Papers and other publications

[NEW RELEASE] Fat Chance: Why sugar taxes won't work

[NEW RELEASE] Fat Chance: Why sugar taxes won't work


Fat Chance: Why sugar taxes won't work

A report by the Menzies Research Centre with asssistance from Cadence Economics 

Does a case exist for a “sugar tax”?

The Greens, the Australian Medical Association and various other public health enthusiasts from around the world say it does. The MRC commissioned the economists at Cadence to investigate the veracity of the research behind this proposal. Five papers from Australia and one from Mexico, all published in the past two years, were analysed. Their findings were underwhelming, to say the least. We also found that where the tax had been implemented overseas, there was little or no effect on consumption or public health.

It would be easy to dismiss this proposal as the preoccupation of fringe zealots, easily ignored, especially given that the two major political parties in Australia have ruled it out. But these proposals have an irritating habit of not only persisting but also becoming accepted, as we’ve seen in the energy and environmental sectors.

This report will hopefully prevent this proposed sugar tax being implemented, and allow consumers to  retain the right to make their own decisions regarding their health and wellbeing.

[RECENT RELEASE] Power Off Power On: Rebooting the National Energy Market

[RECENT RELEASE] Power Off Power On: Rebooting the National Energy Market


Power Off Power On: Rebooting the National Energy Market

An Options Paper by The Shepherd Review commissioned by the Menzies Research Centre 

The Shepherd Review

Power Off Power On: Rebooting the National Energy Market is an Options Paper by The Shepherd Review commissioned by the Menzies Research Centre.

Its brief is to identify the obstacles in the path of national progress and to recommend policy solutions that will drive prosperity.

The first stage of the Shepherd Review concluded with the publication of Statement of National Challenges in March 2017 which set out the reform priorities.

Australia has benefited from an extended period of strong economic growth and wealth generation. This has contributed to the country’s high levels of prosperity, relative equality and standard of living.

If Australia is to retain control of its destiny, it must capitalise on new wealth generating opportunities and avoid complacency.

Failure to do so will reduce Australia’s performance over the medium to long term and restrict opportunities for its citizens.

The Review Panel is led by MRC Director Tony Shepherd AO and supported by Secretariat Head, Spiro Premetis. It is working with small, medium and large businesses, specialists and the wider community  to produce principled, empirically-based findings.

Tony Header

From the desk of Tony Shepherd

In March 2017 the Shepherd Review published its Statement of National Challenges setting out the priorities for national reform.

Since then we have conducted a series of community forums talking to people in every state to discover what they think needs fixing.

The spiralling cost of energy was the most frequently made complaint in every state except Western Australia.

Concerns about the reliability were a close second. One woman in Whyalla, South Australia, told us she used to shop for groceries once a month. Now she shops twice a week because she cannot rely on her electric freezer.

Energy prices was the number one complaint by small business owners. We learned that fast food franchises are particularly affected. If you’re serving burgers on demand, you cannot turn off the grill.

In Port Augusta, we found a pub running on newly installed diesel generators within sight of the decommissioned Northern Power Station.

Consumers and business owners have a right to feel angry. As our report shows, they have been largely kept in the dark about the extent and effect of subsidies to support the introduction of renewable energy.

It was never made clear that the cost of those subsidies would be added to their bill.

They were not warned about the technical challenge that comes from trying to integrate large amounts of non-synchronous energy generation into the grid.

Nor were they told about the high cost of sourcing reliable energy when wind and solar generators are idle.

It is clear from our report that the energy crisis afflicting Australia is a problem entirely of government making. It is arguably the most costly failure of government in our lifetimes.

Fixing this mess will not be easy. It requires a focussed response from Commonwealth, state and territory governments focussed on the national interest.

Most of all, it requires that the market should be left to balance supply and demand and to pass on the benefits of Australia’s abundant sources of energy.

The cost of inefficiency in the energy market flows through to every sector of the economy. It affects our prosperity, health and employment opportunities. An inefficient energy market puts a handbrake on the economy and limits the life chances of future generations. It is in every Australian’s interest, therefore, to ensure that the market operates smoothly.

Reliable and affordable energy are non-negotiable. Without them, Australians and the businesses they run will struggle to get ahead.

Tony Shepherd Signature

Tony Shepherd AO
Chairman, The Shepherd Review
December 2017


Guarding your nest egg: Restoring independence to industry retirement funds

Guarding your nest egg: Restoring independence to industry retirement funds


Guarding your nest egg: Restoring independence to industry retirement funds

A report by the Menzies Research Centre 

Whether there ought to be a minimum number of outside or independent directors appointed to superannuation funds is the subject matter of this report. The answer to the proposition is that there are compelling reasons for the Commonwealth to mandate independent directors in the conduct of all superannuation funds in Australia that take contributions from members of the public. This report sets out the three primary reasons for the adoption of the independent director proposal currently posed by the Commonwealth; the views of previous inquiries around independence and disclosure and, finally, concludes with the key points supporting the recommendation for independent directors.

The legislation recommends that the conflicts of interest within the compulsory superannuation system require further oversight and management. Superannuation fund consumers, as de facto investors, have good reason to be concerned about the conflicts of interest that exist in non-private superannuation funds. This conflict exists in all funds regardless of type, whether profit or non-profit. No superannuation fund can counter this concern by citing market place behaviour or performance statistics. The conflict concern goes to the Commonwealth’s view of strategic governance of its residual risk and accordingly extends to the governance of all superannuation funds with collective membership howsoever structured.

Superannuation fund members are best provided for by sufficiently qualified persons who independently ensure a check and balance between the owners of the superannuation fund and the fund itself. It is almost 10 years since a government review recommended independent directors be required on superannuation funds. It is apparent that enactment of this overdue recommendation will increase the confidence of the community in the governance of superannuation funds overall.

Click here to read the press release

Gonski revisited: Making the education dollar work harder for our kids

Gonski revisited: Making the education dollar work harder for our kids

*update* Read the Menzies Research Centre's Submission to the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools hereTo find our more about this Review, click here.


The latest paper by the Menzies Research Centre, Gonski revisited: Making the education dollar work harder for our kids, argues that the billions of taxpayers dollars spent on schools since the original 2012 Gonski Review would have been better targeted at improving teaching standards and directly assisting disadvantaged families.

Reducing the argument simply to a question of money delayed the opportunity to examine other ways of lifting educational achievement.

The paper calls for a truce in the sterile debate at the size of funding for schools and calls for the implementation of reform that will improve the quality of spending – and the quality of young lives. 

Introduction from Gonski Revisited:

If the task of the education dollar is to produce a better educated public the school system is an underperformer. The public cost of educating an Australian child has never been higher. Yet literacy levels are poor and continue to decrease, trending in the opposite direction to the level of funding. The unpalatable conclusion is that the changes implemented by the last Labor government were a costly policy mistake. Scarce funds were squandered on a top-down plan that diverted attention from measures that might have given pupils a greater chance of fulfilling their potential. There is abundant evidence to show that beyond a certain level, the allocation funding has little impact on educational outcomes. This evidence was all but ignored in the Labor federal government’s response to the Gonski Review which presumes a causal relationship between the size of a school’s budget and the academic performance of its pupils. That presumption is a flimsy basis on which to recommend a 15 per cent increase in recurrent public spending on primary and secondary education. The Gillard administration’s response assumes that economic, social and personal disadvantage can be overcome by varying one factor alone – the size of the school budget. It made the fatal bureaucratic mistake of making inputs, rather than outcomes, the key measure of success.

Seldom has an inquiry acquired the totemic significance of the Gonski Review or become such a hot political issue. Support for what are assumed to be the Review’s recommendations, but were in fact determined by the Labor government’s response, has become an article of faith for those who advocate greater Commonwealth spending. Five years and four prime ministers after the report’s release, the name Gonski continues to be requisitioned as a political slogan by Labor and its union supporters. This report analyses how the Gonski Review failed to deliver what it had promised, and what course of action a prudent government would take to correct its expensive mistakes.

Click here to read the press release


Gender and politics report: 2017 Update

Gender and politics report: 2017 Update

*Hardcopy reports  now available for purchase*

Gender and politics: 2017 Update  is an update to the original Gender and Politics report released in 2015.

It attempts to provide empirical evidence of the extent and nature of the gender imbalance in politics, discuss its consequences and construct an intellectual and philosophical framework to address the disparity based on Liberal principles.

This paper draws from the Menzies Research Centre's Gender and Politics Forum held in Melbourne on 26 June 2015. It was presented to the federal Women's Committee Conference in Adelaide on 15-16 August 2015, convened to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the establishent of the Committee.

In a message included within the latest report, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull writes 'there is no greater enthusiast than me for seeing more women in positions of power and influence in parliament, in ministries right across the country' and acknowledges that 'we must keep striving to ensure women are on an equal footing with men and have greater opportunities to participate in the corridors of power.' 

The report, co-authored by Nicolle Flint MP and Nick Cater, was presented to the Federal Women's Committee Women and Leadership Forum on 18 March 2017. 

Nicolle Flint was elected in 2016 as the federal Member for Boothby. She is the first female to hold the seat since it was established in 1903. Nicolle previously worked as a columnist with News Corp and Fairfax, as a policy adviser to Liberal leaders and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She has held senior leadership roles in the Liberal Party of Australia (SA Division).  

Nick Cater is Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre and writes for The Australian. He is author of The Lucky Culture (Harper Collins 2013). He edited The Howard Factor (MUP 2006) and A Better Class of Sunset: The collected works of Christopher Pearson (Connor Court 2014).   



Oceans of Opportunity: How labour mobility can help Australia and its neighbours

Oceans of Opportunity: How labour mobility can help Australia and its neighbours

*Hardcopy reports  now available for purchase*

Oceans of Opportunity: How labour mobility can help Australia and its neighbours examines ways of freeing up the Pacific labour market in a way that would be of great benefit to Australia and our Pacific neighbours.

The Menzies Research Centre was delighted to have the Hon Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, launch the report at Parliament House, Canberra on 1 March 2017. Click here to watch the Minister's speech and to view photos of the successful launch. 

Executive Summary from Oceans of Opportunity:

The growth of the Australian economy depends on the ability of business to recruit a labour force needed to operate productively in a competitive global marketplace. Demographic developments will make the challenge harder as the effects of an ageing population and a low birth rate are increasingly felt. In the past Australia has turned to migration from the United Kingdom, Europe and more recently Asia to fill gaps that might otherwise have constrained the ability of business to grow and left Australia vulnerable in a competitive global economy.

The nations of the Pacific region present an enormous untapped resource of workers. Australia has forged close economic ties with many Pacific nations, some of which are fellow members of the Commonwealth, and through trade and aid. There are also strong cultural and sporting links between Australia and the Pacific. Nevertheless we have been slow to realise the potential offered by the Pacific region, particularly compared with New Zealand. The Seasonal Worker Programme, sourcing labour from participating Pacific Island nations to meet skills shortages in the agriculture and tourism and hospitality sectors is relatively new. Yet the experience has been positive; Pacific Island workers have integrated well onto the local communities and made a substantial economic contribution in regional areas as both workers and consumers.

There are strong geopolitical reasons why Australia should be more closely engaged with the Pacific. While Australia has maintained trade links and been a major source of aid for many Pacific Nations, China is emerging as a major investor in many Pacific Island nations. It is in Australia’s interests to protect access to the fisheries and mineral resources that are available across the region. Australia could not compete with China in terms of direct investment into public infrastructure and private development, but offering employment opportunities to Pacific Island workers will secure strong ties to the people of the Pacific as well as boosting the flow of Australian cash into the Pacific economy through remittances.

The time is now ripe for Australia to reconsider how it engages with the Pacific workforce. Small scale programmes such as the Seasonal Worker Programme have proven to be an effective way of meeting the skills and labour demands for domestic industries that have traditionally struggled to attract and retain workers. Forecasts for labour demands suggest that the domestic labour supply will not be sufficient to meet demand in sectors like aged and community care, agriculture and tourism and hospitality. They are sectors with jobs that workers from the Pacific are potentially well-suited to fill.



Damn lies and statistics: The demonisation of the alcohol industry

Damn lies and statistics: The demonisation of the alcohol industry

Anti-alcohol campaigners have wildly exaggerated the cost of social damage caused by alcohol to justify punitive taxes and stricter regulation. In fact, the widely circulated claim that alcohol costs the community $36 billion a year appears to have no basis in fact. Such wowsernomics, which are subjective rather than scientific, are no foundation on which to base good public policy. 

In an independent review of the industry (commissioned by the MRC), Cadence Economics has found that claims such as the enormous financial cost to the community are based on rubbery economics and questionable evidence. The review has revealed the temperance lobby has all but ignored the social, economic and health benefits of moderate drinking.

Amongst the review findings are that the alcohol industry contributes an estimated $15.6 billion to the economy (including $2.2 billion in exports), $6.5 billion in taxes and direct or indirect employment for 126,000 Australians.


Constructing a Better Future: Restoring order and competition in the building industry

Constructing a Better Future: Restoring order and competition in the building industry

A productive and efficient construction will be critical to developing new industries, securing foreign investment and economic growth.

Yet productivity in the building industry is poor. Excessive wages and disruptive working practices typically increase the cost of construction by 20 to 35 per cent and, in some cases, even more. Better value for money in construction will help businesses expand, create new jobs and export opportunities.

The report examines a number of major government funded projects, included the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games site, the Majura Parkway project in the ACT and Victoria’s desalination plant. It finds that pattern bargaining agreements struck between contractors and unions are inflating the cost of projects and leading to inefficient work practices.


Gender and Politics Report 2015

Gender and Politics Report 2015


The MRC Gender and Politics Report finds that women are outnumbered by men in both major parties in every parliament in the country. While the Liberal Party achieved early success in increasing the number of women candidates, there has been little progress in correcting the gender imbalance for the last two decades.

In a forward to the report, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the paper demonstrates that the Liberal Party must increase the involvement of women in its organisation and parliamentary ranks.

The report rejects the rigid, top-down quota system adopted by the Labor Party. It calls for Liberal Party divisions to set realistic, incremental targets for female representatives to encourage change from the grass roots up.

The report, co-authored by Nicolle Flint and Nick Cater, was released in Adelaide to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Liberal Party’s Federal Women’s Committee Conference. 

Nicolle Flint is the Chairman of the Rural and Regional Council, Liberal Party of Australia (SA Division). 

Nick Cater is Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre. 


Sir Robert Menzies - read the original 'WOMEN FOR CANBERRA' speech Sir Robert Menzies made in 1943 below. 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott - read the PM's Federal Women's Committee Conference speech made on 15 August 2015 endorsing the Menzies Research Centre report below. 

Senator Linda Reynolds - read Senator Reynolds' speech at the Federal Women's Committee forum on 16 August 2015 below. 

The Performance of State Labor Governments

The Performance of State Labor Governments published in 2013 analyses the performance of recent state Labor governments drawing upon publicly available data from independent, objective sources.

In this comparison, clear patterns emerge.

Across Australia, state Labor governments have consistently:

  • spent more than they earned
  • imposed higher taxes and charges
  • increased state debt and other liabilities, such as unfunded superannuation
  • increased the number of state public sector employees, especially those in backroom administration, much faster than populations have grown
  • spent revenue windfalls rather than saved them
  • failed to build the infrastructure their citizens and businesses need; and
  • failed to achieve significantly improved health and education outcomes despite spending much more money in these areas.

Coalition governments at both state and federal level have a long history of cleaning up a mess Labor governments have left behind.


The source documents used in the analysis can be viewed and downloaded here.

State of the Nation: aspects of Australian public policy

State of the Nation: aspects of Australian public policy (edited by Don Markwell, Rachael Thompson, and Julian Leeser), Connor Court, 2013. In this volume, 15 distinguished Australians who are non-partisan experts and senior practitioners in their fields critique policies and performance under the Rudd/Gillard governments since 2007.

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