The Centre for Independent Studies Research Collection

The Centre for Independent Studies Research Collection. Stay up to date with the latest CIS research, policy papers and opinion pieces and commentary. CIS promotes free choice, individual liberty and the open exchange of ideas. We aim to make sure good policy ideas are heard and seriously considered so that Australia can prosper.

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Saturday Apr 13, 2024

How to Build Low-Cost Nuclear: Lessons from the world by Aidan Morrision. First published on April 11, 2024.
For all references and graphs, please download the publication at the centre for independent studies website where you can also become a member of CIS. As this paper is graph and data-heavy, it’s a good idea to have the paper open as you listen along. The paper can be downloaded from here:

Friday Mar 15, 2024

Mind over matter. The philosophical arguments around AI, natural intelligence and memory.
In this intriguing research paper by Professor John Sweller, he deftly navigates the complex intricacies surrounding artificial intelligence (AI), natural intelligence, and memory. The entry in the research series of the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), he challenges traditional perspectives as he critically examines both artificial and natural systems and what denotes them as intelligent. Professor Sweller employs metaphor and insights from evolutionary biology to provide an innovative understanding of intelligence’s foundation.
Professor Sweller underscored the essential role of knowledge, especially in educational contexts focusing on students' learning process. He posited that human cognition, an intelligent system itself, largely depends on our existing knowledge. Furthermore, he emphasized that the importance of knowledge in human cognition has been often downplayed both in educational research and AI development. This subtle observation explains AI's remarkable growth in recent times.
In a remarkable comparison, he explored the idea that like humans who struggle with limited intelligence due to insufficient knowledge, AI applications too have limitations in their utility without considerable accessible knowledge and information, the recent proliferation of which has been facilitated by the massive storage of data.
He delves deeper into the potential limitations of AI and the inefficiency of discovery learning for both humans and artificial intelligence systems. This becomes particularly relevant when false or implausible conclusions, known as AI hallucinations, are generated due to insufficient or low-quality data available to an algorithm.
Sweller stimulatively invites us to grapple with the concept of intelligence, its interplay with our knowledge and the foundations of intelligent systems. By reflecting on these foundations, we can better navigate the opportunities, challenges, and limitations of today’s AI and its potential implications for future educational systems and wider societal dimensions.

Wednesday Feb 21, 2024

What is the Science of Learning? By Trisha Jha.Listen to all our research here: billions of additional experts and concerted efforts at reforming several pillars of the Australian education ecosystem, students’ results continue to plateau. While the focus on teaching quality and effective, evidence-based practices is welcome, it is incomplete. Australian education needs to position the science of learning as the foundation for policy and practice.
The establishment of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) — in particular its recent work How students learn best — and the Strong Beginnings report into initial teacher education reforms are important because they create space for shifting focus towards the science of learning.
Unfortunately, key pillars of Australian education policy do not reflect the science of learning, due to the far-reaching impacts of progressive educational beliefs dating back to the 18th century.
These beliefs include that:
Students learn best when they themselves guide their learning and it aligns with their interest;
Rote learning is harmful;
Learning should be based on projects or experiences, and that doing this will result in critical and creative thinkers.
But these beliefs are contradicted by the science of learning, which is the connection between: 1) insights from cognitive science and educational psychology; and 2) the teaching practices  supported (and not supported) by those insights. Key concepts include:
Biologically primary knowledge (BPK) and biologically secondary knowledge (BSK): These concepts are not about stages of schooling. Rather, BPK includes things like basic social relations and problem-solving skills we have evolved to learn and do not need to be taught. In contrast, BSK includes foundational skills — like reading, writing, maths as well as coding, Cubism and how to kick a football (what schools are for) — we can only learn through instruction;
Domain-specific and domain-general skills: domain-general skills overlap with biologically-primary knowledge but critical thinking and analysis are specific to domains such as maths, history etc;
Working memory and long-term memory: working memory is severely limited and can only handle small amounts of new information; making it a funnel to long-term memory. A strong long-term memory can help strengthen working memory; and
Cognitive load theory: given these models of human cognition, teachers should design instruction to optimise the burden on working memory in a way that best helps learning.
The teaching approach best supported by the evidence is explicit instruction of a well-sequenced, knowledge-focused curriculum. Some key features of explicit instruction include:
Careful ordering of curriculum content so that new information and concepts are built sequentially;
Explanation of new information in small steps, taught through modelling and worked examples, with student practice after each step;
Asking questions and checking for all students’ understanding of what has been taught before gradual release of students for independent work and more complex tasks; and
Regular review of previous content to ensure retention.
There are many implications for the science of learning:
For teachers, it is an opportunity to design instruction in a way that is likely to lead to most students’ success with learning;
Parents can become more informed about how their child will learn best and more empowered when selecting or having conversations with their child’s school; and
For policymakers, it provides a foundation for future reform of policy at all levels.Read the paper here:

Tuesday Feb 06, 2024

Read the paper here. In a comprehensive exploration of the Australian housing market, Emily Dye uncovers the stark reality of home ownership for young Australians. Homeownership has sharply declined over the past 20 years with the younger generations especially hit hard. Emily breaks down the complex terms such as 'housing affordability' and 'affordable housing', churning out an incisive analysis of the intergenerational struggle for home ownership.
When taking a closer look at the regulations presently stifling the housing market, it reveals a grim picture where tax concessions and local goverments' influence play a significant role. Emily Dye exposes how perceived views, heritage protections and desire for preservation overrule the need for more housing, leading to an unreasonably high ration of median house prices to incomes.
Dye spotlights the need for a shift in housing preference. As younger generations are drawn towards environment-friendly, high-density housing, the bureaucratic regulations continue to favor single-family sites. The zoning tax—a housing constraint resulting from bureaucratic interventions—is dissected in the publication, revealing its heavy contribution to the high home prices in major Australian cities.
While high immigration is frequently blamed for the surge in home prices, Emily argues that restrictive supply is, in fact, the culpit. She asserts that demand only becomes a problem when supply is handicapped. Dye concludes with a compelling argument for increased housing stock through strategic state interventions, arguing that this is the only path to make housing affordable for Australia’s future generations.

Wednesday Jan 31, 2024

A Crucial Asset in the Economic LandscapeIn this comprehensive review, David Murray brings into focus the pivotal role played by Australia's Future Fund in cementing the country's long-term financial stability. Established in 2006, the Future Fund was devised to shift Australia's budget surpluses and asset sales into an investment aimed to counter the financial strain from the nation's unfunded superannuation liabilities and an aging demographic. Ranked the 19th largest among the world's leading 100 funds, the Fund currently holds assets worth $205 billion, or a whopping $255 billion inclusive of the ancillary funds.
Amidst its successes and mounting contributions, the Future Fund has faced criticisms. Despite this, Mr. Murray underscores the Fund's adherence to the Santiago Principles and reflects on its function, investment horizon, withdrawal model, and outstanding return on investment. Mr. Murray signifies in his analysis that the Future Fund has been instrumental in contributing to Australia's credit standing, producing wealth for future generations, and checks on the government's expenditure.
The analysis extends into issues surrounding leveraged investment vehicles operated by the government and their associated risks. Perspectives are also lent to various Future Funds carrying such debt, questioning their necessity. On a different note, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund is highlighted for its distinctive social, economic, and cultural designation.
While the Future Fund has showcased transparency, accountability, and autonomy from political sway, Mr. Murray suggests continued scrutiny of its operation. Despite the challenges presented, the study concludes, retaining the Future Fund offers key advantages. These range from managing resource dependency to enhancing foreign investor confidence and promoting critical policy re-evaluation.
In conclusion, Mr. Murray affirms the Future Fund's invaluable role as an institutional asset in Australia's financial roadmap, urging for a balanced dialog on its future and warning against the risk of modifying its mandate or liquidation that could jeopardize $200 billion in likely returns.#auspol

Tuesday Jan 09, 2024

Bungles, Blowouts and Boondoggles: why Australia’s infrastructure projects cost more than they should. By Grahame CampbellA large amount of taxpayers’ money, state and federal, is expended on large scale infrastructure that is intended to play a crucial part in Australia’s growth and prosperity — although some of it is arguably wasteful or perhaps even pork-barrelling. And as the recent federal government Infrastructure Investment Review found in axing around 50 planned projects, some “do not demonstrate merit, lack any national strategic rationale and do not meet the Australian Government’s national investment priorities. In many cases these projects are also at high risk of further cost pressures and/or delays.”
But major infrastructure projects in Australia are often also more expensive than comparable projects in other countries, even after even after adjusting for differences in currencies and purchasing power.
While a 2014 Productivity Commission Inquiry report on public infrastructure argued that there were examples where Australia was competitive internationally, and that the systematic evidence was missing or incomplete, it noted that several commentators argued Australia performed worse than other countries. The PC, while arguing for substantial reform to our infrastructure processes, also noted there was “considerable uncertainty about many facets of construction costs. There are sometimes large and inexplicable variations in the construction costs for what appear to be similar activities, such as the cost per kilometre of rail projects.”
It is unlikely that much has improved since 2014, especially given the findings of the recent review and estimates that construction costs increased more than 25% over the five years to mid-2022.
There are several factors that contribute to the higher costs of major infrastructure in Australia. The available evidence on major infrastructure construction costs shows that there have been some recent significant increases in input costs. This particularly applies to labour and project management costs, plus contract design, complexity and poor management leading to risk offloading, cost over-runs and costly schedule over-runs. However, it is important to note that the cost of projects can also vary based on specific circumstances, project scope, and other factors.
As listed below, and explained in more detail in the subsequent sections related to costs, factors that can contribute to higher costs for Australian infrastructure projects include:
Labour and Industrial Relations: Australia generally has higher labour costs compared with many other countries. Wages, benefits, and labour regulations can contribute to higher project costs.
Lower Productivity: Productivity is hampered by the lack of a sufficiently educated, skilled and engaged workforce, an efficient work environment, innovation, efficient procurement models and ultimately trust between industry stakeholders.
Regulations and Standards: Australia has strict regulations and standards when it comes to construction, safety, and environmental considerations. Compliance with these regulations often adds to the complexity and cost of infrastructure projects.
Design Complexity: Infrastructure projects in Australia often involve complex engineering and design requirements. This can include considerations such as environmental impact, sustainability, and resilience, which may contribute to increased costs.
Project Management: Effective project management is crucial for successful infrastructure projects. Factors like inefficient planning, delays, and changes in scope can contribute to cost overruns.
Risk Offloading: Project cost is often inflated in Australia by a misguided focus on unloading risk in the early stages of a project’s development. This is often driven by the type of contract that is presented to the industry by lawyers, with the objective of minimising up-front costs and putting most of the risks on the contractors. This practice is not generally followed in other countries, which look at ‘whole of Life’ costs and benefits, resulting in a more cooperative and cheaper outcome.Read the paper here:

Thursday Dec 07, 2023

Are you a student who believes in free markets, smaller government, and individual liberty? Perhaps you’ve studied the works of Freidrich Hayek, Adam Smith, or Jonathan Haidt. If this sounds like you, the CIS has an exciting opportunity for you to meet and network with other like-minded people from Australia and New Zealand. Click here to learn more. Essays on the relevance of Smith after 300 years.
Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher and economist, is one of the most significant figures to have emerged from what came to be known as ‘the Scottish Enlightenment’. His work across a number of disciplines changed the way people thought about economic theory and the field of what is now known as ‘political science’.
Smith was superbly educated in moral philosophy, ancient philosophy, jurisprudence and natural theology — at a time when science and religion were regarded as complementary rather than antagonistic.
In developing a moral philosophy that informed a deeper understanding of human interaction, Smith laid the foundation for a thorough exposition of the human practices of commerce and government. By encouraging use of our capacity for imagination, Smith argued that every member of a civil society needed to put themselves in the shoes of others and to see matters as others see them. For Smith, imagination — and the fostering of sympathy — was the key to our ability to engage in social and commercial exchange.
Adam Smith is one of the intellectual pillars of the Centre for Independent Studies. Informed by the breadth of Smith’s vision, the CIS has always been committed to investigating the nature of society and has argued that the exercise of civic responsibility by individual citizens is every bit as important to the health of society as the policies delivered by government.
This year marks the 300th anniversary of Smith’s birth, but his ideas and critical insights retain their importance today for contemporary Australia. In this Occasional Paper, Professor Paul Oslington and Dr David Hart, two distinguished Australian scholars, reflect both on the work of Smith and on the lessons he can teach us today.
Paul Oslington introduces Adam Smith and sets his work in the context of the intellectual world in which Smith formulated his ideas; he then looks at the thorny issue of rent seeking in modern Australia through the prism of Smith’s thought. At time when many are disillusioned with the processes of government, David Hart’s evaluation of Smith’s thought concerning the business of politics is especially timely.
I am delighted that Professor Oslington and Dr Hart have contributed these essays to mark the anniversary. In doing so, they allow the CIS to honour the vast intellectual contribution that Smith continues to make to the very fabric of contemporary Western society.
Peter Kurti, Director – Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program.Read the essays here. 

Tuesday Dec 05, 2023

Bracket creep chips away at living standards, especially those of younger generations, a new Issue Analysis by Centre for Independent Studies outlines.  
The paper’s authors, Matthew Taylor and Emilie Dye, point out that Australia’s younger workers have the most to lose from bracket creep because bracket creep is regressive and hits harder for those earlier in their careers and making less money.  
For those on lower incomes, even a small increase in nominal income leads to a larger increase in their overall tax rate. 
And young people feel the loss of income from a tax increase more acutely than those established in their careers with higher incomes and more wealth.  
The Issue Analysis outlines what the government should do to stop this hidden tax hitting our younger generations — particularly when they are already struggling with a cost-of-living crisis. 
Young people have less bargaining power and will likely struggle to convince their employers to make cost-of-living adjustments to their earnings, let alone the rise needed to compensate for both inflation and a higher tax rate due to bracket creep. 
Periodic tax cuts only help temporarily; they barely scratch the surface in offsetting bracket creep’s insidious impact. To genuinely tackle this issue, Australia needs a long-term solution that does not depend on the whims of politicians. 
The solution is simple: Index tax brackets to inflation. 
The government already does this for Age Pensioners. The Age Pension, unlike tax brackets, is indexed to inflation; ensuring pensioners can maintain the same standard of living.  The income brackets used to means-test their pension payments also automatically increase with prices.  If pensioners are spared the burden of bracket creep, why not young Australians?  
Indexing tax brackets would also fight the cost-of-living crisis 
Indexation would help Australians currently facing a cost-of-living crisis. In the 10 years prior to Covid, the annual rate of inflation averaged 2.1%. Inflation in the post-Covid era has almost doubled to 3.9%.  
Tax payments are an expenditure. There is only one difference between a tax increase and higher prices at the supermarket: you cannot shop around to reduce your tax bill. Bracket creep further disadvantages workers, sneakily diverting their money to flow to the government. 
Indexation would cut the hidden tax hikes that erode real income — a straightforward solution to a complex problem with potential to make a real difference in people’s lives. 
Mathew Taylor is Director of the Centre for Independent Studies Intergenerational Program, in which Emilie Dye is a Research Analyst. 

Thursday Sep 28, 2023

In Australia, and in education settings across the world, student behaviour and levels of student engagement are significant issues for teachers, school leaders, system administrators and the public. Student behaviour affects community perception, teacher efficacy and wellbeing, and the academic achievement of all students. When students are engaged, they learn more.
This paper uses the current attention on student disruptive behaviour in Australian classrooms to offer policy makers, and educational jurisdiction and school leaders an insight into how to shift the paradigm, policy and practice towards student behaviour in Australian schools.
The solution to disruptive behaviour in Australian classrooms will be achieved if three key ideas gain mainstream recognition. These will be discussed in full later in the paper, but they are:
Managing student behaviour is about learning. Learning is the result of good management. To maximise learning in the classroom, it is necessary to teach the students how to behave.
Behaviour needs to be taught explicitly to all students. Instruction in behaviour is central to effective classroom management. The teaching of behaviour needs to be planned, resourced and rehearsed just like any academic content.
Behaviour as a curriculum needs to be the norm across Australian schools.  If behaviour is incorporated in the national curriculum, it would lift standards of behaviour and learning productivity in classrooms. The teaching of behaviour to students would also to help lessen the disadvantage gap in Australian schools.
Read the paper at 

Thursday Sep 07, 2023

Published on 3rd of September 2023.
Increasingly there are calls for de-growth, not just to abandon the pursuit of economic growth, but to shrink economies. The call for de-growth comes from environmentalists, including activists in groups such as Extinction Rebellion, and some economists, particularly in the field of ecological economics. It is related to concerns about climate change, pollution, species extinction, and resource exhaustion. Economic growth is to blame, proponents say, and the proposed solution is de-growth, an aggressive contraction of economic activity that requires an acceptance of significantly lower living standards.
The de-growth movement is not just a fringe movement. It is gaining attention worldwide, has international conferences dedicated to it, and tenured academics are supporting or contemplating de-growth. For example, the University of Sydney’s Professor Manfred Lenzen has modelled de-growth as a climate change mitigation strategy, and, along with co-author Lorenz T. Keyßer has concluded “de-growth pathways should be thoroughly considered.” Furthermore, books preaching de-growth are gaining widespread attention. The Financial Times’ Martin Wolf selected Jason Hickel’s Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World as one of the newspaper’s “Best Books of 2020: Economics” — although Wolf at least observed “this programme is neither a plausible nor an effective way to respond to the imminent climate crisis.” More recently, in August 2023, the New York Times profiled so-called ‘de-growth communism’ proponent Kohei Saito, a University of Tokyo philosophy professor and author of Capital in the Anthropocene. 
While its origins may have been altruistic, its impact on society would be devastating.    It would require restrictions on personal freedoms, as well as the aforementioned lower living standards. These could only be enforced by an authoritarian government — a serious curtailment of the principles of capitalism, free markets, and a liberal democracy.
This paper first reviews the arguments for de-growth and then dissects them, addressing several myths which appear to drive this call. The paper then considers what would likely happen if a de-growth agenda were adopted. Finally, the paper considers how policy advisers and policy makers should think about economic growth and whether the calls for de-growth should be heeded.

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