The Fair Go – Going, Gone: The Decline Of The Australian Way Of Life, 2000 to 2020

This is the media release for a research report that I co-authored for the IPA, along with Cian Hussey, Kurt Wallace, and Daniel Wild. The full report can be found here.

Key findings :

  • The quality of the Australian way of life is collapsing. 
  • The Australian Way of Life Scoreboard, which measures the quality of the Australian way of life, has declined by 28.5% since 2000. 
  • 23 of 25 measures relevant to the Australian way of life have declined since 2000. 
  • This decline can be found across every area of Australian life, spanning home, work, enterprise, governance, and lifestyle. 

This report demonstrates that the quality of the Australian way of life is worse than it was 20 years ago. Across a wide range of measures, each tracking a good that is essential to the Australian way of life as traditionally understood, Australia is today performing worse than in 2000. 

The Australian Way of Life Scoreboard is an index of 25 measures of different aspects of Australia’s culture and economy. These measures provide a reasonable representation of the quality of Australian life as it is really lived. The measures were selected on the basis of capturing an important feature of Australian life and on data availability. 23 of the 25 measures selected have declined across the period 2000- 2020, which shows that the decline of the quality of the Australian way of life has been felt across all aspects of Australian life. 

The Scoreboard provides a comparison of the Australian way of life as lived today and as lived in the recent past. This suggests that Australia can correct its current unfortunate course by reflecting on the values, customs, and institutions that made our country great in the first place. To improve the Australian way of life, we need to rediscover what the Australian way of life really means.

Download the report.

Australian values save the day – IPA Keeping in Touch – 6 May 2020

This is the full text of an email I sent the IPA’s members early on in the COVID lockdown.

Dear IPA Members

Since I joined the IPA in 2016, my main responsibility has been leading our criminal justice research. Our project takes its inspiration from the successful, conservative-led movement in the United States to improve community safety with common sense reforms that increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our society’s punishment and prevention of crime. 

In that capacity, I have met with MPs across the country and I am in regular contact with other researchers in the field. When I have these meetings, I am always struck by two things: First, that if it were not for the IPA a conservative perspective on criminal justice reform simply would not be heard by those in power or by the public; and secondly, that no matter which parties or ministers were in government, the voices they would listen to on this issue would be the same, and so in effect would be their options. 

Simply put, you can vote to change governments, but you do not get to vote on who advises governments. So some ideas never seem to die, while others never seem to get a look in, no matter what the public might support at elections or in polling. This is what I would like to talk to you about today.

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Like Trump, Australia Must Focus On Reoffending To Make Communities Safer

This is is the media release for my research report First Step Australia: 10 ideas for reducing reoffending.

“The single most effective criminal justice reform would be to reduce reoffending,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

The Institute of Public Affairs today released its latest research report from the IPA Criminal Justice Project, First Step Australia: 10 ideas for reducing reoffending. The report explores the evidence for 10 policy options for improving the rehabilitative aspect of our criminal justice systems.

The report takes its name and inspiration from successful United States reforms signed into law by President Donald Trump.

“President Trump’s reforms signal a powerful shift in the politics of community safety,” said Mr Bushnell.

“The important message from the First Step Act is that new approaches to criminal justice are needed, and that the focus of reform efforts should be on reoffending, meaning the number of offenders who return to crime after passing through the system.”

Like the United States, but not yet at the same scale, Australia has seen a recent rapid increase in incarceration, driven in part by high rates of reoffending.

“The facts of Australia’s underperforming criminal justice systems are stark and becoming well-known. Over the past decade, the incarceration rate is up 30 percent, meaning there are now 43,000 people in Australian prisons on any given day, and prisons cost taxpayers more than $4 billion annually on operational costs alone,” said Mr Bushnell.

“Less well-known is the fact that 58 percent of prisoners have been in prison before, and that 45 percent of prisoners return to prison within two years of their release.”

The report considers ideas ranging from large scale reforms like increasing the use of community service and diversion programs through to more targeted interventions like expanding education and mentoring services, and providing tax credits and insurance for business taking on ex-offenders.

“All Australians will benefit from a corrections system that is actually corrective. The point is not to replace punishment with rehabilitation, but to make sure our punishments do not make rehabilitation impossible.” said Mr Bushnell.

Download the report here.

Skewed Priorities – Comparing The Growth Of Prison Spending With Police Spending

This is the media release for my research report with the above title.

Over the past decade, Australia has seen an unsustainable rise in the rate and cost of incarceration. Nationally, the incarceration rate is at an all-time high of 217 per 100,000 adults, and prisons now cost taxpayers $4.6 billion every year (including capital costs).

This increase in spending on prisons creates a trade-off with other government priorities, like policing. Six years ago Australian governments spent more than $4 dollars on police for every $1 spent on prisons; today, that figure is $3.40. This pattern is seen in every Australian jurisdiction apart from the Northern Territory. This matters because, like incarceration, policing aims to deter would-be offenders. Indeed, many studies indicate that it performs this task more effectively than prison, because offenders are deterred more strongly by the prospect of being caught than the severity of the punishments that they may face.

International figures show that by the measure of police spending to prison spending, Australian jurisdictions rank in between American states, which tend to spend more on prisons, and the countries of the European Union, which tend to spend less. Australia is moving towards a more American-style distribution, even as the US moves in the opposite direction.

Moreover, high rates of incarceration eventually create trade-offs for other areas of government service delivery. In jurisdictions like Western Australia and the Northern Territory, there are noticeably lower ratios between spending on schools and public hospitals and spending on prisons. Given that education and health are both associated with reduced offending, this trade-off may again be reducing community safety.

Australian jurisdictions can improve community safety by pursuing sensible and safe reforms to reduce incarceration, and redirecting spending to more efficient deterrence and rehabilitation.

Download Report – Skewed priorities: comparing the growth of prison spending with police spending

Australian Values And The Enduring Importance Of The Nation-State

This is the media release for a research report with the above title, co-authored by me with Zac Gorman and Daniel Wild.

The preparation of Australian values and the enduring importance of the nation-state is motivated by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee’s Inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy. This inquiry’s remit is broad and ranges from changing notions of nationhood, declining public trust in Australia’s major political institutions, and the impact of globalisation and economic interdependence on the nation state. This report focuses on five areas.

First, this report outlines three key Australian values: political and economic freedom, egalitarianism, and localism and argues that these values are deeply ingrained in Australia’s national identity. These values ought to be buttressed by broad protections for freedom of speech, association, and religion; low taxes and a tolerable regulatory regime so as not to discourage enterprise; and a return to the principles of localism and federalism upon which Australia was founded.

Secondly, it is argued that the society that will be best-placed to respond to the challenges identified in the Senate Committee’s discussion paper is an asset-owning democracy, within which individuals have reason and incentive to pursue their interests to their own benefit and to that of their community and nation. There are five key components of asset-owning democracy which give Australians a stake in the success of the nation:

● Home ownership is a stake in one’s local community and in the country.

● Work is a stake in one’s dignity through personal responsibility.

● Enterprise is a stake in the economy and the success of others.

● Tax is a stake in the size and activity of government.

● Saving, especially for retirement, is a stake in the future of the country.

Thirdly, this paper considers the ongoing relevance and importance of the nation-state as a home where millions of individuals can live together with a shared set of values, customs, habits, and beliefs, and enjoy with one another a common heritage and tradition.

Fourthly, we consider the idea of popular sovereignty and argue that declining trust in Australia’s governing institutions caused in part by the departure of our rulers from Australia’s fundamental values. In particular, this section outlines the way in which freedom, egalitarianism, and localism have been undermined through government intervention.

The final section considers the notion of democratic accountability—of giving power back to the people—and the ways in which this can be implemented so as to restore trust among the public in Australia’s governing institutions.

Download the report here