Posted: 10:12 am on 23rd February 2015

liberty_delcroixTo arms, dear readers! The honour of WasteWatch has been maligned.

We are now, according to a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, part of a merry band of anti-intellectual “right-wing inquisitors” grinding evidence-based policy-making into the dust with our “crib guides to Hayek, von Mises, and Milton Friedman.”

The trigger for this outburst seems to be the latest product of the Canberra rumour-mill: the suggestion that there may not be enough money in the upcoming federal budget to pay for the 2016 census to be conducted in the same way past censuses have been conducted.

The Guardian article is stirring stuff. Censuses are celebrated as the foundation of everything good, from “sewered streets and lights” to sociology and, apparently, Christianity.

In the naughty corner are the usual suspects — the CIS and the IPA — who are supposedly aligned with the Abbott government in an unholy trinity of conservatism, “blind to the value of others’ intellectual endeavours when they do not accord with [our] firm prior commitments,” and “chuckl[ing] luridly at any sense of genuine inquiry.”

Our sin, it seems, dates back to last October, when we dared to publish a story about the $110,000 of your money that the Australian Bureau of Statistics has spent building and advertising a free app, called Run That Town, where players can make imaginary planning decisions in various neighbourhoods, based on data from the 2011 census.

WasteWatch never advocated abolishing or radically revising the census, but we did suggest that this game was possibly not the best use of taxpayer money.

Naturally, the Guardian became hot under the collar, and courageously leapt to the ABS’ defence, ruing the day we ever “cloak[ed ourselves] in borrowed academic robes” and strode forth to destroy the origins of Christianity and sewerage.

If we weren’t allegedly so busy indulging in the “privileged giggling of the unimaginative”, we might point out to the Guardian that evidence-based policy is one of the cornerstones of the CIS. WasteWatch might even dare to point out that the proposal to change the way the census runs came from the ABS itself, and not our unholy hands.

And we would agree with the ABS that spending $440 million of taxpayer money on a census, just because King Herod might have appreciated it, doesn’t qualify as a good example of evidence-based policy, if there is a cheaper, more efficient way of getting similarly reliable information.

But the Guardian knows all this already, they just didn’t want to let the evidence base get in the way of a good story.

So we will take our “desiccated attitude towards government and governance” back to our favourite task of apparently undermining “the basic foundations of the modern state.”

We’ll let you know when we’re done.

William Shrubb

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