Policy snapshots

This week's picks:

To read the full reports, simply click on the links in the text.

Health policy and public health


As the Centre for Policy Development prepares to launch its health policy on October 10, we thought we'd pause to consider the assumption from which we proceed — that the way governments govern actually affects people's health. This report, published on The Lancet, notes that the complex interactions between political traditions, policies, and public health outcomes are rarely studied. The researchers analyse the relationship between political ideologies and health policy by comparing selected countries within the OECD, grouped as social democratic, Christian democratic, liberal, and authoritarian conservative. They focus on infant mortality and life expectancy at birth. This is an accessible, broad-brush study with an important finding about re-distributive governments: “the implementation of policies aimed at reducing social inequalities seems to have a salutary effect on population health”.

Please note that The Lancet requires readers to complete a free registration process before accessing any articles on the site. Readers who prefer not to do this may be interested in www.bugmenot.com, where you can get usernames and passwords for most sites with compulsory free registration.

Measuring happiness

“Happiness is enjoying a boom,” writes journalist Adele Horin in the Sydney Morning Herald. Horin summaries the main message of the ‘happiness research' in this article; and considers the latest contribution from The Australia Institute here.

The Institute's report is based on a national telephone survey of 1000 people, conducted by Ipsos Mackay during August 2006. Report authors Emma Rush and Clive Hamilton examine the responses to five questions and statements including: “What is the most important thing for your happiness?”; “Is life in Australia getting worse, better or about the same?”; and “A government's prime objective should be achieving the greatest happiness of the people, not the greatest wealth.”

While some of the findings confirm increasingly popular perceptions: money doesn't make us happy; or long-held clichés: women place greater emphasis on relationships with their family than men do; others are perhaps more surprising: low-income households are more likely to identify religious/spiritual life as the most important thing for their happiness (8 per cent) than those with middle or high household income (4 and 2 per cent respectively).

If you're prepared to excuse the value-laden uses to which this research has been put, the report provides interesting glimpses into people's thoughts about their lives. Read Mark Byrne's take on the survey in today's policy edition here.


What's meant by fair?

At the recent Fair Go NSW conference, Peter Waring of the University of Newcastle's Employment Studies Centre pondered all this talk of a fair go, fair pay, and unfair dismissal. He suggested that the meaning of fair as a noun also strikes a chord, referring to the dictionary definition of "a periodic gathering of buyers and sellers of livestock". For Waring, it's this meaning of the fair as a marketplace, which “approximates what Work Choices seeks to achieve: the marketisation of Australian industrial relations”.

Waring's point isn't original, but it was well put in his address to the third session of the Fair Go Conference. The Conference transcripts are now online and they are a rich source of research report summaries, analysis, comparative studies with New Zealand, and questions – all of which draw on anecdotes and colloquial testimonies.

A number of presenters focussed on employers' experiences of Work Choices. In the second session, Mark Goodsell, of the Australian Industry Group talked of “a hidden story about Work Choices”. That is, “it is a big effort for employers to get their heads around the new rules”. Far from welcoming the new regime, it seems many companies are confused by the labyrinth-like legislation.

Taxing the middle, at the margins

This annual AMP and Natsem report examines effective marginal tax rates (EMTRs), explained as “how much of an additional dollar of income is kept by Australians after income tax is deducted and means-tested government support is withdrawn”. It finds that the overwhelming majority of Australians don't face high EMTRS. So, who is it that does? Defining high EMTRS as over 50 per cent, the report describes almost two-thirds of those affected as parents living with their partner and dependent children. And of those, “seven in every 10 are middle income families or singles, on incomes that place them in the middle 40 percent of the Australian income distribution”. Read the report here for a more nuanced assessment of factors such as government benefits, the changing labour market, and gender.

Trumpeting Values

The Rockridge Institute has released its much anticipated book, Thinking Points: Communicating our American Values and Vision, and the introductory chapters are available online. The Institute describes it as a “handbook for the grassroots progressive community”, which builds on its popular work on framing. Thinking Points focuses on long-term strategies to revitalise liberal-progressive ideals, which the Institute insists must be expressed as a system of values.

Bewilderingly, authoritarian radical conservatives have taken up words like ‘freedom' and made them theirs, note the authors in their introduction. In the Australia context, we might consider how Howard has taken up the radical nationalist myths of the fair go and ‘the battlers' – associated with labour movement traditions – and re-invented them.

Thinking Points is at once practical advice based on extensive research into politics and what people respond to – values, connection, authenticity, symbolism and trust, NOT issues – and a determinedly optimistic rallying call: “It is up to us — citizens – to articulate the progressive vision. … We must trumpet our values throughout the nation.”

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