Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Deluge of red tape to get worse

THE federal Opposition's plans to create a raft of new departments, agencies and advisory groups and a host of additional bureaucratic appointments feeding the already bloated public service dash any hopes of real reform under a Labor government. What we can expect is change to satisfy a social engineering agenda, such as replacing the Government-created Australian Building and Construction Commission, even though the Opposition acknowledges it is doing a good job.

Reform is what is really needed to make the system work more efficiently and to lessen the burden of compliance on the individual. The bigger the public service, the more it has to justify its existence by creating more red tape for business and individuals to wade through. For example, while the federal and state governments have lived high on the hog since the introduction of the GST, life for small business operators has been a series of continual frustrations as they try to satisfy the endless demands of the tax man. And there is no suggestion from either side of politics that this is likely to change. Marginal-seat polling available to the Labor Party has highlighted this as a significant area of voter dissatisfaction with the Government, particularly among independent contractors.

But to get a real picture of how the dead hand of the bureaucracy works, you need look no further than the plight of farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin. They have been driven mad by endless bureaucratic paperwork on the allocation of water rights that often don't even exist, while they struggle to make ends meet in one of the worst recorded droughts.

The responsibility for water policy in this crucial farming area sits with the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council. This is made up of two ministers from the federal Government (including Environment and Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull as chairman) two each from NSW, Victoria and South Australia and one from Queensland. The council meets at least once a year but any policy decisions require a unanimous vote. As we have seen through the collapse of the Prime Minister's Murray-Darling rescue package, there is fat chance of that happening on anything deemed to be politically sensitive, particularly on the eve of an election.

Meanwhile, the council has an executive arm in the form of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The commission has its own president, with two commissioners and two deputy commissioners drawn from the federal bureaucracy and the public service in each of NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. The ACT is represented by one commissioner and a deputy commissioner. As well as overseeing project boards and committees, the commission also receives advice from 19 working groups covering everything from fish to landscape and salinity. The council is also assisted by a 22-member community advisory committee that has its own independently appointed chairman and is supported by a secretariat based in Canberra.

As the election draws near, our political leaders are vying for support from the rural sector with more promises of drought relief. But what is the real benefit of this without bureaucratic relief?

A similar situation surrounds the growing political focus on the environment and the impact of climate change, which is spinning another massive federal-state regulatory web. In the area of greenhouse emissions, industry is being confronted by a rapidly rising tide of red tape. While this significantly increases the cost of business management, it offers no incentive for compliance; indeed, all it seems to hold out is the likelihood of more regulation down the track.

For example, in the greenhouse gas emission area, industry is involved in voluntary reporting, internal company reporting, industry association reporting and reporting through the federal Government's Greenhouse Challenge program, as well as an increasing level of state government-mandated reporting requirements.

In his recent five-pillar development speech, Prime Minister John Howard acknowledged the scope for more reform in a fifth term of government. Addressing the adverse effect of bureaucratic duplication and red tape could save billions of dollars and project a forward-thinking image for business and the community generally. This may be our last hope for reform because from what we have seen so far, it looks like it is not going to come from the other side of the political fence, particularly with all the states and Canberra sharing the same bed.


Kiwis deserting socialist New Zealand

AUSTRALIA'S population is growing at its fastest pace in almost two decades, with workers from New Zealand pouring into the country to replace Britain as the biggest source of immigrants. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday revealed the population rose 1.5 per cent to 20.9 million in the year to March, the quickest growth rate since 1990. The introduction of the baby bonus has driven the nation's birth rates higher. But the ABS figures reveal most of the population growth was driven by overseas migration. New arrivals accounted for 54 per cent of the increase, compared with natural increases of 46 per cent.

Separate figures released yesterday revealed New Zealand had overtaken Britain as the biggest source of new arrivals. Overall, the population rose an estimated 307,100 people, the biggest 12-month increase since record-keeping began in 1789.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said an ageing population and a booming economy were the main reasons Australia was taking more migrants. She said that in 2006-07 about 152,000 migrants settled in Australia, 70 per cent of whom were skilled workers. This did not include the 48,000 457 visa holders in Australia temporarily to fill skills shortages.

The mining states of Queensland and Western Australia are enjoying the fastest population growth, with numbers up 2.3 and 2.2 per cent respectively. The Northern Territory population rose 2 per cent, Victoria and the ACT 1.5 per cent, South Australia and NSW 1 per cent and Tasmania 0.6 per cent.

Bill Randolph, director of the City Future Reserach program at the University of NSW, said cities were "creaking at the edges". He said a decade of underspending had left an "infrastructure deficit". Although federal government policies such as immigration drove population increases, it was largely up to the states to accommodate ballooning numbers. The result was a "policy vacuum" that fed urban overcrowding and housing affordability crunches and put pressure on transport assets and water supplies, Mr Randolph said. "The Federal Government has no cities policy," he said. "If you want immigration you've got to at least have some idea about how you're going to deal with them and their needs."

West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter agreed there was a disconnection between states and the commonwealth on infrastructure. He called for a collaborative approach to manage growth and identify infrastructure "hot spots". Mr Carpenter said immigration was a good example. "The national and West Australian governments should be sitting down with some of the big project proponents saying, 'what sort of numbers are we looking at here, how many people do we need, where do we need them, what sort of skills profile are we going to require?"' he said.

In 2006-07, the number of settlers from New Zealand jumped to 23,906 compared with 19,033 the previous year, Immigration Department figures showed. The next highest source of migrants was Britain, with 23,223. Overall, the two countries accounted for 33.6 per cent of all settler arrivals. There were 13,496 migrants from India, 12,009 from China and 5561 from the Philippines.


South Australian Certificate of Education becoming too easy

The new high school certificate will worsen the skills crisis by discouraging the study of maths and science subjects at Year 12 level, teachers say. Associations of maths and science teachers say the new format, which applies from 2011, will encourage students to drop one of either physics, chemistry, mathematical studies or specialist maths. It requires students to complete 60 study units, the equivalent of three full-year subjects and universities are yet to announce whether their entry requirements, now five Year 12 subjects, will change.

But teachers say the new certificate's focus on raising the number of students who finish school and pressure to get the best score for university entry will mean more students drop out of harder maths and science subjects and opt for "easier" studies. SA Science Teachers Association past president and president-elect of the Australian Science Teachers Association Peter Turnbull said the new high school certificate was "flying in the face" of efforts to combat the state's skills shortages. "We have a view that this is going to have an impact on the uptake of the sciences. It is a major concern for us," he said.

Course counsellors already discouraged students from difficult subjects to maximise their Year 12 score, Mr Turnbull said. "The evidence we're getting is that when kids are choosing subjects, there is often a fairly hard lobby to avoid the hard things," he said.

SA Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive Jason Kuchel agreed easy subjects were increasingly offered to students as replacements for key subjects. "I am concerned we are continually providing more and more softer choices to students, which is encouraging them away from some of the four subjects required for engineering," he said. People with strong backgrounds in the maths and sciences are needed to address the state's skill shortages in professions such as engineering, geology, surveying and aviation.

Mathematical Association of SA vice president Carol Moule predicts specialist maths will be hardest hit under the new certificate - with universities already teaching these subjects - calculus, geometry and complex numbers - in bridging courses. About 1100 Year 12s studied specialist maths last year. Maths studies attracted about 3160 enrolments, chemistry 2200, and physics enrolments were below 2000, according to the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of SA.

Designers of the new qualification deliberately simplified the number of subjects required, reducing it to 200 points or 20 semester-long subjects, rather than the existing 22. Mrs Moule said the new SACE was designed to increase retention rates. "It is simply about encouraging kids to stay on and do Year 12 and get a certificate," she said. "I really care about the more able ones keeping up their study of the maths and sciences."

Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said SACE would prepare more young people for "skilled careers, further education and citizenship". "Science and maths will continue to be key subject offerings provided under a future SACE," she said. Future SACE office director Wendy Engliss said students will be able to choose either Year 11 or Year 12 subjects in addition to the compulsory requirements at each year level. "This gives scope to students to choose more full-time stage two subjects, including more maths and science, if this best suits their pathways," she said.

No limit on the number of Year 12 subjects was proposed for the new certificate and a requirement for an arts subject would also be dropped. Ms Engliss said requirement to study an in-depth project at Year 12 level would be another opportunity for students to study maths or science.

Association of Independents Schools SA executive director Garry Le Duff said university requirements needed to be resolved "in the very near future", but he believed the new SACE was flexible enough for students to do a combination of maths and science subjects.


A heavily politicized "human rights" bureaucracy

Post lifted from Leon Bertrand. See the original for links

Last week we had two separate stories on the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission's left-wing political bias. These stories can be found here and here. We have since found another example of bias for your enjoyment. ADCQ's Submission to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission for consideration in its Pay Equity Inquiry in June of this year reveals that the Commission explicitly favours a Socialist industrial relations system, again breaching the Public Sector Code of Conduct. For instance, the Commission advocates that it, or the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, should set wages in private sector workplaces:

28. The QIRC discussion paper discusses possible amendments to the ADA to permit the Commission or Tribunal to make equal remuneration orders based on comparable worth. The discussion paper speculates whether it may be possible for an equal remuneration order based on comparable worth to direct that the specified employee or class of employees be reclassified.

Of course, recent thinking on industrial relations has come to the conclusion that employers, and not Government bodies, are best able to evaluate the worth of an employee's work. This coincides with the rise of economic rationalism and the decline of soft socialism. Nevertheless, the "fresh thinking" of the ADCQ essentially advocates a new form of centralised wage-fixing, as though Tribunal members are better judges of an employee's worth. As we have already shown, Tribunal members often know very little. In fact, the H.R. Nicholls society has pointed out that:

The inevitable problem which arises in every specialist tribunal, unstated by Justice Guidice, is the composition of these tribunals. The type of people who seek appointment to antidiscrimination tribunals, and often succeed in getting appointed, are often women, homosexual, and sometimes disabled (the former head of the Victorian tribunal was a blind woman). They tend to be steeped in student revolutionary culture of the 1970s and are living specimens of an undergraduate time warp. For them, employers, large and small, are the drivers of capitalist oppression. In this time warp, white, middle-aged males harass, intimidate, fail to promote, fail to hire and terminate employees as part of a conspiracy against non-Anglo-Saxons and women. Profoundly ignorant of how markets work in a free economy, and guided by chattering-class perceptions of how and why hiring and firing occurs, they are determined to bring light to the unenlightened and to expose the evils of the market economy. These tribunes are not judges at all-but social engineers sitting on the bench-inspired by the example of Sir William Deane, Sir Anthony Mason and Sir Gerard Brennan.

Being the left wing organisation that it is, the ADCQ couldn't resist a crack at Workchoices, the Australian left's second biggest obsession after climate change, the latter being a phenomenon which has occurred since the beginning of Earth's existence:

39. If there are no legislative constraints imposed by the WRA and Queensland does have power to adopt and implement legislative models similar to those implemented in Sweden or Quebec, United Kingdom and the Netherlands, France or Switzerland, the ADCQ submits that a strong mandatory model binding all employers should be passed in Queensland. Such a legislative model is likely to be one of the most effective means to have systemic outcomes, if combined with other measures to address the underlying causes of the gender pay gap. This type of measure becomes even more necessary, given that the individualisation and decentralisation of wage bargaining, and the removal of state based equal remuneration principles under WorkChoices eliminates some of the former means of reducing the gender pay gap.

The ADCQ goes on to express its strong support for Quebec's model which requires employers to "methodically report on their compliance" with bureaucratic regulations imposed by the state, including a "pay equity process" and a need to post results of such a process. Such a model might sound appealing to some, however from an economist's point of view there are hidden costs associated with over-regulation such as this. What ADCQ are proposing is that the compliance costs of business are increased, whilst their ability to run their businesses efficiency and flexibly are undermined. In short, it's a typical soft left proposition which, if implemented, would be detrimental to the Australian economy. On top of this authoritarian approach, ADCQ even proposes the following:

46. Preferred tenderer status should be conferred by the Government on those organisations that have undertaken an approved gender pay equity audit and have taken action to achieve pay equity at all levels of their organisation. The QIRC discussion paper notes that this measure has been introduced in Switzerland. Public procurement policies are increasingly being used internationally to further social goals including equality in employment. Procurement policies can attain these objectives by requesting contractors to modify the gender, racial or ability/disability make up of their workforce, or by encouraging contactors who are female or belong to racial or ethnic minorities to partake in public tenders. The USA, South Africa and Europe are all using procurement policies to promote equality in the workplace.

Whilst ADCQ is designed to fight against discrimination, it keenly wishes to implement AA, a form of discrimination that the left promotes. Again, there are hidden costs to the economy if you force employers to hire people for reasons other than merit. But of course, just like the rest of the soft left, ADCQ seems oblivious to this. Further mandatory regulations ADCQ wish to impose on the very businesses that generate the wealth that funds ADCQ include:

* Introduce a 14 week paid maternity leave scheme (recommendation 13).

* Phase in a more comprehensive scheme consisting of:

a) At a minimum, two weeks paid paternity leave to be taken at the birth of the child; and

b) A further 38 weeks of paid paternal leave that is available to either parent (recommendation 14).

Again, this clearly shows that ADCQ believes that businesses are generally bottomless pits of money that can be asked to fund virtually anything, even if they don't receive a cent in return. The irony of course is that compulsory paid maternal leave would actually result in discrimination to women: the very thing ADCQ seeks to avoid. It is quite apparent that the world ADCQ aims for is essentially a socialist utopia, completely divorced from economic realities which make it unworkable. It's the same dreamy utopianism which made Karl Marx pen that "religion is the people's opiate", not realising that he himself was befuddled with a rather similar narcotic.

This blog has already pointed out that women encounter few disadvantages, and are increasingly rising to the top. The only evidence that ADCQ is able to produce as evidence that Anti-Discrimination laws do not redress discrimination in the field of employment are the comments of another Tribunal leftist, namely Glynn J in the NSW Pay Equity Inquiry. It seems it has never occurred to the leftists at ADCQ that there are other reasons besides discrimination that are responsible for women generally earning less than men. For instance, women often choose to be the stay at home mothers for years, before they re-enter the workforce, thereby slowing their career development. Secondly evidence also suggests that in many cases men are more ambitious than women, and this is due to higher levels of pressure and expectation being imposed on men. ADCQ happily ignores all of these considerations, deciding to instead dogmatically assume that it is the best judge of the value of one's work. It is a push for socialism, under a new, post-Marxist guise.

In a previous post on the ADCQ, we pointed out some key principles enshrined in the Public Service Code of Conduct:

The Australian Public Service:is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner; provides a workplace that is free from discrimination and recognises and utilises the diversity of the Australian community it serves; has the highest ethical standards; is openly accountable for its actions, within the framework of Ministerial responsibility to the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public;is responsive to the Government in providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice and in implementing the Government's policies and programs; delivers services fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously to the Australian public and is sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public;

Once again, with its push for obsolete left-wing policies, ADCQ has revealed that it is not a politically impartial organisation. Rather, it is an organisation whose political orientation can best be described as soft left, and which is quite apparently out of touch with the economic and social realities of the real world.

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