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.

Closer to Home

This article from the Summer 2019 edition of the IPA Review is by Director of Research Daniel Wild and IPA Research Fellows Zachary Gorman and Andrew Bushnell. It is an edited extract from ‘Australian Values and The Enduring Importance of the Nation-State’, a research report prepared for the Senate Inquiry.

If Donald Trump has achieved nothing else, he has at least made the terms of politics more honest. In calling for a wall to be built on the United States’ southern border, and in adopting an aggressive America First foreign and trade policy, Trump has exposed a widening rift between those who benefit from globalisation and those who do not. For one group, the nation-state is nothing more than a barrier to progress and justice; for the other, the nation-state is a home and a source of meaning. The two visions are irreconcilable.

The dispute, of course, is bigger than Trump. All the countries of the developed world, and a few more besides, have been affected in some way by the question of how much global integration is too much. The British vote to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’) is often paired with the election of Trump. While these two events were landmarks, it is not true that politics suddenly changed in 2016 when they both happened.

To put these events in context, the surrounding years saw: the establishment of non-liberal governments in European Union member states Hungary (since 2010), Poland (since 2015), and as part of a coalition, until recently, in Group of Seven member state Italy; the greater assertiveness of Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (in office since 2012); and the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. This environment also helped our centre-right government hold onto power this year, and the same factors will determine whether Scott Morrison succeeds or fails.

What unites these events is a growing realisation that global governance, supranational entities, and large trading blocs sit uncomfortably with the traditional understanding of national identity and its expression in the sovereign state.

Though it would have been unthinkable even a generation ago—amid the flag-waving for Ronald Reagan’s Cold War victory, German reunification, and, here at home, the celebration of Australia’s bicentenary— global politics is now centred on the question of whether the nation-state can or should survive. This has become the signature issue of our time. It goes by various names: populism, nationalism, polarisation. It is present in every political debate, from congested roads to economic competitiveness and red tape to education policy and, naturally, immigration. If we are to address these issues, we need to first remind ourselves of the value of the nation-state, how Australia came to be the nation-state that it is, and the shared national values that have made our country great.

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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

US Criminal Justice Reform A Lesson For Us


US President Donald Trump’s endorsement of criminal justice reform is a landmark for conser­vatives. After campaigning as the “law and order candidate”, Trump has been won over by the argument that government can reduce the growth of incarceration, boost rehabilitation and save money in the long term.

Trump’s support for the new approach cements its position as the new conservative orthodoxy. How this came to be so is something the Australian Centre-Right needs to study carefully.

Last week, Trump held a celebration for the passage of the First Step Act, which he signed into law in December. The act creates incentives for federal prisoners to participate in vocational education, repeals mandatory sen­tences for drug crimes and restores some judicial discretion for other nonviolent crimes.

Or as Trump explained: “Nonviolent offenders will have the oppor­tunity to participate in vocational training, education and drug treatment programs. When they get out of prison they will be ready to get a job instead of turning back to a life of crime.”

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A conservative answer to liberalism’s crisis

This article first appeared in the October 2018 IPA Review. Slight revision by author, November 2018. It is a review of Patrick Deneen’s Why liberalism failed, Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the west, and Roger Scruton’s Conservatism: an invitation to the great tradition. Links included in the piece.

In a famous essay, the economist FA Hayek disassociated himself from conservatism. Despite admiring figures like Adam Smith and Edmund Burke, both frequently cited as conservatives, Hayek believed conservatism was simply an unprincipled opposition to change. Conservatism, he argued, accepts that political and social institutions emerge over time through trial and error, but then arbitrarily forecloses on this process. This lack of principle means conservatives cannot persuade anyone not already disposed to agree with them. Ultimately, conservatism is ‘obscurantist’, always falling back upon ‘a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality’, and, contentless as it is, fated always to ‘be dragged along a path not of its own choosing’. Given Hayek’s profound influence on centre-right politics, the challenge for conservatives ever since has been to articulate a systematic explanation of which institutions are deserving of support or reform, and when change ought to be opposed altogether.

This challenge has renewed relevance with the rise of populist movements in the United States and the United Kingdom, and the illiberal direction taken by Poland and Hungary. On one reading, populism validates the political scientist Samuel Huntington’s view that conservatism is simply a perennial argument in favour of the status quo that emerges whenever a significant segment of a society begins to lose faith in its ruling ideology. Populists are reacting to rapid change brought about by globalisation, immigration, and technological innovation. But another way of viewing the current situation is that conservatism is coming back into its own as an ideology, shedding the liberal arguments that it adopted for the Cold War and presenting its own unique vision.

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