3 Jul 2018

Australian Public Service. The Yes minister mentality, outsourcing of expertise has undermined ethical structures of the service.

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Is the service permanently broken by political ambition that cannot tolerate dissent in any form.

An excerpt from an article By Richard Mulgan
Are the ethical structures of the APS sufficiently strong to withstand these pressures?

A common theme among my correspondents was that the APS had already lost a significant level of independence in the face of political pressure from ministers and their offices.

Politicians were less inclined to respect public servants' views Frank and fearless advice was in ever-diminishing supply as senior public servants scrambled to ingratiate themselves with ministers and to align their advice with powerful interests represented by politicians.

These are familiar complaints,  in Canberra as public servants adjust to new pressures that have reduced ministers' interest in receiving impartial, sometimes unpalatable, advice from career bureaucrats. Especially for those who have worked in Westminster bureaucracies for a generation or more, the changes are self-evident and largely a matter of regret. Hence the widespread resonance of an argument that public service independence is under long-term threat.

Given recent developments in democratic party government, some of these changes cannot be reversed. For those concerned about protecting fundamental constitutional principles, such as due process and the rule of law, the task is to look beyond a lost world of public service preeminence in the formulation of government policy. Instead, they need to work out how traditional values can be preserved in settings that are significantly different from those in which they originally evolved.

One irrevocable trend, or set of trends, that has impinged on public servants' capacity to speak up for public service values is the increasing mediatisation of policy discourse. This includes such well-documented features as the 24-hour news cycle and the continuous election campaign, in which so much of ministers' time and energy is devoted to political presentation and persuasion in the media. It has also led to, and been fed by, the swelling ranks of political and media advisers that help ministers in their endless search for favourable publicity and political advantage.

1 Jul 2018

The great superannuation fee-for-all

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By Ian Verrender
Our pollies love to boast about our world-class super system. Except, the only thing world-class about it is in the amount of fees our money managers manage to rake off the top.
In the past decade, a little under a quarter of a trillion dollars has been siphoned off our retirement savings: $230 billion in the years since the financial crisis.
That's from a total pool of around $2.3 trillion. It's an extraordinary number and nothing short of a national scandal.
In 2016 alone, total fees amounted to $31 billion, according to research house Rainmaker.
Of that, about 26 per cent, or $8 billion, was for administration, $7.8 billion went to investment managers and a whopping $8.4 billion for insurance sold through superannuation funds.
As for the rest, financial advisors took around $5.9 billion while $600 million went towards asset consultants.
Why so much? It may come as a shock to learn that almost no-one in the industry is paid purely on performance. For the most part, fees are generated not by earnings but by the amount of money under management.
Given 9.5 per cent of almost every working Australian's salary is shovelled into the industry, the amount of funds being managed grows enormously every week. It's money for old rope.
Perhaps these gargantuan fees could be excused if our money mangers regularly produced world-beating performances. Sadly, that's not the case.
Mostly, they perform in line with stock markets. When markets are rising, they produce good returns. When they tank, as they did a decade ago, super members see their funds shrink. But the fees roll on regardless.

Turnbull says its a class war? Come on that's rich, given that low-paid fast-food, hospitality, pharmacy and retail workers around the country are seeing cuts to their penalty rates.

If there is a class war its being waged against the low paid workers, "the real forgotten ones".

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An excerpt from an article by Greg Jericho

Retirement age of 70? Well, that seems doable to one who sits behind a desk. The shift of jobs to the services sector? Well, after all, who would want to work in a factory? Low levels of industrial disputes? That must be good – let me quote some measure of international competitiveness while I pass over these record low wages growth and wonder at the coincidence.

It’s the type of thinking that has journalists asking “Is $120,000 the new rich” because that will generate a headline without even caring that it is more than double the median income.

And it is why I have little time for the theatre criticism that can infest political coverage where journalists writing for publications whose target audience is the very wealthiest in our society talk about how Labor’s “class war” attacks on Malcolm Turnbull are poor politics that won’t fly, and are divisive.

That’s pretty rich given today low-paid fast-food, hospitality, pharmacy and retail workers around the country are seeing cuts to their penalty rates.

Let us not fall into the trap of believing we can’t suggest that the situation and wealth of those in power has no impact on the policies they put forward, even while such policies actually benefit those same people who are putting them in place.

Oh no, we must instead keep to the (fair go)myth that Australia is some egalitarian paradise where our history is one of everyone buckling down and working together to forge a nation against the odds. Bugger the rum rebellion, put John Macarthur on the $2 note, and bask in the warmth of misremembered history.
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29 Jun 2018

The English language is stupid, isn't it?

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Why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

26 Jun 2018

80% of Australians do not support any further spending on foreign aid. They have no idea what percentage of the budget is spent on aid.

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80% of Australians do not support any further spending on foreign aid

This was reflected in the 2017 Lowy Institute Poll where, when the Australian respondents were told exactly how much Australia invested in aid, $3.8 billion, only 22% supported an increase.

But dollar amounts can be misleading.

Instead of asking Australians whether our current aid investment was right. Public opinions on foreign aid, are in striking contrast to reality, revealing how fraught polling of public perceptions on foreign aid can be.

Australians have a highly inflated perception of the size of our aid program. The average Australian believes we invest about 14% of the federal budget on foreign aid and that we should actually invest about 10%. In reality, we invest 0.8%.

Freedom of speech in Australia is not guaranteed under our constitution and we must be wary of governments trying limit who can criticise them.

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Even fake news reinforces free speech

The British parliament obtained “freedom of speech” when the English civil war and the Glorious Revolution culminated in the Bill of Rights of 1689.

A century later, the French Revolution produced “The Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen of 1789”, with its promise in Article XI that “the free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely”.

When the American colonists defeated King George III, they drew on the French experience, including, in the first amendment to their constitution, a prohibition on the legislature impinging on freedom of speech or the freedom of the press.

In all three instances, free speech derived, directly or indirectly, from uprisings against the wealthy and the privileged – the kind of people that the IPA and its friends in the Liberal party now represent.

Should we have a bill of rights, yes!

Why don't we have one? None of the major parties have supported the need for such a bill.

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