Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

Mannkal Student Internship Blog

Menzies Research Centre

Francois Schiefler – A Couple of Journalists

Francois Schiefler, 15 February 2016

This week, the Menzies Research Centre hosted an event with Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis, which involved substantial set up and organisation. The event was marketed as a networking night for young professionals, being Canberra this mainly attracted young political staffers.

Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis have written a trilogy of fictional books based in Canberra, the third is set for release later this year. Together they authored the Marmalade Files and the Mandarin Code. The two journalists were definitely preaching to their target audience as they were discussing how they wrote their books. A combination of political fantasy and with some very real political references the books are both entertaining and thought provoking.

My tasks for the day included arranging the room prior, which given the size of the Walker room tables is no easy feat. We arranged the room to accommodate a mini-lecture from the authors with an area at the back for drinks. I took photos through out the event, sadly my camera was broken and I had to use another.

The event attracted senior politicians, in fact the most senior Phillip Ruddock attended. It was good to see him in a very relaxed environment, it is very easy to see why he has been so successful for so long. He is charismatic and very witty. He was kind enough to let me take a photo with him. He attended the entire event which for a politician is definitely rare.

Francois Schiefler – Week 8

Francois Schiefler, 8 February 2016

This week saw another Mannkal scholar Lipashki leave Menzies. Lipashki was invited back my the Menzies Research Centre to further work on a project she had started during her time as a Mannkal scholar. It was quite nice having another West Australian over.

Another exciting point about someone leaving the Menzies Research Centre is we get to have a nice meal courtesy of Nick. This farewell/thank you was quite special, we were hosted at Parliament House by Senator Dean Smith who represents Western Australia. The Parliamentary dining room was an absolute treat, sadly I did not think photos would have been appropriate. We were joined by Angus Taylor, Member for Hume, he is currently writing an excellent piece for Menzies on the way in which we can innovate government.

This idea of making government more efficient is something I would love to keep looking into after I finish my scholarship. There is plenty we can borrow from overseas to make our government services more efficient and effective. Currently our services are a patch work of different departmental services that do not cross check between one another, there is a massive opportunity to save tax payer dollars.

This week saw the first Parliamentary sitting week for the year, Canberra truly changes when the politicians are in town. The bars are busier, coffee lines are longer and the news is more interesting. To paraphrase our Prime Minister it is truly an exciting time to be in Canberra.

Francois Schiefler – The Rainy Weeks

Francois Schiefler, 1 February 2016

It would be unfair to single out this one particular week and call it the rainy week. Since I have been in Canberra there has been no consistent dry weather. It has really stifled my plans to go out and see the sights. This week Parliament resumes in Canberra which means that the whole city becomes much more busy, I am not sure if it is just the influx of young political staff or if there is another element to it all. My tasks for the next week will be to wrap up all the work that I have started here at the Menzies Research Centre. I have slowly learnt how to work for a journalist, it is fantastically chaotic. Having a working background that is fairly rigid I did not adapt to, as our Prime Minister would say ‘agile’ working environment, I am lucky however to have learnt.

The opportunity Mannkal has provided me is simple, it has given me the chance to develop the skills that I already have learnt, graphic design, film and research. However I cannot be thankful enough for the opportunity I have had to work on my ability to write and construct arguments in a short and succinct way. Although working for a journalist can be confusing at times it definitely has its perks, and learning to write is one of them.

Part of learning to write involves, as I found out the hard way, lots and lots of reading. Luckily for me the Menzies Research Centre is home to a seemingly endless supply of books to read.

I have enjoyed exploring the building that Menzies Research Centre operates out of. It is hidden with small trinkets, statues and paintings, my absolute favourites are the mini Prime Ministers. Sadly I do not think the artist could keep up with Australia’s party rooms subsequently Rudd-Gillard-Rudd are missing, however someone was kind enough to donate a statue of Prime Minister Abbott. Our current Prime Minister is still to come. The greatest of the miniatures is of course Menzies who stands with no equal.

Make Work Pay by Francois Schiefler

Francois Schiefler, 27 January 2016

This morning, in bed, I sat wondering if going to work was worth it. Was the pay I would receive enough to get me out of bed and on to the bus to work? Sadly for me, I realised it was. Yet I realised that work pays for my accommodation, my food and everything else I need or want. The notion of work ‘paying’ is something that many of us take for granted when advocating for a more generous welfare system.

What many overlook is that welfare recipients who have access to the current suite of weekly payments, rebates, supplements and other benefits, could potentially receive far more than a minimum wage earner. Welfare payments have different eligibilities, which are traditionally created as policy responses to historic problems. Ultimately, our current welfare system, like our taxation system, has come to resemble a quagmire rather than an efficient process which helps people when times are rough, and incentivises people to get back into the labour force.

Misguided ‘benevolent’ politicians introduced the minimum wage to Australia as a method of guaranteeing that workers had a fair wage and were adequately rewarded for their labour. Yet the minimum wage, by its nature, is higher than the natural market price for labour, thus suggesting that most low-income workers should be incentivised by such a wage.

With around 10% of Australians waking up early, catching the bus, and receiving the Federal minimum wage, we need to ask ourselves: is it fair that a welfare recipient can earn more than them for not working? This question of ‘fairness’ is multi-layered.

The sad reality is that an unfair situation exists for the welfare recipient because first and foremost, it is not their money but taxpayers’ money which provides for them. As Milton Friedman said: “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own” and so an added problem of welfare payments is that they do not guarantee an efficient allocation of government resources. In addition, the recipient is deterred from taking up an entry-level, minimum wage position where they could potentially receive less income than the steady largess, which government provides. Ultimately a welfare worker moving to a minimum wage position is often penalised for their labour rather than rewarded. It is therefore plain to see why many choose to remain on welfare for years: it is an economically rational decision not to work.

So who ultimately benefits from this system? We’ve established that the system can be unfair to minimum wage workers, who endure the hardships of work with a lower reward than someone who does not work, but it is also unfair on the taxpayers of Australia, who are being made to fund a system that is opaque, unaccountable and failing to deliver on its core responsibility.

Commentators have historically argued that there is no silver bullet to welfare reform, but a look at economic fundamentals could provide something close. Providing welfare recipients with the basic economic notion of incentives could be a step in the direction of reducing the Australian taxpayer’s welfare bill and getting more people back to work.

Implementing a cap on welfare payments at a rate that is below the annual minimum wage for a full time worker would restore the fundamental incentives that our economy has been built on. The Department of Social Services has historically endeavoured to provide incentives through ‘negative reinforcement’, e.g. recipients are expected to apply for a minimum amount of jobs per week and if a recipient fails to do so their payments are suspended. Yet surely incentives can exist without the heavy bureaucratic cost of checking if recipients have applied for twenty jobs or not?

Currently we have a welfare system that benefits only the people that are paid to administer it.  The system is not fair to everyday Australian workers, who are being asked to pay tax to subsidise the lifestyles of people choosing to receive welfare rather than to work. It is also unfair to ask the taxpayer to continue to foot the bill for the administration costs of a system that has not been designed to serve its primary functions.  Minimum wage workers are treated with contempt in a system that punishes them for choosing to work. It is these workers as a whole that would benefit the most from tax cuts, which could be funded by future Government savings in the Department of Social Services.

Our current welfare system needs major reform. Instead of being a comfortable source of income which demotivates and disincentives large groups of people from entering or returning to the workforce, the system should instead exist as nothing more than a safety net designed to assist those in genuine need and to provide them with stronger incentives to get back into the labour force and allow their work to pay for them, not the everyday Australian taxpayer.

Francois Schiefler- My First Function

Francois Schiefler, 27 January 2016

This week was spent preparing for my first function with the Menzies Research Centre. I was given the illustrious task of preparing the venue and refreshments for just over a hundred young people.

In setting up the venue we had one main goal, youth proof the room. The Walker Room is steeped in Menzies tradition, it is the room where he retreated to once formally resigning as the Prime Minister of Australia. Every Liberal Party Leader has visited and held high level meetings in that room. Our goal of protecting the Walker Room was a noble pursuit. We hid everything of value and kept the booze outside. I can happily say that there was no damage. The Walker Room could easily be the backdrop of any major Government negotiation. It is laced with heavily decorated wood and a brass bust of Sir Robert Menzies himself. The room is donned with paintings and is usually only fortunate enough to see on a postcard.

As the event was a success I was tasked to pursue more memberships on the youth conference and was invited to spend my weekend at a bookstall to the side of the conference. It was quite a good youth conference with robust policy discussion and I was fortunate enough to meet the Prime Minister (sadly I am still waiting for the photographs). The Menzies Research Centre had 20 odd members sign up, which was a great result.

Another aspect of my time here at the Menzies Research Centre, which I am thoroughly enjoying, has been working on my writing skills. Nick Cater is a former editor and gives me endless advice on how to better communicate. I have attached some, as Ron would say, musings on welfare reform.

I have been joined by a former Mannkal Scholar, Lipashki Dhar who was asked back by the Menzies Research Centre to work on a special project. It is so encouraging to see the continued relationship with Mannkal Scholars and their respective think tanks.

All in all I am thoroughly enjoying myself but I definitely miss Perth.

Francois Schiefler – Canberra

Francois Schiefler, 11 January 2016

I have visited Canberra before, only ever for work and quite honestly I never really did much else while I was here. Although I have always held the belief that Canberra was a boring place, I can now honestly say I like Canberra and find it interesting.

Canberra is not interesting in the conventional way in which one would find a city interesting. It doesn’t have the coffee alleys of Melbourne, although you could be mistaken for thinking Lonsdale Street belongs to the inner city hipster. Canberra doesn’t have any world-class monuments like Sydney, the bridges over Lake Burley Griffin are fairly plain. Parliament House itself should be considered a monument; it is distinct and could easily pass the Pictionary test. Canberra’s food options are average and the service really leaves wanting but unlike my hometown of Perth getting a table at Jamie’s Italian is possible.

Canberra is a clinical place. You are always reminded that you are in one of the world’s most planned cities. For some this might sound like hell but I rather enjoy it. I enjoy that the roads are designed to work and traffic is only ever token. I like the fact that if I choose to walk somewhere I can do say without considering how to tackle the 15km to the nearest anything.

Challenges do exist in our capital, if you want to go to the shops late, you will struggle. Canberra does have everything you will need but only ever just. The city does seem to go through phases dependant on the University and Parliamentary calendars, other cites are big enough to ride out such cyclical things.

Yes Canberra is interesting in its own unique way, it is accessible, clean and if you look hard enough it can be very entertaining. First Canberra’s location, being built between Australia’s two largest cities it is quite easy to take a weekend in Sydney or a long weekend in Melbourne. Being from Perth, the most isolated city in the world, this is a nice novelty. Canberra is not too far from Australia’s biggest cities, the best surfing and our only snow.

Secondly being our nations capital, Canberra is home to everything the starts with the word ‘National’. From the National Library of Australia, the National War Memorial to the Australian Museum of Democracy, if its National it is here. I was fortunate enough to be given a behind the scenes tour of the National Library of Australia it was fascinating to see the sheer number of historic artefacts our National archives have.

Another point to note is the weather and how temperate Canberra is. While my family endure a skin cracking 40C+ in Perth I am battling it out with sub 30C. Now I understand the Canberra haters will say that it gets very cold in the winter but that is a perfect reason to wear fashionable winter clothes without pretending that it is cold enough for the oversized jacket.

For any future Mannkal scholars considering Canberra, the city is fantastic and definitely worth experiencing. It is charming and interesting in it’s own unique way and has plenty to offer.

Francois Schiefler – Week Three + Christmas

Francois Schiefler, 11 January 2016

My last week at Menzies Research Centre for 2015 was very quiet, the directors had taken their leave and I was left to my own devices. I was lucky enough to do two very simple things, read and write.

I read much on the British ‘make work pay’ welfare reform, it was easy to gain an understanding of why Britain reformed. Australia’s welfare system is a quagmire of misinformation, it is hard to truly understand what people can receive from the Australian tax payer. New Zealand has made great strides in the area of welfare reform, simplifying their payments system.

Although one could never get tired of discussing welfare reform, I will move on. Educating and informing the public of the legacy of Sir Robert Menzies is one of the core objects of the Menzies Research Centre. I have spent a substantial amount of time reading about the core principles that our longest serving Prime Minister had. I have been tasked with listening to Menzies’ speeches and finding suitable extracts to be shared. This task is truly exciting, I was invited to the National Library of Australia to view the entire Menzies collection. It is undeniable that Menzies was an incredible communicator, he truly engaged all members of his audience.

With Canberra relatively close to home I was luckily enough to fly home for Christmas. On my return to Canberra I got to watch some cricket and travel the city. I will talk about it in my next post!

Francois Schiefler – Week Two

Francois Schiefler, 22 December 2015

It is safe to say that I have genuinely settled into life at the Menzies Research Centre. The team has made me feel so welcome and included, I will take this opportunity to introduce them all.

Firstly, the Director of the Menzies Research Centre is Nick Cater, an accomplished journalist who is currently a weekly columnist for the Australian. It is always fun watching Nick frantically pen an article which is bound to stimulate discussion. Nick is the author of ‘The Lucky Culture’, a book I am currently reading in my quieter moments. What I like most about Nick is his willingness to re-think an issue without any dogmatic constraints. For example, we went out for tea and started discussing minimum wait times for welfare recipients, commonly right leaning commentators insist that this is a good thing that will save the tax payer. Nick, however took a step back and instructed me to investigate how these wait times deter people ever leaving welfare. Nick is definitely having an impact on the way in which I view policy issues facing Australia today.

The Menzies Research Centre would fail to function without it’s Deputy Director Kay Gilchrist, who is one of the nicest people I have met. Prior to the Menzies Research Centre, Kay worked in the marketing and advertising industry before being lured to Canberra. Here, she worked for several Government Ministers before working for the Prime Minister, John Howard; Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister, second only to the Menzies Research Centre’s name sake. Kay always has an interesting story to share about travels, her previous political staffer life or about her family. When I am unsure of what to do or how to do it, Kay is more than happy to provide me with direction.

Lastly there is Hugh, another intern working at the Menzies Research Centre. He is from the Australian National University and is studying Law/Politics. I believe Hugh is one of those people that will be able to do whatever he likes in the future, beside being a very nice guy he is effortlessly intelligent and has an incredibly wide understanding of issues facing our Government.

After discovering my Photoshop and graphic design abilities, Kay quickly put me to work. In the space of a day we had redesigned the MRC logo and created a self inking stamp which has now arrived. Kay is away but I cannot wait to show her the fruits of our labour when she is back. After tackling the Menzies Research Centre’s stamp issues, I moved on to design ‘With Compliments’ slips, which turned out great. With my design skills sufficiently warmed up, Kay and I had a long talk about the Menzies Research Centre’s website. We both agreed that it could be redesigned to better engage and retain visitors. I am now looking at ways to design our website better.

This week was Hugh’s last week. It was also the last week before Kay and Nick started their personal leave. To celebrate what Nick modestly describes as ‘a good year’ we went to the Press Club for drinks.

On the Friday I took a quick bus up to Sydney to see some old friends and be a tourist in a city I used to live in.

Mannkal this week has given me the opportunity to develop my graphic design skills, my ability to perceive public policy and visit Australia’s largest city. Thank you Mannkal.

Francois Schiefler – Week One

Francois Schiefler, 14 December 2015

My first week in Canberra has been truly incredible. The people I am working with are fantastic and it has been great to get to know them properly. I had the choice to sit in a quiet office or in the bullpen area, for the first week I chose the bull pen and it has been the perfect way to understand the office environment.

Firstly Nick Cater is a truly wonderful person, he has given me a research assignment looking into the concept of ‘make work pay’. The idea suggests that the minimum wage should be higher than any potential welfare; he told me this would be my major research task over tea, how English.

I have been working on the social media area of the Menzies Research Centre. Nick Cater and I sat down and I had the chance to interview him, asking him about the Menzies Research Centre and what they do. Luckily I was fully prepared to film an interview thanks to Mannkal sending me on the Lights, Camera, Liberty course instructed by Patrick Reasonover from Taliesin Nexus. It was a fantastic feeling being able to take new skills to the MRC and effectively contribute.

Wednesday night the whole office went to a party at Parliament House where the Prime Minister was in attendance, unfortunately photos were frowned upon. Seeing my colleagues in an informal setting was good and really helped me ease into the Menzies Research Centre.

I have included a photo of Sir Robert Menzies’ desk, which is where I get to work.

It has been a great experience so far and I am learning some valuable skills which I can take back to Perth.

Francois Schiefler – Briefing Day

Francois Schiefler, 1 December 2015

Mannkal Interns had the opportunity for one last catch up at Hayek House before they left to conquer the world. Some scholars were set to leave Perth that evening while others still had another week in Western Australia.

Our unshakeable leader Paul McCarthy, highlighted the day with his experiences of being with Mannkal and the opportunities it provided him. He of course could not resist the chance to insert a good dose of policy.

The day was laced with small group activities, notably a discussion with the aim of developing the perfect Mannkal elevator pitch; a 30 second enticing summary of what Mannkal does. My group decided upon:

Mannkal is an economic think tank based in Western Australia, providing generous scholarships and internship opportunities to the leaders of tomorrow. Through grassroots change Mannkal aims to develop free market thinking in Western Australia. Mannkal is partnered with over 20 think tanks around Australia and the world. My name is Francois and I am going to the Menzies Research Centre in Canberra.