Should politicians use ghost writers?

I spent most of my weekends in January and February this year writing my chapter for Peter van Onselen’s edited collection Liberals and Power: The Road Ahead. As has recently been reported, not all the other contributors spent quite so much time writing their chapters.

We know this because recycled material has shown that neither Brendan Nelson nor Julie Bishop wrote the chapters that appeared under their names. The Bishop chapter partly plagiarises New Zealand Business Roundtable Executive Director Roger Kerr, and with her chief of staff Murray Hansen taking responsibility for the whole mess we know that he was the author of her contribution (or co-author, with Kerr). Tom Switzer has outed himself as the author of Brendan Nelson’s chapter by repeating some of it in the Australian edition of The Spectator.

Last month I defended Bishop in her previous plagiarism controversy, on the grounds that senior politicians aren’t using their time effectively if they write all their own material. But Louise Adler, the publisher of Liberals and Power, is is taking a much tougher stance in The Age this morning:

Continue reading “Should politicians use ghost writers?”

Trying hard to find a redeeming feature in Labor’s full-fee place phase out

It is tempting to put the $249 million phasing out of full-fee domestic undergraduate places at public universities, some details of which were announced yesterday and reported this morning, in the same category as the $562 million wasted in a futile attempt to boost maths and science. Putting the two policies together, $811 million will be spent to add not one extra student place and to actually reduce the total funding universities receive. Even by the very low standards of Australian higher education policymaking, that is pretty spectacular.

The full-fee domestic undergraduate places were always a case of 2nd-best policymaking. The quotas and price controls (the 3rd best policy) crippling the Commonwealth-supported higher education system created artificial shortages of university places in high-demand courses. Allowing universities to offer additional places – or more accurately, allowing univerisites to offer those places to Australians rather than overseas students – alleviated these shortages.
Continue reading “Trying hard to find a redeeming feature in Labor’s full-fee place phase out”

What’s missing in Working Lives

Unlike last year, the release of the 2008 Australia at Work report was unaccompanied by claims that rude Ministerial words amounted to threats to accademic freedom. By contrast, the welcoming of the Working Lives report by Julia Gillard was part of the generally uncritical response that the authors must have been hoping for last year.

Though like last year there is some interesting material in the report, the mix of data and advocacy – and the bills being partly picked up by the union movement – inevitably raises suspicions, not about the veracity of what is there, but about what has been omitted.

In Clive Hamilton mode, the Working Lives authors are keen to send the regulators in to make us go home earlier from work. But ABS reports showing that average full-time working hours and the proportions of workers spending more than 50 hours at week have been declining since 2003 are brushed off:

Despite claims of a downward trend, since the ABS has been collecting usual hours data in 2001, average usual hours have remained between 44 and 45 hours per week.

Continue reading “What’s missing in Working Lives”

Australia’s surprisingly secure workers, part 5

The ACTU made much of their claim that WorkChoices reduced job security, as part of their fight against weakened “unfair” dismissal laws. But it is surprisingly hard to find evidence that the legal arrangements surrounding employment security have any significant effect on either subjective job security (how highly people rate their chances of keeping their job) or objective job security (the actual rate of retrenchment).

The ABS labour mobility survey, released yesterday and covering the 12 months to February 2008 (ie, all under WorkChoices dismissal law), reinforces this point. Were there mass sackings as employers unfairly took advantage of additional rights to do so? To the contrary, the proportion of people who left their last job involuntarily through redundancy, dismissal or lack of work fell to 1.8% of all people who held a job in that 12 months, certainly the lowest since 1990, and quite probably the lowest ever recorded.* (I don’t have the 1980s surveys, but this is better than the 2.7% in 1972, at the tail end of the long post-war boom).
Continue reading “Australia’s surprisingly secure workers, part 5”

Baby boom

When last year’s ABS birth statistics were released, I doubted that the apparent increase in fertility was anything more than delayed births: it was older women driving the apparent baby boom, with age-specific fertility rates actually falling for women in their 20s.

But the 2007 statistics released today unambiguously report a baby boom. The total number of babies born was the highest ever, eclipsing the previous 1971 record, and every age group from 15-19 to 45-49 (even them, 506 babies, up from 438) is contributing to the increase. Women aged 30-34 were making trips to the maternity ward at a rate not seen since 1962.

Of course I remain a baby bonus/FTB sceptic. But I’d have to concede that a period of considerable prosperity for families, due in part to the rivers of taxpayers’ cash flowing their way during the Howard years, probably made a difference. From media reports of hospitals working beyond capacity, 2008 may break 2007’s record, and with many 2009 births already locked in it will probably produce big numbers too. The economic downturn will help us see whether higher fertility is driven by economics, or whether the cultural shift away from having children has started to reverse itself.

Minority support for a 2010 emissions reduction scheme

Today’s Newpoll finds opinion on climate change action rather more affected by the financial crisis than the Climate Institute’s poll last week suggested.

While the Climate Institute found 22% agreeing that the financial crisis meant that action on climate change should be delayed, Newspoll found 30% supporting a delay. On top of that 21% of respondents were against a carbon pollution reduction scheme, nearly double the 11% opposition Newspoll found in response to a differently-worded question back in July. Wtith 5% uncommitted, if Newspoll is right only a minority – 44% – now supports the government’s scheme of a 2010 implementation of an ETS.

The poor presentation of the Climate Change Institute results makes it difficult to fully analyse the reasons for the very different conclusions the polls reach. But Newspoll’s question on delay pointed out that energy ‘may become more expensive’, a better question in balancing the competing considerations, and so more likely to approximate the ‘real world’ reactions to an ETS.

Victorian government still committed to anti-democratic reforms

The Age‘s headline reads ‘Backdown on activist councillors’, in reference to the anti-democratic bill currently before the Parliament restricting the freedom of councillors to vote on matters they had previously been involved in, limiting rights of financial support for candidates, and denying voters the capacity to choose candidates committed to defending their interests.

The actual amendments have not yet been put to the Parliament, but based on Minister Richard Wynne’s media release the bill is still very unsatisfactory.

Rather than any objection to or submission on a proposal, the bill now proposes to cover only parties to a civil actions or VCAT appeals, or those who lodge objections to a planning permit. But as I argued last week, if a candidate runs on issues relating to the same subject as a civil action, VCAT appeal, or planning objection, the election victory turns the ‘private’ interest into a ‘public’ interest as well.

And there is no word about changing the absurd requirement that councillors keep complex records of who donates to them and then match them against all matters they have to decide on in council meetings.

I’m yet to hear what the Liberals will do on this bill – the Greens are still leading the fight. But I am hoping that the Liberals will come good.

Is HECS a tax?

Commenter Charles objects to HECS as

an exotic tax aimed at passing education costs to the next generation

Though until 2004 I thought that HECS could reasonably be classified as a tax, that analysis would have been disputed by the courts. Under the Constitution, there is a distinction between taxes and fees for services, and arguably HECS was a fee for service, in that the person who paid it became entitled to a specific service in return.

However, HECS had other attributes of a tax: it was set by the government, it went to the government, and was mostly collected by the Australian Taxation Office (up-front payments went direct to universities, but as money owed to the Commonwealth, with an adjustment to the government income of universities as a result). It made the Australian tax-welfare system mildly more progressive than it would otherwise have been.

But since the student contribution amount system came into force in 2005, I do not think ‘tax’ is the best description of this payment.
Continue reading “Is HECS a tax?”

Labor’s faulty uni intuitions cost taxpayers $562 million

Fulfilling an election promise, this year’s budget contained:

$562.2 million over four years to encourage students to study maths and science and compensate universities. From 1 January 2009, the maximum annual student contribution amount for maths and science will be reduced to the lowest ‘national priority’ rate for new students.

As I pointed out when Labor first announced this plan in early 2007, it rests on two false assumptions.

The first assumption is that choices between broad academic disciplines are driven by relative prices. There is no evidence in the history of changing HECS levels that this is the case. A moment’s reflection explains why: for most people, a choice of course is a career decision, and who in their right mind would choose a field that did not interest them to save a few thousand dollars in eight or nine years time (when their HECS repayments would finish earlier than would otherwise be the case)? And for students motivated by money, a few thousand dollars in tuition costs is not going to change substantially the lifetime earning relativities between occupations.
Continue reading “Labor’s faulty uni intuitions cost taxpayers $562 million”

Good political fortune not helping Democrat unhappiness

You’d think that these were happy times for the American left. The Bush Presidency is ending in dismal failure, as they always thought it would. The Democrat candidate for the Presidency is now a near-certainty, and better still he is an African-American near-certainty. They’ll control the Congress. ‘Neolilberalism’ is being blamed for the financial market meltdown, and left-wing ideas about regulation are suddenly respectable. The American rich have lost amazing amounts of money; American inequality will be vastly diminished (sure, by tearing the rich down rather than by helping the poor, but the left has always favoured both strategies).

Yet according to latest Pew happiness research, Democrats remain much less happy than Republicans. They are more than twice as likely to say that they are ‘not too happy’. And Republicans are half as likely again as Democrats to describe themselves as ‘very happy’. The 25% Democrat ‘very happy’ is at its lowest level in a time series going back to 1972.

According to Pew, Republicans are happier than Democrats because:
Continue reading “Good political fortune not helping Democrat unhappiness”