Trust in US falls to historic low

June 28, 2018

The Australian trust in the United States to “act responsibly in the world” has fallen to a historic low, according to the 2018 Lowy Institute Poll, released on 20 June.

Here is an extract from the Poll, with a graphic at the bottom of this post:

Trust in countries and confidence in their leaders

A bare majority of Australians (55%) say they trust the United States to ‘act responsibly in the world’, in a six-point fall since 2017, a 28-point fall since 2011, and the lowest level of trust in the United States ever recorded in our polling.

Australians’ highest level of trust among the eight nations polled is placed in the United Kingdom (trusted by 90%). Japan is trusted by 87% of Australians, and France by 84%. Trust in India (59%) is ahead of the United States (55%), followed closely by China (52%). Just 28% trust Russia, and 8% trust North Korea.

Only 30% of Australians have either ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ confidence in Donald Trump ‘to do the right thing regarding world affairs’. This places Trump ahead of only Russia’s Vladimir Putin (19%) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (5%) among the nine leaders ranked.The leaders Australians regard with the most confidence are the UK’s Theresa May (68%) and Japan’s Shinzo Abe (66%). Next is Malcolm Turnbull (63%), and France’s Emmanuel Macron has the confidence of 61%. Eighteen points behind is China’s Xi Jinping (43%), followed by India’s Narendra Modi (37%).


“The Poll figures suggest, therefore, that the Trump presidency is a negative for Australia–US relations. A politically stupid choice as the next US Ambassador to Australia would not be good for public confidence in the relationship, and a potential unwanted political headache for the Turnbull government,” writes Geoff Kitney.

Reducing the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

April 5, 2018

Last week, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released its report Pathways to Justice–Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, which was tabled in Federal Parliament on 28 March 2018.

The purpose of the Inquiry was to inquire into the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison and develop recommendations for reform of laws and legal frameworks to reduce their disproportionate incarceration. 

“Indigenous incarceration is costing nearly $8 billion annually and will grow to almost $20 billion per annum by 2040 without further intervention,” according to a PwC Australia and PwC’s Indigenous Consulting report released in May 2017, and quoted in the ALRC report.

People as diverse as Indigenous leader Pat Dodson and NSW Bar Association President Arthur Moses, SC have called this situation a “national shame”. Yet, as the ALRC report notes, between 2006 and 2016, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous incarceration rates widened further.

Disproportionate incarceration rate

The ALRC Inquiry reported that:

Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up around 2% of the national population, they constitute 27% of the national prison population. In 2016, around 20 in every 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were incarcerated. Over-representation is both a persistent and growing problem—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates increased 41% between 2006 and 2016, and the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous imprisonment rates over that decade widened.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women constitute 34% of the female prison population. In 2016, the rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (464.8 per 100,000) was not only higher than that of non-Indigenous women (21.9 per 100,000), but was also higher than the rate of imprisonment of non-Indigenous men (291.1 per 100,000).

What can Australia’s community education sector do?

Aside from the massive personal, social and communal costs, Australia pays a significant economic cost by the heavy over-representation of Indigenous Australians. What can Australia’s adult and community education sector do to help address one of our most pressing national problems? As one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Australia’s inability to deal with this systematic and systemic injustice is a continuing blot on our national reputation. I believe that Australian not-for-profit adult and community education organisations have a moral imperative to assist

The ALRC report – although primarily confined to criminal laws and legal frameworks, as required by the Terms of Reference – gives a number of important guideposts as to how the community can respond. The area where Australia’s not-for-profit community education sector can make the most immediate and profound difference is in the innovative and award-winning Indigenous drivers education programs first established by Lismore’s ACE Community Colleges in 2005, which has expanded into other parts of New South Wales. This unique program – undertaken in direct collaboration with local Aboriginal communities – breaks the cycle of no-licence- receive-fine-for-driving-illegally, often leading to incarceration. The ALRC report devotes a whole chapter to fines and drivers licenses.

My employer – Community Colleges Australia – recently released a Statement on Aboriginal Economic Development which details five creative approaches to addressing Indigenous disadvantage. CCA is committed to ensuring that our members maximise the positive impacts they can make in their local Indigenous communities. In doing this, the organisation builds on a strong base. For instance, in New South Wales, 12% of government-funded VET community education students funded are Indigenous, a percentage much higher than either TAFE or the for-profit VET providers (2016 figures).

(Note: This post has been adapted from a news item that I placed on the Community Colleges Australia website on 4 April 2018. I reproduce it here in order to extend its reach.)


The following extract’s from the Inquiry’s report are taken from the Full Report and the Summary Report (both 28 March 2018).

Local Solutions to Local Problems Led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

A recurring observation made during consultations and in submissions to this Inquiry was that solutions should be developed and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Good examples are the Koori courts in Victoria and community justice groups of Elders, which support and assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout the criminal justice process. The ALRC was told that some of the most effective solutions to local problems (such as diversion programs and post release assistance) have been developed locally by, or in conjunction with, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The corollary is that what works in one community (such as alcohol restrictions) may not be the best solution in another.

Taking a local approach to local problems can create difficulties for Australian governments, which necessarily plan for centrally developed and imposed national, state or territory-wide programs. Without acceptance and participation by the local communities, those programs can fail or, at least, not fully meet their objectives. The ALRC notes the importance of governments working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities to implement the range of strategies recommended to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration. For example, the ALRC has recommended that state and territory governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to: develop and implement culturally appropriate bail support programs and diversion options; develop options to reduce the imposition of fines and infringement notices; and develop prison programs that address offending behaviours and prepare people for release. One way to achieve local involvement is through Aboriginal Justice Agreements.

The Cost of Indigenous Incarceration

The implementation of the recommendations in this Report, including the provision of more diversion, support and rehabilitation programs before, during and after incarceration, will require additional resources.

However, the cost of implementing these recommendations must be considered against the cost of incarcerating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at disproportionate levels. Incarceration is expensive: it has been estimated that the total justice system costs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration in 2016 were $3.9 billion. When the costs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration are broadened beyond those directly related to the criminal justice system to include other economic costs, the estimated cost rises to $7.9 billion. As well as the cost of imprisonment to the State, incarceration can also have a broader social cost, particularly when concentrated in a particular community.

Over-representation increases with the stages of the criminal justice system. In 2016, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were seven times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be charged with a criminal offence and appear before the courts; 11 times more likely to be held in prison on remand awaiting trial or sentence, and 12.5 times more likely to receive a sentence of imprisonment. This is a cyclical problem, with 76% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners having been in prison before.

On fines

Statutory fine enforcement regimes affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people unduly and can result in incarceration. Imprisonment is a disproportionate response to fine default, and impacts especially on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The ALRC recommends the amendment of fine enforcement regimes so that they do not, directly or indirectly, allow for imprisonment.

The imposition of fines and fine enforcement regimes affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people disproportionately. Fine enforcement regimes can aggravate criminogenic factors and operate to further entrench disadvantage, especially when the penalty for default or secondary offending includes further fines, driver licence suspension or disqualification, and imprisonment.

State and territory governments should work with relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and community organisations to identify areas without services relevant to driver licensing and to provide those services, particularly in regional and remote communities.

Education and employment

The links between lack of employment opportunity, lack of educational attainment, and subsequent entry into the criminal justice system are well established. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lower educational attainment than non-Indigenous people. For example, in 2015, only 49% of Year 3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students living in a remote area reached minimum national standards of literacy, reading and numeracy.40 In 2014, 86.4% of non-Indigenous students nationally completed Year 12 or equivalent, compared with 61.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. This fell to 41.7% for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students living in remote areas.41 Nationally in 2015, of the potential Year 12 population, 43.8% of non-Indigenous young people achieved an ATAR of 50.00 or above, compared with 8.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also face employment disadvantage. In 2014–15 the unemployment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–64 was about three times the rate of the non-Indigenous population.44 Just under half (48.4%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–64 were employed, compared with 74.8% of non-Indigenous people.


Implementation of the recommendations in this Report will reduce the disproportionate rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and improve community safety. These recommendations will:

  • promote substantive equality before the law for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  • promote fairer enforcement of the law and fairer application of legal frameworks;
  • ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and participation in the development and delivery of strategies and programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in contact with the criminal justice system;
  • reduce recidivism through the provision of effective diversion, support and rehabilitation programs;
  • make available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders alternatives to imprisonment that are appropriate to the offence and the offender’s circumstances; and
  • promote justice reinvestment through redirection of resources from incarceration to prevention, rehabilitation and support, in order to reduce reoffending and the long-term economic cost of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Reduced incarceration and greater support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in contact with the criminal justice system will, in turn, improve health, social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Justice Reinvestment

Commonwealth, state and territory governments should provide support for the establishment of an independent justice reinvestment body. The purpose of the body should be to promote the reinvestment of resources from the criminal justice system to community-led, place-based initiatives that address the drivers of crime and incarceration, and to provide expertise on the implementation of justice reinvestment.

(photo credit: Don Perlgut)

Indigenous imprisonment in Australia

March 12, 2015

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rates have been steadily rising and are worse than any time in recent memory.  This is a national problem that demands a national solution.

I have just published an opinion piece on this topic in Open Forum, entitled “Indigenous imprisonment in Australia: a crisis of mass incarceration”.

I have also re-posted the full article on this blog, along with a short addition.

I encourage you to read it.

Australian spatial economics

August 19, 2014

Even in this digital, online world, it’s no secret that all economic activity has an important element of physical space.

Economists and geographers know this. In fact, a whole field of study is devoted to it, and it’s called economic geography.

Unfortunately, the spatial dimension to our work and our consumer lives is something that government policy makers, economic planners and regulators often seem to forget or never even consider. Too many government policies and programs assume that we are all sitting in the same space – presumably (when here in Australia) within a five to ten kilometre radius of the central business district of one of our capital cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide – or perhaps Canberra (but certainly not Darwin or Hobart).

Here in Australia, about two-thirds of us live in the capital cities, making Australia (despite our “outback” and rural myths) one of the most urbanised countries on earth. Singapore, city-state that it is (with a 100 percent urbanisation), we are not. But more than 89 percent of us live in urban areas, not far behind Japan and South Korea (both at 91 percent).

So the high rate of Australian urbanisation means we can assume geography is not significant, right? Wrong. With our massive continent and our sprawling cities, we have a number of regions that experience profound and intense geographic disadvantage. Think western Sydney, western Melbourne and most regional, rural and remote areas.

The fact is that employment and economic activity is NOT evenly spread along with the population, despite our high urbanisation rate. Economic activity is particularly concentrated in and around the major central business districts, a point made comprehensively and convincingly in a report from the Grattan Institute entitled “Mapping Australia’s economy: Cities as engines of prosperity”, by Jane-Frances Kelly and Paul Donegan.

The Institute summarises the situation:

More than three-quarters of all economic activity in Australia happens on less than one per cent of the nation’s land mass. In today’s services-driven economy, Australia’s cities are the engines of material prosperity.

For a long time agriculture was the backbone of our economy, as we rode on the sheep’s back. After World War Two prosperity shifted to suburbia, with manufacturing employing one in four Australians. This report shows that Australia’s economy is increasingly driven by knowledge-intensive services located in Australia’s large cities. Within these cities the most intense and productive economic activity is concentrated around central business districts and a small number of other business hubs. The way these areas draw large numbers of businesses and workers together makes them all more productive.

Key facts from the report include:
– “Eighty percent of the value of all goods and services produced in Australia is generated on just 0.2 percent of hte nation’s land mass.”
– The CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne – just 7.1 square kilometres – generated $118 billion during the 2011/12 financial year, almost 10 percent of Australia’s economic activity.

And the major reason for the intense economic activity? The concentrations are of “highly knowledge-intensive and specialised services such as funds management, insurance, design, engineering and international education”, with highly skilled workers. And it is the physical “proximity to suppliers, customers and partners” that promotes efficiency, generating “opportunities to come up with new ideas and ways of working” (report, p. 1).

So there you go. We communicate via digital means and at great distances quicker and easier than ever. But yet, we still prefer – in fact, many of us need – to be physically close in order to work efficiently. Economic planners take note.

Mapping Australia's economy

The best question

October 31, 2013

Here’s the best question I have read this week:

“Why does the richest country in the world still need anti-poverty week?”

The Ethical Jobs website asks it in an October 17th post.  I previously reported that by at least one measure – median income – Australians were now the richest people in the world.  And yet, the University of Canberra – Uniting Care report Poverty, Social Exclusion and Disadvantage in Australia (PDF document) points to distinct trends towards inequality of wealth in Australia (p. 7):

In the OECD database, of the 34 developed nations considered by the OECD in 2010, Australia ranked 26thin terms of poverty rate with 14.4 per cent of persons in poverty compared to the average of 11.3 per cent. Australia has a lower poverty rate than the United States (17.4 per cent) but a higher rate than the United Kingdom (10 per cent) and a much higher rate than the Scandinavian countries such as Denmark (6 per cent) and Finland (7.3 per cent).

Check out the figure on this same page (7):  Australian poverty levels jumped substantially from 1995 to 2010.  It is not a good thing that we are approaching American percentages.

A high level of median household income – as we have in Australia – clearly does NOT mean an equal society:  the 50% below the median can be way below, while the 50% above the line can be way above.  Much work needs to be done.




Remoteness Index of Australia

October 31, 2013

I am one of a small number that gets excited by a good map (the former town planner/geographer in me), but there is a great one of geographic remoteness in Australia as part of this document about families in rural and remote Australia, published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies:

Remoteness map of Australia

As I discussed in my recent post on rural and remote poverty, the key thing to remember is that almost every single indicator of well-being – educational attainment, health outcomes, families in crisis, etc (even telecommunications access) – declines as you move “outwards” in Australia from major cities to inner regional to outer regional to remote to very remote. This map shows it very well (although it does not include state boundaries on it, which would be helpful), and can be very helpful in determining which regions have compounded problems.

The good and the bad about living in Australia

October 16, 2013

There are some consolations about living in Australia.

Our wealth (yes, guys, we are one of the two richest countries in the world, per capita).  Our sunshine.  Our beaches.  Our health system (Americans, eat your heart out).  Our high dollar (at least for me, when I buy books on Amazon or travel to the USA).  Our relative safety and low crime rates.  Our general absence of paranoia.  The variety and quality of our food.  Our scenery.  Our genuinely multicultural society.  Our literacy rates.   Our weather.

There are some downsides, too.  The agonisingly long – and expensive – airplane rides to get anywhere in North American or Europe.  Our rapidly warming part of the world (is it global warming that Sydney has had its hottest September and October EVER?).  Waiting a week or so for my copy of The New Yorker.  Our hideously expensive broadband internet.  Our expensive books.  The status and poverty of our Indigenous inhabitants.  The fascination with cricket (hey, its my post; I can write what I want).  Our unwillingness to get really serious about public transit.  The delay in getting some of the best and quirkiest films and television shows.

Depending on how you see it, the Queen (along with the Royal family) is both an upside and a downside.  At the moment, more up.  That may change.

So here is the funniest ‘you can’t watch this video clip’ message I have seen.  But this is the deal.  You can ONLY see this message if you live in Australia:  go to The Colbert Report website.  And try to watch a clip.  You can if you are in the USA (I am less certain about other countries).

But if you live in Australia, you get the following message on screen:

Sorry but this video is unavailable from your location.  It’s one of the detriments of living under a monarchy.  But in case you can’t give up your vegemite and move to America, watch clips from The Colbert Report on

(Except The Comedy Channel website does not really show any Colbert Report – exclusive to FoxTel subscribers ….)

At least the message is funny.

Colbert Report

Are Australians the richest people on earth?

October 13, 2013

The Credit Swisse Global Wealth Report 2013 was released on 9 October 2013 and indicates some perhaps not-so-surprising news for Australians:

In US dollar terms, household wealth in Australia grew rapidly between 2000 and 2013, apart from a brief interlude in 2008. The average annual growth rate has been 13%, but about half of the rise is due to exchange rate appreciation. Using constant exchange rates, wealth has grown on average by just 3.3% per annum since 2007. Despite this recent slowdown, Australia’s wealth per adult in 2013 is USD 402,600, the second highest in the world after Switzerland.  Even more strikingly, its median wealth of USD 219,500 is the highest in the world.

You read that one correctly:  in terms of median wealth, we Australians top the world, beating number two Switzerland.

Remember that when it comes to wealth, the median – the halfway point in a distribution – is probably a much more accurate measure than “average”, which takes all figures and divides them.  In other words, one Gina Rinehart – the richest woman in the world, worth estimated between US$17 billion and Aus$22 billion – can make up for a whole lot of poor people when it comes to an average.  But with a “median”, if she is at the top, she is equivalent to the poorest Australian – in other words, one cancels the other out, and median is between them, but the “average” would be approximately one-half of Rinehart’s wealth.

Are these Australian wealth figures wrong?  Probably not.

Yesterday’s (October 12) Australian reports figures from Colliers International that commercial rentals on “Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall have leapfrogged Milan’s Via Monte Napoleone to become the eighth most expensive in the world.”

The only shopping districts ahead of Sydney are New York City’s Fifth Avenue (at number one) and Madison Avenue; Hong Kong’s Queens Road Central, Canton Road and Causeway Bay; and Zurich’s Via Monte Napoleone.

Meanwhile, research due to be released shortly by the Australian National University’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research and conducted by Dr Nicholas Biddle concludes that “more than a third of Indigenous Australians (36.6%) live among the most disadvantaged 10 percent” of Australians, and “only 1.7 percent live among the top 10 percent”.  The Australian has graphed this disadvantage, and I reproduce their graph below:

Indigenous disadvantage graph Biddle - The Aust(Graph reproduced from The Australian.)

The smallest gap?  In Sydney’s “lower north”.  More on this in a later post.  But clearly not every Australian is sitting up with the Swiss in median income, or buying their goods on Pitt Street Mall, one of the most expensive in the world.

BRW Australian Rich List released and the rich are still very rich

May 23, 2013

This is definitely my week for F. Scott Fitzgerald, the American author whose book “The Great Gatsby” is the source material for Baz Luhrmann’s film opening next week here in Australia.  (It’s also my week for observing how wealth is unequally distributed.)

Fitzgerald reportedly said to fellow writer Ernest Hemingway “The rich are different from us.”  To which Hemingway reportedly replied, “Yes, they have more money.”  (Some versions have Fitzgerald saying “the very rich”.)  For a full discussion of how and when this was said, go to Lionel Trilling’s essay on Fitzgerald, which was published in his classic book The Liberal Imagination.  You can find a copy of this essay at this very odd Russian website.

Well, this saying came back to me when I received the emailed press release yesterday with an announcement of the BRW “Rich List” for 2013, which will be formally released later today – Thursday 23 May 2013.  I reproduce part of the media release below.

  • Gina Rinehart remains the richest Australian – topping the 2013 BRW Rich 200.
  • # 2 is Frank Lowy, and # 3 James Packer.
  • Total wealth of the Rich 200 is down $4.4 billion to $176.8 billion but when Rinehart is excluded, total wealth rises by $2.7 billion to $154.8 billion.
  • The average wealth per person on the Rich 200 has fallen to $884 million, down from $906 million last year.
  • Cut-off rises $25 million to $235 million.
  • Chinese-based property developer Hui Wing Mau debuts at 7th spot on the list with a $4.82 billion fortune.
  • 14 women make the cut-off for 2013 BRW Rich 200. Therese Rein drops off after debuting last year.

The biggest fall has been felt by the richest Australian of all time: Gina Rinehart.  Rinehart retains her firm grip on the top spot despite the fall in her wealth to $22.02 billion from $29.17 billion last year.  All of the five biggest falls on the 2013 BRW Rich 200 (on both dollar value and proportional bases) are from the mining sector.  Among them are Fortescue Metals Group’s Andrew Forrest, who is down $2.23 billion to $3.66 billion and political aspirant Clive Palmer, down to $2.2 billion from $3.85 last year.

A former number one, Frank Lowy, moves from third last year to second on the 2013 BRW Rich 200 after gaining about $400 million. His $6.87 billion valuation is underpinned by some modest growth at his shopping centre business Westfield Group.  One of the big movers on this year’s BRW Rich 200 is James Packer. His wealth has risen to $6 billion from $5.21 billion on the back of strong growth in his gambling interests taking him to the #3 spot.  Anthony Pratt has had another good year at #4 on the BRW Rich 200. The family-owned flagship business Visy continues to achieve strong results here and Pratt’s US-based box making business Pratt Industries is growing quickly.

Top 5

Gina Rinehart

$22.02 b

Frank Lowy

$7.40 b

James Packer

$6.00 b

Gambling, investment
Anthony Pratt & family

$5.95 b

Manufacturing, investment
Ivan Glasenberg

$5.61 b


Although we are not as unequal as the USA, wealth is still very unevenly distributed in Australia.  As Australian economics journalist Peter Martin succinctly puts it:  we Australians “think the rich have too much – but we’ve no idea of how skewed the distribution really is.”


Digital world message for Australia: you are lagging!

September 13, 2011

Here is a digital world message for Australia:  you are lagging!  I am currently in temporary residence in New York City, and here’s two examples of what I have found:

– Our local internet (cable) service gives us 144 mbs, even through a low-cost wireless router, unlimited down and upload.  The best I ever saw in Australia was 100mbs and that was the very best.  Has anyone ever seen better than 100 in Australia?

– Netflix costs $7.99/month for unlimited viewings of movies, TV, etc.  Not all films are on their streaming system, so for an additional $7.99/month you can get unlimited DVDs sent to your home.  No wonder the only DVD shops I have seen are, as they say, of the “erotic” or “adult” sort.  Goodbye DVD shops, Australia.  The question is only a matter of when, not if.  (Cancel at any time, no expensive long-term plans.)

Australia’s broadband in the cities (even!) will continue to retard economic growth and development when people are struggling with high fees and low download speeds, even in upper-income suburbs.

To be continued ….