A true education revolutionary

It is hard to imagine any Australian education minister giving a speech like this one by British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable. Particularly for a Liberal Democrat, he sends a remarkable number of higher education sacred cows – some of the sector, some of government – to the slaughterhouse:

Sacred cow number 1: Universties should get more public funding


no one should be under any illusion that there will be any other than deep cuts in government spending on universities.

Sacred cow number 2: Students should pay less


they almost certainly will have to pay more

Sacred cow number 3: We should encourage more people to go to university
Continue reading “A true education revolutionary”

Labor voters cheer up

Happiness research always finds that right-wing people are happier than left-wing people. And so it was again in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009.

Questions: If you were to consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are, on the whole …
Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as Labor, Liberal, National or what?

But as you can see in the figure, Labor identifiers have cheered up compared to the 2007 AuSSA, which was mostly carried out during the last months of the Howard government. The ‘very happy’ happiness gap has halved from a Coalition lead of 12% in 2007 to 6% in 2009. The proportion of very happy Coalition identifiers has dropped by only one percentage point, so the explanation is happier Labor supporters rather than less happy Coalition supporters.

Narcissus reflects

The Paul Keating letter to Bob Hawke complaining about his treatment in a book he admits he has not read is classic Keating.

Who else could in the same paragraph say that a true account of the Hawke-Keating years would record ‘how lucky you were to have me drive the government during your down years, leaving you with the credit for much of the success’ and say of Hawke that ‘Narcissus-like you cannot find enough praise to heap upon yourself’?

Keating has many talents, but self-awareness seems not to be one of them.

Cheesed off working families

Yet more handouts to families, this time to fund school uniforms, are another sure sign that an election is about to be called.

But as we have seen before, such is the sense of entitlement built up by the welfare state that people with no real need complain when they miss out:

Ms Pilgrim, whose two daughters, aged 13 and 16, attend Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta, will not qualify for the tax break because she and her husband earn a combined income of more than $100,000.

”It cheeses me off a bit,” she said. ”It’s a great help for families on Family Tax Benefit A, but for middle-income earners like me, we miss out.”

Of course my heart bleeds for the problems of ‘middle’ (actually, fairly high) income earners.

Support for tax cuts still low

Some of the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 results are now in the Australian Social Science Data Archive, so we can start looking at some trend data.

I’m sorry to report that support for cutting taxes compared to more spending on social services may have hit an all-time low in the history of Australian opinion polling. Though the precise question varies over time, we have similarly worded questions going back to the late 1960s. In 1967 and 1969, 26% of respondents wanted tax cuts. In 2009, it was just below that on 25% (though the lack of an explicit ‘depends’ option in the 1960s means that there were ‘soft’ supporters of both taxing and spending in their totals). The three most recent surveys are in the figure below.

Continue reading “Support for tax cuts still low”

What happens when censorship breaks down?

Stephen Conroy has partially backed down on his mandatory internet filtering proposal. This includes revisiting the issue of what should be in the ‘Refused Classification’ category that the filter would be designed to catch.

This is a good move, because as I have argued before this is the real issue here. Conroy wasn’t ever planning to censor anything new; he was trying to adapt the existing censorship rules to a new form of communication. Apart from the issue of false positives in assessing what material was RC and some probably minor issues with internet speed, it wasn’t clear why we should have one set of censorship rules online and another set applying to DVDs, magazines, cinemas etc.

As it happens, the 15 or so years in which the internet has been a big social phenomenon have been a case study in what happens when a censorship regime breaks down. Others are more expert in this than I am, but it is not obvious to me that we can draw many if any straight lines between a de facto absence of censorship and major new social problems.

Too many funerals for John Faulkner?

The photo below, from Monday’s funeral for Private Tim Aplin, caught my eye in one of the papers yesterday.

Source: ADF

All the politicians look affected by the moment, but it was the pain on Faulkner’s face that held my attention. I’d seen it before, as our Afghanistan casualities mount and military funerals become more frequent. Faulkner is feeling heavily the special burden all Defence ministers carry. Continue reading “Too many funerals for John Faulkner?”

Should I preference the Greens in the seat of Melbourne?

Lindsay Tanner retiring from the seat of Melbourne, where I live, creates a dilemma for me. For the last three federal elections I have given Tanner and therefore the ALP my second preference. In the last election Liberal preferences were distributed, so how Liberal voters like myself see the Green-Labor choice can affect the outcome in Melbourne.

However I preferenced Tanner not because he is Labor but because I respected him. I’ve read a couple of his speeches in which he gives a clearer explanation of why markets are necessary than is typically found on my own side of politics. While there isn’t really much evidence that this government could ever make hard spending decisions about current programs, I am willing to believe that Tanner in the Finance portfolio and Cabinet (or the gang of four) at least typically led to less-bad outcomes.

But now that Tanner is going, should I still preference Labor above the Greens? Continue reading “Should I preference the Greens in the seat of Melbourne?”

HELPing the government to save money

The HELP loan scheme is very expensive to run. Its estimated program expenses are nearly $1.8 billion in 2010-11, mainly due to lending what I expect now exceeds $20 billion to students at only CPI interest, and annualised estimates of debts that are not expected to be repaid.

One thing that should be examined as a way of reducing these costs are the thresholds for repaying. Under current arrangements, in the financial year just finished HELP debtors will pay nothing if they earn less than $43,151.

Though that catches most new graduates in full-time work, my estimate from collating data from several sources is that at least one-third of HELP debtors in Australia in 2007-08 and not currently enrolled in a course incurring HELP debt did not make a payment that year.

I suspect that this proportion will increase over time because the thresholds are indexed according to movements in average weekly earnings. Over time, this is likely to increase at a higher rate than the earnings of new graduates. This is because AWE is influenced by ‘compositional effects’. For example, as relatively well-paid professional and managerial jobs have increased as a proportion of total employment this has helped push up AWE. Continue reading “HELPing the government to save money”