Australian Politics 2020-04-28 15:11:00
Solely digital learning isn’t fair or sustainable
If the best that can be said for digital education is that it’s useful for some months during an unprecedented pandemic, then there probably isn’t much to be said for it normally.
While it’s generally good to look on the bright side, it would be incredibly naïve to think the current situation for Australian schools presents more opportunities than threats.
The research on the efficacy of education technology is inconsistent.
Even in normal times, it is not clear that tech helps students to learn – and these are not normal times. It may benefit some highly motivated learners, but others will be worse off.
Making the transition for millions of Australian students to digital learning is arguably necessary as a temporary, emergency measure. But there is no strong evidence it is more effective than face-to-face classes.
Ban on GM crops set to go in South Australia
The South Australian parliament is set to pass legislation to lift a ban on genetically-modified crops on the state's mainland
Legislation to lift the ban on genetically modified crops on the South Australian mainland is set to pass state parliament after negotiations between the Liberal government and the Labor opposition.
Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone says under proposed amendments local councils will have six months to apply to remain GM-free, though a final decision will still rest with the minister.
Kangaroo Island will also remain GM-free.
"This agreement is a great outcome for South Australian farmers who will have the opportunity to reap the benefits of growing GM where that is best for their business," Mr Whetstone said.
Top medical authority says Australia in ‘the same position as New Zealand’
Although Australia has been less strict
Australia’s top medical official has claimed Australia was seeing similar results to New Zealand despite not pursuing the country’s “elimination” strategy.
Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said Australia was in a similar place to New Zealand where PM Jacinda Ardern says they’ve made significant strides towards eliminating coronavirus.
“There’s not a great difference between the aggressive suppression we are seeking, and elimination,” Prof Murphy told ABC’s 7.30 on Monday night.
Ms Ardern yesterday declared the country had “won the battle” against widespread community transmission of coronavirus, as the country eased some of its lockdown measures.
The country’s elimination strategy was enacted through lockdowns, with only essential services operating for more than four weeks and residents urged not to leave home.
But Prof Murphy said he was pleased with the results Australia were getting and said there was very little difference in the outcomes between Australia and New Zealand.
“The sort of numbers we’re getting at the moment … are pretty good, and if we can continue them as we expand our testing … that’s as good as elimination in many respects,” Prof Murphy said. “Elimination just means you’re not detecting any cases. It doesn’t mean you can relax.”
In New Zealand, a country with a population of five million, they’ve recorded a total 1122 cases of coronavirus. Of those infected, 19 have died.
Australia has recorded more than 6700 cases of coronavirus and 83 people have died from a population of 25 million.
Prof Murphy explained there could still be undetected coronavirus cases in the community, or asymptomatic carriers transmitting the virus.
“There’s not a great difference between the aggressive suppression we are seeking, and elimination.
“In fact we’re in pretty much the same position as New Zealand who have stated their claim to be one of elimination.” “We’re in a very similar place.”
‘A terrible tax’: Is it time to abolish stamp duty?
Stamp duty is back in the spotlight as the federal government draws up a raft of emergency plans and structural reforms to get the economy back on track after the devastation wrought by COVID-19.
Many key figures are urging the government to abolish stamp tax as an unwieldy weight on both the property market and people’s flexibility, making homes unaffordable for first-time buyers, and creating barriers for those wanting to move closer to work, upsize or downsize.
However, others argue that now isn’t the time for such sweeping change, when state governments are using stamp duty revenue for a major series of funding measures to soften the blow of the pandemic.
“Stamp duty is a terrible tax, it should be repealed and this is the perfect time to do it,” said Dr Shane Oliver, AMP Capital chief economist.
“It will have to be a gradual removal and replacement with some kind of land tax so later buyers aren’t unfairly affected.
“The problem with stamp duty is that it’s a massive impost on a single transaction which inhibits economic decision-making in a less-than-optimal way. But land tax would be levied on the value of land and applied to all landholders equally and be done in a much fairer way.”
The critical issue is the timing. With the Reserve Bank predicting the economy will shrink up to 10 per cent in the first half of this year, hours worked to plummet by 20 per cent and unemployment to remain over 6 per cent for the next couple of years, the danger is that stamp duty’s abolition could prove a deflationary move.
Yet Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe this week said, in planning the recovery, the first on the list of reform measures was “the way we tax income generation, consumption and land”.
It’s widely believed Dr Lowe was referring to a series of reports commissioned over the years with proposals to raise less money from state conveyancing duties on property transactions and income tax in the future, and more from state land taxes and GST.
Domain Group economist Trent Wiltshire co-authored a Grattan Institute report in 2018 on how to improve housing affordability, and recommended axing stamp duty in favour of a broad-based property tax.
He said removing stamp duty had the almost unanimous support of economists, academics, the Productivity Commission, Infrastructure Australia and government tax reviews.
Now, he still feels the same, but has doubts about the timing of such a move.
“Long term, reform will create benefits for the economy and boost the Gross Domestic Product significantly,” he said. “But those benefits take a while to accrue and whether now is a good time to do it … It’s not something that will provide a short-term boost to the market.
“Abolishing stamp duty and replacing it with a broad-based, flat-rate land tax is a policy that should be pursued and could be part of a whole bunch of reforms once we emerge from this, but it isn’t a policy that will help the market rebound over the next few months, and that’s what we need.”
The arguments for axing stamp duty include that it’s an inefficient tax, levied only on those buying property in any particular year, and makes property more expensive for both purchasers and then, by association, renters. It thus also becomes an obstacle for people – and businesses – wanting to move and is also expensive to collect, costing 70 cents for each dollar raised, according to Treasury modelling.
On the plus side, it raises a great deal of revenue for state governments which they now have never been more in need of, to arrest some of the economic fall-out from the pandemic.
But that sum does rise and fall, sometimes quite dramatically, according to the number of property transactions taking place, and the strength of the property market, making planning difficult.
State budget papers show that in NSW, for instance, stamp duty revenue in 2018-19 was $7.4 billion, down 24 per cent from 2016-17’s $9.7 billion. In Victoria, it slumped by 13 per cent over the same period to $6 billion in 2018-19.
Ken Morrison, chief executive of The Property Council of Australia, pulls no punches.
“There’s a consensus among economists and policy-makers that stamp duty is the worst thing in Australia,” he said. “It distorts behaviour, cripples job creation, lowers growth, and locks people into housing that might not be appropriate for their needs.
“Really, by anyone’s standards, it’s a terrible tax. There’s a lot of debate at the moment about corporate tax, but stamp duty is two times worse for the economy than company taxes and sets a new economic benchmark for worst taxes.
“We need to get the economy going and facilitate construction growth, and getting rid of stamp duty will help.”
However, he doesn’t like the idea of replacing it with a land tax as he says the rate would have to be too high to replace the revenue raised by stamp duty.
“Let’s rewind the decision to five to six years ago when we had GST being put on the table as the centrepiece for reform and getting rid of some of our worst taxes,” he said. “That’s what we would encourage governments to do as they move into reformist mode.”
Economic and policy consultants Urbanised Advisory Services is also advocating for the abolition of stamp duty. Managing director Stephen Albin says the whole system of property taxation needs urgent attention, and the time is ripe.
“It’s a bit of a mess at the moment and we should take the opportunity in the existing circumstances to really review the tax system and create different ways or securing revenue,” he said. “There should be more stable sources of revenue so the ebbs and flows don’t have such a major impact on budgets, and ways of making housing more affordable.
“There are good arguments for land tax to replace stamp duty and the Productivity Commission and Treasury are now looking at how they are going to levy taxes in the future. This is the perfect time for reform.”
Stamp duty is certainly becoming an ever-greater cost of buying homes. According to Domain figures, stamp duty paid on a median-priced home went up between 2004 and 2019 by 102 per cent in NSW to a high of $42,269, 183 per cent in Melbourne to $44,164, and 189 per cent in Brisbane to $11,013.
“It’s an awful tax,” said Adrian Kelly, national president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia. “It’s most particularly a drag on first-home buyers, with the ANZ ceasing to offer mortgage insurance products – which I suspect the other banks will follow – which means they’re have to raise a 20 per cent deposit plus stamp duty.
“So it’s becoming an even bigger problem in the current climate. It also reduces the mobility of everyone else with the housing stock, including older people wanting to downsize to a smaller home, and people wanting to change jobs. We need a broader tax base, and one that doesn’t provide so many impediments to buying a home.”
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here