Corporate pork watch

Most of the arguments for political donations disclosure are process-oriented, but this issue needs to be put in a broader theory of good government. That a CEO may buy dinner with a Minister at a party fundraiser is of no consequence unless some kind of bad decision – eg one that favours the CEO’s company when there is no strong public policy case for doing so – flows from it.

However, the best evidence for such bad decisions is not the annual political donations disclosure but the spending announcements of the government. Why use a proxy when you can use the real thing?

As I have been noting recently, the people calling for greater donations disclosure are strangely uninterested in the public policy bad they are ostensibly trying to prevent. So I have decided to do their job for them and keep note of corporate pork on my blog. On the recent history of the Rudd government this may become a rather time-consuming task. I’ll start with the stories in today’s media and over time try to fill in the gaps from earlier decisions. A listing does not mean that the decision is an entirely bad one (though I suspect the bulk of them are bad).


4 February, 2009

Makers and installers of insulation get $3.7 billion boost. (Expect high inflation in this sector.)

Every farmer on exceptional circumstances payments gets $950. Agriculture is an industry in which exceptions seem to be the norm.

Sun shining
for makers of solar hot water services.

Construction industry wins with big ‘social housing’ construction plan. Social housing is the euphemism for public housing – just about the only housing stock in Australia that creates anti-social environments. Age article notes that ‘the scheme is designed to suit private builders, many of whom have been left with approved building plans that they cannot start without buyers.’

Construction industry wins again with schools renovation program.

Road construction industry
shares to rise.

16 thoughts on “Corporate pork watch

  1. “Social housing is the euphemism for public housing – just about the only housing stock in Australia that creates anti-social environments”

    This statement is a gross over-generalisation, and an unfair slur on public housing tenants too. Bad planning or inadequate services in regard to public housing can faciliate what you call ‘anti-social environments’, but there are plenty of examples of public housing which do not have any ‘anti-social’ effects at all. Some people make the same generalisations about anyone who rents their house, or when there are percevied overconcentrations of people from a particular ethnic background (except for Anglos), even when they mostly own their own home.

    The term social housing is used more often these days in part because of the stigma attached to the term ‘public housing’, but the term ‘social housing’ is also used these days because models of publicly funded housing have gone far beyond what most people think of as traditional public housing (i.e. run by government). It now includes a variety of different community housing models run by NGOs and not-for-profit groups.

    In regards to your broader point, I understand what you’re saying about corporate pork-barrelling (although a fair chunk of the stuff you’ve listed will help small business and contractors as much corporations) and it is fair enough to monitor this, but surely it is more justifiable in the context of a looming recession if it will have positive employment or economic stimulus benefits – compared to if it was being done in times of economic boom.

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  2. Have a fried that owns a business making insulation. He says he thinks there are not enough installers out there… so we’ll start seeing inflated prices in that sector.

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  3. “…small business and contractors as much corporations…”

    Huh? There aren’t small businesses and contractors that are corporations?

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  4. Don

    Are you suggesting, we’d find that to be a good thing? For someone who thinks they know the right, I’m more than a little surprised you even brought that horrendous policy up as some sort of counter measure.

    Having said that , it’s not exactly $42 billion of pork, is it.

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  5. Andrew B – I did not say that all public housing created anti-social environments, and I think I am bluntly stating what is the standard view on this: that if you put lots of people with the kinds of difficulties that lead them to be eligible together through public housing estates you are asking for trouble.

    That is why public housing now tends to be blended into areas that otherwise function reasonably well (such as my block of apartments, one of which is owned by Victoria’s housing authorities).

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  6. Sure andrew, but there’s pork and pork. It’s like comparing the flu and suggesting that lymphoma is the same because they share some of the same symptoms.

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  7. Andrew N –

    I appreciate you didn’t say all public housing created anti-social environments, but I still think it is an unreasonable slur to state that it is the “only housing stock in Australia that creates anti-social environments.”

    I accept that an overconcentration of people with particular difficulties, or general poverty or other disadvanatges in one location can create problems. But it is the overconcentration (and in many cases the lack of necessary social supports – e.g. people with mental health issues who have been deinstitutionalised), not the nature of their housing tenure which creates the problem. If you have the same concentration of people living in low cost private rental (a type of tenure which will become more common and is already the case with some supported accomdation), you can get the same issues.

    People on lower incomes can face enough stigmas or judgemental attitudes as it is. I don’t think it helps to create an unreasonable association between public housing and social problems.

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  8. I’m not sure if your examples are rent seeking, more funds being used to push particular agendas, but in all cases business seems to be the winner, why would they be contributing to the Liberal party (wanting to keep their contributes silent I can understand). It seems to me Labor is giving them what they want.

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  9. Charles – I’m not saying these examples are the result of rent-seeking (they might be, but I have no information on that). What worries me is the overall incentive system created in the last few months: that the way to business success is to ask for a handout, rather than to deliver the goods and services wanted in the market. This is deeply corrupting of the business culture.

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  10. I agree with Andrew B about the stigma attached to public housing. I’ve spoken with job seekers who avoid telling employers their real address because they worry it will count against them.

    I understand that Andrew N is saying that clustering disadvantaged people together makes social problems worse. What are the alternative policies?

    It’s a shame that Andrew L has defected to the public service. He advanced some empirical arguments in favour of moving people away from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

    In the US there’s some controversy about breaking up disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

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  11. Andrew I make two small point:

    1) It’s going to take more than markets to move us from a carbon based economy. If a democracy votes for such a change it is the responsibility of the elected government to create the environment needed for those changes to happen. The fastest way is to nudge the market (my own view is a price on carbon is the way to go but that is irrelevant)

    2) Capitalist funding of large projects is broken, until fixed something has to take it’s place.

    There are big changes taking place, I have no doubt mistakes will be made but it is time to abandon old props and start thinking a little deeper ( I am impressed Rudd can write a 7000 word assay on the issue). Big changes are a time when original thinkers make their mark, people don’t get remembered for regurgitating old preduces.

    As an aside, I think the Liberals are hoping Rudd goes the way of Whitlam, it just isn’t going to happen, Rudd has the support of Treasury, Whitlam didn’t; hence the loans affair.

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  12. Charles –

    1) I agree, that despite the capitalists cashing in on green products there is not a lot of real demand for climate change compared to what the alarmists say is necessary. Markets do not in the long-term produce things for which there is not demand. (Ironically in this debate, liberals tend to prefer carbon taxation, while leftists prefer carbon markets.)

    2) ‘Capitalist’ funding of large projects goes up and down; the last couple of decades have been an up phase (lots of things that used to be government funded now have entirely or substantial private investment: airports, roads, telecommunications, ports, universities, electricity, etc)

    But I don’t see what this has to do with anything. Australia has always had a mixed economy, and the only debates capable of getting anywhere are about the specifics.

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