Archive for July, 2011

Vested and public interests

Back in January, Wotif founder Graeme Wood attracted media attention for making the largest ever single donation to a political party, $1.6 million to the Greens:

Mr Wood said his donation was motivated by disappointment with Labor and Coalition policies on climate change and the environment.

“I didn’t think either of those parties were being effective,” he said. “They were being driven by people with vested interests.“(emphasis added)

But in an a story for the Weekend AFR (paywall) Wood says that he:

..saw the $1.6 million donation as a defensive move that saved him many millions of dollars.

“I was a bit concerned that if the Coalition got in a lot of my investments in environmental causes would have been down the plughole.”

Admittedly Wood’s environmental investments do not from this article seem highly oriented towards returning a profit. But what is a ‘vested’ interest and what a ‘public’ interest position is often not self-evident; those who face financial ruin from environmentalist causes would presumably see themselves as representing a public interest, and Wood’s desire to protect his investment in those causes as a vested interest.

The most disobeyed legislation on the Commonwealth statute books?

For the past couple of days, The Age has been going hard on the failure of a Liberal Party ‘associated entity’, Business First, to file its required disclosure forms. It was the lead story yesterday, and still on page one this morning.

The purpose of these laws is to reveal the identities of financial supporters of political parties. While Business First is undoubtedly in technical breach of the law, what The Age isn’t telling you is that it had no donors large enough to require disclosure. If they had followed the law, Business First’s AEC form would, like the vast majority of forms submitted to the AEC, have received no attention at all because it contains nothing of any interest.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act is probably the most disobeyed piece of legislation on the Commonwealth statute books. While this is mostly people avoiding their legal obligation to turn up to the polling booths, there is also widespread non-compliance with the paperwork required to be a political entity or a donor above the threshold. Read the rest of this entry »

A president and a VC

Two events to promote:

At lunchtime Thursday, Czech President Vaclav Klaus will give a Deakin lecture on the future of personal and economic freedom, at Melbourne University at lunchtime. For details email [email protected]

And on Thursday evening at Federation Square in Melbourne, Oxford VC Andrew Hamilton will speak at a Grattan Institute event on how to create a world class university. You can book here.

Does anyone want to replace me?

The ad for my University of Melbourne job is here.

And the ad for the Policy editor job is here.

Is an arts degree a good financial investment? #2

Earlier in the month I looked at median weekly income for arts graduates, all graduates, and people with certificate III/IV qualifications, as reported in the 2006 census (note the various data caveats in the first post). I found that arts graduates had similar income profiles to certificate III/IV holders.

The figure below looks at males with income around the 75th percentile for their qualification in 2006, and tells a different story. In their 20s, earnings are fairly similar between the three groups (in the rather crude way I have had to do this, the ‘all graduates’ aged 25-29 just missed out on the next income bracket, and if the test had been ‘all non-arts graduates’ may have made it).

By their 30s, arts graduates in this part of the income distribution are clearly pulling away from the certificate III/IV people. But they are not gaining on all graduates. Indeed, the gap is likely to be larger than shown at the median, because graduates at the 75th percentile are ticking the highest census income category of $2,000 a week or more. We can’t tell from this data source how much they are earning, other than that it must be over $500 a week more than an arts graduate in the same relative position.

Should government issue advertising be regulated?

Last week I gave a presentation to an electoral law workshop on the campaign finance law applying to ‘third parties’. My basic thesis was that the rules introduced in NSW and Queensland (discussed in my recent paper and this submission) are heavily biased against third parties, and in favour of political parties and the government of the day. In NSW and Queensland, third parties have much lower donations and expenditure caps than political parties. If the ALP submission to the current parliamentary review of campaign finance is a guide, the government will push for a similar regime federally.

Another area in which the law is biased against third parties is government advertising, such as the carbon tax ads launched at the weekend by the federal government. The federal rules have the following provisions: Read the rest of this entry »

Hereditary politics?

In the Australian Election Study 2010 there is a question about the politics of the respondent’s parents. Though the generations don’t share politics as much as spouses, politics is not looking like a major source of division in family get-togethers. Labor politics seems particularly hereditary. About three-quarters of Labor identifiers in 2010 say that their parents were also Labor supporters. 30% of respondents did not know which party their parents supported.

The lower hereditary nature of Liberal politics reflects the well-known generational problems in Liberal support.

Among 2010 Green identifiers, a bit over a quarter have Liberal parents, and a bit under 40% have Labor parents.

My new job

After more than 11 years working for the CIS and the University of Melbourne I have a new job. From the middle of next month I will take up a position at the Grattan Institute, directing their new higher education program. The Grattan media release is here.

CIS and U of M are both great places to work, but I’ve long wanted to do more research and writing on higher education than I could with my current jobs. I’ve always had many more ideas for papers than I have had time in the week. Grattan offered me the opportunity to write those papers, and without having to leave Carlton. My new office is about a block away from my Melbourne University office, and a few blocks from where I live.

Meanwhile, I have one last issue of Policy to finish off.

Is an arts degree a good financial investment?

Last week I spoke at a seminar on the public funding of the humanities and social sciences. In my presentation I showed a slide of the earnings of male arts bachelor degree graduates compared to all graduates, showing that the median male arts graduate earned significantly less than other bachelor graduates (less than the slide suggests, since I did not extract arts graduates from the total).

What I should also have done is added median earnings for the upper vocational qualifications, which I have now done in the figure below (due to limitations in the way the ABS publishes census data, I have taken median as the mid-point in the income catgory in which the median person appears). Overall it shows a quite similar earnings profile with the arts graduates, with the effects of earlier full-time workforce entry showing in the higher earnings for certificate III/IV qualified workers in their 20s.


Read the rest of this entry »

Why do public universities use feeder colleges?

Many public universities have close relationships with feeder colleges – more politely known as providing ‘pathways’ to university. Some universities have set up their own, such as Monash College or UTS’s INSEARCH. But others collaborate with private providers such as Navitas. For example, Deakin has an arrangement with the Navitas subsidary the Melbourne Institute of Business and Technology, and Macquarie with the Sydney Institute of Business and Technology.

So why don’t public universities directly offer courses to these students? There would seem to be several reasons:

1) If they took the students directly, they would have to report that they sometimes take school leavers with weak Year 12 results. Whether or not the students improve a lot in their year at the feeder college, the back door entry method allows the course to have higher apparent admission standards.

2) They aren’t equipped to do remedial work – better to clearly identify the problematic students, and have another organisation teach them in different ways.

3) They are equipped to do remedial work, but can’t do it on Commonwealth-supported rates – hence putting them in the full-fee sector. Read the rest of this entry »