, and it has been fuelled by the money that has been thrown at it from this place.
And it is because of compliance. Since 2008, compliance has become so burdensome that the gap between the subsidy and the cost has risen from 50 basis points then to 300 basis points now.
That has a deleterious effect for every family and it is not going to be fixed by us throwing more money into the system. We have to take pressure out of the system. If we can reduce compliance, if we can reduce bureaucracy, if we can reduce regulations and red tape, child care will be more affordable and parents will have more choices.
And that will be sustainable because it means we will not have to throw more than $12 billion a year into the system; every dollar will go a lot further.
The second area in which Australian Conservatives believes there can still be significant improvement is in the area of rorting.
Lest anyone think I be uncomplimentary, I do want to congratulate the government and the minister for making significant efforts in this regard but, dare I say it, they are not enough.
I think there needs to be more diligence and more application to stamp out the rorts that are ripping off the taxpayer. I want to give you a few examples.
In 2015, an investigation in Albury in New South Wales revealed a $4 million family day care fraud in August 2016, authorities swooped on an operation in Lakemba in Sydney.
One of the accused was actually someone with alleged links to Islamic State. That did not stop them from profiting from and ripping off the childcare system. They stood accused of collecting over $27 million since 2012.
A known Islamic State sympathiser has been involved in an operation that has gathered $27 million of taxpayer funds, rorted within the childcare sector since 2012, and there are suggestions that some of that money has found its way to funding Australia’s enemies abroad.
The information I have is that in New South Wales, where these rort occurred, there are 324 services in operation but only 19 of them have been audited. If the other 305 underwent an audit, imagine how much more of this rip-off money they might find. In 2016, at Point Cook in Victoria, authorities raided families in the Somali community who in 18 months had claimed almost $16 million in grandparent childcare benefits.
Remember, these were additional payments brought in to assist grandparents who were looking after their grandchildren. But the $16 million worth of care was never provided— just the money was delivered.
Then the coalition government, to their credit, made the child swapping rort illegal on 12 October—bravo! Child swapping was where a childcare worker put their child in the care of another childcare worker and vice versa.
Before that, an estimated 11,000 parents were receiving $8.2 million per week, swapping over 31,000 children. That is $8.2 million per week of people just saying, ‘You take my child and I’ll take yours, and we’ll both make money out of the operation.’ It is wrong, and congratulations to the government for stopping it.
In 2016 a Melbourne woman of Sudanese origin was accused of claiming $800,000 a fortnight in a western Melbourne system that allegedly took $15.8 million in false payments. That $800,000 a fortnight is not a bad gig if you can get it, unless you are the taxpayer having to fund it. That is what is going on in our current childcare system.
A woman running Aussie Giggles, a family day care centre, was found guilty in 2016 in the New South Wales District Court of 81 fraud and forgery offences designed to defraud childcare benefits to the tune of $3.6 million in special childcare subsidies for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She claimed that as many as 14 of these children from disadvantaged backgrounds were in her care when they were not. And yet this was never picked up in an audit.
In 2016 the Queensland Labor government confirmed a trend in childcare rorting and noncompliance in ethnic communities.
Nationwide, almost all the family day care services hit with restrictions or closure were run by Somali, Sudanese or other African migrants. One Sudanese migrant received $1.6 million in 16 months to run a family day care network which authorities could not confirm involved people he claimed were employed by him.
There is a problem here. The minimal audits that have taken place and the maximum exposure of rorts—I have highlighted just some of them today—says we can do much, much better and stretch every one of those $12 billion much, much further.
The final aspect of where my concerns lie I raised during estimates. It is that there is a priority list for allocating places in childcare. Some may defend that. I may describe it as prejudice. It was news to the minister and to the department when in estimates I quoted to them words from their own guidelines:
A child care service may require a Priority 3 child to vacate a place to make room for a child with a higher priority.
In simple terms, if you are a white, middle-class person and your child is in child care, and if the government says there is someone more needy—I will get to what neediness is—your child can be removed with 14 days notice to be replaced by that child they think is more needy.
In some of these areas there is genuine need. The first priority for allocating places is ‘a child at risk of serious abuse or neglect’.
Instinctively, a child at serious risk of abuse or neglect needs much more than child care. They should not be put into child care for the day—the eight or 10 hours or whatever it is—and then returned to an environment where they are at serious risk of abuse or neglect. It needs to be dealt with at the very root cause of it. If they are not safe with their own parents they need to be taken out of that environment permanently.
The second priority is ‘a child of a single parent who satisfies, or of parents who both satisfy, the work/training/study test under Section 14 of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999’. To be honest, I do not get that. I do not understand why one parent working is more important or less important than another parent working or another parent choosing to study or undergo training.
The idea is to provide this resource to Australians so that they can further their careers, their education or whatever the circumstances may be. I just do not buy it that we should all be paying and prioritising one person over another because of the job they are doing.
The third priority, of course, is ‘any other child’.
Within these categories there is even more entrenched prejudice. There is a priority list within the first priority group, the second priority group and the third priority group. If you are a child in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family, you get priority. A white kid can be removed from a childcare operation with 14 days notice to be replaced by an Aboriginal kid. I think that is wrong.
A child in a family which includes a disabled person gets priority. I am not making light of the difficulties that disabled people and their carers undergo, but I cannot come to terms with the fact that because you have a disabled sibling or a disabled parent you should have priority and someone should be removed from an existing childcare place because they deem you to be more worthy. I am not underselling the difficulties of it, but who are we to say: ‘I’m sorry, bad luck. Out you go and in you come.’ It is wrong. Even the department eventually admitted it was wrong.
Then, of course, we discriminate on the basis of income.
Apparently, if you do not earn enough money or if you do not have a job you are actually a greater priority for child care than the person who is actually out there earning money, paying more taxes and maybe employing other people—I do not know.
They can lose their place because they are earning above a threshold or they actually have a job—God forbid! Isn’t child care meant to be for getting people back into the workforce?
Finally, this is the one that really strikes me as odd, considering all the rorts I outlined before: children in families from a non-English speaking background get priority. I am not sure where they rank in the list, actually.
I am not sure whether coming from a non-English speaking background trumps being a low-income earner, having a disabled or less abled sibling or parent or having an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family. I do not know whether it is the colour of your skin or the language your parents speak. I cannot determine this.
What I know is that any critical or reasonable assessment of it says it is wrong to remove someone in an existing place because of the colour of their skin, the language their parents speak or the income their parents have in favour of someone that a government of any stripe or persuasion deems more worthy.
Earlier, Senator Gallagher asked about deals that are done and things, and I have my doubts. I think that is very clear about the wisdom of throwing more money into this sector until other aspects of it are absolutely cleaned up.
I made it very clear to the minister that I have an open mind with respect to this package, but there are some things I would like addressed.
I really believe that if you are going to make child care available to every family, you are going to subsidise it to the cost of $12 billon-plus per year and more on the horizon, then it has to be available equally to every single family.
There should not be a priority allocation. You should not be able to kick a child out because their parents happen to be the wrong colour, speak the wrong language or happen to be able-bodied and earn money.
Malcolm Turnbull would say: “It was a West Australian state election; it was fought on state issues. It was decided on state issues and the result was pretty much as had been expected for quite some time.”
However, the Prime Minister’s unhelpful intervention last year didn’t help. He travelled to Western Australia promising that he would fix the GST distribution issue. He left telling disgruntled Sandgropers that more time was needed before their state could receive any more revenue.
That sort of mealy-mouthed non-response was reinforced by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann telling us on the day after the election: “We have to be realistic on what a national government can do in relation to these sorts of issues. (Can he be serious?)
“The timetable is determined by what happens with the GST sharing arrangements moving forward. There is a flow-through effect, principally from the prices for iron ore and the royalty revenue that is generated on the back of iron ore exports.
“That will play out over the next few years and there is an expectation, in the not too distant future, WA’s share of the GST will start increasing again and, if and when that happens, there are certain options available where the floor can be established without actually taking money away from any other state.”
That pitiful explanation surely would have been one reason many West Australians reached for their baseball bats. But Cormann then added: “That is the way it should happen.”
It’s not just his political tin ear that should worry everyone. It is his complete lack of understanding of the damaging economic consequences of the way GST revenue is distributed.
Just to remind you, Western Australia receives only 30c of every dollar of GST revenue raised in the state. Every West Australian hands over $1736 to the other states and territories. By contrast, every South Australian receives a net $1052 and every Tasmanian receives $1953. Every Northern Territorian receives $10,734 while, wait for it, every ACT resident receives $400. That’s right — the place in the country with the highest incomes and the lowest unemployment receives more money than it hands over.
There is no doubt our system of horizontal fiscal equalisation is broken and has been for some time. It is the most extreme version of the principle implemented in any federation in the world. But all that the risible Finance Minister can say is: “That is the way that it should happen.”
Let’s just run through some of the problems with the system whereby the GST revenue is distributed as run by the arcane Commonwealth Grants Commission, a body that deserves abolition.
• The CGC consistently overstates the real tax bases of the donor states by failing to recognise that their high wages are offset by high living costs.
• Instead of thinking about an overall tax base (and capacity to pay) that the states and territories can tap into, the CGC considers each tax separately. There is no consideration of the impact that levying high taxes on one activity has on the scope to levy taxes on other activities.
• The CGC treats mining royalty income as the equivalent of other state recurrent tax income when clearly royalty income is highly dependent on variable, uncontrollable commodity prices.
• The CGC fails to take into account gambling taxes, so states that chose to limit gambling, such as Western Australia, are disadvantaged. This is just wrong.
At its heart, the system disadvantages states such as Western Australia that go to all the trouble of facilitating a mining boom, for example, but see 70 per cent of the proceeds handed to other states that didn’t lift a finger. So states such as South Australia and Tasmania, which deliberately run anti-business strategies — such as ridiculous renewable energy targets — benefit financially notwithstanding.
The idea this system can continue until Western Australia’ s GST share begins to rise — with the recent resurgence in commodity prices, this will not occur before 2020-21 at the earliest — is political nonsense. No doubt, premier-elect Mark McGowan will have a thing or two to say on the matter.
Even if West Australians were to have the patience of Job, the solution offered by Cormann — just wait — is unworkable. What he thinks can happen is that some sort of collar-and-cap can be imposed on GST relativities — say 0.75 to 1.25 — when the West Australian relativity falls within this range. The trouble with this “solution” is what happens to the Northern Territory because its relativity is above 5 and has been for years. Such a collar-and-cap would involve enormous redistribution away from the Territory.
Here’s a hint, Mathias: the system of GST distribution is broken, beyond repair. Busted. The idea that some states can be compensated to deliver the same standard of services to their citizens but are not required to do so must surely make him realise some political courage is required to fix the system now.
He should not think that West Australians have put away their baseball bats. In all likelihood, those bats will be within easy reach at the next federal election.
Australian Conservatives leader Cory BernardiMAURICE NEWMAN
Maurice Newman The Australian 9 March 2017
What eats at Malcolm Turnbull’s backers is the inescapable realisation that much of what Tony Abbott says resonates with voters across the political divide. Issues such as cuts to immigration, slashing the renewable energy target and making the parliament more workable appeal to voters of all colours. It is why his comments at a recent book launch are judged a threat to the Liberal Party and why the former prime minister is demonised as a “wrecker”.
Indeed, it is a measure of the Prime Minister’s grip on leadership, and the party’s perception of its place in the hearts and minds of the Australian people, that Abbott’s remarks should cause such consternation. When his opinions are labelled “catastrophic”, “unhelpful” and “sad”, what other conclusion can be drawn?
Yet we are told Abbott is friendless. So does it really matter if he harbours ambitions to return to the leadership? By keeping the former prime minister on the backbench, Turnbull should have expected he would speak his mind. But if there is no support and no merit to his arguments, why worry about this latest “outburst”? The party is firmly united behind Turnbull, right?
But Turnbull does worry.
The self-styled “fixer”, former education minister Christopher Pyne, once an irrepressible cheerleader but now a critic of the Abbott government, advised his former boss: “When you’re throwing stones it’s important not to stand in a glass house.”
This adolescent sense of self is a metaphor for what ails the party. It’s a blind, lesser-evil approach. Abbott is worse than Turnbull. Bill Shorten is worse than Turnbull. Labor’s renewable energy target is worse than the Coalition’s. It projects weakness and the people know it.
A confident party should be receptive to fresh ideas, regardless of the author. However, in the current climate of paranoia, the author does matter. If an Abbott recommendation becomes party policy, it may be interpreted as a “win” for him and contrary to the leader’s best interests. Self-preservation trumps principle. Of course, the anti-Abbott forces don’t have to look far for support. The media are first responders. Anxious to nip any latent support in the bud, the old Abbott blame files are being dusted off.
Laura Tingle, writing for Fairfax, channelled Monty Python’s “what have the Romans ever done for us, aside from sanitation, medicine, education, public order …?” when she asked: “Can you remember anything positive he has contributed to our polity that has not involved tearing something down?”
Well, nothing aside from beginning budget repair, stopping the boats, completing beneficial trade deals with Japan, South Korea and China, scrapping the mining and carbon taxes, agreeing to a second Sydney airport, ending wasteful corporate welfare, reducing the public service by 12,000, and abolishing 300 unnecessary government boards and agencies. But fear and loathing run deep in the hate media and facts should never stand in the way of a good story.
In reality, this collective theatre has less to do with any prospect of Abbott’s return to The Lodge than the growing realisation that the Liberals are a stranded party. They are a nebulous grey, in a soft-left kind of way, at a time when the electorate is polarising. To date, the Turnbull Coalition team’s achievements are few and ad hoc.Reflecting its leadership, it lacks conviction and purpose. One day things are on the table, the next they are off. Its instincts are more Rudd than Howard, more Obama than Trump.
The disheartening July 2016 general election result and disastrous polling since point to serious voter disenchantment with the party. The Prime Minister’s strong suspicion that the latest devastating Newspoll was delayed until after Abbott’s book launch speech is, at best, naive. He doesn’t see that casting Abbott as the culprit, rather than acknowledging genuine voter dissatisfaction, insults the voting public. It makes winning back support even more difficult.
Right-wing Liberal senator Cory Bernardi’s defection to set up his Australian Conservatives, citing the Liberals’ abandonment of their party’s conservative principles and heritage, validates voter concern and, carries with it a despair that the leftward drift is irreversible. This seems at odds with an international trend to the right.
In a dramatic turn, Donald Trump is now in the White House. His pledge to “Make America great again” means upsetting the status quo and shaking up vested interests. That he is doing, in the face of fierce opposition from progressive urban elites.
Over the next few months, similar dramatic changes are likely in Europe. General elections in The Netherlands, France and Italy should see new right-wing governments installed. Their agenda, like Trump’s, is far-reaching and much of it is a repudiation of years of leftist ideology. Australia will not be quarantined, yet seems unprepared for the inevitable influence these changes will have on voters and the economy.
While the media presents Tony Abbott’s “outburst” as settling old scores, it is now obvious the last leadership change was ill-conceived and a disservice to the nation. There is a reason that this government scarcely has a mandate. Now most voters no longer trust the present leader to deliver the changes it wants.
Blaming Abbott is futile.
Some Turnbull supporters may hope the present slide in the polls will be arrested by a few good weeks. It is a total misread, as the latest polls and the Prime Minister’s continuing indecisiveness are screaming. Abbott’s manifesto was a good start, but he alone cannot deliver it. Judgment, unity of purpose and, courage, are required, qualities not currently in evidence.
Irrespective of whether Abbott has a pathway to The Lodge, Australia’s future prosperity depends on a fundamental change in leadership and policy direction. Without that, the people’s confidence in this government cannot be restored and the voters’ search for something better will continue.